Skinnin' The Pachuco

I'm just happy to be here.

Tag: family

29/30: A POEM FOR JESSI

Jessi,
bird of my heart,
monkey in my bed,
giraffe of my dreams,
you sing to me in your
baby-talk, in your
gimme-dat clap, in your
nap-time nuh-uh cry,
oh my Jessi, you are everything
you are supposed to be. Right now,
you are shouting for the sky as the
swing-set in the park down the street
from my house brings you closer to the
moon, the stars, the sun, each one: all shining
for you. This is what the light does: it tells us
to reach, to look up, to swing into our shadows
so that darkness will not ask for this dance.
Even now, the Oak trees see you becoming one
with yourself, and I am helplessly in awe at the
call of your voice, the raw power of your smile,
and how I wish you could stay a little while longer.
In this swing, your joy sings me a song. I watch you
rejoice in the shade, alive and singing, here with me.

15/30: fruit cup empanadas

Sometimes I feel like the opposite of a witness. With my own eyes, I have nothing to report. I gather memories from my grandmother’s garden. I’m holding her life in my hands and I am held captive. I am a helpless spectator. I piece the details of her life together like a bouquet unafraid of decay. Opposite of omnipresent, I rake the leaves into a pile and picture her mind the same way I picture a tree changing colors.I don’t know the consequence of missing information. I regret to inform you, I still can’t say where my ancestors came from. Show me a map, and I’d laugh at the lines defining borders but never me. If my blood has a story, then nobody ever told me the beginning. But listening to stories over the stove, I discover the fire is alive in my grandma’s eyes. Her voice a wood stove. Her love a warm home. Waiting to eat, I’m fed a story from her childhood, about fruit cup empanadas, and my grandma recites every ingredient of her memory. The recipe of the past is bound to repeat.

 

10/30: GRASSHOPPERS IN THE SKY

Me? I got me 4 brothers. Corey, Brent, Jesse, Kyler. Blood-bound. I love these men with all my heart, always have, ever since the start. How lucky of me, to be both big and little brother. I used to be a bother. I used to be a small king. I used to be a pawn. I used to be a boy who knew joy was simple like falling asleep on Brent’s shoulders in the backseat of the car cause Corey always got the front. Jesse asleep on mine. Eventually Kyler on his. This is the song I recall. Sometimes the words change. Like I’m never forgetting what I’m not. Always searching for who I’ve been. You know I can count the poems where I throw the word loneliness around like a stone but truth is, I ain’t never been alone. Not truly. I was raised by boys whose names I knew only as roots, as proof of who I am or was or could be. My bruised and busted lip is a trip down memory lane. I lie awake thinking of my brothers somewhere away from me. Their faces are my history. Their names a story only I can tell. One hug from them and all my pain is resolved. I got me 4 brothers. All of us the same but all of us different. Like clouds in the sky. I know we belong together though we may precipitate with different precision. All my mother’s sons. Blood-bound. Can we pretend the light that shines in the sky is each of my brother’s reaching out to me? Our father calls us grasshoppers and I become a creature of habit, hiding in the low-grass of the past. Did you know grasshoppers can only jump forward? Never backward. Never backward. Never backward. Never backward. Never backward.

What I’m trying to tell you is: I’m blood-bound to these men like the soil our grandfathers worked in, and every day I miss them.

7/30: EATING BBQ IN LOCKHART, TEXAS (LOVE IS A LEGACY)

Eating BBQ in Lockhart, Texas
Celebrating mine and my grandpa’s birthday
He is 77 and I am 26
We are generations apart
but my mother placed his name
between the first and the last
as if to remind me
the last thing I will ever be is
alone

Eating BBQ in Lockhart, Texas
I travel back in time to every holiday,
summer break, church service, family
reunion or party where I would run between
the legs of nameless cousins, battling for my
mother’s and brother’s attention
Trying my best to be seen by the sea of people
floating in the sea of love that is my family’s legacy

Eating BBQ in Lockhart, Texas
I am inside a palace of smoke
where every person holds a spark
in their heart
Love is a legacy we keep ablaze
in the way we say mijo,
in the way we say mija,

I see my niece crawl across the wood floors
where my Grandpa Caballero once stood
Leading me by hand into the heart of the smoke
Oak burning like an orchestra of ash

Eating BBQ in Lockhart, Texas
The world is crowded with everyone who knows my name
I am surrounded by bluebonnets and brisket
I am somewhere I am supposed to be
In this place where I found my face
in the hard heat
in the warmth of a ritual

Eating BBQ in Lockhart, Texas
I understand the meaning of a place
that stays the same while you are busy changing
Watching the smoke drift, I am drawn to
how it
comes
how it
goes
how it
moves
how it
knows
to come back
home.

4/30: JESSI OPENS HER MOUTH

Jessi opens her mouth and language becomes a kite she is learning to fly
Language is in the wind and she holds a string in the sky
but all her words are untethered, sound orbits meaning
while meaning meanders along without a voice to
call out its name. She is still learning to speak, and I am still learning
to listen.

It is impossible to translate a sound with no name
But every day, her mouth is a chorus,
full of refrains
stains
growing tooth-pains.

Jessi opens her mouth all the time and when she does,
She speaks the language of refried beans
She speaks the same language a tortilla does
A voice hand-made by the recipe in our blood
She Speaks the same language as caldo
A calming flood of flavor that holds our hearts in its hands
Jessi belongs to a legacy of language only she can claim

The women in my family all have voices that command,
voices that understand, voices that float in the sky, water
the soil, light the fire, and carry the prayer, voices that exist
to say I am here, I am here, I am here.

Jessi opens her mouth and all the birds draw near
Every flower in my grandmother’s green house sneaks out
and the garden shouts out a song only Jessi can sing
My brother, Jessi’s father, watches his baby girl sleep
in silence. Her body rises like a slow tide, waiting
to crash against the shore of any world brave enough
to silence her.

19/30: little things

When my dad would lose in backgammon, he grumbled
About luck, about both my brothers and my failure to adhere
to the updated rules of the game. I mean, the man justified defeat
Like a dying king in battle
And I believed in his brave wounds
Even when I did not see the foreshadow,
in how he salvaged small sorrow into a ship
like a sailor stuck in the sea of himself.
My father carves a life boat from each lesson
From each lesson, he rescues himself.

When I would cuss growing up, my mother would
admonish me, Zachary Fredrick! Do not cuss!
To which I reply, but my father is a sailor!
And she’d laugh where she stood, her eyes heavy with
the past,
and my tongue was a sail in the wind of an ocean I’ve
never been in

27/30: spoliation, then resurrection

I’m standing on the balcony of a high rise, 21 stories, high. The sun licks my face like bright smoke I try to chase, but when I begin, my brain spins in typical fashion, and I become a boy in my head, again, remembering my dad’s childhood home, one story, high, ceilings low, eventually, bulldozed to the ground years after my grandpa passed. Gas had snuck through the walls like a ghost wearing perfume, and it destroyed every room.

Picture this: a ghost house with a screen door, porch swing, and one million pair of saintly eyes not watching, but staring, at you like you’re trying to get into heaven, but you’re only seven. The Virgin hangs above the door, her eyes pour out like a river,

But walk through the door. Ignore the gods. It is the first door on the left.
Inside, a bald man with big hands holds a guitar and a cigarette. His essence was cinematic. He’s like a Mexican BFG, his love big, friendly, and giant.

When his memory went dark, his mind became an exploding star, erratic but catastrophically hilarious. Fact: He laughed at his own jokes. Fact: I do too! The ritual of our greeting went exactly like this: “Hey Grandpa!”, and he’d ask, “How’s ya ugly daddy?” And I never ever had a come back. His laughter billowed out the room like a ballad built with smoke, then he’d flick his guitar with his right wrist, ash his smoke, his unforgetful finger tips moving quick, much like my hands when I wrote this, and

The funny thing is, all my life, my mother looked at me and remarked, “Oh lord—you look just like your father.” And it is remarkable, how she sees the same face of the same boy who gave her her first-French kiss on the dance floor when no one was looking, the same face that faced my grandfather in the front room, with my grandma in the kitchen, stacking tortillas higher than the skyscrapers in front of me.

I remember watching her dig her hands into a bucket of flour, which I always mistook for a bucket of paint. I remember the tortilla beginning from nothing, a blank canvas becoming nourishment, and if I really think about it, she really was an artist, pounding tortillas with her fists until they looked like different phases of the moon painted against the comal sky, and I imagine, in this ghost house, my ghost grandfather, the two of us in this phantom room and me—finally ready with my comeback: “How’s my daddy’s ugly daddy?” HA! And he would erupt again, his laughter howling out the house, back into the universe.

Yes, this poem is about returning, about the indestructible ghosts inside of us, the tortillas I confused for the moon, how faces are places we return to, my grandfather’s spirit, rising high inside of me. I am learning my breath is the last thing this earth will ever inherit. I am learning how to rebuild from the blueprint in my blood. Oh, did I mention, his name was Jesús?

18/30: A POEM FOR LIZ

On the kitchen counter, I remember your hands
rolling dough for dumplings, the egg disappearing
into flour, your knuckles rolling yolk, perfect trick.
The chicken simmering in the broth next to you.
The dough, though unfinished, forms in your hands.
A single mother making dinner for her boys, and me.
Your boys, my friends, other brothers, create mischief
in the distance, shaking the plates on your walls.
Then, there is me, next to you in the kitchen, listening.
The smell of love has a noise, and you are a symphony.
It is the weekend, where boys like me escape into trees,
run down dark streets, tease the moon, spoon ice cream
until a river has formed down my wrist, licking my skin.
How wild the nights were when all I had to do was exist.
Sleep, always, a plot twist, as we tried our hardest to remove
any evidence that shows we broke our promises to you.
We spent summer afternoons diving into pools with
sandwiches in our backpacks, a snack to keep us safe.
We started camp fires and crawled rocks to jump off cliffs,
your sons, brave, me, afraid, wanting to disprove the truth
that Mexicans were natural fishes in water, but at the same time,
needing to prove I too could jump into the deep blue,
angling my body, pointing my toes, trying my best to perform
The Pencil Dive, hoping the end of me would touch the bottom
of the lake, this untouchable place I could make my own
If I just knew how to hold my breath right. Returning
was a gift I never knew how to make, only unwrap, which
is why I roam below til’ my breath billows bubbles,
sending signals above the surface like letters back home.
How you taught me to pursue without losing myself.
I did not know how to raise the boy in me like bread.
But I still remember sitting down to eat on Sunday,
my mother on her way, and me, eating Chicken and Dumplings
you made from scratch, the flour still in full bloom around
the room. I follow the steam, blow over the broth, watch my breath
turn into a lesson, a seed growing into a tree, a scared boy
growing into a man, that man, growing into me.

14/30: G-E-N-E

In the third grade, I beat Paul Veray
in the Spelling Bee Championship
inside the gymnasium at Gattis Elementary.
The word was Gene, and instead he spelled
J-E-A-N, didn’t even misspell the word,
just mistook Jean for Gene, misplaced the n
confused the the g for a j, and the a for an e,
Paul, I’m sorry.
Both language and genetics can be awfully tricky

It is a homophone
Homo: Meaning Sam
Phone: Meaning Voice
When two or more words have the same voice,
but different bodies.
We were studying them all semester
and if I knew anything at the age of eight,
it was how to be two things at once,
you know,
how to sound the same but come from a different place,
though,
I did not need language to teach me such a trick
I knew how to be the sound of what you thought,
and yet, to mean more than what you meant.

G—E-N-E,
short for genetic,
as in the kinetic energy moving through your blood
with so much potential,
the flood of who you will be
is breaking the levy,
the flood of what who were
has finally run out of room.
Inside of me, genes reach back to grab me,
like the hot sun of my mothers tempered tongue
My blood bubbling like caldo,
slowly, the confusion let’s go,
My body is a homophone
for the people that live in me
I am my own cast, my own show
But the voice, it is the same,
like your favorite song,
the best parts of me never change.

When
I talk to strangers,
I am my mother’s tongue
trying to learn their names
When I am tired,
I am my fathers nine iron,
still swinging
When I am sad
I am my grandfather’s
hushed prayers when
saying grace,
lifting myself up with
the word,
the word of someone
of God of language
I am my own god of language,
rewriting the alphabet with
the genes I keep receiving
I am re-made, turning into
another, becoming myself
through others, discovering
the recipes of my identity
by tracing
what stays the same.
My voice is not a choice,
when someone walks into my home
I open my arms like
both my grandmothers
open the fridge of their hearts,
the potential energy of a meal
is made kinetic,
your genes are prophetic,
how can the blood in you
not be poetic?
When I think I want to quit,
I am my both my grandfather’s
knuckles,
turning bricks into houses,
My friends ask for my advice,
the only voice I hear is my
mother, my father,
the chorus blurring
into a script I’ve always been written in.
When I need to work harder,
I become my brother’s
double-shift hustle,
the cross-over sweat
until I am nothing but net, and
the need to serve moves through
me like a migrant looking for
a field to put his feet in.
I used to think
my body was a family
I was too afraid to raise,
but my family raised
my body,
stirred my voice
like a sentence until it was finished,
until it was the same sound
as those who came before me.

13/30: THE FIRST TIME I DODGED DEATH

happened after I slipped and fell
into the deep end, when the water
left no room in my lungs
for me to believe in buoyancy,
or breathing.
Who thought
a three-year-old boy
at the bottom of a pool
pretending to sleep
inside his blue dream body
could not die?
My tiny body,
a broken boat,
I could not escape,
the only thing I could do
was spill over the sides of
my sunken skin.
it happened so quick,
my cries, a pathetic ripple,
lost in the blue spool
of a hot summer day.
But, I did not die.
My oldest brother
jumped in to save me,
like a prodigal fish,
returning to the current.
This is what we mean
by sink or swim.
When death skimmed
my little life like a pelican
I was inside
a body of water,
a deluge of blue
blurring the line
between breath and death
But, I did not die.
My little unsinkable heart
crafted a life raft.
My little anchored body
uplifted by hands
belonging to a blue-eyed boy,
who would not leave me behind,
though,
we
both left the bright blue abyss,
returned back to the surface,
My body now braver
thanks to the bravado
of his own diving body,
took me against his hip,
and then we went back to earth,
and the sun kissed my face,
with big yellow lips.