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

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th

In remembrance of the folks killed on September 11, 2001 and all who are killed every day every where in the name of holy, right, or good wars. Suheir Hammad's words broke my heart, comforted, and inspired me at the same time when I first read them ten years ago. I offer my own after hers.

First Writing Since
by Suheir Hammad

there have been no words.
no poetry in ashes south of canal.

no prose in trucks driving debris and dna.

evident out my window an abstract reality.

sky where once was steel.

smoke where once was flesh.

please god, let it be a mistake, the pilot’s heart, the plane’s engine.

god, please, don’t let it be anyone

who looks like my brothers.

i don’t know how bad a life has to break in order to kill.

i have never been so hungry that i willed hunger

never so angry as to want a gun over a pen.

not really.

even as a woman, a palestinian.

never this broken.

ricardo on radio said in his accent thick as yucca, “i will

feel so much better when the first bombs drop over there.

a woman crying in a car parked and stranded in hurt.
i offered comfort, a hand she did not see before she said,

“we’re gonna burn them so bad.” my hand went to my

head and my head to the dead iraqi

children, the dead in nicaragua. in rwanda who vied

with fake sport wrestling for america’s attention.

people saying, this was bound to happen, let’s not forget u.s. transgressions.

hold up, i live here. these are my friends and fam,

me in those buildings, and we’re not bad

people, do not support america’s bullying. can i just have half a

second to feel bad?

thank you, woman, who saw me brinking cool and blinking
tears. opened her arms before she asked “do you want a hug?”

big white woman, and her embrace only people with flesh can offer.

“my brother’s in the navy,” i said. “and we’re arabs”. “wow, you
got double trouble.” word.

one more person ask me if i knew the hijackers.

one more motherfucker ask me what navy my brother is in.

one more person assume no arabs or muslims were killed.

assume they know me, or that i represent a people.

or that a people represent an evil. or that evil is as simple as a

flag and words on a page.

we did not vilify white men when mcveigh bombed oklahoma.

give out his family’s address or church. or blame the bible or pat fucking robertson.

networks air footage of palestinians dancing in the

street, no apology that hungry children are bribed with

sweets that turn their teeth brown. correspondents edit images.

archives facilitate lazy journalism.

and when we talk about holy books, hooded men and death, why

never mention the kkk?

if there are any people on earth who understand how new york is

feeling right now, they are in the west bank and the gaza strip.

bush has waged war on a man once openly funded by the cia. i’ve read too many books to believe what i am told. i don’t give a fuck about

bin laden. his vision of the world don’t represent me or those i

love. but i’ve signed petitions for years to out

the u.s. sponsored taliban. shit is complicated, and i

don’t know what to think.

but i know who will pay.

women, mostly colored and poor, will have to bury children, support themselves through grief.

in america, it will be those amongst us who refuse blanket attacks on

the shivering. who work toward social justice, and opposing hateful policies.

“either you are with us, or with the terrorists” - meaning keep your people under control and resistance censored. meaning we got the loot and the nukes

never felt less american and more brooklyn, than these days. these stars and stripes represent the dead as citizens first – not

family, not lovers.

my skin is real thin, my eyes are darker. the future holds little light.

my baby brother is a man now, on alert, praying five times a

day the orders he will take are righteous and

not weigh his soul down from the afterlife.

both my brothers - my heart stops - not a beat

disturbs my fear. muslim, gentle men. born in brooklyn

and their faces are of the arab man, all eyelashes and

nose and beautiful color and stubborn hair.

what will their lives be like now?

over there is over here.

across the river, burning rubber and limbs

rescuers traumatized. skyline

brought back to human size. no longer taunting gods.

i cried when i saw those

buildings collapse on themselves like a broken heart. i have never

owned pain that needs to spread like that.

there is no poetry in this. causes and effects.

symbols and ideologies. mad conspiracy here, information we’ll

never know. there is death here, and promises of more.

there is life here. anyone hearing this is breathing, maybe hurting,

but breathing for sure. if there is any light to come, it will

shine from the eyes of those who look for peace and justice after the

rubble and rhetoric are cleared and the phoenix has risen.

affirm life.

affirm life.

we got to carry each other now.

you are either with life, or against it.

affirm life.

Suheir Hammad is a Palestinian-American poet and political activist. She has published a book of poems, Born Palestinian, Born Black and a memoir, Drops of This Story.

Shout Out to the OGS: Osama, George, and Sadaam
by Cathy Arellano

richman osama thinks it’s time
for his religious hour
tells 19 fanatical fatalists
to fly planes into twin towers
of global trade
and five triggered fist
of imperial power

this inspires george
to declare a crusade
he readies, aims
bombs afghanistan
to attack the taliban

too bad he didn’t raise a hand
when girls were pulled from school
and pushed to wed
though young enough to still wet the bed

george bombs caves
to shake qaeda loose
but he overlooks egypt’s martial law’s noose,
the general-called-president in pakistan,
and the emir of kuwait
who still hasn’t set the date
when women can vote
though his democratic regime was saved
twelve years ago
somehow our friendship
with the saudi monarchy
home of fifteen of the fliers
stays as strong as the oilgarchy

oligarchies aren’t a middle east only deal
we’ve got our own
let’s keep it real

this country’s richman
son of central intelligence,
this supremely selected leader
groans against affirmative action
though with average grades
he gained admission to his daddy’s yale
then drove drunk and avoided jail

george’s brother neal has been awol
since silverado savings and loan failed
his other brother jeb
governs the state
that had the highest rate
of vote and voter rejection

make no mistake
george is from the elite
and no matter what
will never give up that seat

though he swears up and down
it’s not lust for oil
or revenge making him fight
his daddy’s foe
we all know that ain’t so

it’s george’s watch
in the house of white
he’s not going to botch
the chance to run the country
like a fortune 500 company
just look at “rice-a-cheney
the oil industry treats”

george restricts civil unions
and civil rights
deregulates corporations
in the name of saving the nation
with this richman
it’s business as usual

the attacks on liberties
also happened in sadaam’s state
that military millionaire
gassed his own people
he disgraced them and their land
when the cia funneled dollars to his hand
so he would fight iran

these rich men don’t have their eyes
on the prize
but on the other guys’ size
of weapons of mass destruction

it doesn’t take much deduction
to figure out from this point
how things will function
blood will shed for oil

the poor of iraq afghanistan pakistan
and this land
still place second

and for girls and women
no matter how many burqas we wear
or where we bow our heads in prayer
it comes down to the daily struggle
for food, water, and air

but richmen don’t care
they don’t pay for war
from their pockets
it’s not their kids
getting shot by rockets

if richmen’s kids fought wars
maybe their fathers
would find other ways
to settle scores

instead, richmen give poor folks guns
send them far away to bleed
or keep them close
throw them in jail
and don’t let them read
richmen get nervous
when the people know what they need

these richmen show no shame
they act like their bank accounts
reflect their piety
erase the notoriety
of how they obtain their wealth

but the message jesus and mohammad
preached for spiritual health
was love one another
not rape your sister
kill your brother

the next time one of these richmen
bows his head and prays to the dollar
we gotta stand up and holler

we must remember
that any fundamentalism
that denies the fundamentals for all
is just old-fashioned tyranny
are you hearin’ me?

ballots will be bought
bullets will be shot
as the OGS fight
to extinguish our light

but if you’re hearin’ me
let’s lift our eyes, raise our voices
each day and every hour
cuz there’s no force
stronger than the people’s power

now it’s time to end this poem
so please slip one last fact
inside your dome:
regime change begins at home 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

No News Has Been Good News

I haven't written a blog entry in almost three months, but I have been writing and rewriting and editing and re-editing which is writing, right? I thought about posting a poem here and there, now and then. I saw friends posting their weekly blog entries and felt my usual shame for not posting more.

I have asked myself: Why have a blog if I don’t post more often or more regularly? Answer (one of them): I don’t want to post just to post. I’ve told myself, Use the post as a way of practicing your art. Another answer: What do I have to say? Who cares? Why bother? What does it matter?

My friend and mentor said she asks students: Why do you write? This is similar to a question Margaret Randall has on Albuquerque Local Poets Guild blog: What makes you write?

I have many answers, but the easiest, shortest, quickest one is: Because I want us to remember. I want my family and community to remember us as we were. Because the people in power won’t. We must. For ourselves and our kids the future. And the past. We must remember those who came before us. We must try to understand what they lived through and how so we can do one better. Not to look down on them but so we can learn. Though we can’t live by studying lessons. We need to live actively and make our own mistakes. We need some understanding of the past to help us through the present to make the future what we want and not just survive what’s been given to us.

I’ve been harsh with myself about my writing. You need to be more disciplined. You need to make it more of a priority. You need to be more serious. I’ve laid down the law: You will post every week. I rebelled so I got lenient: You will post every two weeks. You must post at least once a month. Okay?

I could stand to be harsher with myself, but I know I need to remember to be gentle too. I need to forgive myself when I fall short of my goals. When I set my goals too low. When I ignore my goals. When I lie and say I have no goals. Without forgiveness I’ll be lost.

Practice. Over and over. Living, writing, breathing, saying please and thank you, saying no to injustice, saying yes to joy. While I have not posted many entries this summer, I have written 500 (at least) words almost every day—yes Saturday and Sunday too—this summer. I’m glad I haven’t posted many of those thousands of words, but I’m glad I wrote them. I’m glad I took the time. I’m thankful I had the words and time.

I am still feeling my way around this form. I am still finding my way as a writer. I want to explore more of these ideas in this blog. I don’t have all the answers about writing as I sometimes think I do or, more often, think I should, but I look forward to sharing more about my writing process.

This summer, I've been working on my manuscript, Salvation on 24th Street. This collection of poetry and prose is based on growing up in my family in San Francisco’s Mission District from the 1960s to the 1980s. Momotombo Press plans to publish the work this fall. The hard work isn't done, but I'm very excited to think it will finally be available for folks to read very soon.

On Saturday, August 20th from 6 to 8 pm, I will share the stage with some local poets, including Andrea Serrano, Mary Oishi, Jessica Helen Lopez, and Hakim Bellamy at The Projects. It’s a fundraiser for the Albuquerque Cultural Conference the following week.

I’m very excited that my UNM class, (W)riting Home: Place and Ritual in Creative Writing and Literature, begins next Thursday, August 25, 2011. We’ll meet 5:30 – 8:00 pm. Lisa Gill of Albuquerque Local Poets Guild posted a great write-up on the blog.

After sending the last major revision of my manuscript to my editor, Maria Melendez, and publisher, Francisco Aragón, I took a week off and left city, state, and country. While I was relaxing without cell phone or laptop, I read recently released A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness. I’m thrilled that (W)riting Home will end our first class early so we can hear and see Cherríe Moraga and Celia Herrera Rodriguez discuss their work. Moraga weaves ideas about writing, family, women of color feminist activism, art, queerness, transnational solidarity, and progressive politics with a daily living practice of integrity in this collection of essays. Herrera’s series of images ground Moraga’s text in indigenismo. Herrera’s images complement Moraga’s work while captivating the viewer to remember and imagine former and future times and worlds.

This month on the 29th, I will return to teaching my regular CNM classes. I’d like to post about my CNM classes. One minute the classes feel like other worlds then the next they feel like I’m back in my home world.

A community group has asked me to teach a class this fall. We’re still working that out. I hope to release details as soon as possible.

Next spring, I am scheduled to teach a 6-week creative writing class at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. I’m calling it “Fact, Fiction, and Funk” and expect fierce writing to emerge from it. I’ll post details soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Working on the Word Across Aztlán y Beyond C/S

Or, Confessions of a Teacher and Would-Be Writer

(Note: I thought I was going to write something else, but this is where the writing went.)

Last fall, I stopped in at the Lunada hosted by Sandra García Rivera. I signed up for the open mic.

Before moving to Albuquerque—Burque or Búrque, as Sandra spells it—I had never signed up for an open mic. I doubt I would have started. But when I moved here, no one knew me or my work. I figured no one would ever ask me to read if they didn’t know what I wrote. I signed up. I read. Now, I get asked to read.

That night last August, Sandra found room for me in the open mic. Later, we took a few minutes and caught each other up with our lives. Condensed versions. I told her about the vibrant writing and arts community here. I told her my wish for an exchange between the two communities. After many e-mail messages and fbk postings and a few phone calls between us and much more work on her part, it happened.

The Lunada reading: it was great to hear, to share, to be warmly received. To see faces I haven’t seen in more than four years or longer.

Even before I moved away, I didn’t see a lot of folks. I was high school English teacher by day and tired person at night. It was more than that: I had given up on my writing.

I told myself that I became a high school teacher so I could write in the summers. But I didn’t push myself to scratch down the poems buzzing in my head in the summers, and I didn’t fight for the time during the school year to write the stories that haunt me.

I’ve been jealous of lovers. Insecure. Possessive. When I saw someone more jealous, insecure, and possessive that I realized how truly ugly they make us look. Not to mention small and weak.

When I wasn’t writing, sometimes I read other peoples’ work and thought: I can write better than that. I saw books and wondered how they got published. Then I’d remember the ugly insecure and jealous people. I’d tell myself: write your poem, your story, your book.

I wanted to. But I didn’t want to enough. I was scared. I thought, someone might not like what I wrote. Someone might not agree with me. I wondered, What would my family say? My friends? Who was I? Who did I think I was? What did I have to say? What if I failed?

I wasn’t meant to be a writer, I told myself. Where was my work? Half finished, hidden.

When my partner Geen asked me to move to New Mexico with her so she could accept her dream job, she told me there was a writing scene here. She told me that I could work part-time and write full-time. I didn’t demand the time to write. She offered it.

I knew that I couldn’t move only for her. I mean, I could have. Like I thought about doing in my 20s and 30s for someone else. I could have just followed Geen, but I knew that I shouldn’t. I had to have my own goals, my own reasons for leaving home 1,000 miles behind. We agreed on a 3 to 5 year plan and I packed my bags.

I had trouble admitting it to myself, but I decided to come to New Mexico to write. If I admitted that I was coming to write, it would mean admitting that I hadn’t been writing. I had done some writing but not what I could have and should have. Could have, should have--those words we aren’t supposed to say.

Before moving here, I admitted that not only did I want to write, I wanted to teach on the college level. I fantasized about the University of New Mexico hiring me. Total fantasy considering my meager college teaching experience. On the positive side, it felt scary and exciting to fantasize, to dream, to wonder: what if I take my writing seriously?

I love how I feel when I teach, but I also I love how I feel when I write. I feel like I’m another person. I get absorbed. I explore. I laugh out loud. I sob. I talk to myself. OK, I talk to myself more. When I write, it’s more like I have conversations with myself. Though not only with myself. With my relatives and characters inspired by my relatives. They talk to me and to each other. In the middle of all that, I feel like I’m more me. I feel more connected to myself and the world even as I’m alone with my laptop or journal. (Years ago, I read Alice Walker describing hearing voices when she writes. I thought she was full of it. Oops.)

Last fall, Geen left her job—the one she came out here for—to go back to school for a Ph.D.

I’m still teaching and loving it. I love being a writer again. Maybe for the first time. I squeeze minutes during the school year. I rework lines and words of poems and stories when I should be grading or prepping. I write for hours, days, and weeks in the summer.

Last week’s Lunada meant, means, and will mean so much to me for a long time. My uncle was there. My mentor/spirit relative was there. Old and new friends came together. On a cold, wet, full moon Tuesday night. It was a party complete with ambulance sirens screaming down 24th Street.

This was one Lunada out of many Lunadas at Galería. One reading out of many in the Mission, in the City. But it was integration and renewal for me, two things I needed.

I know I can live here for another year or five years. I also know I can go home any day. I wish I could say that I know I’ll write wherever I am. That’d be a lie. I hope I would continue to write if I moved back home tomorrow. I do know that as long as I’m here I’ll work on it.

I'm scheduled to have a chapbook published this fall by Momotombo Press out of University of Notre Dame. I’m scheduled to teach a creative writing class at UNM in Fall 2011 and another one at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Spring 2012. 

I don't list these to brag. I list them to remind myself what is possible and what I could so easily not have.

I still don't know all the answers to those questions that stopped me. All I know I can't wait to find out. 

Last Tuesday, May 17th was the Galería de la Raza’s Lunada Literary Lounge and Open Mic hosted by the dynamic, gracious, eloquent and funny--in English, Spanish, and S(p)LANGish--Sandra García Rivera. It was the final night of the Spring series and the end of Sandra’s first full year. Gracias and Bravo!

Much thanks to Darren (DJ Aztec Parrot) Deleon for promoting the "Búrque to the Bay" Lunada on his Radio 2050 show.

Ten years ago, Marc Piñate started the Lunada in San José. He continued it when he moved to SF. 

With gratitude.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Finding Nikky Finney

The March/April 2011 Poets & Writers issue features a colored photo of a woman on the cover who looks so calm and happy. My mailing label covers her name: Nikky Finney. (I didn’t notice it until I read the issue.) I thought she was a woman of color, then I wondered if she was one because she looks sooo calm and happy. I know we’re calm and happy—or can be calm and happy. I hate to generalize but this calm and happy? Maybe the words I’m looking for are peaceful and content? Serene? Pleased with herself? Maybe she looked too pleased with herself.

I looked inside. I saw the reprint from her new book, “Instruction, Final: To Brown Poets from Black Girl with Silver”: “Be camera. Be black-eyed aperture. Be diamondback terrapin, the only animal that can outrun a hurricane…”

Last year, a friend and colleague, a white woman, gave me a copy of Finney’s essay, “Inquisitor and Insurgent: Black Woman with Pencil, Sharpened” that was published in Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism in 2006. I fell in love with that essay where she describes her coming of age in pre-Civil Rights era South Carolina and her creative and political consciousness. She skillfully shows how her political inquiries into Jim Crow South Carolina shaped her political insurgency and creative work.

I quickly pulled “Inquisitor and Insurgent” into my Developmental English Essay Writing curriculum. I always learn about my students in their work. Using her essay as a jumping off point, students wrote about their own inquiries and insurgencies. I especially liked reading about one student’s battle to wear her hair dyed a funky color to middle school. Ultimately, she was expelled from the school. Before that happened, her mother supported her daughter’s battle to represent herself and went to a school meeting with her hair dyed the same color as her daughter’s. (I realize that I may not convey the significance of the insurgency as well as my student did.)

In the Poets & Writers article, Kevin Nance does an excellent job of relating Finney’s family’s influence on her while growing up in that era. In her younger years, she was greatly inspired by seeing Young, Gifted, and Black. Later, she worked with Nikki Giovanni and Toni Cade Bambara.

When I read Finney’s essay last year, I wondered why I had never heard of her. I wondered where she was and what she was doing. I didn’t Google her. I didn’t look for her books in any library or bookstore. I thought about her and that essay and just wondered. I would like to think that I wandered. I would like to think that I ran across her writing years earlier. I dread that I ran across it and ignored it.

Saturday night, looking at that March/April issue I still didn’t know it was her, Nikky Finney from the essay. The beginning of Nance’s article compelled me to keep reading: “Beulah Lenorah Butler Davenport was not a woman to be refused. She carried herself with conspicuous dignity, and saw the same in her granddaughter, the writer Nikky Finney, on whom she doted…” Finney tells a story of being with Toni Cade Bambara when a man comes up to the famous writer and asks her if she’s the writer lady. Ms. Bambara says, Yes. Then he asks her to help him fill out paperwork to buy a house. Ms. Bambara went to his house and helped him fill out the paperwork. Finney learned that she didn’t want there to be a separation between her writing and her people too. Eventually, I realized who I was reading about.

When Finney is asked about having anger, she says, “Anger. That’s such an easy word…As an artist and a daughter of the South, and as someone who honors my feelings as often as I can, I don’t have to acquiesce to the polite expectations of the moment…My responsibility as a poet, as an artist, is to not look away.”

I had to read aloud quotations from the article and share with Geen because Finney’s words moved me so much. It’s not just her technical writing though her skill is apparent as she relates her experiences of not looking away and fighting. Inspiring.

Nikky Finney has a new book of poems out: Head Off & Split. She has other books: On Wings Made of Gauze, Rice, The World Is Round, Heartwood. I’ve ordered Head Off from the local independent bookstore.

I feel a certain joy at discovering a new (to me) author though I am very aware that Finney is not a new author.

Finney writes in “Inquisitor and Insurgent” and Nance repeats in his article how in her early writing days Ms. Bambara told her, “So—so you can write—so you can write pretty--so what—so what’s the plan?” She adds: “I learned it was never enough just to write it out pretty. I had to follow it through with action. At all times in all ways, I was accountable to my words.”

I’m not a young writer anymore, and I wish I didn’t have to be reminded of this lesson, but since I must, I’m glad—or, grateful—for the nudge. Or kick. I don’t live up to Finney’s words and I struggle to live up to my own, but I will think of Finney and others and try better to do my part.

In the black and white photo of Finney within the article, she looks just as challenging as her writing. I showed Geen the photos. She said that P&W wouldn’t have sold as many copies with the inside photo. I agree. I think I know why Finney looks so calm and serene and peaceful: she doesn’t just challenge her family, community, and nation, she challenges herself. Each insurgency may not be popular or successful, but it is true.

If you’re familiar with Finney’s work—and I’m sure many are—and would like to suggest anything else of hers to read or a particular sequence, please do. If you want to suggest other writers whose work I may have—or probably have—missed and shouldn’t any longer, please do.

Thanks to Nikky Finney for her work. Thanks to Kevin Nance for his article and P&W for publishing it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

1,000 Women March

We drove to Santa Fe last Friday for the 1,000 Women March organized by New Mexico Alliance-BASE, Chimayó; Kalpulli Izkalli, Albuquerque; Somos Un Pueblo Unido, Santa Fe; Concerned Citizens of Wagon Mound and Mora County (CCWMMC); League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC); AFGE, Local #4041; Las Tres Hermanas Co-op, Chimayó; El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, Albuquerque; Young Women United, Albuquerque; PB&J Family Services; and the Women's Justice Project and other organizations.

On the way, we were eating our Frontier breakfast burritos and listening to NPR’s broadcast from Tahrir (Liberty) Square. I was very inspired hearing Egyptians so excited and happy that Mubarak had stepped down. I was amazed to hear (and read earlier in the week) people saying they appreciated the military. They preferred military rule (on the expected temporary basis) to Mubarak. It’s no surprise considering he had been in power for 30 years. I kept wondering if we would feel so connected to the military here. I couldn’t picture it. We heard speaker after speaker flooded with joy. Tahrir, Tahrir, Tahrir!

We met at the railyards. YWU had extra signs so we carried one each. I saw a woman wearing a black shirt with light blue (teal?) writing that said 1,000 Women March. She was standing behind a table that had a Donations sign and what looked like food leftovers. I told her I liked her shirt. She said, Her brother made them. I asked if she was still selling them. She said, No, she had already given them all out. Yes, GIVEN for free. That’s the kind of march this was.

I carried a sign asking folks to call in with tips about the murdered women found on the West Mesa. There was an image made by Adelina front and center with the tip line phone number. I had no idea that there was a $100,00 reward. I thought the reward was $10,000. Honestly, reward or reward wasn’t front and center in my mind, but when I saw the $100,000 I remembered the $10,000 amount. There’s not much information coming out on these murders, but I think I would have remembered a $100,000 reward.

One of my favorite chants as we marched to the rotunda:

Hey Susana
Qué te pasa
Le diste su espalda
A su propia raza

That was the first time I chanted in Spanish and knew the intended target would understand it. Its cousin:

Hey Susana
Qué te pasa
You turned your back on
Your propia raza

On a bright note, when we arrived at the rotunda, there was a group of female mariachis! Yes, they were wearing hot pink. How cool is that? It’s not my color, but they wore it well.

Other cool sights that I hope to post fotos when I can: The young Native women with the “We Can Do It!” poster with a Native woman and the little girl sitting on a statue pedestal looking straight at the camera and looking fierce. There was lots more.

Almarosa was the emcee. Some of the speakers included: this mighty woman from northern New Mexico; three young, Native women; a couple older Native women; an African American woman; a Chicana union leader; and a Chicana vice provost from UNM. While we were outside listening to speakers, I could see people standing and watching from a window. Trippy.

Then we went up to the governor’s office. I expected there to be a guest book for us to record our names and concerns. There was a table of binder paper. I told the young admin staff member that if the governor wants to hear from her constituents she should have something in place. I told him, I know it’s not your decision. Later, an older woman staff member came. I told her the same. She said it’s because the governor’s staff is still setting things up. I told her that this seemed like something that should be ongoing and not dependent on a change in administration.

Then YWU broke into three groups to meet with representatives to discuss 1) Treatment not incarceration, 2) Reproductive rights: clinics that offer pregnancy testing and pressure women to put babies up for adoption, at least not have abortions, and 3) Pre-Natal Care and Treatment for Using Women.

Micaela led my group to four or five or more offices. We had three younger folks with us who spoke with staff and signed in. There were a few more of us older ones. Micaela modeled how to speak to the support staff and what to say a few times. I realized I didn’t know who my representative was. When it was my time to speak to the staff because the representatives were always out, I bumbled my way through. Thankfully, Micaela did a quick save.

We finally ran into Mo Maestas in the hallway. He stopped and spoke with us for a few minutes. It was great to meet someone who is fighting for what we believe in. I don’t know anything else about Mo Maestas, but this is a good start.

One of the best pieces of the day was hearing that the governor’s order for state police to question all arrestees about their immigration has been tabled. The bad news is that a legislator has agreed to bring the legislation back up. We can enjoy the days until he does. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

How a culinary-challenged person makes a pot of lentils, a coffee cake, and two loaves of corn bread in one morning and you can too!

This morning, I was looking through my recipe binder when this article on cooking, caught my eyes. The woman, Anna Thomas, wrote (paraphrase): “You, out there, you who don’t know how to cook. Pick up that bag of split peas and put them in a pot with some water and boil them. While you’re waiting for them to boil, cut some onions and carrots. Then go check your e-mail or read a book. My friend calls cooking soup meanwhile cooking. You cook and meanwhile you do other stuff…” 

I looked up and saw those lentils on the counter. About a year, probably more, ago I saw those lentils in the store and they looked so colorful. I bought those lentils. I brought them home and put them high on a shelf in the cabinet. A few months back, Geen put them in a jar and set them on the counter next to my nuts, almonds and peanuts. I can check my e-mail.

I opened the jarI looked at the refrigerator. I opened the fridge and took out carrots and the onion. And thyme and bay leaves. I chopped a quarter of the onion. I sliced about a dozen of the small carrots. Then I sliced them again. After making the tomato bisque earlier this week, I remember thinking: I wish I had chopped the carrots more. Then I added two bay leaves and a whole sprig of thyme.

I didn’t just open the jar of lentils and throw them in a pot with water. I asked myself Lentils? What do I do with lentils? I looked at a few other soup recipes I had and wasn’t sure what to do. First of all, I was scared to touch them cuz I was afraid that worms or bugs were in there and they were going to jump out and attack me. When nothing seemed to be moving around, I thought: hey, they’re like beans. If they’re like beans…I need to clean them. I spread them on the table and looked for rocks (and any sly critters) to take out.

Of course, when I do this, I feel Nana. I remember watching her looking for rocks. Even more than seeing her look for rocks, I remember the sound. I can hear her rocks falling in her pot. Clink, clink, clink, clink, clinkclink, clinkclink, clinkclink, clinkclinkclink, clinkclinkclinkclinkclinkclinkclink So, I do it some more. And carefully.

I rinse the lentils in cold water like Nana would. Or, how I think Nana would. My cousin Krissy would know what Nana would or would not do. She’s inherited Nana’s cooking skills. I get out Geen’s Mexican pot (olla!) and put the beans in. I pour in chicken stock which I don’t think Nan would do, but I like. I covered the pot and put on a low flame.

Actually, I cooked lentils once about….many years ago. I was inspired to try after eating some of my friend Adriana’s lentejas. Hers were delish. Mine? So-so.

Anna Thomas’ article came from Santa Fe Edible, you know those free food/cooking magazines that grocery stores give you and you take cuz the picture on the cover looks so good and easy. Then you take it home and put it somewhere. You just plop it on a stack of some other easy and delicious pictures and never make any of them so you just toss them into the recycling or garbage. I did that except I went through the stack about a year ago. Maybe six or nine months. I brought out a binder and plastic sleeves and stuffed each recipe in a sleeve. When I ran out of sleeves and still had recipes, I stuffed them on the back side. I was too disgusted with myself for having wasted so much time on such a stupid thing I couldn’t take any more time and put them in order.

When I’ve cooked recently (the last six months or so), I’ve worked on an order. I’ve added recipes. Today, the lentils were cooking and meanwhile I finally put them in order. I even wrote categories, like Breakfast, Breads, and Salads/Sides/Vegetables, on post-its and stuck them on the sheets so they’ll stick up. Now I don’t have to flip through all those pages trying to find the correct section.

I wasn’t finished. I wanted something else. I’ve been wanting a baked good—scones or bread or something. I’m working on sourdough bread. Before you do sourdough bread though, you gotta do a starter so I’m working on my starter. I started my starter on Wednesday. It begins with flour and pineapple juice. I’ve been stirring it twice a day. Today, I added another ounce of flour and juice. In 1 to 4 days maybe it’ll start foaming. I can see the old Parisian building off Cesar Chavez (Army) on the way to Third Street. There was so much bread in there. You didn’t have to start anything; you just bought it. Okay, maybe not at the factory right there where it was made but…Yes, there is sourdough bread here. I just want to make my own (in pajamas, save money)!

I looked in the binder again. I saw the coffee cake recipe. It’s a blueberry coffee cake. I didn’t want to go to the internet but I did. I went to that new site, Foodily. I wanted something like the Bisquick coffee cake. They had the Bisquick recipe, but nothing was just like it except with real flour. Recipes wanted: sour cream, yeast (and waiting two hours and…), buttermilk, yogurt, and other things I didn’t have or didn’t want to use. Finally, I chose one that I thought would work. I printed it and came back to the kitchen.

I made the coffee cake. I had to improvise cuz…I don’t remember. Oh, the sugar was rock hard so I melted the butter which the recipe didn’t call for. But I did. I melted the butter then put the sugar in there. Then I added the cinnamon. I added this to the rest of the mixture and put it in the oven.

I kept checking the lentils. Then it hit me: I was going to need—ok, want—corn bread to go with the lentils. The idea hit me cuz I found the last of the blue corn meal when I was reaching for the flour earlier. I had thought of baking corn bread the other day, but I thought we didn’t have anymore.

I brought down the corn meal. By the way, each time, I reach into or just open the cabinet door, I have to untie the twisty. The left cabinet door was open when I came into the kitchen. The cabinets underneath the sink were too. I left the sink cabinets open so the pipes would feel the warmth flowing through the house and not freeze and burst. The cabinet? I tell myself, the house is not haunted, but…I think what happens is the wood gets affected by the weather. One of us didn’t close it all the way or all the way tightly and the door got a little tweaked so I put a jumbo-sized twisty on it.

When I got the blue corn meal, I wasn’t sure if I had enough for a loaf (?) of corn bread. I put the corn meal mix in a 9” diameter pan before so is that a loaf? I measure out the corn meal and see that it’s just enough for one loaf (?). I remember that the two other times I have made blue corn bread, the bread has crumbled very easily. It’s a fine corn meal and a pretty blue color, but it crumbles away. After the second time, I told myself: Self, next time mix the blue corn meal with white flour. So I did. I could have mixed half of the blue corn meal with half white flour, but the corn bread seems to crumble away and get eaten so fast, I decided to use all the corn meal and just make two!

I had a slice of coffee cake with our “house” tea. We don’t make the tea; it’s the original blend flavor from Good Earth. Geen went to college in Santa Cruz and me in Berkeley. We tease each other about who’s the bigger hippie, but we agree that this tea is good stuff. She makes a sun tea from it in the summer. I don’t drink much iced tea. I rarely drink iced tea. This is the only iced tea I drink besides when I’m dying of thirst and there’s only Arrowhead water around. No me gusta arrowhead. Geen neither. Tampoco Gina.

I passed the bedroom to go to the bathroom. Geen called me. I talked with her a while before asking if she was ready for her coffee. She said yeah. I got up and made her coffee. I hate coffee. I never made anyone coffee before her. She likes it with lots of cream and sugar. I used to not taste it when I first made it for her. I’d just add what looked like enough cream and what looked like enough sugar. Then I noticed she was always adding stuff to it. Then she was putting it in the microwave to heat up cuz it got cold. Finally, I started tasting it. Coffee tastes like cigarettes. I don’t smoke. When I was 12 I asked my sister to show me how to smoke. She kindly obliged. All I remember is choking and being reminded—again—how uncool I was.

I brought Geen her coffee and two small slices of coffee cake. She liked them all. She suggested I comeback to bed and take a nap. I said no, no. She said she would keep an on my lentils. I said No-kay and fell asleep for three hours.

I woke up and we ate some fresh, hot, delicious lentils and corn bread!