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Two Poems by Campesino Turned Poet, Juan Felipe Herrera [View All]

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Annces Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-25-08 11:56 AM
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Two Poems by Campesino Turned Poet, Juan Felipe Herrera
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(From His Early Childhood, School Days)

Canada in English

Mrs. Tinko says Canada.
She says Ontario. Canad I whisper in Spanish.
Canad - to myself in the back row.

Next to Sammy
who inks a skull into his hand. Between
his thumb and his finger. I squint
at the chalkboard English. A greenish sea.

A tidal wave that floods me
with strange curled words. Cant read.

I say Canad . My mouth opens as if
to bite a stolen apple. Then my face hardens again.

I want to raise my hand. My arm is iron plank.
Fingers are rivets. My blood is electric.

I whisper Canad.
Only to myself. In Spanish.
When no one is watching.

When no one is listening. I write Canad
on the inside of my hand. Look up
to the tidal wave, you gotta look up, Csar,
I talk to myself like Mama Lucy.

Is Denver by Canad?
When I left Mxico as a kid, alone, Papi used to say,
I jumped off the train in El Norte, in Denver.
Learned English in the snow. Then hed laugh.

A penny for each word. He said.
Thats how I learned.

How do you say lpiz in English?
Pencil. Ah, pencil.
How do you say leche in English?
Milk, Ah, milk.
How about cielo?
Sky. Ah, sky.

Three words for
three pennies.

I look at the watery map
by the limp flag. Wonder.
about my father. His other family. Look
without words in English. Squint without
words in Spanish.

Sammy elbows me and laughs
at my right hand. Canad is for sissies, Csar.
Skulls are for us.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A Capella

Ms. Steiger said, Write about who you are.
Carlos Johnson laughed. Is something funny?
She asked. How can I write about myself?
I dont even know what I am.

I dont know if I am black.
I dont know if I am Mexican.
My parents never talk about it.
Thats it, Carlos. Write that.
Ms. Steiger smiled a big smile.
It was the first time
I heard Carlos
talk in class. It was the first time
I heard he was Mexican and black.

Gold flashes
through the leaves outside the window. I turn my face.
Think about the year since I started at Rambling West.
Sunway. Think about next year.
Graduation. My father.

Think about Miguel who left to Mexico
without saying a word.

After school practice choir.
African American Spirituals.
Extra credit, says Ms. Steiger.

You have a beautiful voice. You are singing a solo
for our last school assembly this year.
We warm up in Spanish.


El burro sabe ms que t!
The mule knows more than you!
Mama Lucy says as we rehearse.
She comes to class on Wednesdays
to teach us proverbs.

We are wearing jade-green robes on stage.
Front row: Carolyn, Java, Lucretia and Maijue,
a new girl from Rambling West
sing soprano and alto, sing high Gs
Second row:
Tenors me and Carlos Johnson and Cheyenne,
a runaway boy from West Liberty, Iowa.

Tenors sound like
tendores in Spanish forks.
Some of the guys call us dorks.
Fork dorks. It doesnt matter.

Third and fourth rows: Baritones and basses
Little John who flicks my ear, Max Ortega
who flicks Little Johns stubby head and

Monreal and Barlow who sing
with their mouth almost shut.

Ms. Steiger sings as she directs us, a capella
without music,

just your voices, without music
she says. You must make your own music
with your own voices, together,
in harmony, in the melody
A capella.

Raises her hands, her palms open
like letting rain dance on her fingertips,
turns to me,

If you get there before I do
tell all my friends I am comin too.

My voice flies out of my mouth
I dont know if it is a bird or a cat or a jaguar.
I can see Mama Lucy sitting in the front row.
She brings her hands up to her face.

I looked over yonder and what did I see?
Comin for to carry me home

Voices rush behind me,
voices rush in front of me:
swing low, sweet chariot
comin for to carry me home

I hear Max hit a low E!
I hear Carolyn hit the impossible high G!

See the eyes sparkle in the audience.
They shimmer together in one sea. A sea of birds
that flutter like water, like light.

Every note carries my memories.
My mouth is open three fingers wide, like
Ms. Steiger says. Open to sing.

My chest is open too.
I am standing tall with my voice growing
out of me, a flame, a spark, a corn plant in green gold.
Every note carries the roads to Fowlerville,
the twists and turns, the fights and screams,
the nights alone and the days lost in sad dreams.
I am singing out.

From Crash Boom Love, A Novel in Verse by Juan Felipe Herrera

He also has a new book out, called 187 Reasons Mexicanos Cant Cross the Border

Also Reading of His Poem 187 Reasons in Los Angeles

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