Skinnin' The Pachuco

I'm just happy to be here.

Tag: lockhart texas

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.

29/30: WILL WORK FOR CHANGE, BUT FIRST LET ME SAY GRACE

Like back in the day, my Grandpa Fred fed my will to work
When I was a boy, he’d ask me to wash his truck in exchange
For his pocket change, if I was lucky, a couple of quarters
So I could break even when the ice cream man orchestrated
a symphony down the street, rushing me and my brothers
Quick feet, then we’d buy ninja turtles with gumball eyes,
Strawberry crunch if the sun whooped us good enough,
And of course, Lucas, the only Mexican candy we knew,
Licking salt off our sweaty palms like a low-key communion
Our mom didn’t have to force us to go to, and I never knew what work
was until I took the quarters and washed the car in the harsh heat,
Bringing change to the table like offering to a congregation,
Digging in our pockets like mom with her purse in Lockhart
at the Presbyterian Church, where she put us in ties and paid her tithes,
and then we’d all pray over the food in the back room where the kitchen was
and after we blessed the beans, the tortillas, the rice, the meat,
I remember how my dad gave grace, and I’d say in his voice,
good food, good meat, good god, let’s eat, and we would eat together
on plastic picnic tables and talk about family or faith or
finishing the food on our plates, and of course, I wanted to play
outside with my cousins and older brothers,
throw the football and climb the trees until one of us got enough
red-lipstick on our cheeks and dollars in our pockets from some aunt
who missed us most, and we’d all run down the street to Sonic, parading
with mis primos and my brothers to order a cherry limeade where I’d save
the cherry for my mom, or see how long it could go before I’d eat it whole.
I want to look forward into the future, and say this is what I know. Truth is,
I am a guest in my own mind. I hear my voice echo and think, I do not know
this stranger. But I cannot abandon myself like ash from the flame.
It is time I learned I am worth staying for, that I can be a thief of my sadness
But first I must master the stampede of my sins, the list of regrets
stuck on my skin Like the things I wish I knew. I want to clean my soul
like my grandpa’s truck.

I exhale in the hallway where it is dark, where I look for a spark,
where I look for a way to give grace to myself.
I know I need to change, but I’m afraid to be in charge.
I make promises to myself so I know how to break them.
I want to break the habit of making something just to break it.
I want to make a meal big enough to feed the appetite of light,
Please, let my legacy be a lesson in forgiveness.
A chance to lose and gain back your goodness,
until we give ourselves the grace we need.
I’ll go first.
Good Food
Good Meat
Good God
Let’s eat.

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?