Archive for July, 2011

Today marks the anniversary of my mother’s passing. It was strange, and perhaps quite sad, to me that only after her death did I begin to think of her in terms other than “my mother.” Her life as “a woman in South Texas” was something that just didn’t occur to me. And although I’m sure I thought about it on several occasions, it wasn’t a substantial part of my life. In thinking about her, one startling fact always leaps out at me. My mother was functionally illiterate and was schooled up to 3rd grade. She could not read and could just write enough to put her name on paper. In fact, on every instance where a signature was required she would simply place an “X.”

In thinking a lot about the place of women in South Texas, my mother’s situation was not at all unique. Many Tejanos of her generation, especially women, could not read or write (she was born in 1935). Even if, statistically speaking, between the years of 1942 to 1960 the enrollment of Mexican-American school children went from 53 to 79 percent, the reality of that time was that many children were either pushed out of schools under segregationist policies or simply fore went schooling all together in favor of helping the family with work and income. Due to this bleak cultural situation, many of the later Tejano generations placed a high premium on education for their children. Even within our own family, my mother always stressed going to school and was ever prodding us to “hit the books.” At the time, as I guess any child would, I greeted the advice with a flippant “whatever, I wanna watch TV instead.” Now, the comment takes on a new complexion in light of her own inability to read; something I know she wished she could do. She’d often ask me to read to her from the bible. At night, we’d recite the ‘Our Father’ as much for me to know it as, I’m sure, it was for her to remember it.

Through her working life she managed. South Texas was changing rapidly throughout these years and although some changes were painfully slow, literacy was improving. Every one of my siblings profited from public schooling in Kingsville and could read and write. As times changed that one fact about my mother remained the same. But still she managed. She was a cook for most of her life and a very good one at that.  My sister Maria (Mère) relays this story about their time cooking together at Tacos de Josè and La Siesta:

Breakfast and lunch were the busiest times for the restaurants and the orders would pile up. As each order would come in, mom would say nomas leye me los mija y yo los hago and so I would read the orders off to her and mom would cook them.

This is how she managed. She would make do with her inability and use her skills, talent and creativity to overcome the short coming. Today, woman’s literacy has improved by leaps and bounds. I am utterly proud to admit that I know of no women (or anyone) that cannot read and write. I’m sure that some exist and continue to struggle with it but that cultural tragedy is a thing rapidly passing away. Every time I think about my mother I think about her reality as an illiterate person. I think about how she worked hard and raised six children within that reality and how much harder her life must have been because of it.  I think about how much more courage it will take for me to live with love and integrity as she would have wanted.  I think about how foreign the idea of illiteracy is to me and my siblings, her grand children and great grand children because she stressed the idea of education. And I think of how blessed our lives were in spite of it. So on this day, I celebrate my mother’s life. I celebrate how she overcame obstacles to raise her family to the best of her ability, with love and sacrifice . And I celebrate how she was among the final members of a generation debilitated with illiteracy.

El Viento

Posted: July 8, 2011 in Spanish Poetry
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El viento baila y viene
Viene a destrozàr el edifício de tu auséncia
Me acuerda de ayer cuando estabamos juntos
Y no podíamos
Hoy si podemos
Hoy, a lo lejos, si podemos

El viento me lleva en caminos largas y estrechas hasta esos tiempos fijos:
tu sonrísa
las notas de tu voz
tu pelo tan claro y exquisito

Parece que el tiempo se ha cortado las alas en deferéncia de nosotros
Imagenes volàn, viénen y van
Y no se han muerto

OGO 5-1-11

Posted: July 8, 2011 in Current Events
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Forgive me the time needed to make this point.  I realize it’s a miniscule detail in the symphony of events but I think you will agree it is as grave a detail as one can have, or at least have the decency to acknowledge.  It’s the kind of detail that irks at one’s insides.  It’s the kind of viscous fact that unsettles the mind, like a “Christian nation” engaging in nationally sponsored assassination.

Like most Americans, if not all, the news brought a sigh of relief.  No longer would Bin Laden run from the blood of September 11.   No longer would “the cave dweller” out maneuver the most technologically advanced and most powerful military in the world.  And in fact, a number of them, as the U.S. was not the only nation seeking him out.  For a decade he remained the most wanted man in the western world. A man who continually eluded us.  And now, finally, we have, as it were, his head on a platter.

The collective sigh of relief erupted in jubilation and celebration that this “face of evil” had been brought under the most enduring form of American justice…a bullet.  (damn, details are dicey!) And the celebration lasted long into the night with song and dance, flags and standards, pomp and circumstance.  All this for the few precious “words” we wanted to hear: Geronimo E-KIA.  And thus my point emerges.

At first, the patriotic swell within me was vast and I reveled in it.  And then it hit me.  Was I reading perhaps too much into it?  Does that codename really equate OBL to Geronimo?  Does that, by extension, call Geronimo a terrorist?

If one is not aware of the history surrounding the Apache nation and the United States, the parallel is perhaps elusive.  But the narrative fits so well…except for all the terrorism-face-of-evil part.  A quick Google search will inform but suffice it to say that a long, drawn out search for an elusive and wanted man (read: group) that finally ends in capture and custody by the U.S. is precisely what the two stories encapsulate.

I will not be a part of that tawdry correlation. It may be a catchy phrase and easily fit within the pantheon of American Code Names:  Operation this and that.  But to casually accept the comparison would be to participate in a gross form of truncated historical interpretation. And so, it is for these reasons that I have chosen to call the mission to kill off Osama bin Laden:  OGO 5-1-11  That is to say, Obama Got Osama 5-1-11

This is one I can tolerate without having to endure the devils of detail that often plague me.  I can only hope that those that read this can see my point and, hopefully, agree with it.  Although I fully realize the futility of this attempt, officially and pop culturally speaking, I cannot sit idle as my country so casually and comfortably associates a great man like Geronimo who fought against foreign incursion into his land with the likes of a Osama Bin Laden.  And dare I say, that I am “shocked and awed” that President Obama allowed for such a callous misuse of his name.

Note:  For those who will only read “I Hate America and I love Osama bin Laden” in these words, let me clearly state that I fully support and love my family and friends who have chosen to live their lives, and quite possibly give their lives, in service of our country.

Note:  Many thanks to Calpurnpiso for this designation OGO 5-1-11. He can be found on YouTube. ***Not for the easily offended***

Etudes In Longing

Posted: July 8, 2011 in Poetry
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I

Fathers and mothers, brave sons and dear daughters turn ear my way. I carry with me the mist of her heirlooms: so fragile, tender and sweet. I cannot see them, I feel them. Nor can I touch them, for I have become them. I cannot display them, I live them out in the Visigoth of life. I guard in my being the memories of her past that I could rescue, rescue from the ever gathering dark.

~~

II

I often sit gazing at your picture and I still dream. Through the day and into the night I imagine us together. But then, suddenly, the flutter of hope subsides and I am left with the wings of dead butterflies that fall and wither away into a powdery nothingness, like my dreams that come as a wave and recede again into the ocean

~~

III

This day I long for the guns of yesteryear when we boldly crossed that little Rubicon of hope. You showed me the fate of destiny, it was bound in our love entwined like the roots of aged trees. Harbinger of many firsts, firsts that fell upon my ignorance like grapeshot. You alone silenced my cannons of fear and guarded me in the phalanx of your love. Repose I gained in the convent of your bosom and there I stayed. Til came the belligerent usurper and tore our house asunder and there, in platonic upheaval, I lept once more into the breach. Compelled to live in the light of mere memories now hallowed like soldiers on the ground.

~~

IV

I didn’t count the cost that came with reverie. A life I thought was there ahead for me to see. Enraptured psychology, I walked right through the doors of independence. A different sort of fruit now grows upon this tree; cracked and marred by a cruel destructive victory. Constant soliloquies, I rage against the tears that flow within me.

~~

V

I thought I saw you in the sway of the tree. Your lovely form it took when it danced in the wind and caused within me a sigh; a sigh like you used to. And there in the sharpest break of green and blue and in the softest hiss of its song I knew you once again; and I was happy.

~~

VI

Y pienso que hamas voy a ver de amores, bebiste todo el agua que tenia. Y sin tu amor no es justo que se llena de nuevo. El quietud que quedo despues de tu presencia me fastidia y solo hay que cantar tu nombre. Como es que me encanta estar en mi jacal con mis suenos y mi deseo solo por hervir en ti.

~~

VII

See here my new found joy! She came as the morning sun and perforce drove many darknesses from my eyes. Bits and pieces they fell from my person like tiny scabs set in their way. As often happens on these sharp and bright mornings, when awake, the day presents her gift in a thousand forms of splendor, like the many faces of her.

~~

VIII

Part I: Elation

Kaleidoscopes may have once embraced the melody of her faces

And may someday capture the spring in her dance

Tonight, gaze brazenly into the sky for mere hints and glimpses of the wonders in her expression

Impetuous delights abound in the art of her playfulness

Entangled with each moment, like conspicuous pearls, are new and better reasons to smile

Part II: Longing

Relinquish as best you can the gift of her presence

Assuage the sting of that cold darkened sound

Compelled to live in the light of mere memory

Hallowed like soldiers on the ground

Echoes of her linger: that porch, that couch, that tree

Leading to long winding roads of reverie

Longing to embrace once more the melody of her faces

Ebbing inevitably with the passage of time

Part III: Jubilation

Songbirds kiss the dawn, greetings in a thousand forms of splendor: the many faces of her

Mana falls with new expression-the shape of her smile

Inundated by wealth in her attention

Taken by the warmth of her style

Hail, O Fourtuna, she gave me new eyes and new meaning; evermore besotted in the brightness of her being

South Texas is a place where memories linger. Perhaps the flat land, where one can see for miles around and in any direction, keeps memories tied to the land for there are no mountains to guide them upward into infinity. Matias had memories too.

As he sat there listening to Mrs. O’Shea read, as she did every Friday after the days work, a conflict arose within him. He had heard this story before but not the way Mrs. O’Shea was telling it. He sat intently listening to the story waiting to hear what he knew should be there. As the key words echoed in his head: “…Texans” “…Mexicans” “…Santa Anna” “…Fannin” “…massacre” he wondered whether perhaps his mother had been mistaken. Or, he thought with dread, maybe she had lied. Maybe she hadn’t been there. Maybe she hadn’t loosened the bonds of some of the Texan rebels. Maybe she hadn’t provided food and water and shelter in defiance of the supreme Mexican general’s orders to execute every one of them.

As Mrs. O’Shea finished the story about the Battle of Goliad, Matias ventured a question: Does it tell of a woman who helped the Texan rebels escape execution? Does it say that she helped loosen their bonds, provided food and shelter? Or that she gave them water to drink?

Mrs. O’Shea replied “No…” in a tone reflecting curiosity. Wondering in Matias’ direction she continued, “Why do you ask?”

My mother was the mate of Capt. Telesforo Alavez. She was there when those events took place.

Mrs. O’Shea shuffled through a few pages in deference to his question then firmly concluded “Matias, I’m afraid what you’re telling me is not found in this book.”

His first instinct was to cower in shame, he believed his mother after all.

How could this be? he thought. How could her efforts be left out only to be forgotten?

That’s it for today, es hora de cenar” concluded Mrs. O’Shea as she stood to her feet; and walking to the doorway of the school house, she placed the book on a desk nearby. Matias’ mind was bubbling with thoughts, the kind of thoughts that had him feeling like he was on a horse and hastily being taken somewhere. As she thought aloud in a rambling fashion about her plans for next Friday’s reading, her heels clopping against the wooden floor, Matias’ gaze remained fixed on the book on the desk. By this time, feelings of shame were rapidly spiraling into frustration and anger.

How could these damned gringos forget such a woman that helped save their life? he murmured to himself.

See you next week, Matias” said Mrs. O’Shea as she receded into the shadows of the schoolhouse.

A half-hearted wave was all Matias could muster in his pensive state. He walked slowly down the dirt road of the Santa Gertrudes ranch toward his house. The dust he kicked up as he walked in the South Texas heat gave him a tangible image of the storm brewing within him. As he approached the house he could see his mother at her chores and, already, he could smell dinner cooking. Today, however, he had not the will to determine by the aroma what was being prepared. The only smell that instantly found a home in his memory, as he walked in the door, were the freshly cooked tortillas that mounded the table.

Hola Mama, como estas? he asked, going through the motions of his usual routine; not wanting to alter anything that would clue his mother, Panchita, into the fact that this day was different.

Pos,” she sighed, “aqui hijito, haciendo que hacer” she replied as she removed the last of the tortillas from the comal. Looking up to gaze upon her oldest child, she noticed the pensive look on his face.

Matias, porque andas tan callado? Todo esta bein en el trabajo?”

Si mamma, todo esta bien. Alfonso le manda saludos.

Como les fue con la senora O’Shea?” she asked casually, unaware that she had struck the very chord of his troubles.

Todo fue bien. Muy bien pero una cosa me fastidio. La senora O’Shea leyo de la batalla de La Bahia Espiritu Santo. Y no habia ninguna palabra de que usted les ayudo al los Americanos. Nunguna palabra! Fue como si…como si no estabas ayi! Se olvidaron de ti mamma!

Noticing her son was close to tears, Panchita put the palote down on the table. And walking toward him gesturing with motherly affection to sit next to her, she consoled him saying,

Matias, el libro que leyo la senora O’Shea es una vercion de las batallas. Y si no hay mencion de mi, sera que no saben; no que se olvidaron. Basta que nosotros sabemos y acuerdamos de esos dias tragicas. O quicas, puedes tu educarlos! Quiero que sepas que nosotros Mexicanos nacimos del grito de Hidalgo y no del libro de los Americanos. Ven Matias, ya esta la comida.”

Elsewhere In A Somewhere World

Posted: July 7, 2011 in Humor
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Elsewhere, South Texas  2011

Amidst new tests scores released today that indicate Texas’ 8th graders scored higher on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) science exams, a few local parents have taken this opportunity to dispel a few other commonly held stereotypes about Texans, first of which is the  boot-wearing-cowboy-hat-donning simpleton who grew up on a backwater ranch.  Said one concerned citizen of Elsewhere,

“I think it’s time we do this, you know, that we have this stigma lifted.”

It is perhaps ironic that this news comes on the heels of recent moves by the State Board of re-Education (SBOrE) to curtail and control the information Texas children are taught in school.  References to Islam and their ilk, Mexican-American leadership and heroism, wider global culture and history, and other such ‘gobbledygook’ have been voted out of State textbooks.

“We need to be about the future,” said R. Lubbock Curse, spokesman for the SBOrE,

“Clearly science and technology are where the nation and the world are headed, these test scores prove it. We can’t afford to get bogged down by issues of the past, no Sir. A people who remember their history are a hindrance to the future! ‘Sides, most of their names are too long  to remember anyway.”

Attempts by local leadership to persuade State officials about a state wide “Free the Cowboy” day, in which no one wears boots or a cowboy hat for a day; instead opting for “Carl Sagan” or “Bill Nye the Science Guy” attire, have been met with comical silence. Door signs and digital voice mail recordings of many State legislators have been reported as saying, “Sorry Elsewhere, we’re somewhere else.” This cold indifference has angered a few of the more thin skinned natives.

“We have every right to be angry!  Boots and the Cowboy hat are symbols of tyranny and oppression.  My great grandfather lost his land and cattle to a man in boots and a cowboy hat, damn it!  That, barbed wire fencing, and the law! If we’re gonna be about the future–let’s do this!!”

Local residents have given the increasingly vocal leadership the moniker “St. Elsewhere 5,” a reference to their town, yes, but also to a likely forgotten TV drama about doctors who actually save people.  This reporter has learned that, sadly, this TV show too has been left out of Texas history books.

“No one really knows what these test scores mean,” informs Dr. Enrique Philemon Johnson-Smith, professor of Science and Technology at UT

“For all we know,” he continues, “this could be the beginning of a kick ass gaming trend for Wii and XBox where kids cure cancer and develop sustainable clean air solutions for the world’s energy problems!  You know, instead of stealing cars, amassing wealth in Mafia gangs and those dancing games.”

Could It Be?

Posted: July 7, 2011 in Poetic Screed
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Could it be that I’m sick of consumption?
Of eating and watching and reading.

Could it be that I’m tired of taking in this, that and the other, as a leech feeding on its host. Never thinking of giving life given to me.

Could it be that I’m tired of TV and radio and music?
Of eating away at the souls of others that hang in a garden waiting for me to consume its beauty, leaving in my wake the shards and slivers of their beauty weighed down by the grit and silt of my selfishness.

Could it be that the pillars and spires of what has been created have fallen to the seething ground of my belly and are now remnants and facades of former selves and dreams left to rot on the roof of my mouth.

Could it be that I’m tired of  being a man?

The countless times the womb of creation has been made naught in the knots of my hunger and the pangs of my hunger are but excuses to forage on the tendrils of woman, the harbingers of beauty and life and existence.

And they but art to me, and in the gaze of my savages they are to be had and seen and held. To be left as shadows and wisps of smoke that billow from the houses of my furnace.

Could it be that I’m tired of taking for myself and never giving of my self? Of never creating that which can be food to others? Instead only to ravage as locusts the golden substance, like honey, of those that host the muses.

Could it be that existence is but art to me, to masticate in the teeth of my time on this earth?  And its fate to be a commodity left to wrinkle and rot in the shirt pocket of my loneliness and greed.

Could it be that I’m tired of being human? Gorging on the Gods of my needing like so many chalk marks on the ground that I skip into and out of, and into and out of, like a ravaged child playing Hop-Scotch in the park, without so much as laughter to repay them.

Suppose I lived in golden houses of giving and that I fed and clothed strangers with both hands stretched far and wide and didn’t care of the cuts and sores and cracks that became of them.

Suppose I spent my waking hours forging iron tools of selflessness and used them to pierce the tapestry of shame and regret, the shattered houses of glass of ones I’ve never known. And that I sought to be heroic in daily living and planted trees of love and giving, the roots of which could live on eons from now.

Suppose I walked the streets of cities and hung little fragile lights of cheer and love on the doors and fences of strangers until the whole world was lit as the sun on this July day.

Suppose I spent the rest of my life evoking and engaging, building and creating so that the blind might see and the deaf might hear and the dead might live and the sad might glee and the poor might be. Be in a world worth watching and reading and hearing and seeing.

Could it be?  Suppose it was.  How would you be?