From The Poet & the Journalist
I’m drowning in sadness. I just read this in the paper this morning:
“In what police are calling a horrific trafficking case, Sunday July 23, 2017, in San Antonio…” and, “To maximize their criminal profits, these human smugglers crammed more than100 people into a tractor trailers in the stifling Texas summer heat resulting in ten dead and 29 others hospitalized,” acting ICE Director Thomas Homan said.
I tried twice last week to cross the border, even go through a tunnel but it was blocked and I tried the wall but with temperature exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and Border Patrol agents swarming like scorpions, I was afraid so I came back.
With all the drug wars and daily killings, it’s a war zone here, military jeeps and guns and helicopters everywhere and I just read this morning that the Supreme Court has ruled that high-ranking federal officials in your country cannot be held responsible for abuse against individuals held in prisons and detention centers, even when that abuse results from their policies and directives. I have interviewed dozens of Central Americans who have been tortured in your prison system.
Are they kidding? Line up the black coffins of immigrants murdered and killed who crossed the border and they would stretch from coast to coast—Pacific to Atlantic: they’re not arresting the slave-traders, bandits and drug dealers—hundreds of bodies of women, children and men die from dehydration and predators every month.
What strategy is this? Genocide? A Mexican/Central American Holocaust? Most are fleeing civil wars, others are starving, want to work but the borderlands have become a death-camp for them.
I miss you. The other day I was sweeping my bedroom and I found a pair of your red panties under the bed. I was seized with a desire to make love to you and am being driven mad by this passion. I sat and wept as I observed your red panties on the floor.
Life goes on—even as the Cartel threatens to kill me if I continue writing my pieces in the paper, black birds fly across the fields into the pines, a tractor grumbles in the distance and breezes pungent with leafy scents sweep through the house, and my intense craving to make love to you yields nothing but self-repugnance. I should be a better journalist. I should be there with you.
We need an orphanage here. 50,000 kids are without parents because the cartel slaughtered them. The hearts of children are maimed by border-trauma—I’ve seen children, when they see ICE agents, start to shake and cry. Traumatized.
Used to be that love would fix everything, be the cure for all the sad things we have suffered. It was supposed to lift us above the horrendous afflictions committed by authorities and give us back our humanity, retrieve what we had lost and renew our joy for living.
I ritualized our love into some destined prophecy that had to be adhered to and fulfilled. I gave it credibility, as if God had ordained it, it was supposed to draw us out of this dark paralysis to walk forth into a bright future. But the militarized encampments of vigilantes and Border Patrols prevent me from joining you.
I must stay and record what is happening.
My words fail and I am sorry—they’re extravagant executions of a deprived man with an over excited imagination and now they mock my naivety—they led me to believe I could control my destiny, I could determine something to be true because the words I wrote were the truest part of me ever shared with anyone—and all the while the words applauded my gullibility.
Don’t ever despair.
I don’t care what the president says or his henchmen
they can fuck each other at the round table at the White House—
remember, you are an undocumented immigrant
wanting to work to support his family— not
a criminal or animal or alien. They may label you
a criminal, gang member, drug dealer, killer or terrorist
and it only shows how polluted their hearts are
you are not a threat, you are a gift.
I want to make love to you and I have in my dreams,
but then I wake up to reality,
agents sweeping through the International District here
targeting large numbers of women and children,
dragging them out of schools.
On my way to work
I’m followed by ICE agents.
they arrested 160
at the poultry plant and even people
with work permits are getting arrested.
Tonal, I’ve filed for asylum for you, the cartels
threatened you twice because of what you’ve written.
As a journalist, you have to be protected or stop writing
and since you won’t stop, you have to come here.
Your cousin can get you on the shoe factory
until you get a job at a newspaper.
I love you my life.__
I went to a rally on the International Bridge this afternoon, hundreds of people protesting the immigration policy. It was encouraging but sad as some were led off in shackles around their ankles, wrists, and waist. Doing my part, I threw small pumpkins at the ICE agents. Pumpkins or watermelons, nothing seems to stop these people who behave like Gestapos and so I drove to church, maybe praying will help. In the middle of the night flashing red lights flash wake us up—the drug war murders continue and while I hear machine guns blasting away, I curl up on the couch and watch Netflix and forget about my life for an hour or two.
Migrants the world over are dying as people watch like sports fans the grim spectacle of fishing trawlers recover the hundreds of bodies. Enough bodies to fill a hundred airplane hangars. People assuage their guilt with Teddy bears and roses, every living room and bedroom and yard and kitchen should be filled with mourners, public opinion no longer matters—at least not in Mexico, where every six out of ten government official is corrupt—the higher you go, the more corruption.
But there are a few brave men and women working to destroy Mafia & Cartel networks—if I were to really write what I felt I’d say behead the bosses, burn the boats, tractors trailers and planes, burn their mansions and luxury cars and money and let the burning be our anthem that returns us to our humanity, enough assassinations and killing journalists, prosecutors, judges, police officers, and politicians, no more submission to organize crime, tens of millions of people flee war, starvation, and oppression while for those living in transit countries—the drivers, the fixers, the translators, the guards, the shopkeepers, the brokers, the bookkeepers, the police officers, the checkpoint runners, the bandits—business has never been more profitable.
They say that porn is more watched than all
other mediums combined: Google, Amazon, Netflix, etc.,
and in this day and age,
it is all about the sex trade & porn,
as if they believe
conjuring up a thousand ways to fuck
performing extreme sexual acts
is the solution to a meaningless life.
They stand proudly next to millions of others
and claim themselves healed
and healthy and then it comes home as a sham,
is revealed itself for what it is—
a childish indulgence list.
(I’m not sure what’s worst, the man who plants
himself on the couch all night to watch porn,
or the Trustfunder constantly whining
how his parents never loved him.)
In both cases,
a feeling of disgust clings to them and they can’t shake it.
They realize they disrespected themselves
and don’t want to feel this,
they want to be happy-go-lucky about
indulging in porn;
to be suave and contemporary, unhindered by stone-age morality
that dictates abstinence and antiseptic sex.
They even want to feel unapologetic,
immersing themselves in every form of convulsive porn,
imbue every detail of their body and personality
with her vaginal juices and his sperm,
be cavalier about it, but there is something dark about what they do,
their bodies feeling a sense of having done it wrong.
Sexual desire exerts a powerful force on the will
and overcomes all their misgivings.
Their desires create a totally different reality in their heads,
acts which sour to groping illusions
against the landscape of their paltry and miserable lives
laid bare in their raw self and crude manners,
so different from what they fantasized and to cope with it,
for security, I suppose, they compensate even more
by submerging themselves into his or her sexual prowess,
blindly enraptured so they willingly pass over to the dark side
where these horrendous acts are committed
and perpetuated and they swoon into the flesh-pit of fucking
even as a wound opens in them,
a wound of fear and caution and confusion:
face to face with real life,
their bravado withers.
Later when alone, they look at the depressed traces
in the bed sheets or grassy spot beyond the window
where they fucked and they feel they had stepped
into a dangerous realm, trespassed over to a forbidden place
where instinct warned them back but they insisted on going forward,
as they recall how good it felt
how every kiss wiped away their false modesty,
burned away their religious beliefs,
scratches and grips and pinches and pushes and sexual toys
became their ancient hieroglyphic scripture
inscribed on their bodies, became their new religion
though afraid and tense and hesitant,
each knows they will eventually give in,
surrender completely to the fingers and lips and hands and body,
because it pleases them and if anything, today’s adults
are creatures of pleasure.__
I have gifts I put aside, passions to share with others but life is so crazy I don’t have the discipline, after all the gore I witness daily, to play music or cook and the more my gifts wither, the more I fall into an abyss of despair and emotional indifference about myself; my parents nag me about making a different living and what they’re really saying is become an indentured servant, a slave to the machines that keep getting more destructive as they demand more and more of my time until I get to a place in my life where I believe I am inadequate, I doubt myself, fall into meaninglessness, lie to myself that my gifts don't matter.
It does matter. I want to go deep into my life, picking up where I left it, picking it up at the point where I mattered, where I have a presence in my days.
My guitar is a tool, music a tool to defy corporate poaching into my life, a benign but powerful weapon of love, to strike fear in those who belittle my significance and dehumanize me, those inhumane Corporations that thrive on eating out the hearts of good people and blind them to their wholesome beauty. My music celebrates me taking my power back.
My colleagues have been murdered or in and out of prison for writing the truth, so my guitar is my real brother, and sometimes I want to rock the rafters of every place, descend on every café and stage to play my music, urge the public to come out, everyone, fill the place, the parking lot, the beautiful garden areas, make an event that invites all angels to celebrate my humanity; let's play, laugh, share company, play the notes that forgive our flaws and past addictions, our alcoholic parents, laugh at our self-importance and stupid mistakes we've made, celebrate our santeros, painters, writers, carpenters, filmmakers, dancers, let's sing so loud that gangsters crack themselves on my lyrics, so that corrupt politicians may experience a rebirth of kindness and goodwill instead of virulent envy of life-giving nurturers, have a re-birth and be human again, sing so loud that even the child in the dark in the most remote distance hears my love for him/her, rock the rafters and let every prisoner locked up hear my Spirit loving them and know that we have not forgotten who we are.
is the saw-tooth chain that cuts through bone,
its raw growl roars
scattering the bone-dust
and what was once anger
is reduced to a stump,
cut down into sizes
that fit the heart’s black-iron stove;
kneel on the floor in front of the stove
shove your despair in, watch
the flames engulf it,
the fire flow in blind reverence
allowing no exit
from your despair
as its reckoning
turns all to ash.
When the fires burn down and darkness fills you
you no longer know how
to find you way out under the moon and stars:
the child inside you
cries for someone to take his hand and lead him
out of the dark house,
to say, it’s ok, the pain will go and things
will get better.
It’s all you can do,
when you think how our president glorifies violence
get the red gasoline can and fill the chainsaw,
check the oil and fill it,
sharpen each claw on the chain with a file
until the ridge-teeth gleam
cold as a killer’s blade.
is the chain that cuts through bone.
Knife in the sink, coffee grains; I juice ginger, garlic, celery and carrots, one beet, two apples, half red onion. I have to tell you something I never admitted to you. When I was in journalism school in Los Angeles and I first saw you two rows down, you made me think of a Hernandez poem: I studied how you spoke, your words, your gestures, your walk, how you slung your backpack over your shoulder, rolled on the mat in the gym, jogged around the field, filling the whole world with light. I completely believe the line in your poem, “a light across all our faces…” because I’ve seen that light.
I am a child of Mexico, America would be nice but I belong here, where history is replete with violent and foreign incursions that I internalized. My family drowned in the darkness and I wanted to help them get out into the light. I wanted to know why it devoured my family: my father a drunk, my mother an addict, my brothers and sister all addicts. My family was ravaged by a society that could never accept indigenous people—oppressed by vigilantes, military scavengers, greedy homesteaders and pioneers, looters and land speculators, politicians and bankers. All took from us until we had nothing but our own shame.
They were in a patriotic, survival mode and I was swimming in the murky lagoons of my family's decent into absolute disintegration. And I stayed in that murky swamp abscessed with the decaying souls of my brothers and sisters, I suckled at self-hatred's teat and nourished my self-hatred on drugs and alcohol until one day I remembered the beautiful boy I was—that amazing look in my eyes, the shy smile, the universe cascading its flakes of light on my soul, lighting up my entire being with joy and somehow, after a lot of work, a lot of faith, and a lot of learning to love myself and others, I came out of the darkness.
I am standing outside waiting for the bus.
I am biting into a Colorado peach
and I suck and roll the pit on my tongue
around in my mouth
as juice runs over my lips.
The seed of me uncurls its green to the morning
my joy curls like vines out the window, onto the fields, over the houses,
jungling the whole world into a tropical rainforest
of fertile exuberance for being alive
reaching out with compassion and kindness.
We live in strange times.
Linesmen drill on the telephone pole outside
Installing surveillance cameras,
Everyone’s investigated these days,
I chat with my neighbor
across the wall,
my eyes on the hard-hat journeymen
tied up with ropes and links and cleat-boots.
Connect two lines.
Tonal, repeat after me:
THE DOOR Of SELF-WORTH
When I walk through the door I am Ghandi,
When I walk through the door I am Che,
When I walk through the door
I throw my worries away, I let my frustrations go,
and ill-will I have for others I let go,
I brush my sleeves of the uncertainties of yesterday,
When I walk through that door
If someone should ask you
Tell them I am Ali,
tell them I am Cesar Chaves,
When I walk through that door,
when I take a step forward, when I turn the corner
Tell the world should they ask
I am who I dream myself to be—a scientist, a doctor,
a dancer, a poet, let the whole world know
I am who I dream myself,
Tell them there goes the poet, there goes the painter,
Tell all the haters and racists and cynics
I will not let them influence how I see myself,
That I am shaped by the loving hands of a dream,
no one makes me as they wish,
tell them please from conference halls and classrooms
From every street corner and market where you meet,
Tell them you have seen me and talked to me
And that I am who I dream myself to be---
When I opened my eyes this morning
I surrendered to my greatness,
I knelt down
And opened my arms to embrace my full being,
My potential to be who I am in this world—
Leader, athlete, teacher, tell them I no longer am
the woman they knew, that I have
found a way to love myself—
Close your eyes,
And when you open them,
know that when you walk through that door
Mother Theresa, Zapata, Anzaldua, Betita, Sor Juana,
Celia Cruz, Menchu
And when the moon rises over the mountain
she will light your way in the dark
because the night is young and we got mountains to move.
I like traveling and speaking in America. Last night I went to eat with six teachers from Catlin Gabel, the school I’m visiting. Sweet kids, bright teachers. They should be like that. Hope they grow up to nail the mean Wisconsin governor Walker, he busted the unions and spat on the graves of all teachers and x’t the door of newborns who might be teachers—what a repulsive man, giving money back to corporation and sending education back to the dark ages. Do people not understand that education and teachers are the most important aspects to a civil society?
They don’t get it, that teachers are the most sacred caretakers of our children, yes, I used the word sacred. They are, should be and if they’ve lost that sanctity and honor for the light in children’s eyes called learning, they should stop teaching.
Young adults and adults I work with hate school because it humiliates and ostracizes those who are different. I welcome ‘different ones’ with compassion and laughter, giving value to their rebellious and defiant experience. I draw them out in an atmosphere of trust until they are comfortable enough to share. Their imagination ignites and, driven by powerful self-knowledge, epiphanies permeate their poetry and stories, with the humble essence-fire that shapes the best of who we are as humans.
You finally come to a place where you have to look at your soul. Mine is an egg shell, a common bird’s, fallen from a tree, a common tree like an elm, and it crashed to the sidewalk and split open. Stray cats, insects, vermin, dogs, crows, snakes, other birds licked it clean, the fragments smeared with blood, tiny brown feathers stuck to the inside.
The spit of predators is all over my experiences. Police clubs against bones, scars, nicks, blemishes, hurts and pains that stay a lifetime, I sometimes feel like one of those snakes that side-winds up on the asphalt to absorb sunrise heat unaware that tractor-trailers are barreling down on me.
Where I’m staying, deep in the mountains, there are others. Teachers on retreat pass me. I sit on a balcony on the fire-escape ladder two stories up and I watch them pass. They look so nice in their store-bought shirts, shirt sleeves, nice pants, cool leather fashionable sandals. I think their souls must be those eggs from Tiffany’s, gold and embroidered with ivory and rare jewels. They uncap the top of the egg, show how wonderful the ballerina inside dances and slowly spins to Bach music. In the egg-shell fragments of my soul spins the wind, the moon, the sun, the dust, leaves and rotten fruit from four seasons, from scores of seasons wasted and weathered like an old horse unable to pull the plough blade and upturn the boulders in the field.
That’s what I am, an old draft horse, out in the cold morning, straining against the harness straps, my knees buckle, my hooves sinking deep into the soil, I grunt, I ache forth and grunt on the blade that pauses every two inches against another hard obstacle. Others I’ve known are pedigree ace horses or Arabians, lathered each morning with brush and soap, manes braided, hooves groomed and waxed, teeth cleaned, coat combed a hundred times until it shimmers under the barn lights. The above are poets who have never lived or experienced true poetry, the former are poets who have challenged their souls against the worst condition to prove themselves, to deserve the title poets, to feel in their souls that what they write is real and the words are hammered and put in the fire and turned and re-hammered and re-worked and singed in water, then cooled outside under the stars and used—used, to help the wear and tear on the poet’s soul that is needed as one travels the high and more low roads of one’s hearts through life.
We strive to make our life a tale of adventure, to plunge ourselves against the reefs, leave the saw-dusted arenas to leisure poets who love to quibble over words that hold as much meaning to others as blowing mucus into a handkerchief. It doesn’t mean much, these words are simply coins to spend on trinkets of emotions. Don’t get too serious. It doesn’t carry much importance, don’t stress over their depth, keep it light or confuse the reader with abstractions so profoundly obtuse as to make even pigs in belly high mud feel as if they’re in clear pure water.
Mine is a tale steeped in the guts and blood and laughter and sadness and joy of life, biting and gnawing at the bone to get each morsel of nutrition for a starving soul. Starving for meaning, for a place to fit in, to make sense of it all and the more you intrude on the darkness, you learn how to sense the mystery and how to use your instincts to call the gods forth and sit around your meager camp fire and tell you their secrets that you need to write. That is what this tale is about, about a man on a journey who arrived a thousand times only to scald his eyes with fire and begin again and again because he was not ready to arrive, not ready to accept the loneliness of life, not prepared to hear his voice in the silence speak out his frailness.
In the end, I find I am nothing more than a soft evening breeze cooling a writer at a desk sitting by a window alone.
ON THE WINGS OF AN OWL
We both have been betrayed
by friends, governments, colleagues,
after betrayals, you spend a lot of time
in the shadows
looking out the windows
and when the sun comes out, you get
the red gasoline can and fill the chainsaw
with gas, check the oil and fill it,
take the slender file with ridge-teeth
sharpen each claw on the chain
until it gleams
day’s glinting blade,
revenge crackles its raw growl
a chainsaw roaring alive.
and you lean down and cut at the bark
of your heart,
scattering the red sawdust to the wind.
What was once a friend you reduce to a stump,
cut down into sizes
to fit your heart’s black-iron stove
carry in the logs
kneel on the floor in front of the stove
shove the wood in, love how the flames engulf
each betrayal, how the fire flows in blind reverence
that allows no exit
from its day of reckoning.
When the fires burn down and darkness
cools the earth
you are afraid, are cold, no longer know how to see
nor find your way out under the moon and stars:
there is only the violent pain of the small child inside
crying for someone to take its hand and lead it out
of the cold, dark house,
to say, it’s ok, let go,
let go of the monsters you’ve imagined,
there are no monsters,
only fear of being hurt
and not being able
to see in the dark, but you can, you can.__
I have a busy schedule here in Corpus Christi—radio, tv, highschool assemblies, then Texas A & M campus, book-signings and such but none of these capture my attention like my memories of myself twenty-five years ago hauling loads of cannabis north from McAllen. It’s strange to return to a place where you remember yourself so different.
I flew from Corpus to Oregon where it’s a rainy morning in downtown Portland, where I am staying at the Hotel Lucia, a sweet little turn of a gem that has been renovated and offers, among other amenities, ‘high thread count sheets’ and ‘Get it Now! Button on your guest room phone for any essential needs or whimsical desires (chocolate cupcakes, carrot sticks). Yep, it’s getting out there.
So cool are some of these hotels getting--silver bowl basins, bowed towel racks, flat screens in seven languages, that I could not find the way to turn the shower on. After a while I saw that it’s operated by turning a ridged knob under the tub spout. And while we’re getting so fancy and precious with these gadgets to entice and surprise the hotel client, good old things like a tsunami hit Japan this morning.
Some things never change, and that’s good I guess, and it must please the days of enders always muttering into the evangelical gold goblets about how the world will end and you must, if you want to go to heaven, you must send them your money to gain entrance through those gates.
Don’t you sometimes wish you could jam a spatula of castor oil jam up their ass in hopes of cleaning all the shit out? Even better, exile them to an island with all politicians and bankers and wall street executives. Get rid of these and turn the music back on and lets alive again.
Doomsayers, fuck yourselves. Not that I cuss that much, but you agree, it needs to be said.
Somethings remain the same—outside my open window I hear a garbage truck steam and groan, and further away sirens and a train booing-booing-booya. The hotel maid is in the corridor, but she won’t bother me, I have the Not Now clip-on hanging from my doorknob.
To say that writing is a vocation that pays the worst in America is to state a long-standing obvious and shameful fact. And even though a romantic legacy has spawned around the poet's idealistic heart, in that people love to exclaim, in illustrating the poet's sensitive attributes, how they jump off bridges and such referring to their unique obsession with the heart and language, the reason, at least in part, is not because they are die-hard visionaries but often because the wages are so bad, the conditions under which they live are dreadful and the day to day drudgery of poverty so unrelenting.
It's hard work being a writer and to treat them with disregard often crushes their spirit. So, my gratitude to you for how hard a writer works. (To add injury to insult, even a kid who picks up towels at your local gym locker room garners more respect and higher wages than a writer practicing his craft for forty years.) But perhaps, in this age when money gives value to everything, what redeems writing is it has no monetary value.
And despite all the hardships a writer suffers, blessed are those young kids who choose to take up the writing banner and march right through the madness of a society that does not value writing. Pretty impressive. Ah, youth! Blessed youth! Graduating from esteemed universities and working for a small-town TV station or carrying around a camera and shooting friends skateboarding in the arroyo channels that crisscross cities, experimenting with the camera the way Evel Knieval did with his motorbike, ungrounded in reality, no equipment, no money, hardly any experience, they’re off on a quest worthy of a knight or a vision quest worthy of a Plains Indio with unadulterated passion and humor, they leap into writing, their hearts pounding with the mantra, we-have-no-option-but-to-do this—a life or death thing to them, a kind of life-crossroads, you either jump or you don’t.
I admire their conviction and purpose-driven willfulness. I see these young writers go from my kitchen table, gather a meager assortment off poetry books that hardly fit in their small car, off they go on their Odyssey--- mountain villages, coastal cities, major metropolises, down South and up North, in faraway States, traveling for months on the road trying to experience life, to get know Americans, know themselves, months later twenty pounds lighter from near-starvation diets but the gleam in their eyes burning ever fiercer, clearer minded, heart burning with a dream, youthfully utopian, ah youth!
These are the youth that who move society forward, the innovators, independent thinkers, anarchist, gentle-minded, who give me hope, the kind of wacky, off-the-cuff urban tribal warriors who always pop up in society when society most needs them.
When they visit me, I feed them tacos, frijoles, arroz, and they sleep in their bags on the floor and are gone the next morning to write about leaves flying in the breeze off some canyon trees or mesmerized by the downright enchanting blue sky.
It means a lot to me, a lot to millions of kids struggling in school to learn how to read and write, and how to believe in themselves. It means so much to prisoners, to convicts and their families on parole, to kids on streets, to adolescent drop-outs.
They could've gone the easy route and taken the hand of their master and followed as so many do. But not these young writers, they pin their hearts on the wheel of life and become knife throwers and each word is a knife thrown.
I started out by writing
you understand me,
how could I compare you to a pear?
You’re much sweeter;
simile, image and metaphor just won’t do.
If you were to ask me anything I’d do it,
but how could I come up with a fruit
since you’re all fruits—apples, cherries,
strawberries, blackberries and oranges,
your words are a mandolin at dawn,
create light, lightning, moon and stars:
so, what do I write?
When I asked myself
I looked at you, hundreds of miles away
in another country and thought
can I really say what I feel, can I tell you
you understand me, that our souls meet
in words we write?
This is not a poem-- you are the poem
and will always be the one poem
I’ve etched into my heart forever.
Don’t believe the poet
elected by a president,
don’t believe the accredited
professor poet nor the poet
with all the plaques—
believe the swift scent of cedar pines
believe the breeze through the window—
believe the snowy field in upstate Michigan,
unrolling pastures, sweet as a woman’s warm body
laying on her belly on the bed listening to Miles Davis,
believe in the broken, leafless dark trees,
all wondering how it all happened, this beautiful
and amazing life,
with books, poems, friends,
snowy fields and sunshine