Monday, January 30, 2006

In Memory of Maxine Bernice Martinez, my mother

i don’t think of you lying in dark clay waiting

even though just days ago
you closed your eyes
and wouldn’t move

even though i felt your heart's last beat
and begged you and god
for just a little more of your time

i see you kneeling in your garden
surrounded by yellow flowers, cats, foxes and racoons

holding dark earth in one hand, a bulb in the other
turning to me
chattering
about how glorious – and that is your word, not mine –
how glorious the bulb will, eventually, blossom
humbly unaware
or unconcerned
with your participation
in that glory.

My Mother Died

On January 8, 2006, at 2:40 p.m., my mother died at Denver Health (the old Denver General Hospital). I was with her when she died, my hand on her heart. I pray that God did not allow her to die but instead scooped her to heaven and embraced her. I also hope to see her again.

Friday, April 15, 2005

SOMETIMES MY FUCKING MIND SCREAMS SOMETIMES MY FUCKING BODY

and i get all confused and say what the fuck
am i body or am i mind

and who is "I" to ask the damn question in the first place and why dont "I" shut the fuck up

then my mind says "I" must be crazy - talking about the consciousness of the consciousness of the consciousness and shit

and "I" hot boxes the blunt again then draws from a beer

and disregards my fucking mind who/which keeps wondering about the health of my fucking smoke-and-alcohol-filled body.

I've Always Wanted To Do This

this is a shitty poem about a shitty poem
and it goes

blah blah blah

blah blah blah

blah blah blah.

DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH COLLEGE STUDENTS

I’m not talking about students at prestigious colleges but about those at Community College of Denver (CCD) where I teach. And I do not mean all of the students at CCD, only many.

It’s crazy. Over the past few years I’ve noticed this trend – if, at the beginning of the semester, I convey to my freshman composition students that my course requires a seven-question weekly vocabulary quiz (for which I provide the words and definitions in advance of each quiz) and weekly homework, at least a third of the students will drop the course.

The vocabulary quizzes include words such as insipid, amalgamate, chaotic, discern and other such words. I give these quizzes to complement the homework which, typically, requires reading a 4-to-10 page article from an academic journal, writing a 2-to-5 page objective summary of the article and contacting me (via email or phone) with a question about the reading.

Because I only give pass-fail grades on these types of assignments, the students do not receive a penalty for their often underdeveloped reading and writing abilities so long as they put forth a good-faith effort in completing the homework.

I give the assignments as a means to practice reading and writing with the ultimate goal of improved skills in these areas. In theory, if the students come to class prepared (but only with their best efforts), then we (the class and I) can discuss what individual students did with the homework and what worked and what did not work.

IN THEORY.

That theory goes to shit when – typically – within the first three weeks of the semester a third of the students drop the course and many of those who remain come week after week without completing the homework.

I am not unaware of the other social forces at work which compete with the efforts of my students to do well in school. I nonetheless do not understand why so many students continue to attend college without, apparently, understanding that homework (solitary effort and outside-of-class-time academic work) is an integral part of learning.

What the hell is going on? Have students always behaved this way? Am I just becomming an old cranky bastard?

Saturday, April 09, 2005

PARA MIS ABUELOS (2003)

my grandfather would wake me
and i'd see his hand
mud from dark deserts
against my chest
pushing and beckoning me
into another day

and i would complain
quietly
in the most secret
places of my mind
and heart

not just complain
but curse the day

not knowing
the anger that consumed me
anger that lived in deep secret places

of my mind, buried in my heart
anger at my grandfather's son,
my father

for leaving me
without a clue
about my next meal
about my next bed
about my next home

for taking me
to the liquor store
and sharing his whiskey
when we were alone
to bars
places i swear
i will never take my children

and of course
i would obey

my grandfather's hand
because he fed me
gave me a room
a home where

my grandmother gifted me
with tortillas, coffee
salsa of chile pequin and garlic

gifts i swear i
will give to my children

but mostly
i obeyed because
although i didn't know it then
his desert mud hand

the one that had raised my father
that had topped onions
picked cucumbers
built homes out of old train cars
instructed me on the holiness

of roofing
carpentry
of hammering a nail

in two strokes
had invited me
to a life I did not know
and would have otherwise discarded.

Friday, April 08, 2005

FEET (2002)

i lie next to her
remember your feet
small, warm
rubbing against mine
in your sleep
and want to slip from bed
to walk the many miles
i put between us.

Dreams of My Father (2002)

damn he damn done left us
packed up and blew with the wind
and we know no way to see him again

and the sky everywhere tastes like pollution
from the refinery next door

where weeds, glass, crack vials, HIV, screams in the middle of the night and thugs grow and become all tangled in our sleep.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The 3RD (circa 1990)

After I walked out of my bathroom, I noticed my double sitting in the living-room chair I usually occupy. I walked to my kitchen, adjacent to my living room, and made orange juice. All the while, despite my efforts not to, I kept stealing a glance at the other me.

I don't always like to acknowledge him, to validate his existence, because I feel it reduces mine to some degree. Yet, I don't deny he exists. We speak on occasion.

I stirred the orange juice with a big wooden spoon wondering what he wanted, fighting the urge to ask him.

He began to hum.

He's hummed before and I think it's his subtle way of proving he exists. I hum, therefore I am, or something like that.

I didn't like his tune, his way of proving himself, so I spoke to him.

"Okay, I see you. What do you want?"

He leaned forward in his chair and smiled at me as though he knew a great secret.

I hate when he smiles like that. I wanted to smack him.

"What do you want?" I said. "Tell me what you want or leave."

He grinned, enigmatically, and I nearly threw the pitcher of orange juice at him.

"What the hell do you want! If you don't say something, you'll have to --"

"Do you remember our last discussion about Borges, Gödel's Theorem and M.C. Escher?"

I stared at him, hard. I remembered the conversation. I remembered that I felt inadequate because I didn't understand much of it. I sort of barked at him.

"Yeah, of course. I remember."

He laughed this laugh he has, a laugh that says, I know so much more than you, then began to lecture.

"I should review. You don't look very confident. First, remember that Borges said there are four ways of achieving the fantastic in literature. One was the text within a text, a meta-text. Because it creates a situation where reality is in question, this method, in a sense, contains all other methods (contamination of reality by a dream, time travel and, your favorite, the double).

"For example, if you're reading a meta-text, a novel about the novel you're reading and perhaps even about the fact that you're reading it, you find that such a novel returns on itself, creates, your favorite word, a double. It's a mirror in a mirror and creates a circle, a kind of infinity. When you finish reading such a novel, you're probably questioning the nature of reality and the nature of fiction: Which is which? You look bored. Let me finish by saying that Gödel's theorem articulates what occurs in a meta-text with mathematics and the works of M.C. Escher do the same with art, image."

I yawned.

"So what?"

"Well, I have an interesting idea. Let's write a story that shows the inter-connectedness of Borges' methods for creating the fantastic. Instead of using just one of his methods in a story, let's use them all."

"It's been done," I said. "I'm sure of it. If these are Borges' methods, don't you think he has a story, one story, that uses all of them? He must have one, especially if what you said is true, that the first one, the meta-text thing, contains all the others. You thought you had some great idea, didn't you? Ha! Now leave me alone, my head hurts."

My double didn't care about my head.

"Come on, let's try it anyway!" he said.

"No. My head hurts. Plus, you probably don't know what the hell you're talking about anyway."

He became quiet, leaned back in my chair, then began to smirk.

"If you don't agree to do it, you'll see me every day until you die."

I wanted to rush him and choke him but knew he was too elusive. I had tried it before.

"What do you want me to do?" I said.

"Get some paper and a pen and sit in front of the mirror. Start your story by writing about a man who sits in front of his mirror and writes a story about the possibility of doubles and a man writing a story about a man who sits in front of his mirror writing about the possibility of doubles and a man writing about a man who sits in front of his mirror and so on.

"I'll go inside the mirror (with an identical tablet and pen) and pretend to be your reflection. Thus, in the story, the possibility of doubles is in fact a reality. Yet, you, one of the protagonists of the story, do not realize I'm your double until you see that the ring on your left hand is the ring on your 'reflection's' left hand. Knowing I'm not a reflection, you become astounded.

"Your awe is further increased because, I, your double, tell you that you've found the point where all things -- time, space, matter -- converge, as in Borges' story, 'The Aleph.' Then, you begin to dream about a more certain reality -- a reality where there are no doubles, no points where all things converge, a reality where you're certain you're not a dream."

"I don't get it," I said. "What's the point?"

"Don't you see? If you write such a story, you'll have used all the techniques for creating the fantastic in one story!"

"How about we write a horror story?"

My double sprang from my chair.

"Okay," he said. "Don't cooperate. But remember, I'll see you every day for the rest of you life."

"I was just kidding. I'll write a horror story some other time. Let me find a pen and some paper. I'll see you in the mirror."

I sat in front of the mirror and as I began to write his story, my notion of reality began to change.

I began to feel comfortable knowing that reality is in fact a misnomer and should be called the livable dream, or something like that. I even began to feel superior to the many other humans on the planet that I suspected didn't understand reality.

As I wrote, on occasion I would stop to rest and chat with my double.

I told him I didn't much like him but thanked him for educating me, illuminating me, about existence itself.

He responded amicably and every so often reminded me of his genius.

I, of course, pointed out that it wasn't his genius, but the genius of others (Borges, Gödel, Escher) that led us to our enlightenment.

He agreed but nonetheless accepted his self-praise.

Those moments together, writing, chatting, were probably our best. We had never gotten along so well.

For a few moments, I think we both realized this. I stared at him in the mirror and he stared back at me. I believe we looked at each other with affection, perhaps love.

I began to imagine a wonderful future with my double and I think he began to imagine the same.

I stared into his eyes and wondered if he could read my mind.

Then his eyes became wide and his mouth fell open.

At first, I didn't understand. Then, behind him, in the mirror, I saw another one of us, standing, smirking.

My eyes became wide and my mouth fell open.

The other one of us, the Third, began to laugh, a crazy laugh.

My double jumped from the mirror, nearly knocked me over, ran to my front door, struggled with it until it opened; fled.

The Third was close behind him.

I haven't seen either since.

Rappin’ to Neruda 'bout the Other Night (2002)

she had never heard of you Neruda

i said do you know pablo neruda

does he come here she said

sucking on a cigarette

one of those thin women cigarettes that some kentucky tobacco farmer or whoever the hell makes cigarettes designed with the ingenious intent to make women cigs skinny so that women might connect that thinness to themselves

no i said
i think he’ll never come here (you’re dead pablo – what the fuck was i supposed to say)

did you know i said
you have the body of a woman (stealing some of your lines pablo – i had to steal some of your lines)

no shit she said
i am a woman

ahh – you are so lucky i said

with those red sand thighs
miraculous walls in the desert

casting shadows on a flower so pink

a thirsting flower

a flower ready to surrender

you remind me of a desert

and of a flower waiting in surrender

a thirsting flower

ready to surrender

you, my desert in repose

a desert with a thirsting flower

then she invited me pablo (all because of you pablo – your lines i stole and those i
bastardized)

invited me

hoping for

expecting

a rain of softness

a breeze of caresses

and i

instead

with my coarse alcoholic self

said i dig you

really dig you

and dug into her

between the red sand of her thighs

with no regard for the sanctity of her calm (with no regard for the sanctity of you pablo)

not noticing

maybe not caring

her becoming so still

opening her spirit

her heart

a desert with one flower

so that the both of us could feel.

SPARROWS (2003)

lives go so many ways
like dark sparrows
in the presence of an ornery cat

flapping away
not realizing
the inherent danger, and miracle, of flying.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Here's an old story (circa 1987) - "The Last Ride"

Maxine crushes cookies into crumbs for pie crust, stares at the green station wagon through her kitchen window; cries. The car -- with cracked windows, busted headlights, flat tires and faded green paint -- groans in the coldness outside.

During daylight one of Maxine's neighbors, living in the same tenement row as she, offered to buy it.

"Two bills," he said. "Two bills!"

She rejected his offer, explained that the car might still be useful for emergencies.

"But it don't run," he said. "That car won't do shit in a 'mergency. It's junk!"

Maxine sighs.

Not only is the car's body wrecked, so is its engine. It cannot and will not move.

The car had permanently stalled a few days after Maxine moved into her tenement four years ago. She had returned from a 7-11, parked in her numbered space and went inside. An hour later, she had to drive to Holiday Inn where she worked as a maid. She tried to start the rusting machine. It whirred. Whined. Became silent.

Since then, she's never had anyone repair it.

She bought the car 16 years ago when married to Steve, her ex-husband. She used it to drive her three children to elementary school. Through rain, snow, hail or fog she would get them there. This gave her a feeling of strength, power.

A smile brightens her tear-streaked face. She laughs. Softly.

After she and Steve had bought the car, she discovered she was too short to see over the dashboard. To remedy this, she bought a pillow to sit on when driving. The pillow did what she wanted it to do. It also emphasized her elfish stature.

Her children had laughed about it.

Called her a shorty.

Maxine laughed too.

Always they laughed.

Now her children are grown.

Gone.

No longer at the window, she stands in the doorway of her cockroach-infested kitchen. She stares at the man lying on her living room couch.

He's on his back, his mouth hangs open; slobber glistens on his chin.

A whiskey bottle sits upright between his legs.

He snores.

The rhythmic sound causes Maxine's eyes to unfocus.

Her mind wanders.

When she was 39 she became pregnant with the snoring man's child.

Miscarried.

He beat her for it.

Decorated her with hard purple bruises.

On her stomach, ribs, chest, back.

Said she deserved it.

She agreed.

Agrees.

Thinks life is sacred.

But once she had killed.

On their youngest child's 11th birthday, Steve walked into the house red-eyed and intoxicated and, with slurrred speech, introduced his lover.

Dazed, Maxine watched her children hurry to their bedrooms. Watched her children's friends find their coats and file out the door. Watched Steve slip behind his lover and wrap his arms around her. Heard him say he wanted a divorce.

Her mouth fell open; eyes died.

During their marriage she knew she wasn't the only woman he slept with, but he had never said he wanted a divorce.

She pleaded with him to stay.

He snorted.

His lover looked away.

"Okay," Maxine said weakly. "Okay."

Then Steve left.

A month later, Maxine learned she was pregnant. She telephoned Steve and told him of their coming child.

"You stupid bitch!" he said. "You stupid fucking bitch. Get rid of it."

"What do you mean?" she said. "I -- what do you mean?"

"You stupid bitch. Get an abortion."

"Abortion? Kill it? Steve pleas --"

"Godammit! Get an abortion. We don't need another kid. It's over Godammit! It's been over. Can't you see?"

Her eyes closed, shoulders sagged; neck bent.

"Okay," she whispered. "Okay."

A week later she had the operation.

"Put your legs in here," the doctor said.

She obeyed.

"This will hurt a little . . . just a little."

Then it was over.

The sacrifice.

But Steve never returned.

Hasn't returned.

So when the man on her couch beat her, said she deserved it, she agreed.

She wipes her wet eyes with small calloused fingers.

The man lying on her couch comes into focus.

She leaves the doorway, returns to the kitchen; again stares through the window at the station wagon.

Snow falls outside; soft flakes melt against the wagon's window.

Maxine's eyes come to life.

She begins humming, softly.

A standard from the 1950's.

A tune she had sung with Steve and her children while on their way back from a rented mountain cabin.

It was the last ride they took as a family.

A few miles from home, one of the tires exploded.

"Wait in the car," Steve said.

Wind blew; swayed the car.

While they waited, Maxine and her children resumed singing.

Standards from the 1950's.

"Sincerely."

"Goodnight Sweetheart."

"My Blue Heaven."

Large flakes fell; melted on the windshield.

"See how they melt?" she said to her children. "They do that because our bodies keep the car warm."

A snowflake lands on the window. Maxine smiles.

The man on the couch wakes up, enters the kitchen cursing; demands food.

She obeys; fries him potatoes while he stares at her through red swollen eyes.

He eats like a chomping horse.

Smells like rotten apples.

Whiskey.

He begins complaining about his life.

Calls her a useless bitch.

Laughs.

A chunk of food leaps from his esophagus; lands in her hair.

He laughs louder.

Says he can get more money for the piece-of-shit car than for her.

"Useless bitch." he says again, shaking his head in disapproval.

She stares at her feet.

He grabs a pie pan; slams it to the ground.

Cookie crumbs fly.

He shouts.

She shakes.

Cries.

He screams.

"Bitch!"

Throws a bowl of pie filling at her.

Leaves the room.

She groans.

Clumps of apple filling slide from her hair.

She stares out the window.

Snow covers most of the car.

She steps lightly to a kitchen-cabinet drawer.

Opens it.

Takes a knife.

Walks to the kitchen door that leads outside.

Opens it.

Walks barefoot to the car.

Slips inside.

Reclines on the front passenger seat.

Sings standards from the 1950's.

Bourbon (1999)

another Jack Daniel's night
where I think of you

my twenty second or fiftieth
i don't know

where I look at the bottle
and wonder

should I fetch another?
to cloud you and me
an iris defying miles of red sand and timeless sun

where I take another drink
where I try my damndest not to think
that I left God's white silk and incense
seeking a mirage
a better version of you

where I put the warm bottle to my lips
and swallow without tasting
the same way I swallowed you.

Rising (2004)

lips wet the love of
our spirits like a fog
and add their familiar taste to
the growth of our soulful tranquility:
the mist flows in us partially
and through the quenched day
our hearts synchronize
and on your skin
i taste salt from the sea
of your spirit
and everything becomes nothing
but us.

To Join You (2000)

when i lie by myself
close my eyes
try to dream
your breath
your taste
i breathe and taste your absence
then wish to join you
forever
to my skin, my mouth
so i won't need to dream
but can breathe
and taste you
always.

Forever - From Esteban to Kristy (2003)

It's tomorrow and yesterday and today
when the clouds turn red
as the sun floats beneath the ocean of the Rockies
caressing the windshield of my rusting pick-up
blinding me
signaling a tomorrow that only comes
in our minds

and i'm glad for this eternal sequence

because when i see you
the wetness of your eyes
dark ponds shimmering and breathing in the night
the imperfections accentuating your beauty - a scar, an unsymmetrical hair
oh dark rose
and smell the you that survived the contaminants of the day
and watch your smile rise like the moon

i know that time does not move
and that regardless of the illusion
i will experience you eternally.

For Kristy and Isabella, my wife and kid (2003)

the dream of magic

that dream of seeing a ufo

of finding a cure for cancer

of wrestling with an angel

of having a talk with god

that dream

those dreams

mean nothing

when i hear you laugh

explode with the river

of your youth

reflecting the sun and

becoming a rainbow

of kisses

and smiles

on the peachy cheeks

on the miracle of our love

who giggles back at you

with music from both of our souls