Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Two Voices: On-line Floricanto in Poetry and Prose

Labor Day 2019. La Bloga On-line Floricanto features two superlative voices celebrating our humanity. It happens, and there's no coincidence, these are women's voices. These two writers, María Elena Fernández and Jean Hooper, make a perfect September song for September's first Tuesday.

So How Was Your Week This Week?
María Elena Fernández

Written for the opening of the exhibition Enter the Goddess Portal at Tonalli Studio, East Los Angeles, Sunday, August 11, 2019

Meet me at LA Plaza, then Union Station
close the night out at Mayfair Hotel
Three bailes, all free, amigas!
I texted Friday night
leaning back
legs horizontal on my pine green couch

Commanded my body to rise
Instead discovered the anchor bearing heavy on my chest
The tar too reemerged
like black mortar between my back and couch
Repeated commands, but my muscles lost the match
Just like Monday afternoon

Three destinations that Monday morning
LAX, Burbank, back to my east Hollywood home
Three hours down, then up the 405, across the 134, southeast on the 101
public radio, my non-stop buzzing passenger
Now two days after our El Paso brown 9-11
Finally, I could hear, could process: There was a manifesto.
Could conceive it, not utter it: It’s our turn. They’re shooting at us now too.
“El Paso Texas, The largest mass shooting of Latinos in U.S. history”
blurted the national newsman, stripping me of denial’s shelter
How I yearned to talk to those rabbis
the ones who get on the mic the very next day, declare
“We will not be afraid, we will continue to go to our house of worship.”
How dear Rabbi, how? When I just want to crumble.

Decided rest was in order on my green couch
Made my to-do list
Lifted arms and head, but nothing else followed
An anchor bore deep in my chest
the chain a snake circling my aorta
Thick, stretchy tar seeping from my back onto the couch
Hay que lavar los platos, start prepping classes
My torso wrestled against the iron and the mortar
y también ir al mercado
Wrestled again
Until finally I surrendered
to a day worthy of luto
An hour crept by, then another
My heart heaving grief
trapped in the anchor’s rabid claw
I was too alone
Grabbed el celular
“Amiga, do you have a few minutes? I need to cry.”
Not yet untangled, called another
And the anchor lifted to half its weight
Still I needed nature’s salve
“Ve te a caminar,” the voice boomed
And to bribe myself into action
included an image of a butter pecan ice cream cone in my hand
strolling on my Fern Dell Park walk
The anchor released just enough, the tar melted
Suddenly I was upright
gliding alongside giant shiny green
elephant ear leaves lining a brook
frozen creamy sugar and crunch fueling my gait

Now Friday night
and I am again horizontal in the voracious green marsh
the anchor not crushing, the tar not as thick
but enough to be honored
So I texted las amigas: staying home to write
I might make it to the last baile

How did I go from planning three bailes in one night
to half-way buried in the dark green abyss?
The anchor would not shift, stayed stubborn, until finally I asked
How did I survive this week?
How did I stay off the pinche pine green vortex
between Monday and tonight?

Haz memoria, María Elena, tienes que hacer memoria.

Tuesdays I have a standing commitment
To make dinner for my parents and sister
give Mami and sis a night off of cooking
So three days after la matanza and only one day
after my sentenced communion with my couch
I delivered, because I said I would
And with zeal devised a special summer treat
Mexican chicken salad tostadas y ensalada de nopales
even though I hate deshebrando, took three hours to get the meal to table
I made it Mexican because the peas, cilantro and jalapeños are green
the bell pepper red and summertime maíz so pale, almost white
Decorated each tostada with a flower of aguacate petals
and chopped red bell pepper center

Wednesday, four days after the brown 9-11
had a mammogram scheduled
After probably seven years of avoidance, decided the time is NOW
And hell no, nothing and nobody was going to keep me
from remedying the long lapse of neglect
Because I intend to keep these breasts
healthy, lovely, packed and stacked into a push up bra
for as long as I can stand these wires and pulleys

And while I was at it, the same day got the ultrasound
doc said I shoulda had in March
to see if that two millimeter kidney stone is gone now
maybe explains that dash of irritation after I pee
Because damnit I want to know if that thing is still insida me
I ain’t cool with no burning sensation, mild as it may be

That same night the pine green abyss winked my way
beckoned me to lie down on it’s lap
Because that night I planned to attend a dead man’s concert
Honor a music man in our circle, only 33
creator of guitar rhythm and joy for so many bailes, so many years
killed by a firearm at the end of his brother’s forearm
crystal meth possessing his hand, fingers and trigger

But I resisted the green swamp
I had a purpose: be together, honor our brother music-maker
Yet the anchor weighed down enough that I could not indulge
my pre-club ritual and slip into the short black dress I picked
with the gold and aqua maya stela down the front
The summer time doctor’s office outfit would have to do
pale pinstripes on light blue wide-legged jeans, matching sky blue peasant top
The half-inch midriff all I could offer for a semblance of night club seduction
But not a second thought to changing out daytime hoops
for the club-night three-inch diameters

Congas galloped, keyboard scatted, electric guitar demanded
wall to wall bodies dance exuberant
in our dark red and burgundy, velvet and vinyl vintage cave
on Hill Street and 2nd

A pesky and clingy date
the anchor hung pressed against my heart
I didn’t dance
But I could listen, I could sway
and with the others declare loud, “Carlos Zaragoza! Presente!”

Thursday, five days after la matanza
and three days after my exile on the ravenous green grave
I boarded a bus with CHIRLA, warriors of immigrant rights
to rally at San Bernanrdino’s Adelanto Detention Center, the largest in California
For so long my heart broken, watching images of brown sisters and brothers crammed in cages on my TV screen
Finally, the day I longed for, to plunge both hands into defending them
for their “crime” of wanting to work, survive as best they can
On the bus Sunshine Janeth blared on the mic
“Who wants a burrito?” “Quien necesita agua?”
I discovered a former student sitting in front of me
seven years after graduation, now the lead organizer
Next to me I chatted with la Sra. Rosa, migrant from Mexico
who took buses all the way from South Gate to join us

More devotees boarded at our Diamond Bar stop and then again at San Bernardino
Finally at our destination we poured off the bus
Were handed red and white picket signs
“Stop Hate” “Migration is a Human Right” in bold black letters
Across the street we were greeted with the GEO group’s sirens blaring
and a mere nine counter protestors
with their “We Love ICE” signs and nasty megaphone
On our side, four massive speakers mounted on the roof of a van erupting cumbias
And the crowd that I thought would be around 50
multiplied into a wave of at least 200 dancers

A podium perched on the back of a black pick up
Two brown girl MCs commanded the mic in Spanish
English and impeccable lipstick
The alternative white girl reverend with the cropped platinum blond hair
white collar and glitter blue acrylic nails blessed our gathering
Jaír gave his testimony “Me arrestó ICE saliendo de mi casa al trabajo”
21 days detained in Orange County, leaving his wife and children behind
until CHIRLA lawyers delivered him home

The white girl on the sidelines with the glasses, messy hair
and black White Silence is Violence t-shirt
turned out to be an entertainment lawyer turned immigrant rights lawyer
and true to her t-shirt: “Where are the white people? White people, time to fucking get loud! Use that privilege!”

La lider Angelica closed the ritual across from the horizon’s setting sun
“Hermanas, hermanos! We are going to take their hate and build our own beautiful, beautiful shield of love! Our love is more powerful than their hate! This is our country, this is our land! And we believe liberty and justice is for everyone!

And I was exactly where I wanted to be

But the act of resistance I’m proudest of
was pushing that pinche probiotic up my vagina
for four nights in a row instead of just two
the holistic doc said it would only take two nights
to trounce that damn infection
but it refused to get all the way better
I tried again and no dice

“Four nights, I’m gonna do four nights,” I told myself
“do it the natural way.”
But I let six months lapse, until I decided the week before
before everything happened, that Monday through Thursday
would be my non-negotiable

I managed it Monday night-after half a day on the pine green quick sand
Tuesday night after the summertime Mexican meal at my parents’ house
Wednesday two a.m. after getting home from honoring the dead sweet musician
And Thursday midnight after the protest and two hours strapped into that bus

Because it is my intention to make love again
To you, my beloved, as yet unnamed
And that ain’t happening until that sticky
stinky white cosa is all cleared away
Because I am determined
You will re-enter the goddess
enter the portal, enter the dragon
whatever you want to call it
You will return

I venture to confess this
because a goddess after all is a woman
and we got real woman parts and real woman problems
Point is, can’t wait till the coast is clear, querido.

And on this Friday night, ya que hice memoria
Ahora que escribí este poema
The anchor has crumbled, liquefied,
dripping red life force back into my heart
I lift my chest
The tar transformed to jasmine petals
floating down from my back
their aroma lifting me

I am standing
And it’s only 11pm

Amigas, I’m going to make it to that last baile!
And this time, I will do much more than sway
I promise

August 9, 2019

Born in Los Angeles to Mexico City immigrants, María Elena Fernández is a writer, performer and professor. She holds a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Yale University and a Master's degree in U.S. History from UCLA. Her first person essays have been published in the anthologies Waking Up American and Remembering Frida. As a freelance writer for the LA Weekly, she wrote about Latino music, books and film. Her full-length solo shows include the hilarious Confessions of a Cha Cha Feminist that she toured across the country and the poetry performance, Ancestral Body Navegante. She is currently developing a new solo show The Latinx Survival Guide in the Age of Trump. She teaches history, literature and the art history in the Chicana/o Studies Department at Cal State Northridge.

Readers can find more information and contact the artist via The Face.

The Platform
Jean Hooper

It had to be at least 10:20 pm. I had just walked to the subway stop at Civic Center after watching the Temptations musical at the Ahmanson Theater. Now I stood alone on the Red Line platform looking up at the screen to see when the next train would arrive. I sensed some movement. I glanced down to see a young man in his thirties materialize, heading for me. He spoke in the silent public area. “How do I get to Riverside?” he seemed to ask the air. Except he was addressing me.

I sized him up quickly, which is my habit when I wait for the train, and my personal requirement when I wait alone. Noted: homemade-looking neck tattoos. Grimy demeanor. Black t-shirt and long shorts. Broken blood vessel in left eye. Shaved head. Wristband with ERIC GARCIA in a large font. Clutching clear plastic bag of documents. This guy just got out of jail, I’m thinking. It is late at night, and why is he at this stop when Men’s Central is adjacent to Union Station? Mentally I shifted gears and replied, “Union Station. You want the train on this side.” He was close by now, looking at me with an uncomprehending expression. Dulled. “I’m going there,” I continued. “You go where I go.” Still not registering. “Come with me on the next train. I will show you.”

As if in a movie, the train rolled in miraculously before we had to attempt another exchange. He followed me docilely. Once we were in the train car, I realized I couldn’t just hop off at the next stop and flee to my connection. He looked too helpless and disoriented to leave with verbal instructions. We alighted at Union Station. I asked him to follow me through what looks like a labyrinth to the uninitiated, reminding him we would find the Metrolink upstairs.

On the escalator, I observed offhandedly, “Did you just get out?” Warily he focused on me, saying, “How didja know I got outta jail?” “Well, ERIC,” I answered, eyeing his wristband, “I’m a teacher. Do I look like a teacher to you?” As if this were not one of the more exaggerated non sequiturs I have groped for in my time. He nodded. I asked if he had family in Riverside, did they know he was released tonight? He said his mom lived there and he would find her. I asked if he had her phone number among his papers, and he said no, he didn’t know it.

Because I really was a teacher in alternative education, I recognized so much about this fellow. His marginal existence, his lack of resources, his essential alone-ness. I thought back to my long-ago student, Jeremy, who once confided to me about his release from juvenile detention, that day he went into the sunshine anticipating his mom would pick him up, and no one was there for him. Bravely, he tried to downplay the disappointment and rejection, though we both understood it would always remain buried in one of the lower stratum of his psyche.

“Come with me, Eric.” I glimpsed a security man near the Metrolink ticket dispenser. It was close to 11 pm. “Excuse me, sir. My friend Eric here needs to get to Riverside.”

The security man was joined by an ancient man in a Korean War Vet cap and another younger man in a neon vest. “No train to Riverside til 4:00 am,” he said, as the other two men nodded enthusiastically. “I’m gonna punchum,” Eric muttered softly.

I turned to Eric and said, “Eric, I need you to behave. This man is trying to help us.” Eric grew meek again and looked down. What I learned was that Eric would be rousted out of the waiting area at 1:00 am when the LAPD closed the station for several hours. The security man shared this not unkindly; it was pertinent information.

In my head I felt the exasperation building. But somehow this nameless security man took it upon himself to advise Eric, “You can sit over there until 1 am, and after the police leave there is a place you can wait quietly and I’ll be right here.” I felt my emotions surge at this stranger’s kindness, and I sent Eric over to the bench so I could have a word. I thanked the security man for his generosity, telling him this fellow just appeared out of nowhere to me. The guard wondered aloud if Eric had paid a fare, which we both doubted. “Yeah,” he mused, “he just got out of jail. They all carry those plastic bags. But I can’t let him be outside here at night. He’ll get assaulted out there.” I agreed, saying Eric was too fragile to protect himself.

Eric beckoned me. I half thought he might punch me now, just out of unpredictability. Instead, like a child, he spoke. “I’m hungry. Do you have food for me?” I knew I had a 5$ bill and my TAP card. I told Eric I had no food, but that I would give him five dollars in case he might find something to buy. “But you must behave in here for five hours. Can you do that?” He nodded solemnly. “Be careful,” I said, as I hurried away toward the Gold Line.

I nodded thanks to the security man. To the left and above me was The Faces of Los Angeles mural (or so I call it). I looked up at everyone on the mural and thought, please, watch over us. Then I hurried down the emptying concourse to find my train home.

Jean Hooper lives and gardens in Altadena. She retired from teaching high school in 2017.
She volunteers as an ESL teacher in Atwater Village, is a new devotee to morning bootcamp, and watches for joy in the ordinary.
Fotocredit: @mauragracephotography.com


Kat T said...

Wonderful and important story, Jean.

CC Honda said...

As one of your former students I appreciated your kind heart. Thank you for sharing a moment in your life and a life condition of a young man