As we close out National Poetry Month, here’s a look back on some highlights:
San Jose Museum of Art Annual Poetry Invitational on April 21st
It was an incredible evening of poetry, art, community and inspiration. Thank you to the poets who joined me: Ann Sherman, Janice Sapigao, David C. Perez, Asha Sudra Finkel, Nils Peterson, Amanda Williamsen, Mighty Mike McGee, and Lorenz Dumuk for stunning poems inspired by the Border Cantos and Tabaimo exhibitions at SJMA. We had a record breaking 150 people join us for the event! Thank you also to Jeff Bordona and Paulina Vu, SJMA; Robert Pesich, Poetry Center San Jose; and Phillip Pasag, Pasag Photography. Please visit SJMA Poetry Invitational photos by Pasag Photography to view images of the event.
Here are some of the poems created for the project.
Untitled by Arlene Biala
* based on Angel Exterminador / Exterminating Angel (Border Cantos, Richard Misrach and Guillermo Galindo) and Wings of Desire, Wim Wenders
when the child was child
she raced her little brothers to the top of the rainbow painted carnival slide
the one she had been dreaming of all week
feet clanking up the metal staircase rising in the middle of the desert town
a mirage of fantastic colors, strange music and dust
out of breath at the landing, she twirls in the four directions
to the south: her abuelita’s hands reaching out to her, cuidate mija
watch your step, watch your step
to the east, her mother’s song: sing your way home, at the end of the day,
sing your way home, cast your troubles away, smile every mile, it will lighten your load, it will shorten your road, if you sing your way home
to the west, her oldest brother playing guitar in her dreams
and to the north, the memory of her father’s thirst in the melt zone
never turn your back to the sea, he would say.
the sea, the sandstorm, the blast of la migra, hail of bullets and the slide is lifted
in a horrendous crash, twister of dreams, knocked the wind out of him,
he is broken and bent without the name his ancestors gave him
gutted like a fish, scales scraped off until the rust of his skin
is gone and delicate flesh and the scorching sun have textured him
a new name: angel. noose of drag chain falls to the ground
and the wind beats the corrugated lies out of the body, singing
fly on, my sweet angel, fly on through the sky . .
when the child was child
she took a deep breath, grabbed the rough edges of burlap
and pushed off. her body shooting like a bullet through border lies,
blasting through impervious walls, her angels watching her fly.
Room for Whom by Lorenz Dumuk
“Can’t you see the light
and all the different colors?”
Most times I nod yes
of what is wrong with my perception.
Nod yes, to affirm their reality
which is as clear as light
which am suppose to see without effort
which leaves me feeling like a mad hatter.
Nod yes, as I visualize my neck
pressed again and again
against serrated blades
slowly decapitating my head
as I habitually nod yes
to being wrong, being broken
sever my vocal chords
pickle them in a silence of my compliance.
When alone or when I dare be brave
in front of another
I nod no.
Am wondering why
they do not see the dark lines
these shapes that do not leave me
as if my saturation of sadness
is this Schroeder steel box
I should have left unopened.
I know what 3D looks like,
feels like, but no one
prepares you when the world
becomes flat, becomes wall
becomes a room you cannot
seem to get out of.
This light am told of
looks more like these shadows
I have been ripping myself out of,
tearing away what is essential
my own skin, cutting through
the murk of my own flesh
hoping I can understand
this light am told is here.
Only to find myself
shades of realities,
unnamed colors of emotions
and feelings no one really
knows how to paint, how to dance,
how to sing into expression.
Even feel like stranger
when mirrored what appears truth.
Hear it’s voice articulate
out of my pickled muteness,
an open jar of home
returning back to me.
Playas de Tijuana by Asha Sudra Finkel
They say the grass is always greener
The sand is cleaner
The air is free-er.
Fear manifested into dreams.
Sent to protect the white children.
Cylinders of hate
Barred from familiar face
And ironically called friendship park.
Dedicated in “attempts at national relations”
Only reinforcing realizations of superiority
Of disdain for different
as if diseased
Imprisoned to breathe in the air only allotted to them
Seeking permission to access
First class humanity.
Given a park.
A leisure getaway for families to remind themselves that they are not good enough to actually engage
To actually hold each other
Instead forced to watch every ounce of dignity drift away into the rip tide.
Bars to divide worlds
Those that their souls are not worthy of want.
Friendship park… San Diego
you can take yoga classes
and salsa dancing classes,
Have your wedding there
or child’s baptism there
Don’t forget about the kite flying festivals
Don’t forget about the beach clean up events.
forget about those who died trying to see their family.
Forget about those who drowned trying to catch the surf on the playa.
Forget about those who took their last breath alone and separated.
Forget about Pat Nixon who said in 1971
“I hope there won’t be a fence here too much longer..”
For our white children..
Our brown children can’t forget about the bars.
Can’t forget about the disregard because
It’s all they’ve known.
Where every weekend from 10am to 2
Those brave enough to show their faces
Face one of two opened gates
And border patrol agents.
Watching their every step
Frantically searching for family members.
Unless they run out of time
Unless they are unable to find those once familiar
Unable to recognize through mesh and iron pillars.
Dared to challenge the manic inside
To not expose itself,
As borders built in fear tower 18 feet over head,
Enclosing your sense of identity and efficacy.
Interaction with those cared for and loved for the most,
But only on the weekends,
Where every other day
The barred crevices are simply Windows.
A degrading invitation to reminding those that they are the other
That they are unwilling
the most ambiguous man in the world by Ann Sherman
signifier for no
staking a claim
to the four directions
in a windwhipped dry wash
of a parch-veined
beneath the crossing
from the other side
starring in endless
capturing equivocal vision
reflecting each mind’s
defiant deviant letter
bounced back from
.”..no need for geography / now that we’re safe everywhere… do you know what it’s like to live / someplace that loves you back?” – Danez Smith
Freedom, somewhere by Janice Lobo Sapigao
somewhere there are second chances
somewhere, changes. places families –
free to grow as many children
as there are seeds – places opened,
wide as deserts, endless as summer sun
skin born brown, not splinters from rusted blood.
in this place, children roam at home &
staying is equivalent to smiling.
where freedom is place, feeling, & a right.
here, color is the sky’s job. here, only
mountains are playmates, & not
burial sites. & not gauntlets. & not
an american labyrinth. here, no uniformed
minotaur. no arms that can’t cradle kin.
every time brown mamas pray, a white man
slaps himself. & new crops of fruit &
vegetables pick themselves. every
bible page that’s fallen out of place
finds its way back home no matter
the trash or terrain. no one is left stranded.
alone does not exist because
you come from the earth. & dirt
is not an insult; rather cremated crowns from
weights and stories that no longer serve us.
whenever nature shines in pink
our normalistas go back to classrooms
every morning, a new son. he runs in,
reads one book to the next, he himself once
the mancala beads in the trenches. & every
time he wins, houses will emit music
blanketing & pocketing poems written
with bone and breath. & nails and wood.
valleys be the best hiding places.
here, brown men assume nightvision naturally
little girls’ laughter be named soundscapes
& damn near everybody stops to listen when they sing.
no villages. no states. no borders. just
Intimacy. these walls just be for decoration
and graffiti. no holes, just space. no laws,
but trust and restoration. singing when sadness.
here, you can see freedom giggling. here. here,
you hear it. do you hear it? here? right here.
fear lives alone, no scare tactics necessary,
no unnamed vigilantes.
boots. hats. rainbow
zarape for shelter.
Advice from Guillermo Galindo by Nils Peterson
First try to see the “tears of things.”
Along the trail to the border fence
begin to see the spoor of grief.
One can sigh, moan, weep, shake
a futile fist. Better to honor the rusted
abandoned juice cans. Find wood
with a straight grain, – shape, sand,
varnish till fit to support a grief song.
Attach the cans. They’ll sing their story.
Make a harp of a forgotten ladder.
Hang bottles of water from the rungs
filled to make different pitches.
Pluck the wires that hold them.
How elegant that dance of notes.
Or if you find a piece of the sheet metal fence,
the separating fence, lying on the ground,
bend it in half, hang it high. Strike it like a gong
celebrating the entrance of royalty, like a gong
celebrating the end of fence.
But first learn to see the “tears of things.”
DIVINATION by David C. Perez
after “Artifact Grid” by Richard Misrach and “Micro Orchestra” by Guillermo Galindo
There is a pink comb meant for a child.
The hair it once pulled straight
now woven into a chain-link fence.
The missing teeth left behind
like casted lots or chicken bones.
There is a toothbrush and a beach towel
covered in the filth they were to wipe clean
from a young face that tonight each of us
will sketch and then erase.
In one rendition, she’s still out there
a body sewing dirt and bone.
One more sun brittle instrument
plucked at random by a reptile
licking at the wind.
This shoe was made in the far east
by hands who guided each stitch.
Fusing sole to cloth so someone
could grow and learn what we learn:
to carry your things
until they’re not your things.
Out there, they made a temporary home.
A sightless roof and a floor ever in motion,
spreading wider with each footprint
signed on the dotted line.
There is money enough for street food
and the gum for the space between meals.
There is the slant of the ball’s oval shadow
and the cracks that paint its blushing face.
The juice cans all strung up.
We have locked in a glass house
the music of the spheres.
This mirror holds no trace.
The more you look, the less desert,
the less cool evening dash,
the less story and escape,
the more it’s just you. Here.
You a story that creates you.
Her tweezers are here too.
Maybe she doesn’t need them, but maybe
slivers so tiny they’re felt and not seen
pierce her skin and she has no choice
but to let them inside.
BORDER CANTOS (first draft) by Mighty Mike McGee
(after Richard Misrach’s photo, Border Patrol Target Range, Boca Chica Highway, Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge, Texas, 2013)
As you can see
there are no people here
One must understand that
we trained to shoot paper
to think ourselves poets
merely aiming our pens at nameless outlines
editing our thoughts
into these already very sad poems
on posters bleached by an ever watching sun
one that only punishes those that dawdle
Some targets are small
to represent distance
There are no people here in this
just things that pray that
they won’t become prey
It is not lost on us
that even the sun forgives
those that run
There are no people here
Just paper dolls that never run
Even in the rain
Pulling a trigger is a lot easier
when the target is an advertisement
for what you think is the opposite of your life
a photo negative of your identity
a representation of poor choices
made before they were born
Put it all down on paper
make if official
make it federal
might as well be names in a phone book written
in a language learned as
a job requirement
In Spanish, I legally only allowed to give you directions
back to where you came from
or below you
There are no people here
just flyers for the future dead
Stacks and stacks of phone books
full of names and numbers
Trying to infiltrate our way of life
to change what must never change
Those trained to shoot paper
are making confetti and
It too is not lost on us
that we are keeping this country free
from the tyranny
of next door neighbors
of other exemplary work ethics
of nearly identical family values
We can understand why they want
to join our team
But you don’t keep winning
by adding more losers
When the target is of no use anymore
we can use the corners
to wipe the 4th of July enchilada sauce
off of our faces
So that we can smile over
this empty refuge
And when people do show up
I am surprised they didn’t hear me editing
Burning the midnight oil
There are no people here
Nothing stays unless I make it so
I only see things getting smaller
I only see paper
just magazines of unpublished poetry
and birds that head south
and cold blooded creatures
that crawl and hide
When you are trained to shoot at paper
You should accept that you will never write a poem worth reading
We shoot at paper
nothing more than
disowned poetry and yesterday’s newspaper
being punctuated very fast
We edit these poems
day and night
Because—as much as we’d like to—we cannot control
will come to us
I am sorry for your uncle
I am sorry for your great grandmother
But I only saw paper
Poetry Invocation at San Jose City Council In honor of National Poetry Month
Thank you to San Jose City Councilmember Manh Nguyen for inviting me to share poetry for the invocation at the April 5th meeting.
SV Creates Artist Laureate Event
I was honored to share a poem in collaboration with dancer Olivia Esparza to welcome folks to the event honoring the SV Creates Artists Laureate on April 11 at the School of Arts and Culture @MHP.
Olivia is the daughter of Artist Laureate Pilar Aguero Esparza and Chris Esparza. With the help of Chris we were able to pull off the big surprise of Olivia’s performance along with my poem. Congratulations to all the honorees: Pilar, Demone Carter, Shannon Wright, Natalya Burd, Ron Gasparinetti, and Kevin Hauge!
A POETree poem from March
We are writing sunshine on Easter morning,
Where I meet the poets of my barrio.
It’s true. The littlest things are love.
The color of my sadness is blue,
The city where I live is busy. My name means water.
God is red sky love and today my name means springtime.
I am Kirill, Lizzie, Asher, Mallika, Aida, Lisa, Chesna, Ashley and Zoe.
Whatever my name is, I am a person who loves dogs. It’s simple. Today is the day I put pharmaceuticals out of business.
Let’s go to Nepal. The skies are blue there.
Thanks to Daniel Garcia, David C. Perez and Content Magazine for including me in the current issue!
Kuwentuhan/Talk Story Project led by Barbara Jane Reyes and Poetry Center SF supported by the Creative Work Fund
I participated with poets Barbara Jane Reyes, Angela Narcisso Torres, Javier O. Huerta, Lehua Taitano, Urayoan Noel and Aimee Suzara in an intense four-day poetry residency during April 20-23 in San Francisco. Here is a write up of the project in SF Gate.
SJSU Legacy of Poetry Day on May 5th
Please join us at Hammer Theatre Center for the annual event featuring SJSU students, faculty, staff and alumni readings; Pachanga on the Paseo: A Roving Spectacle of Public Art; and Poets Laureate reading featuring our US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera!
Full details here.
Out of Our Minds with Rachelle Escamilla May 4 8-9pm Tune in! I will be talking story and sharing poems along with Darrell Dela Cruz and Rachelle Escamilla.
Well-RED at WORKS/San Jose May 10 8:30-9:30pm WORKS/San Jose
ImagineSJ Showcase #8 – Poetry May 12 7:30-9pm Anno Domini Gallery
Lips Uncurled, Eyes Forward May 14 3-7pm School of Arts and Culture @MHP
Poetry Center San Jose presents REED Book Launch
Flash Fiction Forum on May 18