Skinnin' The Pachuco

I'm just happy to be here.

Month: April, 2018

28/30: HOPE IS THE FIRST NAIL IN THE WALL

For Habitat for Humanity in Houston, Texas, who is partnering with the Houston Bar Association to build 22 homes that were destroyed from Hurricane Harvey. 

Under the sun, there is work to be done
and more work to do after that.
I know no word better than love
to describe the labor inside of the hands
that build and create. Just this morning,
I carried a hammer and held the bones
of a house cry out in joy, in love, in pain,
for what is left
to finish before
it becomes.

I can never join the legacy of my ancestors
who spent their days in the Texas sun
Sweat running down their face, hands
worn and blistered, skin turning to sand
as the minutes grow into a mountain
of moments. Not everyone knows how
to build a life.

I come from the
hands of nails and hammer,
I come from the
hands of hard work and hot cement,
I come from
the hands of if not me, then who?
I come from the
hands that need to fix the broken
In this life we build, hope is the first
nail in the wall.
 

27/30: THE LOST CAUSE OF LONELINESS

In love, I watch you put your make-up on as the loud hum
of my longing stumbles back to the mountain I carved it from.

Outside of myself, I exit a door marked disaster, and the faster I walk,
the closer I am to your hand writing to-do lists against my unorganized skin.

I’m crossing loneliness off like it’s a lost cause. Somewhere, there is a mountain
made up of all the things I told myself I never deserved.

Each stone is a small thing, is a piece of earth bone, burrowed into the body.
Darling, I am digging my hands into the riverbed, where the soil is damp and

The current carries my secrets by the handful. The time has come for me
to forfeit myself to the fate of this moment, to throw my hands up and wait for daybreak,

Where your shoulder turns into the morning light beside my window and
I do not wait for love to say my name. I’m giving up on trying to see past the now.

I know the future of my feelings are something I cannot rewrite. I present myself to you in the darkness without a plan and without pain. What I’m saying is,

My longing used to be a locked door inside a mountain of shame. And now,
every smile you leave on my pillow is a key you carved for me, and I am in love,
And I am free.

26/30: ARS POETICA OR IF YOU ARE HUNGRY, HERE IS A POEM

Surrounded by cedar, magnolia, and oak trees
I’m standing inside a library
explaining myself to strangers, again
asking folks to walk into my poems
and sit down in the middle of
any sentence they like,
asking folks to dig in to my
heart of disaster with knife and fork,
and see how I still taste like joy.

How did I get here? Mostly?
By listening
By asking questions
By showing up
By staying
By writing
By trying
By writing
By trying

A poem isn’t a prop, a ploy, or a toy
It is a bridge
It is a seed
A poem begins and once it’s over,
it still never ends

Words, precious words, please
remember me as I am:
Lying among the tall-grass
of language
as the fire flies
ignite the next word
I am going to write
Every night
I am blinded by so much flickering light
I chase a poem across a page and
suddenly I hear my voice on stage,
or in my kitchen, or in my car,
or in the living room, or this library
where all I do is carry
the story of my life,
and ask if you’d like
a bite.

25/30: K.I.A. OR THE FORGOTTEN WAR

For Pedro Caballero, my great-uncle, who served in the Army as a Corporal in the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, and was killed in action on March 9, 1951 in the Korean War.

I want to talk about the flag, but first,
I want to talk about the wall,
about walls,
about the way a wall
is a curious structure that defines an area
by telling me what is not allowed in.
There is a wall no longer standing
A wall that once stood in Lockhart, Texas
This is the wall of my Childhood
The wall in my grandparent’s living room
that carried the portraits of Mexican Men
in their military service uniforms and
when I speak about this wall, I mean,
these men defined the pride in my family

In Washington D.C., the Korean War Veteran Memorial is a wall
less than 2 miles away from the White House,
the same White House that wants to build a wall between the borders of my blood
History lesson: On March 9, 1951,
My great uncle Pedro Caballero was KIA
Killed-in-Action
in the war with two names:
The Korean War
and
The Forgotten War
And from what I know,
his remains were recovered
which means his body
was not forgotten
even if the war was

They say dying for your country
is the most American thing you can do
so I ask you,
If a citizen is part of their country,
does that include the blood in the soil?
If a citizen is a part of their country,
and a flag is a symbol of our country,
then every citizen is a symbol.

History lesson: On February 1946,
my great grandfather applied for, and was granted
the suspension of his deportation at the Immigration office in
Brownsville, Texas
which means: he did not break the law,
which means, my great grandfather gained a flag, but not his citizenship
which means, he gained a country, then lost his son to that same country’s war, a war nobody remembers.

Did you know the colors of the American flag have a special meaning?
Red is for courage. White is for Truth. Blue is for justice.

I want to talk about the flag
as a symbol
as an object
as a pallbearer
that carries
the coffin
that carried my Uncle Pedro’s killed in action body
back into a country that does not love him.

I want to talk about the flag, and how,
in the 5th grade, I was in the Color Guard,
which means, I guarded the courage, I guarded truth, I guarded justice
Every Friday, I carried the flag like an ode to democracy
I held my head, raised my voice like a flag,
left, left, left right left,
Picture it! A Mexican boy presents the flag
before he pledges himself to America
until he would become the perfect citizen,
or at least,
a part of this country

I am a citizen of this country
but a glimpse at recent American history
will tell you,
citizenship is divisive, but I don’t want to be divided.
This poem is where I cross back into myself,
where I praise the history of my people, my family,
If I stopped writing poems about Mexican people
I’d probably vanish, like a war we forget we lost
like the blood in Pedro’s body,
Red as the republic
For which it stands
One Nation’s wall
between justice
and liberty
for all.

24/30: WHO OPENED THE DOOR?

When we speak of medicine, what we mean is
we are waiting for a miracle to open the door

But before: let us address the Despair carried everywhere we go
Who told your hurt to come home and open the door?

On the radio, I hear if you don’t transform your pain, you will transmit it,
And what better way to explain pain than something that opens the door?

The best thing any of us can do is anticipate the eyes of our lover
when we hand over our dark, deserving hearts, and ask them to open the door.

Lead me into a room full of mirrors and I know I’ll find a way to hide
myself from the side of myself because I refuse to open the door.

I know the opposite of shame, the opposite of fear, the opposite of violence
all depends on the listener. Isn’t meaning the key we use to open the door?

When I lost my innocence, I ran out one room and into another.
My god, the child in me wants to know: who opened the door?

23/30: the laundry is still not done

It is almost midnight and the laundry is still not done. After another day of law, of living, of language, I am speechless in the twilight of my room. Shuffling across the hardwood in bare feet and flat feet, I grab my phone and choose Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue to fill my room. I sit on my bed and breathe in the Jasmine on yesterday’s wind. I open up a memory like a file folder. Pick up my dirty clothes and put them in a basket. Around my room, I feel the gentle reminder of belonging. Everything has a space or place to call home. Even my dirty socks. Even my dirty thoughts. What I lose in a day is not lost. I am practicing the art of returning. Understanding is a process. Understanding myself is a process. And what is a process but the steps we take forward? The steps we take out of the dark and into the light. I want to walk out of the mirror and hold he who does not like what he sees. In the jazz-filled cathedral that is my room I surrender to you, I surrender all my remarkable pain, I surrender grudges and grief, I surrender the habits that wreak havoc to everyone I love. Self-included. I surrender the guilt that runs like silk through my veins. I surrender this spoiled spool that loves to make a fool of me. Y’all hear that? Bill Evans on the piano. Each key is a soft prayer playing over the speaker. It is almost midnight and the laundry is still not done. I run my fingers through my hair and hang my head in the half-light. I want to get this right. Separating my laundry is a task directly linked to the past, or, the passage of time, or traveling back to the time you wore something else other than skin. All around me lies the evidence of my existence, where I’ve been and what I chose to be seen in. Of course, both me and the laundry are unfinished for a reason. It is almost midnight when I begin to write this poem in my mind. I take my time. I take every line and string it up across the paper sky. I pin word after word against the sun-shined lines. I’m trying to finish what I started, even if the laundry is still not done.

22/30: WHILE I’M HERE

And while I’m here on earth, I rejoice in its worth
Cuz freedom is free”

-Chicano Batman, Freedom is Free”

I can’t name every tree branch I ran beneath like
water under the bridge but while I’m here, let me

Rejoice in the shade outside my door. Sun pours
into my hands like water and I become the color of

Light. Sometimes I want to hold this earth close as if my
heart were a greenhouse. Yes, I want to hold whatever grows

Along the axis of my pain. I have planted seeds like
poems and I do not know if anyone is actually going to read

What I am writing, what I am holding, what I am still growing.
After a long day in the wilderness, I break bread with the balance

In all things. I lament all the bees I’ve killed without first considering
life. Breathing in the same air as the mountains, as the trees, as the river,

I am anchored to the universe, the same why a rhyme sneaks into
every verse. Like it’s supposed to be here. I am supposed to be here.

Hasn’t anyone seen me swimming in the river? Atop the red rocks,
I rock my head gently in the garden of the gods. I commune with

My own existence. Every time I feel my heart beat, I remember
the laws of my body shape every phase of civilization. Look!

Silence is everywhere the cardinal’s song has yet to go. Really
all I want is to walk outdoors for miles and still have somewhere to go.

The sky always answers what’s next. And lucky for me,
everything I see and touch is beautifully enough.

21/30: POETRY AT ROUND TOP

Bless this communion of poets who are here, alive, and listening.
As I speak, lightning writes a poem in the sky and thunder applauses.
If I am at a loss for words, it is because I found new ones, here.
A chorus of voices in the air form every step up the staircase of meaning,
and I walk into a sentence
hoping to become the darling line that defies possibility.
I am remembering the grief that guides us and the joy that binds us.
Not every poem we leave behind is a sacrifice. Some poems
are gifts meant to find a place outside the page to call home.
This I know. I am listening to the rain fall off the roof
and back to the ground, back to the roots, back to the seeds,
back to where it needs to go. But first, it must fall. Oh,
Let my poems follow the same path as the rain. Oh,
Let my poems find a home everywhere they go. Oh,
Let my poems be mine, and let my poems be yours.

20/30: IT IS TOO SOON TO SAY GOODBYE

Sometimes it’s the simple joy of standing in a circle with your best friends on a Friday night to remind us of the power of the infinite, the power of choice, the power of consequence. Life is a divine dance. I accept the invitation of every dance floor yet to call my name. So many years and small days spent counting the seconds of loneliness I almost forgot laughter. Fact of the matter is, I fed myself lie after lie until I could not get up in the morning. Perfected the habit of mourning what is still here. Thought I was a ghost disowning feeling. Thought feeling was proof and forgot truth. I wanted to leave my body and join the sky but—

It is too soon to say goodbye.

To who I was when I did not deserve the love at my door: come dance with this man who wants to kiss your salted cheeks. Let me open the door to this room where everyone is in love with you, or at least your smile. Even if you don’t show your teeth. That smirk does the lord’s work. Your joy is not a trick. Your reflection is an axe. Pick yourself up and cut down the bullshit trees. Please don’t forget. Please don’t forget. Please don’t forget. Please don’t forget, you are not helpless or heartless. I don’t know if anyone tries more than you. I don’t know if you know this, but love looks at you. How you move through crowds. How you hold onto everything that hurts you. How you hold onto everything that holds you. You, you, you, Zachary. I’m talking to you. The voice you use is a song someone loves to listen to. Your laugh is cash and every night is casino night. Your presence is ticket stub everyone keeps after the show ends. The show ends but you’re still on stage and the microphone is hot and believe it or not, everyone is listening to what you have to say.

 

19/30: BUTTER SIDE TO HEAVEN

Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us,
for the amount of garlic and butter we spread
across this loaf. This loaf is God’s to unload.
Heaven is a place so take this bread like a ticket.
Give us this bread, and lay it inside the oven,
Butter side to heaven. Butter side to sky.
Butter side to stars. Butter side to moon.
Butter side to sun. Butter side to ancestors.
I stand atop the mountain of bread and lead
this prayer alongside those who remember
why we are here: is it not to rise? is it not
to become? is it not our purpose to melt
the meaning of a moment into memory?
At the altar of the dinner table, I break bread
with my beloved. We pull apart what the
heavens held like the humans we are.
We open our mouths like saints
and taste a miracle.