Sunday, October 09, 2016

Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge

Olga García Echeverría

In Posada: Offerings of Refuge and Witness, author Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo takes us on a journey that begins with the story of her grandmother's stolen “black lava” metate.  The narrator in the poem is stitching together a past full of gaps. Like many of us, Bermejo is hungry for knowing the stories of those who came before her. 

“Who carried the metate and molcajete from Teocaltiche?” the poet asks her father who migrated to the United States from Mexico with his family when he was a boy.  “I don't remember,” he answers. But the poet deciphers that it must have been him, her father, the eldest son, who carried her grandmother's only valuables from Mexico. She writes, “Maybe remembering hurts dusty shoulders, maybe they miss the weight of home too much.” 

This opening piece sets the tone for a collection of poems and lyrical snapshots where the author is both witness and weaver, a woman traversing family history, past/present displacements, and changing landscapes. Wherever the author goes (be it the East LA hills, Chavez Ravine, Ghost Ranch, the Arizona desert, Texas, Gaza, or into the magical realm of a painting, an old photograph, or a mural of Anthony Quinn in downtown LA), she is gathering pieces. Sometimes she gathers as if collecting colorful confetti from a broken cascaron and others as if picking up the “shards of ancient pottery.” Always the author seems to be re-membering/reconstructing and honoring that which has been dispersed, broken, silenced, forgotten, and buried. In “My Mother's History, or Pieces I've Gathered So Far,” she tenderly bears witness to her mother's past:  

I see now, she was never gifted the story of her birth, 
never wished happy birthday at a specific time of day,
never doted over with funny stories of a father
who splurged on three tiny purses the day she was born.
History is haunted by two ugly and unspoken words:
illegitimate and illegal...

In “Upon Celebrating America's Birthday,” Bermejo gives us poetic fragments of Uncle Manny, who recalls his aunt Susana and an LA before “hair products” and “Ford cars.” The poem juxtaposes the celebration of 4th of July with the historical displacement of familias in Chavez Ravine. The poet writes about her uncle:

By dark, tears dig into the creases of his face
like a stone creek. He hushes only to watch my cousins
launch bottle rockets from the street. Smoke tails up
and sparks shoot out over our heads. Colors flash bright
and disappear into the air like my uncle's sobriety,
like Tia Susana, like the houses of Chavez Ravine. 

In this 118 page collection, we venture with Bermejo from the highly personal and intimate to the communal and political. From Teocaltiche to Solano Canyon, where the memories are paper birds migrating through time and space. We zigzag from LA in the late 1940's to contemporary border zones, where the deaths of immigrants too often go unnoticed and forgotten. 

In Part III of Posada, "Things to Know for Compañer@s," Bermejo gives us a poetic Volunteer Guide inspired by her 2011 participation as a desert aid worker with the direct humanitarian organization No More Deaths. The succinct pieces in this section bring to the forefront the realities of crossing deadly terrains. 

Did you know?

One gallon of water weighs 8.35 pounds. To stay hydrated, 
a person should drink 1-2 gallons a day. 
Migrants carry a single oil-black gallon in calloused
hands for a three-or-more day trip. Why is it black? 
So as not to glow.

In Part IV, Bermejo gathers voices and portraits of migrants. Her poems here flesh out the human face(s) of undocumented immigration. As witness, listener, and poetic-activist, Xochitl documents and resists. She is a poet longing for and seeking out other possibilities. “How can this be my country?” she asks. 

In L.A., I walk Radio Hill and track trickling dirt trails just like Arizona. 
Barbed wire fences have cut openings. Nopales take up residence on slopes. 
A mattress lays nestled in tall grass, and I catch a glimpse of an elderly man 
hobbling into the bush out of sight. 

I hope to live to see a time when mattresses return to bedrooms 
and bedrooms are allowed to once again house dreams. 
The windows of all the houses have been muddied or boarded up. 
I can’t see a god, but I want one

Many of the poems in Posada are heartbreaking, yet throughout the collection the writer/the weaver offers us refuge. She gives us sweetness in an “Ode to Pan Dulce,” which is much more than just bread; it's cultural/spiritual food, it's her “Tata's booming laugh,” the “Español swimming in [her] mind.” She gives us pencas de nopal shaped as hearts. She gives us a “Ladder to the Moon,” where the narrator will wizard her own way into the stars. She gives us a dreamer: “Tonight she will dream / her intestine is the string, she the kite. Tonight she will dream.” 

Bravo Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo for this beautiful collection that sparkles and sings in a refreshing and powerful voice, page after page after page. 

Sundress Publications Release of Posada: October 15th, 2016

To pre-order your copy:

To check out other Sundress publications:

Posada Release Reading:
October 29th, 2016
Avenue 50 
131 N. Avenue 50
Los Angeles, CA 90042
7:00-10:00 PM

The night will include readings from badass writers Ashaki M. Jackson, Kenji Liu and Melissa Chadburn, a collective building of a Día de los Muertos altar for those who have passed along the border, music from Angela Spiñorita Blanca, food, and of course a book signing. A collection will be taken to support the work of No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes. 

For more info on the book release event:

To read a previous Bloga interview with the author:

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is a First generation Chicana born and raised in San Gabriel, California, who fondly remembers weekends spent haciendo travesuras with her cousins around her grandparents’ Boyle Heights home. She wrote this collection while living in a house in the shadows of Dodger Stadium in historic Solano Canyon.  

Bermejo is a 2016-2017 Steinbeck fellow and was previously honored as a Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange poetry winner, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund/Money for Women grantee, Los Angeles Central Library ALOUD newer poet, and her poetry received 3rd place in the 2015 Tucson Festival of Books literary awards. She has received residencies with Hedgebrook, the Ragdale Foundation, and is a proud member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. 

In Los Angeles, she is a cofounder of Women Who Submit, a literary organization using social media and community events to empower women authors to submit work for publication, and curates the quarterly reading series HITCHED. She received a BA in Theatre Arts from California State University of Long Beach and an MFA in Creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles where she is currently a book coach and workshop instructor with the inspiration2publication program.

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