Crossing the Border: Collected Poems

Crossing the Border: Collected Poems


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From acclaimed fiction writer and book critic, Daniel A. Olivas, comes his first collection of poetry, Crossing the Border. These narrative poems delve deeply into the many ways we cross borders of race, culture, language, religion, and privilege. With humor and pathos, Olivas draws from his own life and from the stories of others to serve as a witness to the great variety of experiences that make us human. With grace and eloquence, he invites readers to cross these borders with him on this intense but necessary journey.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780991261284
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Publication date: 06/01/2017
Pages: 94
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Daniel A. Olivas, the grandson of Mexican immigrants, is an award-winning author of eight books including The King of Lighting Fixtures: Stories (University of Arizona Press, fall 2017), Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature through Essays and Interviews (San Diego State University Press, 2014), and The Book of Want: A Novel (University of Arizona Press, 2011). He is also the co-editor of The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles (Tía Chucha Press, 2016), and editor of Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press, 2008). His writing has been widely anthologized including in LA Fiction Anthology: Southland Stories by Southland Writers (Red Hen Press, 2016), New California Writing (Heyday Books, 2012), and Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Short Stories from the United States and Latin America (W. W. Norton, 2010). Olivas has written for many publications including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Jewish Journal, California Lawyer, LAObserved, and La Bloga. Olivas earned his degree in English literature from Stanford University, and law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. Since 1990, he has served as an attorney in the California Department of Justice’s Public Rights Division. Olivas and his wife make their home in Los Angeles and are the parents of an adult son.

Read an Excerpt


Crossing the Border

It's now a sport, great fun,
a diversion from your work-a-day grind.

Hunt the mojados — "wetbacks" just doesn't sound humane, now does it?
— as they run across the border from Mexico to the great state of Texas.

Help the border patrol
(though they deny wanting help,
poor overworked bastards) by lining up your pick-ups and jeeps (American-made,
of course) and shining your headlights bright and revealing toward the scrub, toward our neighbors to the south.

Share a nice little Jack Daniel's with your buddy and keep a lookout for a family or two, crouching, lurking,
hoping for a better life.

Cock your rifles, but never aim at 'em,
just blast a few warning shots up into the star-filled,
moonlit night.

It's a beautiful evening,
redolent with desert life,

just waiting for them to cross the border.

Papa's Car

Papa's car was battleship-sized —
a gray station wagon that creaked and moaned with every turn.

Clear vinyl pulled tightly over the seats revealing even more gray.
The rear seat faced backward so that when I sat there, I could see where I had been, but not where I was going.

Papa's gray station wagon took us places like Venice Beach, or the dentist, or maybe a fiesta at my school or even to Abuelita's house.

Sometimes we'd just drive, not going anywhere in particular,
and I would fall asleep feeling safe as Papa maneuvered our ship through the vast ocean of Los Angeles.

Las Dos Fridas

I would have been there for you, when Diego was not.

But you were never alone, you always had yourself.

The two Fridas, hand-in-hand,
waiting for no one yet hoping for him.

But he is with a model,
a young, stupid, giggling thing.
That fat frog, forgetting his true love to be in a puta's embrace.

I never would have forgotten you.
Never for a moment.

Es la verdad.

Letters to Norco

Dedicated to the incarcerated

My letters to Norco kept you sane, you said.

Three years there for selling meth. But I wrote to you so you wouldn't forget me.

And you wrote back.
Beautiful and sad letters.
Strong letters. But the third one scared me and then made me mad.
You told me that you rented my letters to your homies for a quarter so they could beat off to my sex-filled longings where I told you what my mouth could do to your body and what I wanted you to do to me.

But then I wasn't so mad.
And the thought of your friends getting off from my words made me smile.

So I made each new letter even better, hotter than the last. And when you wrote back and told me your homies loved my words and that you could charge thirty-five cents now, I laughed at my power.

And on your release day as we stood in the August heat outside the tall fence,
you held me and whispered into my hair that we should get married as soon as we could and have lots of babies.
And you said my letters kept you sane. And I said, me too,
mi amor. Me too.

St. Francis Dam, March 12, 1928

So, that cold night in March,
we stole a couple of horses from the ranch where you worked, and started north.

It was the only way, you said,
to begin again, start fresh, commence a life with possibilities.

And I agreed because I always did.
I always listened to my big brother.
I had no choice, did I?

After about an hour or two,
we heard something awful strange.
First, it started as a low rumble.

Couldn't figure out what it was.
Then it got louder and we felt it in our chests like the rattle of influenza.

And we turned to look out over the river,
in the direction of the St. Francis Dam.

We could see the outline of the structure, designed and built by the great William Mulholland.

L.A.'s chief water engineer back in '28, he

built that dam to hold two years' worth of water in case an earthquake split the aqueduct.

We thought maybe it was an earthquake.
But what we saw made us stop breathing.

The dam shifted and broke apart, crumbling.
The noise of the water — two years' worth, mind you —
shook our bodies and the horses' bodies, too.

Then we saw it: a wall of water,
ten stories high going into the valley and rushing toward us.

I yelled, "¡Chingao! Let's get out of here!"
You just stared at the water, and you froze, keeping your horse as still as you could.

I saw that you were thinking about Juanita and your eight children who slept in the shadow of the coming water.

I yelled again and you finally heard me and we made those horses run faster than they ever had before.

We rode until morning.

About five hundred people died that night though more perished because many

migrant farm workers weren't accounted for.

We learned later that the water washed away whole towns: Castaic and Piru,
anything near the river.

Sirens and phone calls alerted people to try to outrun the water. Some made it.
Many did not.

Three hours after the dam broke, Santa Paula,
over forty miles away, lost three hundred homes though most folks had already abandoned them.

And Saugus got hit so bad.
Totally destroyed.
Sad stories, too.

Like those forty-two children who'd been attending the Saugus Elementary School were washed away, just like that.

The names of everyone who died,
or at least everyone who could be identified,
were listed in the California papers.
So, I tried to hide the Los Angeles Times, but you found it and scanned the column with the headline:

I watched your dark eyes,

darting back and forth,
a frantic pace, searching for the names.

And I knew that you would find halfway down the first column:

Your knees buckled,
and I caught you.
I held you.

You wanted a new life.
So, we stole a couple of horses that cold night in March.

I had no choice, mi hermano.
You always led.
And I always followed.


He tells me that the thrill is gone.
It's gone for good, he growls.

He should know because he is the King.
My man B.B.

Even though my own marriage is just fine,
thank you very much,
he makes me remember a time long ago when I was still single and hopping from one woman to another like a bee in a garden.

When the thrill slipped away,
silently, without a sound,
I would shake my head and remember B.B.'s words.

The thrill is gone.
But you push on because there's always another thrill out there in the cool Los Angeles night.

And if you're lucky with the stars glittering for you and only you, the thrill

will stay and you will sleep the sleep of tired children.

The King knows this.

And in his noblesse oblige,
he tells us, in his way, that this is life.

Tezcatlipoca's Glory

I made a fool out of you Back in the bright days Of the Aztecs and Toltecs.
I made a fool out of you,
And it was easy.

I was a simple god,
Not as wonderful as you,
The great Quetzalcoatl.
¡Ay Dios mío!
You, the sun god, were the greatest!

Long after the Spaniards Evicted us and brought the Christian Deities, you were remembered!

Even D. H. Lawrence named A novel after you: The Plumed Serpent.
Because that is your form,
A horrendous snake With a head framed in magnificent feathers.

Yet who am I, simple Tezcatlipoca,
As compared to you?
The god of the air!
The pinche goddamned air!
What kind of god is that?

But it was I who shamed you

So that you fled Tenochtitlán,
Our homeland,
In humiliation.

I know you remember the night I disguised myself As a great hairy spider and Offered you your very first taste of pulque Which (as I'm sure you now know)
Is worse than tequila Because it sneaks up on your brain Without warning.

¡Ay! You got muy borracho!
And you loved that warm feeling That ran down your throat and into your stomach And your groin grew hot, too!

What did the great sun god do?
In a drunken heat,
You had your way With your sister, Quetzalpetlatl!

I watched from behind a cactus As you ripped her clothes, and you Moaned an ugly moan, and your sister Screamed and I laughed!

And in shame, you left your home And wandered,
Leaving it all to me!

My brilliant plan,
So simple but so effective.
Why you would trust a great Hairy spider is beyond me.
Perhaps your hubris lulled you Into a sad belief that no creature Would dare cause harm to Quetzalcoatl!

I made a fool out of you Back in the bright days Of the Aztecs and Toltecs.
I made a fool out of you,
And it was easy.

The House

Rosana bore Raúl six children in eight years.
The house creaked under the rambunctious boys and girls,
three of each.

Rosana died with the last child,

Isabel grew to be a sullen young woman with deep eyes and hair the color of sorrow.

Raúl loved her but knew that she blamed herself for Rosana's death.

One night,
at the age of fifteen,
Isabel packed a little bag,
kissed her sleeping father,
and left forever.

When Raúl woke,

he knew in his heart that he was alone.

And the house creaked as he wept into his hands.

Western Wallflower

Our little taste of the wild atop the cement and asphalt north of Ventura Boulevard,
in the summer heat of the San Fernando Valley.

An inflorescence of orange-yellow,
each a lancet basal,
stems slender and arcing,
carpeting the vacant lot near the sweaty hum of Valencio's Car Wash.

A breeze enhances their splendor,
incoming tide of old ivory hats and long, cheerful, verdant legs.

Mustard is beautiful and native but,
when the eye approaches, street loud and busy, you will see that it is nothing more than a weed.

Papa, look at the beautiful flowers!

Yes, mijo, the flowers are gorgeous,
aren't they?

Can we pick some?

No, no. I smile, thinking the word weed.
No, no. Let them stay in nature.
They're happy there.

Pico Boulevard, October 1972

On Pico Boulevard it is hot, too hot, and smoggy for October as bodies, large and small, stream out of St. Thomas the Apostle Church.

"¡Ay Dios mío! That priest, that priest!" says Mrs.
Fonseca. "He cannot speak Spanish worth a damn!
When are we going to get a Mexicano to say mass?"

The stray, yellow dog barks near the votive candles looking for attention and the children laugh as they run to the empty lot three blocks down and two over. "Shit, Alfredo! Stay away from me, you pendejo! I'm gonna kick yo' ass, you pinche pendejo!"
Alfredo throws a stone anyway and laughs hard.

"Adriana, I understand your pain! My first grandbaby came before the wedding, too! But it will be fine."

The siren shrieks as the gleaming red fire engine streaks down the bustling street toward black smoke.

"Come on, Mirabel. I love you, es la verdad! You can't question that. But I've waited long enough, haven't I?"

The siren is far off now, at its destination, firemen helping the helpless, another tragedy confronted.

"Fifteen thousand dollars! Can you believe it!
in one fucking year! Selling this shit will keep

me in dinero better than any pinche college degree. Hear me, Simón? Better than any pinche Harvard. What? Shit, man. Don't give me that!
I've got it wired, man. Wired. Hear me? Wired!"

Hurt feet, too much perfume, rattling noise: honks,
laughter, coughing, cussing, cooing, church bells.

"Mi amor, what do you mean? You have my heart,
you know that! My heart! Believe me. I am not lying to you. You are a wonderful husband, mi amor,
the best, es la verdad. I love you, mi amor. I do."

On Pico Boulevard it is hot, too hot, and smoggy for October as bodies, large and small, stream out of St. Thomas the Apostle Church.

A Good Job

"Come, D —,
get in.
It's just for a few hours.
Six, max.
I promise."

D — looks at his mother's face.

"Here?" he whispers.

His mother's eyes dart about.
"Take this bag of Doritos and two
7-Ups. Just a few hours, D —. Okay?
Mama's gotta'

"Okay," he says.
The boy climbs into the trunk of the old, white Camry.

"Just for a few hours, baby."
D — nods and clutches the bag of chips.

She closes the trunk slowly and pushes hard until it clicks.

"Mama loves you,"
she says as she walks down the street to the glass and steel building on the corner.
"Mama loves her big boy."

Green Soldier

The green soldier could not stand.

Imperfectly molded, a thin,
sneaky wisp of plastic sprung from his base so that he teetered and tottered and fell if I tried to play with him.

With a bit of a whine if truth be told, I asked Mama to fix him because he was my favorite,
better than all the other green soldiers in my shoe box.

She put down the Los Angeles Times
and whisked my soldier off to the bathroom.

Mijo, stay here, she said. I'll be right back.

A moment later, I heard a scream and my four-year-old heart leapt.

Papa ran, frantic and confused,
from the bedroom to Mama.
The razor blade, her tool to fix

my soldier, had slipped and sliced, deep and red, into her thumb.

But my soldier could now stand, proud and tall, and I played with him as my sister watched over me while Papa drove Mama to the emergency room.

And my sister shook her head as my green soldier entered into a great,
heroic battle on the turquoise, vinyl couch.


We were drinking to that Lindbergh fellow who landed in Paris two days before,
all the farm workers and ranchers stuffed in that hot bar called THE TIN ROOF.

Dust and sweat and Prohibition booze choked the air that stood as still as a dead calf except for the swirling smoke.

So proud, so proud,
even though we wondered how life in California would be different.

But all of us Mexicans,
and the Chinese, too,
toasted him.
We lifted our glasses and cheered Lindy!

The papers said his mother was so proud she couldn't find words to express her joy.

And President Coolidge declared that he crowned the record of American aviation.

They escorted Lindy,
like a handsome prince,

to the embassy after landing and fighting the churning crowds.

Pats on the back, crying babies,
swooning women, and cameras, too —
Over here, over here!
One for the papers back home!

But Lindy's skin was rank and sticky from the flight.

So, the grinning American Ambassador's son took the bone-weary aviator to a room at the embassy where a beautiful, scorching bath waited.

Before dipping into the tub,
as steam filled the room,
Lindy gently drank some port chased with a frothy glass of milk.

Papers said he relaxed for a real long time
(soaking and melting in sublime triumph)
before he got out,

combed his wild hair,
slid on a pair of silk, flowered pajamas,
draped his shoulders with a silk bathrobe,
and tipped his toes with Moroccan leather slippers.

And he gave a few charming interviews,
teeth shining white,
relaxing fresh and clean, swathed in luxury.

I will never forget the night we drank to Lindy, a hero,
who flew a plane while we worked the fields during a hot May, 1927.

Lindy! we cheered.

¡Los mejores son los que se van primero!


Excerpted from "Crossing the Border"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Daniel A. Olivas.
Excerpted by permission of Regal House Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Crossing the Border

Papa’s Car

Las Dos Fridas

Letters to Norco

St. Francis Dam, March 12, 1928


Tezcatlipoca’s Glory

The House

Western Wallflower

Pico Boulevard, October 1972

A Good Job

Green Soldier



Barrow’s Goldeneye

The Brown Bomber

Hot Tuesday on Rinaldi

Outside the Box

Sad Gray House

West Coast Jazz Marriage

Why Did You Believe?



Slip Dream

What They Do

Georgina S. Francisco is a Friend of Mine

Sisyphus Explains

Wonder Bread

Woman Gets Probation in Child Neglect Case

Papa Wrote

Hidden in Abuelita’s Soft Arms

American Heritage Two-Step

Reading Bukowski in San Pedro

Blood, Frogs

The Slack-Jawed Night

La Tormenta at the Lost Souls Café

Source Acknowledgments

Author’s Note Regarding Accents and Italics

About the Author

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