Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Poetrypalooza Day 3! Beneath the Halo

Beneath the Halo, Celeste Guzman Mendoza
Wings Press
978-1-60940-331-7
$14.00, 54 pgs

Beneath the Halo by Celeste Guzman Mendoza is my very very favorite - so far. I lingered over these poems. The sinuous, familiar English-Spanish-English is a song to my ears and reminds me that I am home. Mendoza's subjects are no less than Family, God, Land, and Love, the book subdivided into these categories. Family and God are the strongest sections; the former fraught with border striving; the latter binding joy and pain inseparably. This volume left me smiling, feeling lighter than before.

My favorites:

Tío Chucho would have you believe

that Tía Chavela was named for Port
Isabel not a saint.

He says this each time we drive
toward the bay, seagulls cutting
into his, Pos sí, es cierto. ¿No me creen?

How could we believe a story like that?
Port Isabel with its bikinied, busomy,
bottom-heavy ladies, and beer joints

filled with young white boys in swimming
chones and chanclas, and t-shirt shop
after t-shirt shop - has nothing to do

with Tía Chavela's horn-rimmed trifocals,
SAS shoes, casita with furniture covered
in plastic, and altar with stained photos

of her mother. In one she holds a bunny
and a palm-sized statue of el sagrado
corazón. No. Nada que ver. But el Tío.

Maybe he remembers Tía's youth
before their six children suckled
her breasts dry. Or maybe he wants

us to laugh with him. Share something.
Our English a wound so deep
between us. Los pochos and him-

viejito always thinking of his Mexico
lindo. We could ask Tía to set him straight
but why bother. Every year, once a year

he gets to say it, resolved that it could be
true and that would make them as American
as us. Just as good. Maybe so good

that next year he could bring Tía Chavela
in their own car, stay in their own hotel,
and pretend together that this is the better

life,
worth the leaving,
worth the remembering.

La pisca

Rows of cotton
           like lines of braided
                    string, la tierra
                              strand tras strand tras strand
                                        as far as the eye can see
a thousand fibers
          rolled tightly in
                    an orb  a fist
                               volando
                                         flies made of flour
                                                    rising off their backs
flat hats
          shield them from the downpour
                    of rays
                                undo  dos
                                              undo  dos
                                                               las manos trabajando
                                                                            in pairs
lips count
           cuarenta y siete
                      cuarenta y ocho
                                 cuarenta y nueve
                                            rags ripped
                                                       knotted around knuckles
                                                                  nothing to remember
                                                                             to protect
a nick            a gash
        centimeters deep
                dirt dusted off with a sigh
                       cuarente ay  que?
                               bag filled with white
                                        weighs the back
                                                55°        45°        35°
                                                        breath an incense
                                                                 for the brambles
                                                                         fists of sticks
clenching cotton close
         How many bolas make a shirt
                 How many bushes a bag
                         How many rows today's
                                 Frijoles     Tomorrow's
                                          Llénalos      Llénalos
                                                  we are so close
                                                           to finishing the day
                                                                   Llénalos      Llénalos
                                                                           we are so far away
                                                                                               but
                                                                                               today              

Celeste Guzman Mendoza is a native of San Antonio. Her poems have been published in numerous journals, including Poet Lore and Borderlands. Her chapbook of poetry, Cande, te estoy llamando, won the Poesía Tejana Prize from Wings Press. She is a co-founder of CantoMundo, a master workshop for Latina/o poets. Mendoza is also a playwright. Her play, Burnt Sienna, won the 1996 American College Theater Festival's Ten Minute Play Award. She is currently the Associate Director of Development at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies of the University of Texas at Austin.

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