Friday, October 30, 2015

Review: Death in Veracruz - New Books

Destroy to Create

Manuel Ramos

Death in Veracruz
Héctor Aguilar Camín
Schaffner Press, Inc - October, 2015

IN THE MEXICAN STATE OF VERACRUZ in Héctor Aguilar Camín’s 1986 novel, Death in Veracruz, Lázaro Pizarro is the union strongman and de facto ruler. He is a man of grandiose ambition and clever stories. He talks about and carries out imaginative projects in the name of his workers; his purview includes everything from overseeing vegetable farms to punishing an abusive drunk. Men line up outside his office to seek his help with or advice about family issues, money problems, job searches. He is respected and feared. He makes life-changing decisions for others without any second thoughts. He knows who he is and what he must do. He is described as having “the look of someone long acquainted with effort and adversity. They had left their mark on a body that seemed both dignified and mutilated by much hard work.”

Pizarro’s motto and, therefore, the motto of the oil workers, is “Destroy to create. Whoever can add can divide.” More than mere bureaucratic doubletalk, the motto underscores the multilayered, contradictory grid of betrayal and lies that serves as the foundation of Camín’s novel, where nothing and nobody are what they seem, and yet massive dishonesty and corruption are blatant.

Mexico in the 1970s was a land of stark contrasts. (The bulk of the novel takes place in 1976–1979.) In the first half of the decade the country experienced rapid economic growth. Oil discoveries promised a golden, secure future. Rhetoric from President Luis Echeverría Álvarez and other old guard politicians trumpeted a modern and progressive Mexico. Oil became the economy's most dynamic growth sector, and the country went from an importer of oil and petroleum products to a significant exporter. Rising income allowed the government to continue its expansionary fiscal policy, partially financed by higher foreign borrowing. Between 1978 and 1981, the economy grew more than eight percent annually, as the government spent heavily on energy, transportation, and basic industries.

But the core was rotten. The dominance of oil came at the expense of other products and industries. Food production especially suffered. Fiscal mismanagement and government scandals combined to scuttle the economy, and by 1981 Mexico had to deal with falling oil prices, higher world interest rates, rising inflation, a chronically overvalued peso, and a deteriorating balance of payments — the country’s worst recession since the 1930s. The impact was severe. Daily life for the common Mexican family became a mean struggle for survival. Rising crime rates, increased criminal and governmental violence, and ubiquitous official corruption followed the wreckage of the dying Mexican financial structure. The Mexican economy remained stagnant for decades, and has yet to fully recover.

Written during that recession, Death in Veracruz is set against a background of violent land takeovers by the oil cartels. In Camín’s version, PEMEX, the state oil monopoly, seizes land, dictates policy to local and federal officials, and operates as a shadow government.

PEMEX and the workers’ union are unlikely bedmates, intent on bullying Mexico into the gilded future through any means necessary. Pizarro, one of the union’s more charismatic leaders, is linked by a respected but jaded journalist to numerous shady deals and illegal land seizures, accompanied by beatings and killings when required. Eventually, the reporter has to investigate the murder of an old friend — a mayor of a Mexican village who stood in the way of both oil developers and union interests. The mayor and his wife had revealed to the reporter their evidence of the union leader’s murderous enterprises. A mob executes the mayor before any of the proof surfaces.

The lynching of the mayor sets into motion a series of events that may or may not implicate the mayor’s widow in an assassination attempt on Pizarro, who may or may not have suffered grievous injuries at the hand of a hired gunman. Meanwhile, the journalist — the novel’s unnamed narrator — never knows the complete truth. Nor does he know who to trust or believe.

In the world created by Camín, no one has clean hands or a calm conscience. The journalist had been carrying on an affair with the mayor’s wife, a woman for whom both men had competed in their youth. Meanwhile, the enigmatic widow Anabela is consumed with such an intense desire for revenge that she hopes to match Pizarro bullet for bullet. And yet, the reporter, suffering from guilty ambivalence, continues their doomed affair.

The journalist moves uneasily from the bed of his best friend’s wife to the sterile and imposing office of the union leader, and to all-night drinking parties in Mexico City with fellow journalists, government clerks, and other such “contacts.” At the end, he has reconciled himself to a version of the facts that, if not completely satisfactory, at least accommodates his reporter’s need for closure. In classic Mexican fashion, the journalist grudgingly accepts the dark fate imposed on him and his friends and lover.

Death in Veracruz is the first novel written by Camín to be translated into English. It has been hailed as a “classic of Latin American fiction” by Ariel Dorfman. Unfortunately, though based on events from more than 40 years ago, the novel still resonates. Bloody Mexico continues to be an appropriate phrase to describe the country. The familiar drug cartel violence that has caused thousands of gruesome deaths has numbed the world into accepting a view of the country as a wild, blood-soaked land where no one is safe from the criminals or the police. Government-sanctioned violence is eerily reminiscent of the violence in Camín’s novel, although today the targets are not necessarily political enemies of the party in charge, but journalists and reporters who dare attempt to expose the brutality of the state.

On July 30th of this year, the photojournalist Rubén Espinosa and social activist Nadia Vera were killed in Mexico City along with three other women. Espinosa worked as a photographer in the state of Veracruz. He fled to Mexico City after receiving numerous death threats that he was convinced came directly from the local government. Espinosa had been working in Veracruz for the news magazine Proceso. He reported on the 43 missing students from the state of Guerrero, as well as the government of Veracruz under Governor Javier Duarte. Vera also left Veracruz after receiving death threats for her work on behalf of human rights. She had been vocal in her opposition to the Veracruz government and believed it to be complicit in the violence taking place in the region. A year ago, in a televised interview, she warned that if anything happened to her or her colleagues, Governor Duarte would be responsible.

Since Duarte took power in 2010, 14 journalists have been murdered and three have disappeared. None of these murders or disappearances has resulted in convictions. 37 journalists have fled their homes and jobs after receiving threats. The violence against reporters is not confined to Veracruz. Since 2000, dozens of journalists have been killed in Mexico and 20 more remain missing. Most of these crimes have never been prosecuted.

In Death in Veracruz, the journalist/narrator takes risks to learn the story so that he can report it. He is aware that he could be killed for doing his job, but he also believes that because he is a reporter he will be given some leeway. His press credentials do protect him, to some extent, and they also provide access to people and places that are important to the story. For example, he can walk into Pizarro’s office, under the paranoid eye of Pizarro’s bodyguard, and engage the boss himself in a calculated but revealing conversation. Although the reporter is admonished to “try to understand,” an implicit warning that failing to understand would be a deadly mistake, politicians or party hacks cannot avoid him unless they want to see themselves on the front page.

The journalist is cautioned about interfering with the “professionals.” He is, after all, only an amateur. His government friends accept the need for flexibility in dangerous times, and they change their advice and opinions based on how the political winds blow. To reinforce this point, Pizarro blithely says to the journalist, “You’ve been told that I had people around Chicontepec killed to get their lands. Don’t let that bother you. Civilization has killed more people than you and I could ever mourn.” In other words, that’s the way it’s always been, and there’s nothing to be done about it.

Camín is an award-winning writer, journalist, and historian who has published several novels and reported on numerous major Mexican news stories. Only he knows how much of himself and his own experiences are included in the character of his fictional journalist. While any immunity from violence the narrator of Death in Veracruz might have enjoyed does not exist in 2015 for reporters or activists such as Rubén Espinosa and Nadia Vera, much of Camín’s novel speaks to the truth of today. The violent exercise of power, the brutal methods for retaining that power, and the bloody body counts that measure the power brokers’ security, as portrayed in the novel, remain in place in Mexico, changed only by increases in number and frequency.

This review appeared originally in the Los Angeles Review of Books. 


New Books

Sex as a Political Condition: A Border Novel
Carlos Nicolás Flores

Texas Tech Univeristy Press - July, 2015

[from the publisher]
Sex as a Political Condition: A Border Novel is a raucous, hilarious journey through political dangers that come in all shapes, cup sizes, and sexual identities, a trip into the wild, sometimes outrageous world of the Texas-Mexico border and all geographical and anatomical points south.

Honoré del Castillo runs the family curio shop in the backwater border town of Escandón, Texas, and fears dying in front of his TV like some six-pack José in his barrio. Encouraged by his friend Trotsky, he becomes politically active—smuggling refugees, airlifting guns to Mexican revolutionaries, negotiating with radical Chicana lesbians—but the naked truths he faces are more often naked than true and constantly threaten to unman him. When a convoy loaded with humanitarian aid bound for Nicaragua pulls into Escandón, his journey to becoming a true revolutionary hero begins, first on Escandón’s international bridge and then on the highways of Mexico. But not until both the convoy and Honoré’s mortality and manhood are threatened in Guatemala does he finally confront the complications of his love for his wife and daughter, his political principles, the stench of human fear, and ultimately what it means to be a principled man in a screwed-up world.

About the author: A native of El Paso, Carlos Nicolás Flores is a winner of the Chicano/Latino Literary Prize and author of a young adult novel, Our House on Hueco (TTUP, 2006).As director of the Teatro Chicano de Laredo and a former director of the South Texas Writing Project, he has long been engaged in the promotion of new writers and writing about the Mexican-American experience. He teaches English at Laredo Community College in Laredo, Texas.


Los Lobos: Dream in Blue
Chris Morris

University of Texas Press - September, 2015

[from the publisher]
Los Lobos leaped into the national spotlight in 1987, when their cover of La Bamba became a No. 1 hit. But what looked like an overnight achievement to the band’s new fans was actually a way station in a long musical journey that began in East Los Angeles in 1973 and is still going strong. Across four decades, Los Lobos (Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano, David Hidalgo, Louie Pérez, and Steve Berlin) have ranged through virtually the entire breadth of American vernacular music, from rockabilly to primal punk rock, R&B to country and folk, Mexican son jarocho to Tex-Mex conjunto and Latin American cumbia. Their sui generis sound has sold millions of albums and won acclaim from fans and critics alike, including three Grammy Awards.

Los Lobos, the first book on this unique band, traces the entire arc of the band’s career. Music journalist Chris Morris draws on new interviews with Los Lobos members and their principal collaborators, as well as his own reporting since the early 1980s, to recount the evolution of Los Lobos’s music. He describes the creation of every album, lingering over highlights such as How Will the Wolf Survive?, La Pistola y El Corazon, and Kiko, while following the band’s trajectory from playing Mexican folk music at weddings and dances in East L.A. to international stardom and major-label success, as well as their independent work in the new millennium. Giving one of the longest-lived and most-honored American rock bands its due, Los Lobos celebrates the expansive reach and creative experimentalism that few other bands can match.

About the author: Chris Morris is a music journalist and disc jockey. He was music editor of the Hollywood Reporter (2004–2007) and senior writer for Billboard (1986–2004). His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, Musician, Mojo, LA Weekly, the Chicago Reader, Variety, and other publications.

The Jaguar's Children
John Vaillant
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - February, 2015

[from the publisher]
An unforgettable, page-turning survival story recounted by Hector, a man trapped—perhaps fatally—inside a tanker truck during an illegal border crossing, telling of his hopes for rescue, the joys and trials of his life, and what has brought us all to this moment.

Amanda Eyre Ward, New York Times Book Review
This is what novels can do—illuminate shadowed lives, enable us to contemplate our own depths of kindness, challenge our beliefs about fate ... Vaillant's use of fact to inspire fiction brings to mind a long list of powerful novels from the past decade or so: What is the What by Dave Eggers; The Map of Love, by Ahdaf Soueif; The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult ... What could be more important than carving out an hour or three and opening yourself to the voice of another, to the possibility that a novel will transform you?

About the author:  John Vaillant's work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Atlantic, National Geographic, and Outside, among other magazines. His two previous, award-winning books, The Tiger and The Golden Spruce, were international bestsellers.


This new anthology includes my story No Hablo Inglés -- a piece I wrote years ago for an online magazine - -  that featured a special issue entitled Borderland Noir.  The editor of the special issue, Craig McDonald, diligently worked on finding a traditional publisher and finally got the collection into hard print as well as an e-book edition. The story is also in The Skull of Pancho Villa, in a slightly different version.

Borderland Noir: An Anthology of Crime Writing
Edited by Craig McDonald
Betimes Books - October 26, 2015

[from the publisher] 
Stories & Essays of Love & Death Across the Rio Grande

Welcome to La Frontera: You’re headed way out west this time, intrepid reader, far past where you’ve dared go before.

Your troubled guides along these dusty, bloody stretches of The Devil’s Highway, are much-awarded crime novelists, journalists, and border-dwelling troubadours. They serve up stories and essays about lives threatened chasing the elusive, often deadly, dream of more money and better futures beckoning north and south of the border.

Emiliano Zapata declared, “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” In that spirit, these bards of the borderland are swinging for the barbed-wire fences: all swagger and dark visions, hell-bent on sweeping you along with them across the Rio Grande to a broken Promised Land. Like treacherous Coyotes, they may gut-shoot you or break your heart in the crossing, but however it goes down, know these hombres are determined to make you feel it.

Stories and essays by Ken Bruen, Jim Cornelius, Garnett Elliott, Bradley Mason Hamlin, Sam Hawken, Mike MacLean, Craig McDonald, Manuel Ramos, Steve Rogers, Tom Russell, James Sallis, Martín Solares, John Stickney, Dave Zeltserman.
Edited by Craig McDonald


Join us TONIGHT!  Just in time for shopping for the readers on your lists.  Three of the best mystery writers in Colorado - Mario Acevedo, Chris Goff, Mark Stevens - plus yours truly.  Hope you can make it.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Chicanonautica: Weird Mexican Art: The Dead and Kid Stuff

Still too warm, but El Niño and the remnants of Hurricane Patricia are kicking enough moisture over Arizona to cause some impressive thunderstorms that have soaked the desert that gets streamy as the sun blazes. Not exactly what Americano cultural expects for fall, but we're hurtling toward the end of October. The big weekend is coming: Halloween/Días de los Muertos/Dead Daze as I called it in my controversial novel Smoking Mirror Blues (to be republished as Tezcatlipoca Blues in the near future).

Luckily, thanks to my wife, who works at the bookstore of the Heard Museum, I got ahold of a couple of fantastic art books that are just the thing for getting the visual cortex in that Dead Daze mood.

And they're both bilingual, too.

First, there's Posada & Manilla: Illustrations Of Mexican Fairy Tales/Artistas Del Cuento Mexicana By Mercurio López Casillas that takes us into the world of cheap “penny press” books – well, actually pamphlets – that children enjoyed before comic books. Manuel Manilla illustrated them before José Guadalupe Posada. Manilla wasn't as much of a stylist or master of the woodcut as Posada, but he definitely laid the groundwork for this style that is both modern and primitve, and suggests an alternative, fantastic Mexican universe where European fairy tales blend with Mexican folklore and history.

It comes with a spectacular two-sided dust jacket and a facsimile of one of these books, El Rey y Sus Tres Hijos.

Frightening, disturbing -- but that was children's entertainment before Walt Disney.

Mercurio López Casillas is back with help from Gregory Dechant and other scholars of Mexican art in Images of Death in Mexican Prints/La Muerte: Espejo Que No Te Engaña. This is an oversized, lavishly illustrated look at the calavera/calaca Mexican living skeleton and other morbid symbols from preColumbian times, through the Spanish invasion, to popular broadsheets where they were often accompanied by satirical poems  (presented in their original format), to modern illustration. It's an unholy feast for the eye, better than an all-night horror movie marathon. The ancient, popular, and avant garde meld, as is the Mexican way.

Both these books are great inspiration for artists young and old, and sources of important cultural history.

Ernest Hogan says “My roots embrace the planet and reach out of the universe – the Intergalactic Barrio.”in his “Chicanonautica Manifesto” in Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies, Volume 40, Number Two, Fall 2015.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

“The Remembering Day” Giveaway in Honor of the #DayoftheDead

From Arte Publico Press 

In honor of #DayoftheDead, we’re giving away a free copy of acclaimed author Pat Mora’s new bilingual picture book, The Remembering Day / El día de los muertos! Share a photo of how you celebrated the Day of the Dead (i.e. an altar you built, face painting, a written poem/story, a meal you prepared, etc) to enter our sweepstakes and read the guidelines below for more details.
We’ll be giving away one copy of the book on Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, and Instagram.
Enter on Facebook:
  • Follow us at
  • Like and share our giveaway post
  • Share a picture of how you celebrated The Day of the Dead, tag @artepublicopress and use the hashtags #RememberingDay and #DayoftheDead
  • Winner will be drawn on Monday, November 9th

Enter on Twitter:
  • Follow us at @artepublico and retweet our giveaway tweet
  • Share a picture of how you celebrated The Day of the Dead, tag @artepublicopress and use the hashtags #RememberingDay and #DayoftheDead
  • Winner will be chosen on Wednesday, November 11th

Enter on tumblr:
  • Follow us on tumblr at
  • Reblog and like our giveaway post
  • Share a picture of how you celebrated The Day of the Dead, tag @artepublicopress and use the hashtags #RememberingDay and #DayoftheDead
  • Winners will be chosen on Friday, November 13th

Enter on Instagram:
  • Follow us on Instagram at
  • Reblog and like our giveaway post
  • Share a picture of how you celebrated The Day of the Dead, tag @artepublicopress and use the hashtags #RememberingDay and #DayoftheDead
  • Winners will be chosen on Friday, November 13th

Additional Important Details:
  • Winners on Twitter/tumblr/Instagram should send a direct message to Arte Público with their name and mailing address.
  • The Facebook winner will be contacted for name and mailing address; reply should include “Day of the Dead” in the subject line
  • You do not have to purchase anything to participate or win
  • Participants must enter before 2:30 pm on the day of the drawing to be eligible for that drawing
  • Participants are limited to one entry on each social media network
  • If entries exceed this amount, participants’ entries will be considered void
  • Participants must follow or have ‘liked’ our pages to be eligible for entry
  • One winner for each social network will be chosen
  • Winners will be notified via email and have 72 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen
  • Giveaways end at the designated time as stated in the giveaway post
  • Participants must live in the US or its territories

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Guest Columnist With Barefoot Dogs. La Palabra at Ave50. Call for Ekphrastic Poetry.

Texas Book Fair
Guest Columnist Jesús Nazario Q&A With  Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

Editor's Note: La Bloga reviewed Barefoot Dogs in August. Today's guest columnist, Jesús Nazario, met with Mr. Ruiz-Camacho at the recently concluded Texas Book Fair.

By Jesús Nazario

When Antonio Ruiz-Camacho was earning his Bachelors degree in Mexico, he never saw himself as a full-time fiction writer. Writing was something he did for fun, not a profession. Instead, he saw himself working on changing the world as journalist.

So he did.

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

For over 18 years, Ruiz-Camacho worked as a journalist voyaging through (at least) three countries, declaring various titles and positions along the way. In 2004 after many trials, tribulations, and successes, Ruiz-Camacho became one of the 110 daily settlers who move to Austin to work for a Spanish language newspaper. Little did the Toluca native from Mexico know that his move to the “live music capital of the world” would eventually help him write his first book.

Antonio Ruiz-Camacho recently published Barefoot Dogs, a collection of stories on forced migrations as a result of violence in Mexico. Ruiz-Camacho’s short story bundle provides a combination of interwoven anecdotes and surrealism, all sardine-packed in a 160-page book to create a fast-pace environment that promises an inside look at the complexity of forced migrations – exclusively from the unorthodox lens of highbrow elites. The book, published in March of this year, is his first fiction book published by Scribner’s.

In Ruiz-Camacho’s debut book, all the short stories are interwoven by one central event: the forced ‘disappearance’ of a wealthy patriarch.

With an ever-increasing surge of violence in Mexico, Ruiz-Camacho’s book is more relevant than ever, bringing a fresh take on how even Mexican elites can be forced to migrate from Mexico due to the country’s unstable conditions.

On the eve of a warm weekend sun, when books were repackaged into cardboard shelters and the waning human traffic had marked the end of Day One at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, La Bloga sat down with Ruiz-Camacho to discuss a plethora of topics, starting with why he decided to write about violence in Mexico, to when Ruiz-Camacho knew he was going to be a fiction storyteller.

Let’s start with an origin question. When did you realize you were going to be a fiction writer?
I never considered becoming a writer, but many years ago, when I was an editor for a local newspaper I was suddenly unable to write as freely as I used to when I worked as a reporter. This new sensation came to me and I realized I was meant to be a fiction writer. Up until then, I was someone who was always busy doing something else on the side.

Your new book thematically deals with violence in Mexico and how that affects all Mexican citizens. How would you describe the Mexican public’s reaction to your new book?
When I went to Mexico last week to release a Spanish translation of my book, I had one reporter begin a question with “this is not a criticism.” He then asked me, “What do you think about writing about violence in Mexico from the comfortable position of living abroad?”

So to me it’s been interesting because people in Mexico have been more territorial about the book than in the U.S. As if it were a matter of who’s entitled and whose right it is to write about Mexico.

Do you think not living in Mexico for the last ten years has made the Mexican public question your moral authority to speak on Mexican issues?
I was always curious if they would question if I had the moral authority to speak about violence in Mexico. But the thing is that violence in Mexico has existed long before I left. Growing up, I knew stories about people who were ‘disappeared’ or were victims of extortion. Ever since, this new wave of violence that’s struck Mexico has haunted me, so I had to write about it.

The stories your book deals with are mainly from the perspective of Mexican elites. That’s really different. What influenced that decision?
The Mexican elites are used to ruling the country yet things get so bad that even the government fails to protect them. These people who are privileged all the time suddenly have to reinvent themselves. The way their world of elitism is just trashed and hit with this unexpected experience of immigration and exile was really interesting to me. I wanted to explore that through my characters. It was also a nice challenge to infuse humanity to these characters who thought they had it all.

What’s the process of creating a set of characters then?
It usually starts with a striking image, and for a long time I thought it was a condition that would magically go away. It’s funny because now that’s how I work. These weird images come to me and if they continue to come to me – to haunt me – then I write them down.

What are some takeaways you hope your readers get from your book?
I hope that if someone reads the book that they think about waves of violence, not just in Mexico but everywhere, in a different way. Also, if in any way what I write helps someone think twice about their own prejudice about Mexican immigrants – that would be great.

About our Guest Columnist
Jesús Nazario is a Mexican-American journalist.

He is currently studying at The University of Texas and lives in Austin, Texas.

Northeast Los Angeles
Triple Features For October La Palabra Reading Series at Avenue 50 Studio

Cynthia Guardado, Michelle Brittan Rosado and Liz Gonzalez
Ninety-degree weather at the end of October is a normal California Fall. Almost as normal, it was the fourth Sunday of the month, and that normally means a La Palabra Hosted by Karineh Mahdessian  celebration at Northeast Los Angeles' cultural soul, Avenue 50 Studio.

Karineh Mahdessian welcomes the audience and ensures the readers honor the time frame.
Mahdessian, victim of a roller skating mishap, worked the house irrepressibly despite the clunky black boot walking cast that slowed the popular emcee's gait but not her spirit. 

Open Mic
Wyatt Underwood, Elsie Vega
Elisabeth Adwin Edwards, left;  Kimberly Cobain, right
Mahdessian began the event with Open Mic. The popular La Palabra, and its counterpart series hosted at Avenue 50, The Bluebird Reading Series, encourage emerging voices to take the floor and share up to five minutes' work. This month, Mariella Sanchez performed for the second time in her writing career.  

Left to right: Brian Dunlap, Gloria L, Mariella Sanchez
Poets travel from throughout the LA basin to join La Palabra Open Mic. Writers and poets enjoy the warm sense of community that has long been a feature of Avenue 50 readings, as well as enthusiastic audiences.

At one time La Palabra and Bluebird were among the only shows in town, on the Eastside. Now regular poetry readings take place across the eastern part of town, from Alivio Open Mic in Bell hosted by Eric Contreras, to Hitched, which moved from the Westside's Beyond Baroque to El Sereno, hosted by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, to Uptown Word in North Long Beach, hosted by Liz Gonzalez.

La Palabra Hosted by Karineh Mahdessian this month featured work by three poets, Michelle Brittan Rosado, Uptown Word's Liz Gonzalez, and Cynthia Guardado.

Michelle Brittan Rosado

Contemporary Artifacts

When the box I lower beside me triggers enough
weight, the seatbelt light blinks passenger

passenger passenger on the dashboard.  Later,
the beams of the headlights will pass over you
waiting in our driveway, to help bring inside

what belonged to me, when I lived with someone
else.  He gave me the partial list over the phone,

his voice was as strange to me as the furniture
I saw daily for years, the room foreign
in its new arrangement, shelves leaning

into the wall, couch facing away from the door.
On the floor of his apartment, I picked through 

the artifacts that say how it was then: a dress
that no longer fits, books I'd made plans to read
and never did.  Meanwhile, he boiled water

on the stove in his kitchen, and we drank tea
after I was done, the objects contained and taped

over.  As he walked me to my car, the neighborhood
darkened by increments, the sidewalks like lines
drawn between any two points at night.  But now,

you carry this in your arms over the broken 
porch step.  In our room, this fits beneath the bed.

Liz Gonzalez

Catholic Death

shiver as she 
lights a candle
on the altar to save
daddy's soul charring
in purgatory A good father
not a good man Cheated on
mama His biker buds say he
picked up his cracked head Got
on his knees Recited the Act of
Contrition Police report states
they found him under the
front tire Inside she
aches God never
forgave him

Liz Gonzalez' grandfather, Sax, 2d from right, and his band
toured the San Bernardino region in the years before WWII

Thank you, Liz Gonzalez, for sharing "Catholic Death" with La Bloga. Still photography cannot communicate how effectively Gonzalez reads this significant poem. 

Thank you, too, Cynthia Guardado, for sharing "How Women Grieve," a powerful poem of arresting imagery.

Cynthia Guardado

How Women Grieve
By Cynthia Guardado

Huddled into a cold corner of the shower you whimper,
you howl like a woman who has a burden of hunger she ignores. 
You let it drain. The heart in your belly pulses behind your ears, 
the place where you hide everything you are afraid of. The throbbing 
has been quietly whispering all the words you fear. And thats when 
you scrub the hardest, your skin the only thing you can really clean. 
You wash yourself raw as if the cells carried absorbed memories 
It’s always the surface we polish but what of insides, the kind that gather 
like crustaceans that prey on our linings, that eat what is dead? 
And bleach cannot cure us, and ammonia cannot blind us, and shame 
continues to hide in your eyes. How can we repair the thing we can never 
reach, the grief that grows inside the darkest corner of our guts,
the thing that suffocates us like the pulmonary embolism that fills our lungs
with blood? But we drain and there beneath the ring is the clog, the filled brass artery, 
where we dispose what we want to shed. But it crawls back up from beneath 
your feet returns from the hole you’ve been digging. You are submerged 
in water yet your mouth is so dry, and swollen tongue confusion fills you, 
the kind only the desert can understand. You hang onto yourself
and you cup your own face because only you can love you like this.

Photographer's note. Fotos taken with a Canon 70-300mm lens, hand held, ambient light. With the heat, the open portal was the best way to maintain acceptable comfort levels for the enthusiastic audience. Photography against a bright background can bedevil exposure and often adds flare or fuzzy edges. 

I take numerous fotos during the set-up period to determine the best fixed setting. For this La Palabra session,  I set the Canon T2i to 1/200 f/5 at ISO1600. This produces adequate depth of focus to accommodate a speaker leaning and moving toward and away from the lectern, while keeping distant object suitably out-of-focus. Note Liz Gonzalez is blurry while two rows of audience are sharply focused. 

Ekphrastic California Poetry Magazine Launches Mid-November

Mt. San Antonio College creative writing professor, John Brantingham, Writer-in-residence at Pomona's dA Center for the Arts, announces a call for poems for publication in a new on-line poetry magazine, Ekphrastic California. November 15 will see California Ekphrastic's first issue.

Brantingham writes he seeks "poetry with some kind of California connection (however tenuous). If you are a Californian or you've stepped foot on California or there is a French painting in a Californian museum and you wrote a poem about it". He adds, "special consideration will be given to poems about street art and living artists."

Consult Ekphrastic California's' Submissions Guidelines for details. English language and bilingual/code-switching poetry is welcome. Editor Brantingham doesn't read Spanish and hence cannot consider work only in Spanish or another language. The editor acknowledges the limitation and calls for someone to launch a Spanish-language magazine dedicated to ekphrastic poetry.

Currently, Brantingham plans to publish one poem per day. If submissions allow, Ekphrastic California may go with two a day.

La Bloga asked Brantingham for his long view on the new poetry magazine. He says, "What I'm really hoping for is to highlight the voice of new poets along with established poets and that we look at the spectrum of art. It's fine if we have art featuring the old masters, but I'm much more interested in street art and the work people sell in little cafes and magazines.

"I'd like to see the murals in Pomona discussed and pop-up galleries in Long Beach.

"Ekphrastic California should be a celebration of what's happening now to reflect the wide diversity of voices and vision in California. The arts are a conversation that the world is having about culture, religion, and history. I want everyone to be a part of that conversation."

Late-Breaking News
Hinchas de Poesía 17 Now On-line

La Bloga friend Yago S. Cura emailed just as La Bloga was being put to bed to share news of the new edition of Hinchas de Poesia. 

In this issue we feature work from In Like Company: The Salt River Review & Porch Anthology, edited by James Cervantes, our foreign correspondent, who also served as guest editor for this issue. Work from the new anthology includes poetry by Michael Burkard, Ed Harkness, Sheila Murphy, Sam Pereira, Carlos Reyes, Tad Richards, Mary Ruefle & Pamela Stewart; fiction by Donna Vitucci & Avital Gad Cykman. Other poets include T.R. Hummer, Arturo Desimone, Rony Nair, Brent Goodman & Mary Lee Bragg; fiction by Michael Díaz Feito & Philip Garrison; artwork & commentary by Gray Jacobik, Laura Jensen, Lynda Schor & John Gilgun.  Cervantes has dished up a boffo issue which you're sure to enjoy. In Like Company is one of the better anthologies to appear in quite some time & we urge our readers to get a copy before they're all sold out.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Three poems by Eloísa Pérez-Lozano

Eloísa Pérez-Lozano


~For all bilinguals who hide their accents well.

I look like you
But not quite like you
Hiding in plain sight, another me
Waits for the right moment

English is a tennis ball
In a well-matched game
Lobbing back and forth between us
When my phone interrupts our play

Just a second, I say
While I answer my call

Mamá’s voice rings out
And I suddenly morph
Your head turns back, thoughtful
As my inner form appears

A few notches louder than before
My melody soothes you
Your apprehension melts away
As you listen without understanding

I didn’t come to confuse
Only entrance
Linguistic dance
A bilingual romance

With you I am an English master
A domain I rule
Then, in a second, I’ve switched
That girl is gone

Y ahora estoy aquí
A master of Spanish as well
It’s easy to lose yourself
Under my sonorous spell, isn’t it?

Consonantes crujientes y vocales abiertas
Are tendrils from my tongue
Attracting your ears
To drown in my sensuous sounds

Ni sabes lo que oyes
But you are hypnotized
Looking at me like a trainwreck
You cannot ignore

Solo que aquí
It is a trainwreck inside me
Who is this girl?
Your eyes ask

I say “Adios, Mamá
Te quiero mucho”

And the spell is broken
My English returns with my other me
Whom you recognize slowly
As the me you know

That girl is back
My inner nature veiled once more
You won’t remember
But I’ll never forget

The way your eyes
Saw my other side
Glimpsed at that reality
And didn’t recognize who I was

I smile from inside
Waiting for the next time I’ll appear.


Mexican American

I’m Mexican enough to savor el sabor picosito de los chiles,
but American enough to keep my ears from steaming.

I’m Mexican enough to reirme fuerte y con gusto
but American enough to know when I can and can’t do that.

I’m Mexican enough to feel orgullosa de hablar en español
but American enough to unsheathe my English sword if needed.

I’m Mexican enough to understand los juegos y dramas sociales
but American enough to know I don’t want to be a part of them.

I’m Mexican enough to treat you como si fueras familia,
but American enough to tell you when you’ve pissed me off.

I’m Mexican enough to offer you mi casa con brazos abiertos,
but American enough to expect that you respect it.

I’m Mexican enough to love conviviendo con mis comadres
but American enough to have a blast with my best girlfriends, too.

I’m Mexican enough to be fiercely fiel a mi familia siempre
but American enough to be my own independent person within it.

I’m Mexican enough to want to atender a mi esposo
but American enough to expect the same in return.

I’m Mexican enough to know que quiero ser una madre algún día
but American enough to know that there’s no rush.

I’m Mexican enough to need un lugar que sea mi casa
but American enough to always live in perpetual wanderlust.

I’m Mexican enough to appreciate que trates de entender mi cultura
but American enough to know that you still won’t get it completely.

Unless you’ve lived esta doble vida  mismo,
you’ll always be one joke, one gesture, one expression behind.


Un saludo in the suburbs

I read in the car outside the house,
patiently waiting in silence
for my sister’s piano lesson to wrap up

You walk across the lawn with flyers in your hands,
wearing faded jeans and a light gray shirt
as you hang your message on the front door

I look up and our eyes meet,
open hands rising in sync together
as we smile and wave our saludo

If my skin were darker,
you might see the paisana in me,
but to you, I’m just another gringa

Living my life, your American dream
in a suburb you prune and mow
so your kids won’t have to

So they might live here one day,
and their children can learn
musical melodies like my sister

I wish you and your family lo mejor
because that’s all I can do
as you walk away


Eloísa Pérez-Lozano grew up bilingual and bicultural in Houston, Texas. She graduated from Iowa State University with her M.S. in journalism and mass communication and her B.S. in psychology. Her poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in The Texas Observer, aaduna, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The Acentos Review, The Ofi Press, and VONA’s Voices Against Racial Injustice: An Arts Forum, among others.

[“Mutant” was first published by The Ofi Press. “Un Saludo in the Suburbs” was first published online at VONA’s Voices Against Racial Injustice: An Arts Forum.]