Spring 2020 Issue (Part 3/3)
Poem for the Little Bird Caught in My Garden House
by Christopher Miguel Flakus
Remember the little grey Kingbird
Or was it a Warbler?
A Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher?
Gone from my hands and into the sky
Erupting through the leafy shade
Gone from my hands and into the sky
Remember its little grey wings
Beating, dejected, exhausted, against clear glass
Remember its little black beak
As I cupped its tiny body between my palms
Clacking lightly against the mystery of my fingernails
Remember the little grey Kingbird
Its tiny eyes full of fear
A heart no bigger than a peanut
Beating against the insides of my hands
Warm, and fragile
Remember the bright flash of its wings
Once outside the garden house
As I opened my hands over my head
An eruption of yellow, black, and grey
Invested with Emotion
by Pallavi Narayan
Here lies her wedding dress
all puffed up in its emptiness.
Fattens as I am, but I am thin,
or thinner always than the
seams that puff her up from within.
This is how it must have been
Maybe this is how it will be now
Crafting another story
Without the wedding vow.
In this virgin white piece
Sequins sitting delicately
Upon the sleeve, he will
Come to me, and touch
This waist of pure satin
(Much as mine must be ...)
While my sister will look
Upon us so enviously.
Light scattering of rose
A shimmery silver sheen
He will ask for my pleasure.
He will then take my measure
Fill up the dress with his bulk
Crushing my seemingly
Fragile form with his,
If everything goes as it should
I will have robbed him of
Of my dear sainted mother’s
Memories, the life she left
And abandoned us to his care
Stepfather only in name, so
Handsome and so firm
He could be my paramour
And my sister can twist and squirm.
An Uneasy Poem
by Christopher Miguel Flakus
A flash of truth
Discovering your photograph behind the dresser
A thin layer of dust
Obfuscates your face
What if our lives had never been explored?
The sugar at the bottom of the glass
Spins as you stir it
The sugar at the bottom of the glass
Suspended in auburn tea
Drops of condensation
Weep a thousand tears for us
What if our lives had never been explored?
The way to resolve this
The end of the story:
A red cardinal
And all the impurities
Eyes like dead stones
Laid out along the sandy shore
Our tiny castle
Assaulted by waves
Post Med Blues
by Katt Pittard
The little pills
dissolving into the foam
checking off another shoreline
another bitter day and
I keep looking across the
room for the
tide to break
Flounders are shaking up
the ocean floor like these
prescriptions do this
empty stomach and
I probably would've
heaved my own tides
if these sea sponges
hadn't already drank up
a kelp forest
full of bile
But now the waves keep
crashing down and
my brain ain't coming back up
Your words tumble
down the sea wall:
but they sure
do make this
sun lit ocean zone
so very blue
by Heather Bayless
Dear Lord Jesus,
I’d like to send you sequins
- could you send your address?
For now I’ve stuck them here with
Pins to the far end of my mattress.
Attach them to your robes So that you are better seen,
So that when you come to see me I will know you by your sheen.
I don’t want you to be confused,
So wear them as my directions instruct.
Walk into my room with your calm
Holiness – divinity expected, never abrupt.
If you can’t sparkle in arrival,
Maybe you could at least give a glow.
Be a smooth light in announcement
So when I see you it will be “Oh, hello.”
I’ve now put a candle under the sequins
- tell me, could you not see them?
Surly I did not scare you with the bit
Of summoning blood pricked from my thumb.
God, I suspect you’ve gone dumb,
Maybe you are playing peek-a-boo.
I fold my hands over my eyes, swing them
Wide to say “Peek-a-boo, when will I see you?”
I close them back to give you another chance, Wait a beat then swing the palms wide. There is no new light, the ceiling is uncracked, Only unused glitter at my bedside.
New Year in Wuhan
by Gerald Nikolai Smith
At the end of a skype English lesson, Kevin,
who has a name that isn’t Kevin, a real name
I’ll never know, says:
Teacher, I am bored.
We never go out anymore. I watch TV everyday.
I want to fly fly fly away. I finished
my homework today. There’s nothing
more to do. Teacher, do you like
Minecraft? I have a dog in Minecraft
I have a house, a sheep, and a garden.
I kill zombies but sometimes the zombies
kill me. Teacher, I want to go outside. There
are some people in North America, the UK, and France.
I didn’t see my grandparents this year, just
fireworks out of the window and ate frozen dumplings.
I think these lessons are easy peasy lemon squeezy.
Today I had math class, English class, and Chinese class.
Tomorrow, I will do my homework. I forgot how
to ride my bike. I know where the park is
from here, but where is it really? Teacher, what is
the weather like in America? Here it is
sunny sunny sunny. Teacher, did you go outside today?
What did you hear, smell, feel?
Teacher, some people, on the
internet, say it is China’s fault. They say, it is our fault.
No, teacher, I am not sick.
Teacher, a doctor died. Do you know?
He tells the world about the sick, but he gets it and he
dies. And now we are trapped children, like rats.
Teacher, do you know what year it is?
Do you know how long a month is when a day
Christmas Without You
by Shani Lynne
She tugged his blanket into her lap as she curled into the window seat. Comforted in her favorite spot as she wrote to him. She glanced out the window and sighed as fluffy snowflakes drifted down.
Watching the snow fall, I wonder... Is it snowing there? Don’t worry, I covered your bike. Has it really been six months? It seems like only yesterday when we said our goodbyes. Separated by thousands of miles is not how I thought we’d spend our first Christmas since the wedding. I know what you are doing is important, but it’s hard being apart.
A sharp kick jolted her out of her thoughts, and she hummed a lullaby softly until calm returned. There was so much she needed to say, but she didn’t want to add to his stress.
We were so full of plans last Christmas when you popped the question. Talk about a lifetime ago. Life certainly has a way of changing our plans doesn’t it my love. When you asked me to elope because you were deploying, I didn’t hesitate. I admit it was selfish, I wanted to be your wife. I wanted to give you a reason to come back. Stay safe over there, my love. Tell the boys I said hi, and that we’re all so very proud of them.
Rubbing the curve of her belly, she whispered, “It’s okay baby, we’re just writing to Daddy.” Was it right to keep this from him?
Your Mama asked me to spend the holidays with them on the farm, but it just wasn’t the same without you. My Dad keeps reminding me to be strong, that you’re defending Freedom and I have to be strong. It is hard knowing you are alone there, and we’re missing you here. I am proud of you; always remember that you’re our hero... my hero.
Sis called today, and asked me to tell you the good news. You are going to be an Uncle. She asked me if we thought she’d be a good mom. I told her, you always said she’d be a great mom, because she knows that warm cookies heal everything. She laughed and said we had made her day.
Now was the time. She should tell him. He had a right to know. Looking out at the snowflakes falling, she rested her head against the cool window. She just could not do it.
The lieutenant tells me we’ll be lucky if you can get leave before April. That seems so far and every day drags. I keep seeing you walking through the door, but when I look again you’re not there. I know it’s silly, but I miss you. There is so much that I need to say my love that I can’t put it into words.
The snow is falling harder now my love, and I should be sleeping, but I can’t bring myself to say goodbye. I miss you. Christmas without you is torture, but I‘ll be a trooper.
I love you, always and forever.
Kissing the bottom of the page, she folded it and put it in the envelope before she thought better of it. Looking back up at the stars peeking through the clouds, she whispered, “Watch over him Lord, and bring him home safely to us.”
Standing she rubbed her back and sighed. She should have told him. With a shake of her head, she set the letter on the desk, and made her way through their home. Those last weeks before he shipped out had been spent making this house their home; painting, laughing, decorating, and loving, precious memories had been made. She paused at his leather jacket still resting on the back of a chair. She picked it up, and hugged it close. The leather was soft, worn, smelling spicy and rugged, like him. She put it back on the chair.
It was so quiet and lonely these days. The wind howled and the shutters rattled against the house. She jumped, rubbing her hand over her belly soothingly, she said, “It’s just the wind, come on woman; next you’ll be seeing ghosts.”
Taking a breath and shoving her hair out of her face, she continued up the stairs to their bedroom. A gust of wind blew through the hall slamming their door and bringing a hint of spice and woods. She paused and inhaled, “Honey...” smiling she continued down the hall, half expecting to see him lounging on the bed, but she knew that wasn’t going to happen.
Opening the door, she sucked in a breath, “You are home? You’re really here?” Running over to the bed, she sat down and brushed his cheek. Stubble scratched her palm, and brought her to her senses, he was really there. Leaning into him, she kissed him softly, and whispered, “I love you.”
He deepened the kiss, pulling her tight into his arms. She still tasted of peppermint cocoa. Frowning, he knew she had been having trouble sleeping alone, missing him as much as he missed her. His work-roughened hands brushed along the sensitive skin of her back trailing along her spine. She had been sleeping in his shirts. His hands slid down smoothing over the swell of her belly in awe, before he lifted her hips, and brought her to straddle his lap.
It had been months since they had been together like this, and he wasn't going to waste time speaking, when it could be spent loving her. These stolen moments were too precious to waste needlessly.
Later after she drifted into a restful sleep, he pulled out of her arms tucking the blanket up over her and dropping a kiss on the top of her head. He sat there for a moment, a sadness in his heart. He stood and turned away from the sight of her sleeping, her hand coming down to lay protectively over the swell of their child.
Walking downstairs his uniform appeared on him as if it had never been removed, and he sighed. This was going to take some getting used to. I shouldn't have come, but I needed to see her, to say goodbye. I wanted her to have at least one more happy memory, yet, how can I leave? Picking up the note she had written him, he ached as he read the words, so lovingly written.
Glancing outside he saw the snow still falling, blanketing the earth with its crisp new cover. Was it snowing where he was? No. He should have told her that he wasn't going to be spending Christmas with her. She was right; Christmas without each other was indeed torture. He tucked her letter into his pocket, he would finish it later. Finally he dragged out paper and paused, pen in hand, if he had only this one chance to put her heart at ease he had to choose his words carefully.
Babe, I still can’t believe you said yes when I begged you to marry me.
In case I never told you, I am the happiest man because I have you. This Christmas without you is blue; Blue, like the warm desert sky above. I ache to hold you close.
I wish I could be there, watching you in awe as the world turns white with frozen angel tears. That’s what my grandma called snow, the tears of angels that were missing their loved ones. Give Mama my love, and tell Sis I’m thrilled. She will be a great mom, and I know you will spoil her baby for the both of us.
There are things that I wish I had said before. Tell Sis I am proud of her, and the young woman she has become. Tell Mama and Daddy that they instilled values in me that made me the man I am. Most of all Babe, remember that I love you.
What I am doing is for Freedom, so that our children can grow up with the things we have started to take for granted. That's what I want for the children to come, the right to say what they feel, the Liberty to free themselves from the shadows, Justice for all the world, Happiness and peace.
Long may the stars and stripes fly proud! I am no hero, Babe; I am merely a man doing what is right. I know this is hard, but we both knew I had to go, and the sacrifice demanded of us.
Sitting here, hearing the fire grow closer, I hope that you would not want me to be less than I am. You married a soldier, a man who would go where needed, to fight for what we believed in. Do not think that I went without regrets.
I regret that we had so little time together, Babe. I regret that I had to leave you so soon. I regret that I have not told you as often as I should have, just how much I love you.
Every day that I am away from you I dream of being back in your arms. Every night, I know that you are alone, and sad. I wish I could make your sadness and pain go away. Tell your father that I am sorry. I am sorry that you are hurting. Sorry that I had to leave you so soon. I promised to protect you, to love and cherish you. I failed to do that. I will spend eternity watching over you, Babe.
As the sky darkens this Christmas Eve, I know that you will not understand. I know that you will ask why. Remember, that I will always love you, until we are once more in each other's arms.
I wish I could put your mind at ease. Life is never what we expect it to be Sweetheart. Sometimes things happen and we can't explain why, but please know that I will never stop loving you.
I want you to go on with your life. Life is short, and I don't want you to have regrets. I wish you happiness, and hope that you will eventually find love again. Don't roll your eyes. I don't want you to spend your life alone, lost in regrets, wishing for what could have been. I want you to have love, you were made to love, and whoever he is, I know he will be a lucky man.
You will make a wonderful mother, and I want to be able to watch you smiling and happy. Take care of yourself and remember that I did this for freedom. Give yourself the freedom to love again, the freedom to be happy, and most importantly the freedom to say goodbye.
Remember what you told me? When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Well Babe, here's the lemon, now make some lemonade and drink to your future.
Please don't be sad, I won't be far away. I wish I could be there to see our little one, please tell her that her daddy loves her and that I did this for her and all of the children in the world.
Loving you is why I sent this Christmas wish from Heaven, Remember even though we are parted I spent Christmas in your arms, if only in our dreams. I love you. I love you both so much, and always will. Please forgive me for not saying goodbye.
Love you, Babe.
He folded the letter and a lemon appeared from nowhere. He sat the lemon on top of the letter, and then he sat at the window seat tugging the blanket around him.
She stretched languidly. He had come home to her for Christmas. She crawled from the warmth of the bed, and walked downstairs in search of him. “Honey?” she called out, but the sound echoed in the empty house. "Was I dreaming?" she wondered aloud.
"Merry Christmas Honey, wherever you are." She said softly as she pulled his mug from the cabinet, laughing she put it back, then picked up hers. "Whoops, I know how you love that mug."
The ringing of the phone brought her out of her thoughts. She reached for it automatically. "Hello?"
"Hello Darling. I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas, and once more try to convince you to come over for Brunch."
"Hey Mom, I appreciate the invitation, but I think I'm going to curl up with a book. I just don't feel up to going out. Besides it's snowing so badly, I don't think the car can make the drive, and I don't want to risk falling." She said as she filled the mug with tea.
"Okay Darling. If you change your mind there is no need to call. If your walk is too icy, call, and I'll have Dad come over to clear it."
"Of course Mom, Merry Christmas, Give everyone my love.”
"I will Darling. Goodbye."
“Goodbye, Mom." She hung up the phone, sighing softly. It was true the snow was falling heavily, but she could have made it over, but she wanted to wait for him. Uneasy, she glanced around. Where could he be? Was she losing her mind? She could have sworn he had been here the night before. Why couldn't she find him? She sipped her tea and walked into the other room.
Something was wrong, she just couldn't put her finger on it, but something was definitely wrong. Then she noticed it. Her letter to him had disappeared, and in its place was a lemon sitting on a folded sheet of paper. As she moved the lemon and picked up the paper, a cold chill went down her spine. Her husband's bold handwriting leapt off the page at her.
She sniffled as she read the words that he wrote. A sense of foreboding filled her. She had always been proud of him for fighting for what they believed in. Tears slid down her cheeks as she continued to read the words that he had written. A hysterical laugh escaping her lips as she read his joke about making lemonade. "You fool. How am I supposed to go on without you?" She demanded angrily as she crumpled the note in her hand. Immediately contrite, she smoothed the page.
Wiping at the tears in her eyes, she did as he said, and walked into the kitchen to make lemonade. She would have to take the letter to her mother-in-law, but she couldn't bring herself to do so today, not on Christmas. She couldn't ruin the day for everyone. “I will tell her all about you, my love.” With a soothing rub to her belly she sighed. “We'll be okay, baby.” Pouring herself a glass of lemonade she raised it in a salute, and she whispered "Here's to you, Honey, Christmas without you really is Hell."
Dedicated to those who serve and the families they leave behind.
Because of you, I can be me.
Drink It In
by Brendes Buendia
My bronze arms folded tightly over my face to keep the daylight from scraping my eyes; I needed to get up, immediately. I had been hiding out in the Corolla that my brother and I shared; I was splayed out in the reclined front seat, blasting Sistema Bomb. My brother Art barreled towards me, steam piping from his ears. Carletta, my partner, tiptoed behind him. A cutting breeze pushed through the cracked window and stung my skin.
“Drink it in, boys.” My dad said that to me about 50 times when we first moved out here. It echoed in my brain whenever I got stuck in a low. I hadn’t taken my lithium in a few days. I thought I could go without it, but now, I’m stagnant, can’t get out of the muck.
“Benny, will you just answer me, for fuck’s sake?” Art implored, turning off the music.
My mind raced, and my mouth refused to move.
“Benny, c’mon. We’re gonna have to start without you if you don’t get up.”
“Go away.” I clutched the curly dark tendrils sprouting from my head and pretended not to feel my brother exhaling over me.
“Please, Jesus! Benny, you can’t just lie there. Everyone is waiting on you, the people from Ysleta del Sur Pueblo are asking for you. We look fucking disorganized if you’re not there. Shit man, you’re supposed to be the one leading us.”
He gave up on it, left the stupid door open too. A big red banner in the back seat was staring at me, screaming at me. “¡Vive la Raza hecho en Aztlán!” My abdomen rumbled with hunger. Arturo was right. I needed to be at the protest. We knew it would be one nasty clusterfuck, but we had to do it, or we’d lose the land.
It happened to our cousins in Arizona two weeks ago, but it will be different here. We’re going to take care of each other. Those guys out there, they got too zealous and stopped paying attention. They should have rested more. They had claimed their territory in the desert, held their ground for weeks in vicious heat. I asked mis primos about it, and they said that after a couple weeks in, buzzards started circling them, but they were really big and moved bizarrely, almost mechanical in the way they flapped and cawed. No one cared too much about them though. Why the hell would they? The buzzards got closer and louder; no one expected it. And those Grand Old Defenders, they’re cold, cruel sons of bitches. The buzzards shat everywhere too. Big piles of bird shit ripening in the sun like fruit, odorous almost to the point of intoxication. At the three-week mark, armed officers dropped out from the gargantuan birds. The soldiers had tranquilizer darts and ended up having to use more of them than they estimated because none of our protestors would willingly back down. When they ran out of them, the officers reverted to more primal tactics. Twenty-six lives lost. We took a pretty hard hit over there. The police force weren’t afraid of being seen as brutal, racist, or barbaric anymore, but they were afraid of our strength, our ability to organize and network all over the place like we had. It was starting to look like a full-fledged revolution.
I mean, we knew all this shit was going to happen when we left Cali. La Raza needed some leaders from the original Wall Demolition to come lead the forces in El Paso. When Art and I were elected, I was on a major high. I was recruiting, running marathons, writing reams of literature, rallying, reminding people of who they were and what they loved, raking in donations, rioting and rampaging like the sun would never go down. I spent nights without sleep, nights without being tired, night after night of being on fire, being insatiable, being a superhero. I was exactly who they needed out here in El Paso. But Super Benny died after I won the election, and I fell into the grave.
I rubbed my eyes furiously; maybe that would finally wake me. Carletta’s head popped into the window like a daisy in a desert.
“Aye mi Benito, todo bien?”
She stood there for a minute and tapped her fingers on the door frame, but I didn’t turn to her. A fire broke out on my cheeks and neck. Why would Art let her follow him over here? He knows how seeing my lows unnerves her. I pressed my face into the head rest; it smelled musky, like hair that needs to be washed.
Snakes writhed in my chest as I felt her reading me over. I’d resolved to prove myself worthy of Carletta, the martyr, the fearless lioness of a woman who’d been imprisoned, who’d been through hell and made it out in one perfect piece. She gave speeches for the movement and had this mystical way of making people listen, even when they didn’t think they should. But she didn’t know the right words to pull me out of my trenches. It scared her that couldn’t fix me.
The first time I fell into a really low spell, I had only been dating Carletta for a few months; we were two weeks out from our move to Texas. She had brought over some migas from Armenta’s, our favorite hole in the wall back in Pasadena, after I declined her invitation to go out earlier that evening. I wasn’t going to let her in, to let her see me like that, but Art was getting home just in that same instant.
When her eyes met mine, I scrambled for any explanation that wouldn’t give me away. I never tried to hurt her, but that didn’t deter from the fact that my actions, or lack thereof, affected her and elicited from her a new perception of me, of what I’m capable of.
Of all her questions, the ones she most easily could manage were:
“What’s the matter? Huh? Is it me, did I do something?”
“No, it’s not you.” I pressed my palms together and ran my finger across the scar on my knuckle.
“What is it then?” She sat at the end of my bed, her maroon lips bloomed to let out a sigh.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s me, love, you can tell me anything.” She reached for my hand, and I forced my fingers onto the back of my neck, as I peered into the cement ceiling.
“There’s nothing to tell, I don’t know.” I didn’t have the vocabulary for it back then.
“What do you mean you don’t know? You’re the only one who knows.” Frustration had begun to infiltrate her sunshiney expression.
“Jesus, I just…I don’t fucking know.” Her eyebrows tightened and she leaned a mile away from me. I tried to bring her back. “Look, I’m sorry, I just…”
“No, don’t be sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.” She fidgeted with her gold hoop earring and eyed my tangerine rug.
“You didn’t,” I sat up towards her. “I’m, I, guess, empty or alone…”
“Love, you’re not alone; I’m right here. You know I’m always here for you, right?” She grabbed my face to look right into hers. “Right?”
I was only dark for about three days. She convinced me to go to a psychologist and figure things out before we made the trip.
Arturo sat down in the driver’s seat.
“Aye hermano, what’re we gonna do with you?” Placing his hand on my shoulder, he was pleading with me now.
I said nothing.
“You can’t hide in here forever.”
“You shouldn’t have let her come with you. I don’t want her seeing me this way.” I snarled at him.
“I was trying to help you.”
He waited for me to reply.
“For Christ’s sake, man, you have to get the fuck up.” He shook me.
“¡Dios mío!” He snatched the bottle of water from my cup holder.
“I’m not playing games, Ben, we need to get going.”
After jolting me again, he poured the water on my head. I wanted to pounce on him and slap his smug little face, but my body resisted. Art slammed the door like it was supposed to hurt me. I stroked my sweater; blue shapes swimming in a line covered the material. My abuela gave it to me the first time I went back to Pasadena after having moved to Texas.
She had started painting again, and her house was overrun by desert landscapes and recreations of half-imagined memories. She was worried about me. I tried to explain to her why I’d been acting this way, but the fact that I was just taking pills to get better didn’t sit right with her.
“Hijito, escucha, no one is going to save you. You’ve got to remember to take care of yourself.” She patted my shoulders and face, anointing me in oil and her love. She fed me too much food and played her old music for me. The familiarity of her fruit-scented home adorned in terracotta and portraits of La Santa Maria gifted me with an ease that, although temporary, was deep and wide like a slow-moving river. I set up new her computer for her, and she sent me on my way, having been blessed and fed.
I stopped to get gas at 76 on Michillinda on my way out of the neighborhood; across the street by Coco’s Bakery, there used to be a hair salon called Belinda’s Beauty when I was a kid, but it closed, and the former owner started sitting out on the street corner because she had no money because no one cared about their hair because something majorly destructive was on the horizon. The nation was violently changing, and there was palpable proof right in front of me.
Art had taped up a 3X5 of our mom in the car. When I finally opened my eyes, I saw her, the goddess of complex selfishness, gazing back at me. I wished she had been here to march with us. She cared so much about the movement; her songs had become our anthems. Maybe she was like me. I had no way of knowing. I thought of her voice, its strength and beauty. I remember the last time I heard her sing: the first anniversary of the beginning of the Wall Demolition.
We had this huge festival in Los Angeles, and she performed there. I thought she knew that we were part of La Raza, but she was really surprised to see us. Looking back at it now, we should have reached out to her beforehand to tell her that we wanted to meet up. Maybe she wouldn’t have gotten so overwhelmed. We could have avoided her, no problem, but Art got it in his head that we needed to talk to her, so we did. She wore this black gown with blue and red flowers stitched all down the middle and big trumpet sleeves. The familiar scent of cinnamon wafted off of her, and I felt myself shrinking. Her hair had started graying, but of course she didn’t bother with coloring it.
“Artie? Benito? Is that you? Son estos mis hijos?”
I gulped hard, “Yes, good to see you…” extending my hand to take hers.
Next thing I knew, I got wrapped up in a ferocious bear hug. She looked at us and grabbed our faces.
“My sons, my beautiful boys, look at you. You’re so grown. You’re so gorgeous.”
She seemed normal, amicable for the most part, but then something switched in her. Maybe a memory crept into her mind. She started apologizing, repeatedly, compulsively, hysterically. Then came the crying, and Art tried to tell her that it was okay, but she didn’t hear. Her green haired manager snatched her away and massaged her shoulders.
My dad Lance drove up next to the Corrolla; he brought some snacks over for us to ration out during the day. He let out an old smoker’s hack as he sat down in the car.
“Son, there’s hot coffee in this thermos. Benji…don’t you gotta get goin’?”
“At some point, I suppose.”
“When you boys get back this evening, tomorrow, whenever, Im’onna need you to take a look at the water heater. It’s been acting up, and I can’t do a damn thing ‘cause I burnt the shit outta my fingers on Wen’sdy, damn convection oven.”
“Look at those clouds out there; I hope it doesn’t rain all day.”
“That’d be too bad.”
“It wouldn’t stop you all, now would it?”
“No sir.” I smirked
“You gonna be standin’ your ground, rain or shine?”
“You know it.”
“Atta boy. Now come on, Art’s head is about to pop off, and Carly over there don’t look too tickled either.”
He patted my face and then squashed a bug on the dash as he stood up, out of the car.
My dad was an unyielding hippie. He was born to white ranchers outside of Austin but moved into the city for its music. That’s where he met my mother. Lance’s words never run out of his mouth, not like they’re trying to sell you something or trick you into doing what he wants. If he needs to say something, he just says it. I always wish I could talk to people like that.
My dad had this ancient emerald green pick up that had peeling paint and would switch off if it idled for too long. When we first came to Texas, I remember sitting in that truck, listening to Brothers by the Black Keys, one of those classic alt-rock albums from the earlies. Art and I had been telling Dad about El Movimiento and had gotten so riled that old Lance couldn’t keep up.
“And Americans had become so merged with their superiority complex that they couldn’t even hear us. Dad, you gotta read Borderlands. Anzaldúa was a visionary, she knew all this was coming even before the turn of the 21st century!”
I added. “Seriously, that book will bust your brain right open. It’s on the ban list, but I can get you a copy. They think they can take away our literature; they’ve got another thing coming. That’s for sure.”
“They can’t stop us from spreading the fucking truth.”
I grabbed his shoulder. “Cálmate, Artie.”
Lance chuckled, “You boys are really on to something here.”
Art started belting “Go Getter” with his tinny, snare-drum voice. The land bled from rolling hills to flat plains with daisies and dandelions scattered out on the green. The smell of pure heat and grass wafted in. I was so awake, violently and electrically awake.
I wanted to be back there, to drink that in. I opened the door and walked out into the dreary breeze.
by Danny Josiah Zuniga Zarat
by Sabrina Portilla
Better Days Will Come
by Guadalupe Ramirez
by Guadalupe Ramirez
An Interview with Alexis Mercedes
by Stephen Garza and Diego Reyes
Poetry is often considered the world’s most ancient art form. What to you is the art of poetry? Poetry can have so many meanings, both technical and personal, but I suppose to me, the art of poetry is how I find my place in my world. Expressing my mind through lyric is fulfilling and often a fascinating process.
Writing for many can be a daunting task. What techniques/methods have helped you developed your writing? The methods that have helped me the most in my writing is willing to be open to inspiration from a variety of sources, and willing to “fail” in writing. I think we often try to write something exactly as it’s in our mind, and in the past, I would try to “write it the first time perfectly” but after realizing that is a very limiting and frustrated way of writing, I’ve embraced a more intuitive style. It has helped me not edit myself, which has led to more discovery in my writing, which is exactly what I want.
Some artists seek inspiration through many sources. What are your sources of inspiration and how have they shaped your career/art? I draw inspiration from a variety of sources, but a few that are most generative includes me getting outside in nature for a while, which has been really nice now that it’s April and heading into my favorite season. I’ve been getting back into gardening while quarantining for COVID-19, and it inspires me and my work by helping remind me that everything takes time to recycle and regenerate, and that helps me think about my body and my relationships specifically. I also get inspired by digging deeply into a topic I find interesting—one night, I read about American cults for three hours, and another night, I learned the whole history of Japanese feudalism. I’ve been doing that kind of thing since I was young, getting very enveloped in a topic, and that voracious sense of learning has shaped how I approach my writing, which has become more daring (to my past self) the more I allow it. Then, music artists like Grimes or FKA Twigs or The Garden, artists who have really committed to a style and a theme I love for one album or the other, really encourage me to keep developing my own style in writing and art. I love seeing a brave, outrageous, and fully committed style, it helps me forge and embrace my own.
The infamous writer’s block. A strong barrier that gets to even the best of us from time to time. How have you overcome such obstacles? Lately, I’ve had a lot of thoughts and ideas in me but not the motivation or clarity to write them down. It’s largely influenced by the state of the world right now. But I think at any given time being unafraid of failure helps my writer’s block, so that I’m not trying to write something perfect the first time. Also, getting into something that I know inspires me, something as simple as listening to a poignant or ambient song I love, can get me into a more generative headspace. I believe also writing in a journal, and not thinking about the fact that it’s writing, is helpful because I’ll usually get kinda poetic and silly in my journal if I let myself, and that can feed into my work, too.
Themes are an essential aspect to any form of art. What are some of the most important themes to you? Some themes that have been most important and recurrent when I write include a focus on sensuality and interpreting themes through that sensuality. I love exploring intimate relationships, either between lovers, or friends, or with the self, up to and including exploring erotic themes, orgasm, sex, and the range of possibility and feeling in the body. Then, I am always fascinated by religion and rituals and visions of God. I have a few poems called “Prayer” and “Samson and Delilah” and those detail my struggle with trying to find God/security in another person after coming out of lifelong Christianity, as well as detailing a sexual awakening that I felt guilty about at the time, feeling like a traitor to myself or what I thought I wanted. These kinds of difficult themes are so personal and vulnerable and specifically relate to how I’m growing. I have a hard time not being confessional. I find poetry and music to be the easiest media to confess to.
Having your work published is a great honor in its own right. How does it feel to have you work published? It is exciting and validating. I feel very grateful that any of my work is available to be widely read, because I feel I’m continuing to slowly establish myself, not in the pursuit of becoming famous or prodigious, but just establishing myself as a living person who maintains space in the world and expresses themselves to other people. Without having my work published, it would still be just as valid, but it is important to me to be able to share with people. One of my biggest values includes connecting with people in intimate and vulnerable ways, and since my poetry is often so personal, publishing them makes me feel like I’m connecting with people without even speaking to them. That’s a wonderful thing to think about. Also, at the very base of it, publishing just makes me feel very happy and so I pursue it.
Goals are important in works of art and in our everyday life. What are some of the goals you have for yourself as a writer? One of my concrete goals as a writer includes publishing a collection of poems. I’d also like to write more essays, both personal and critical, and develop some of that skill that I feel like I stopped working on a bit ago after finishing my Literature degree. Anything that stretches my brain as a writer is welcome.
Sometimes life throws us a lemon, and we make lemonade. What was that one moment in your life when you realized that you wanted to become a writer? I think becoming a writer has evolved very naturally, because it’s an art I gravitated to early in life as a way to express myself or have fun, so I don’t actually have one moment I attribute it to—but I do remember envisioning being a writer as a valid career when I was 13 or 14. Before that, I first started writing when I was 7 or 8 years-old, and they were usually short horror stories where everybody died in the first few paragraphs or strived to have some sort of shock ending. I love being dramatic. I evolved into writing very emotional poetry and then excelling at more analytical papers that also excited me. Somewhere along the way, I realized I wanted to be a writer in some capacity because it’s fulfilling for me and also, other people liked what I was writing.
Every artist also has their more casual side. What are some hobbies and activities you like to partake in? Music is something I call my first love, in terms of passion or hobby. I’ve performed solo and in bands with piano, guitar, and voice for the past 15 years or so, and performance lights me up almost like nothing else. I write songs, collaborate with other musician friends, and perform solo with my songs when I can. I’m working on recording an EP in a friend’s studio. I’ve also recently started playing with the experimental noise band KA—it’s a lot of intuitive improvisational wacky stuff with guitars and drums and voice and synths…I love it. It’s very liberating, atmospheric. I also love the special brainwave connection that comes with improvising with my bandmates. I also love to paint and draw portraits, sketch in museums, and draw my close friends. Otherwise, I’m currently actively vegetable gardening, weightlifting, dancing, trying to longboard again, recording music, knitting, drinking with friends over Zoom calls, cooking…I have busy hands.
Your work is truthfully fascinating and inspiring! What advice do you have for the writers and artists at the University of Houston Downtown? One of my favorite things to do at this stage of my life is to sit down with any chosen media and express what comes into my mind, without judgment. Writing, painting, or playing music that comes to me more organically is exciting because it’s what my mind looks and feels like at the time. It’s been very important for me when writing to let lots of words and versions of the same poem exist on the page(s) at the same time—no backspacing if I think it sounds “stupid” or “melodramatic”. It’s important to write it if your mind wants to write it. So with that kind of thing in mind, my best advice for any writer and artist like myself is to follow your own intuition about your work and don’t edit yourself. It’s taken me a while to further embrace the parts of me that I used to hold back on—namely, my love for sensuality & eroticism, sex, struggles with religion, God, my self, my upbringing, my body, queerness, mental illness, etc. Embracing these aspects of myself and expressing them through poetry has been rewarding for my own spirit and a motivator to keep writing. It’s so validating to see my experience on the page. So, don’t be apologetic about anything you’re expressing, because it’s part of you, and that is important. Trust your intuition about your ideas, don’t edit yourself in the early stages, and just write the damn thing.