Beneath the Halo, Celeste Guzman Mendoza
$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.
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
worth the leaving,
worth the remembering.
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
flies made of flour
rising off their backs
shield them from the downpour
las manos trabajando
cuarenta y siete
cuarenta y ocho
cuarenta y nueve
knotted around knuckles
nothing to remember
a nick a gash
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
we are so close
to finishing the day
we are so far away
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.