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This five-part collection of poems ranges from highly political to gently playful and personal.
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The First Quartet
By Lorna Dee Cervantes
Wings PressCopyright © 2006 Lorna Dee Cervantes
All rights reserved.
"How Far's the War?"
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
– T. S. Eliot
"How Far's the War?"
For My Ancestors Adobed in the Walls of the Santa Barbara Mission 5
In the Waiting Room 8
Portrait of a Little Boy Feeding a Stray in Sarajevo 25
At the Fish House 26
"How to Explain Paintings to a Dead Hare" 27
Ten One-Line Poems to America 28
For Love, For 9–11 30
"We Have a Country of Words" 31
9:50 am 32
12:03 pm 33
American Haiku 34
Coca Cola 35
Blood: Black Burned Oil of the Race 36
Sangre: Petról negro de la raza 'humado 38
Corky's First Elegy 42
Corky's Next Elegy 42
After the Wake 43
On Why I Boycotted Cinco de Mayo 45
The News 46
On Columbus Day 48
Chaya: V 50
Californium: III - On Saving Hans Bethe 52
From the Bus to E.L. at Atascadero State Hospital 54
you are salty when I kiss
the sea calm in your skin / I hear clocks /
chiming the hours different from the hours
that we lived here / hours that bring me the bird
perched in your voice / the water bird /
the bird which lies on the floor of the sea / opening
little paths where the stars
can come down at night / so the day can begin
all the days begin this way / with the stars coming down
to shelter the bones of the compañeros / to take
a lighted coal from a burning compañero /
a compañero's clear dream /
to go out / to star up again / to write on the night
"juan's compañeros hear the sounds the sun makes
the sounds they make under the sun /
compañeros togethering / they fall silent in a solar way /"
the day begins
with a warm heart / it lights fires
in meditation / the elbow / the shadow
that opens its eyes in your sea
you are beloved by me and by the compañeros who lie in the south /
waiting for the stars each night / the adventure of the day /
a child spreading his white hair over you /
a woman passing my soul out around the world
the compañeros let their angel fall like autumns
on each little leaf they wrote an unknown heart
from each little leaf a compañero will rise up
and tie up the stars so you will love me /
For My Ancestors Adobed in the Walls of the Santa Barbara Mission
after Phil Goldvarg
The bones that hold the holy.
Bones, grafted from bailing
and tar. The feathers
of a sleeker bird
resting in the nest.
The wry sense of autumn
calling like a winning smile.
The rapid fire. The wind
laid rest. The certainty
of servitude. The last ash
for the piki. Petals of a lost
desire. A woman's breast
releasing a flower of milk
on her dress. Buckskin bark
carpets the forests. Manzanita
swirls its own polish, her old bone
gleam. Her steady burn. The burl.
Bones weighed in at market.
The single bones, the married
bones with bands on bones.
Bones of a bonzai rectitude,
a fortitude of factories
on the horizon. Bones to raise
a Nation. An axe. An awl.
Bones stripped of their acorns.
Bones nipped from the grave.
Baskets of mourning
foreign to the settlers.
Baskets of bones
with rattlers inside.
Baskets of bones
with the teeth in hide.
Bounties of bones
with the people inside.
For every sale
there is a bone.
For every bone
there is a home
and a prayer
calling out the human heart,
chants on a drum
of human hide
with the bill of sale
still inside. And a brand
name still entails
a tag on the toe, a museum
label, a designer death
for you who were buried
with the names inside.
I say this peace, purple dove
of passion for you
who were robbed as bones.
For you who were stripped
of your meat. For you who were
worked to death grinding corn
at the metate you toted
for their feed, the sweet
smoke of age barely at your tail
when they packed you up for good
rebar for the reinforcement.
Oh, Savior of the Mission of Bones,
Oh, Designer Death for the Architect,
Pope of the Bones
and the sainted orders –
the sainted terrorists.
Bones that hold,
In the Waiting Room
A dead man, yellow margins
and a date, lamps and magazines,
rivulets of fire. It got dark,
the inside of a volcano. Over
full of ashes, 'round and 'round
a waiting room, an appointment
slung on a wire. Too long
to stop that nothing stranger,
a big black slush, the fifth
of falling, those awful similarities,
a different pair of hands.
Then, I was back in it, of falling off.
The room was bright. War,
a loud cold wait.
In Guatemala the black buzzard
has replaced the quetzal
as the national bird. The shadow
of a man glides across the countryside,
over the deforested plantations; a death
cross burnishes history into myth
as it scours the medicinal land into coffee;
burial mounds that could be sites
of unexcavated knowledge hold only
blasted feathers and the molding bones
of freedom. Golden epaulets glint
in the fluorescent offices, crystal
skulls shine in the eyes of the man
with the machete, within the site
of an AK-47. Under the rubble
of the ruling class, a human heart
beats in the palm, the tumba of ritual mercy
drums in the thunder clap, a hurricane wind
sounds the concha. In Quetzaltenango, foreign
interests plot the futures of Mayan hands
and Incan gold. While on Wall Street,
the black sludge of a people trickles through
cappuccino machines like hissing snakes.
Acteal. December 22, 1997. Bloodied
mud sucks the plastic sandals of a child,
velas gutter through the saged prayers
in the little church blasted through with
twenty-two splintered holes the size
of a baby's tender fists. Melon heads pop
and the hacking drum of a machete
meeting bone counts down the hours
of matanza. Somewhere, a telephone
rings off the hook. The Vicar of the Diocese
calls in twenty minute intervals. 140 federales
stand smoking in the twilight, at their feet,
the trampled harvest of peasants gleams
through the saturated leaves. Homero
Tovilla Cristiani picks up the phone: "I have
notified General Jorge Gamboa Solis. Everything
is under control. There is no massacre in Acteal."
He places the receiver again off the cradle
on the well-ordered desk. Meanwhile, a young
Tzotzil bloodies her knuckles scratching a hole
in the adobed wall of a cave feathered with Jaguar
fur where 14 women and children wait,
shivering in the dark. An infant picks up the call.
The first woman in line gazes into the coked-up eyes
of her assassin projecting his automatic weapon
into the ear of the whimpering baby at her breast.
500 years of history gets written in her eyes, as a Tzotzil
mother wedges her sleeping newborn into the hole.
She spits on the reddening dirt, and covers
her luz like a cat. Forty five pair of shoes
get lost in Acteal. Matted hair clings
to the coffee plants, each green leaf,
another listening ear; each red seed,
another eye, dislodged from its skull. I hear
nothing happened in Acteal. And if it did
no one knows who they were. The PRI
press machine stands on the ridge
of Destiny, staring Truth in the eye
as men lie to the cameras. Twenty yards
away, the survivors are speaking
the names of the men paid 600 dollars
American. Men with no families but a spoon
and a copa. Men with no names but the trademarks
emblazoned across their chests and on their running shoes.
I hear forty-five graves being dug today.
The women form a chain of hearts.
They have dried the earth baked with their tears.
Each one carries a red mud brick
from the killing floor where the people
were hacked into pieces the size of a bat.
Here, the "Bat People," Tzotziles, will
build a house for their dead, and pray.
Alonso Vázquez Gómez
María Luna Méndez
Rosa Vázquez Luna
Verónica Vázquez Luna
Mícaela Vázquez Luna
Juana Vázquez Luna
Juana Luna Vázquez
María Jímenez Luna
Susana Jímenez Luna
Miguel Jímenez Pérez
Marcela Luna Ruíz
Alejandro Luna Ruíz
Jaime Luna Ruíz
Regina Luna Pérez
Roselia Luna Pérez
Ignacio Pukuj Luna
Mícaela Pukuj Luna
Victorio Vázquez Gómez
Augustín Gómez Ruíz
Juana Pérez Pérez
Juan Carlos Luna Pérez
Marcela Vázquez Vázquez
Antonia Vázquez Vázquez
Lorenzo Gómez Pérez
Verónica Pérez Oyalte
Sebastian Gómez Pérez
Daniel Gómez Pérez
Pablina Hernández Vázquez
Rosela Gómez Hernández
Graciela Gómez Hernández
Guadalupe Gómez Hernández
María Ruíz Oyalte
Catalina Vázquez Pérez
Catalina Luna Ruíz
Manuela Paciencia Moreno
Margarito Gómez Paciencia
Rosa Gómez Pérez
Doida Ruíz Gómez
Augustín Ruíz Gómez
Rosa Pérez Pérez
Manuel Vázquez Pérez
Juana Vázquez Pérez
Josefa Vázquez Pérez
Marcela Capote Vázquez
Marcela Capote Ruíz
We are One Spirit, One Heart and One Mind.
Marseilles. Summer of 1940.
In the Cafe Rue d' Bohéme, a poet,
Hans Sahl, sits waiting for someone
to buy him a cup of coffee in exchange
for witty repartee. He is a dead man.
His name has appeared on a list of German
refugees commanded to "Surrender on Demand."
He is convinced he will never leave France
except by cattle car. A compatriot tells him
an American was asking for him by name,
that "Varian Fry is now waiting for him at the
Hotel Splendide with money and an emergency
visa." He thinks the man is crazy or
it is a joke crueler than fate for a Jew.
He sits in the Cafe all day, writing his last poems
on the coffee splotched napkins. He writes:
Not to lost causes present your heart.
Nor love those who cast you from their midst.
Forget dark visions your dreams impart.
Forget the hand that pushed you into emptiness.
Let not phantom sounds tear you apart
That yesterday's world brings to your ear.
Not to lost causes present your heart.
Guard yourself until your hour's here.
He empties the bitter cups of coffee, knowing
they are the last he will ever taste in unoccupied
France. That fall, he sits in a Greenwich Village
cafe, the cooling coffee sweetened with the blood
of the funny little man who brushed in the stamp
on his forged exit visa. He vows to spend the rest
of his days praising the man who defied the orders
of nations, Nazis, industry, collaborators,
gendarmes, and the United States Consulate.
"Sprich" was copied from a napkin on display in the Varian Fry exhibit at the National Holocaust Museum.
Work is the refuge of sadness.
"Only when we remember does sadness
overcome us and we cry. It's better
to just keep busy," says María Ruíz.
The women knead the masa under the heels
of their hands, cupping the balls of cornmeal
pocked with a few black beans. They pat
the bolas into palm-sized portions: golden
ears of corn, black eyes of frijol, red tongues
of chili. On December 23rd there is laughter
in Polhó. The señoritas giggle at the gringo's
questions. "Qué tiene? Qué tiene?" Meaning,
What is inside this humble feast they are
preparing for the ones who have come with
provisions and witness? "What's the matter?"
"Qué tiene?" The gringo insists. They smile,
a coy reply. "Nada." Nada. There is nothing
in Acteal. The federales have stolen the well-packed
sacks of coffee, a year's hard labor. They have
torn-up the clothing, peed on the grain, slaughtered
the animals, taken radios, cooking pots, weaving,
looms. The same soldiers who shit in the kitchen
now sport yellow arm bands reading Labor Social.
Work is the refuge of sadness.
Work is more than the sum of a job.
"We need to finish off the seed!"
Mícaela heard them shout.
She had been praying in the chapel since six.
At eleven she heard the gunfire start.
Men and women were on their knees.
Some stood up and began to run. Some fell
in the chapel. The only way out was the steep
embankment. Her mother took her by the hand
and carried the two youngest. The bullet
entered her mother's back. They were found
by the children's cries. First they shot her
mother, then the babies. She made no sound
under her mother's cooling huipil. "Diego,
Antonio y Pedro. More than fifty from Los Chorros,
Pechiquíl, La Esperanza, Acteal. They were dressed
in black. The ones in charge had military uniforms."
She testifies to the National Human Rights Commission.
She testifies to anyone who works to listen. How they
stripped the dead women and sliced their breasts,
forced sticks between their legs, opened the wombs,
passing the fetuses from machete to machete. ...
Where once she worked to silence her siblings,
at 11, Mícaela's work is to be the mouth
of a people. Behind each of the names
is a life, lost between the reporter's lines
and the photograph's caption.
"No more genocide in my name...."
A young girl in trenzas sings outside
The Mexican Consulate in Denver.
"Go back to where you came from!"
shouts a car of gringos speeding down
memory lane, and is nearly drowned out
by the ritual drums and the Native chants.
First World faces sing out above the placards
like severed heads or scalps. "No more Genocide ..."
... in Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador, Chile,
Sand Creek, Wounded Knee. ... Not with arms.
Not with training. Not with money. No more
of my tax dollars that buys the man who drives
the Humvee that transports the soldier who shoots
the weapon that blinds the toddler, that enters the heart
of Guadalupe López Méndez who dies in Ocosingo
asserting her civil rights. No more Genocide
in my name. We shall not overcome. We shall fight
this way forever. Estas son mis armas:
la computadora, el video, la pluma.
La plumage de justicia hangs from the broken
arrows of palabras breaking the media block
of Truth and Consequences of Free Trade Agreements.
Horrific to read, to imagine, to know, to tell -
but the only end to bullets for profit is knowledge -
knowledge that will not appear wedged between
commercials for Taster's Choice and
Nobody Doesn't Like Sara Lee like the living body of
an indigenous child found two days after massacre
in a bullet-ridden cave. Is this any way to fight
a drug war? Coffee, sugar, chocolate,
cattle. ... "N ... É ... S ... T ... L ... E ... S ...
Néstles makes the very best ... MUR ... DER!"
310 kilos of cocaine are found in Mazatán,
the municipality where the governor, Julio César
Ruíz Ferro, has two large mansions, a ranch
with a hundred hectare banana plantation and,
is building a luxury hotel with 100 suites, underground
parking, boat dock, restaurant, bar and disco.
Revenue from taxing an impoverished indigenous
population was good this year. Meanwhile,
the Mexican Red Cross sends contaminated
and expired drugs to the thousands of refugees
dying of exposure, pneumonia, and other infections
in the frigid mountains. "Néstles makes the very best ...
MUR ... DER!" 15 billion served, ground flesh
for the masses. I will grind Zapatista coffee
with the tongues of witness. I will wear
the huipil and honor the mothers. I will write
the dark into dawn. I will sit in the offices,
shut down the lying dog press, picket
the congress into action. I will not bank
with assassins. I will buy crafts, not Kraft,
Néstles, Proctor & Gamble, McDonald's, Sara Lee. ...
I will fight this way forever. Estas son mis armas:
la computadora, el video, la pluma.
"A culture isn't vanquished until the hearts
of its mothers are lying on the ground."
I will fight this way forever: I will say.
I will fight this way forever: I will pay.
I will fight this way forever: I will pray
Amen. Y Con Safos.
Excerpted from Drive by Lorna Dee Cervantes. Copyright © 2006 Lorna Dee Cervantes. Excerpted by permission of Wings Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Lorna Dee Cervantes is the first Chicana poet to be included in the Norton anthologies. She is the recipient of the Paterson Poetry Prize and the Latino Literature Award for From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger and the American Book Award for Emplumada.
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