NOCTURNAL

striped face
sharp claws
black and white

turns evening
to creeping shadow

stalks the cat
steals the grapes

chews the moon
with running shadow

drums the roof
under busy feet

shortens sleep
until night flees

she climbs a tree
and eats the plums
at dawn

© 2014 Joanna M. Weston

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Bear Among the Dogs

I used to work for the Bear when he was young and strong. It hurts me to see him old and half-lame. But he’s still the Bear. I was there in Archie’s last year when he took on the gringo.

I talk about those times with Bear to anyone who will listen, but some of it is mierda. My wife, she say, “Old days fade and turn into mentiras.” Now I live behind these thick glasses and work in a hardware store in Raton, and the Bear . . . . he never figured that age would catch him. He planned to be young forever. Nowadays a big bushy white beard hangs on his chest, and his hair is white too, and his back kills him most of the time. Bear, he is like the rest of us. He never saved a dime, so here he is at sixty-three still taking people from the city out to fish and sometimes to hunt. He lives in a single-wide he bought in 1972, lives there with his third wife Jennie, the only smart one he ever married. Or she married him.

That last time I saw him, before they took him away, I was in Archie’s Beer Barn, like I said. Archie’s real name is Celestino Archueleto and he runs this bar in a metal building out near Cimarron, mostly for us Latinos. Sometimes Bear would come by.

 

Bear, he’s white and a guide in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Used to be one of the best. In the old days, we ranged all seasons and all country. We carried pale white men back into the mountains for their moment of glory, their cuento de muerte. Bear was part of the mountain – he knew where the animals would feed, where the fish would hide, where the turkeys, they would roost. He acted like a bear too – you could never tell what he was thinking by looking at him.

That day in Archie’s, Bear wore what he always wore, a big dirty coat made out of an Indian blanket, with jeans and boots. Pushed back on his head he had a sweated-out felt cowboy hat with a snakeskin band – a snake he killed himself, years ago. His big belly hung out and he shuffled along like his back hurt, but he had a wave and a hello for everyone. I had hunkered down with some of my friends in the corner, and Bear stopped to talk for a bit. He told us he was down to one truck and one tent.

En buenos tiempos, we kept a full camp, horses and a couple of jeeps. It was our job to pick the sportsmen up at the airport, set up their tents, feed them and pour liquor in them. It was our job to throw them up on the horses, take them to the animal, skin and slaughter the animal once it was dead. Nothing in this was a bad thing. Bear, he respected the animal and its death. Also, the kill by the sportsman – en júbilo for the hunter and good to see. Most of these rich white men, they wanted to be Bear’s friend, so that was okay too. I was Bear’s Mexican, there to cook and wrangle horses, but I’m pretty agringado myself, white enough to keep everyone comfortable. The big thing for me? I got to work in la hermosa tierra de mundo. Until Bear went broke.
Like an animal, Bear don’t live in the past. So we visited about what he had coming up. Outside of coyotes near his casa, he hadn’t shot anything in months – still, he thought he’d make an elk hunt in the Fall. He also thought he’d go fishing soon, and we made noises like we would go too. Then he clomped over to the bar to visit with Archie.

Archie’s, it don’t see many outsiders, but every once in a while, guys out on a road trip together pull up. They park their cars or their bikes or their RVs and they stroll in to soak up Archie’s beer. This day, a bunch of Anglo guys out of Albuquerque had drove up in their Corvettes. They must have been in some kind of car club, a club based on how much they could spend on a toy with four big wheels and a cloth roof. They all chose tables way across the room from us and Archie waddled out from behind the bar to take their orders.

Things went fine for a while. There’s always un buen tipo who can talk to anybody, and so it was this time. This nice guy in shorts and a big fat nose wanders over and we visit for a while. He was retired, but he used to be in the concrete business, so we talked about that, about pouring foundations in the winter, about how far you can truck a wet load. He visited with Archie too and spoke to Bear. His buddies and him, they milled around for about an hour sloshing down the beer.

But if there’s a nice guy in a crowd, there’s also someone ugly, who gets uglier when he drinks. These Corvette drivers had a loudmouth in a nylon jacket, dark hair slicked back from his face. He sat there wavin’ his hands and talking up his opinions pretty estridente. It turns out he was muncho importante, and of course we wasn’t. He had been in lots of great places, and this wasn’t one of ‘em. He drove a great car, and the folks around here, we drove rusty pieces of shit. He was right – we drive what we drive and we buy what we can afford – old men and old trucks.

So Mr. Slick Jacket trots up to the bar to order another round of beer and he talks to Bear while he’s there. First he calls him Cowboy and then he calls him Old Man. Two other guys amble up and lean on the bar too, one beside Bear and the other near his friend, just to be close to Hombre Muncho Importante. Mr. Jacket, he asks Bear, “Do you know you look like Santa Claus with a ponytail?”

Bear takes all this real mild, just sits there on the bar stool. Then the stranger starts in on the White Thing. He says, “Do you actually drink with those dirty Mexicans in the corner?” Meaning me y mi amigos.

I thought Bear was an old man, past all this, but once an animal learns something, it must not forget. Bear jabbed out at this pendejo, fast like a snake – he slammed the heel of his hand into the guy’s nose. Then he grabbed him by the back of the neck and threw la cabeza del hombre down onto the bar, uno, dos, tres. Bam bam bam! The guy folded up like a pile of clothes on the floor at Bear’s feet. The other two Anglos, they closed up quick on Bear and he jumped to his feet. He spun on his toes to face the one and then to face the other.
A long time ago I seen a pack of dogs corner a bear up against a cliff, and it looked just like this. Them hounds would charge in on the bear’s back and he would spin around to try and catch them. This bear grabbed two or three perros and mauled them up quick. This was casi lo mismo, as Bear twisted from one to the other. He held them off with his mal de ojo and his stone face.

Archie had been caught sleeping, but he hustled out from behind the bar with a baseball bat in his hands. He sidled in between Bear and the other guys at the bar and waved that bat around saying, “Now – Now – Now.” The whole crowd of Anglo guys all jerked up from their tables and come running over. The young ones turned all red-face-angry and the old ones grey-shook-up, but they added up to a pack. We Latinos, we nailed our colillas to the chair. Bear might have been my boss once, but brown skins don’t have brawls with white skins and get away with it. I felt real bad about it, but I didn’t do nothing dumb.

Archie stuck the bat out to let them know he’d handle things, not them. The friendly gringo we first talked to helped Mr. Jacket to his feet, got him a bar rag to hold on his face. We could all tell this loudmouth needed the medics – he had left a couple of his teeth stuck in the bar. If Mr. Jacket got hauled off to Emergency, there would be a police report. So Bear, he’d have to have a long talk with the Sheriff.

Bear stared at the bloody-faced man, and he smiled like the sun come up. He turns to Archie and says, “After you call the ambulance and the police, maybe I can call my wife? I bet you they send me to County for this one. Jennie will want to know where I am tonight.”

 

That loudmouth, he got his cuento del vergüenza, beat up by an old man, and Bear got to feel young again. All of us in the corner, we was surprised. We had never known what Bear was thinking. All those years, him the Anglo and us the Mesicans. But somewhere in there he must have been thinking we Latinos were okay. Or at least we weren’t the dogs. Bueno.

© 2014 Scott Archer Jones

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“Detroit, Elegy for a Hometown” and “West Coast Rain”

Detroit,
Elegy for a Hometown

In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.

-The Third Man

 

You’re bullied in the fast lane, trampled in the market.
They nab your Wolverine pencilcase, flap it on its hinges
shake out its contents and malcontents, rattle your fired up pistons.

 

You follow with your eyes the dotted lines as they pirouette neatly away.
Your back’s against the wall, against the iridescent river with
five flailing limbs reaching out for fairer friends.

 

 

You first held me in the backseat of an Oldsmobile
arms pinned down, pink blanket wound round
as we followed the salt truck through Southfield

 

 

Your leader’s indicted and cited for perjury, a felony
so the zoo staff will blend his name into the Serengeti sunset
that glubglubglubs your water down from that belly by the freeway

 

with the motorcar unionist’s moniker, a slapdash path that cuts a swath
across your east to west and intersects the capitalist fat cats themselves
your people’s midterm gods of repetitive tasks, penance for entrepreneurs.

 

 

From Grandma’s porch swing just over the wall
we could hear your lions pace and finally fall asleep
while all the city’s mothers called us home to dinner

 

 

Once a railroad, underground, then overground, a station!
You were made of marble once, Corinthian pillared, vaulted, grand.
In public even, you shined and bathed your citizens in echo.

 

Now you merely move people, people with chili sauce crusted on their chins
from block to block of coney islands, pit-stops on the pilgrimage
to the cathedral of finance, where once was martyred nothing but leisure.

 

 

 

On your muggiest nights, we stormed Dairy Queen
biked there barefoot, swarmed under the Motown speakers
to eat footlongs and Dilly bars amongst the classic cars

 

 

You were the arsenal of democracy, the color-blind creator of B-24s
and race-related resentment, a melting pot of simmering tensions.
In the middle of a world war, you held a home-grown riot.

 

Later you had a revolution. There was a time of national guardsmen, of tanks.
But what did they guard? A gilded age past, passed away long before
any Vietnam vets or displaced cogs crowded the blind pig that Sunday.

 

 

Some weekends we just left you, took our Kroger’s bags
to the apple orchards beyond your suburbs or to the
cider mill and ate donuts while we watched the wheel spin

 

 

When the nation’s noble taps ran dry, your purple gang stepped in.
And on your neighbor’s generosity you simply brimmed with Jazz-age spirit
sipped from outboard motorboats and the backs of black Cadillacs.

 

You don’t drink so much now, but you gamble, just a pocketful of deeds left:
a temple of books, a museum of art, and a pair of ballparks. No card shark,
you need a miracle, or better, a renaissance. We hope for better things.

© 2014 Holly Painter
 
 
 

West Coast Rain

The earth has lost its gravity
The oceans are getting loose

We say it rains, down from the sky
but it rains up too, just more invisibly
Evaporation

a tumbling rinse cycle between ocean and clouds
the earth’s extra skin
its rain-coat

a clinging layer of grey fuzz like stubble
and bad breath after three days
spent in a tent

that’s a solid six on the waterproof
scale of one to submarine
(where submarine means “watertight,

submergable to fifty fathoms,”
not “underwater”) but today
is underwater

only half an inch, but that
half inch is where everything sits
isn’t it?

Clothes, food, books, phone, and you
zipped in your sleeping bag
(a seven or eight), naked

no longer bothering to wring out your singlets
or bail out your tent
just waiting

for sea and sky to finish their exchange
waiting for the earth to hold its oceans close again

 

© 2014 Holly Painter

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Moss

Act I

Our protagonist moss appears on a slope denuded of invasive ivy, some of it poisonous, torn out by the roots. The north slope, of course. The north is where the moss comes from, and the north is where the moss settles. Why? Because moss is green and the north is white and they must bid each other adieu, mismatched lovers? Or because the north is generous and gift-giving? Here, says the north, I send you…moss.

Possibly, but if that were so, wouldn’t the north perform such a feat by means of its whistling, tumultuous wind? And if that were so, wouldn’t the north wind, in contrast to all other winds, be tinctured green because it bears within it not just snow and sleet but minuscule spores of moss by the millions and billions?

We take our characteristic stance in evaluating which way the wind is blowing and where north lies. This means we cock our heads. This means we feel with our faces, then resort to our wetted fingers, then look up at the leaves to see how they flutter, then stare into the azure absence of the sky and use the cloud banks as background to detect that subtle hue of the most subtle of all heroes, moss.

Not there. No intimation of wind-borne moss aloft and at ease with its green tail snapping through the heavens. Therefore we look down at our feet and wonder: Did it somehow crawl from the north? Is it not the north’s gift but its escapee?

These vaguely troubling thoughts yield more vaguely troubling thoughts. Did we–you and I– step on moss while walking in the woods, unintentionally crushing it, so that some squashed specks clung to the soles of our massive boots (relatively speaking), hopped the wall with us, and brought that first microscopic colony of spores into our lives? Quite possibly we’ve been hitchhiked. Quite possibly we and the moss are fatefully intertwined.

Moss is very slow. It evaluates and acquires land not by invasion but more by the mystery of not-there and then there, simply there, one faint brushstroke, then another and another. In painting this is called impasto, a thickening texturing of the oils that gives them depth, a glistening geography. Although you should never run your hand over a painting to feel its ridges and valleys and rivers and plains, you absolutely must run your hand over moss to feel its comparable wonders.

Moss is velvety, spongy, delicate and yet resilient. We want our fingers, our cheeks, even our chests to touch it. Moss wants this, too. She’s feminine, moss. Our protagonist is feminine, a vulnerable heroine who crumbles into a kind of nothing if we do not treat her gently. Those glistening mounded archipelagoes must be caressed, not roughly robbed of their life-giving patina of moisture.

For of course our moss, all moss, is moist. Moisture stirs it to explore the stillest, most beautiful places: the overhanging bank of a stream, where moss embroiders itself; in between the bricks of the walkway and flagstones of the patio, up tree trunks and rain spouts.

Almost anywhere, in fact. Moss several inches thick covers rooftops in Japan. Old roofs, ancient roofs, forever roofs. Yes, it’s so. As long as there is a north, there will always be moss, and how can there never be a north? If there were no north, there would be no other directions either. We would be lost, tossing and turning in a bundle of chaos very much like…moss.

Act II

In this theater of our lives, where we are sporadically attentive, welcoming intermissions, adjusting ourselves in our seats, daydreaming, we haven’t been aware how dramatically the barren stage has been transformed over the years by the plush, familiar, restful, sweet presence of moss building up its role, acquiring what we call character, exposing itself openly through sheer, abandoned repose. Then we feel a draft, a mere puff, a breath of air warm and sensuous, almost an erotic tickle. No one, thought we, ever considered us out here in the darkness of merely being ourselves. We have had little role and no character until this light whisper grazed our faces and throats and ruffled our hair. Nor wanted any. If life was to be a drama of moss, then let us, as near as possible, be moss ourselves.

But we are listening and alert now. Not moss-like. Within the moss and yet beyond the moss.

Above the north slope stand the oaks, the pear tree, the walnut and dogwood watching the moss as we watch the moss, beginning to realize that the moss has become so lush that exploring it the way one would explore a lover’s body has become forbidden. That’s what we heard and felt, a sigh. Our sigh. Somehow the moss has told us that after all these years it has acquired an untouchable beauty and we may not go there. It’s too beautiful. It’s too intriguingly sensuous and shadowy and multi-hued and vulnerable.

We are now in a precarious equipoise, our lives here, the moss’s life there. It is sickening to know that, wrenching. No wonder that after so much silent inattentive, imperfect worship we sighed, beauty having transcended us, beauty having left us behind.

Briefly one morning a mushroom appears and then goes away. Another three or four appear and go away. A storm snaps off thin branches and they pierce the moss like arrows and remain stuck there. Life and death, mushrooms and spindly branches, the eyes and the heart, the past and the present, the mystery of the topology of the flowing, thickening, imperceptibly living, glistening moss and that soft draft, that whispering message, that omen brushing our skin.

We dare not go out and remove the arrow-branches. The mushrooms? We would never step on them as when we were kids. This drama, in its second act, has managed some kind of pivot. The moss has become a kind of mirror that reflects nothing but itself and yet contains us within it. There lie our hearts. We are in the moss’s coils. All these years we have loved and adored it and more than that: believed in it and its secrets, which were our secrets, shared with no one including ourselves…until now.

Thankfully, we are seated because the antagonist is among us, and we know who he is: each of us in our fated way, each of us less dazzling than the moss, aging less beautifully than the moss.

In counterpoint more than one of us thinks that the moss, then, is the villain, not us. What a thought, what a betrayal, but understandable. Behold, the grave blanket from the north spreading our way, mortality tearing at our joints, making our lips crack and fingers ache while the moss heals its own wounds, ever more dazzling, ever more lush and profound.

Moss, we think, stay where you are.

Moss, we think, now that you are among us, between our toes, climbing our ankles, just as we once dreamed, be slower than ever before.

For at last we grasp this drama’s meaning and burden. What we felt for the story of the moss isn’t what the moss felt. The moss is not heartless or cruel, far from it, but it is forever and we are not.

© 2014 Robert Earle

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The Dance

We Danced. The bride spotted me, dancing hand in hand in a large circle around her. The circle was so large that we were more walking then dancing. Still, the music played and the pull of the crowd, of the women, carried me around the dance floor. The bride broke through the crowd of woman and took my hand. She drew me to the center of the circle.

The bride was a stranger to me. So was the groom. We, my partner and I were invited, together. Both our names written out on the invitation, just like a real couple. Our relationship has been deemed legal and otherwise legitimate by the state of Connecticut, and now by cousin Laura, mother of the bride.

Laura, just two years older than me was my favorite playmate growing up. She and her brother, with their bright red hair and fair complexions were my first cousins. We played house on their porch with our plastic plates and silverware, swam in their pool, and played games in their basement.

My father had died. It was just after he passed that my cousin made the two hour drive to pay her respects. We had not seen each other in over 15 years. After a brief chat on the phone, she took my address and made the drive from New York to Connecticut.

I was nervous about seeing her. She didn’t know I was remarried, or ever married as far as I could recall, she, an Orthodox Jew, me a lesbian with four children.

I had missed her wedding when I was in college because of a snow storm and she missed mine because I knew she would never come so I didn’t invite her.

Although both Jewish, it was Judaism that stretched like a canyon between us. She lived a kind of Judaism that dictated so many details of her life. I lived in a secular world, my side of the canyon, one which was defined by many things, merely included Judaism.

There would be no Wiccan princess from the coven marrying this bride and groom, no interfaith minister either. These folk were the real thing. A rabbi would preside over these nuptials.

And so without ever saying anything to each other, my cousin Laura invited my wife and me to her daughter’s wedding. I wasn’t quite sure how much she understood about my wife, my kids, my life, and really, I can’t say I understood the choices she had made in her life either.

The GPS directed us to a neighborhood that came right out of a story by Shalom Aleichem. The store signs were all written in Hebrew. The streets were teeming with families, big families, and always walking behind a stroller. The men dressed in black suits with black brimmed hats and their wives dressed in expensive suits, wigs covering their heads. A caravan of children followed suit in identical outfits.

We entered Eden Palace to find a grand entryway complete with crystal chandeliers. Once inside, we quickly spotted my aunt and after hugs and kisses made our way to the buffet. We sat and ate as we watched the rituals of matrimony unfold between our bites of cantaloupe and teriyaki chicken. Making every attempt to blend in, there was the ever present feeling that the other 400 guests all knew we were gay, or maybe not. We listened to the band. The klezmer music was beautiful.

After the ceremony, we made our way into the giant ballroom. Through the center was a partition. Despite its intended use, it did not separate the men from the woman. Rather, it appeared to separate the grooms family from the brides.

On our side of the wall, the food was plentiful and the drinks poured freely. We sat at our table, family and friends of Aunt Myrna, grandmother of the bride. As we made our way through courses of food, the bride and groom made their way to our table. As she and her new husband thanked us all for coming, I stood from my seat and introduced myself.

“I’m your mother’s cousin” I said, feeling so old and invisible.

“Oh your cousin Tammy” she said warmly before giving me a hug.

“When the music starts, you have to come and dance with me.” She said before heading off to the next table.

We sat and finished our meal. Soon the music began and once more the women all rushed to the dance floor and formed a circle around the bride.

Cousin Laura waved in our direction to join her on the dance floor. I grabbed my partner, my wife and headed towards the dance floor. As I grabbed the hand of a stranger to join the circle, I lost my wife in the crowd. Alone, holding hands with strangers, I danced in the circle. The bride somehow saw me among the crowd and reached for my hand. I followed her and as I did, the circle of woman closed around us and we danced. Just the two of us, like Ring around the Rosie only we were grown up and let the music carry us away. I found myself smiling. I waved my hands with the bride and felt like I was dancing forever. Then she thanked me and I was absorbed into yet another circle. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone else was now dancing Ring around the Rosie with the bride. In fact, hadn’t the bride been dancing with the female guests?

As I walked back to the table I felt all the hope and excitement of the new bride. That was what she was giving to each of us, her friends and family and in those few moments, when we danced hand in hand in our own small circle.

 

© 2014 Robyn Segal

 

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Assholes, Dreams, and Parks and Burial

Assholes, Dreams, and Parks

Your voice breaks through your consciousness
And you yell something you don’t mean
Not like an ex-lover’s name
But something harder to distinguish
And really, you’re stuck in quicksand
And the people most important to you
Run from you as you reach for them.
Do dreams really ever mean anything?
I dream of women
I don’t know what to say about dreams
I saw an ex-lover at the park
I was on a jog                  sweaty
He was on his bike         childlike
I believe he might have no conscience
Do people without a conscience dream
Of cruel things? Do they dream at all
Of me?

© 2014 Dresden Caston

Burial

I cannot be with the space for long.
The timber walls yelling
I am not alone, the tick ticking
Of wheat,
The aisle between
Heart
And jaw
Closing like a heavy door.
Does time change space?
Nothing else remains
But the sun.
There is always
More sun.

© 2014 Dresden Caston

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Bidi Bidi Bom Bom

What are you?” The Indian woman behind the counter asked me.

I was at a Dunkin’ Donuts in New York grabbing coffee and after handing me my change, the Indian woman wanted to know where I was from. This often happens to me. I could be at a restaurant, an adult video store or a funeral. And inevitably someone will ask: “What are you?” They ask in a way as if I look like The Elephant Man. And then I realize that their question is one about my cultural identity.

Although I’m Latino, much of my cultural heritage and history is Mexican. However I often get mistaken for someone from the Middle East or India. The employee at the Dunkin’ Donuts made this mistake. She enthusiastically asked me where I was from and I guess she was expecting me to answer with India. But when I said Texas, she just sighed and said, “Here’s your coffee.” The subtext shrieking: “You son of a bitch.” This same thing happened in Denver at a festival. Jenn was buying an umbrella for her niece and while the foreign man handed her change, he looked at me, smiled and then asked: “Where are you from?” When I responded with Texas, his smile turned into a frown and he wished us a good rest of the day. I wanted to explain to both the Dunkin’ Donuts woman and umbrella man that Texas is pretty foreign itself but it was too late. At first I thought people just had something against Texas but when this same thing started happening with Latino people, I realized it was a cultural thing. People see me and think, “He’s one of us.” And then I disappoint them.

Whenever I go into a bodega, everyone tries to speak Spanish with me. And when I look at them glassy-eyed, I explain in my broken Spanish that I am not fluent. “Well, what are you then?” They ask. And when I tell them I’m Latino, they really lose it. “Well, you should learn!” They shout as they hand me my change. Although they’re right, I wish I could explain to them that I’ve been trying to learn Spanish all of my life.

In terms of formal Spanish lessons, my earliest took place senior year in high school. My teacher was Mr. Gandar. He was an eccentric man who in addition to his teaching duties, was also the cheerleading coach. Mr. Gandar would give us weekly tests. I was a pretty lousy student. Once, we took a test where we had to translate Spanish words to English. I had no idea what I was doing. One of the words was “igualmente.” I thought about it for a moment and wrote the first word that came to my mind: igloo. Afterwards we were instructed to hand our test to another student for grading. We went word by word as the correct answers were revealed. When we got to the word “igualmente,” Mr. Gandar informed us that the correct English translation is “likewise.” Frank raised his hand and asked: “What if someone put igloo?” And Mr. Gandar responded as if Frank had offered him a hand job. “QUE?! Who put that?” Everyone looked at one another and then sheepishly, I raised my hand. “Stand up,” Mr. Gandar told me. I stood up and then he asked: “What were you thinking?” Before I could answer he abruptly said: “Actually stand up on top of your desk. NOW.” Although it was a strange request I didn’t think twice about it. “Now, tell us all, just what was going through your mind when you wrote igloo?” I tried my best to sound regretful. “Well, I guess I wasn’t thinking. And next time I’ll try harder.” Mr. Gandar then said he was going to give me extra credit for being creative and allowed me to climb down my desk.

While I didn’t retain much of the formal Spanish I learned, I remember a little about formal introductions. For example, “El gusto es mio,” or “the pleasure is mine” is said after you’ve introduced yourself to someone. I often wonder if there are overzealous people who ever insist that the gusto is theirs alone. I imagine my ancestors meeting and after introductions, both insist that the pleasure is solely their own. “NO! El gusto es MIO!” They argue back and forth and end up clubbing one another to death.

The other Spanish lessons in my life have come through informal sources. I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. Like “Tex-Mex” cuisine, Spanish in San Antonio is a puree of both English and Spanish. It’s a no-holds barred way of speaking with no regard to rules or syntax. My father often makes up his own words while my mother says things like: “Me voy a la store to buy leche y chones.” If Strunk and White ever visited San Antonio I’m sure they would have had an aneurysm.

Besides my family, my other source of Spanish was through music. When I was 10 or 11, I bought a cassette tape by Jonny Z. The tape only had 1 song on it and was called “No Señor.” The song is about a man who gets dissed by his girlfriend so he decides to go “south of the border” to chase women. The chorus of the song is Jonny Z repeatedly singing: “Just give me that lovin’ baby.” The song is mostly in English but is peppered with Spanish words. The first week I got the tape I walked around my house listening to it on repeat with my Walkman. I was singing out loud without discretion or inhibition. At one point in the song, Jonny Z sings the following lyrics: “Se me paro, baby. Se me paro.” My mother overheard me sing this part of the song, came over and smacked me across the head. “Don’t sing that!” She yelled. Later, I would learn that what I was saying translates simply to: I have an erection. “My mother” and “my erection” are words that should never be used in the same sentence. I’d been singing this lyric all week. I can only imagine how bizarre this situation would’ve looked like to an outsider: a 10 year old walking around his home proudly boasting that he has an erection.

“The real heavyweight for me though in terms of music is Selena. An American singer often referred to as the “princess of Latin pop.” Her songs are in both English and Spanish. Although she could sing in Spanish I’ve read that she could barely speak it, and still struggled with the language after years of practice. Despite this, she isn’t worshiped more than in Texas. You can’t go too far without hearing one of her songs playing. One of the songs you might hear is Bidi Bidi Bom Bom. The title doesn’t exactly translate but can be characterized as a beating heart. It’s a song I often think about especially when I consider my own sense of place; it serves as a reminder that in this “in-between” state of being, there is, a beating heart.

 

© 2014 Danny Herrera

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