ART IS... Elements of the Earth
The Elements From the Earth celebrates the poetry of Minnesota poets Su Hwang, Roy Guzman, Michael Torres, and Ray Gonzalez.The artists will show how the elements of fire, water, air, and earth create poetry through a commitment to the political voice, the autobiography of migration, and the natural power of language that makes poetry go beyond borders to find universal truth.
- My name is Roy Guzmán,
and I'll be reading a couple of poems
from my debut collection, Catrachos.
But first, I want to start with one of Ray Gonzalez's poems.
"The Mathematics of Ecstasy."
The huge panel borders at the edge of the galaxy.
Though the dark men at the bottom right of the painting
seems confused as if the star clustered to his left
is a white fist coming at him.
The colors of Eden are swirling
out of the immense white matter, weaving at the top.
While two planets bounce off each other
without taking the dark man,
fragments of memory cascading in space,
because the ecstatic moment must be earned
as the circular black shape at the top
searches for a partner.
If this is true, the dark men changes in creation
because the sun has become extinct,
the artist using it to construct equations
about the distorted dark man
who is moving his enormous head
because the galaxy has been sold.
As he dreams, there are walls of stars
he has yet to see.
This is a poem from the collection "Soul Over Lightening".
The first poem I'll read from my collection
is one of a series of poems, titled "Queerodactyl".
After they locate and excavate, your wing fossils.
Perseverance might be the trait you're known for.
How swiftly you slope downward to pick up the carcasses
floating just above the bloodstained surface
of your old neighborhood.
In the laboratory, the paleontologists will use
radiometric dating to zoom into what bequeath you
that agency to fly.
"This one might have outlasted all the others."
"Might have even seen each one disappear
"behind a bolt of fire blasted from who knows where."
Or you might have been the first to vanquish.
To vanish directly in the way of the asteroids course,
who will in the end, exhume our myths conclusively.
A young angel's bones shaped just like yours,
were uncovered this morning.
A group of diggers hadn't found anything exciting for months
in jeopardy of losing all their funding.
I too have buried myself
under the heavy presence of change
from a longing, perhaps, to find my remnants
or their profiles in places where curious strangers
might price them.
Church is anything with a pair of wandering hands
in a bucket.
I too have questioned the usefulness
of finding a boy stuck in a perpetual position
of near flight,
arms extended like the incandescence
from a lamppost at night,
and wished it'd be mine.
The next poem I'm going to read is titled
"Our Lady of Suyapa",
and this is why I'm wearing this sweater.
Is after the Virgin Mary, but if you look more closely,
it's Cardi B.
"Our Lady of Suyapa".
I believe that in our Lady of Suyapa,
before I believed in the Phoenix Force.
In her opaque gold aura of an eight,
in the 12 mojados above her distended coronet
of erupting devalued lempiras.
Before I believed in possession,
I learned when to vanquish the barbarous eyes
of those who crave universal forms,
Anchored against the loss of flesh, a hand or a skeleton.
I knew resurrection before I knew death,
identified the hazardous chemicals
that equaled higher wages,
my mother's lungs gone AWOL,
a hacking in the meat sky, arid the reverberation.
I have cast eclipses from my house of tremors,
only to find them revived under the floorboards
upon my return.
The tricks perception pools as when night
consumes a nebulous man,
a star's stern birth, the kernel.
Nothing touched is ever sacred
unless it's robbed first.
Our pilgrimage involved hewing the country
our knees purported, scabs and breadcrumbs
befitting a pigeon's throat.
No sacrosanct architecture without lament.
When Cyclops holds whatever angle of immortality can perish
in issue 136 of "Uncanny X-Men",
we run into grief
that aspires to exist as nothing more than grief.
Smoldering shadow of the Phoenix
as quintessential disaffection, onslaught,
either slaughter or sainthood, stateliness or snapped wire.
In every uniform seal, they stranded feather
of an extinct bird.
Which is what I meant to show my mother
when I led her down the staircase of vine handrails
within my crypt, though she shrieked
that love like mine is nonviable,
holding a plate under the tap water,
as if to stand on thin ice past the seasons rotting.
For now, outlines.
For now, letters of grief inside church domes
in lieu of tonsils.
"You are no longer a virgin."
He rustled as I guzzled his entire pool
of handsomely green leaves, as if the Minotaur's myth
had been unwarranted.
What conviction will foment in the exoplanets.
I trusted servitude before belief,
the fires that cavalcade without pageant.
But those ashes, how they gather in the faceless ether,
masterless gloom galore, remarking.
"I'm not from here, when and why would I leave?"
The next poem I'll read for you today is titled
On the contrary,
ghosts do aspire to bring the living to trial.
Chump their passports with the Olympian chasms,
as when one harpsichords the stallion to libate
from the palms of forgetting.
Moonlight shoveling out tongues from a sliver carafe,
the land curse congruence,
the land Punto dance rocketed at the unyielding empires.
Justice denounces the son
for displaying humble horrors,
bleeds amendments from her blindfolds.
A blip of boys' nine-year old regrets,
trace with their eyes the military men's gutting
of his rifle.
Our country squats
behind poisonous woods purchase
as if on latrines.
Wrists tighten with ropes of habits behind her silence.
Which death will eventually dawn on us?
Child of butchery, I now rove in nowheres.
Skin, aqueducts, old found lands.
I hide my ambitions in skunk stamped burrows,
pluck sarcophagi out of city diapers.
I let the rain stone me, knowing full well
my futile desire to belong.
One day I was a house,
the next, I exhausted all the tenants.
And the last poem I'll read for you today
is titled, "When a Person Says Go Back to Your Country".
When a person says, "Go back to your country."
That's exactly what you do.
Though you can't tell if you'll aggressively run
or trip on national borders, you'll have to make up for.
The declaration so thunderous
that even the floor can't hold still.
And whether or not you have a passport on you
or you're wearing any shoes at all,
to cross the thorniest distance of yourself,
where oceans mean the same as potable water.
Or if the neighbors are having sex
while you're dragging sacks of regrets
that might as well be trash bags, leaky and heavy,
so they call the cops anyway.
Is insignificant, because by then you're not an adult
but a child aspiring to behave like a breadwinner.
And when you can't find this country
to which you're asked to return,
though, back has always meant finding an undisclosed space
to vanish in.
You try to give a retort, not an argument exactly,
but a glimpse of the other body
that can easily escape through our tongues.
And you usually wait until the speaker has remembered
to go back to his country,
since his family can be remembered.
And you curl into the night's sash, cold out of habit,
to your dwelling.
Though there's nothing in there,
even if you have purchased all the furnishings.
Because a man who decides that a country
is not an extension of one's heart,
can easily say that's not what he meant.
That what he meant was more like,
"We all just need to along, man.
"I don't want any trouble, man.
"I don't want any trouble."
And that's what you're debating
when you remember that the child you carry on your back
hasn't been fed in days, months.
His heavy breathing, a river overflowing
as you multiply uncertainty before you,
which hides behind the safest sanctuaries, even inside.
Most countries can't recall their mothers
just as shame can't be extracted
with any medical devices or prayers.
If innocence can be taken by force only once,
what is truly sees there after
Culture informs a lot of my work.
I was born in Honduras, raised in Miami.
And so I find that a lot of Latinx culture,
a lot of things that are specific to Honduras enter my work,
whether it be through myth,
whether it be through just small rituals,
things connected to nationalism, for instance.
There's a lot of that in my book "Catrachos".
From "Catrachos" being a term
that speaks to Honduran
resilience, and also thinking about U.S. imperialism
in the area.
And so I find that culture, at least the kind of culture
that I write about is shaped from within,
but it's also shaped by what's been around it.
So, through food, there's been a lot of cross pollination
between El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize.
And so what we find is it's not just food
that enters the culture, especially in my work,
but music as well as idioms,
legends as I've mentioned,
myths, like La Llorona, La Sucia.
There's a lot of that that is part of my work.
It's been an interesting process to see my work
become a part of the public conversation
I never thought that I would have a book out in the world.
This isn't something that I grew up believing.
The other thing I would say is that
having a lot of this work out in the world
means that people can finally understand
maybe from a more personal perspective,
issues that affect Central Americans,
issues that affect undocumented immigrants.
And we often hear about those in the news,
but we don't...
As statistics, as incidents,
but we don't get to hear the voices
of the people who are directly affected by this.
And so, having this be a part of the public conversation
means that it's not just me in some ways,
helping put Honduras and Honduran people
in the consciousness of American letters,
but it also means that I can be in conversation
with Chicanx people, Chicanx literature,
Puerto Rican writers, Afro Latinx writers as well.
And so, those are the blessings that I see with the book.
There are some challenges of course that happened
in having a work out in the public,
it can be a very vulnerable process for many writers.
At the same time, the work might not be ready
so it might go through different revisions
before it makes it to the book.
Many of the poems that appear in my book
were previously published in different journals.
And sometimes they appear very much the same in the book
or heavy revisions went through them.
And so I feel like a book, in many ways,
isn't just this final product,
it was already in conversation before it became a product.
And even after it's a product now,
that it's in the hands of the public,
I get so many different interpretations
of the poems themselves.
So when I do readings,
I find that people get a different perspective
from me reading the poems.
I also find that interacting with the public
means that the poems also may become more accessible to them
especially a lot of cultural symbols that I bring up
in the book.
The poet has a lot of responsibilities
when it comes to community formation.
I think that the poet isn't working in a vacuum.
Whatever words come out of the poet,
or the poems, they end up being extensions
of the language in the community,
whether that be language that is in resistance
with the community, for the community,
against the community.
There are many ways that you can't leave your community
behind when you're a poet.
I think that when you happen to be a marginalized poet,
that ends up having a lot of different pressures on you,
because you're not just writing about being a poet,
you're now writing about being a woman poet,
being a poet who comes from poverty,
being an immigrant poet,
being a bilingual or trilingual poet, biracial poet.
So there are many ways in which the poet ends up being
one of the voices of the community, and at the same time
is able to, I think, advance a lot of conversations
that the community is already having,
and might become a bridge between conversations
from one community to another community.
I do find that, especially with my book,
I think that the book itself,
it was always a collaborative process.
Whether it was me hearing stories
from other people in my communities,
or me transcribing something from someone said,
myths, for instance.
The work of the poet is always a consolation
of the community.
Whether or not that transfers,
or that sort of exceeds the page, it depends on the poet.
I find that my work as a poet compels me
to be engaged in political action,
in actions and choices
that affect my community.
So I don't think that the poet
is exclusively just functioning or operating on the page,
I think the poet is also operating in,
through many different roles in the community.
It is very interesting the ways in which the past
ends up transforming the present, especially through poetry.
I find that the past is always haunting the present
in my work.
Many of the poems that I write,
in many ways are constantly excavating the past.
It's saying, "The past is still here.
"We still need to contend with this thing called the past."
And so I think that, especially for me,
temporality functions very differently.
It's not this thing that's just,
you go from the past to the present to the future,
but it's something that it's constantly percolating.
That at the same time that you're having conversations
about the future, you must always take into consideration
Customs, violences that were committed in the past.
In some of the work that I write,
I find that ghosts, people who have been murdered
by the state or through gang violence, for instance,
or at the border, these are voices
that typically get left in the conversation as the past.
Like, these people already died, move on.
I think that there's a symptom of capitalism
that constantly tells us to move forward,
to think about the future, to think about what we need to,
how are we gonna feed ourselves the following day,
but you can't really do that
if you can't make sense of the past.
And it's not that, I think, you need to make peace
with the past, I think that that's another thing
that happens, especially through therapy and poetry,
and connection to therapy, that somehow you need
to make peace with the past.
I don't think that that happens.
For me at least, I don't think it happens.
I think that the past is an ongoing conversation.
It shapes the future, it shapes my present,
and it makes sure that I continue to hold myself accountable
for what has or hasn't happened in my community.
My name is Su Hwang.
And today I'll be reading some poems from my collection,
Before I do that, I wanted to read a poem from Ray Gonzales,
who is one of my mentors,
from his book, "Faith Run".
All my ancestors were poor,
and I grew up chasing lizard tails in the dirt.
It was a small house that grew territories in the mind.
A horse rider brought me home.
He rewrote history then rode away.
I matured as fast as the tumbleweed.
It must have been in the canyons.
I was taught not to believe in majestic endings,
but I could still save you.
I remember my cousin hit me.
I almost drowned when we went swimming.
I grew up listening to distant train whistles.
I could show you where one derailed.
Not all of my ancestors are dead.
So that was for Ray.
Now we'll be reading a few poems from Bodega.
The first poem is titled "Cancer".
Feet on dashboard.
God awful music blaring from mix cassettes.
My father let me have my way as he played chauffeur,
never easing his grip on the wheel down straight aways.
Four hours to my college dorm across New Jersey
and the Poconos, up through Scranton
to the gulch of Broome County, in upstate New York.
Not a word passed between us, mile after mile markers,
on fence posts, yellow dashes, streaks of trees,
blurred liturgy of autumn,
summer into winter, into summer,
ticking off hours that measured the distance as he drove.
And I watched the road that held nothing
but our widening gulf.
My father taught me willful reticence,
folding desire into cellular spaces.
Perhaps one day I will enter this dusty warehouse
filled with neglected boxes.
Find the one labeled for my daughter,
and unpack it's long held secrets.
For now, I let him seal their seams with tape,
stuff them into corners.
Recently, when I visited, he sat across the dinner table
as mom prepared our holiday meal.
Both of them aging exponentially like radioactive particles,
wisp of his former self barely recognizable,
recited the Lord's prayer,
"Our father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
"Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth
"as it is in heaven."
They had just taken out his kidney, the half,
life of failure.
Suddenly he opened his eyes, looked straight into me
and said, "I know you.
"You have a frontier spirit."
Where did he even get that word; frontier?
We nodded in agreement, then ate in silence
like we always do, losing our nerve.
All I've ever wanted him to say is,
"Tell me something, tell me everything."
The next poem is titled "Hosanna Dry Cleaners".
He spits chemical phlegm to metal pails
with a kind, reptilian vigor.
To free the knot of unknown poisons,
A foot to pedal, to wheel, to needle, stitching hems,
She pecks away in a cave lined with cellophane ghosts,
Counting colored pens.
Make believe wampum beads, to trade for another life.
Oh God, how have we sinned?
Ironing press, shoot scrims of steam,
odorless fumes of mushroom shaped fists,
salts of their years dissolving into mist.
I shall bury them here.
Next poem is a sequence, it's titled "Fresh Off the Boat,
looking out the window,
earphones stuttering a litany of vowels and consonants
A, a, an apple.
Don't think I understood what was really happening.
Our maiden flight from Seoul to an unknown destination,
Maryland, then New York city.
We went from living in a brick house with a yard
to a storage room in the back of a dry cleaners;
no proper shower, just a rusted sink and toilet.
I was barely eight when I kept a photo of a boy
under my pillow, an artifact of a fading past.
Mom found it, ripped it up,
told me to keep my head straight.
Leaned across the counter, called us stupid chinks.
"Go back to where you came from."
As if it were that easy.
My parents stood like totems, stone faced.
In defiance, they said "Hugin", a word for darkness,
Fear wedged in everyone's eyes,
listener and speaker in both directions.
Names volleyed like capsules of venom.
Ache and anguish hanging like lethal tendrils
in a jungle where the ants don't carry their dead.
I wanted to shout, "Stop it!"
But only mustered a fevered sigh,
holding my brother tight as he cried.
Silence, a fissure.
Stalemate, a failure.
On special occasions,
we'd head to Red Lobster or Sizzler.
Sit in a vinyl booth, feel luxurious.
Pretend we were royalty for an evening.
I loved the shrimp scampi.
My brother always opted for the buffet,
and if they could, my parents would have put kimchi
Whenever they asked waitresses questions
in their broken English, I'd sulk into my sticky seat,
my cheeks boiling, my claws grappling the air.
Our outings became few and far between.
I'd prove terrible in math.
No hope of getting into Harvard, Princeton or Yale,
of becoming a doctor or engineer.
Bulletproof glass is not skin, not porous nor forgiving.
It keeps everything in, and people out
like a palette of hard ice.
Cash is locked away, a hegemonic set.
He held her at gunpoint, barrel aimed for the temple.
She kept her arms raised until he, a kid, turned the corner,
sprinting away with a baseball cap, pager,
things made in China.
And what was in the register, a few measly dollars.
But this was the price of doing business in the projects.
Where we were trapped inside human cages,
binding us in a strange circus,
where Adams of haves and havenots,
always forcefully collide.
Summers they'd send us to Korean school.
Two brats, whining.
Nobody else had to study SAT geometry at overnight camp.
My brother proved an ace at taking tests.
So I conspired ways to break a rule or two, nothing unruly,
just idled behind dumpsters, learning best modes to fit in,
Wishing I looked like Barbie or Nancy Drew.
My slanted eyes always sleuthing for costumes
to obscure my jaundiced skin.
A lizard without proper camouflage is killed in the wild.
I wanted to sever my mother tongue, regenerate a new.
But how could I have known?
Language is lost when left to rot like a pest.
And the final poem is titled "An Immigrant's Elegy".
And it's dedicated for my grandmothers.
How far do you have to travel to arrive at dying?
They seem to be asking.
But you might as well be in this room.
Its bruised walls and shanty window looking at nothing.
Spiked lines of a horizon to indicate your breathing.
Chortle, then a gasp:
running in your mind's field through windswept dandelions
and knee-high grass, blades bristling against your skin
like the needle feeding you,
to a clearing where he kissed you as if for the first time.
Your lips part in memory, a sunken jaw caked with Vaseline,
gaping, desperate to recapture the feeling
of flesh on flesh when you were once essential.
You bite down hard at the finger massaging your barren gums.
Your wisp of a face turning a cat's indecipherable grin.
It's decided you still have a little left in you
but there is no use for such sentiments
in the realm of sleep.
When you're tongue-tied, weighed down like a bag of stones
cast in a swollen river, writhes with itself.
Faces you do not know or remember
are speaking with their hands,
shadowboxing the waning autumn light.
You can only hear the sound of rushing water
filling your bed, your ears, your throat, your sopping mouth
boring deeper among the sea anemones.
I was eight years old when my family and I
moved to the United States.
And so, I was able to pick up English pretty quickly,
but in that transition I lost my ability to speak,
read, and write Korean.
And so my relationship with my identity is very complicated.
I think it's this attempt,
I'll always have this attempt or need
to reconnect with my identity in some way,
because growing up I never really felt like I belonged here,
but I also knew I didn't belong there.
And so it's that kind of rootlessness that I guess
I've experienced in my life.
I have a complex relationship with my identity
and I think that part of the reason why I write what I write
is to discover more aspects
of my Korean heritage history.
And Korean history is very complicated,
there have been numerous invasions and occupations
by other countries.
And there was a civil war
that basically split the country in half,
and the war is technically not over.
And it affected my own family,
actually both sides of my family are from
what is technically North Korea,
but they fled during the war, and like many other families,
siblings and parents were separated.
it's something that I'll always try to discover
within my own self.
And there is a thing called han,
there's a Korean word called han, H-A-N.
And it's one of those words
that has no direct English translation,
but it's sort of loosely means
sadness, resentment, grief, hope,
it kind of folds all these different ideas
into this one word.
many say that it's essential sort of to Korean identity
And I do have three poems in the book
that kind of contend with what han means to me,
but also to history and to generations
of other Korean Americans and Koreans.
So, I think just my identity as a Korean American
will always be something that I write through,
whether it's explicit in the work,
it's just part of who I am.
And so, I think it'll always exist in the work.
A Minneapolis-based poet named Ed Bok Lee,
once said that, "Writing a book changes you
"on a cellular level."
And to some degree I agree with him.
I think, especially for your first book,
you carry so much psychic weight over the years,
all your traumas, and desires, and joys.
publishing that first book
sort of releases all that energy from your body,
it moves through you and it's sort of then becomes
something that is tangible.
So it feels like a cathartic release,
so I do definitely think that something on that level,
you change as a person after writing a book.
But there's so many things that don't change.
I think, you just have to get up every day,
walk your dog, do the dishes, take out the trash.
So in many ways I don't think you change at all.
And I think it's important to keep your ego in check.
I think a lot of writers, and I used to think this way,
like, "Oh, my whole life is gonna change once I write a book
"or get it published."
And in many ways, nothing really changes.
exciting thing about publishing a book
is finding out that my work has connected with a reader
in a different city.
Someone that I don't know will just send me an email
or tag me on social media.
Like, "Oh my God, I loved this book, or I loved this poem.
"It really resonated with me."
And that's really powerful when, I think your work
creates a bridge between you and another person.
And I really find fulfillment in that.
And I think once you have a book in the world,
I guess you become sort of a public figure.
But as a poet, it's kinda just like whatever.
I just think it's really important to be humble,
and just try to do good in the world
'cause there's just so much pain and suffering,
And I think to use your voice to
amplify other voices in the margins.
Shine a light on injustices and inequities,
I think is central to being a poet.
I can only hope that I add a small,
just to add my own perspective into the larger narrative
of what's happening for humanity.
I think it's hard to pigeonhole one role
or responsibility for the poet.
We each have our own individual soul paths,
our own journeys in this life.
So, I can't say that there's only just one or two things
that connects all of us in that way.
I think the most important thing
or the most important role for or responsibility for a poet
is to be in community,
to find people and to cultivate awareness,
and to foster compassion,
and to amplify
and try to just be that bridge between yourself and others.
to stay observant,
to stay aware of what's happening in the world.
'Cause there's so much noise,
and there's just so much trauma and suffering everywhere.
As poets, I think we just have
maybe this ability
to strip away and get to the sort of the the meat
so I think it's important to stay open hearted, open-minded,
and to stay vigilant.
So for me the act of writing is to be in the present
and to record the present moment, and,
to dwell in that space
of the things that are sayable and unsayable.
to write a poem is to sort of distill language,
and to create this musical imprint of a memory,
a feeling, an image
or a series of actions, you know.
I think if you do it well,
poetry can tap into the universal.
meaning being able to tell the story
of the human experience, the human condition,
whatever that may mean to each individual.
And in that way you bridge sort of time and space
And I think that's how poetry
can bring something from the past into the present moment.
I love when I read a poem that was written decades ago
or even centuries ago,
and it feels like it was written yesterday,
because I just connect with that image or that feeling
conjured by the poet who's long gone,
but was able to tap into that sort of universal thing,
It will be really meaningful for me in my work
if a poem of mine can connect with the reader tomorrow,
10 years from now, decades from now.
to again, create that bridge between time and space.
- My name is Michael Torres,
and I'll be reading "They Call the Mountain Carlos"
by Ray Gonzalez,
"My Neighbor Who Keeps the Dying Things",
After Jose Clemente Orozco's, "Man of Fire",
and "Four Months After the Funeral".
"They Call the Mountain Carlos", by Ray Gonzalez.
They call the mountain Carlos, because it is brown,
though it's purple slopes that does suggest other names.
Those who name it have to brand the earth
with something they know, a name, a face, even the heat
that says, "I know Carlos, and he is the mountain.
"I'm going to cover his eyes and light."
They call its peak Carlos,
because it is the sharpest feature on the face
that stares south, watching people cross the border,
pausing to catch their breath and meet the cliffs of Carlos
because he is there.
When they ascend the canyons inside the face,
Carlos shifts, and the climbers discover what he has done.
The moving earth changes everything,
and they are forced to stop playing the game
of naming a mountain that keeps touching the sun.
"My Neighbor Who Keeps the Dying Things".
From her porch, she tears the red duct tape,
binds a snapped branch to an end table.
It takes the leaves to tell us the truth,
but we're better at bringing what's dead back to us.
On her porch, two pumpkins, one scarred with tiny growths
like the map of a country that's been at war for years,
and another pumpkin I'd call pretty sit atop the table,
each existing perhaps to make fun of the other.
Beside them, a cattle skull
that I can't decide is real or not.
From this far, I don't think my neighbor can see me.
But then, with a piece of tape between her teeth,
she says hello, and then my name.
The tape fixes her against the backdrop
of this late afternoon.
We are all the dying things hoping to stay close
to something more vibrant than ourselves.
Beyond her porch, the last leaves hang in powdered yellow,
sharp, but easy to shake off.
This time of year, the wind reminds me to call home.
In October, it's not hard to see what I can't have anymore.
Tonight, rain will wash the sidewalks,
and in the morning, only the dark impressions of leaves
will be there to tell me,
"Memory is first an annotation for loss."
After Jose Clemente Orozco's, "Man of Fire."
One evening, the summer sun isn't enough.
14 years old, the blue plastic kiddie pool
in the middle of the street.
We choke a bottle of lighter fluid over it.
We strike matches and let them fall.
We olie over the flames
we stopped to watch it melt.
From a porch, someone's father yells with a voice
as strong as his hands,
eventually the fire is put out.
Eventually each of us walked home and into rooms
we will sneak out of late at night,
to make the best decisions and the worst.
Eventually, every summer ends and we move away.
Some of us go North, promising to return.
The rest of us rent rooms up the street,
stayed close to our fathers who will by then,
be bound to an illness
we imagined somehow finding cures for.
Watch the slow extinguishing of the body.
Fathers with canes, fathers pushing walkers,
finally fathers up the slants of sidewalks
and electric wheelchairs.
And when we see each other on the street,
neither of us will have the courage to wave.
Dumb and tough is what we were.
What does that do for me now?
If I try taking it back,
I imagine the blue plastic burned into the street.
It's the next day, I'm already too late.
But knowing what becomes of us in our fathers
I want to believe I can reconfigure the sky
and align it's stars.
The blue won't be chipped away,
and still I circle it like an angel
who's yet to realize he's fallen.
"Teaching at the Prison in December."
When the evening sky loses its blue,
the dead trees blossom namelessness.
We become what we endure.
Today, I study maps; routes to return me.
How odd this necessity, my unending study
of the past magnitude.
Each of us carries a kind of scale.
Once a week, I gather in a room full of men
who measure the lives they wanted and still want
by writing it down.
Men who do not know they remind me of nicknames
and handshakes from back home.
Despite this, or because of it, we laugh.
We talk poetry and do not bring up how we got here.
Beyond a barbed fence, carves the wind countless,
only snow enters unquestioned, without ID, metal detection,
hand stamp, parachuting through cyclones of razor wire.
How solemn each blade must be.
After class, I want nothing more than to stray
from my escort side, his proper stare and pepper spray.
I understand this infraction.
And yet, I imagine my glove tossed
so that I may graze one blade with an index finger,
warm and crowded with my blood.
"Four Months After the Funeral", after Jose Hernandez Diaz.
It was summer, and so Ignacio thought
he would try making friends at the beach.
He arrived right at 2:00 in the afternoon,
but stood outside his car until 2:08
before he started for the water.
He looked around, picked a spot in the sand,
and dropped his beach towel there to sit on.
He stared at the ocean.
Soon after, a family of five arrived.
They set up a canopy nearby.
Music from their radio played, the barbecue grill got going,
kids ran laps around nothing.
Ignacio smile their way and watched a man, the father,
Ignacio presumed, pull a frisbee from a backpack
and tossed it to the young girl.
She lept in the air.
Ignacio thought of metal wire cones set in the dirt
to help tomatoes grow.
Another man, worn in a straw hat, sat his things down
a couple of yards away from Ignacio.
The man in the straw hat said something
about how wonderful the weather was.
Ignacio thought of something to say.
He said, "Beautiful day."
In the direction of the man in the straw hat.
Ignacio could see that this man was alone as well.
They moved closer as they turned their faces
toward each other to speak.
The day cooled down.
Both men laughed and spoke the way people can,
when they've just met,
with the lightness of possible friendship,
time without history,
all that weightlessness makes a field of conversation.
In the evening, the nearby family started a bonfire.
The children settled into the laps of their parents.
Ignacio found himself telling Mr. Straw-hat
about a high school graduation photo
that his mother had loved,
but that he had always been embarrassed by.
"She kept it on the mantle." he said.
Mr. Straw-hat looked down at his feet,
which he'd buried in the sand.
Ignacio heard himself say mantle again,
but wondered what Mr. Straw-hat was thinking.
Soon, he wondered what context the night would bring.
In the way that everything had been weightless,
Ignacio felt himself floating away now,
or maybe it was Mr. Straw-hat who was disappearing.
Ignacio thought the ocean will become only it's crashing,
but said instead, "Anyways."
Before staring out at the peer, "We're under a lamplight,
"someone cast the fishing line into the dark."
So I think I'm inspired by the Latino culture,
in Southern California where I grew up.
I mean sort of naturally, that's what I ended up
writing towards, just home.
And like home, you don't really think of what home is until,
I think you move away.
And so until I moved to Minnesota,
I started looking back at that Southern California culture
how much of it was based in this Mexican American
traditional kind of upbringing,
and was able to reflect in that way.
And also just wanting to tell the stories
of the people I grew up with, who,
most of them just happened to be Mexican American.
For graffiti for me as a symbol
and how I see it work in my poetry,
is that, for example, when we were growing up
we would paint one spot one night,
and we would come back the next morning
to see if it was still there, to see our name there.
And most of the time, it was either erased or buffed out
by city workers or someone, some rival graffiti crew
had already crossed our name out.
So we would have to go back the next night.
So, the way I see poetry in that is that,
there's always this sort of relentlessness about it
and needing to come back and just tell these stories over
and over again, trying to get it right each time.
And I think, I suppose the adversity of graffiti writing
helped me understand my,
the trajectory of being a writer, of being an artist,
and the amount of practice it takes to do that.
So, I really think,
I owe a lot to having been a graffiti artist.
I don't think I would have been the poet I've become
without that as an experience in my adolescence,
that sort of solidified an understanding of the way
the world works.
So now that the first book is out,
it's been really interesting because the poems for so long
were just mine and mine only,
even if I sent them out individually
to different literary magazines, I was working on them
at my desk, in my office, in the mornings.
And so they were just mine to look at,
and to sort of live with, but now that the book is out,
I'm sort of having to,
in a way, come to terms with them being out in the public,
and then sort of people knowing me
as this poet who wrote this book.
And so there's sort of a balance I have to strike
with having that sort of public persona as this poet
whose work is out there for people to interpret
and ask questions about, but also trying to maintain
this sort of,
not solitude, so much as like this sort of,
just sort of keep or create this sort of area around me
where I can keep the poems as personal and as to myself
as they were before the book came out,
in order to write and do future projects.
So I think it's all about trying to strike this balance
because it's definitely not the same as it was before.
And I appreciate the book being out there,
but I also want to stay focused on what's important
for the art and how to make a successful poem.,
Now that I have a book published doesn't mean that
anything I write will be great after that.
If anything, I'm probably more critical of myself now,
especially maybe, even more so,
because the the book is in the public.
I used to think the responsibility of a poet
in the community, for a long time,
was to simply tell the stories of their community.
And that's kind of what I thought, for years and years,
that I wanted to do was,
"I'm setting out to write this book
"for some friends of mine who we grew up with."
Who even back then, we kind of knew that stories like ours
weren't going to be told as much.
And so, I kind of took it upon myself to be the one
to tell these stories.
But as I've grown as a writer, I think is less
about the responsibility on my shoulders and more of that.
I am just another example of someone who can tell stories,
any of my friends can tell stories,
it doesn't have to be through poems,
it can be through whatever work they do,
whether that can be a creative endeavor or not.
But as a poet specifically for me now
what I want to do is not only have these stories
in the poems, but I want to ask questions.
I want to explore these stories in wonder about,
looking back why we did these things
and why these things happened,
as a way of sort of being critical.
And also, I think it's a way of honoring people
in those stories, by asking those types of questions.
How poetry can transform the past into the present.
For me, I think the most specific answer that comes to mind
is, for a long time and still I write a lot about my father
and our relationship, or what my speaker,
or what I would have wished the relationship was like.
So I'm doing a lot of thinking
about what was going on in the past.
But what also tends to happen when I'm writing a poem,
even if it doesn't end up being about my father,
is my father will like walk into the poem,
and he'll want to be very present in the poem,
even though I'm not trying to,
the poem might be about something totally different,
and he ends up walking into the poem.
But I think it's a way,
I think it's kind of me wanting to think more deeply
about that relationship.
And this goes back to
the poem being more than the record of a story.
A poem isn't a newspaper,
it doesn't just convey information,
but it's thinking more deeply about these things.
And so, if I am looking back at a memory or an event
that includes, for example, my father,
then what's happening is I'm trying
to bring him to the present, not only what our relationship
was or wasn't, but what it might be able to still be.
And I think all those things kind of revolve around the idea
of trying to honor someone or honor a place or an event.
And that is very much trying to keep things
from getting lost in the past, I suppose.
So you hold them in the present by honoring them.