Skinnin' The Pachuco

I'm just happy to be here.

Category: NaPoWriMo17

30/30: “MY HEART, I STILL BELIEVE IN GOD.”

After Shannon Leigh

Wave of sorrow,
Do not drown me now:

I see the island
Still ahead somehow.

– From “Island” by Langston Hughes

My landlocked tongue tucks each destructive emotion
into unopened oceans where hope shipwrecked and did not return.
I have learned to stay afloat by letting the water wash away
most waves of sorrow but some waves are names
reaching for safe harbor like my lips are a lighthouse
but when the crest falls, all I do is flood inside.

Sorrow, you have made me a vessel but can I choose
what I carry?
I’m done committing to the horizon when I am hiding.
I see the island, still ahead somehow.
Not every choice is sink or swim, sink or swim, sink or swim.

Underneath this sorrow and underneath this pain is another wave
The water is so clear I see my face in the sky like another moon
Like another moon, I move the terrible tide on cue,
trying to hide my life beneath blue dreams of silence.
I drop my heart and pick it up like an anchor.
Wave of sorrow, let me follow the wind like a sail
with stories to tell.
I have no lifeboat and no flare.
My lung capacity is a catastrophe.
I hide my tongue from the tide when I know I shouldn’t.
What I choose to carry isn’t supposed to float.
For me, arriving is the same as surviving.
I came into this world, but only after water broke.
All my life I’ve carried an unopened ocean
Tasting the salt of my wounds,
I surrender to the seascape around me.
Nobody’s ever found me in the depths of my defeat.

I’ll deny this ‘til the death of me
but even when I’m sinking
I still believe in anchors.

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29/30: WILL WORK FOR CHANGE, BUT FIRST LET ME SAY GRACE

Like back in the day, my Grandpa Fred fed my will to work
When I was a boy, he’d ask me to wash his truck in exchange
For his pocket change, if I was lucky, a couple of quarters
So I could break even when the ice cream man orchestrated
a symphony down the street, rushing me and my brothers
Quick feet, then we’d buy ninja turtles with gumball eyes,
Strawberry crunch if the sun whooped us good enough,
And of course, Lucas, the only Mexican candy we knew,
Licking salt off our sweaty palms like a low-key communion
Our mom didn’t have to force us to go to, and I never knew what work
was until I took the quarters and washed the car in the harsh heat,
Bringing change to the table like offering to a congregation,
Digging in our pockets like mom with her purse in Lockhart
at the Presbyterian Church, where she put us in ties and paid her tithes,
and then we’d all pray over the food in the back room where the kitchen was
and after we blessed the beans, the tortillas, the rice, the meat,
I remember how my dad gave grace, and I’d say in his voice,
good food, good meat, good god, let’s eat, and we would eat together
on plastic picnic tables and talk about family or faith or
finishing the food on our plates, and of course, I wanted to play
outside with my cousins and older brothers,
throw the football and climb the trees until one of us got enough
red-lipstick on our cheeks and dollars in our pockets from some aunt
who missed us most, and we’d all run down the street to Sonic, parading
with mis primos and my brothers to order a cherry limeade where I’d save
the cherry for my mom, or see how long it could go before I’d eat it whole.
I want to look forward into the future, and say this is what I know. Truth is,
I am a guest in my own mind. I hear my voice echo and think, I do not know
this stranger. But I cannot abandon myself like ash from the flame.
It is time I learned I am worth staying for, that I can be a thief of my sadness
But first I must master the stampede of my sins, the list of regrets
stuck on my skin Like the things I wish I knew. I want to clean my soul
like my grandpa’s truck.

I exhale in the hallway where it is dark, where I look for a spark,
where I look for a way to give grace to myself.
I know I need to change, but I’m afraid to be in charge.
I make promises to myself so I know how to break them.
I want to break the habit of making something just to break it.
I want to make a meal big enough to feed the appetite of light,
Please, let my legacy be a lesson in forgiveness.
A chance to lose and gain back your goodness,
until we give ourselves the grace we need.
I’ll go first.
Good Food
Good Meat
Good God
Let’s eat.

28/30: THE HEALER

After René Magritte’s The Healer (Le Thérapeute) (1967)

I want to reveal who I am on the inside,
But I am too tired to explain the cage.
Everything hurts less when I’m unknowable.
Two doves bless my body with white light
But once there was more time to shine.
I’m poor at small talk,
But I’ve walked a long way here.

I am the healer by the sea
I take a seat when someone is suffering.
It is hard to carry a cage,
But where would the pain go?

A body is only as useful as its secrets,
And the sky is a secret I keep
For the both of us
broken birds
humming hope

until the anatomy of melancholy
is nothing more than a curtain calling
to be pushed aside,
like the wings of sadness crashing
each sick and sadly suffering someone
into the seaside where I am now sitting.

27/30:UPON WATCHING A TRUMBONE PLAYER GO BREATHLESS

This is a sentence with a sense of urgency
let us celebrate the death of breath
like your lung’s favorite emergency

No matter the worry, hurry fam
never lose the fast food for thought.

Quick lips, decide joy
without a jury.

the last gasp is how the breath crashes
into a crest of ash

nothing good is good
until we learn it cannot last.

26/30: POEM BEGINNING AND ENDING WITH SONGLYRICS BY SUFJAN STEVENS

I want to save you from your sorrow

But what if I am not ready?
I’m only brave in the stories I tell.
Everything I feel is a familiar spell.
Everything I feel is a navigable hell.
This sorrow I feel is a charming tale.
I like the plot of my pity.
Some days it’s good to be pathetic.
Misery cannot always wait.
I know my friend Vanessa says,
That there is space for joy
That there is space for pain.
And I believe her, but
Isn’t it easier to be empty?
In the mirror I misplace
my dark honey eyes
in the dim corner where
I choose to lose myself
With no one’s help
but my own.
In the violent silence
of my lonely heavy head
I own my mistakes
with a defeating dread.
In my darkest hours,
I carry deadweight
Like a living history
I want to rewrite.
Should I tear my heart out now?

25/30: SUCCESS

In high school I graduated in the top ten percent of my class,
Guaranteeing my admission into a public university tho,the
Truth is I struggled the first year, stumbled in and out my sadness
Between classes until I did not want to answer the question
Of my own doubt. Finished the year with a 2.2 GPA, decided
To double-major in English & History because words were arks,
Language became a Lark. Hear me now: I took an internship
At a global law firm working 25 hours a week while enrolled
Full-time and also working at the Gap as a sales associate selling
White women skinny jeans, folding their clothes, and earning
a dollar above minimum wage and life moved fast like overdraft
fees and drip-coffee and sleep never came when I called, only
stayed when I asked to leave my bed, and I won’t talk about love
tho its absence did crack me open like a sun on the sidewalks
I’d walk cross campus just to see if the love of my life
could choose the light behind the dark flight of my goodness,
goodness what I tried to do all the time didn’t always work out
tho failure seems far-stretched, like a hamper of dirty laundry
I let rise and fall cause I didn’t have enough quarters to wash
Myself clean, and nothing came easy tho I smiled endlessly
At the storm’s shadow, decided I’d rather dance than be doomed,
So I saw my path form like dust on hardwood, instructions for
The future got me looking for direction, cause I can’t always
Tell the lesson. Success isn’t fiction, it’s a long-distance
Relationship with your vision. Check it: It took nearly
two hundred thousand dollars and seven years to hear
the song of myself and hear music. Have I always been
an instrument? I want to be truthful without being misleading:
I cannot guarantee anything but I know I’m not supposed
To be where I am, tho I am here, tho I walked the plank
of each mistake, spent days ignoring the dual ache
of the heart, of the stomach, of the wallet, and I guess
you’d expect every success story to run like a river
leading into something bigger, but I couldn’t have done
any of this shit if it hadn’t been for decisions made
on my behalf beyond my control, for the standardized
tests I had to consume like fake bread, worrying
and waiting for my future to rise in the oven, and
nobody wants to believe this but I never stopped
writing poems, never stopped returning to the
written or spoken word, even tho I heard my words
were a detour, I still saw the finish line like a couplet
out a Shakespearean sonnet, and whatever is asked
of me, I’m on it. I had to suffer so I could say this.
All my success is a blessing my family sings, and
Look at me, smiling like a lyric they picked
Out like a bluebonnet blooming through Spring,
And tho time gave back what it took, I still look
At the man in the mirror as a bowl-cut boy who
Spent his days in the library, lying his head
Down on the carpet to read the story written
For him to read. In less than a month, I graduate
Law school with honors, and this is now my final bow,
Where I catch the rose tomatoes thrown at me like
My mother’s lipstick crashing against my cheek.
I rewrote the story written for me. Now, let’s start
From the beginning.

24/30: SELF-PORTRAIT WITH & WITHOUT

After Chen Chen’s poem of the same title, from When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List of Further Possibilities

With flat feet. Without mustard. With my hand in the wind on the driver’s side window. Without my grandma’s green thumb. With three degrees. Without enough sleep. With interest accruing. Without a proper bookshelf. With cold coffee on the counter. Without somebody to love. With enough love for somebody. Without hesitation. With the West Wing. With NPR Morning Edition and Steve Inskeep. Without speaking Spanish fluently. With a Spanish name. Without my brothers. With my niece, Jessi, smiling when she sleeps. With flash flood warnings. With melancholy. Without my Uncle Jesse. With the luxurious burst of bravery. With Brent in Alaska. With Grandpa’s Parkinson’s. With Cast irons. With saints for candles. With hashbrowns, extra crispy. With my hands tied. With no excuse. With loose change to spare. With a village raising me. With a tank on empty. With moments to waste. With stubborn smoke. With credit cards. With exigency. With the scarred sky. With a gold ring. Without contempt. With key lime pie in the fridge. With the war. Without peace of mind. With dawn holding my hurt in her hair. With her hurt. Without you here. With you somewhere else I wander. With mangoes I peeled in the kitchen. With self-discovery as a page I bookmark. With my father’s ship-metaphors reaching the port of my purpose. With True North. Without ego. Without jinxing joy. With Pablo Neruda. With the gulf in my gut. With my hands covered in blisters. With Marvin Gaye. With the court’s permission. With reason. With logic. With emotion. Without home. With the homies. With the church bells ringing at the top of the hour. With the train arriving in one minute. Without a passport. Without a criminal record. With a shoulder shrug. With a gym membership to the YMCA. Without enough water. With my body floating in the ravine Labor Day weekend. With enough Pilot G-2 07 pens to fix my constitution. With amendments. Without the popular vote. With my personality pushing through my socks. With letters to women who love the idea of me. With my name on the line. With no man coming back alive. With a minute to spare on the meter. Without forgiveness. With forgiveness. With me as the villain. With me as the hero. Without fear, there is no love. Without love. With love as the last word in the room. With me as the speaker. With you listening.

23/30: AMERICAN SONNET ENDING WITH A LOST KEY

I would like to walk in your mind barefoot
Naked, mouth open. Strange glory of the body,
I ask you protect what I neglect. Here,
your soil is asleep with secrets
I softly wake with my lips. Strange glory
of the dirt, what mad joy you keep alive.
The triumph of where did it go all wrong
Fills the vaulted ceilings of your feelings
Like slow water in a dance hall. Last call
Comes like the last straw and I grab your hand
Like quicksand. Hear me with your whole body.
The secret entrance to our secret selves
Once had a key, but where did we leave it?

22/30: EARTH DAY

Out of my own wilderness I return.
After gathering the shade scattered in the garden,
I want to thank God for the Earth,
Rejoice in the sprawling worth, remembering
Spring as the time I swam and did not sink
Remembering my flintstone feet as a sundial
While I try to see the tops of the redwoods
This earth never once betrayed me
I want to thank God for this

But stop myself

Cause God allegedly gave us earthlings too
And what this earthling does in the dark of night
Underneath the marauding magnolia trees
Maneuvering between the wind as the bayou breathes
Can spring a loathsome wrath against the space we share.
Not enough of us care, even though there are more of us now
Than ever before, and the earth is smaller now than it was,
I can see it in how we look at one another.
But today, I reach for the light.
Out of my own wilderness I return from a hungry loneliness.
Even in loneliness, I have yet to love the light less.
Were it not for the pictures of my grandma’s backyard garden
All over her Facebook wall, it’s possible I’d never forgive myself
for staying inside the house.

21/30: IT DEPENDS

“You happy now, bitch?”
-Buck Moreland, The Wire

It depends cause when I was in Venice with my cousin Marcos I ordered a drink called the Papaya King, and instead of just telling the waitress the name of the drink, I told her I’m ready to declare myself the Papaya King, and for the rest of the afternoon, that’s what she called me, and I drank a sweet kingdom. I became a kinder sovereign to myself. Nobody ever looks at the laws we follow. I’m here to change my constitution and that takes time. Who am I to promise time? I am always giving what I do not have. I want to be less selfish but I want more time for myself. If it weren’t for the places I travel in my head. Dark passengers and all crawling under the flood boards. But that plot is boring. The plot where I could be happy right now is ideal especially since I just went home for Easter, saw my cousins and brothers, saw my grandma and grandpa, saw my aunts and uncles, saw my best friends, and saw my brothers, all the pieces to this puzzled person who processes an infinite number of ideas together at once. I pull a memory like a thread and run through the past and the people who saw me grow. But where I go isn’t always so sweet. Like if I explained to each person I met the number of sad departures my mind takes every moment without ever guaranteeing my return, it’d be too much. But god I love the rush of remembering. I keep the pantry stocked with details. I’m not even looking for the truth and it still surprises me. Admit or forget, admit or forget, admit or forget. Pride is a pickle so don’t call this confession. It’s the lonely in-between I run from. But my hamstrings are weak, the muscle memory is terribly tender. This game of hurt is a worrisome sport. The thing is, I hurt myself more than any contact with a woman could. I make a promise to pretend cause it’s easier to revisit the invisible futures we could’ve had than spitting up the apple. I want to anticipate the taste of temptation, tired of hesitating at the jump, just want to be done waiting, but ask me if I’m tired of wanting, or yearning, or hurrying the present like I need my faith in the future sustained cause in twenty-four days I graduate law school with honors and this year I take the bar to become a lawyer and this is history in my family, this is a dream I see on my calendar, like this past Valentine’s day, my first niece was born, crying in the afternoon heat, the love I felt then would’ve destroyed the demons of kingdom, would’ve tossed the tyranny of guilt out like rotten fruit at the end of spring, but spring is still here, and these days, a swarm of birds follow my car home and in my head, it’s the Flying V from Mighty Ducks, and I am not alone anymore, which is such a fucking relief. When people ask me how I’m doing, I usually reply, I’m happy because I’m here, and I’m here. I admit it. I admit it so I will not forget. Today the sunset looked like a papaya pulled apart. I stood in my backyard like a proud Papaya King. I tell my people who want to know, it’s not always yes or no. I rest my case, Your honor.