reading and writing the poetry and stories of our people and places

Monday, November 9, 2009

Remembering Nana

Nana: Marlboro Red Head, a story

The only lights on were the TV and her Marlboro red. She was lying on the couch with 2-year old Teddy. My sister Lisa and three girl cousins Mary , Cece, and Frances were on the floor sleeping beneath Nana’s crocheted and old Army blankets. I should have been asleep too, but the TV must have woken me up. I stayed quiet and watched her TV program. After a while, I forgot about not being noticed and started to sit up. Without noticing me, she turned around so fast. The Marlboro red stuck in the middle of my forehead for a few seconds. After the shock, I cried. I wanted her sweet “Ay, cositas” and “Ya, ya, ya”s that she reserved for the babies Krissy, Joanna, and Teddy. Instead I got “What are you doing awake? Go to sleep!”

Nana, La General (written in 2003 before she passed on)

i look at old photos

and search for the woman

my friends see,

“your grandmother is beautiful,”

“she sits in that wheelchair

like she’s a queen on her throne”

she was beauty queen pretty

but all i saw growing up

were her shiny medals—

clean clothes, clean house,

pots of beans and rice

for her clean army of children

and grandchildren

when she wasn’t ironing, sweeping,

or heating tortillas on the comal

and listening to one of her favorite

mariachi albums,

she’d stand tall

hold a lit marlboro

in her brown-as-her-beans hands

or dangle it from her dusky pink lips

she’d call, “stinkie, bones, barrel!”

when she wanted us to

go to the store

or “tonta, burra,”

when we made a mistake,

she sent us to buy

papas, chile, cilantro,


when we made a face

not understanding

tomato, onion, and garlic

on credit at the corner store

sent us out to play

in front of the house

or at dolores park

across the street

when she tired of scolding,

“yous kids, pick up your feet!”

on saturday mornings,

she’d grab one little girl

into the bath

as she pulled another of us out,

never turning off the water

and pulling the plug

before all the soap was rinsed

we dried ourselves off

before she turned the towel

into sandpaper,

she cut through each tangle

as she wrestled our “mops” into ponytails,

wrapped them skintight

with sticky rubber bands

one easter, she handed us a bag of dresses

“which one is mine?” we asked,

“the one that fits,” she said

when grandpa mellowed with sickness

and finally allowed her out of the house,

she made beds crisp with her hospital corners,

brought home bottles of cepacol, lysol,

and a few surprises

“here,” she said,

“these are for you”

and handed me books

different from her tv guides

and crossword puzzles

my forgotten reader’s digests

and harlequins

kept me busy at home

until i moved into honors english

and learned that reader’s digest

would never squeeze hamlet

next to “life in the military”

and pride’s castle

would never be taught in a.p.

“i don’t read those anymore,”

i told her one evening,

she never bothered me

with books again

years later, i remember

how nana has always been home for me,

her tamales are my favorite way

to ring in a new year,

and when i drink a cold pepsi-cola

it’s the fifteen of us living on 18th street

and she has come back

from a rare outing alone,

“where’d you go, nana?” we ask,

we believe her when she says,

“i went to see a man about a horse,”

we waited a long time for those horses

today, nana sleeps a lot,

clutches the sheet

or one of our hands

when she’s awake.

we ask, “does it hurt?

are you feeling pain?”

most of the time

she shakes her head no,

nods yes only when the tears

have already answered us.

we feed her the red liquid

hoping to bring her some relief,

knowing her will will always be strong

even if her body is not.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mom After Work, circa 1983

November 10th is my Mom's 71st birthday. I don't put her on paper often, but when I do, it's usually about her and not her. Here is an attempt to hear her. Or, a part of her at one time.

I'm working on a party piece, but in the mean time...If you're out and about on the 10th, any day in November, or any Friday or Saturday night: take off your work clothes and put on an outfit that'll turn heads; dance like you're on Soul Train; and have a Seven and 7 for my Mom. Salud to my favorite Scorpio Lady!

There was this tamata on the bus

You know, a floozy

No, not a real prostitute

Just some dame wearing tacky Mission Street clothes

Turn it down

Yes, down

I’m not up to hearing Michael right now

No, not even Diana

Turn it down

Or turn it off.


Where’s my robe?

I need to get out of these things

Why are you still wearing your school clothes?

Haven’t I told you?

You’re not going to learn until-

I give up

Where’s the mail?

Did you do your homework?

Where’s your sister?

Have you been on the phone all afternoon?

I hope not

Did you start something for dinner?

Ay, mija, why not?

I’m not the cook around here, you know

Why can’t you?

You like to eat, don’t you?

Don’t Yes-but-Mom me

I came out of the building

Saw that damn 26

And ran as fast as I could in these shoes

I know people were laughing

But I didn’t care

Anyway, so I’m on the bus

I told you it’s over with him

He wasn’t out there anyway

where was I?

no, no, no

Now I have to start all over!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Out With the Family (circa 1991)

Nana and I have been watching TV all night. First, the local news on channel 7, then Peter Jennings delivers the World News before Nana switches to “Wheel of Fortune.” She likes figuring out the puzzles before the contestants. Nana became a fan of Merv Griffin, the creator of the game, when he kept her company with his daily talk show while she cooked dinner for the army of her family. Later when Merv visited Grandpa and the other patients at Laguna Honda Hospital, Nana fell in love forever. At least, that’s how she looks in that photo. Merv’s pale hand is around her shoulder and Nana’s brown-as-her-beans skin glows against his rosy cheeks. They’re leaning into each other like a happy couple. When friends see that photo, I tell them, “Look, it’s Nana and Grandpa Merv.” There’s a black and white, framed with a thick white border photo of her and my real Grandpa on Market Street in the late 1930s. They are side-by-side but not touching. It looks as if they have been caught mid-stride. Grandpa looks to be saying, “Get out of my way.” Nana looks straight down.

Nana pushes 4-8 and we watch the end of an old Mexican movie on Telemundo. Tonight, it’s just Nana and me and it feels better than it ever did during childhood. Back then, more than half of her nine children and bunches of grandchildren constantly needed her attention, wanted some of her beans, or deserved her reprimand. I’m glad to have Nana all to myself, but I still feel a little shy at times. She comes across Burt Lancaster’s 1951 Jim Thorpe: All American and sets down the remote on the table by her side.

For me tonight, there’s no staring at beautiful strangers at Club Q, G-Spot, or The Box. It’s San Francisco’s Gay Pride weekend, and I’m home with my grandmother. I didn’t plan it, but Auntie Diz called and asked me if I’d stay with Nana so she could have some time off. Of course, I said yes. It’s been harder than usual lately because Nana isn’t talking to her again. Uncle Tony lives with his mother and sister, but Auntie doesn’t ask him. She knows that Uncle’s evenings off are sacred for him. I know that they’ll probably meet up at Bal’s or The Double Play near his job at Hostess or The Five or Dove Club near the house. They’re grown adults, but they don’t drink in their home with Nana. No one does unless it’s New Year’s or a family party. Nana has disapproved of drinking, especially at home, since Grandpa used to beat her during his many rampages.

Auntie told me that Nana probably wouldn’t eat much for dinner, but I brought her two enchiladas from Taquería El Toro on 17th Street, and she ate both of them. Nana even asked me to make her a Pepsi float for dessert. Told me to help myself and I did. Everything—beans, Oreos, chorizo, pan dulce—tastes better at Nana’s house. It’s been that way since I was a kid and we’d come next door to her flat for a midnight snack at 8.

We finish our floats and the front door opens and closes. I’m surprised that Auntie Diz has come home so early, then I hear Uncle Tony’s heavy footsteps come up the stairs and down the hall. He stops outside the livingroom door. Nana and I look away from Jim to say hi to Uncle, but he’s not there. We look back at Jim.

“BOO!” Uncle yells.

Nana and I jump even though we know he’s been standing there.

“Want some chow mein?” He asks with an easy smile, holding up a clear, plastic bag with white, Styrofoam To Go boxes inside. His eyes are so bloodshot that I half expect his optic nerves to shoot red lightning bolts like a crazed toy. He must have come from Kenny’s, his current favorite hangout on South Van Ness near 16th, a Chinese restaurant connected to a bar that caters to prostitutes, their dates, drug dealers, and other neighborhood folks.

“Hi, Ma. How’s it goin’, ol’ grey mare?” Uncle says as he crosses in front of Nana in her chair. “How’s it goin’ Cath?”

“We’re fine, Tony. Sit down and watch the movie,” Nana tells him even though he is already on his way to sitting next to me on the couch.

“Hi, Uncle.”

He sees Burt Lancaster.

“What’s Moses doing?” he asks me with a thumb curved at the screen.

“It’s Burt Lancaster. He’s Jim Thorpe,” I tell him.


“Jim Thorpe, the Native American athlete,” I tell him.

“Oh! Those crackers fucked that Indian over!” he says wickedly while nodding his head with closed eyes and pointing at the screen.

“Tony, don’t tell us what happens,” Nana scolds.

“What do you mean don’t tell you? Everybody knows those assholes fucked him over and took his medals,” he says indignantly looking at me. “You went to college. You know that, right Professor?”

“Yeah, well, I never took a Native American Studies class, but—”

“So, how ya been? How’s school” He asks loudly over the movie, as if it weren’t even on and we weren’t even watching it.

“I graduated.”

“She graduated, Tony.”

“I know. I was there,” he says scowling at Nana. “I just thought The Professor might have gone back to brush up on her shit. What’d you study? Or, uh, what was your major?” he asks with a fake serious look.

“English and History.”

“History? And you don’t know about Jim Thorpe? Are you telling me that I know more than The Professor?”

Usually, when I visit and he’s sober, he ignores me. I don’t hear him talk much to anyone. When we arrive, he nods hello or holds his hand up to say hi. If he’s eating something and wants to share, he’ll look at us and point at the food. When we get ready to go, he nods or holds up his hand again. When he’s been drinking though it’s hard to keep him quiet. I feel myself getting warm.

I look at Uncle. He’s sitting up and looking directly at me with the widest grin.

“Yeah, you know more than I do, Uncle.”

“Aw, go to hell!” He waves for me to turn back to the TV and I do. Uncle looks back at the screen too.

Even with Burt Lancaster playing the lead role, Jim Thorpe’s story is more interesting than I expected. Jim didn’t want to go to the Carlisle Indian School. He went and wasn’t happy until he became involved with sports. He won gold medals at the 1912 Olympics and wants to become a football coach. The Olympic committee took his medals away when they learn that he was paid for playing minor league baseball during college. To support his family, he plays pro baseball then football. I try to remember that it’s just a Hollywood movie. A commercial for musical hits from the 1950s comes on.

“Someone to watch over me…” the TV croons.

I feel Uncle looking at me.

“Your mother loved that song,” he tells me. He scoots up and stares at the TV before turning to Nana, “Didn’t she, Ma?”

“I don’t know Tony. Mono liked a lot of music,” Nana responds. “Frank Sinatra, mariachis, those colored singers.”

“Yeah, she liked a lot of different music, but I know she liked him. Johnneee…? Mathis! Johnny Mathis that’s who sings that song.” He seems to remember something and chuckles to himself.

“Remember the Fickle Fox?” he asks me.

“Fickle Fox? What’s that?”

“You know, uh, Mission Playground?”

“Where Nickel Pool is?” I ask him.

“Yeah, Nickel Pool, Mission Playground, same thing. You remember Jets that used to be there on Valencia?”

I can see the large 1 and 9 lit up by dozens of clear light bulbs. Jets advertised their 19 cent fries with those blinking lights.


“Remember across the little street from Jets there was a bar? The little street not Valencia.”

I see the bar with a smiling red or dark orange fox face on a white background.

“Yeah, yeah, I remember.” I can see Jets and Fickle Fox. I’m happy to share this memory with Uncle. Jets was torn down for the park’s expansion and Fickle Fox has turned into a trendy tapas bar.

“Well, I was walking to Mama’s, I mean Nana’s, one day after work and I passed by that damn place.”

I picture Uncle in his tan Derby jacket, white t-shirt, and Levi’s casual slacks.

“I looked and who did I see?”

He looks at me to guess. I have no idea and don’t guess.

“Fucken Johnny Mathis!”

“Cool! Did you tell my mom?”

“Yeah, I told her that he was in there.” He pauses. “She was disappointed, uh, surprised, ‘Aw, Tony!’” He pauses even longer. “It was a bar for, uhm, gays.”

Oh no. Gay is one word that does not get mentioned in Nana’s or any family member’s house. Growing up surrounded by 49ers Faithful and Raiders Haters, the only time I heard anything remotely “gay” was when my uncles watched their cross-bay rivals demolish the homeboys in red and gold on the football field. “Faggot Plunkett!” “Throw an interception, faggot!” “Sack his faggoty ass!” When I was a kid and still figuring out my gayness, I wondered how they knew Jim Plunkett was gay. Without attracting their attention, I studied him in his silver and black. Was it the way he ran? The way he threw?

Nana looks at Uncle then back to Jim. I look back at Jim.

“Did you know it was a gay bar?” he asks me.

“Nah, I had no idea. We used to just go to the playground to get our free lunches and swim.”

“Tony, we’re trying to watch the movie,” Nana tries to nudge him to silence.

“I’m just trying to talk to my niece, Ma.”

We’re all quiet for a while.

“Hey, I ran into Auntie Dizzy earlier tonight at the Dovre Club.”

I came out to Auntie last year. After hearing me talk through tears and cry through talking about a case of unrequited love, Auntie shhh-shhhd me into falling asleep on the couch. Auntie has been very supportive of my queerness since that day. She welcomed my friends when I brought them by her favorite bar and listened with excitement when I told her about my first Pride Parade. I asked her not to tell anyone in the family, and she agreed. I hope she kept her word.

“Yeah, she told me you’re going to be selling sodas tomorrow.”

“Mm-hm,” I pretend to focus on the movie.

“What’s the group raising the money for?” he asks.

“A retreat,” I answer truthfully but not completely.

“You all go off in the woods or some shit like that?”

I’ve never been on a retreat—let alone a lesbian retreat—and am kind of unsure myself.

“I guess whatever everybody decides they want to do.”

Please, God, make him pass out.

“Just women in the woods?” he asks.

“Tony, you have to go to work in a few hours. Why don’t you go to bed so we can watch this movie in peace?”

“Aw, fuck work. Cath’ll call me in. Won’t you, Cath?”

I’ve heard him ask Nana, Auntie Rita, Auntie Diz, and some of my cousins to call in for him. I don’t feel like doing him any favors, but no one has ever said no.

Jim catches the ball and runs past defender after defender. I wish I were Jim, running and running. I’d run past the goalpost and just keep going. I sneak a look at Nana. She’s watching Jim.

“It’s a lesbian group, Ma. They’re gonna sell sodas at the gay parade for their lesbian retreat,” he says casually as if he were announcing a sporting score.

I stop breathing. My eyes widen. I try to blink them back to normal size. My eyelashes are the only things moving. Nana sits frozen for a full minute. The announcer announces that we will take a break for their sponsors before returning with the final scenes. Finally, Nana scoots up in her seat and very carefully removes her glasses. She folds them and puts them in her cushioned pouch. She picks up each puzzle book and folds each cover back to the front. She picks up her pill containers from the side table. She puts the objects in her bag that hangs across her walker.

“She’s a lesbian, Ma,” Uncle chuckles.

Nana continues with putting her things away.

He tilts his head back against the couch and exhales as if he is exhausted.

“Ah, what the fuck. It’s your own damn business, your own damn business,” he mumbles more to himself than to me.

Jim returns. Nana and I watch him throw a football to a group of young boys. “THE END” covers Jim before the screen fades. A cubic zirconium commercial comes on then one for a little machine that dices, slices, and chops carrots. Nana turns to me.

“Are you staying the night, Cath?”

“Uh, no. No, Nan, I’m gonna go home when Auntie gets back.”

“He’s here,” she points at Uncle with her long, brown finger. “You don’t have to wait for her. She comes in late.”

“That’s okay, Nan. I’ll wait.”

“Do you have your car?”


“Well, you know where the blankets are if you decide to stay or wanna lay down, right?”

“Ah-huh, yeah.”

“Okay. Good night and be careful if you go home tonight.”

“Okay, Nana, good night,” I say a little too fast. I don’t look at her, but I start breathing again.

“Tony, get some sleep before you have to get up for work in a few hours.”

Nana waits but Uncle appears to have finally passed out.

She dismisses him with a wave of her hand. Then she pushes herself along with her walker and out the door. He opens one eye.

“Did the ol’ grey mare leave?”

“Yeah.” I have no idea what he’s going to say next if anything.

“Whatever the hell you do, don’t ever act like your shit don’t stink,” he tells me.

My shit don’t stink? This is what he usually accuses his recent ex-wife of: “She acts like her shit don’t stink!”

“Okay, Uncle, I won’t,” I answer quickly to end the conversation.

“There’s this asshole who comes to the bar and he always acts like his damn shit don’t stink. I hate that asshole and it don’t got nothin’ to do with him being…that way.”

Uncle knows a gay man? Uncle knows a gay man. Uncle knows about me. He busted me out to Nana and now he’s saying he knows—drinks with?—a gay man. This is my chance to ask him about Jim Plunkett.

“Okay, I’ll try not to…uh, Uncle?”


“Uh, how did you know that Jim Plunkett is gay?”

“What? What the hell are you talking about?”

“Well, I remember hearing you and Uncle Bobby and Uncle Tommy talking about him whenever he was on TV. You guys were always saying, ‘Fucken Plunkett, fag—”

He cuts me off.

“I gotta go to bed. Call my job. The number’s on that paper near the phone. Tell them I might be 15 minutes late, but I’m coming in.”

“Okay, Uncle.” I guess open discussion time is over.

“Get $20 outta my wallet for a cab for you to go home,” he says as he takes his wallet from his right back pocket and sets it on the couch’s armrest.

“Thanks, Uncle, but I have my car.”

“What’d I tell ya? Don’t act like your shit don’t stink. Take the damn twenty,” he points at his wallet.

“But I have—”

“Take it for gas money then, goddammit.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“Damn kids think they know everything. Didn’t even know who the fuck Jim Thorpe was. Brings up that asshole Plunkett. Lemme go to sleep.”

Somehow, I made him mad at me. I don’t say anything else.

He gets up and walks to his bedroom. I call the Hostess office and pass on his message. I watch TV with the sound very low. I flip channels for a couple hours. I try to imagine how it will be the next time I see Nana. Finally, I reach for his wallet. As I do, I look down the hall to try to prepare myself in case of another “Boo!” I take out a twenty and put it in my own wallet.

Soon after, he opens his bedroom door and walks down the hallway to the kitchen. He calls Yellow Cab and orders a ride. He goes into the bathroom. I hear him wash up and brush his teeth. Then he walks into the livingroom and stands in the doorway.

“Did you get the twenty?”


He crosses to the couch, picks up his wallet, and returns it to his back right pocket. He nods good-bye and walks to the stairs without saying anything else. He walks back to the livingroom doorway. I’m surprised that he’s returned and look up.

“Plunkett isn’t gay. He’s a traitor. We don’t like him cuz he played like shit for the Niners for two years then he signed with the Raiders and won two fucken Super Bowls.”

He nods once more then turns around and walks back down the hallway. His footsteps are much lighter on the stairs than when he entered a few hours earlier. I feel the cold wind as I hear the door close. I swim through channels until I find “Saturday Night Live” perform a “Family Feud” skit.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Brewery, Casino, Cork Fest, and State Fair

Kris and Otto came down this weekend. Thursday night, Geen and us went to Marble Brewery. Nine 5-ounce glasses of various brews, including one whiskey-beer and a wine-beer (yeah, they weren't as good as they sound), later we left with smiles on our faces. The stout won.

Friday evening, Kris and I left Geen to study while we went out. (Not: Gina was invited, but she had homework.) We stopped at a sports memorabilia shop, and I bought an Albuquerque Dukes (former minor league team) cap. We made a quick stop at the Apple store to buy Geen a new power cord for her old iBook. It literally burned last week. Scary.

Then Kris and I stopped for dinner on our way to Sandia casino. She ordered a margarita, but it was too sweet even for me. She scans the beers on tap over my head and announces, "I'll have a Shiner Bock." I hadn't even seen Shiner Bock. Forget the water if there's Shiner Bock.

Then we headed to the Sandia Casino. We waited in line for our as advertised $40 for new customers. Since I had already signed up for a card, I got...a replacement card. Kris' forty included $20 on a debit-type card for slots and $20 in coupons for the tables. Kris split her coupons with me. We walked around the tables for a while. She likes craps and roulette, and I like blackjack and roulette. I never gamble much money. Forty, maybe sixty, dollars is enough to make me calculate in my mind for a week what I would have done with that money if I hadn't thrown it away. While we were waiting in the 20-person line, we could see the light pole showing the roulette numbers that were coming up. She nudged me. Nineteen had come up. Red 19. She knows that is one of my numbers. Years ago, she saw me place a bet--my only bet--on red 19 on our way walking through a casino in Las Vegas (Nevada) and it came up. We chatted in line some more. Later, she nudged me again. Nineteen had come up again. Right after the other one.

I watched Kris bet on craps for a while then we both left the table. I like roulette and 19 had come up twice, but the tables were crowded or there was no space. I like to stand in the middle where, it seems, everyone else likes to stand too.

I found a seat at a blackjack table and Kris wandered away. Part of the reason I chose this table is because the dealer looked to be Chicana and her name was Casandra. Or, her name tag said Casandra. Two days earlier was my future god-daughter's birthday. I think Kasandra turned 9. Right or wrong, Casandra was good to me. Usually, I like to sit as close to the dealer's left as possible. This time the only open seat was second from dealer's right end. The man sitting next to me (on the dealer's immediate right) was especially helpful. Also, the cards were kind to me no doubt. I've played a few times, but I'm still often not sure what to do and when. He helped me out. Dealer's showing 10, don't bother busting for her; You can double down on any two cards; When the cards are hot: bet more chips, win more chips; Listen to your gut. Have you lost yet, he asked me a few times. Of course, I had and I did, but I was winning more than losing. Next dealer, my luck continued. I got a few blackjacks--some? Four. When the third dealer came and I lost a couple hands, I got up and walked away. I did a mini victory lap just glad to be in the black. Then I started looking for Kris.

I spotted her at a roulette table. She had maybe 10 chips. How are you doin, I asked. Not so good lately, she said. She placed another bet. Her chips were the only ones not swept up by the dealer. We can go any time, I told her. We left soon after.

The next day, Geen and I went to Cork Fest down the road. Kris wasn't feeling well and stayed home. I read and Geen checked out the art. Goldie Garcia, the Queen of South Broadway and bottle cap artist extraordinaire, and a friend sang karaoke. Last year, I heard her sing and told Geen that Goldie should do "It Must Be Him" by Vikki Carr. It's a heart-wrenching Chicana/o classic. I saw a drag queen do it at Galeria de la Raza some years ago, but I'm sure that Goldie can make it her own. This year, I remembered to tell her my suggestion. I'm crossing my fingers already for next year. I bought Otto, the four-legged leg of Kris' life a Garcia-glittery St. Francis enclosed in clear liquid plastic-filled bottle cap. Later, I drove Geen to the library. I came home and heated the timeless cure-all for Kris: chicken broth. A few hours later she was back from the dead and talking shit again.

The next day, I tagged along with Kris and Claire, a friend of hers from the Bay Area now living here. We hiked up La Luz. Well, we hiked up two miles of this part of the Sandias. We were keeping a good pace but still stopped for water. Claire said the peak was seven miles up. After about an hour and a half, I asked hikers coming down how much more we had to go. A woman told me that we were approximately two miles up. We walked a little more then headed back to reality.

The three of us had lunch at The Grove. I ordered Geen's usual: The Farmer Salad. The server brought it and I dug into that garden of a salad. Until I uncovered a creature from the garden. It was a green inch worm or baby caterpillar. I don't know what it was, but it was undulating between my organic baby lettuce and golden beets. I knew that I could and should just flick the protein to the side and eat the veggies, but I didn't. It looked at me. It stopped undulating and looked at me. I bothered the nearby server. The staff whipped up another salad. Or they just piled on more veggies and I was happy.

After our eating, I took Geen some lunch, an order of Tuna Toasties. She was studying at Zimmerman Library, and met me at the duck pond. These days, she's working at the office or reading a book. It was nice to sit with her in the sun. She invited me to lay my head in her lap. A sweet quiet moment then we left her to continue her work.

Kris and I came home before heading to the state fair. My first state fair. I think Kris' too. Geen, who grew up in Sacramento, Cali's capital, is familiar with state fairs. I've heard of them. Isn't there a movie with Judy Garland called "State Fair"? Or is that "The World's Fair"? Judy Garland. Where did that come from?

The New Mexico State Fair was fun. We didn't go on any rides, but we ate corn dogs; split a rez dog (authentic souvenir from the fair to the first person who can describe one); checked out the African American, Hispanic, Native American, and Fine Arts (open to all) Pavilions (who knew state fairs had art?!); and had "Boss c/s" hats custom made. I wish they had allowed us to photograph some of that art!

We heard food and merchandise priced at "2 for 1!" the last hour we were there. We got two pickles. I saw lots of raza, more black folks than I see most days. I saw lots of youth, lots of young couples. Lots of tank tops and tattoos. What's new? I saw folks out in the still-warm weather on the last day of the fair. I thought of my students who during Free Write have been writing, "I went to the fair last night," "I'm going to the fair this weekend," or "I can't wait to go..."

When we were walking to the car, we saw workers taking down the tents. a crowd of mostly--if not all--men waiting outside the fair's back gate. They were shabbily dressed. I thought of The Grapes of Wrath and the scenes when men were fighting to work. I couldn't put words to it, but I saw the novel's images in my mind when I looked at those men. There were some cops standing inside. I noticed a cop unlocking the gate. He marched out forcefully. The crowd backed up. None of his partners followed. He stopped and returned inside. I couldn't hear what was said. I wonder.

At the corner, cars are coming and Kris can't pull out. A young couple--he's pushing the stroller--stops at the curb. They wait for her to go. She motions for them to go. As they pass, the young woman with thin eyebrows, says, Thank you. Just that makes me feel more connected to her than the crowds inside. I want to say, we had a good time at the fair, didn't you, homegirl? And mean just that.

I bought a baseball cap with Olde English letters. This cap might get me a second look from cops and homies, but I can bet all the money I spent this weekend that nine times out of ten, I won't get accosted or arrested. It's not true for many people I saw last night and many of my students I see Monday through Thursday.

Sunday hikes, organic yuppie food. I'm not so far ahead--stressing about sixty bucks as if it were six thousand. I'm just not where I was. It's the 1,000 miles, the grey hair, the college degrees. And more. Some I know; some I'm still figuring out at 44.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Moon Fall, Moon Rise

Fall came early this year. Some say fall begins on September 21st. Some say Labor Day. Geen told me that a colleague said fall begins when the State Fair is in town. The Fair started Friday night. We missed the State Fair Parade yesterday. Fall came the week R was here during “summer vacation,” the third week of August.

It was hot while he was here. But it was cool enough one night that we wore sweatshirts when we sat on our plastic lawn chairs and talked while we looked up at the sky. I saw a shooting star. Weeks earlier, when the suegros were here, suegra went outside a few nights when she couldn’t sleep. She saw bunches of falling stars, she said. I was happy for my one.

Two weeks ago, Geen was working on a paper and I got on the phone with my friend Tanya. I went outside to chat--partly because of our house’s bad reception and partly because my volume increases greatly when I’m yakking. She needs near silence to work.

I eased myself onto the hammock that a former co-worker gave Geen. It felt like my first time sitting on it all summer. I just laid back and watched the sky. The clouds hid the moon. Or tried to. Her light broke through here and there, but she didn’t have a chance.

About 9 that night, the air was still warm enough that I didn’t need a jacket though I thought it might rain because of the overcast sky. Slowly, the clouds morphed and separated. I would get caught up in my conversation then see the sky anew.

When the moon was revealed, she was—a word I don’t often use—awesome. I could see the shed, the hose, the plastic lawn chairs, the old crate full of empty plant pots. It was night, but it wasn’t dark. Okay, it was kind of dark, but it wasn’t dark. Yes, it was like someone had turned on a light in the room and the room was earth.

I thought of the Astronomy course I took in community college. I got an A, but what did I remember? I thought of runaway slaves and how they must have loved and hated bright nights. I imagine that they could travel north more easily, but the slavecatchers could find them more easily. I thought of Aztec moon goddess Coyolxauqui. So powerful she had to be brought down.

I finished my conversation with Tanya and came back in the house. Geen finished her paper. Carefully and slowly, one by one, we went out and sat on the hammock together. We wrapped our bodies around each other and shared where our minds had been the past few hours. Then we watched the moon climb and separate herself from the other bodies in the sky.

We wondered about the sun. If the moon was this bright at 11 o’clock at night…And the other stars? We overwhelmed ourselves with thoughts of the heavens. After our questions tired us, we came inside. Geen raised the blind in the bedroom. We saw her at her highest point, wished each other a good night, and let her watch over us…Then Geen lowered the blind so the sun wouldn’t wake us too early.

I wish I noticed the sky more when I was home. When I lived in San Francisco, my eyes were much more focused on concrete—not wanting to step into a mess, not wanting to attract the attention of the wrong person. I tell myself that when— if?—we move back to California, I’m going to look at things, especially the sky, more. I’m going to notice. I’m going to remember.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Stages from Evening to Night

last evening

sun hits
mountainside glows

clouds hover
mountainside goes

same mountain

sharp ridges of cloudtops
melted frame of cloudbottoms

evening rain
evening sun
i wear my sunglasses
while i have wipers on

last week

along first base line
drop is thrown at my cheek
i look for thrower
folks are drinking beer
yelling at right fielder
eating nachos
no one looks back

game ends
we walk to car
mist turns to sprinkles
we rush inside
drops drill me
through inchandahalf gap
of broken driver's window

i drive to store
for eggs and milk
the crashes against hood
stop me
i turn for home

his 16 years say
let's go
my hand shifts to R

in front of store
we brace with baseball caps
slam doors
splash in


stars poke through
midnight-blue-at-9-o'clock blanket

half moon
less than half way to the top
of unharnessed sky

hole swallows key

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Few Notes on Abiquiu

Since we had never been in this area, we drove through Abiquiu before heading back south. The little time that I've been living here in New Mexico, I've heard a lot about O'Keeffe, Abiquiu, and Ghost Ranch. Also, I've skimmed through Witches of Abiquiu in Bookworks, the local independent bookstore here in town.

About a month ago, I bought Geen a book by one of Georgia O'Keeffe's neighbors. It's called The Genízaro and the Artist, and the author is Napoleón Garcia with help from Analinda Dunn.

I haven't heard a lot about genízaros, but I've heard some. Last fall, before I was going to teach an introductory course in Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies, I read a lot about New Mexican history. In those readings is where I encountered the term genízaro. I did not find one clear definition, but for those unfamiliar with it, here is my patched together definition from memory: Native person, often from a Pueblo, who worked for Hispano families and often lived with them. In some cases, these Natives had been sold into servitude--slavery in form though not name--by other Natives (non-Pueblos, including Apaches, Comanches, and Utes) or Spaniards. The genízaros didn't remain connected to other Natives. Also, there was mixing between these Natives and Hispanos. I don't have a handy list of sources, but Nuevo México Profundo: Rituals of an Indo-Hispano Homeland has an essay by Enrique Lamadrid that discusses this term.

We stayed long enough to take some fotos. Here's one of them.

Very First Rafting Trip

From Saturday, August 22, 2009

I turn from driveway onto Garden Road 30 minutes late. My nephew R sits in front as he has been most of this week-long visit. This time, I tell him to let Geen sit up front so she can GPS me like she always does. She disagrees saying that she can guide me from the back seat. He stays where he is and immediately falls asleep or rests with his head down and covered. After 20 minutes, Geen asks if I want her to come up front. I say, Nah, it's okay. Another 20 minutes go by before she tells me to pull over so she can come up front. I drive a few more miles. I pull over on I-25. He moves to the back without either of us having to ask. She asks for the stereo and puts on the radio to keep us alert. We eat our homemade bean-and-egg-in-corn-tortilla breakfast tacos with some green chile that her cousin made.

I am afraid that we will miss meeting our guides at Bode's. We drive through Santa Fe then Española. I watch the speedometer and roadside. I don't want to mark this trip as I did two others last year: with a moving violation. It's not fun to stand on the side of a road, especially being outnumbered with towering state police officers' hands on guns.

We arrive and I park on the side. I rush into the store. Have any rafting guides been here, I ask a few minutes before 9:30 am. There were some here earlier, the young woman of color at the counter tells me. I ask the older white man at the other cash register the same thing. I hope that I have read the website and the brochure correctly: Meet at Santa Fe at 8:30 am; Abiquiu at 9:30 am. I go to the car and check the brochure. Again. Geen and I talk about calling the company, but our cell phones have no service. Geen suggests that I ask to use the store's land line. I go inside and ask the man to use his phone. He asks why. I tell him. He says, They're running late. They always run late. This is New Mexico!

Our rafting guides arrive and we load up into their two vans. Our driver Katie passes out the permission slips. R has already given me the slip that he and his mom had to sign. I sign mine then pass our slips in and wonder how necessary they will be. Katie drives us further north about 30 minutes. We get out and the guides lower the four rafts from a van's roof. One member passes PFDs (personal flotation devices) and instructs how to put them on. He says to make sure that they don't go above our ears. He says that if we fall into the water, they'll grab us by our PFDs' shoulders. No rafting guide ever says life jackets throughout the whole day. One says, Life- then stops herself and pronounces PFDs.

Katie gives the safety lesson to the entire group of 20. We learn the importance of holding--and NEVER letting go of--the oar with a T-grip; pointing our feet downstream or grabbing the rope if we find ourselves outside the raft; and other survival tips. Katie then assigns passengers to the four guides and rafts. We get her. Our other passengers are a woman, her teen daughter, the daughter's teen boyfriend, and the woman's man. Katie tells us that the front two seats tend to be the wettest then she asks who wants them. Everyone stays quiet then the woman raises her hand. I wait for someone else to claim the other wet seat. Long pause. Finally, Geen says she'll take it. I know that Geen has swimming issues. I volunteer to take her spot. She lets me. I think about the adventure of the trip and ask R if he wants my seat. He doesn't hear me and while I'm explaining myself, the woman tells R that he can have her seat. It wasn't what we planned on, but it feels right. R and I smile nervously and excitedly at each other.

We scoot onto our seats bottoms first as directed. I'm surprised that we sit on the raft not inside on the bench. This is not how I had imagined being inside the raft. I reason that if we sit on the raft, it will be easier for one of us to fall in. Katie tells us to plant our feet--outside foot goes into a pocket and inside foot goes beneath the seat that we're not sitting on. I tell Katie, My inside foot doesn't get a good grip beneath the seat. Geen says hers doesn't either. Katie doesn't seem to hear or worry. I worry. Katie tells us we are not allowed to scream like little girls. I stifle a protest. I take some comfort when she adds, It's usually little boys who scream like little girls.

Katie has us practice going forward and backward then she sets us on our way. She calmly commands, Forward. We glide through the water like a huge eel or hippo. I dig my oar in the water and puuuul just as she's instructed. I look at R to make sure we are in synch. He barely puts his oar in the water and doesn't puuuuul. I pull my oar back and smack the teen boyfriend's oar. Somehow we go forward as Katie directs. One by one, the three other rafts follow us. We're a pack of lazy hippos floating down the river now.

Katie guides us as she makes light conversation with our two different groups, two different families. The other family quickly answers her questions, almost cutting her off. The girl and her boyfriend go to a boarding school in Pennsylvania. She spent her summer at Berkelee College of Music, and he worked at his mother's golf course. Geen, R, and I do not interrupt until Katie has asked her question. We wait for one of us to answer then we fall silent again.

One of the other family members asks how deep the water is. Katie stands her oar into the brownish water and says, About three feet. One by one, we each stand our oar in the water to confirm her measurement.

Water sloshes against the raft. The sky alternates between cloudy blue and overcast grey. The sun cooks our skin then retreats and rain sprinkles our heads. Katie tells us that according to an old wives' tale, the winter snow will be as high as the five-foot tall grasses swaying on the banks. In the background, mountains colored shades of red to brown watch us as we glide down river.

Katie expertly and nonchalantly navigates us down the Chama. We float along until we can see the swirling rapids ahead. Worse, or better, we can hear the rapids. They are not frothy and white as I had imagined. The water slaps against the raft and falls inside to wet my lower half. R makes no sounds as water hits him. I scream like a little girl. Okay, I yelp like a woman who has had very cold water thrown at her. Honestly, more water seems to fall on my side than R's.

Every now and then--and too far in between--Katie commands, Forward. I thought we were going to be moving those oars a lot more than we are. I thought we'd paddle so much that we'd beg her to say Stop. Once in a while, there's a Backward. But after three strokes, she says, Okay, stop. Maybe twice we get in four or five strokes in a row. I never feel that I'm in danger of falling into the water.

I look around. I imagine the first people to have travelled down this river. I wonder about other rivers, rivers I haven't seen--the American and Sacramento in northern California. I remember declining invitations to go white water rafting on them. I think of the Mississippi and remember Mark Twain's "Two Ways of Seeing a River" from the reader I use for English 950. Twain describes his feelings when steamboating on the Mississippi was new to him. He was enthralled. Later, when he knew the river, he could not get back the poetry of it. I know I'll never know the Chama or lose the poetry of any river back home.

The woman points out swallows' nests to her daughter. I don't want to turn my head because I don't want her to see that I am listening to her conversation though it is hard not to sharing the same ten feet of space.

Katie guides us to an eddy. She waits for the other guides to approach. She asks if they are hungry and want to stop for lunch. The guides check with their passengers and everyone says they can wait. Half an hour later, we stop for lunch.

We climb a small hill. We all notice a large tree with a rope hanging from a branch over the river. A male guide grabs the rope and swings his body out over the river. He returns to land, takes off extra clothing, and swings out again. Over the river, he releases himself. My eyes fall to the river and see him on his back with his knees bent and sticking out of the water.

The guides set up tables and bring out loaves of bread, lunch meat and cheeses, lettuce, tomatoes, condiments, and peanut butter and jelly as well as cookies. They say they let men serve themselves first yesterday so today it's women first. The breakfast tacos have worn off. Geen and I line up right away. I tell R that he'll get his turn soon. The guides clean up and we're off ready to finish our ride. R and I switch sides. Geen follows R to the other side too.

R is completely awake and a little more expressive during the second half. I think the early rapids were more mild than what he had imagined.

I point out tiny mudcaves beneath ledges. Geen tells me those are the swallows' nests. Oh.

As we approach our landing, the random sprinkles have turned into a light rain. We disembark and walk up to change our clothes. I change my shirt and decide to change everything else when we return to Bode's. We climb back into the van for the ride to the store.

R asks if we're heading back to Albuquerque. He wants to come back for Free Seat Cushions that will be given away at the Isotopes game. By this time, Geen has gone inside to change into dry clothes. The rain is pounding the top of the car and I have to raise my voice to be heard. I tell him that we had wanted to see what we could see in this part of New Mexico that we'd never been to, but because of the rain we may be going back sooner than later. Geen comes out. The rain stops. We cross the road to Abiquiu.

I chose this trip because I thought it would be a Class 3 and it was a 1-2. My brief rafting research revealed that class 1 is easiest and 5 is hardest. I figured that class 3, middle ground, was a safe place to start. My research also revealed that Taos Box is Thee Mera-Mera Rafting Trip and a class 4. Katie suggests coming back in late April or early May when the water is its highest and doing a class 3 trip. If it's good she says to come back the next week for Taos Box.

Some days I think this blog should be called Ignorant City Slicker or Urban Rat in Rural Paradise. My San Francisco is a small city--not big but definitely city though I'm not a complete hardened urbanite or streetwise cat. It's that I'm more familiar with what lies on top of concrete than what lies beneath it. During my two year "field trip" or residency here in New Mexico, I find myself laughing at myself for what I don't know and have never experienced as well as in complete awe of the beauty of this place. July 26th marks the end of Year 2 and beginning of Year 3 of the New Mexico 3 to 5 Year Plan.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

RGHS in the Evening

After dinner, on the spur of the moment, I ask Geen if she wants to go to the track. She says yes.

Does my question have anything to do with Kris telling me at dinner that she has lost 10 pounds? Yes. We're betting free lodging in Vegas in December that we can beat the other in losing weight. We each wanted to get fit (or fitter, depending on how I'm feeling). I suggested the contest part. My Mom did a similar one about 30 years ago and I fantasize about winning the top prize like she did. I weigh what I did when we weighed-in in June. I'm not on the path to victory, but I still have 4 months.

We pull up. There are lots more cars at Rio Grande High School than when we came to play tennis a few weeks ago, but it doesn't look like as many people. There's space between two other cars, but it's not marked parking. Back in my City, I'd worry about a meter maid coming out of nowhere on a Cushman and adding to my parking ticket collection. Here, I just make sure I don't roll over the broken glass.

We walk over a large pipe on the ground that a little girl is using as her kitchen counter. There are men, women, girls, and boys on the track. Everyone is wearing work out clothes and jogging or running shoes except us. Geen asks if I want to go against the tide of everyone else. I fall into place and start walking. Geen points out the two young women ahead who are walking their chihuahuas on leashes. We laugh. As we walk around the first bend, I see the No Dog Walking sign. We walk on. We see two women walking backwards to our, the community's, flow. They don't seem to care though they are wearing appropriate gym clothes and shoes.

Geen and I walk and talk about how we hate jogging and running. I clarify that I hate those activities until I don't. I mean that I love walking. I could walk for miles forever. I could. But when I've been walking a lot, after a while, I want to run. Well, walk very fast then faster and faster until I'm jogging not quite at the speed of running. I don't think I've run since Uncle Joe was chasing me down 18th Street when I was a kid. That was a reason to run. What helps me jog is I keep a pace. 1, 2, 3, 4 inhale. 1, 2, 3, 4 exhale. 1, 2, 3, 4 inhale. 1, 2, 3, 4 exhale.

As we round the last bend, I notice a young man standing alone in the middle of the track. He is lit up by the towering lamp. He crisply maneuvers a rifle in various positions from his right shoulder to left with momentary stops in front of his chest. Over and over the same clean movements. I remember the young men from Mission High School's boys' drill team. Every Wednesday that I wore a green plaid skirt, I admired their jackets, trousers, and patent leather shoes. I remember watching them practice in the courtyard after school. The loud clangs of metal butts bouncing on concrete, the clipping of canvas straps hitting wood. Rifles carefully raised then wood stock banging against wood stock. All in step. And when they weren't, dropping for 10, 2o, 50 push-ups. I remember the day when other mere privates and I were allowed to shoot in our school's rifle range. I whisper, Right shoul-der...arms! Left shoul-der...arms! Pre-sent...arms!

By the end of my jogging/running/breathing lesson, we approach the pipe again. There are six small round and expertly patted mudcakes on the pipe in front of the little girl. A truck pulls out of the parking lot before us. Another two pull out while we are settling into the car. Two more vehicles turn on their lights and wait for me to turn around. Those four lights follow us out.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Breakfast Taco Envy

Why? Why does Texas have breakfast tacos and we don't? Why, God, why?!

Breakfast taco:
small corn or flour tortilla
Add some beans, papas, huevos, or bacon. Okay, those are my favorite contents but there are plenty others. Some salsa on the side. Mmmm.
Affordable: $1.69 at Austin's Chilito on Dean Keeton for each 2-item taco isn't dirt cheap but 2 tacos for $3.40 do satisfy a panza until lunch.
Easy to eat sitting down or on the go

Why can't I find these where I live? I'd like to be able to buy them when I'm out and about. Or, it'd be nice sometimes to run out and get a dozen--okay, a dozen-- and bring them home to eat.

Yes, Burque has plenty of tasty breakfast burritos--red and green--and my Mission has delicious, filling lunch and dinner burritos. But there are just some mornings when I wish I could eat breakfast tacos without having to change time zones. Or cooking them myself.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon. Thursday: 1 taco with beans and bacon, 1 with papa con huevo. Friday: 1 taco with beans and egg, 1 with with papas and bacon. Saturday: same as Friday. All on flour tortillas with a chipotle salsa. I can't wait for Sunday morning. Twelve hours. Tick, tock.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Life on the Road

years ago my auntie allie

and little cousin jovi came

from their small farm in sonoma

before wineries put that county on the map

they visited us

my very brown father

my white stepmother

my brown face


no-denying-my-missing-african-link hair

in that house

in middle class white suburbia

that same world i had visited on weekends

only moved to from the mission

after my mother died

a year earlier

jovi and i played on dad’s front lawn

a sloppy throw

bungled catch

jovi yelled

the ball went into the road!

i laughed and laughed

it’s a street not a road!

as i stepped off the sidewalk

today auntie still lives in forestville

jovi moved to a place called bend

they laugh and laugh at me

without sidewalks

here on garden road