My Words

As Americans, when we think of war, we think of soldiers and the toll their sacrifice has on our families and communities. We think of the financial cost of war. We fight over the righteousness of war. This is not a discourse on the socio-political aspects of war, or even its righteousness. What I am attempting to do is to create a window for you, the reader, to peek through. A window of what war looks like for those of us who have been caught, literally, in the cross-fire. For every soldier who comes home in a body bag, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of lives which have forever been scarred by the violence and mass trauma of civil unrest.

I arrived in El Salvador, my Mother’s homeland, from Spain when I was not quite nine years old with my two older brothers and Mother. We left our Father behind in my country of birth and arrived in a land about to erupt with violence enhanced by Reagan’s war on the Russian encroachment of Communism into the Americas. Of course, I knew nothing of this “bigger” picture. All I knew was that my parents were separating and I had chosen Mother. At the time, I did not know that the war in El Salvador would officially last twelve years and take over 100,000 lives. Unofficially, there is no “set in stone” date. I lived through the “invisible” war which began somewhere in 1976 and some would argue that it had been brewing since the first indigenous uprising at the turn of the 20th century.

The stories and poems you will find here are not linear. I, myself, question the accuracy of the details. Sometimes, one event merges into another to fill the gaps left by the emotional detachment necessary to survive. The brain is an amazing organ. It tries to protect your sanity at all costs because it knows that if it doesn’t, it won’t survive either. It takes the ugly, hard stuff and puts it away deep within its archives. It creates a happy place for you to escape during traumatic events so that its impact in your psyche is minimized. I have spent the better part of thirty years by-passing the archives of El Salvador; discriminately pulling files of memory and putting together some palatable stories. But there are some stories I have not been able to access. And there are some stories which I may never dare tell.

Two years ago, I accidentally came across a picture of my cousin, Jimmy the Poet. A beautiful, talented man who found his strength by choosing to not ignore the burgeoning civil war and wrote of the injustices and atrocities being perpetrated against his people by the El Salvadorean government. He found his strength in his words. He used his words as fists against the deafening silence at a time when most of us kept our head low and eyes to the ground. Unfortunately, not even his high ranking General brother could spare his life and he was murdered one hot, April morning. I have carried the weight of his death in my heart since 1980. I have felt great shame and guilt over my silence for over thirty years. My brain has finally decided that I am sufficiently strong to give voice to those deeply buried files in the archives of memory.

This is a work in progress. Some of the words being liberated in this exercise will be powerful, painful, inspiring, and at times confusing. I have no control over the words. I can try to create a somewhat linear format for you to follow, but I can’t promise much. The best for which I can hope is for you, the reader, to understand what I experienced and be a witness to another side of war.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Deja Vu

I refuse to be acceptable collateral loss to the powerful who don't give a shit about you, me or any one else. We have to stop degrading and dehumanizing each other.

On April 5, 1980, at the age of Thirteen, I crossed the Tijuana-San Yisidro border into the United States illegally with my Mother. Three days prior Mother informed me that we would be boarding a plane to join her family in Los Angeles, California. My response was to sneak into a bus and go to my Godmother’s house because I didn’t want to leave. After five years in hell, I was terrified of what another relocation would bring. My Godmother allowed me to stay for the night and then sent me back to Mother to prepare for the trip. Instead of taking the bus home, I got on the bus to go to La Libertad hoping that my Grandfather would let me live with him. While in route, as we rode by San Salvador’s Mercado Central, the bus was blocked by a car that had been set on fire. We soon realized that we were caught between Guerilla rebels trying to take over the Mercado on one side and military forces on the other. We were caught in the middle of gun fire. Repeatedly we heard the “pop…pop…pop” and smelled the sulfur of gun powder. Sometimes we heard the soft “thump” of a bullet hitting someone in the bus. As I rocked myself for comfort and closed my eyes to try and avoid seeing the massacre taking place around me, I felt sticky warm splash on my right side. The person next to me had been shot on the head spraying his brain matter and blood on my face, neck, and shoulder. The sulfur smell now smelled of iron, shit and piss from those of us who lost control of our bodily functions. Then, it all stopped. That is all my memory will let me remember. I don’t know how I got home, or even getting off the bus.  

The next two days are a fog. We left El Salvador with all our lives packed into two suit cases. We landed on Tijuana, Mexico and waited for my family to meet us to make the journey across the border. The plan we concocted for Mexican authorities was that Mother and I were there to meet her family to say goodbye because we were going to reunite with my Father and brothers in Spain, as evidenced by the plane tickets we had purchased from Mexico to Madrid. While we waited for my family to arrive, we were accosted by Mexican officials who weren’t buying our story. Mother kept leaving to put money under a sink in one of the bathrooms for one of the officials to not arrest us. After the third trip, the other official came to us and told Mother to not leave me alone next time because his partner “had his eye on me.” Luckily, my Grandmother, uncle Mario, Great-aunt, my mother’s sister, her husband, my cousin Rosanna and her friend arrived shortly after. Apparently, they had decided to go shopping because they thought the plane had been delayed. I remember how excited I was to finally meet my family, especially my Grandmother with whom I had corresponded since learning how to write when I was four years old. I ran to her and exclaimed my joy at meeting her. She responded to my happiness by pushing me away and saying, “Ugh. Que asco. Here I have been telling my friends that my Spaniard granddaughter was coming and you sound like all the other Salvadoran Indians.” I retreated back, deep into that foggy place that always kept me safe.

Once we left the airport we were going to cross the border under assumed names. I was to be my cousin Sandra who was born the same year as I, and Mother was Ramonita Guzman, a Puerto Rican citizen. We piled up in the back of the pick-up truck with my cousin and her friend. We were held up because her friend was a legal resident and her “Green Card” was from when she was a child and they had to confirm her identity. Since we were held up, the border patrol officer decided to question us. He repeatedly asked Mother, who had made up a whole life for her Puerto Rican identity, if they ate tortillas in Puerto Rico. This Mother had not prepared for. She continually responded that if you’re in Puerto Rico and want to eat tortillas you eat tortillas. The fed-up officer gave up her and began to talk to me. He asked me questions in English. I had no idea what he was saying but could hear my nervous aunt (who was supposed to be my mom) say, “yup… yup… and shie…t.” Well, not understanding, I thought she was giving me hints. So, I repeated, “yup… yup… shieet.” Apparently, this was wrong. He turned to my cousin/sister and asked for clarification as to why she spoke perfect English and I, her sister, only knows how to say “shit.” My amazingly quick thinking “sister” responded, “That’s because she grew up by my Grandmother and she doesn’t speak English and won’t let her speak it either. She’s in the car ahead of us.” Rosanna’s friend made it back from the back office and the exasperated officer waved us on. Then, I rode to Los Angeles hiding under the blankets in the back of the pickup truck. The first thing I saw when I pulled my head from under the pile of blankets was a shiny black Ford Ranger with wide hips and thought, “One day, I will have a truck just like that!”

Four years later, I graduated from Manual Arts High School with Silver-Seal Honors. The night before graduation, I cried myself to sleep because even though I had a near 4.0 GPA I could not attend any of the Universities I had been accepted to. I was undocumented, and as such, would have to pay non-resident fees with no opportunity for assistance. I was devastated. Luckily, I was able to attend a business school using another cousin’s social security number and get a job after as Assistant to the Dean of Education. In 1985, ICE (formerly known as INS) finally approved the petition for family reunification application my Grandmother had presented ten years prior. I began my long journey towards achieving my higher education dream.

I came to this country because I had no choice. El Salvador, like we were in that bus, was caught up in the middle of the Russia-US cold war. My people wanted freedom from an oppressive regime. They wanted to be able to feed, house, and support their families. They wanted their children to be able to dream and fulfill their destinies. Instead, they endured a bloody torturous civil unrest and eventually a ten-year long civil war. I was lucky and was able to get out before enduring what many of my fellow Salvadorans had to live through. My experiences, as horrific as they were, don't come close to what they survived. I can’t help but be sickened by what is happening in the United States today. I can’t help but see the parallels. We have elected to the highest office an individual whose campaign was aided by Russia intelligence. Think on that. We have just become the recipients of the same interventions the US has engaged in all over the world. The scariest thing about all this is that no one is speaking on this. We are being distracted by divisiveness and hatred. Welcome to El Salvador, circa 1976.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Voiceless

I have lost my voice. I lost my voice as my body revolted against the onslaught of fear and grief that overtook me on the day I had planned to go cast my early vote for our first female president on this nightmare of a presidential election.

As I was showering last Friday, thoughts of Mother and how excited she would have been to vote for a female president (I remember how proud she was of voting for Obama. Twice!) floated around my head. The next thought was of Trump and the Tsunami of vitriol he has unleashed on our republic. Flashes of recent news descended on me: voter suppression in the South, his calling for his followers to intimidate voters at the polls, vowing to jail his opponent, Trump’s vile and immature response to criticism, his treatment of women, his and his followers’ dehumanizing of the “other,” and on and on and on and on… I was transported to a moment in time my brain has worked very hard to keep from coming to my consciousness, and recently unearthed during a therapy session. Because a week later Mother began her end of life journey it was once again  forced into the peripheral of consciousness. So, while I was in the shower ruminating on the affront to the core values of our democracy, when I felt myself open a door from almost forty years ago: There I was, somewhere between ten or eleven years old - a skinny, hungry child, with dirty and scraggly hair, clad in a stained blue and white checkered dress with a white pocket that had been sent to me from my family in the US. - holding the green aluminum door to my home, staring dumbfounded at the three Descalzas talking to me. It wasn’t until I smelled the foul breath of one of them close to my face that I realized I needed to speak. I was working so hard to concentrate on not releasing my bladder that I couldn’t get my vocal cords to work. I could feel the warmth of the urine running down my legs and hoped that they would not buckle. He screamed at me again, “Donde esta el maricón?!” Oddly enough, for a split second, there was a feeling of relief. It gave me the strength to open my mouth and provide the interrogators their answer. I told them were to find one of my mother’s married boyfriends who frequently visited our home.

I wish I could remember his name, but I can’t. Considering that I provided his executioners with his location, it feels disgustingly disrespectful to not be able to bring forth the memory of his name. Even worse, I can’t manage to recreate a clear picture of his face. I also can’t remember the whereabouts of this location. Now, I understand trauma. I understand that during traumatic events one’s brain gets all wonky as it’s focusing on keeping one alive and therefore the imprint of the moment gets stored in random places of one’s brain. Sort of like shoving a bunch of crushed up papers into a house with many rooms full of other crushed up papers and later trying to put them in order. The memory will never be a linear frame-by-frame memory. Ultimately, I’m not sure the details are of much consequence. Dead is dead and these particulars don’t matter.

I can feel the hairs on my arms stand and shuddering with the revulsion in my body from his closeness to me. His smell, his whole entire being smelled of putrid sweat, soiled clothing, and the 36% proof Tic-tac on his breath. And the fear… I recall the fear with immaculate precision. Every cell in my body is awake. A chill begins to drape my body from deep inside, out to my perspiring pores causing me to shiver from coldness in 95 degree El Salvadoran weather. My heart is pounding out of my chest, echoing in my ears causing my head to pound so loudly I can see flickers of light. I can barely gather enough strength to inhale and the warmth between my legs begins to spread downward creating a pool at my feet. I remember the “Descalza’s” warm and rancid breath on my skin as I open my mouth to speak. End of scene. The rest is a mystery that will come someday, I’m sure.

All I know that the day the Descalza came, I was free of her and his crazy wife. Our nameless victim never came back to my home. Neither did his wife who used to knock on my door rather frequently looking for her husband. I wish I could say that I did not feel relief for not having to be at the end of her accusing me of being her husband’s lover. “Puta maldita,” she would scream at me as she accused me of depriving her children of their father. I would yell at her that I was only ten years old and it didn’t make a difference to her because it only proved that whores are born and not made, according to her. I was ripping her family apart. Nothing I said would expedite her exit or afford me her not coming back. She would leave when she was tired of screaming at me and come back when her husband was gone. Why she never came when he was actually in my house fucking Mother upstairs is a mystery to me. Maybe she didn’t mind him fucking around if he did it within walking distance. Who can rationalize these things? This I never forgot. Working through the anger and resentment I had towards Mother for putting me in this position, and especially for not caring when I relayed the events days or weeks later when she remembered she had a home and a daughter to feed, was part of my trauma work fifteen years ago.  

Logic tells me that I did not kill this man. Intellectual knowledge about human nature informs me that as a ten year old child, in the midst of a country being torn apart by civil unrest, I truly had no choice. All my psychology training has taught me that this is a normal reaction under extreme duress. Yet, I also recognize that part of me wanted this man and his wretched wife gone out of my life. I didn’t want someone telling me that I was born a whore because I was one. I whored myself for food and safety. The irony was that her husband was not one of my customers. A Ten year old cannot rationalize the cruel irony of this complex situation. A Ten year old just wants bad things to stop. And Ten year old me did just that. I made her screaming and calling me a puta stop.

Trauma makes us selfish. It really does. Here I am almost Forty years after contributing to someone’s torture, dismemberment and execution and all I can focus on is my guilt and shame. That’s the selfishness of Trauma. So, as the wave of nausea overtakes my present body with yesterday’s fear, I vomited the contents of my empty stomach. I heaved and pissed myself. I retched until my legs gave out and well past spewing blood.


I didn’t make it to the voting booth that day. I chose to spend it with people who love and protect me. I voted the following day after waiting an hour in line. When I reached the counter to secure my ballot, I gleefully informed the voting official with a barely audible, scratchy voice, “Trump stole my voice today, but not my right to vote!”

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Reflection

I glance at the image of this middle aged woman looking back at me… and pause

Bright eyes that have seen too much life to allow being as carefree
as she hopes to be
stare back
Soulful eyes
smiling at the irony
that no matter how much she’s hoped to extinguish it
they still hold a spark for life
and a hunger for joy
Graying hair stands as a testament of determination to not buck under pressure
To be inflexible when it comes to defining beauty
A middle-aged woman… no lies in a box is going to change that
Just like the crows’ feet slowly creeping around the eyes
And the stretch marks in unmentionable places
Or the skin tags around the neck
And the age spots on the thinning skin of her hands
where the lines are getting deeper
and more pronounced with each passing day
They are all true
They are me
And if nothing else I am true
I am true to the pain that inspires me
The depth of my sensibilities
The tears which shed so much more easily now
This desperate need to be understood, loved
Yes loved!
So, I stare back at this woman
Whom I know so well and keep hidden
Afraid, lonely and determined
Determined to not be defeated
Full of pride
like a doubled-edge sword
to help pay dues for refusing to cave in
Head held high
no matter what or how deeply the pain has cut
Refusing victimhood
embracing rage and compassion in its stead
Because they can both be held simultaneously
One quietly, secretly
to feed the other
to inspire and feed energy
Energy needed to move forward
even when the weight of this melancholy makes it hard to breathe
and leads to that old familiar condition
somewhere between pain and pleasure
Trapped in the midst of joy and misery
Where neither tears or mirth dwell
Where I’m restless
Uncomfortable without respite

This place which fits me best

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Elote






I walked into the Music-Go-Round in Maple Grove, Minnesota for my first drum lesson, nervous, self-conscious, and telling the voice in my head reminding me that a forty-four year old woman trying to learn to drum is ridiculous to shut the hell up. Michael walked up to me with an extended hand and I stopped dead in my tracks.  I’ve seen that tall, lanky boy before in another life time. Only back then, his name was Elote.


****

There was a time when feeling loved was simple, even while living the realities of a land fraught with civil unrest, and where the plain necessities for sustenance and safety were scarce. A ten year old truly doesn't need much.  Starved for food, safety and affection, dreaming filled my heart, and during that time, my dreams were filled with Elote.

Tall and lean --well, as tall as El Salvadorian genetics allow-- Elote was a Marijuano, a “stoner.”  He had a full mane of dirty blond locks and hazel eyes; and like any self respecting, Marijuano of the seventies, he was a Led Zeppelin follower and Elote took full advantage of his vague resemblance to Robert Plant. He wore shirts and t-shirts too tight and short for him; and I often wondered how he got the crotch of his tight, bell-bottom, low-ride jeans to fade ever so perfectly.  His physique, pale complexion and that unruly mane of dirty, golden hair earned him the nickname of Elote, “Corn Cob.”

 Elote was my first love. A friend of my brother, Juan, who was six or seven years my senior; which is pretty significant when one is barely ten.  I loved Elote from a distance, fully aware that he was not for me.  The first time I saw him, my heart stopped and the entire world disappeared until I was brought back to reality by the heel of brother’s boot as it hit my forehead. Elote was sitting on our forest green, cushioned sofa, with one leg carelessly thrown over the wooden arm rest.  He was just sitting there, lost to the world listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” with his head leaned back, cradled over his curls and his eyes closed.  He sat upright, awakened by Juan’s laughter inspired by his excellent aim. I dropped my school bag and ran upstairs humiliated, yet elated.  

Whenever my brother brought him to the house, I’d spy from the stairwell and was ever at the ready to fetch for my brother hoping I’d get to be noticed.  Every time Elote left the house, I would pick up the pieces of my broken heart or rejoice in delight, if when he saw me, he threw me one of those Marijuano nods and “hey’s.”  I would spend hours speculating the significance of those “hey’s” or on the length of his acknowledgment of my existence as demonstrated by a slight upward nod.  The day he said he liked the freedom of my laughter, led to disastrous displays of, what I’m sure from his perspective, looked like maniacal laughter during consequent visits.  He never complimented me again.  I began the habit of having a clean dress available, which I would promptly change into when there was a chance he might visit. His visits did wonders to greatly improve my non-existent, personal hygiene as well.

I stopped caring that my brother would use my crush as another excuse to beat me and call me a whore after Elote left. I liked to imagine what his full lips would feel on mine, while my brother made me kneel in front of the crucifix and pray for my sins for hours. With each Hail Mary, Lords Prayer, kick, punch, slap and insult, I would imagine his thin arms around me and dream of what his warm breath would feel like against my skin. Nothing else mattered around me but dreaming of what Elote’s touch would feel like. I didn’t care that the only time I became visible was to be pushed, kicked, slapped and reminded of my worthlessness anymore.  That wasn’t the reality which I chose to accept. Seeing Elote,  feeling my breath quicken and my palms sweat as my knees weakened when I heard his voice was pure ecstasy for my ten year old heart.  And that was the reality I chose. My days were counted by the possibility of a simple glimpse.  Oh, and how my dreams were filled with him!  The day my brother tried to drown me in the water barrel was the happiest day of my life.  That day Elote told my brother, “Don’t talk to your sister like that man, she’s not a dog.” Aside from the fact that this is the longest sequence of words I had ever heard him speak, they were about ME. Not only did he see me, he knew I walked upright!  So, when my brother pushed my head down under the water I didn’t care. My last thought before the world went dark was that nothing mattered  because Elote saw me!

Two years later, when my brothers were sent back to Father in Spain, I feared I would never see Elote again. But fantasies of him still sustained me while El Salvador became the hell on earth most of us can only dream of.  The civil unrest in El Salvador escalated.  Countless people suspected of being “revolucionarios” were disappeared, though no one would say that word out loud.  “Disappeared” was simply a commonly understood state of being. There was a look in the eye, a special way pain manifested itself on the face of a loved one, a sudden drop of the gaze to the ground when the name of a disappeared came up in conversation.  One just knew that the person was taken.  His or her beaten, dismembered, unrecognizable body would eventually turn up in a “barranco” buried with the mountains of trash that threatened to fill the canyons, or floating down a river, or simply tossed on the side of a road.  At least that was always the silent hope.  Most disappeared were never found. Fear began to affect how people interacted with one another for fear of being associated with whatever caused being disappeared.  It was as if the cautionary folk tales to keep children from wondering  into danger had become a reality. El Zipitillo, La Llorona and now “La descalza” began making the rounds in most neighborhoods looking for “subversives.” There was no clear indication what a “subversive” looked like, so indiscriminately chosen the “disappeared’ were.  All I knew is that if I saw two unknown “campesino” looking men walking after dark, I best find a tree to climb and hide during the routinely imposed martial law and curfews because coming back home after venturing out was no longer guaranteed. It was also during this time that Mother discovered she was a feminist, which to her meant she could party with the boys - one at a time or in multiples. At first, there were overnight outings. With time, days turned into weeks and eventually, I stopped counting and waiting for her return and focused my energy into keeping myself alive.  Little details of leaving me with food, or means to obtain nourishment were inconsequential details that weren’t included in whatever feminist manifesto she had adopted.  Besides, I was old enough to understand the sacrifices she had made her entire life for her children, as she liked to remind me whenever I asked when she would return. 

How does an eleven or twelve year old girl feed and keep herself safe during a militarily oppressive period?  By capitalizing in her most valuable asset: her body, of course. I soon found the company of Don Rosales.  A widower, father of two teenage daughters who took a liking to me.  He fed me, protected me, nurtured me, gave me loose change, and let me play with his daughters’ old dolls in exchange for letting him touch me and helping him fulfill his “manly” needs.  It wasn’t a terrible arrangement.  He never hurt me.  He never beat me. He never raped me. His touch was always gentle and kind.   Besides, It was impossible to not think of Elote as Don Rosales buried his head between my legs. Unfortunately, this only encouraged Don Rosales as he attributed my pleasure exclusively to his skills.  I would squirm and cry out in pleasure replacing this new reality with my default fantasy.

I didn’t entirely hate his touch. I found it perturbing that he oddly enough only had one nipple. I asked him about it once.  Apparently, he was born that way.  I never believed him. If anything about the experience truly bothered me, it was his eyes.  They always looked sad, distant, and full of torment.  I reached out to him once to caress his face, as he began to take off my clothes,  hoping I could ease the torment in his eyes. He dropped to his knees, hugged me and cried like a child. All I could do was hold him while he sobbed against my naked belly. “Shhh... esta bien... shhh.” Empty comforts to a drowning man.   

Luckily, I soon learned that one of the advantages of being invisible to Mother and a burden to her newly found freedom as a woman of the 70’s, was that it provided me with lack of supervision, which meant that my house became the place stoners could come and safely party. My house was a hub of clandestine and illegal activity.  There were drug deals made in the living room and at any random moment, the bedrooms would be taken by young couples who needed privacy.  It was a haven and heaven to many, regardless of what hell those walls encased at other times in my young life.  It was during one of these clandestine soirees that I learned that dreams are possible to achieve.

Sitting on the front steps, looking down at the ants wondering were they had found the scarce crumbs they were meticulously carrying, I heard that old familiar “Hey.” I looked up to those droopy hazel eyes and felt my quivering smile cover my face.  He sat next to me and it seemed like hours before he uttered another word.  After an eternity of uncomfortable silence, while I tried to stop my body from betraying me by making visible how nervous I was, he stood and asked if he could go inside to smoke.  “Sure.” I answered, trying to appear nonchalant.  While I was busy trying to keep my heart from beating out of my chest, he stood and went in the house. I leaned my forehead on my knees trying to re-learn how to breathe.  A few seconds later, he came back out asking, “coming in or what?”  He held out his hand to me to help me up.  I thought the pressure in my head would make me pass out, so I took his extended, warm hand as I prayed my legs would not fail me. He went straight upstairs to my brother’s old bedroom, which was now mine.  He walked in the room, hesitated for a second and sat on the floor with his back leaning against the bed.  Unsure of what to do, I sat next to him as he pulled out a joint out of his shirt packet and lit it.  He gave me a confused look and shrugged when I turned it down, but I wanted nothing to interfere with this moment. I could feel the warmth of his right arm on mine and I focused on that. We just sat there in silence until he, out of nowhere said, “your brother was an asshole.” I couldn't disagree, so I shrugged. “My brother was an asshole like that too. I was glad when la descalza took him” and he looked at me.  I could feel him study my face and I had to turn away as I felt the tears well up in my eyes.  I remember the old guilt for the many times I’d prayed that la descalza would take Juan too. He reached out, trailed a tear that ran down my cheek, and kissed me.  His lips were soft and sweet. His breath warm on my face. My heart was caught in my throat. He kissed my lips, my cheeks, my neck and buried his face there.  I held him and for some unfathomable reason we sobbed. We cried as we locked in a tight embrace.  When we ran out of tears, we kissed again.  This time desperately, as if our very lives depended on this connection. He held my head tight against him.  His hands began to travel hastily over my shoulders, to my budding breasts and down my waist.  He reached down and roughly caressed my legs and tried to pull them apart.  To this day, I don’t know why I stopped him when he got higher than my knees.  Laying on top of me, he looked in my eyes and asked with a mischievous smile, “just a little higher? Just a little touch?” I shook my head and he surprisingly respected that simple gesture.

We spent the afternoon talking about our lives, my asshole brother, his asshole brother, his plans for the future. I learned that his real name was Jorge and that he hated being called Elote.  He dreamed of becoming an engineer and hoped to be able to attend the University next year, he said. He had a plan.  He’d saved the money he made from selling pot to buy his books.  “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to grow much longer because it’s getting too dangerous out in the fields. La descalza has been making the rounds and ‘El Pato’ is gone now.”  We both knew what that meant and we didn’t need to elaborate.  A sudden panic invaded my heart.  I looked at him and threw my arms around him. “Don’t worry.”  He laughed. “I’m always careful and I’ll only be going up there once, maybe twice more.” The afternoon turned into evening and much to my disappointment, he had to leave.  I wanted to tell him how much I feared the dark.  That the dark brought Mother’s men into the house looking for me in her absence and I had to leave, which meant I had to go hide in the forest waiting for daylight to come back home. I wanted him to take me away with him. But I was too embarrassed to let the words leave my lips. I walked him to the door and waited for him to be gone from sight before I followed out the door to find a tree to climb and hide in.  

That was the last time I saw Elote alive. Months later, I ran into some friends of my brother who also knew him.  I walked up to them slowly because I already knew the answer.  Before I saw them look away from me and stare at the ground as they answered, “he’s gone.”  I knew.  I knew that his beautiful, lean body had been beaten and desecrated until dead. I knew that there was no novena for him, no nine days, no chuco and tamales, no wailing Mother at his casket, no funeral.  He was disappeared. The dream that had kept me alive had been erased from existence.

******
October 2010



“So, what do you think?” Michael asked.
“Yeah, sounds good.” I agreed without knowing to what.  All I could do was stare at Michael’s mane wishing I could touch it to see if it felt like Elote’s.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Awakening



I have dwelled in but a dream
Colored by a longing
And passions lived in a moment
Yearning to make reality out of fantasy.

Stripped naked and raw
I have caressed a vision
Penned by lustful fingers
In a morn’ of discontent.

Now, jolted awake…

Bathed under a foolish glow
The fog of illusion is cleared
So logic and reason can once more to reveal
The path from which I’ve veered.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Faces


So many faces
Disappeared into the oblivion
Erased from our consciousness
No nine days for them
No tamales y chuco
No wailing rosaries

Names forgotten
Lost in the fog of our collective denial
Surely someone cried for them
More than once
Before
Before
Before they became
Nameless faces
Perhaps quietly
Safely in the dark.

Head down
Eyes to the ground
Don’t look up to call a single name
Not even a whisper
Don’t make it real

If we close our eyes long enough
Maybe
Just maybe
The sun will shine
And this haze of surreal existence
Will be replaced
Maybe with hope
And all those faces
Will have names again.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The sin of man


The world is made up of lonely individuals who feel isolated and separate from one another.  We seek others in an attempt to fill the void felt by the echoes of our own uniqueness and eccentricities. We make others feel rejected by our own sense of solitude which we aggrandize with a false sense of superiority derived from the fragility of our convictions.  We allow the reality of our insignificance close of the world around us for fear that we might be forced to face this reality and become aware that our self-righteousness is closely related to gratifying our own need for validation rather than be the best human being we can strive to be.  At best, we follow the path of least resistance, as most of nature does, to attempt and feed our inclination towards immediate gratification. At our worst, we delay or not allow ourselves to take pleasure of the moment by our drive to possess and extend the length of what is meant to be enjoyed in the now.  We allow the past to take our present being hostage for fear of truly feeling the pain which needs to be experienced. We drown ourselves slowly in the memories of yesterday and limit our presence in experiencing the reality of today. We put our energy into creating a future based on suppositions that we will be the same person tomorrow that we are today, depriving ourselves of living this minute, today.  We give our power away by allowing our singular insignificance define the strength of our convictions and how we exercise them.  We fail to see that by not being truly and honestly present we close the door to the possibility that change occurs with the self first and ripples to the rest of the world like aftershocks.  We use the “weight of the world” to not look inward and take stock of our values, virtues, strengths, and gifts which can be used every day, at every moment to inspire a better society. We allow our tunnel vision deny compassionate living and we close our hearts to those who need our love the most.

The greatest sin of man is to not allow ourselves to be emotionally present today.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sin Titulo / Untitled

No tires la mirada hacia el firmamento
que las nubes están cargadas
con las lagrimas evaporadas 
derramadas en mi tierra deseca sin anhelo

¡Ay mi tierra agrietada!
en cuales huecos empapados con la sangre de mi pueblo
me he tropezado tan a menudo
sin poder desahogar un solo gemido.

Pero como cuesta expurgar el cielo
en busca de una miga de desahogo
con las manos atadas en cadenas sin olvido

********************************

Don’t throw your sight upon the heavens
Because the clouds are loaded
With evaporated tears
Spilled upon my land dried out of hope

!Oh my parched land!
On whose crevasses soaked with the blood of my people
I have tripped so many times
Without the relief of one single moan.

But how hard it is to expunge the heavens
While searching for even a crumb of relief
With hands tied with chains that won’t forget.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Para el Poeta Jimmy

Es tan sucio el que pone las cadenas como el que lo acepta como algo sin remedio.
 .-Jaime Suárez Quemain (1950-1980) ...

Para el Poeta Jimmy

Un grito colectivo
Escribió mi hermano
A quien me aferro
en la neblina
y la distancia.

Por tanto tiempo he gritado
en unión contigo
- mi hermano anarquista -
pero silenciosamente
en las obscuridades huecas
acompañada por mi dolor y melancolía
--pue’ ya que esta es una proposición honesta--
cobardemente y embarrada de vergüenza
permitiendo que el miedo absurdo
me ensuciara con la misma ignorancia
cual infecto a nuestro pueblo

Pero al fin llego el día
- Mi hermano en la anarquía -
de comenzar a gritar contigo.
Pero espero que me perdones
si mis primeros gritos
Son susurros
Como suelen ser
cuando por tantísimo tiempo
la voluntad ha sido paralizada
por el terror cual aprieta la garganta
estrangulando la voz.

Ojala no pierdas fe
por no ser tan valiente como tu
aunque tampoco habíase permitido
Que mi espíritu se ensuciase por completo
con las cadenas de la resignación.


******************************************************************


He who enchains is just as dirty as he who accepts to be chained in resignation.
 .-Jaime Suárez Quemain (1950-1980) ...
For Jimmy the Poet
A collective shout
Wrote my brother
To whom I cling in the fog
From a distance.

I have screamed for so long
In unison with you
- my anarchist brother -
But silently
In the hollow darkness
Accompanied by my pain and melancholy
--and since we’re being brutally honest and--
If truth be told
Cowardly and smothered in shame
Allowing that absurd fear
To soil me with the ignorance
Which infected our people

But the day has finally arrived
- My brother in anarchy -
For me to shout alongside you
But I hope you can forgive me
If my first shouts
Are whispers
As they tend to be
When for so very long
One’s will has been paralyzed
By the terror tightening one’s throat
Constricting one’s voice.

I hope you don’t lose faith
Because though I have never been as brave as you
I also didn’t fully allow my spirit
to be soiled by the chains of resignation.

Papaya


Miss Lulu and I
 
There is a very distinct sound a bullet makes when it ricochets off stone.
 
A quick, metallic sharp slap
Preceded by a whistling “whoosh”
Cutting through the suffocating, wet air
Thick with the smells of
Papayas, aguacates, tamales, frigoles
And mi gente.
You hear the first “pop” while walking down the Mercado aisles
Filling your empty stomach with the sweet smell of ripe papayas
You hear the ping as you hit the floor so fast you don’t care
that the damp, grimy, smelly floor is going to ruin your only good skirt.
Your eyes are closed before you even touch the ground
Time slows down and a few seconds turn into a lifetime
as the air is cut with the shower of accompanying bullets.
 
More bullets bring more screams
As your arms pointlessly attempt to drown them.
Your senses absorb the chaos around you
Your brain expands to take in all that it unravels.
Chickens panic and become free
Too stupid to know that it’s safer to lay low
Rather than jump around
You wish you could bury your face against someone’s breast
As you hear the muffled cries of children clinging to their Mothers
Instead, you taste the dirty floor mixed with your tears and snot.
Your mind’s eye becomes a movie projector
Translating all the sounds into perfect images.
You wish your mind weren’t so inquisitive
Because you’d rather not know.
You’d rather not know, or see, or hear
the shared terror and awareness
that soon you will take your last breath
with your face plastered on this filthy floor full of chicken shit.
 
And time stops…
 
And you see Tete’s smiling face closing in to kiss your forehead for the last time
before disappearing into the plane
And your dog, Miss Lulu, happily sharing a piece of your last tortilla yesterday morning
And you wish you hadn’t told Cecilia she was dirty for having lice
And not teased Esperanza because she’s a Jehova’s Witness
And wished you’d let Jorge put his hand higher up under your skirt
“for just a little touch” before he was disappeared
And you remember your first kiss
Even as you wish it had been from Jaime and not his brother Adan
And you wonder if your Mother will know that you’re dead
because she won’t be home long enough to notice that you’re gone before she leaves again
And you try to remember if you told your Abuelo you loved him when you saw him last
And you wish you had the memory stick you made together now
But you can’t remember where you put it.
And you try to send your Father a telepathic message
Like he taught you to do before you broke your promise
To tell him “perdoneme”
But you can’t because there is no bright star inside the Mercado
And you won’t dare look up anyway.
 
Slowly, time resumes...

You become aware that your crotch feels wet
And you wonder if you messed yourself
And as you wait for the coldness to come.
You feel someone’s warm breath against your arm
And his weight over you
And you don’t care that he smells bad
because you feel protected
And everything feels calm now
And you wonder if you’re dead
But you know you’re not because you smell your own piss
And rough hands lift you off the ground
And pry your arms from around your head
And the ringing in your ears vaguely lets you hear, “ya pue’ ya esta bien, ya paso.”
And you dare open your eyes now
And as he gives you a cracked papaya from the floor, you whisper, “Gracias Maestro”
And you remember that you’re hungry so you don’t tell him it’s not yours and you take it
As you start to get control of your legs you notice that your skirt is stained with blood
but you don’t want to know who it belongs to
so you start to make your way out
As children are sent to try to salvage their Mother’s produce off the filthy floor.
 
You don’t look back as the women wash off the blood
left behind by the bodies being dragged ahead of you.
Your trembling legs carry you to the main gate of the Mercado
while you pretend that you don’t see the uniformed men and their rifles
or hear them telling you how much they’d like to bite your budding breasts
as they lick their lips while they rub the cocks over their pants
Once outside, you put one foot in front of the other
And walk to Cecilia’s to trade half your papaya for a tortilla so you can feed Miss Lulu.