My Bilingual Journey
Not Far from the Border: Selected Poems
For audio recordings of the SONGS, click here.
For STORIES and REFLECTIONS, click here.
Along the Border
Train weaving along border memories of
my lotería and checkerboard life;
frames of family portraits fashioned
into a colorful quilt of sweet voices,
slight profiles, and happy, happy eyes
shining through our thoughts of
trepidation erected by border walls
setting us apart, away from each other
toward a reality that looms like a
head injury; a train wreck, no matter
where this train takes us the halt is
always erupt and deadening.
When we get off the train, when our
feet finally tread on steady ground,
you don’t know which side of the tracks
your heart lies.
Like swooping cranes
They came to the valley of tears;
A flying spearhead bursting through the summer sky,
Ready to conquer the hearts and minds of humanity;
Children writing stories like pieces woven into
A swirling tapestry of imagination and innocence,
One by one, each story brings back the dream.
They are the dreams of those that love them;
The voices of children imbued with hope and determination,
Opening new horizons and turning the insidious thirst for sadness
Into a monument that was our past,
Revealing the present and future in their hands and
In their hearts.
Chameleon at the Border
Like a chameleon I carve my footprints from the
Natural hue of the mud and sand pit spoils of my frontera,
A border rich with countless of unheard stories.
I see like the border; I taste like the border;
I feel like the border; the border is all
Around me – but, mostly I see the border in their eyes, anchored
On the sight of a new horizon; so desperate
To leave that only the absence of memory lingers;
I see the terror in their eyes each time
Darkness swells inside their souls
At the thought of what lies beyond;
There is no end:
I think like the border;
The brown that I am deep inside and
The heart that I have;
And the frontera that I call my home.
For Every Bridge There’s a Wall (Our Birthright)
Pieces of earth puzzled into
mosaic revelations of gaps and stops;
the human stride hampered by
a matching duo of transnational
bridge and border wall; for every bridge
there’s a wall and still, the migration
continues like the ebb and flow
of relentless time and space, and
the rebirth and death of day and night.
Never stopping: like a lake that cradles
the spewing brew, or a river that collects
cascading water, or fresh sprouts of trees
fusing with fossilized stumps. Humans’
undeterred spirits run their gamut like
water flowing, roots reaching, and rivers
morphing into oceans, deep, vast, and free.
Featherless flying beings we are,
embracing the essence of our birthright.
The Río Bravo takes you across to safety
away from the clutches of jaws and jails;
The rio floats you across into the arms
of the one that has loved you always;
The rio saves you from the monster
that you dreamt about when you were five;
The rio haunts you in the darkest of
moments and shatters your dreams;
The rio drives you mad
until your spirit dies with you;
The rio turns you into a liar
and thief, a shell of what you used to be;
The rio baptizes you and leaves you
naked when you think you know its eternal secrets;
The rio pulls you under until
your remains are deeply buried within;
Only the thick, mysterious fog can work its
powerful magic, dragging, stirring
its ghostly spirits, and unveiling the corpses
washed up on its shores;
The clouds, laden with sadness and anger,
open, and let the rain burst into tears;
Rain, rain, river rain.
A planet for each one of us,
But a special one for you,
The warring prince, the heroic spirit,
The giver of laughter, of hope;
The one that commended presence
In the face of absence, in a vast emptiness;
A magician, for you knew no boundaries,
Where the stars meet, yours was
The brightest, the intense, the most
Enduring, and that’s how you fought.
My brother earth has gone home,
Fulfilling the promise of the father sun.
Your life was my life,
A precious drop of water, of blood;
I stood on the doorway, watching your
Dancing spirit, finding refuge in the shadow
Of your stick horse, galloping to a neverland
That found me up a tree, my castle, my dream.
I could have watched you forever, you know.
But that was not to be.
Our paths were different, our blood
Was destined for another place,
Yours was in a dark, mired corner,
Where you died a thousand deaths,
And you came back on borrowed time,
For one more look, one more sigh, one more kiss.
At last you found your monument,
A peaceful stream, a playful field
Of flowers, and in the end,
You valued giving more than giving itself,
You felt the depth of love deeper
Than all the tears in the universe.
And you took all of that forever,
A treasure to seek and long for,
A most precious gift you’ve ever given me,
My brother, my soul.
Tears that emerge from my dreams
are as deep as a well and as fiery as
The sun itself; you look at me in your coldness
while I lay before you a story of loneliness,
One heart, one love and no one,
No one to give and to give back.
Just an empty cradle,
And a mother and father that once held you
Were gone, disappeared into a black hole,
Leaving you naked, in despair, drowned in the
Deepest tears, and fears, and agony of a life that
Should have been right, not wrong.
I can’t feel your pain, Papá,
Your falling curtains shut me off,
And I’m left with your soulful fears
That burden you in the cloudiest nights,
That hurt you without telling you,
That silence you to a wailing, yelling mess.
If you could talk to me from your cold and
I would hear your anger forever gnawing at
I would feel all over again what I see in my dreams,
A young girl crying to her father that
She is the orphan and he, the ruler of her life.
Children of El Porvenir
Bright as the color of blood,
The clown’s frown was big and scary
The day I went to the circus with Grandpa;
Blood streaming down my hand
When a thorn pricked my finger –
Sweet – taste of life – stained my lips,
Grandma – so quiet- watching me;
Blood on my foot,
A piece of glass – between my toes –
The pain, the pain so sharp, I want
To turn it off like a water faucet
But I can’t.
Blood, so much blood –
Like the pouring rain, one day —
Gushing from an angry sky;
Blood — on walls, doors, and windows,
Blood — out of the refrigerator;
Too scared to see what’s inside –
Like a horror movie too scary to watch;
My house is like a coffin –
Bleeding, crying, hurting.
Their dreams are not like yours
Or mine –
Men killing men, knives cutting
Into flesh, bullets flying;
Their Grandpa, their cousins, and brothers, sisters;
All gone – forever.
Yet their memories live on like dogged spirits –
Lost and cold from a nightmare that won’t go away.
The Stick People painted
By the children of El Porvenir,
Of death, guns, knives,
All – So they can hang
Their drawings on chalkboards
For everyone to see.
‘Cierren los ojos – no vamos a decir nada’
(‘Close your eyes – we’re not saying a word’)
My student sat unusually sullen and on edge in class;
the telltale signs told me that something was amiss.
History lessons are learned best in real-time but
hers was a virtual nightmare.
It’s how she feels after her life was spared.
It happened during a routine drive to the doctor’s,
just south of Matamoros.
Sitting in the backseat of a black SUV her mother suddenly
gasped, her heart jumped; she saw the gun shoved
through the slightly opened window on the driver’s side,
pointing at each of her family and friends:
four adults and seven children.
Her father and his compadre managed to stay calm.
After a quiet but unnerving exchange of words,
the man with the gun retracted his threat and
told them to be grateful that he had a good heart,
and let them go, but the roadblock prevented their
return to Brownsville. A thick air of fear and
panic hovered over them as they scurried in
search of a safe shelter to spend the night.
They waited for their escape after a night of sheer fright,
praying, until the gunshots finally stopped
at the break of dawn.
‘Cierren los ojos – close your eyes’ – my student’s mother
demanded as they raced passed a mile-long of debris that
she could only describe as a war zone.
She tried to obey her mother,
but her eyes wandered as images appeared –
many cars, even police cars – gutted, crashed into each other,
glass everywhere, dead bodies scattered throughout, and
two men loading up the corpses onto the bed of a
pick-up like sacks of potatoes, too many to count,
but maybe dozens, and the worst image that haunts her –
dead policemen’s bodies hanging from trees!
At the U.S. border checkpoint, her father asked for silence,
‘No vamos a decir nada,’ ‘no one says anything’ –
out of fear, shock, even disbelief.
The Red Book
All of the photos are of
Very sad people, and corpses
Just lying there – like the way they died.
Some of the corpses are half gone,
Decomposed, leaving grotesque remnants
Of something other than human.
I think of nothing.
Earlier in the morning I had eaten
Pieces of fruit, watermelon, pineapple,
Grapes, sweet bread and coffee.
Later, I met some very nice people:
Symbols of hospitality,
Expressions of gratitude,
Re-enactments of humanity
Portraying simple truths and love.
Back to nothing.
When something sharp invades your body,
Your soul saves you from the onslaught
Of unbearable pain;
You have to be patient; you have no choice,
It will be just a few seconds and then,
Your heart will finally let you go.
But, now there is something:
I have a small box that holds just the right
Words that you said to me and the feelings
That emerged – they seem to fit carefully
And perfectly into the box; and
There, the 3-D photos of words, thoughts,
Feelings; I will cherish as my very own,
Until they disappear when I
Think of the corpse of the young girl in the
Red book*, and the way she screamed
As she took her last breath.
(*The red book referenced here is Red Line by Charles Bowden. NY: Norton, 1989.)
¡Qué viva la paz!
“¡Qué viva la paz!” said the elderly street vendor
finger-stoking pieces of carbon ever so
gently for the perfect flame to warm the
huge tub of corns-on-the cob. At best a
tentative respite on the day after
this tourist safe-haven spot on the
US-Mexico border was besieged by
outlaws’ shoot-out, shutting down
shops, sending hundreds to fend for
themselves wherever they could find refuge.
Few remnants give clues to the
actual facts; momentarily a white chalky
cross lies on the side of the street surrounded
by four unlit veladores next to a pool of dry blood.
A crew of city workers-like-robots
shovel debris in the back of their pick-up;
the broken pieces of lawn chairs, cement rocks,
and gravel left from the crash where the car chase ended;
the cross and veladores removed like trash, everything,
except the blood that had seeped deep into the concrete;
Still resonating from the shock, the
street vendors spoke little of what they saw.
Terrified of flying bullets seeking human targets,
their thoughts controlled by sheer instinct;
the elderly corn vender quipped
in steadfast determination that upon hearing the
high powered rifles he ran home and didn’t
return until the next day. Los rivales killing
each other, and two men dead was all anyone knew
or thought they knew about what had happened.
The tourists left town, with them, the American dollar,
portending doom to a booming town, leaving
a deafening silence, adding frailty to the wound.
Crossing the bridge to Texas soil, the river underneath
wedges its powerful divide, but when
fear strikes the heart, and death hovers, not
even the mighty Rio can pull us apart.
A Different World
Imagine a smile as big as the sky,
Eyes dark, shimmering in the sunglow,
Just a glint of mischief in this boy,
A tender age of 12,
Clever in his ways, full of laughter, making puns
With friends nearby,
No other boy could match up
To his love for life, home, and family.
That was then.
Today, his heart races to drown his grief,
Churning oxygen barely clinging to every breath,
Knees almost giving out, weak, pale, deaf, blind, surreal.
His eyes cannot believe the hell that has
Suddenly besieged his world;
Terrified, confused, angry,
His hands holding his head as if
To keep it from exploding.
That can’t be.
The two people he loves so much,
His father slouched over the steering wheel,
Covered with blood and bullet wounds,
Clearly visible, dark holes, like the kind
He made with rocks on tin cans.
No, the body next to his father
Can’t be brother, it can’t be,
He kind of looks like him, but he
Seems shriveled up,
Blood pouring out of his neck, onto his
Favorite shirt he always wore when
He was going out to meet a girl.
“¡Apa!” he screams.
Any other river like this
one would invite the locals
for a fun-filled picnic.
Instead, the Rio looks muy bravo and
desolate against the trappings of
steel posts, wired fencing, and
concrete military mesh.
Pedestrians on the Mexican side of the
bridge pour out into an open plaza,
darting cars, waiting for city buses.
Folk women utterly
exhausted as they console their
children, grab on to bundles
of bulging plastic shopping bags,
bearing names of gringo
stores from the American side of the bridge.
When the border wall is erected
we won’t be able to see these
retail gobblers but, who cares.
As long as the money flows;
globalism seeps through
A preponderant fact for
the countless that dare to
cross into the land of promise and
the purgatory of uncertainty;
We hear stories that make your head spin
like the one of how pets
are treated with dignity
unlike our brothers; and
the earnings, no matter how long,
how hard the work, barely enough to
put bread on the table.
At the Mexican side, a
welcome-home flag awaits
those who gambled wrong,
big enough for the world to notice
how it flies
more boldly, bigger, and proudly than
the American flag behind them.
Water (The River of Life in the Desert of Hell)
Water droplet on scorched tongue,
like a fragile twig almost dead,
Too precious, too little, so wrong,
only a surreal existence lingers,
Fingers reaching for the empty
Plastic jug that feels like brittle
bones aching feet useless appendages
that burden every slight stride
Now slow and heavy;
life pleading with merciless sunrays
determined to kill;
Caged in an inferno of hell,
Let death be the victor,
Let death be the heaven that
brings peace, peace, peace;
And stops the agony.
Water for the thirsty, water for the dead.
My Mother’s House
Your house is only a glimmering reflection
Of the treasure lay buried deep in your heart.
The photographs of loved ones scattered
Throughout, now dusty, foggy and blurred,
Are the only thoughts worthy of opening your eyes;
But it doesn’t matter you can no longer see
Because your life, and mine with yours,
Are suspended in time, when laughter, joy and tears
were once the center of our shrine.
I wish I could turn the hands of time and turn
this house again, to the one you knew so well,
That even when you suffered in despair,
You could still feel your blood run through our veins.
And now, only our tears mark the time,
The clock knows so well that
With every turn you make toward your grave
So I turn with you;
Every word you can no longer speak
I speak for you; and with
Every love you leave behind
Intensifies within me a raging fire.
The love you have to teach me
Is worth more than this earth;
That the only thing living for is to live only once,
But to love and love and love forever.
Pure and Simple
Mama, your words are simple and pure
The way the crystal spring water
Gurgles down its inevitable destination;
I’ve heard them time and time again;
Even when they were silent.
You were silent.
You hold the puzzle pieces in your hand,
trying desperately to place them where
they belong: the arches, the curves, the outline of
a passing bridge, towering trees and the walls:
The walls you hated that are still pressing against your bosom.
There must be a missing piece.
I have it Mama, I have that missing piece;
it’s deep inside my heart, and
Some day, my reach will be strong
enough to give it to you.
As I sat weeping, my heart fractures as
I looked into your dry-well eyes and
You chided me for such nonsense;
We all have to take life in whatever
Form or piece it finds us, like the pure
Shape of the tortilla your soul designed;
You also found an art in dying.
But it’s not death you give me, Mother;
It is only life.
A rebirth of love that eluded us since
We were tied in that inevitable knot.
A song of many verses that ring true of
Sorrow, pain, despair, anger and love–
How could I have known it was all there.
I stare at the half circle you leave me,
Wanting so desperately to close it.
But it will always be half empty;
It will never be full without your
Smiling eyes, your heavy brow and
The graceful sweep that you reigned on this earth.
I’d be a Fool
I’d be a fool to think of myself as a flower
That you can hold in your hand;
But the moment is too fleeting and
The burn too great to endure.
Instead, with eyes closed
I will journey into the mysterious world
Finding comfort in feeling your presence
Listening to your heartbeat.
You are the reason my spirit never rests
You bring freshness to the old;
Hope to the dying
I want to be with you forever –
Here, today, tomorrow.
But, now – your arms are gone;
No longer the assuring warmth;
I must distance myself from you
And feel the earth that bounds me
Even though my gift to you is an empty box;
My spirit life is yours to keep.
You are the love that fires up my imagination
But aches with loneliness since
I can only love you in my dreams.
What will I take with me,
In my final journey?
Visions of larger than life moments,
The entire beauty of this earth immediately
Fill my imaginative bundle.
Too much I think.
Perhaps, better the simple joys of
A fruitful life; nature’s true beauty:
A serene undulating ocean,
The light, fragrant rain and the flowers that
Bloom in the gentle sunshine;
A world so rich with kaleidoscopes of
Lines, shapes, color, light.
But, it all seems too perfect.
Far from the real life that I’ve known,
Of pain, anguish, grief, and desperation.
My perfect world is perfectly flawed.
How do I stack up the truth and make sense of
The chaos underneath the calm veneer;
El cruce between hell and heaven and back again;
Of people killing each other for
Love, hate, vengeance, and
Loved ones, loved ones caught in the middle.
I think I will take with me
A small amount of joy; a little contentment;
And, although I’m a bit wiser,
I’m less the idealist, knowing that
We are who we are because
of our perfect imperfections.
I love the quiet of company,
Of silent roses that spring
In my imagined room,
Whispering ideas full of penny jars.
Colors speak to me,
Filled with emotional escapades;
The architects, tiny birds fluttering,
From tree to tree, the budding
Aerial acrobats that fly into my heart.
The ideas start like seeds that
Spread their roots and vines,
Flowers voice their love,
Each one speaks with candor.
Each one proud of its colorful array.
And we marvel at their
Brazen beauty that, like puzzle pieces
Work their way into our souls,
Our minds, eventually
Singing, laughing, crying.
Breathing life into our next thought
Until our tree of life stands tall before us,
The real test of time brings us back to
‘Who are we, why are we here,
Where are we going,
What will I leave behind?’
I Was There
In the instant that I see myself I see you –
At the moment you chose the road
Toward my way – I was there;
I held your hand like a ghostly force;
I was there when you kissed your fate
To the wind –
That was my sigh of relief; your vision
Walking steadily toward me – each time
A little closer, your eyes seemed more visible
As the days grew less foggy and a light of
Every new moon became brighter;
I was there when your spirit rested
on my chest, my face, my eyes;
I saw your faint smile amid the torment of tears;
Agony, love lost, emptiness, remorse –
I was there when sadness filled your heart;
What I felt was in you – and you were in me;
I was there the mornings that you woke;
For every strong heart beat there was hope;
And every step grew faster and bolder –
Toward the heart that waited and waited and waited
I was there with you whispering songs of love;
When the horizon came to you;
You felt my yearning to be with you;
Without you the sun would not rise;
The moon obliterated from the sky;
Without you my words would drop
Like rocks into the depths of an abyss;
Without you fond memories would disappear;
I was there the day you offered a rose to a heart
As sweet as yours;
Your arms embraced idealized dreams and
Held them tightly, so tightly,
Because you knew that I wanted to be with you;
From across the sky, toward the full moon and
Many stars beyond,
My half journey complete and my heart still
Waits for you.
Muse-ical notes from your second voice,
Now settled and drifting
Into my empty Mondays.
Real time became the annoyance
That I wrestled until my senses
The thought of you could calm my
Ill-fated memory log;
For I know,
I have let a poem slip
Through my fingers,
Died too many times;
Flung my soul across songs,
Stories that could have had life.
The winter’s cold,
The storms’ evil eyes,
The restless, aimless spirit,
The daily chants of cries, whimpers, prayers
Make way to the image of you
Standing before me, and
I, pleading with you for
A harmony that I could call
The Only Man in My Planet Love Song
You’re the only man in my planet.
You – two-legged, two-armed, one-headed
Creature amongst all warm bodies;
You, a tail-less appearance
Like a strong buffalo,
A giant mammoth, the tender butterfly,
An acrobatic hummingbird.
You have two hearts – one yours, the other mine.
The shadow sleeping by the bright,
Your face is like an angel, your hands are as warm
As a winter fire,
Your voice gentle like a silky stream.
You’re the mountain I climb and trip and fall,
And try again; where
My spirit soars like the eagle and we fly
Together – two, winged dinosaurs questing freedom
Above the hovering clouds.
You’re the devil, too, when your eyes become slits
On a triangle-shaped head; your sting is spiked with
And you slither across my face – crying, laughing, screaming.
In my planet there is only one man, I swear;
But when darkness falls, light emerges and
A new horizon appears, and below me – I feel
The steady ground rising, forming another planet,
A new world, a NEW.
He loves me, he loves me not;
He loves me, he loves me not;
The sting in my heart lingers
longer than I want;
But he’ll call soon, and melt
away icicles clinging to my thoughts,
And shatter all my doubts;
But love, like the flower without petals,
Dies an instant death and
Like another and another and another —
He loves me, he loves me not;
Free to choose is the right
To have the space – your space
To breathe your persona,
What you’ve known all your life;
But too much space allows furniture
To move in and soon we won’t
Find each other in a crowded room.