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Lugar Comn


2 de julio 6 de agosto 2016 / 3pm 5pm
Coordinador: Reygar Bernal


1.- Richard Blanco (Latino: Cuban-American)


Although Ta Miriam boasted she discovered

at least half a dozen uses for peanut butter
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer
Mam never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.


There was always pork though,

for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Years Eve,
even on Thanksgiving daypork,
fried, broiled, or crispy skin roasted
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips, and yucca con mojito.
These items required a special visit
to Antonios Mercado on the corner of Eighth Street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everythingEse hijo de puta!
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue

filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one anothers lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.


By seven I had grown suspiciouswe were still here.

Overheard conversations about returning
had grown wistful and less frequent.
I spoke English; my parents didnt.
We didnt live in a two-story house
with a maid or a wood-panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marcia;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on the Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lzaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Dukes family wasnt like us either
they didnt have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didnt have yucca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.


A week before Thanksgiving

I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountains majesty,
one if by land, two if by sea,
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the masses yearning to be free,
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.


Abuelita prepared the poor fowl

as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mam set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolas,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver rom Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except To Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
DRY, To Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jellyesa mierda roja, he called it.
Faces fell when Mam presented her ochre pie
pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Ta Mara made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then Abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered
it was 1970 and 46 degrees
in Amrica.
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
To Berto was the last to leave.

Mail for Mam

For years they have come for you:

awkward-size envelopes labeled POR AVION
affixed with multiple oversized stamps
honoring men from that other country.

Monthly, you would peel eggshell pages,

the white onionskin paper telling details:
Kikis first steps, your mothers death,
dates approximated by the postmarks.

Sometimes with pictures: mute black-and-whites,

poor photos of poor cousins I would handle

looking for my resemblance in the foreign
image of an ear, an eyebrow, or a nose.

When possible, you would parcel a few pounds

of your desperation in discreet brown packages:
medicines, bubble gum, our familys photos,
a few yards of taffeta needed for a Quinces gown.

Always waiting for your letters, your face worn

like the coral face of a water fountain goddess
your mouth of stone, your eyes forever fixed
by a sentence of time, in a garden of never.

The Name I Wanted:

Not Ricardo but Richard, because I felt

like Richard Burtona true Anglo-Saxon
in tights reciting lines from Othello, because
I wanted to be as handsome as Richard Gere
in a white tuxedo, because I had a pinky ring
just like Richard Dawson on Family Feud,
because I knew I could be just as wholesome
as Richie Cunningham, just as American
as my fathers favorite president, Nixon.

Richardnot Ricardo, not my nicknames:

El NegritoLittle Black Boyfor my skin
the color of dry tobacco when I was born,
or El Galleguitothe Little Galician, because
thats what Ta Noelia called anyone like me
born in Spain, not a hundred percent Cuban.
Not Rico, the name Lupe wrote on my desk
branding me as Barry Manilows Latin lover
in ruffled sleeves dancing conga at the Copa,
Copa Cabana all of eighth grade. And definitely
not RicarditoLittle Rickyworse than Dick.

Richarddescendant of British royals, not

the shepherds of my mothers family, not
the plantain farmers on my fathers side.
Richardname of German composers, not
the swish of machetes, rapping of bongos.
Richardmore elegant than my grandfather
in his polyester suit, Chiclets in his pocket,
more refined than my grandmother gnawing

mangos, passing gas at the kitchen sink.

Ricardo De Jess Blanco, I dub thee myself

Sir Richard Jesus White
defender of my own country, protector
of my wishes, conqueror of mirrors, sovereign
of my imaginationa name for my name.

Betting on America

My grandmother was the bookie, set up

at the kitchen table that night, her hair
in curlers, pencil and pad jotting down
two-dollar bets, paying fivetoone
on which Miss would take the crown.

Abuelo put his money on Miss Wyoming

Shes got great teeth, he pronounced as if
complimenting a horse, not her smile
filling the camera before she wisped away
like a cloud in her creamy chiffon dress.

I dug up enough change from the sofa

and car seats to beat on Miss Wisconsin,
thinking I was as American as she because
I was as blond as she was, and I knew
thats where all the cheese came from.

That wasnt all: chocolate was from Miss

Pennsylvania, the capital of Miss Montana
was Helena, Mount Rushmore was in
Miss South Dakota, and I knew how to say
Miss Con-nec-ti-cut, unlike my Ta Gloria

who just pointed at the TV: Esathat one,

claiming she had her same figure before
leaving Cuba. Its true . . . I have pictures,
she declared before cramming another
bocadito sandwich into her mouth.

Pap refused to bet on any of the Misses

because Americanas all have skinny butts,
he complained. Theres nothing like a big
culo cubano. Everyone agreedes verdad
except for me and my little cousin Julito,

who apparently was a breast man at five,
reaching for Miss Alabamas bosom
on the screen, the leggy mulata sashaying
in pumps, swimsuit, seducing To Pedro
into picking her as the sure winner.

Shes the one! She looks Cubana, he swore,

and she did, but she cost him five bucks.
Cojones! he exploded as confetti rained,
Bert Parks leading Miss Ohio, the new
Miss America, by the hand to the runway.

Gloves up to her elbows, velvet down

to her feet, crying diamonds into her bouquet,
the queen of our country, our land of the free,
amid the purple mountains of her majesty
floating across the stage, our living room,

though no one bet on her, and none of us

not even mecould answer Mam
when she asked: Dnde est Ohio?

Taking My Cousins Photo at the Statue of Liberty

for Roxana

May she never miss the sun or the rain in the valley
trickling from Royal palms, or the plush red earth,
or the flutter of sugarcane fields and poincianas, or
the endless hem of turquoise sea around the island,,
may she never remember the sea or her life again
in Cuba selling glossy postcards of the revolution
and El Che to sweaty Germans, may she never forget
the broken toilet and peeling stucco of her room
in a government-partitioned mansion dissolving
like a sand castle back into the Bay of Cienfuegos,
may she never have to count the dollars wed send
for her wedding dress, or save egg rations for a cake,
may she be as American as I wanted to be once, in love
with its rosy-cheeked men in breeches and white wigs,
with the calligraphy of our Liberty and Justice for All,
our We The People, may she memorize all fifty states,
our rivers and mountains, sing God Bless America
like she means it, like shes never lived anywhere
else but here, may she admire our wars and our men

on the moon, may she believe our infomercials, buy
designer perfumes and underwear, drink Starbucks,
drive a Humvee, and have a dream, may she never
doubt America, may this be her country more than
it is mine when she lifts her Diet Coke like a torch
into the June sky and clutches her faux Chanel purse
to her chest, may she look into New York Harbor
for the rest of her life and hold still when I say, Smile.

2.- David Tomas Martinez (Latino: Mexican-American)

The Only Mexican
The only Mexican that ever was Mexican, fought in the revolution
and drank nightly, and like all machos, crawled into work crudo,

letting his breath twirl, then clap and sing before sandpaper
juiced the metal. The only Mexican to never sit in a Catholic pew

was born on Halloween, and ate his lunch wrapped in foil against
the fence with the other Mexicans. They fixed old Fords where my

grandfather worked for years, him and the welder Juan wagered
each year on who would return first to the Yucatan. Neither did.

When my aunts leave, my dad paces the living room and then rests,
like a jaguar who once drank rain off the leaves of Cecropia trees,

but now caged, bends his paw on a speaker to watch crowds pass.
He asks me to watch grandpa, which means, for the day; in town

for two weeks, I have tried my best to avoid this. Many times he will swear,
and many times grandpa will ask to get in and out of bed, want a sweater,

he will ask the time, he will use the toilet, frequently ask for beer,
about dinner, when the Padres play, por que no novelas, about bed.

He will ask about his house, grandma, to sit outside, he will question
while answering, he will smirk, he will invent languages while tucked in bed.

He will bump the table, tap the couch, he will lose his slipper, wedging it in
the wheel of his chair, like a small child trapped in a well, everyone will care.

He will cry without tearsa broken carburetor of sobs. When I speak

Spanish, he shakes his head, and reminds me, he is the only Mexican.

3.- Naom Shihab Nye (Palestinian-American)

The Day

I miss the day

on which it was said
others should not have
certain weapons, but we could.
Not only could, but should,
and do.
I missed that day.
Was I sleeping?
I might have been digging
in the yard,
doing something small and slow
as usual.
Or maybe I wasnt born yet.
What about all the other people
Who arent born?
Who will tell them?

During a War

Best wishes to you & yours,

he closes the letter.

For a moment I cant

fold it up again
where does yours end?
Dark eyes pleading
what could we have done
Your family,
your community,
circle of earth, we did not want,
we tried to stop,
we were not heard
by dark eyes who are dying
now. How easily they
would have welcomed us in
for coffee, serving it

in a simple room
with a radiant rug.
Your friends & mine.

The Sweet Arab, the Generous Arab

Since no one else is mentioning you enough.

The Arab who extends his hand.

The Arab who will not let you pass
his tiny shop without a welcoming word.
The refugee inviting us in for a Coke.
Clean glasses on a table in a ramshackle hut.
Those who dont drink Coke would drink it now.
We drink from the silver flask of hospitality.
We drink and you bow your head.

Please forgive everyone who has not honored your name.

You who would not kill a mouse, a bird.

Who feels sad sometimes even cracking an egg.
Who places two stones on top of one another
for a monument. Who packet the pieces,
carried them to a new corner. For whom the words
rubble and blast are constants. Who never wanted
those words. To be able to say,
this is a day and I live in it safely,
with those I love, was all. Who has been hurt
but never hurt in return. Fathers and grandmothers,
uncles, the little lost cousin who wanted only
to see a Ferris wheel in his lifetime, ride it
high into the air. And all the gaping days
they bought no tickets
for spinning them around.


Relative to our plans for your country,

we will blast your tree, crush your cart,
stun your grocery.
Amen sisters and brothers,
give us your sesame legs,
your satchels, your skies.
Freedom will feel good
to you too. Please acknowledge

our higher purpose. No, we did not see
your bed of parsley. On St. Patricks Day
2003, President Bush wore a blue tie. Blinking hard,
he said, We are not dealing with peaceful men.
He said, reckless aggression.
He said, the danger is clear.
Your patio was not visible in his frame.
Your comforter stuffed with wool
from a sheep you knew. He said, We are
against the lawless men who
rule your country, not you. Tell that
to the mother, the sister, the bride,
the proud boy, the peanut-seller,
the librarian careful with her shelves.
The teacher, the spinner, the sweeper,
the invisible village, the thousands of people
with laundry and bread, the ants tunneling
through the dirt.

It is not a game, it was never a game.

It was a girls arm, the right one

that held a pencil.
She liked her arm.

It was a small stone house

with an iron terrace,
a flower pot beside the

People passing,
loaves of bread,
little plans
the size of a thought,
dropping off something you borrowed,
buying a small sack of zaater,
it was a hand with fingers
dipping the scoop into the barrel.

I will not live this way,

said a woman with a baby on her hip
but she was where she was.

These men do not represent me,

said the teacher with her students

in pressed blue smocks.

They had sharpened their pencils.

Desks lined in a simple room.
It was school,
numbers on a page.
a radiant sky with clouds.
In the old days you felt happy to see it.

No one wanted anything

to drop out of it
except rain. Where was rain?

It was not a game, it was

unbelievable sorrow
and fear.

A hand that a mother held.

A pocket. A glass.
It was not war.
It was people.

We had gone nowhere

in a million years.

I Feel Sorry for Jesus

People wont leave Him alone.

I know He said, wherever two or more
Are gathered in my name . . .
but Ill bet some days He regrets it.

Cozily they tell you what He wants

and doesnt want
as if they just got an e-mail.
Remember Telephone, that pass-it-on game

where the message changed dramatically

by the time it rounded the circle?
People blame terrible pieties on Jesus.

They want to be his special pet.

Jesus deserves better.
I think Hes been exhausted

for a very long time.

He went into the dessert, friends.

He didnt go into the pomp.
He didnt go into
the golden chandeliers

and say, the truth tastes better here.

See? Im talking like I know.
Its dangerous talking for Jesus.
You get carried away almost immediately.

I stood in the spot where He was born.

I closed my eyes where He died and didnt die.
Every twist of the Via Dolorosa
was written on my skin.

And that makes me feel like being silent

for Him, you know? A secret pouch
of listening. You wont hear me
mention this again.

4.- Martn Espada (Latino: Puerto Rican-American)

Latin Night at the Pawnshop

Chelsea, Massachusetts
Christmas, 1987

The apparition of a salsa band

gleaming in the Liberty Loan
pawnshop window:

Golden trumpet,
silver trombone,
congas, maracas, tambourine,

all with price tags dangling

like the city morgue ticket
on a dead mans toe. 1987


Boston, Massachusetts, 1987

In the school auditorium

the Theodore Roosevelt statue
is nostalgic
for the Spanish-American War,
each fist lonely for a saber
or the reins of anguish-eyed horses,
or a podium to clatter with speeches
glorying in the malaria of conquest.
But now the Roosevelt school
is pronounced Hernndez.
Puerto Rico has invaded Roosevelt
with its army of Spanish-singing children
in the hallways,
brown children devouring
the stockpiles of the cafeteria,
children painting Tano ancestors1
that leap naked across murals.

Roosevelt is surrounded
by all the faces
he ever shove in eugenic spite
and cursed as mongrels, skin of one race,
hair and cheekbones of another.

Once Marines tramped

from the newsreel of his imagination;
now children plot to spray graffiti
in parrot-brilliant colors
across the Victorian mustache
and monocle. 1990

5.- Julio Marzn (Latino: Puerto Rican-American)

The Translator at the Reception for Latin American Writers

Air-conditioned introductions,
then breezy Spanish conversation
1 Tano ancestors: The most culturally developed indigenous tribe in the Caribbean when
Columbus arrived in Hispaniola in 1492

fan his curiosity to know
what country I come from.
Puerto Rico and the Bronx.

Spectacled downward eyes

translate disappointment
like a poison mushroom
puffed in his thoughts as if,
after investing a sizable
intellectual budget, transporting
a huge cast and camera crew
to film on location
Mayan pyramid grandeur,
indigenes whose ancient gods
and comet-tail plumage
inspire a glorious epic
of revolution across the continent,
he received a lurid script
for a social documentary
rife with dreary streets
and pathetic human interest,
meager in the profits of high culture.

Understandably he turns,
catches up with the hostess,
praising the uncommon quality
of her offerings of cheese. 1997

6.- Tato Laviera (Latino: Puerto Rican-American)


we gave birth to a new generation,

AmeRcan, broader than lost gold
never touched, hidden inside the
puerto rican mountains.

we gave birth to a new generation,

AmeRcan, it includes everything
imaginable you-name-it-we-got-it

we gave birth to a new generation,

AmeRcan salutes all folklores,

european, indian, black, Spanish,
and anything else compatible:

AmeRcan, singing to composer pedro flores2 palm

trees high up in the universal sky!

AmeRcan, sweet soft spanish danzas gypsies

moving lyrics la espaola cascabelling
presence always singing at our side!

AmeRcan, beating jbaro3 modern troubadours

crying guitars romantic continental
bolero love songs!

AmeRcan, across forth and across back

back across and forth back
forth across and back and forth
our trips are walking bridges!

it all dissolved into itself, the attempt

was truly made, the attempt was truly
absorbed, digested, we spit out
the poison, we spit out the malice,
we stand, affirmative in action,
to reproduce a broader answer to the
marginality that gobbled us up abruptly!

AmeRcan, walking plena-rhythms4 in new york,

strutting beautifully alert, alive,
many turning eyes wondering,

AmeRcan, defyning myself my own way any way many

ways Am e Rcan, with the big R and the
accent on the !

AmeRcan, like the soul gliding talk of gospel

boogie music!

AmeRcan, speaking new words in spanglish tenements,

2 pedro flores: Puerto Rican composer of popular romantic songs

3 jbaro: A particular style of music played by Puerto Rican mountain farmers, usually white and
also referred to as jbaros.
4 plena-rhythms: African-Puerto Rican folklore, music, and dance.

fast tongue moving street corner que
corta talk being invented at the insistence
of a smile!

AmeRcan, abounding inside so many ethnic english

people, and out of humanity, we blend
and mix all that is good!

AmeRcan, integrating in new york and defining our

own destino, our own way of life,

AmeRcan, defyning the new america, humane america,

admired america, loved america, harmonious
america, the world in peace, our energies
collectively invested to find other civili-
zations, to touch God, further and further,
to dwell in the spirit of divinity!

AmeRcan, yes, for now, for i love this, my second

land, and i dream to take the accent from
the altercation, and be proud to call
myself american, in the u.s. sense of the
word, AmeRcan, America! 1985

7.- Julia Alvarez (Latino: Dominican-American)

Queens, 1963

Everyone seemed more American

than we, newly arrived,
foreign dirt still on our soles.
By years end, a sprinkler waving
like a flag on our mowed lawn,
we were blended into the block,
owned our own mock Tudor house.
Then the house across the street
sold to a black family.
Cop cars patrolled our block
from the Castelluccis at one end
to the Balakians on the other.
We heard rumors of bomb threats,
a burning cross on their lawn.
(It turned out to be a sprinkler.)
The barbers family, Haralambides,

our left side neighbors, didnt want trouble.
Theyd come a long way to be free!
Mr. Scott, the retired plumber,
and his plump midwestern wife,
considered moving back home
where white and black got along
by staying where they belonged.
They had cultivated our street
like the garden shed given up
on account of her ailing back,
bad knees, poor eyes, arthritic hands.
She went through her litany daily.
Politely, my mother listened
Ay, Mrs, Scott, qu pena!
her Dominican good manners
still running on automatic.
The Jewish counselor next door,
had a practice in her house;
clients hurried up her walk
ashamed to be seen needing.
(I watched from my upstairs window,
gloomy with adolescence,
and guessed how they too must have
hypocritical old-world parents.)
Mrs. Bernstein said it was time
the neighborhood opened up.
As the first Jew on the block,
she remembered the snubbing she got
a few years back from Mrs. Scott.
But real estate worried her,
our houses plummeting value.
She shook her head as she might
at a clients grim disclosures.
Too bad the world works this way.
The German girl playing the piano
down the street abruptly stopped
in the middle of a note.
I completed the tune in my head
as I watched their front door open.
A dark man in a suit
with a girl about my age
walked quickly into a car.
My hand lifted but fell
before I made a welcoming gesture.
On her face I had seen a look
from the days before we had melted

into the United States of America.
It was hardness mixed with hurt.
It was knowing she never could be
the right kind of American.
A police car followed their car.
Down the street, curtains fell back.
Mrs. Scott swept her walk
as if it had just been dirtied.
Then the German piano commenced
downward scales as if tracking
the plummeting real estate.
One by one I imagined the houses
sinking into their lawns,
the grass grown wild and tall
in the past tense of this continent
before the first foreigners owned
any of this free country. 1992

First Muse

When I heard the famous poet pronounce

One can only write poems in the tongue
in which one first said Mother, I was stunned.
Lately arrived in English, I slipped down
into my seat and fought back tears, thinking
of all those notebooks filled with bogus poems
Id have to burn, thinking maybe there was
a little loophole, maybe just maybe
Mami had sung me lullabies shed learned
from wives stationed at the embassy,

thinking maybe shed left the radio on

beside my crib tuned to the BBC
or Voice of America, maybe her friend
from boarding school had sent a talking doll
who spoke in English? Maybe I could be
the one exception to this writing rule?
For months I suffered from bad writers-block,
which I envisioned, not as a blank page,
but as a literary border guard
turning me back to Spanish on each line.

I gave up writing, watched lots of TV,

and you know how it happens that advice
comes from unlikely quarters? She came on,

sassy, olive-skinned, hula hooping her hips,
a basket of bananas on her head,
her lilting accent so full of feeling
it seemed the way the heart would speak English
if it could speak. I touched the screen and sang
my own heart out with my new muse. I am
Chiquita Banana and Im here to say . . . 1999

8.- Gary Soto (Latino: Mexican-American)

Mexicans Begin Jogging

At the factory I worked

In the fleck of rubber, under the press
Of an oven yellow with flame,
Until the border patrol opened
Their vans and my boss waved for us to run.
Over the fence, Soto, he shouted,
And I shouted that I was American.
No time for lies, he said, and pressed
A dollar in my palm, hurrying me
Through the back door.

Since I was on his time, I ran

And became the wag to a short tail of Mexicans
Ran past the amazed crowds that lined
The street and blurred like photographs, in rain.
I ran from that industrial road to the soft
Houses where people paled at the turn of an autumn sky.
What could I do but yell vivas
To baseball, milkshakes, and those sociologists
Who would clock me
As I jog into the next century
On the power of a great, silly grin. 1995

9.- John Yau (Chinese-American)

Ing Grish

You need to speak Singlish to express a Singaporean feeling.

Catherine Liu

I never learned Singlish

I cannot speak Taglish, but I have registered

the tonal shifts of Dumglish, Bumglish, and Scumglish

I do not know Ing Grish, but I will study it down to its

black and broken bones

I do not know Ing Gwish, but I speak dung and dungaree,

satrap and claptrap

Today I speak barbecue and canoe

Today I speak running dog and yellow dog

I do not know Spin Gloss, but I hear humdrum and humdinger,

bugaboo and jigaboo

I do not know Ang Grish, but I can tell you that my last name
consists of three letters, and that technically all of them are vowels

I do not know Um Glish, but I do know how to eat with two sticks

Oh but I do know English because my fathers mother was English

and because my father was born in New York in 1921
and was able to return to America in 1949
and become a citizen

I no speak Chinee, Chanel, or Cheyenne

I do know English because Im able to tell others
that I am not who they think I am

I do not know Chinese because my mother said that I refused to learn it

from the moment I was born, and that my refusal
was one of the greatest sorrows of her life,
the other being the birth of my brother

I do know Chinese because I understood what my mothers friend told her

one Sunday morning, shortly after she sat down for tea:
I hope you dont that I parked my helicopter on your roof

Because I do not know Chinese I have been told that means

I am not Chinese by a man who translates from the Spanish.
He said that he had studied Chinese and was therefore closer

To being Chinese than I could ever one publicly disagreed with him,
Which, according to the rules of English, means he is right

I do know English and I know that knowing it means

that I dont always believe it

The fact that I disagree with the man who translates from the Spanish
is further proof that I am not Chinese because all the Chinese
living in America are hardworking and earnest
and would never disagree with someone who is right.
This proves I even know how to behave in English

I do not know English because I got divorced and therefore

I must have misunderstood the vows I made at City Hall

I do know English because the second time I made a marriage vow

I had to repeat it in Hebrew

I do know English because I know what fortune cookie means

when it is said of a Chinese woman

The authority on poetry announced that I discovered that I was Chinese

when it was to my advantage to do so

My father was afraid that if I did not speak English properly

I would be condemned to work as waiter in a Chinese restaurant.
My mother, however, said that this was impossible because
I didnt speak Cantonese, because the only language
waiters in Chinese restaurants know how to speak was Cantonese

I do not know either Cantonese or English, Ang Glish or Ing Grish

Anguish is a language everyone can speak, but no one listens to it

I do know English because my fathers mother was Ivy Hillier.

She was born and died in Liverpool, after living in America and China,
and claimed to be a descendant of the Huguenots
I do know English because I misheard my grandmother and thought
she said that I was a descendant of the Argonauts

I do know English because I remember what Made in Japan meant

when I was a child

I learn over and over again that I do not know Chinese.

Yesterday a man asked me how to write my last name in Chinese,
because he was sure that I had been mispronouncing it

and that if this was how my father pronounced it,
then the poor man had been wrong all his life

I do not know Chinese even though my parents conversed in it every day.

I do know English because I had to ask the nurses not to put my mother
in a straightjacket, and reassure them that I would be willing to stay with her
until the doctor came the next morning

I do know English because I left the room when the doctor told me
I had no business being there

I do not know Chinese because during the Vietnam War

I was called a gook instead of a chink and realized
that I had managed to change my spots without meaning to

I do not know English because when father said that he would

like to see me dead, I was never sure quite what he meant

I do not know Chinese because I never slept with a woman

whose vagina slanted like my mothers eyes

I do not know either English or Chinese and, because of that

I did not put a gravestone at the head of my parents graves
as I felt no language mirrored the ones they spoke 2005

10.- Jennifer Elise Foerster (American Indian)


An atlas
on the underside of my dream.

My half-shut eyelid
a black wing.

I dipped sharp quills

in the nights mouth

moths swarmed
from my throat.

I pulled a feather blanket

over my skeleton
and woke

a map of America
flapping in the dark.

Once I dreamt
of inheriting this

my mother
who still follows crows
through the field,

my sisters small hand

tucked inside hers,

me on her breast
in a burial quilt. 2013

Leaving Tulsa
for Cosetta

Once there were coyotes, cardinals

in the cedar. You could cure amnesia
with the trees of our back-forty. Once
I drowned in a monsoon of frogs
Grandma said it was a good thing, a promise
for a good crop. Grandmas perfect tomatoes.
Squash. She taught us to shuck corn, laughing,
never spoke about her childhood
or the faces in gingerbread tins
stacked in the closet.

She was covered in a quilt, the Creek way.

But I dont know this kind of burial:
vanishing toads, thinning pecan groves,
peach trees choked by palms.
New neighbors tossing clipped grass
over our fence line, griping to the city
of our overgrown fields.

Granma fell in love with a truck driver,

grew watermelons by the pond
on our Indian allotment,
took us fishing for dragonflies.
When the bulldozers came

with their documents from the city
and a truckload of pipelines,
her shotgun was already loaded.

Under the bent chestnut, the well

where Cosettas husband
hid his whiskeyburied beneath roots
her bundle of beads. They tell
the story of our family. Cosettas land
flattened to a parking lot.

Grandma potted a cedar sapling

I could take on the road for luck.
She used the bark for heart lesions
doctors couldnt explain.
To her they were maps, traces of home,
the Milky Way, where shes going, she said.

After the funeral

I stowed her jewelry in the ground,
promised to return when the rivers rose.

On the grassy plain behind the house

one buffalo remains.

Along the highways gravel pits

sunflowers stand in dense rows.
Telephone poles crook into the layered sky.
A crows beak broken by a windmills blade.
It is then I understand my grandmother:
When they see open land
they only know to take it.

I understand how to walk among hay bales

looking for turtle shells.
How to sing over the groan of the country road
widening to four lanes.
I understand how to keep from looking up:
small planes trail overhead
as I kneel in the Johnson grass
combing away footprints.

Up here, parallel to the median

with a vista of mesas weavings,
the sky a belt of blue and white beadwork,
I see our hundred and sixty acres

stamped on Gods forsaken country,
a roof blown off a shed,
beams bent like matchsticks,
a drove of white cows
making their home
in a derailed train car. 2013

Before Waking

Empty highway.
Forest in the distance

cobwebs mapping
the clearing of the pines.

In a meadow of a burning grass

a book before you.

A tree drops its charred apples.

Crow comes to eat.

You will gather the seeds

and continue to travel.

Climb the bone-strewn mesas,

the mountains a doorway at your side.

This is the place of your birth

pass by it.

There is nothing left here

to remember me by but webs

spun from cedar smoke

where my footprints
disappear down your throat.


Crossing the four corners,

your footprints in shifting dunes
where you are not

in smokestacks over Shiprock,
power plants behind fruit trees
I wear their diesel on my clothes.

And though I follow your murmuring wind

you are not
lying wide on your back on the mesa. You are not
in twin-rock mines where copper shells
press beneath my heels into a diagram of a breast,
where the slit of sun is warm enough to hear you

a whisper of moths on shoulders.

I dont know where north is from here,
where I ought to stop.

You are not north of these cliffs

where the fire lives, that cinder of a child
smoldering in my breath. You are not
on the side of highways singing
on the steaming back line in the desert.
Not there
where a woman at the laundry line
ripples into a mirage behind me,
where bottles on roadsides glimmer
like shards of sunlight on water
as I swim in my dreams of aquamarine
prisms along the highway.

You are not at the vanishing point

in my rearview mirror
where a woman hangs her daughters dress
to dry. It is spring.
She has already buried the bones.

You are not inside the river-stone

hurt in the arroyo
where the dead blow through
and aromas of fresh bread
rise from the pipe in the roof,
drift west where the woman
strikes a match against the wall
to read the codes of the interior world
then disappears with the sun

as in the morning when I wake

without a dream

and can only speak about blue things
the woman in the blue shirt, the blue
October sky, blue silk on the womans
laundry line
flapping against a blue breath,
the bluishness of a body
when it is left behind, the blue
memory of a desert
littered with bottle caps,
smashed glass,
squares of sunlight
fading from water
footprints. Diesel.
Blue dress. Tar.

11.- Simon J. Ortiz (American Indian)

Passing through Little Rock

The old Indian ghosts

are just billboard words
in this crummy town.

You know, Im worrying a lot lately,

he says in the old hotel bar.

Youre getting older and scared aint you?

I just want to cross the next hill,

through that clump of trees
and come out the other side

and see a clean river,

the whole earth new
and hear the noise it makes
at birth. 1976

5 Names of Native American tribes formerly living in Arkansas.

From Sand Creek

At the Salvation Army

a clerk
caught me
among old spoons
and knives,
sweaters and shoes.

I couldnt have stolen anything;

my life was stolen already.

In protest though,
I should have stolen.
My life. My life.

She caught me;

Carson6 caught Indians,
secured them with his lies.
Bound them with his belief.

After winter,
our own lives fled.

I reassured her
what she believed.
Bought a sweater.

And fled.

I should have stolen.

My life. My life. 1981

6 Christopher (Kit) Carson (1809-1868), Indian agent who killed many Native Americans.