Friday, January 31, 2014

A week of Goodbyes

Melinda Palacio

At the William Stafford Memorial in Santa Barbara

It's been a week of goodbyes.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturday, I went to the WilliamStafford Memorial, January 17, 1914--August 28, 1993. On the anniversary of Stafford's 100th birthday, we said goodbye to the prolific U. S. Poet Laureate who had a special connection to Santa Barbara when he was interred at Los Prietos Camp as a conscientious objector during WWII. Stafford lived to be 79 and died while enjoying a slice of his favorite lemon pie.

The beautiful weather and scenery made for a perfect day, except for the scorched, dry ground; and the dryness all around due to the drought. We were fortunate that brave firemen made their stand to preserve the memorial site during the Jesusita Fire in 2009. But there was an eerie feeling at the unusually warm, pleasant January weather. The river was dry and Lake Cachuma a large puddle at twenty percent capacity. The golf course next to the lake was brown, but the alfalfa further down the 154 hwy was green, soaking up sprinkler loads of water. Twenty deer were taking advantage of the sprinklers.

What's most impressive is Stafford's love for the written word. He wrote every day, kept a diary, and wrote over 36, 000 poems, published 6, 000 and kept a daily journal in which he wrote 20, 000 pages.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Tuesday, the world lost Pete Seeger. Only a week before, on a Monday, I participated in the annual Martin Luther King march down State Street and sang many of the songs Seeger made famous, especially We Shall Overcome

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday was a strange day. I started writing new poems and then took a break to answer email and messages and saw that Barry Spacks had transitioned at the same place as my friend Gia, on the same day as Pete Seeger. Barry Spacks was the Santa Barbara Poet Laureate from 2005 to 2007 and a great teacher to all who loved poetry. I have fond memories of taking his weekend poetry workshops. He had a great sense of humor and wasn't at all embarrassed when I wrote a poem about his mismatched socks and read it aloud to our group of poets.
Barry Spacks

Thursday, January 30, 2014

On Thursday, it drizzled for a few hours around noon. How appropriate the sky would turn weepy at the very hour when my friend's ashes were scattered into the ocean.  A week earlier, I said goodbye to my friend Gia at Serenty House in Santa Barbara. She was misdiagnosed in April. Last summer, when doctors finally figured out she had stage 4 lung cancer, she quickly deteriorated and the cancer spread throughout her body. An hour before she died at Serenity House, I went to see her. She said my name when she saw me. Thirty minutes later, she had begun her big journey.

Her friend Joan asked me to make a dessert for the memorial; I made four. Yesterday, as I mixed butter and sugar, I couldn't believe this was the last cake I would make for Gail. And then I realized I was making these desserts for myself, for her friends, for her niece who was so pleased with my efforts. This party was for us, our small remembrance of a great lady.

 Today, January 31, 2014 begins the Chinese New Year.
For those of us still running strong, a toast to swift wings and good luck in the year of the wind horse: Gung Hay Fat Choy.

Saturday, February 1, 2014
I will be reading in Santa Ana at Librería Martinez de Chapman University from 4-6 pm, 216 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chicanonautica: The Transethnic Evolution of Joaquin Murrieta and Zorro

Sometimes stereotypes can be appealing -- take that of the dashing, romantic swashbuckling hero who defeates bad guys and sweeps women off their feet. If the media loves anything, it’s heroic sex symbols, and add a bit of Latin spice, and ooh-la-la! There’s something that can sell.

That’s what happened with Zorro. But taking a good look at Zorro, just what is his ethnicity? Latino? Hispanic? The story is long and complicated.

It widely accepted that the fictional Zorro was inspired by the real Joaquin Murrieta. The legend of Murrieta, the Robin Hood of California, has been popularized since the dime novel days. There have been a few movies, and even spaghetti westerns, but the tale of a man becoming a bandit/avenger after his wife is killed by Anglos, who then is killed and decapitated by ex-Texas Ranger Captain Harry Love, never quite fit the formula of Hollywood success. 

The legend of Joaquin Murrieta -- that inspired Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzoales’ iconic poem I am Joaquin -- remains an oddity, like his head that was preserved in alcohol and put on display. 

The more commercial character Zorro came out the imagination of Johnston McCully in The Curse of Capistrano, serialized in All-Story Magazine in 1919. Johnston pushed the story back in time to California’s Spanish Colonial period. Murrieta was a Mexican -- though Pablo Neruda claimed him as a Peruvian in his play The Splendor and Death of Joaquin Murieta -- while Zorro, and his alter ego Don Diego Vega, are Spanish nobles, safely white enough for the readers of pulp magazines. Spanish words are all in italics. Unlike Murrieta, no motivation is given for Don Diego’s becoming a masked vigilante -- it’s as if he just thought it would all be fun.

I wonder if Carlos Slim and Bill Gates put on masks and fight evil when things get dull . . .

The only mention of race in the novel is of the “natives” who magically appear when ever someone needs food or drink. 

I imagine a Nollywood version with an all-black cast . . .

In 1920 it was adapted into The Mark of Zorro. McCully must have been pleased. The 1924 Grosset & Dunlap edition of the novel takes the title of the movie, and is dedicated to Douglas Fairbanks, THE “ZORRO” OF THE SCREEN, and is ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES FROM THE PHOTOPLAY.

In one of these scenes Zorro defends the fair Lolita from some scruffy-looking “natives.”

So Zorro, though based on a Mexican --whose banditry was a response to racially-motivated injustice -- was a white Hispanic. White actors like Tyrone Power played him. But a strange thing happened. He became more “Latino” over the years.

In the Disney-produced 1957-1959 TV series, he was played by Guy Williams, whose real name was Armand Joseph Catalano, of Italian/Spanish heritage. There have been South American and Filipino versions, along with the Antonio Banderas movie and the Isabel Allende novel. There’s just no stopping this masked man.

Meanwhile, Joaquin Murrieta is still around, outside of the corporate pop culture machine. Disney has expressed no desire to appropriate him. Like his head that mysteriously disappeared in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, his legend will haunt cyberspace and inspire outlaw cultures of the future.

Ernest Hogan, father of Chicano speculative fiction, is working on a secret project about a masked Mexican.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

American Library Association Award Winners 2014

The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

Winner for Illustration
“Niño Wrestles the World,” illustrated and written by Yuyi Morales and published by Roaring Brook Press.

Illustrator Honor Book Books 
“Maria Had a Little Llama / María Tenía una Llamita,” illustrated and written by Angela Dominguez and published by Henry Holt and Company, LLC
“Tito Puente: Mambo King / Rey del Mambo,” illustrated by Rafael López, written by Monica Brown and published by Rayo, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
“Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale,” illustrated and written by Duncan Tonatiuh and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of ABRAMS. 
Author Award Winner
 “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass,” written by Meg Medina and  published by Candlewick Press.

Author Honor Books
“The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist,” written by Margarita Engle and published by Harcourt, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

“The Living,” written by Matt de la Peña and published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.

“Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale,” written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, an imprint of ABRAMS.

 The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

“Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures,” written by Kate DiCamillo and published by Candlewick Press.

Honor Books
“Doll Bones,” written by Holly Black and published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

 “The Year of Billy Miller,” written by Kevin Henkes and published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

“One Came Home,” written by Amy Timberlake and published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

“Paperboy,” written by Vince Vawter and published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

“Locomotive,” illustrated and written by Brian Floca and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.
Honor Books
“Journey,” written and illustrated by Aaron Becker and published by Candlewick Press.
 “Flora and the Flamingo,” written and illustrated by Molly Idle and published by Chronicle Books LLC.
“Mr. Wuffles!” written and illustrated by David Wiesner and published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Given to African American authors and illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream. The award is designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood. 

Author Book Winner
“P.S. Be Eleven,” written by Rita Williams-Garcia and published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Author Honor Books
“March: Book One,” written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell, and published by Top Shelf Productions.

“Darius & Twig,” written by Walter Dean Myers and published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

 “Words with Wings,” written by Nikki Grimes and published by WordSong, an imprint of Highlights.

Winner for Illustration
“Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me,” illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Daniel Beaty and published by Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group.

Honor Books for Illustration
“Nelson Mandela,” illustrated and written by Kadir Nelson and published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Dragons Love Tacos

Review by Ariadna Sánchez

Would you like to eat a crunchy taco?

Do you want it with beef, pork, or chicken?

Do I add lettuce, cheese and spicy salsa? What?

You don’t know what a taco is?

Well, don’t worry because by the time you finish reading Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri you will be a taco expert.  The book is a hilarious story about dragons who love crunchy and tasty tacos (without spicy salsa).

Can you imagine a taco without spicy salsa? I don’t.  I personally like tacos with the super-hot spicy salsa. Yum, Yum.

Dragons Love Tacos is a delicious story about a young boy and his dog. One day, they decide to organize a taco party for Dragons. They take care of the planning and the preparation of the tacos. All ingredients are fresh and the toppings are mild because remember, the dragons don’t like spicy salsa. Everything is ready at the biggest and coolest taco party ever. Just as the dragons get ready to eat, one of them gets a bottle of mild salsa to put on the tacos. However, the fine print reads “now with spicy jalapeño peppers.” The boy tells the dragons not to eat the tacos, but it is too late because the dragons’ ears begin smoking like the crater of a volcano. Flames come out the dragons’ mouths burning down the boy’s house.

The good news is that the dragons help rebuild the boy’s house. The boy doesn’t know if the dragons are helping him because they are good Samaritans, feel bad for destroying the house or want to eat tacos during the break. After all, dragons love tacos.

For more delightful adventures, head to your nearest library and check out other delectable stories to read with your family today. Remember that reading gives you wings.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Review: Give It To Me. La Palabra. Quest. On-line Floricanto: Marisa Urrutia Gedney.

Ana Castillo's Give It To Me 2014's Literary Sensation 
Michael Sedano

Review: Ana Castillo. Give It To Me. NY: The Feminist Press, 2014.
ISBN: 9781558618503

The literary sensation of 2014 is Ana Castillo’s Give It To Me. Castillo’s written no flash-in-the-pan-let’s-churn-out-a-series sensation.
Castillo’s outrageous storytelling creativity will have readers passing copies to all their friends, who will already have their own copy. Give It To Me is sure to engage many a graduate seminar, moving the novel toward the top of all United States novels for its character, Palma Piedras, the novel’s narrative voice, its satire of eroticism, and overall richness.

Ana Castillo sends a woman on a sexual odyssey that samples incest, orgy, rape, cougarhood. Palma Piedras is bi- though mostly prefers women. Palma repeatedly takes on random partners, men, women, gay, straight, singly and in pairs. Rather than move with deliberation, Palma is often simply in the way of other people’s passions. At 43 years old, Palma Piedras is at the nadir of a life in shambles in the wake of death, divorce, and hysterectomy.

Unabashedly sexual without being erotic, Ana Castillo introduces a new ethos to her cast of women. Highly competent as a book translator, emotionally directionless, Palma is neither strong nor in control of much more than where she sleeps. “Anything goes, why not?” would be Palma’s motto if she had one. If Palma has a motive or philosophy, the narrator keeps it well under cover, snarking out Palma’s views on men and sex.

Machismo is lonely, keep the front up, never let anyone in. Palma doesn’t object that a macho perceives himself at war with the world, she’s at war, too. Men are “sex, food, and leave me alone for the rest of my life.” Sex is teatro, performance. The act gets old soon enough, else people get "laid to waste." Women make emotional contact leading to an intimacy that replaces passionate sexual athleticism of early dates.

Palma Piedras is a normal woman with a freaky side that takes over Palma’s vulnerable moments, or asserts itself seemingly at random, in guise of something Palma wants to do. Palma and her enamorado, Pepito, go through a series of misadventures dating back to when he was fourteen and Palma left Abuela’s house and her lil cous’. Pepito focuses Palmas awareness--he is unfinished business, otherwise she’s careening from this to that.

Palma and Ursula split up. Pepito comes to town. Gay friend Randall and Palma prove that each has equipment the other needs. Palma gives it to some gardener by sunbathing nude while he trims the bushes. Pepito takes an intimate cellcam foto and promises to sell it, later sends her cash. Don Ed comes to town and Palma’s his sure thing blind date. Palma is arrested for lewd public display next to Abuela’s grave. Palma hooks up with a 25-year old Apple genius and poet who thumps her against the wall to a rap beat. Palma is having second thoughts about being on the bottom with Austin on her and Mischa on top of Austin, when the hotel maid walks in. Palma gets naked and alluring, Pepito keeps his clothes on then walks out.

Those are the misadventures just of Part I. The novel is put together in three parts.  In Part II, Palma is raped and exacts revenge on the woman. Palma meets her birth mother and unknown father in Los Angeles. The man looks Palma up and down and licks his lips, he’d take it from her.

Abandoned by the mother and raised by a resentful abusive abuela, Palma has invested longing that her mother will be the opposite of abuela and welcome the long-lost abandoned child. Mom can’t wait for the stranger to leave town. She has a replacement family.

Castillo draws an interesting parallel between Palma’s love life and family ties. Once the passion fades, emotional intimacy defines the value of relationships. Palma’s mother long lost passion borne of guilt. Mom’s world is so distant that there’s no absence to fill with emotional connection. Palma knows she can move on from a lover. How can she go home again when there was never a home?

Part III sees Palma and Venus break it off. Venus’ kids and in-laws probably hate Palma with a passion. Palma and Venus aren’t the belles of the quinceañera. It comes time for Venus to kick Palma out, but Part III presents a different Palma, a decisive, here and now attitude developing.

Rather than allow Venus the current lover to dictate the dissolution of their affair, Palma takes full control. She’s packed her bags, chooses the time, and heads out with determination.

Flying back to Chicago, she asserts herself to Jimbo. The narrator has painted a foul fellow in Jimbo and readers will enjoy when Palma and Pepito kick the worthless lout out of abuela’s house. He’ll get his cut of the sale. Pepito says goodbye, and Palma is happy about giving him her blessings. Palma doesn’t look back, her fashion line hits the market. The background world the narrator keeps at the periphery of Palma’s pansexualism pokes its head back onto the scene, Palma’s life pivots.

Give It To Me will inevitably draw comparisons to similar work, especially with Castillo’s direct allusions to Collette and Anaïs Nin sprinked here and there. Give It To Me is none of those and all of those and more, a capstone piece of writing and character. Terry Southern’s Candy, more than others, comes to mind. Not just all the happenstance sex, but details like Palma’s mistaken Dalai Lama broadly parallelling Candy’s guru with “total bodily control” add layers of delight when a reader happens on them. Give It To Me is Candy without Southern’s sophomoric though sometimes wickedly diabolical humor.

There’s lots of humor in this narrator’s sardonic, nonjudgmental voice. Unlike the comparison erotica, where prurience is its own reward, Castillo’s work uses counter-eroticism as a reductio ad absurdum. For instance, in the graveyard sex scene, Palma’s mind goes to her stolen uterus while Pepito is laboring mightily under her. The narrator grows wildly metaphoric, fleeing the sex, hiding behind colorful images, “after a few throbbing thrusts she knew he had sent his troops off to infertile territory.” Just as she’s about to orgasm the cop siren goes off.

The narrative voice of Give It To Me gets subsumed in a reader's “she did what?” response to what's caroming off the page. Castillo’s skill in weaving the story through flashback to flesh out a moment illustrates the value to telling opposed to showing. There’s little to no dialog, nor quotation marks. Except for the rape scene, there are no graphic sex scenes.

Readers have to take the narrator’s word for what’s happening. Does Palma feel a little guilty about having wild sex with her cousin, after acknowledging the two were raised brother and sister? Palma’s revenge on the rapist is a delicious moment of comedy and understated lethality, but the narrator doesn’t dwell on it, Palma just spins the chef into the pool and walks off. The next chapter does the most “showing,” with its responses to the pool fight.

Scholars are going to delight in linking Give It To Me to classical Greek teatro as well as the body of Castillo’s work. In Palma Piedras, Ana Castillo creates a textbook eiron, the “hero” of satire that dates back to ancient Athens, continues through Quixote, Euphues, Gulliver, Balso Snell, Yossarian. Like them, Palma’s life assaults her like a thousand blows, each successive lash taking a bit more skin than the one before. Not the eiron, not the reader has a clue how the character is going to get out of her headlong charge into a brick wall of empty relationships and impulse, if that’s what it is. At one point, Palma realizes if someone knew what she’d just done they’d have Palma hospitalized.

As Castillo wraps up the story, the author provides the literary connection that informs Palma’s seemingly sudden emergence from declivity. Peel My Love Like An Onion shows up as Palma’s gift to a friend. Then, Palma runs into a wheelchaired older woman with a younger flamenco dancer male attendant. Coja Ex Machina feeds into Palma’s intuitions. Palma’s desperate grasping at relationships have proved meaningless and harmful. Carmen La Coja reversed the role; she used to be a pawn. Now, the old woman continues relationships only when her satisfaction is served, a point to then that completely escaped Palma. Find your own satisfaction first, on your terms.

After giving her a hectic career, Castillo turns kindly to her Palma. Palma’s lifelong unfinished business with Pepito is now wrapped up. It wasn’t incest after all, and she doesn’t Love him. On the familia front, Palma may develop a relationship with her niece in LA, maybe familia can be made to work. And her fashion line is about to make Palma wealth and fame.

Not all is whole in Palma’s story. An element of her anomie drives Palma to see “mulch” where others see ordinary folk. Castillo scatters the outlook, the word, in numerous spots but the point of view never gets shown nor told, other than Palma acknowledges her quondam middle-class life was mulch. The Rocky allusion of striving and intensity has a more limited use. The prominent first reference had me looking to see how the narrator would slip in other Rocky allusions and was disappointed there are so few. It’s a personal failing I couldn’t locate again that gluten-free beer Palma ordered. I went looking for that brand multiple visits but inevitably found new insights, phrases, diction, and confirmations, those “that’s what I thought she said” moments.

Satire and erotic literature challenge sexual mores, follies, and excesses of the popular culture it satirizes. It gets people talking about important matters. Give It To Me challenges many a reader’s sexual mores and sense of humor. And that’s only one of its charms. I look to see Give It To Me leading a loud and public discussion. Then the scholarly stuff over time. That’s what literary sensations do.

Renews Quest For Lost Floricanto Videos

Magu. Private collection. Used with permission.
The Digital Library at the University of Southern California offers access to videos of artists who read their work at the first festival de flor y canto, El Centro Chicano's Festival de Flor y Canto, in 1973.

Hear and see California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and Alurista as young poets launching legendary careers. The Salinas boys, Omar and raúlr read powerfully, as do Ricardo Sánchez, Veronica Cunningham, Lyn Romero qepd, Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin, Alejandro Murguía, Oscar Zeta Acosta. It's a stunning assembly of luminaries and antepasados, that first floricanto. And Roberto Vargas and José Montoya read, but that’s hard to prove.

Until USC acquired its digital copies, only two libraries in the world owned videos of the 1973 performances, UC Riverside and Texas A&M Kingsville.

Neither library can find their copies of Vargas and Montoya’s readings.

UCR traces their lost tape to an interlibrary loan to Cal State Bakersfield. TAMU couldn't find the box anywhere.

The performances I digitized were on ¾" U-Matic video cassettes. Elsewhere, I located audiocassettes of the missing video soundtracks, but these were poorly recorded and are unintelligible.

Videos of the 2010 reunion floricanto, Festival de Flor y Canto. Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow will be available from my files to USC this year. Along with those, my goal is to locate the missing videos of José Montoya and Roberto Vargas, and get IDs on all the "unidentified subject" fotos.

This is my 2014 project, find the Vargas and Montoya videos and return their performances to USC. They’re out there, somewhere, and who knows what more? The pianist accompanying Oscar Acosta’s reading, Javier Pacheco, sent USC a copy of Pacheco’s 1973 performance that had not been cataloged at UCR nor TAMU.

Click these Links for:
Index of Festival de Flor y Canto videos and photographs.

Background on the “lost” floricanto videos.

La Palabra's Double First In 2014

Avenue 50 Studio welcomes poets with open arms and mics. The Highland Park gallery is among Los Angeles' more active poetry sites, hosting two regular reading series, La Palabra Readings and The Bluebird Reading Series and supports the peripatetic Poesía Para La Gente.

Sunday, January 27th was a fourth Sunday, hence the first La Palabra of 2014 called a handful of spirited poets for Open Mic, and to hear the spotlighted guests. Karineh Madhessian is the new host and emcee for La Palabra, and her first reading featured Marisa Urrutia Gedney and Ramona Pilar Gonzales.

Here is a link to  a gallery of individual portraits included in the slideshow below. Photographing writers, poets reading their stuff aloud to an audience is part of The Oracy Project. The goal is capturing perfect moments of oral expression. There's eye contact, if not with the lens then with the gente out there. The body is all attitude--a readiness to act purposively--and exposed, away from a lectern. Hands and arms in motion, or holding a manuscript, add their own expressivity, the energy of a moment, a strategic gesture.

Effective text analysis and practice will produce photogenic moments that fit the profile of a "perfect"portrait of an orally literate writer. See the Writers & Oracy links at Read! Raza for tips on reading your stuff aloud.

I like a lot of these portraits. The light in the gallery spilled in through curtained storefront glass. Overhead lighting modeled the readers' left side and the off-white walls glowed with reflected ambient light. None is yet the perfect moment. Most of these reflect an eloquent moment, a point where the words demanded reaching out to the audience. A couple of readers need to use their eyes as one of their interpretive tools, because, as the old song reminds, "read to me only, with thine eyes, and I will buy your book."

Data: Handheld, ambient light. Canon T2i, 18-55mm. ISO1600. 1/50 f/5.6. In rooms like this I find it preferable to use a manual setting and the camera's RAW image. I use Adobe Lightroom to process the files.

On-line Floricanto: Marisa Urrutia Gedney

By Marisa Urrutia Gedney

I open my eyes and remember I love you
when our faces pushed together and I didn’t mind
the scratch of beard, warm breath so close
the flowers of the bedspread
kicked off in the middle of the night
because I need to kick something.
Body a tangle.
I fight in my sleep for what’s supposed to cover both of us
wires firing from bone to muscle to anger
writhing with confusion.
But, I always have the answer.
I am always right.
Not when a nowordslongnight comes
I can only hear Christmas carols and children singing Silent Night in memory of other children. All of them? Or only the ones from those classrooms?

I think of what I will say in the morning
a commitment to not cause harm, or unleash everything
Las Fridas fight
sharing the same blood
boiling, popping for air.
Furioso, the word keeps saying itself
wishing gold swans would swim it away
with grace--
that only happens on stage.

And what about when the map turns topographical?
There are so many more mountains than we thought.
Yosemite Valley is the smallest part on this square of Sierra
Look, the triangle is so small and we wonder what it’s like in Cascade Cliffs, Horizon Ridge, Mt. Starr King, May Lake, and Merced Peak.
The John Muir Trail crosses through most of this big square
but I’m afraid of no bathrooms, and what about when I want a soft squishy pillow,
where will I find a blanket to steal in Pine City?

Should we go to the middle of it all instead,
stand on top of Glacier Point,
make an all day fire and then throw it down the side of a mountain
yell to the whole valley while
fire turns to water and doesn’t disappear.

Her Name Doesn’t Say Enough
By Marisa Urrutia Gedney

Were you mad when your Indio daughter gave us
a revolutionary name
a hard to say name
names with r’s that roll-
and tanned her skin to
deep, dark brown, parted black hair,
all the way down to her butt.
There was no mistaking that she was a shiny happy Chicana
fighting for her rights getting around in her own VW bus.
But then she introduced herself as Beverly and
white black brown, all were confused.
It’s not quite the movie star name you thought it was,
where did a Beverly come from?
She drove from East LA to Commerce, knew she was poor
really poor,
but she had her NO accent tongue,
perfect Spanish on the inside and her name,
no-ita can be added to that!
She’s pure, three syllables of
you fit right in.

You gave her this,
because she didn’t come out with milky skin
or eyes like a messy blue storm.

You gave her this,
and she passed it on.

Didn’t you understand
what happens
when people get here?
They want to be
not what their skin
or voice
or smells
or sadness shows.

Were you mad when you found out that your granddaughter wishes to speak Spanish like it rolled right out,
all natural, no books, no photographic memory to learn
the tenses.

Her name doesn’t say enough.

What the body shows
By Marisa Urrutia Gedney

At the bottom, the base, the trunk
At the place that sticks to the ground,
are women.
Women in their hose and comfy shoes
still cute in a two piece suit,
long beaded necklaces.
It doesn’t matter how wrinkly your hands are, when you gossip
you gotta look good.
A woman with her hair done, 40s style, a hand on her hip
a red smile against orange brick.
Are we only strong on the bottom?
Another on the edge of the bed,
boobs hanging, far apart
seen through a button up blouse that she sewed for a party that night.
Two of them, same height, same dark almost black eyes,
holding hands in a driveway
white folded socks inside oxfords.

And that’s how you walk around, with other women
carrying each step
landing every jump
cushioning hard clumsy or aged falls.
In your calves, rooting down to the earth
they are the closest to their mother.

At the top, the start
the highest reaching point
the place that gets the most sun
hang gold adorned picture frames
with color and cactus,
not the kind from the desert that you’ve never even seen,
but a gift for an illness you endured
and it made it through,
you made it through.
Emerging, more pink lines, green
splashed around
and one gold studded cactus
plump, fat, full of water

It must have just rained.

I trace chameleons
BMarisa Urrutia Gedney

I trace chameleons
in the dark
the raised lines on your chest
blue hues and greens of the place you
wish Comelona could have been set free
at the same time you were
sent off to college all by your own making
darkness there too, the fog horn always calling. The air was so wet.

At home, your mom opened the door to more people,
with you two hours away, your own room for the first time ever, with a long twin bed,
that meant more people she could take in: tios who aren’t tios, new babies, both grandmas at once.
Filling space that didn’t exist until her own kids had to do something to leave.
The one thing you asked her to take care of,
The other person you left, on his own, no more skateboard or big brother,
gone, living in a different kind of room.

I trace long rose stems
down your back to the curve of your stomach.
Those raised lines I know better.
To remember the men that worked hard,
drove all night, got their leg chopped off for you, not because of you,
but so that you
could live like they might have
near orange groves, growing greens, sawing benches and whatever else I might wish for.
Not able to give your reina whatever she wants
but the work and the imagination to thrill her.

I tell them to leave too to get an education
down the street, two freeways away, a three day train ride. Something, somewhere.
When I help 17 year olds tell their story and learn what they will leave behind
and what might not keep living, I wonder how they will handle their losses
and who will trace their pain.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Downtown Neon Gallery and More

From Kansas City, MO, I am reporting on one of the coldest days of the year.  Qué frío for the Neon Warrior, Tomas Cobian, and his community work, including a poetry series, as well as for the anthology Indigenous Message on Water, all of which reporting is as follows. 

The Downtown Neon Gallery is one of the many galleries owned by a Latino artist.  Many of the Latino gallery owners in Kansas City are community activists, too.  I’ll be showing more of these amazing places in upcoming columns. 

In the heart of the Blues and Jazz district of Kansas City, the Downtown Neon Gallery is located at 1921 Truman Road, Kansas City, MO. 
This wonderful gallery is owned by Tomas Cobian, the Neon Warrior, who is known for using neon tubing in his work in addition to promoting music, art, poetry, and dance.  As well, he has collaborated with the Writers Place for several years.  As part of his promoting poetry, Tomas has had a poetry series once a month and features poets from the Writers Place. The Neon Gallery Poetry Reading Series is a monthly event hosted by Martha Gershum, the Writers Place and the Downtown Neon Gallery.  Many members of the Latino Writers Collective have been featured in this series.  For example, on Friday, January 24, 2014, Jason Sierra, aka Chico Sierra, was one of the featured poets.  Poignant lines such as “Irish whisky bled all over my American Dream” stand out from his work that he read. It is always a pleasure to spend an evening listening to poetry. 

The Neon Warrior

Listening to poetry and music is typically the focus at the Downtown Neon Gallery.  What is more, there is opportunity for a convivial community to gather.  At the Gallery, I fortunately ran into other members of the Latino Writers Collective and we shared about our individual projects and caught up. So, that’s how I found out that Chico Sierra, who is also an artist, is working on a collection of short stories and Gustavo Aybar, a Cave Cavem member, is working on a translation project.  All the best for your projects Gustavo and Chico, it’s always great to see you.  

Next time you’re in Kansas City, be sure to visit the Downtown Neon Gallery and hang out with the Neon Warrior.

Jason, Daniel and Gustavo

 Indigenous Message on Water
Por Juan Guillermo Sánchez

The Indigenous Message on Water is part of an international initiative, the Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace 2014, a coalition of Indigenous leaders, Indigenous organizations, academics and like-minded people globally who wish to protect water for future generations. It is a vision from the Elders, and has the support of 60 organizations globally (at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues) =>

This multilingual anthology (English/Spanish/Native language/s) has gathered wisdom, thoughts, verses, short-stories, poems, and general reflections on the various local issues pertaining to Water, written by East/West/North/South indigenous elders, activists and poets: Pinay, Maori, Hau'ula and Chamoru friends from the Pacific; Sakha from Russia; Cree, Tsalagi, Cherokee, Yoeme, Anishinaabe, Lakota, Lipan Apache, Metis, Lōh and Gitxan friends from North America; K'iche', Kaqchikel, and Q'anjob'al friends from Guatemala; Maya and Nahuatl friends from Mexico; Wayuu, Palenque and Guna friends from the Caribe; Uitoto, Okaina and Tikuna from the Amazonia; Camëntá from Putumayo; Yanakuna and Mapuche-Huilliche friends from the Andes and the farthest lands of the Deep South.

If you would like to have this unique compilation, you can get the e-book through Payhip => Also, if you want to help us in the organization of Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace 2014, please share this link with all your contacts.

In peace and friendship.


El Mensaje Indígena de Agua es parte de una iniciativa global, el Foro Indígena Mundial sobre el Agua y la Paz 2014, una coalición global de líderes y organizaciones indígenas, académicos y voluntarios en general, interesados en proteger el agua para las futuras generaciones. Es una visión desde los mayores, la cual tiene el patrocinio de más de 60 organizaciones internacionales y cuenta con la ayuda del Foro Permanente de Asuntos Indígenas de las Naciones Unidas =>

Esta antología multilingüe (español/inglés/lenguas nativas) reúne consejas, pensamientos, versos, cuentos, poemas y reflexiones sobre problemáticas locales relacionadas con el agua, donados para el proyecto por activistas y escritores del Este, Norte, Oeste y Sur: amigos Chamoru, Pinay, Maori y Hau'ula del Pacífico; Sakha de Russia; amigos Cree, Tsalagi, Cherokee, Yoeme, Anishinaabe, Lakota, Lipan Apache, Metis, Lōh y Gitxan de Norteamérica; K'iche', Kaqchikel, y Q'anjob'al de Guatemala; Maya y Nahuatl de México; Wayuu, Palenque y Guna del Caribe; Uitoto, Okaina y Tikuna de la Amazonía; Camëntá del Putumayo; Yanakuna y Mapuche-Huilliche de los Andes y de las tierras últimas del Sur Profundo.

Si quieres conseguir un ejemplar de esta compilación, puedes ir al sitio en Payhip y adquirir el e-book => También, si quieres colaborar en la organización del Foro Indígena Mundial Sobre el Agua y la Paz 2014, por favor comparte este link de arriba con todos sus conocid@s.

Paz y amistad.