Skinnin' The Pachuco

I'm just happy to be here.

Tag: language

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.

11/30: THE PATH OF SOMEONE SEEKING LOVE (AND TACOS)

“Tell me about your life since I last saw you.” I asked.
“There are no great mysteries to tell. My path is always the same and I do everything I can to follow it in a dignified way.”
“What is your path?”
“The path of someone seeking love”
He hesitated for a moment, fiddling with the near-empty bottle.
“And love’s path is really complicated,” he concluded.

– Paulo Coelho, “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept”

Standing outside El Taqueria Palomo, I hold a taco in my hand on a Wednesday night
beneath a sky that is not falling, beneath a sky whose moon knows to call my name when
the darkness stays a little too long. Am I wrong to think the universe is speaking to me?

You may not assign meaning to every moment, and I understand your resistance. I guess
I’m just tired of believing there is no significance to the seconds that pass and the seconds that last.
I’m not talking about destiny. Though, I do believe we have one. As I speak, white rose petals leap before my eyes, falling to the ground until they become someone else’s footprint.

What I’m saying is, the path you lead is half the battle.
What I’m saying is, the path you leave behind is a line in a poem the universe wrote
when you thought you were alone.

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.

9/30: THE PISTACHIO SPEAKS

The shell is a fortress
(badly designed)
to protect its green king

Any shell will tell you:
it’s what’s inside that counts.

I’m counting the cracked shells
all the green hearts
living outside the bodies
they were given.

I hold myself like a soft secret
Like the portrait of a seed
that never saw the soil.

Inside, I am covered, concealed, hidden.

If any hands opened me,
if I had the choice,
If I had a voice
I’d probably run
myself into the ground
back to my roots
back to the tree
that knows my name

The man holding me now,
I see how softly he pulls me from myself

Does he know I was cultivated
for this moment?

Does he know
there is a part of me
nobody ever sees?

8/30: POEM BEGINNING WITH A LINE MY MOTHER WROTE WHEN SHE WAS FOURTEEN ON THE BACK OF HER HIGH SCHOOL PICTURE IN 1979

Please help me
understand
the things
I need to know

I am not always
who I should be

How do you know
what you know?

How do you know
when to keep going?

How do you
name your pain?

How do you
word the secrets
you keep?

I am in the middle of a story
I do not remember telling

Please help me
understand

Nobody tells you the truth
unless it’s easy

I don’t know how to say what I think
without sinking into the ground
like a seed out of a season

In my head, all the heroes are dead
But I want to re-write the ending

I keep holding on to every little thing
that has happened to me it still feels like
it is happening to me

Please help me
I wrote a list of questions with no
answer and all I want
is your voice
to be a whispering map in the madness

6/30: YOUR HAND ON A COUNTRY ROAD IN A LIGHTNING SHOW

On the darkest country road, I touch your hand in the dark
to remind my wandering mind
of what it feels like to be held while lightning
surrounds the sky the same way my arms do
around you when we sleep together and my breathing
slows down the same way storm clouds move in the sky
Something inside of me is forming
The sky’s bright siren is a warning signal
And where we are going, I have nothing left to fear
It is April and all the flowers laugh in the distance
as my car speeds past rolling hills of bluebonnets
I’m reaching through every reason I have to stay
And your hand anchors me to the Earth like a law
I will always follow. I only know
it took years to see
the possibility of not being alone

Whenever the clouds swallow the lightning,
I know you are my waiting horizon
I know you are the light that stays
I know you are the hand that reaches back

On the darkest country road, I interrogate the fate of my heart
Is this the place we start anew?

I look over to you in awe as lightning circles your face
Songs fill the space between us, music rolls in the clouds

And we listen
as the car carries us forward
together

29/30: THE BRICKS WE KISS WITH

If my mouth has a roof, then my tongue is a one story house. If my tongue is a one story house, then I must’ve built this house from the ground up. Must’ve poured wet cement like saliva each time I stepped on a stage. Must’ve been my way of building a home with the sheen of spit shining between the gap in my two front teeth, my two strongest bones. But this tongue is a soft home built in the long heat.

When I was young, my voice must’ve churned pieces of earth with water, and nothing or no one told me I was becoming stronger than concrete just by speaking. No, my tongue is not a hard house. But even silence can turn a soft home violent. I’ve seen silence become broken glass, a window smashed without reason. I want to speak without destroying. Even still, my hands have sometimes been hammers, even if my teeth refuse to be nails. Never in my life laid a foundation with my own two hands. Only spoke and spoke and spoke.

But let me tell you what I know about construction, about the Mexican men who stand on the skeletons they build, drinking cold beer in the afternoon, soon saying goodbye to the empires they’ve built. Kings of Creation. The sweat of their pride shining like the spit off my lips when my tongue lifts. And for a moment, their hot hands are not hammers, just hands, and their hands simply hold a cold promise like smoke in the lungs of the sky. Thinking of what I’ve held, I know

I’ve never laid a foundation, but I trust in the structures that refuse to sway. I know of the proud bodies we cling to, the flesh we confuse for walls that refuse to crumble, and how Mexican women were refuges for me as a boy, teaching me how to secure, how to stay, how to feed everything but the hurt. Sometimes, my mother would dig her teeth into my skin until I could see the imprint. My grandma too. The love in their mouth building a home in my bones, laying a foundation with each time she’d say, You are mine. Don’t you get it? My tongue is a home

I have inherited. The imprint, the scar tissue, the lessons—these are the bricks they lick their lips with, and this is the beginning of my tongue’s existence. A house I didn’t even mean to build. I must’ve learned to pour cement because I was searching for more, because there is always room for more, even if we have to build it back from scratch.

I take it all back. I am done with destroying, done with escaping, done with defiance. Because if my tongue is a house, then what are words, after all, but guests? And if words are guests, then all of this empty space makes sense. I’m not alone. I’m just waiting. Building suspense. The emptiness has a purpose. I am remembering all the guests I’ve let in, both those who did not want to stay, and all the ones that did. After all—

aren’t the names of our stories our favorite words anyway? This house is not meant for me. What I’ve confused for emptiness is just a room for you, precious guests. Here, take my breath. Here is my bed, a place to rest your head.

My tongue is a house, and at night, all the words are asleep. Sometimes, eight, or ten to a bed. Their feet opposite their heads, like me as a boy crowding in with my brothers and cousins, our little tongues little houses that were built with kisses and bricks. My tongue is a home, which means, I finally finished what I started. You, all my guests, are family. Come, come, come inside. The pleasure is mine. Meanwhile,

Outside, in the springtime silence, my friend Michael, opens his tongue like a house, separates his hair with his hands like a curtain letting light in, when he tells me of his travels in India, the places he’s been, the people that fed him, the houses he entered with invitation, the stories he stepped into, and when he was through, he looked at me, and whispered — In India, they told me, the guest is God. And isn’t it just like God, to take your breath with a word?

25/30: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

A word is a soundless bird with no wings
escaping
the tree of your throat, back into the forest’ soundscape,
a pummeled plumage merging
into the natural traffic of the air, invisibly
weaving,
sound into thought. Feathered letters
teaching
Yours truly how to flock symbols into sentences,
acapella fella
Banging his lips like cymbals, & like most instruments,
ignoring the tremble that follows. Listen,
Even a wind chime swoons gentle, until
a crooning feast reaching.
I am learning your favorite sounds
never actually touch the skin,
only whisper against it,
almost a missed kiss,
a bird landing on your chest the same way
words absorb breath.

Listen.

When a word is a soundless bird,
your voice begins to float next to your body,
Sound leaves the ground, letters spin ‘round,
your mouth like a carousel of consequence,
each time you speak, a soundless bird leaves,
shaking the branches
Stuck in the tree of your throat.

I’m learning the root of what I have to say
stayed inside for so long,
it forgot how to sing.
This is me remembering
tracing the root of my pain,

Listen for
the little linguistic caress,
little kiss of my breath.

Didn’t you notice
the bird on your chest?

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.

6/30: IF YOU CHANGE ONE LETTER

If you change one letter,
lonely becomes lovely.
When I say cast a spell,
I want you to misspell
the ugliest word
you have called yourself.
Misremember its parts,
take power by the syllable
Grab a letter by its throat.
Every word ever spoken
stays invisible unless written.
Name the shadows in the dark.
Pick your tongue up like an ax.
No, your tongue is an ax.
No, your tongue is a tongue.
Sling the word you have reshaped.
If you change one letter,
wanting becomes waiting.
If you add one letter,
heart becomes hearth.
If you add one letter,
star becomes start.

The beginning is always like this,
metamorphosis through addition,

Listen, each word nothing more
than invention, invocation, invitation.

Again, again, again, my tongue spins
a sentence, a spool of creation,

Silkworm imitation.

Yes, your tongue is silk with blood
Alive with the words you’ve drug
through the mud of love, erasure
is a patient process.

A word, like any earthly body,
must erode, if only to grow again,

Must end in flames, if only to begin.