Thursday, November 30, 2023

Chicanonautica: The San Andreas Fault and Zapotecan California


by Ernest Hogan

We had to check out the San Andreas Fault, that keeps rattling California but still hasn’t managed to sink the state the way it was supposed to back in the early Seventies. The Golden State doesn’t seem to be destined to be a new Atlantis, but then the Pacific plate whose northward movement causes the dreaded earthquakes is more likely a chunk of lost Lemuria.

Not far from the fault is the remarkable and somewhat Lemurian town of Parkfield, population 18. It’s the home of the University of California Berkeley Seismological Laboratory–a metal shack that seems to be home to some machines--and a bluegrass festival, though there isn’t much room for a big crowd. There’s the Parkfield Lodge that wasn’t open, guarded by a wooden Indian and a monument to the Yokut, the local Indigenous tribe. and some fanciful buildings and odd structures that could well be Lemurian plumbing fixtures.

Back on the road Mike asked about the word “logistics” on trucks. Then we looked it up: the detailed coordination of a complex operation. Hmm. I pretended to answer a phone: “Mysterious Logistics, what can we do for you?” We all laughed.

Then I saw some roadside datura.

We checked into a motel in Monterey–the bathroom in our room had a sign with a Tralfamadorian heretic reminding us not to flush “flushable” wipes.

We felt like Mexican food. I like to eat Mexican while on the road, not just too feed my addiction, but to see what kind of variations on the theme are going on as the virus spreads. The young woman with orange/purple hair and a lip piercing recommended El Milagro down the road in Seaside, her personal favorite. Her family was from Oaxaca and their menu was Oaxaqueño. We went for it.

It had some nice murals and Día de los Muertos decorations, and the food was great. Not the generic Mexican fare you find in most of Aztlán. They didn’t have my old, beloved,reliable tacos, beans, and rice, so I went for their tacos and a cold cactus salad. The taco was what I would call a burrito, and the salad was made with nopales, known in the Anglophones as prickly-pear. It was made from the paddles, not the fruit. I usually have nopales fried, and with eggs and salsa for breakfast, but the salad was a new treat.

A lot of the customers, and the employees, were from Oaxaca. The manager was impressed that I had been to Oaxaca, and knew about Zapotecan culture. There seems to be a Zapotecan colony there.

Mexican immigration to California has changed over the years. Decades ago it was mostly people from the border states–like my family, on both sides–and some from as far south as Mexico City.

In recent years, we’ve come to see an influx from the south, where tamales are wrapped in banana leaves. These days the Pacific Coast Highway now bristles with Mexican restaurants boasting a diverse selection of cuisines.

And there are so many of them. I thought that my hometown–Glendale, Arizona–had a higher density of them than parts of Mexico, but this, I'm afraid to say, blows us out of the water.

So many Mexican restaurants, so little time. I’m going to have to come back someday.

The next morning, I found a news story about scientists discovering the Law of Increasing Functional Information. More information, even if it’s in the form of molecular structure, triggers evolution.

And here it’s happening with La Cultura.

Later at a Pacific Grove thrift store, I found a copy of Cortez and Montezuma by Maurice Collis. The guy who rang me up told me his name was Quetzalcoa, dropping the “tl” like a modern Nauhuatl speaker.

The functional information keeps coming. Maybe some mysterious logistics are in order.

Ernest Hogan’s first short story collection, Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song, is available on Amazon. What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Warrior Girl

By Carmen Tafolla


Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Language: English

Hardcover: 224 pages

ISBN-10: 0593354710

ISBN-13: 978-0593354711


An insightful novel in verse about the joys and struggles of a Chicana girl who is a warrior for her name, her history, and her right to choose what she celebrates in life.


Celina and her family are bilingual and follow both Mexican and American traditions. Celina revels in her Mexican heritage, but once she starts school it feels like the world wants her to erase that part of her identity. Fortunately, she’s got an army of family and three fabulous new friends behind her to fight the ignorance. But it’s her Gramma who’s her biggest inspiration, encouraging Celina to build a shield of joy around herself. Because when you’re celebrating, when you find a reason to sing or dance or paint or play or laugh or write, they haven’t taken everything away from you. Of course, it’s not possible to stay in celebration mode when things get dire--like when her dad’s deported and a pandemic hits--but if there is anything Celina’s sure of, it’s that she’ll always live up to her last name: Guerrera--woman warrior--and that she will use her voice and writing talents to make the world a more beautiful place where all cultures are celebrated.





“Using rhythmic first-person verse, Tafolla presents messages about the importance of family and friends, social justice, and using one’s voice to incite change. . . . Via the protagonist’s journey to articulate her complex feelings through succinct and polished phrases, Tafolla crafts an astute and evolving heroine. The lyrical verse—structured as Celi’s own poetry, which teachers and Gramma embolden her to pursue—eventually culminates in powerful vocalizations of Celi’s values.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review


“Tafolla skillfully weaves . . . significant recent historic moments and the hopeful stories of leaders like Emma Tenayuca and César Chávez together with the more specific experiences of the four friends. . . . Protagonist Celi, an emerging poet, is consistently and vividly rendered . . . and her righteous, powerful, and joyful voice carries the day. An exuberant, rousing celebration of youth activism.” —Kirkus Reviews


“On top of her worries about her father who has been deported, Celina must face a challenging pandemic, fear of her grandmother catching the virus, and finding joy despite it all. But she is a Guerrera, a woman warrior; she has a voice and writing talent, and she can still use that to show the world the beauty of all cultures. Written in verse, this is a timely novel that tackles various struggles teens face, including desire to belong, family conflict, and fighting for what you believe in. Tafolla skillfully writes Celina’s voice as a young girl, and allows it to mature as she does. . . . An insightful, timely, and discussion-worthy read. This beautifully written contemporary novel is a highly recommended purchase.”—School Library Journal



Dr. Carmen Tafolla ( is the 2015 State Poet Laureate of Texas and the former president of the TexasInstitute of Letters. An award-winning poet and children’s author, storyteller, perfor­mance artist, motivational speaker, scholar, and university professor, she is the author of more than forty books and a profes­sor emeritus of Transformative Children’s Literature at UT San Antonio. Her numerous awards and distinctions include the prestigious Américas Award, the designation of first city Poet Laureate of San Antonio, six International Latino Book Awards, two Tomás Rivera Book Awards, two ALA Notable Books, the Art of Peace Award, and the Charlotte Zolotow Award. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Dreamy Magic at the Dot Chandler

Opera Review:  El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego. 

Michael Sedano

foto: L.A. Opera

I was mildly disappointed not attending the L.A. Opera’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni last month. Happily, I can make up for the lapse with another don Juan, the notorious mujeriego pot-bellied Diego Rivera in the Los Angeles Opera’s El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego.
A far cry from Mozart,Grammy Award-winning composer Gabriela Lena Frank and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz put together an experience worthy of any other Grand Opera on the nation’s premiere stage for opera, but with the taste of raza and lo nuestro. Gente paid attention and throng to the production. I would not be surprised to see the run extended prior to moving up North to The City.
Credit for the look and feel of the stage experience goes to Stage director Lorena Maza, scenic designer Jorge Ballina, costume designer Eloise Kazan and lighting designer Victor Zapatero, all of whom son chilangos. The choreographer is Ruby Tagle, also based in Mexico City. Jeremy Frank is the chorus director.
Especially in L.A., say the magic words “Frida” “Diego” and with the snap of credit card plastic on the counter, gente fill the plaza of the Music Center rubbing shoulders with delighted opera regulars. Those People welcome Diversity to dispel the fusty fuddy-duddy reputation of opera-goers and Grand Opera.
Órale, El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego is Grand Opera, and our gente flocked to the magic. 
Welcome to the mainstream, raza. El Último Sueño marks all manner of innovative and unique highpoints in United Statesian High Culture. The best part, this becomes the first time many people have ventured this far into the cultural heart of Anglo L.A. Aquí estamos que no?
Programmers at the Music Center get it right. Tickets start at fourteen bolas. If you ride the train you can walk there. 
At the front doors, there’s a large gold frame for selfies with a muted blue lienzo flat emblazoned with trademark logoi. People line up fifty deep for a few seconds enchanted, framed inside el marco de oro. 
foto: Irene Hernandez
L, Irene Hernandez, R, 
Helen Suquett- Krolik

The selfie set evokes the most magical vignette in the magical production  inside:  identical gold frames enfold tableaux vivants quoting classic Kahlo paintings. Only after seeing the scene will the selfie-taker realize the fulness of their interaction with the experience.
Sueño is sung entirely in Spanish, with English supertitles. Hispanoparlantes filling a preponderance of the 3200 seats in the Dorothy Chandler auditorium relied upon the Spanish supertitles to decipher operatic phrasing--recitative-- that tends to break single syllable words into five- or six-syllable articulations and listeners go "no one talks like that", and "what is she saying?"

The musical score provides an aural tapestry that seems fit to the emotions of the moment. No one left the theatre humming the catchy tunes because there aren't any. I was expecting a "La Llorona" melody somewhere in the "folklore-inspired score" but I recognized nothing evocative of stuff I know. Maybe Carlos Chavez devotées would recognize the notes, but it doesn't have to sound familiar to be effective. The music works and drives the action onward.
Úlitmo Sueño is easily the first purely cultura Mexicana libretto to play on Bunker Hill. The Opera association's literature proclaims the All-Mexican creative staff and have bent over backwards to make this an L.A. event wrapped in Mexicanismo.
It's an opportunity raza really should jump into with both jobs and a loan from the readycash place. Even at fourteen bucks a seat, attending the opera is not for the faint of heart. The lobby bars take a C-note for four drinks.
Eat before you go. But go. Mejor, save your bucks and make an event of going to the Opera, with friends. "Grand" means something, so be grande and enjoy the opera a todo dar.
There's magic on that huge stage. Mictlán. Real Life. An orchestra directed by Lina González-Granados provides the symphonic musica. Voices include a sizeable chorus, leads include Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Countertenor, Baritone. No amplification, it's real Opera.
Gente generally don't know all the technical stuff about the opera nor this one in particular. We're here to experience.
foto:L.A. Opera 

Color is the first sense the stage engages. Scenic designer Jorge Ballina keeps everything orange and warm tan colors. Warm diffused light softens every garment and line and angle in sight. The characters are dead; here is Mictlán and the setting for the first two acts. 
The scene offers puro magic. And more magic. Then more than enough magic so that people at intermission hope the second half will have a faster pace.
Still, it's imaginative and a bit rasquache how the ranks of wooden Cempasúchil winch into the air above the singers. The real world is up there with the Marigolds, Mictlan is on stage, beneath the garlands and graves. In fact, I was delighted by numerous old-fashion stage effects that eschew technology for the make-do of elegant rasquachismo like a gauze curtain and light effects.

The audience doesn't applaud at all the cool places like a "regular" audience would. Ni modo. The audience as a single entity are fully engaged in the slowly unfolding drama and iconography. At the end, applause and a few chifles sound the genuine appreciation of this audience. I whistled.
As in most operas, story doesn't matter so much as sensation, emotion, and for Sueño in particular, hero-worship. (Note: references to fat-bellied Diego aren't bashing but allusions to the libretto). Frida wears her floral headdress and in the audience, hundreds of women pay tribute to Frida by wearing floral headdresses and Puebla embroidered textiles.
It's a beautiful thing going on like never before at the Dot Chandler.

Michael Sedano photobombs two visitors after the matinee. Attending the performance infuses the audience with joy and a giddiness born of sharing a magical experience.
Plotted after Orpheus and other adventurers into the underworld, Frida returns to earth to assuage Diego's desperate longing. There's a condition, a catch: Frida can only observe, not touch. To touch is to regain the pain of being crushed by a streetcar and confined to a stiff corset much of her days.
She touches. Diego probably dies--Frida kills Diego--with that touch. Frida has abandoned eternal peace to gain a momentary reunion with the Love of her Life knowing she will rediscover physical agony. 
Frida even sings how loving Diego is more painful than being crushed by that streetcar. The audience Saturday matinee gives off a collective gasp of empathy at the brutality of the thought, and Frida's nobility comes through, her dalliances purified with her sacrifice for Love and her man.
That's why Story doesn't matter. You're not supposed to ask the questions that strike you while enjoying an after-Opera dinner with friends. What did Frida do to deserve having to live with agony again? Does Diego have a right to ask Frida to abandon liberation from pain to serve his selfish longing? There's nothing in it for Frida. She's following a patriarchal imperative but we're not supposed to notice. 
That's OK, it's only a pinche opera. El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego offers spectacle unavailable from any other experience. Going to the Opera like the rich people is an engaging social event that goes better with compañeros in the next seat. Our gente belong in places like Music Center Hill and productions like this will fill seats when we feel welcome. When we are made to feel welcome. This time around, órale, L.A. Opera, te aventáste.
El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego has  only six Los Angeles performances, 7:30 or 2:00 p.m., through December 9 via this link to L.A. Opera.


Thursday, November 23, 2023

A Lucky Thanksgiving


         Dedicated to Mike Molina, a brother in arms.


A surprise find...Thanksgiving Day, 1966

      I lucked out, but I didn’t know it at the time. The holidays were nearing, but nobody gave a damn about them. It all started on October 25th, 1966. Exhausted from the nineteen-hour flight, and a three-hour stopover in Tokyo, we landed at Saigon’s, Tan Son Nhut Airport, complements of Continental Airlines, stewardesses biding us adieu, as if we were going on an exotic vacation.

     The steaming heat outside slapped us awake. After grouping up on the tarmac, a sergeant guided us to the bathrooms, inside, white tiles everywhere, no stalls, no toilets, just a low trough around the perimeter. An old woman stooped over the trough, her traditional Vietnamese dress her only privacy. She didn’t raise her eyes. A young man, a few feet down from her, was just finishing up. We did what we had to and rushed back outside.

     A convoy of trucks and gun jeeps drove us a short distance to the old 90th Replacement Center, a wild west of a compound, protected by gun towers, a tall fence, and concertina wire. The place was crowded with teenagers in uniform, a lot of guys barely out of high school. The sergeant pointed to a row of tents. He told us to stay at the ready, a convoy would be by to take us to the new, larger replacement center at Long Binh, an hour’s drive away.

     Some friends from Fort Benning and I were sitting on bunks, taking it all in, joking, an attempt to keep the wolves away. They fed us in the mess hall, gave us a chance to wash up, and ordered us outside the compound where the trucks were waiting. They had us in rows. Then this burly sergeant stepped up and said he needed “bodies” to stay behind and pull guard duty for a night. “Any volunteers?”

     Not a one. I shouldn’t have looked up at him. “You,” he said, pointing to me, “join those men over there.” I stepped over to a group of guys waiting under the boiling sun. I felt like I’d been ditched as I watched my friends board a convoy and drive away, escorted by M.P.’s in gun jeeps. The rest of us followed a corporal to a half-wood, half-screened building, where he told us to pick out a bunk and relax.


Written before Westmoreland's fall from grace

     The corporal told me I had 10:00-to-2:00 A.M. watch. He fitted us with ammo pouches and showed us the small armory. He didn’t say much more other than, “You’se want to stay alive, troopers? You'se best walk your post, stay awake, and don’t fall for the dink vendors coming up to wire and selling you souvenirs an’ shit. They ain’t all vendors.” We caught his meaning.

     I’d pulled guard duty in training but never with live ammunition or the realization that someone outside the perimeter wanted to kill me. I slept hard until 9:45, when the corporal woke me. Disoriented, I thought I was home, in my bed. My heart sank when the heat hit me. My brain readjusted. I put on the web gear, grabbed an M-14 from the rack, and headed out to the fence and began pacing the inside perimeter.

     Lights attached to telephone posts cast triangular glows on the ground, like the lights of a concentration camps. I stayed in the shadows. I caught the smell of smoke, dirt, and fish. The noises: low but magnified, muffled voices, faint sounds of the city, and an eerie sound: mortars far off in jungle, and every so often the burst of an M-16, not like a battle, more like warnings to keep away. It was a long four-hour watch, my emotions clashing, the darkness beyond the wire, shadows everywhere, playing with my imagination. It was just the start. At 2:15, I was back in the guards’ tent, in my bunk, no relief from the heat.

     By noon the next day, I boarded a convoy headed to Long Binh to meet up with my friends and receive my orders, to see where they were sending me. I knew I’d been assigned to the 101st Airborne, but in the army, things can change – fast.

     We slept on bunks in large canvas tents, plywood floors, and flaps for walls, not much protection from mortar attacks. Each morning, guys lined up to get their orders and ship out to their permanent duty stations. I waited. Nothing. Two weeks passed. I was still waiting, a couple of my friends in the same situation. The Army had lost our orders. Really, no orders?

     Long Binh was miserable, a barren, hot, hilly camp. bad food, rationed water, no laundry (not for us, anyway), terrible duty, mostly pouring gas on human waste in large metal barrels and burning it. Later, there was nothing to do but sit around and wait, the sun beating off the tents. On night we went to the mess hall to drink beer and listen to a Pilipino rock band. Later, tucked into our beds, a great light lit up the sky, and an explosion shook the ground. Without weapons, we dropped to the floor and covered ourselves with our mattresses, as we’d been instructed in orientation. We could hear small arms somewhere in the distance. An hour later, it was quiet again.

     The next day, they told us sappers had blown up an ammo dump about a half-mile away. “No big deal,” a sergeant said. “It isn’t the first time. Welcome to Vietnam.”

     When my orders still hadn’t arrived, halfway into November, and the clerks were tired of hearing us bitch, they told us we could fly out to Cam Rahn Bay and work with the engineers building a new military complex and wait for our orders there. They said the camp was on the ocean, the South China Sea. Raised a few miles from the Pacific, I jumped at the chance. About twelve of us took the deal. Other guys decided to wait in Long Binh.

     At Cam Rahn Bay, we worked hard, all day, eight hours, mixing sand, rock, and concrete into a mega-mixer for the concrete slabs. Our bodies hardened. We partied every night, beer and hard liquor at the local EM clubs, really, just tents in the sand. We’d spend weekends on the beach, bodysurfing and frolicking in the warm water. It was heaven. Thanksgiving rolled around.

     Now, probably, I wouldn’t have been writing about any of this except one day a few years ago, I was rummaging through some old file cabinets at home. I found a bunch of military stuff I’d buried away, documents, ribbons, medals, a currency, a Vietnamese bill that said, “Viet Nam, Nam Bong, 5-something. Inserted in the stuff was a Thanksgiving Day menu, compliments of General William Westmoreland.


Something of a Last Supper

     That’s when it all came back to me, and why I say, I was lucky. Instead of spending Thanksgiving out in the field eating from cans of C-rations, I got to spend Thanksgiving Day in Cam Rahn Bay with the engineers who had the best of everything, a large, clean mess hall, tablecloths, decorations, and, according to the menu I found in my file cabinet:

      Shrimp Cocktail, with sauce and crackers; poultry dressing, snow flaked potatoes; glazed sweet potatoes; cranberry sauce, buttered peas and corn; crisp relish tray; Parkerhouse rolls; pumpkin pie, mincemeat pie, old fashioned fruitcake, fresh chilled fruit, mixed nuts, assorted candy; tea, coffee, milk.

     Of course, my luck didn’t hold out. My orders finally arrived in mid-December, but by God, or maybe by the grace of God, I’ve got to admit, before I headed out to the wilds of Kontum province in Vietnam’s mountainous Central Highlands, I had one of the best Thanksgiving meals I can recall, relatively speaking, of course. How lucky was that?

Piece by Piece: Ernestine's Gift for President Roosevelt


Written by Lupe Ruiz-Flores 

Illustrated by Anna López Real 


Publisher: Millbrook Press 

Language: English

Hardcover: 32 pages

ISBN-10: 1728460433

ISBN-13: 978-1728460437


During the Great Depression, Ernestine Guerrero's family didn't have much.


The Mexican American teen was so grateful for the government food aid they received in San Antonio, Texas, that she wanted to personally thank President Roosevelt. But how? After seeing the plans for a very difficult woodworking project, she decided she would make it herself and send it to the president. Piece by piece, that's exactly what she did. And the clock case she built remains on display in the Roosevelt Presidential Library to this day.


With stunning illustrations from Anna López Real, this picture book tells the inspiring true story of a girl who proved that if you look closely, treasure can be found in unexpected places.


"Sensitive, soft-hued illustrations complement the engaging text, which outlines the arduous step-by-step tasks involved in transforming dirty, thrown-away crates into a work of art." ― Booklist



Lupe Ruiz-Flores is the author of six bilingual picture books. She is a former Regional Advisor for the Southwest Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and until recently its newsletter editor. Lupe has won the SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant, the SCBWI/Amazon Work-in-Progress Grant, and the SCBWI Martha Weston Award. She is a member of the Writers League of Texas, Texas Library Association, Las Musas, and Kindling Words. She was awarded the Tejas Star Book Award for three consecutive years. Her poetry and short stories have been published in anthologies, including Thanku: Poems of Gratitude. She was recently inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters.


Anna López Real is a freelance illustrator based in Guadalajara, Mexico. She spent her early years in a small town with a big lake, in a bilingual home full of books, movies, diverse music and art. She has a BD in Graphic Design from Universidad de Guadalajara. Since she was young, she has needed to feel colors, shadows, textures and shapes with her own hands, which inspired her to use traditional techniques. She is also the co-founder of a local stationary company. She is passionate about human rights, animal rights and has a great love for nature.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Guest Review: the matchstick litanies

La Bloga welcomes the eloquent voice of poet Carmen Calatayud sharing her poet's views on the recently-published collection by jo reyes-boitel, the matchstick litanies. 
Here is the best kind of recommendation, that of a fellow poet. 
Calatayud refers to the poet and speaker as they/them. 
Michael Sedano

the matchstick litanies. jo reyes-boitel. Next Page Press, 2023. 
ISBN: 978-1-7366721-4-3 

by Carmen Calatayud 

Flames and smoke are encroaching from the moment the matchstick litanies begins.In this poetic memoir by jo reyes-boitel, a dramatic opening brings us into a house on fire that causes the speaker and their mother to rush out into the street after police pound on the door. But it also brings us into a family on fire: Sometimes with blazing explosions, and at other times with flames burning low while emotional dysregulation percolates. 

the matchstick litanies takes us on a journey of a two-child family with a Cuban mother and Mexican American second-generation father, homes in Florida and Texas, and how a family of four live through domestic violence, addiction, the Vietnam War, PTSD, and the legacy of their indigenous colonized peoples.

Throughout the book, reyes-boitel masterfully takes the reader back and forth from disaster to muted danger, from past to present, and from childhood to adulthood. We are gripped by this family and each character who enters and exits.   

We meet the speaker’s parents in the poem date night and quickly learn about the dynamics of their relationship that include music by the Isley brothers, his hands resting at her hips, yelling, a face slap and clumsy advances—a mixture of romance and violence that becomes clearer as we learn about the PTSD the speaker’s father suffers from in the poem corner house:

Dark evenings and bad dreams stir again.
My father’s mood falls back.
December marks his return from Vietnam.
     Sallow under eyes
a sign of his walks around the house’s perimeter
in the middle of the night.
During the day he watches war documentaries
in the back room, his thumb presses
hard against the volume button
until the sound of helicopter blades thunders
against our bedroom walls.
This is how we celebrate Christmas.
I knot strings pulled from the hem of my dress   quiet
so as not to trip the wire
haphazardly coiled within him.
He’s set a bomb under this house
     Mom says
And it’s ticking away at us.


This poem has a footnote that explains a shocking detail about the mother, a secret that is all the more potent revealed in small print after the end of the poem. (I won’t give it away here.) 

reyes-boitel surprises the reader in many ways. As we get to know the mother, father and brother, as well as the speaker, the poet offers rich details of personality and behavior. We discover elements of nature, food and music to ground us as we move through the family’s geography, pain and snapshots of pleasure.

In the poem bird calls, we witness the speaker’s brother shooting and killing birds—blue jays and robins—and we viscerally feel that this is a boy to be feared: 

I call out to him
real hunters don’t shoot and leave their dead
they kill to provide, to feed themselves
his face sours
and we have two days without shooting
in those two days he is a menace,
his feet near trampling me, his voice an echo of mine,
he pushes his body into my room
            and I scream at him
and at this circumstance:
this is summer vacation and we are ruthless animals 

The mother in reyes-boitel’s work stands out as well, and we learn about her in the poem bitter oranges. In fact, this mother is the mother many of us had:

This is what has made her mad, she realizes that she took the role
she never really wanted, that it weighed so much more
than the lilt of freedom.
Losing freedom is worse than never having it.
I shouldn’t have had kids, she says,
not looking in my direction.


We then follow the mother’s life, which is captured in this edited segment of the poem:

Minnesota an outlier. Cuba made myth.
Homestead sometimes. Miami when she feels free.
Florida, in one way or another, always.
Central Texas an endurance, like bitter oranges.
Dulce de naranja agria. . . . . . .
Boiled, over and over in fresh water,
they become ghosts of themselves.
Doused in sugar and boiled down once more.
A sweet made from impossible tartness.


Like the best memoir writers, reyes-boitel has the capacity to look back at their suffering, share what they have learned, and show us how to live with resilience.

In the matchstick litanies, we traverse through prose poems, lyric poems and fragmented poems that dart and jump across the page, each form carefully chosen to create the right atmosphere for the subject matter.

 reyes-boitel uses pages as theater stages for themes from a complicated family and the speaker’s life: machismo, sexual abuse, and learning how to deal with a dangerous sibling.

 In the closing poem, unmasking, the speaker is driving around the Rio Grande Valley where they now live, and tells us:

Possibilities are sticky things here.
They ease their way in,
past my walls.
            I have my walls.


Later in this poem, they find a quiet hopefulness in nature, even as they know they don’t have all the answers:

Alone in this place, alone but woven
into the insistence of the people here, constant
as bird caws, as stars bursting, constant
as our drowsy and constant sun,
and the wind reaching for my face,
building something within
I can’t yet name.


Along with reyes-boitel, we ride the waves of myth, history and survival, and are washed to the shore, battered but clear-eyed and fully alive by the end. Reading the poet’s vision of self and family caused me to view myself and my own family with more loving kindness.  

Throughout this collection is the wisdom of a speaker who turns direct observation into poetry. We learn from them, no matter the age in these poems, how to become a tree rooted in the earth. An elder as compassionate witness.

In the midst of fear and darkness, these poems offer a luminous path of courage. I’m grateful I took the matchstick litanies journey. I hope you’ll take it too.

Link to publisher:

Carmen Calatayud is the daughter of immigrants: A Spanish father and Irish mother. Her book In the Company of Spirits was a runner-up for the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award and a finalist for the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. Her poetry has recently appeared in
Rogue Agent and Tahoma Literary Journal, and was nominated for a 2023 Best of the Net Award. 

Carmen is a Larry Neal Poetry Award winner and a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts fellow. Her book This Tangled Body will be published by FlowerSong Press in collaboration with Letras Latinas in Spring 2024.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Poetry and Prose for Day of the Dead 2023 at the Writers Place por Xánath Caraza


Este 2023 el Writers Place llevó a cabo la XIV edición de la Celebración de Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead Celebration, el viernes 3 de noviembre a las 7 p.m. CST en Zoom. Las poetas invitadas fueron Lorna Dee Cervantes y la que escribe. Así mismo el escritor Daniel Olivas leyó prosa. El grupo de danza mexica, Calpulli Iskali, nos presentó un video. Con mi altar mostré algunos elementos que hace esta celebración tan importante.  Gracias a Maryfrances Wagner, S. Holland, Greg Field y, por supuesto, al Writers Place por apoyarnos con la organización de este evento. A continuación algunas fotos de la velada literaria.


La música:


Calpulli Iskali es un grupo de danza tradicional mexica.


Las poetas y narrador:


Lorna Dee Cervantes, awarded NEA Fellowships, Pushcart Prizes, a Lila Wallace/Readers Digest grant for poetry, state arts grants and best book awards, is the author of 6 books of poetry including her first, EMPLUMADA, and latest APRIL ON OLYMPIA (Finalist, Theodore Roetke Award for Best Book - Poetry in past 3 years). The former professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at CU Boulder now writes in Seattle.

Daniel A. Olivas is playwright, attorney, and the author of ten books including How to Date a Flying Mexican: New and Collected Stories (University of Nevada Press), and Crossing the Border: Collected Poems (Pact Press). He is also the editor of Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press). Olivas has written for many publications including The New York Times, Alta Journal, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Huffington Post, La Bloga, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Follow him on Twitter: @olivasdan.


Xánath Caraza is a traveler, educator, poet, short story writer, and translator.  She is the author of twenty books of poetry and two short story collections. She writes for La Bloga and Revista Literaria Monolito. In 2018 for the International Latino Book Awards she received First Place for Lágrima roja for “Best Book of Poetry in Spanish by One Author” and First Place for Sin preámbulos / Without Preamble for “Best Book of Bilingual Poetry”.  Her book of poetry Syllables of Wind / Sílabas de viento received the 2015 International Book Award for Poetry. She was Writer-in-Residence at Westchester Community College, NY, 2016-2019.  Caraza was the recipient of the 2014 Beca Nebrija para Creadores, Universidad de Alcalá de Henares in Spain.  She was named number one of the 2013 Top Ten Latino Authors by Caraza has been translated into English, Italian, Romanian, and Greek; and partially translated into Nahuatl, Portuguese, Hindi, and Turkish.  

El altar:


Como cada año construí un altar para honrar a los ancestros y dejar que lleguen a visitarnos y disfruten con tamales, pan de muerto, papel picado, poesía y música.


Aprovecho para compartir que mi poemario bilingüe Corazón de agua / Heart of Water será publicado en 2024 por la casa editorial Somos en escrito.  La traductora de este proyecto es Sandra Kingery. ¡Viva la poesía!