Somewhere back in mother’s memory
Grandpa made mention of Mexicans.
Poncho Villa may have been
dropped here or there
Rode with or against in
Grandma may have let slip
seeing Cesar’s red, Ford, pick-up
from the Fresno fields
some talk of patrones,
organizado and “Si se puede!”
In my grandma’s kitchen,
hearing Rancheras on the radio,
dancing in grandma’s arms,
feeling the foreign words,
sung in a familiar tone,
fall upon my loving ears,
I smiled dizzily into her spins and sways.
Mother never spoke in la, la, las,
Which grandma and grandpa yelled and whispered privately.
Her food spoke those delicious sounds,
enchiladas, tacos, arroz con pollo, tostadas y frijoles.
History and memory took their turns in invading phrases like
Clean your mocos. Pick up your dirty chonies. Go mimies, mijo.
I smell out comfort,
tasting memories in La Soga, El Noviero and Carolina’s.
I cling like a moco to affectionados:
“Have a good day, mija! Go mimies.”
We still unwrap tamales at Christmas.
Shove tortillas to the back of the freezer,
keep emergency Rosarita refried beans, 95% less fat,
waiting (smiling) in the cupboard.
I remember in America
(I was/ we were) Once upon a Mexican.
I know I’ll find him this time.
This is the place
with the doorway dark enough,
building pushed just far enough
unnoticed enough, but by regulars.
That’s what my father was
like this place,
this hole, this world.
The walls, like I remember,
lined and tabled
with dark, smoky men,
musty, ripped, worn out
shirts tucked in and torn out,
falling over oil stain jeans
to battered and bruised boots.
the right place for the wrong ones
like my father, like him, like her,
like me, like you,
who could find no place
in the Fresno field,
Los Angeles factory
or Cal University.
Every face brings me closer
to his eyes, my daddy’s longing look.
They too have been beaten,
lost with loss in their running,
leaving doors open,
leaving women crying,
leaving children waiting.
And their thirst for more,
like my father’s,
like yours, like mine,
have brought us here,
under these dim lights,
between smoky breath
of too Tequila strong men,
gulping down empty bottles,
drowning empty hearts;
their thirst too full to fill.
I see him,
long, dark, uncombed
tangles over wide shoulders,
holding tattooed arms,
carved with scars,
my daddy’s arms.
I move to the bar,
resting all my hopes
on a single stool.
The man, two fisted hands,
left me standing in the cold doorway,
watching him flee
from mother and me,
never turning back.
I turn to the man,
the Asiatic eyes,
the Roman nose,
the Aztec lips,
as large as I remember.
Fifteen years of looking,
Rocky Ford, Riverside, Houston,
leaving behind my own children,
my wife, to become my father,
drink his cold beers,
bullshit with his drunk friends,
dance with his unfaithful lovers,
play with his abandoned children.
Searching out the days and nights
too long forgotten questions,
collecting these parts and these pieces.
Why did you do it? Why?”
I ask myself in the mirror
across the bar.
For My Mother
She had a good father
in the sense that he stayed,
made her trust all men to be that way
However, all her men ran away,
not there when their children learned to crawl,
never lent a helping hand,
prevent a fall,
but this poem is not for them
too many words wasted on their negligence
For My Mother
the one who stayed,
the one who drove me to my baseball games
the one who taught me prayers against the night
the one who kissed my wounds and held me tight
the one who became angry at my sins
beat me black and blue with a belt, (love’s leather skin)
thinking that’s what a father would do,
but this poem is not for them (him)
those (that) long gone stranger(s) of the night
For My Mother
the one who mentioned books to read
the one who cleaned me, housed me, kept me fed
the one who stayed when hope had fled
and woke up early, worked real late
the one who dreamed of a college grad
the one who laughed whole heartily at all my jokes
encouraged me to write, believed in me
For My Mother
the one who stayed and protected me
stayed to build a man (when none could be found) from one small child
a woman’s man that would not leave
who’d raise his children thoughtfully
with work and sacrifice and time
For My Mother
Always and Nevers
We talk always and nevers
Compares and contrasts
Argue eyes, yell turned backs
Chew on words, swallow,
Gulp down suppressed sadness
Burp displeasure, hiccup dissatisfaction
Stir depression with a spoon
Scoop and slurp misery from the cereal bowl
Cry into spilt milk, choke on kind words,
Laugh out angry phrase like “I love you?”
Reflect neglected caresses,
Forgotten hand rubs, far away kisses,
Cough up memories in echoed silence
Salty sorrow runs down our cheeks
Over lonely lips, past a thirsty mouth
Words find a windowless time
Walking past hurled complaints,
Beyond tearful pleases, careless critiques
Drown our dreams in an empty plate
Begin conversations with “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Leave rooms mumbling curses under breath,
doors slamming good bye
searching under dirty laundry,
Demanding whys and (tripping over) stacked up why nots,
waiting (quietly, hopelessly) silently for eye contact.
Culture of the Clenched Fist
Our questions begin with hands raised in the air
Answers come in the form of a fist
Disagreements end in busted lips and black eye debates
Wrong answers come with a slap
And a following of fists
We talk in swings and blows
Argue pushes and shoves
Arguments settled on the floor
Hands speak faster in lefts and rights
Words can not compete like the delicacies of a one-two punch
promises never replace the certainty of a swift kick
No point in arguing down the back-handed slap
Heavy handed love
Hugs and kisses were stories never told
Arms and lips were weapons and targets
Culture of the clenched fist
On the way home today,
driving in my Camry Hybrid,
listening to Poetry Speaks CD 1,
the actual voices of
William Butler Yeats, Robert Browning,
Walt Whitman, thinking
how weak, how boring these men read,
such powerful words
in powerless voices,
where’s the drama, conflict
I pull up along side a car,
looking to my right
I notice two vato locos
looking my way
I stare them down
I have to, I can’t look away,
thinking to myself,
please, say something,
pull over, let’s get down,
let’s cha cha
I don’t know why I’m thinking this,
I’d probably get my ass beat
or I’d throw one with a seoi-nage
breaking his back
and put the other one in a choke hold,
but why do I play this alpha dog shit?
I’m a nice guy, I enjoy listening to poetry,
walks in the country, helping others,
learning about cultures and languages.
Why must I mentally fight every man in the room?
Culture of the clench fist?
They look away,
that’s right bitches.
I sit in my Camry Hybrid,
triumphant, listening to poetry
Yeats, Browning, Whitman,
I could probably kick their asses, too.
I apologize to you, my pen
Last week left little time to dance,
Your footprints did not tip-toe, shoeless cross the page.
I thought often of you lying lifeless, still,
Remembering the days we sweat and bled
Through winters cold and frozen loneliness,
How you’d take my hand and hold me firm,
And run with me through thoughts and worlds unknown.
How I longed to take you softly with impatient hand,
To feel again your rhythm and your plan,
Strike fire sparks along the page,
Thaw out the empty coldness with fiery verse again.
The Page Aches
The pen strains
Lines lay awake all night
Looking up, waiting, hoping,
Imagining great things to be said
Written for all eternity,
Made infamous with use
One day to be air tight,
Preserved for generations
In a steel vault
With laser red armaments
Heists planned and re-planned,
Made movies about,
Overdose of commercials,
Too soon to DVD,
Saturday night movie of the week,
Sunday afternoon matinee,
The page impatiently aches,
Waiting to be stained,
Straining with misuse
The page aches.
Unpack these tired thoughts
these weary, worn out words.
Hang up this secret sadness,
(this) unpolished put-away pain.
Dust off the broken pieces of the heart.
Unfold the wrinkled frown.
It is time again
to piece together
the broken mirror to the soul.
Let words waken,
This Empty Bed
My memory of her
can’t be held
nor keep me warm at night,
nor remind me to turn off the light
in my crowded, little bed we once shared.
This once crowded,
now empty bed,
where we once danced and sang
and rolled around our days
into fat round weeks
of monthly moons
and earthly years,
this little crowded bed of mine
once contained the universe.
I fill my empty bed,
my cold, sweet, unscented bed
with alien skin and flesh,
foreign legs spread
over our cold mattress’s song
that sings of warmer nights,
deeper sighs, shaking thighs,
arching cries with soft, soft, soft,
salt water eyes.
And I reflect
on this bold escape
into some stranger’s strange embrace,
strange lips that have a different pucker
and shyer lick,
but I roll on into the lonely night
(and Nobody’s) body all over me
and the memory of you.
I try to love you
through this smooth, soft skin
that you’re nowhere close to being in,
and momentarily, for a few seconds,
enjoy this failure
I am currently in.