First they said I was too light
Then they said I was too dark
Then they said I was too different
Then they said I was too much the same
Then they said I was too young
Then they said I was too old
Then they said I was too interracial
Then they said I was too much a nationalist
Then they said I was too silly
Then they said I was too angry
Then they said I was too idealistic
Then they said I was too confusing altogether:
Make up your mind! They said. Are you militant
or sweet? Are you vegetarian or meat? Are you straight
or are you gay?
And I said, Hey! It’s not about my mind
From Directed by Desire: The Complete Poems of June Jordan (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 2005, 2017 by the June Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.
what my body knows
is not a lie it’s not
a lie i tell you it is not
it’s nothing short of truth
and nothing larger
my past lodges
in my marrow and if
i wanted a transplant
there’d be no match
others’ sorrows dwarf
my petty traumas still
these bones are mine
when they creak
when they moan
when they whine
there’s only one thing
i can claim these bones
are mine i tell you
they are mine and kind
to abandon no thing
that makes this pulse
no one but me
From The Small Claim of Bones (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2014). Copyright © 2014 by Cindy Williams Gutiérrez. Used with the permission of Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe.
In Mexico and Latin America, celebrating one’s Saint’s day instead of one’s birthday is common. I was born in Nogales, Arizona, On the border between Mexico and the United States. The places in between places They are like little countries Themselves, with their own holidays Taken a little from everywhere. My Fourth of July is from childhood, Childhood itself a kind of country, too. It’s a place that’s far from me now, A place I'd like to visit again. The Fourth of July takes me there. In that childhood place and border place The Fourth of July, like everything else, It meant more than just one thing. In the United States the Fourth of July It was the United States. In Mexico it was the día de los Refugios, The saint’s day of people named Refugio. I come from a family of people with names, Real names, not-afraid names, with colors Like the fireworks: Refugio, Margarito, Matilde, Alvaro, Consuelo, Humberto, Olga, Celina, Gilberto. Names that take a moment to say, Names you have to practice. These were the names of saints, serious ones, And it was right to take a moment with them. I guess that’s what my family thought. The connection to saints was strong: My grandmother’s name—here it comes— Her name was Refugio, And my great-grandmother’s name was Refugio, And my mother-in-law’s name now, It’s another Refugio, Refugios everywhere, Refugios and shrimp cocktails and sodas. Fourth of July was a birthday party For all the women in my family Going way back, a party For everything Mexico, where they came from, For the other words and the green Tinted glasses my great-grandmother wore. These women were me, What I was before me, So that birthday fireworks in the evening, All for them, This seemed right. In that way the fireworks were for me, too. Still, we were in the United States now, And the Fourth of July, Well, it was the Fourth of July. But just what that meant, In this border place and time, it was a matter of opinion in my family.
From Celebrate America in Poetry and Art, edited by Nora Panzer and published by Hyperion, in association with the National Museum of Art, Smithsonian Museum, 1994. Copyright © 1994 by Alberto Rios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Although Tía Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter—
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer—
Mamá never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.
There was always pork though,
for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Year's Eves,
even on Thanksgiving Day—pork,
fried, broiled or crispy skin roasted—
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips and yuca con mojito.
These items required a special visit
to Antonio's Mercado on the corner of 8th street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything—"Ese hijo de puta!"
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another's lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.
By seven I had grown suspicious—we were still here.
Overheard conversations about returning
had grown wistful and less frequent.
I spoke English; my parents didn't.
We didn't live in a two story house
with a maid or a wood panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marcia;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke's family wasn't like us either—
they didn't have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn't have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.
A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain's majesty,
"one if by land, two if by sea"
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the "masses yearning to be free"
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.
Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolus,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
"DRY," Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly—"esa mierda roja," he called it.
Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie—
pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then Abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered—
it was 1970 and 46 degrees—
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tío Berto was the last to leave.
From City of a Hundred Fires, by Richard Blanco, © 1998. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the publisher.
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you're older—and white—
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.