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!