Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: Empanada. Vegan Pop-up. Final On-line Floricanto in April 2013.

Review: Empanada: A Lesbiana Story en Probaditas.

Michael Sedano

Anel I. Flores. Empanada: A Lesbiana Story en Probaditas. San Francisco, CA: Kórima Press, 2012.
ISBN: 978-1-300-31441-7

Empanada: A Lesbiana Story In Probaditas is serious adult literature whose experiences, attitudes, and issues would provide your book club with a spirited discussion about directions in United States publishing, genre fiction, Chicana Chicano literature, and cultural change. Such issues should not obscure the fact that Empanada: A Lesbiana Story In Probaditas offers excellent reading.

A bookclub’s initial reaction might sound like “I didn’t know literature like this existed!” followed with explanations about metaphor and double entendre in words like papaya, tortillera, empanada, and probadita.

With “Lesbiana” in the title, for some readers, Empanada will stand within an as yet unconsidered literary space. As Mariana Romo-Carmona points out in her foreword, “A critical literary space for the work of lesbianas latinas had to be created and fought for—and I think now, more difficult still, it had to be imagined.”

And it had to be published. Which is the mission undertaken by San Francisco’s Kórima Press. The independent publisher describes itself as “Built on the Rarámuri tradition of sharing, Kórima Press is an independent publisher committed to Queer Ch/Xicana and Ch/Xicano literary art.” Kórima’s website lists six titles for from twelve to twenty-eight dollars.

All that aside, treat this book not as an artifact of the nation’s cultural growth but for what it is. Empanada: A Lesbiana Story In Probaditas is a work of interesting chicana lesbian fiction. A work motivated by the author’s spirt of liberation and identification as a lesbian, Anel I. Flores’ Empanada: A Lesbiana Story In Probaditas crafts a luscious erotic landscape not to be missed.

Composed out of forty-one probaditas--very short monologues and narratives, or “prose poems”—Empanada traces one woman’s life through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, through sexual awakening, through body image guilt, into a settled life. The writer organizes these in three themes, Food, Religion, Sex.

Flores paces her character’s growth using flashback and reverie, told in a well-adjusted adult voice. All the crap the persona remembers from growing up and being treated like caca, these probaditas tell that she gets past the crap and moves on. Showing That, not How To; in this light, Empanada is not a story of liberation for someone seeking role models, but a tale told by a free woman in a clear voice marked by large measures of humor, horniness, and self-awareness.

In the opening probadita, Flores introduces her protagonist as an enthusiastic epicurean whose sense of pleasure includes chisme, food, and sex. She engages sexual banter with comfortable biculturalism and appears content in her world. Then in probadita after probadita, Flores takes stories back in time then onward again through various events, charging hard toward and around the topic Paloma most endears, sex.

We witness the growing girl at various times from mocosa absorbing kitchen cultura, to bearing up under weight of a familia’s scorn and disappointment. She’s a fat girl who dresses like a boy. She calls attention to herself. Paloma’s anger at her “big boned” body, and appearance, add torment to her emerging sexuality.

Some of Flores’ most sensual, sexually fraught writing, comes out of the food section, particularly the monologue on eating an empanada de calabaza.

“De Calabaza” is an erotic version of William Carlos Williams’ plums in the icebox poem. For Paloma, the crusty delectation gives off an alluring scent that draws her near but she shouldn’t. She imagines a lover’s feet intertwined with hers “like a pleated piecrust.” The sweet wet candied fruit makes her blush. Finally she gives in to her gluttony, she bites, she eats her grandmother’s empanada.

The momentary pleasure of the act also marks a resolution in Paloma’s long-standing fat girl problem. In “Carne in My Teeth,” Paloma confesses, “I blame my obesity on the fact that I can’t talk at the table. When a word is just about to squirt out I stuff food in my mouth and cork it shut.” By the time Paloma can articulate the complexities of “De Calabaza” she’s developed expressivity knowing that speech expiates guilt, her sense of lustful gluttony set aside because this is who she is:

Desnuda, despierta, mi postre is unwrapped. I seize her with my teeth, let my upper body fall over the counter, press my cheek against the small porcelain plate, push her through my lips, take bites of her cuerpo of cake, and taste her against the roof of my mouth.

Readers will find themselves looking through a lot of eyes throughout the stories. If you read an electronic edition of Empanada, do a search for “eyes” and you’ll find “eyes” is Flores’ most powerful word. She uses eyes to designate and load perceptions. The eyes of the beholder report one set of facts, the beliefs of the beheld lead to different conclusions, simultaneously. The technique allows Flores to capture uncomfortably perceptive moments when you’re seeing the same scene through multiple characters’ eyes at once, empathizing with Paloma but comprehending the responses seen in her family’s eyes:

At the table, mi papi’s eyes screen a double-feature-daydream of her, scratching at my back barely hours ago, while la Chavela Vargas sings, sobbing and screaming to her lover who left like the paloma, and her eyes se mueren sin mirar sus ojos, die without her eyes. Paloma Negra, why did you go from my clock radio’s Mexican oldies, and boleros viejos? I loved dad’s eyes, her nails under my skin and on my back, la Chavela Vargas, y Sunday dreaming.
Floating in flight from my father’s eyes and crisscrossing the table to my mother’s eyes, the granite fence that keeps Mexicans out of our country for irrational reasons or orders from irrational and ignorant authorities, the rifle and the brown river shot into her eyes, against solid concrete cheeks mapped with streets of her town and his pueblito. I used to love to look at my mother’s eyes until she drowned.

With Empanada: A Lesbiana Story In Probaditas, Anel I. Flores appears on the literary stage as a writer to be reckoned with. It’s too darn bad the publisher doesn’t allow the work to stand on its own as a piece of fiction.

Instead of just opening on page one, Kórima's placed Mariana Romo-Carmona’s eleven-page hyperbolic Foreward in the lead. Romo frames the book as a chingona rhetorical artifact of the movimiento for women’s lib, claiming, Empanada: A Lesbiana Story in Probaditas can truly be said to be the work of the first generation of writers for whom the reality of a critical reception for their work exists, and as such, it is their job to ignore that there were ever any boundaries on our creativity, and to take us beyond, way beyond the concept of boundaries.

The prefacist’s attitudes are needful and important, but oddly out of place after a reader's slogged through those eleven pages of academic-flavored prose, then feels the tone the author sets in her own one page introduction, waking to the smell of tortillas hechas de mano and the chatter of females en la cocina, where all our secrets are divulged and our dreams are told at the table.

I’m distressed the author and her editor fail to carry far enough their claim of writing “beyond the concept of boundaries”. The text kowtows to orthographic prescriptivism that interrupts continuity with italics imposed upon every putatively foreign word.

Who is this orthographic villain—the Author? Editor? Tradition? Who fails to understand multicultural gente who seek out work like Empanada: A Lesbiana Story en Probaditas don’t think, speak, or hear ordinary language in italics. Such typographic conventionality disrespects readers comfortably literate in the dialects of their community while producing minefields of italic interruptions like this:

As a little tejanita, when given the privilege to escape cleaning, and instead sleep past 8:00 am on Saturday morning, it was because mami and buela were blessing us with homemade tortillas. The soft smell was so comforting, I often daydreamed there was a tortilla right under my cheek, between my pillow and me. I dreamt of digging my nose into the warm tortilla’s powdery surface and then devouring her without any table manners or reservations. But when the tortilla didn’t appear, I joined them in the kitchen, both in their pastel colored batas from the night before, to eat a fresh tortilla steaming hot, right off the cast iron comal.

Boundary-breaking work should really break boundaries. That Flores and her editor fail in the most basic element of publishing marks the distance Kórima has yet to travel to escape conventionality and demonstrate their understanding that trying is not achieving.

Italics (and arrobas which thankfully are absent from Empanada's bag of tricks) alone aren't reason to reject a title, but they set up a litany of regret that so outstanding a set of stories must be vandalized by taggers spraying italics just because they can.

Mail Bag
Vegan Pop-Up in Oxnard

La Bloga friend Michele Serros sends news that should draw legions of hungry gente on May 25 to her neck of the woods, Oxnard.

Serros promises a pop-up menu, estilo vegan, in the historic Woolworth building. Serros' husband, Chef Antonio of Flacos restaurant, is cooking. The menu includes food to please the Gluten-free Chicano, so extra ¡bravo! to Chef Antonio.

Menu will include Flacos’ signature dishes like crispy “Soyquitos” with spicy avocado salsa, vegan tamales (both banana leaf and soy-gluten free), huaraches, spicy pozole, soft tacos (textured soy protein with traditional almond-based mole sauce served on handmade organic corn tortillas), homemade horchata (sweetened to perfection with brown rice milk) and refreshing agua fresca de fresa, squeezed from Oxnard-grown organic strawberries.

Seatings commence at 5p.m. in Fresh & Fabulous Cafe, 401 South “A” Street, Oxnard CA 93030.

Mail Bag
Aztlán Libre Press Honors Poet

San Antonio's Aztlán Libre Press brings ever more ambitious and significant work to market. For the independent publisher's sixth title, Aztlán Libre elects to honor the career of poet Reyes Cárdenas with a retrospective covering years 1970 through 2010.

La Bloga friend Juan Tejeda, who, with Anisa Onofre, run the press, advises the collection divides into 11 sections, six of which feature new, heretofore unpublished, poems.

The publisher offers 15% off copies ordered through April 30 via its website.

Aztlán Libre Press books are also available through Small Press Distribution at www.spdbooks.org

Final On-line Floricanto of Fourth Month Features Five Poets
Elena Díaz Bjorkquist,Victor Avila, Ramón Piñero, Maritza Rivera, Francisco X. Alarcón

Do You Want to See My Papers? by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
Viva Chicano Park! by Victor Avila
Mis Lágrimas/My Tears by Ramón Piñero
Without Papers by Maritza Rivera
Jasmine In Qatari Prison/Jazmín En Prisión De Qatar by Francisco X. Alarcón

Do You Want to See My Papers?
by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

Dirty Mexican!
I knew the look,
No need for words.

The man tightened his grip
On the baby,
Didn’t hold the door
Open for me.

Later we met again
In a narrow aisle.
He pushed his cart
Toward me,

Challenging with his eyes—
I should back up.
Instead, I continued forward,
Said, “We can make it work.”

No response.

We met halfway,
He didn’t give an inch.
Our carts squeezed past,
No room to spare.

His grand-baby reached out,
Placed his chubby white hand
On my brown one,
Smiled at me.

The man snatched his hand
Placed it back on the cart
Pushed the cart past me,
Didn’t say a word,

But I knew.

© 2013 Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

Viva Chicano Park!
by Victor Avila

Has it really been
43 years since
they turned this patch of dirt
into a canyon of beauty?

Here the multicolored hues
triumphantly ascend the concrete columns.
They speak of a struggle
and of a battle won.

It is Aztlan's new cathedral,
a church for our people
where Xochipilli in his revelry
delights in all he sees.

43 years and 43 years more.

Viva Barrio Logan!

Viva la Raza!

Viva Chicano Park!

© 2013 Victor Avila

Mis Lágrimas/My Tears
by Ramón Piñero

my children are dying
throughout the globe
some by their own hands
others helped along
by visible and
invisible demons

my babies are being
choked to death
by the poison in the
air and others by the poison
in their mothers' milk.

some are closing
their eyes and laying
still/yet others are walking
upright with no light
in their eyes
dead to sensation
dead to all
around them

my children are dying
all around me
they are dying in the desert
they are dying in the cities
they are dying in Americas'
in the Steppes
and the camps
in Jordan
on 110th street
and around the

my children
are dying at the
hands of those
who say they love them
at the hands of
those who
don't really care

they're dying with
their eyes open
glued to games that
offer instant gratification
their eyes open to suffering
and pain\unseeing
through the artificial
that symbol of riches
that decay with time
there is no reset button
no extra lives

my children are dying
while we argue over
where to place their bones
where to build their mausoleums
what fancy words
will be their epitaph

my children need to live
they need to dance atop the
rainbows\and sing aloud
so that no evil can touch them;
laugh so that the only sadness they know
is that the laugh needs to be louder
so that their Gods can no longer
plead ignorance/can no longer turn
a deaf ear to
those little
voices of angels
as they sing
for our redemption

© 2013 Ramón Piñero

Without Papers
by Maritza Rivera

The R-word, the S-word, N:
the alphabet is riddled
with such offensive letters.

© 2013 Maritza Rivera

for poet Mohammad ibn al-Ajami
by Francisco X. Alarcón

we are all Mohammad ibn al-Ajami! —
we sit in jail with him condemned
to a life in prison

for writing a poem
celebrating the Arab Spring,
“Tunisian Jasmine” —

“We are all Tunisia
in the face of repressive elite!...
The Arab governments

and those who rules them are,
without exception, thieves,

what kind of lions are these
who feel so threatened
by spoken truths

so compelled to keep
within their jaws and paws
a jasmine shining in the dark

© Francisco X. Alarcón
February 5, 2013

The sentencing of Mohammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami came nearly two years after he wrote a poem titled "Tunisian Jasmine," supporting the uprisings in the Arab world. "We are all Tunisia in the face of repressive elites!" al-Ajami wrote. "The Arab governments and who rules them are, without exception, thieves. Thieves!"
In February 2013, it was reported that al-Ajami's life sentence had been reduced to fifteen years. Defense attorneys seeking his immediate release said they were planning an appeal to Qatar's supreme court.

al poeta Mohammad ibn al-Ajami
por Francisco X. Alarcón

¡todos somos Mohammad ibn al-Ajami! —
en la cárcel estamos con él condenados
a cadena perpetua

por escribir un poema
celebrando la Primavera Árabe
“Jasmin de Túnez” —

“Todos somos Túnez
frente a las élites represivas!...
Los gobiernos árabes

y todos los que los rigen son,
sin excepción, ladrones,

qué tipo de leones son estos
que se sienten tan amenazados
por verdades enunciadas

tan obligados a atrapar
en sus fauces y garras a un jasmín
dando luz en tanta oscuridad

© Francisco X. Alarcón
5 de febrero de 2013

Do You Want to See My Papers? by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
Viva Chicano Park! by Victor Avila
Mis Lágrimas/My Tears by Ramón Piñero
Without Papers by Maritza Rivera
Jasmine In Qatari Prison/Jazmín En Prisión De Qatar by Francisco X. Alarcón

After an incident like the one in “Do You Want to See My Papers,” I have to wait and let the anger subside before I can write a poem about it. William Wordsworth once said, "Poetry is made up of emotion recollected in tranquility." I found early on in my writing that people are more apt to hear something not written in anger.

A writer, historian, and artist from Tucson, Elena writes about Morenci, Arizona where she was born. She is the author of two books, Suffer Smoke and Water from the Moon. She co-edited Sowing the Seeds, una cosecha de recuerdos and Our Spirit, Our Reality; our life experiences in stories and poems, anthologies written by her writers collective Sowing the Seeds.

As an Arizona Humanities Council (AHC) Scholar, Elena has performed as Teresa Urrea in a Chautauqua living history presentation and done presentations about Morenci, Arizona for twelve years. In 2012 she received the Arizona Commission on the Arts Bill Desmond Writing Award for excelling nonfiction writing and the Arizona Humanities Council Dan Schilling Public Humanities Scholar Award in recognition of her work to enhance public awareness and understanding of the role that the humanities play in transforming lives and strengthening communities. She was nominated for Tucson Poet Laureate in 2012. She is one of the moderators of the Facebook page Poets Responding to SB 1070.

Her website is at http://elenadiazbjorkquist.com/.

Victor Avila is an award-winning poet. Two of his poems where recently included in the anthology Occupy SF-Poems From the Movement. He has taught in California public schools for over 20 years.

Ramón Piñero. Ex Bay Area poet living in the buckle of the Bible Belt, aka Florida. Where good little boys and girls grow up to be republicans who vote against their own interest. Father of three and Grandfather to six of the coolest kids ever.
Nuff said...
Francisco X. Alarcón, award winning Chicano poet and educator, born in Los Angeles, in 1954, is the author of twelve volumes of poetry, including, From the Other Side of Night: Selected and New Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002), and Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation (Chronicle Books 1992), Sonetos a la locura y otras penas / Sonnets to Madness and Other Misfortunes (Creative Arts Book Company 2001), De amor oscuro / Of Dark Love (Moving Parts Press 1991, and 2001).
His latest books are Ce•Uno•One: Poems for the New Sun/Poemas para el Nuevo Sol (Swan Scythe Press 2010), and for children, Animal Poems of the Iguazú/Animalario del Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008) which was selected as a Notable Book for a Global Society by the International Reading Association, and as an Américas Awards Commended Title by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs. His previous bilingual book titled Poems to Dream Together/Poiemas para sonar juntos (Lee & Low Books 2005) was awarded the 2006 Jane Addams Honor Book Award.
He teaches at the University of California, Davis, where he directs the Spanish for Native Speakers Porgram. He is the creator of the Facebook page POETS RESPONDING TO SB 1070 that you can visit at:

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Chicano in Twitterlandia

A few years ago, a good friend of mine scolded me for not being on Twitter. She (who is a lawyer, not a writer) told me that all writers should use social media to its fullest, and Twitter was an important (if not necessary) part of that arsenal. I, of course, scoffed. Twitter seemed so alien to me. After all, I had a webpage and I blogged, so what more did I need?

Well, all that changed on March 3, 2013, when I discovered through a Google Alert that one of my short stories was Tweeted by the New Orleans Review. But in order to respond appropriately (to thank the Tweeter), I had to open a Twitter account. This was NOR’s Tweet and my grateful response:

"How to Date a Flying Mexican," short stories and poems by Hispanic American author Daniel Olivas can be found here http://www.danielolivas.com/

7:30 PM - 27 Feb 13 · Details
@NOReview Thank you for linking my story...it eventually became a chapter in my novel, "The Book of Want" (University of Arizona Press)

My world changed forever that day. As anyone who has entered Twitterlandia will attest, one can be self-righteous about Twitter addiction. True, there are those who Tweet freely and often about the delicious cup of coffee they’ve just enjoyed at their favorite café (accompanied by an artfully arranged Instagram pic), and other such quotidian experiences.

Then there are we, the self-righteous Tweeters, who Tweet about literature, art and politics…and that delicious cup of coffee we’ve just enjoyed at their favorite café…but mostly about literature, art and politics.

I currently follow 635 Tweeters including such fine Latin@ writers as Melinda Palacio (@LaMelinda), Gustavo Arellano (@GustavoArellano), Rudy Ch. Garcia (@DiscardedDreams), Linda Rodriguez‏ (@rodriguez_linda), and Reyna Grande (@reynagrande)…to name but a few…who also follow me. Then there are surprise followers of mine, people who have large followings themselves but decided to follow me such as Amy Tan (@AmyTan), Edward James Olmos (@edwardjolmos), Luis Rodriguez‏ (@luisjrodriguez), and Francisco X. Alarcon‏ (@FrancisXAlarcon).

And who was the first to follow me? Well, it wasn’t a “who” but a what: Libros Schmibros (‏@LibrosSchmibros) that wonderful lending library and used bookstore founded by critic David Kipen in Boyle Heights.

One of my colleagues at the Attorney General’s Office (my day job) told me that his daughter told him that if you follow more people than are following you, you are a “loser.” His daughter is in college and should know. So, I guess I am a loser since I follow 635 but am followed by a paltry 241. But I cherish my 241 because they are writers and bookstores and publishers and lovers of culture (particularly Chican@ and Latin@ related matters).

So, what have I Tweeted about recently? Yesterday, these were my Tweets:

◙ Jeff Bauman, Boston Marathon Victim Who Lost Both Legs, Reunites With Carlos Arredondo. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/26/jeff-bauman-cowboy-hat-hero_n_3164370.html … via @huffingtonpost

A spin through a world where bicycles rule streets by Hector Tobar. http://www.latimes.com/features/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-pete-jordan-20130428,0,4963566.story …

Recent and Recommended: "New California Writing" (Heyday) edited by Gayle Wattawa & Kirk Glaser, a book I blurbed. http://www.latimes.com/features/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-recent-and-recommended-20130425,0,7398480.story …

The boy behind Kristallnacht: review of Jonathan Kirsch's new book by David Clay Large. http://www.latimes.com/features/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-jonathan-kirsch-20130428,0,1478582.story …

A teen's quest for self-discovery in Isabel Allende's 'Maya's Notebook' (review by Reed Johnson) http://www.latimes.com/features/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-isabel-allende-20130428,0,2409856.story … @rjohnsonlat

Those are some damn righteous Tweets, no?

Follow me on Twitter @olivasdan.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

La Bloga Celebrates Poetry Month!

Amelia M.L. Montes (ameliamontes.com)

Even though the month of April (designated “Poetry Month”) is soon to give way to the month of May, my poetry books are not going to disappear.  I will continue to whisper lines of poetry to amuse myself when walking, driving, or riding my bike, or when sitting in an office, waiting to be called.  Poetry is a moment of beauty I can enter anytime, anywhere. It’s a space of meditation.

Permit me, then, to share with you some of my favorites. I really could fill many books with so many lovely poems.  It was difficult to choose which ones to share with you.  I’m noticing a theme in my choices, however.  A theme regarding immigration, familia, crossings.  Some of these are older and some newer.  Here is one that I use in class when I begin to teach Gloria Anzaldúa.  It’s a good poem to introduce Anzaldúa’s theory of Nepantla to the students. 

To Live in the Borderlands means you

    are neither hispana india negra española
    ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed
    caught in the crossfire between camps
    while carrying all five races on your back
    not knowing which side to turn to, run from;

To live in the Borderlands means knowing
    that the india in you, betrayed for 500 years,
    is no longer speaking to you,
    the mexicanas call you rajetas,
    that denying the Anglo inside you
    is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black;

Cuando vives en la frontera
    people walk through you, the wind steals your voce,
    you’re a burra, buey, scapegoat,
    forerunner of a new race,
    half and half – both woman and man, neither—
    a new gender;

To live in the Borderlands means to
    put chile in the borscht,
    eat whole wheat tortillas,
    speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;
    be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints;

Living in the Borderlands means you fight hard to
    resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle,
    the pull of the gun barrel,
    the rope crushing the hollow of your throat;

In the Borderlands
    you are the battleground
    where enemies are kin to each other;
    you are at home, a stranger,
    the border disputes have been settled
    the volley of shots have shattered the truce
    you are wounded, lost in action
    dead, fighting back;

To live in the Borderlands means
    the mill with the razor white teeth wants to shred off
    your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel, your heart
    pound you pinch you roll you out
    smelling like white bread but dead;

To survive the Borderlands
    you must live sin fronteras
    be a crossroads. 

--Gloria Anzaldúa
(from Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza)

Here’s celebrating Eduardo C. Corral’s work.  This poem comes from his collection, Slow Lightning which won the 2012 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award.

Immigration and Naturalization
Service Report #46

After the body was bagged and whisked away, we noticed a scarlet
pelt on the sand.  “This guy had it nice, sleeping on a pelt for days,”
Ignacio joked.  He paused mid-laugh, bent down, ran his hand
through the fur.  One of his fingers snagged.  “This isn’t a pelt, it’s a
patch of wolf ears,” he said.  “No, they’re too large,” I replied. 
“Then they must be coyote ears,” he murmured.  Sweat gathered in
the small of my back.  “Ignacio, should we radio headquarters?” I
asked.  Two ears rose slowly from the patch.  I said a few more
words.  Nothing.  I uttered my own name.  Two more ears unfurled. 
We stepped back from the patch, called out the names of our
fathers and mothers.  Ramón. Juana. Octavio. More and more ears
rose.  Rodolfo. Gloria . . .

for Javier O. Huerta

--Eduardo C. Corral

Our own La Bloga writer, Melinda Palacio’s newest book of poetry is How Fire is a Story, Waiting.  It was named a finalist in the Binghamton University Milt Kessler Book Award. 

How Fire is a Story, Waiting

My grandmother caught the flame in her thick hands.
Curled fingers made nimble by kaleidoscope embers.
Fire buns hot and cold if you know where to touch it, she said.

I watched the red glow spit and wiggle as it
snaked down the thin timber, a striptease,
born out of the festive sound of a half-filled matchbox.

Through orange windows framed by obsidian eyes, I saw the child she once was.
A little girl who raised herself because her mother had a coughing disease.
Blood on her mother’s handkerchief didn’t stop her from dreaming.
Maria Victoria was going to be a singer with her deep, cinnamon stick voice.

She watched novelas in the kitchen while waiting for dough to rise.
Her body, heavy with worry for two families and three lifetimes.  She tucked
Mariachi dreams under her girdle.  Lullabies escaped on mornings
Warmed by her son falling into gas burners turned on high.

The flame on a stove was never the same.  It had a bad hangover,
didn’t remember the many matches lit when its starter broke down.

My grandmother rolled paper into a funnel,
Stole fire from the pilot to light the stubborn burner on the right.
Crimson burned blue on the white paper, its folded edges
Curled black like a lace truffle on a skirt.

The finicky flam can’t comment on its magic.
The thousands of tortillas and pancakes cooked over the years.

How I burned myself roasting a hot dog campfire style.
How a melted pencil smudged under my sister’s eyelid make her beautiful.

My grandmother noticed the time, almost noon.
She needed to make three dozen tortillas to feed her family of thirteen.
The show over, she blew the match into a swirl of gray squiggles.
Snuffed before it had a chance to burn hot on her finger.

Funny, how fire is a story, waiting.

--Melinda Palacio

This is one of my favorite poems by our Presidential Inaugural Poet, Richard Blanco.

Queer Theory:  According to My Grandmother

Never drink soda with a straw---
            Milk shakes?  Maybe.
Stop eyeing your mother’s Avon catalog,
And the men’s underwear in those Sears flyers.
            I’ve seen you . . .
Stay out of her Tupperware parties
and perfume bottles—don’t let her kiss you.
            she kisses you much too much.
Avoid hugging men, but if you must,
            pat them real hard
            on the back, even
            if it’s your father.
Must you keep that cat?  Don’t pet him so much.
            Why don’t you like dogs?
Never play house, even if you’re the husband.
Quit hanging with that Henry kid, he’s too pale,
            and I don’t care what you call them
            those GI Joes of his
            are dolls.
Don’t draw rainbows or flowers or sunsets.
            I’ve seen you . . .
Don’t draw at all—no coloring books either.
Put away your crayons, your Play-Doh, your Legos.
            Where are your Hot Wheels,
            your laser gun and handcuffs,
            the knives I gave you?
Never fly a kite or roller skate, but light
            all the firecrackers you want,
            kills all the lizards you can, cut up worms—
            feed them to that cat of yours. 
Don’t sit Indian style with your legs crossed—
            you’re no Indian
Stop click-clacking your sandals—
            you’re no girl.
For God’s sake, never pee sitting down.
            I’ve seen you . . .
Never take a bubble bath or wash your hair
with shampoo—shampoo is for women.
            So is conditioner.
            So is mousse.
            So is hand lotion.
Never file your nails or blow-dry your hair—
go to the barber shop with your grandfather—
            you’re not unisex.
Stay out of the kitchen.  Men don’t cook—
they eat.  Eat anything you want, except:
            deviled eggs
            Blow Pops
            croissants (Bagels? Maybe.)
            cucumber sandwiches
            petit fours
Don’t watch Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie
Don’t stare at The Six-Million Dollar Man.
            I’ve seen you . . .
Never dance alone in your room:
Donna Summer, Barry Manilow, the Captain
and Tennille, Bette Midler, and all musicals—
Posters of kittens, Star Wars, or the Eiffel Tower—
Those fancy books on architecture and art—
            I threw them in the trash.
You can’t wear cologne or puka shells
and I better not catch you in clogs. 
If I see you in a ponytail—I’ll cut it off. 
What?  No, you can’t pierce your ear. 
            left or right side—
            I don’t care—
you will not look like a goddam queer,
            I’ve seen you . . .
even if you are one.

--Richard Blanco

This next poem is from another one of our own La Bloga writers, Olga García Echeverría.  It is from her collection, Falling Angels: cuentos y poemas


Nobody ever looked up to see her
sitting against splintered window sill

She liked the sight of the city below
rambunctious poem
lights orchestrating traffic
cars honking buses screeching
pigeons fleeing

Her mother would scold
tell her it was no good
to stare out windows
with so much longing
You only 13 mija get away
from that damn window!

And her brother would tease
frighten her with stories
of young girls falling
said he’d seen heads bust open
like watermelons breaking on concrete
seen arms where legs should’ve been
bare bones popping out from skin
Falling ain’t pretty mensa pero you
keep leaning out that window
You hear me?
Keep leaning

They didn’t know it but
she had already fallen
226 times

it was never like her brother said
she never tumbled or screamed
on her way down
never cracked open her head

her flight was always


and elegant

body gracefully ascending

arms and shoulders opening softly

into wings

--Olga García Echeverría

Wishing you all excellent poetry readings, writings, celebrations!  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sixto Rodriguez - Tucson

When Sixto Rodriguez came out on stage at the Pascua Yaqui tribe's Casino del Sol Amphitheater in Tucson last week, the ironies rang all around. His long straight black hair, dark face, pronounced musculature and small build could pass for a Southwestern indigene. He looked apache. My own roots to the Yaquis added to that irony.

Then the 70-year-old physically assisted by a young Chicana made his way to the mic area some which he would hardly wander during the performance. Glaucoma is the official explanation for this. So I asked, can he see well enough to pluck the string and hold the chords?

A floppy gray fedora, lots of dark leather, boots. He stands there. And all of us realize we are in a Presence. I know that because without moving very far during his entire play, his stance looked tougher than any chuco on a street corner. His stoop sent a message that I interpreted as the dark, withheld emotions of a life so unfair, as was done to him.

I'm not saying he looked, acted, moved like an oppressed, deprived minority. In one sense, he reminded me of a slave who'd been beaten, simmered within, yet possessed a superior fortitude and soul no whip could break. It lingered under the fedora that hid eyes and face, rippled in the muscles covered by the dark clothes.

Even maybe shrouded anger, but along with personal belief in himself. Something that could explode at any minute. And if you were the slave owner, the music aficionado even partly responsible for harming him, you prayed that what lay underneath never exploded. Forget about sleeping giants. This was Power. Of creative spirit. And more than a mere man.

My wife and I didn't know what to expect, as few concerts as we go to. First, we were disappointed. Most of the audience appeared older than our over-60 friends, like going to the concert of any has-been rock band. Why were there not more young people? Like under 59?

I'm not one of the few Americans of any nationality who followed and loved Sixto Rodriguez from back in the 60s. Like most of us, I learned of him from the documentary Searching for Sugarman. That story of course is about him, but it's about all of us, back then.

Racism, prejudice, Anglo-corporate musicdom deprived the majority of us from ever knowing or enjoying Sixto's music until now. And it took a European filmmaker and fans from Australia and South Africa to bring him to us. If Sixto had performed at Woodstock or the Monterey Bay Pop Festival, maybe we would have known about him. Woodstock got Santana pass the racism. And Richie Havens, who at 72 died this past week. More irony.

Here's what Sixto looked like when he should have been discovered. Other photos here show how much time passed for our country to make it up to him. But really, it's something that can never be made up for.

In that sense, the injustice done to Sixto was the same injustice done to all young Chicanos who were never encouraged to go to college, never got in, were bypassed for promotion, never received a scholarship or were asked to audition or show their art or dance or creativity. His country and their country lost out.

When he started playing on stage, everything was forgotten, if not forgiven. The tunes, the singing, the sounds were live, alive, and rhythm and blues and folk. And strong. The hombre musician who performed in Tucson
didn't miss a beat
moved his fingers through chords, across strings like a twenty-year-old
had a voice with none of the raspiness of a smoker or old man
had the style that any young performer would die to possess.

Sixto played many of the best songs from his albums. The audience wasn't disappointed there. He also performed three other classics like Lucille and I Only Have Eyes for You. He did each in his style and connected to the audience with appropriate emotion. What you could only get from someone who lived back when those classics were first performed.

When Sixto pulled off his light coat, down to a sleeveless black leather vest, his biceps shown like one of the baddest vatos on the block. It's crazy that an old guy could be so fit. Individual muscles on his forearms throbbed as he plucked and strummed, nothing like an old man should be able to do, much less look so fine doing it.

Even after so many worldwide performances, Sixto didn't seem totally comfortable being there. His words were sparse and sometimes reflected this.

Acoustic backup - incredible.
People like to comment how great it is that Sixto finally got rediscovered. How good he must feel that his patience was rewarded. That good things eventually come to those who wait. I think that's total bullshit. Even if Sixto says any of that is true, there's much more lying under the dark fedora than that. And I commiserate with him that some of it is not . . . forgiveness.

In Tucson, Sixto came across as incredibly charming, or charmingly funny:
"Don't rush me; I want to be treated like an ordinary legend."

Some pure wisdom: "About your love: don't be a silent partner."

Appropriately, he ended the show with a song from Dylan, who he's been compared to so often. He wasn't Dylan when he sang this; he was Sixto and worth hearing.

Then at the end he sent us home with:
"Go gentle with your anger." - which seemed more about him than us.

I call him Sixto because I can't think of him as Rodriguez, something attached to the whitewashing he was branded with when producers wanted him to be Rod Riguez. Similar to Ritchie Valens who couldn't be Valenzuela that sounded too ethnic. That's why to me he's Sixto.

Yes, you should see and hear Sixto perform. But before that, I recommend doing more than that. Read his lyrics to learn the passion there. To realize the level of his self-education. To remember the radical thinking of the 60s. To feel the melody of his poetry.

And when you do attend a concert, forget everything written here. Just try to absorb the Presence, feel Sixto's history, ours, and try to understand what it's like to be Sixto. I think it's something unique, maybe never fathomable.

I've tried to get the only Chicano interview of Sixto. Not surprisingly, his staff hasn't responded. Maybe never will. But, that doesn't disappoint me because I can't imagine that in one hour I'd be able to learn enough about this legend. And maybe all that I learned wouldn't want to share. What's above is what I know and think.

Es todo, hoy,