Chile with Lime and Salt
My artist friend walked straight up
to the counter lined with aguas frescas,
a spot I had never even noticed before,
and she ordered an ensalada de fruta
with cucumber slices and syrup and tajín
seasoning. Me? I wanted a hot chocolate
but all they had was Nescafé or hot water.
So I ordered a pan dulce, a classic cuerno,
which kind of looks similar to a croissant
in the way it folds into itself like a horn.
I took a big bite and my black sweatshirt
turned white from all the sugar that fell off
that sweet, soft horn. It was no use. I had to
eat the whole thing and dust myself off later.
My artist friend, meanwhile, clearly had
the nicest snack at our table, the perfect
mix of sugar and spice, the chile with lime
and salt glittering inside the syrupy cup.
The night before, I had carefully shaved off
the center of my mustache down to bare
skin, leaving two tiny tufts of dark whiskers
that looked at a distance like dirty dimples
over each corner of my mouth. I decided
that I would try a little taste of the chaos
of Chicano modernity and attempt to make
my inner Cantinflas more real, to see
how I would feel with such a distinctive
look. It did not seem to be working. A few
stares, but not one single comment all day.
My indigenous blood was not strong enough.
My European blood was not strong enough.
My mestizo blood was not strong enough.
My only strength came from the cuerno,
an announcement in a hunk of a sweet treat
that said: I was drunk on my own imaginings
and no disguise could mask this comedy.
With my back turned to the meat
counter, you asked me how I felt
and the word tourist came to mind.
One time when I was in high school
I mixed up the words in Spanish
for “one more trip” and mistakenly
said “one more old lady,” which led
to a series of jokes all summer
from the packinghouse workers
that still replay in my memory.
Viaje and vieja, two nouns
that do look similar to a pocho
but hold entirely different meanings.
So it seemed fitting that 25 years
later, walking through the gigantic
Vallarta Supermarket with you,
fighting sensory overload and over-full
from an over-sized $5 chicken torta,
I would raise my cellphone to make
a portrait of you, standing in front
of a bin of grapes for $1.99 a pound
and with piñatas suspended above.
I imagined myself as a fresh batch
of papier-mâché, feeling malleable
and colorful, preparing for celebration,
hardening for the breaking apart.
A text from my goth friend said,
“Oh great, now we’re talking
about Black Lives Matter
and Colin Kaepernick.” I knew
exactly where that was going
before I received the next
text, and where it was going
was downhill fast considering
her extended family. I imagined
our president elect’s townhouse
at Christmas time, minimal or
functional or some might even
say clean, the halls decked
with boughs of his all-American
White children, each more perfectly
dressed for an upscale catalog
than the next. “He’s not even
Black, he’s half Black. He’s only
growing an afro now to try
and be more Black.” As soon
as they went there, I thought
to myself: good for Kaepernick.
Good for him, trying to own his own
Blackness. It made me want to grow
out my Chicano facial hair again,
like Luis Valdez or like my uncle Jorge
or like an indigenous warrior or at least
like Cantinflas, and paint the word
M I S C E G E N A T E D
across my chest for the world to see.
But would I be seen? Pocho that I am,
I might walk in on my goth friend’s
family and say: “Kaepernick’s jersey
is still the #1 best-selling jersey
in the NFL, according to Forbes,”
as if an actual fact could erase
a lifetime of learned allegiance.
It seems false or mostly false that
poets, like politicians, would benefit
much from a fact checker, or at least
the present-day internet equivalent
of “truth is not black and white.”
I imagine all of my truths, my mostly
truths, my half truths, and maybe
even my ecstatic truths lining up
for deliberation, hopeful, crossing
their fingers their pants aren’t on fire.
As ginkgo leaves fall,
I think of the exact time
I split your heart open.
The scent followed us
from Sunset Court to airport,
then you were just gone.
My Chicano poet friend
who rides the bus gave
me a black handkerchief
and a Black Lives Matter
button today. This was one
day after he shared a book
about Aztecs. I pinned
the button to my shoulder
bag, but the handkerchief
I didn’t know what to do
with. He had to show me
how to fold it cross-wise
like a puro farmworker,
and then he showed me
how to fold it length-wise
like a puro cholo. Neither
one looked very good
on me, but then again
this pocho always needed
more practice learning
how to shake hands
like a puro cholo would.
Two Chicanos Sift Through the Chisme
You swore you were giving up TV
to write more poems in the same month
you told me you were addicted to sports, which
was the same month you published three poems.
Now how am I supposed to watch seven
basketball games on five channels in one day
and feel good about myself while you’re
at home conjuring the axolotl and its power
to regenerate? Fuck it. I’ll get up, reach for my
recorder, my microphone, my headphones,
my mic stand—all of which cost way more
than your moleskin notebook—and I’ll press
record. You pack an awful lot into two minutes
thirty seconds, into one minute forty-three seconds,
into fifty-one seconds. “Hold on to those you love
and maybe even those you hate, and prepare
yourselves.” I laughed out loud when you said that,
I mean for real for real, laughed out loud in real life,
and I don’t laugh out loud often enough in real life.
After the recording was over and we talked
and we texted and we basically just did our thing
at the University, reading and recording poems
and sifting through the chisme like we do, you said:
“If God exists, that was a form of prayer
and church in there. Truly.” And I knew you
meant it because you included a praise
emoji. Later that day, I watched a movie by myself
about an Argentine man dying of cancer
who decides he will not do another round
of chemo. He decides he would rather live
his last days as best he can, and he re-connects
with an old friend from his childhood. The old friend
flies nearly halfway around the world
to spend four and a half days with his cancer
friend. They eat, they drink, they laugh, they cry,
and then they part. I sobbed at the end.
I thought back to the recording session. “If I
could translate that to an evangelical,” you said,
“I’d tell them that the holy spirit was in the ether.”
Brother, tell me where I need to be and when.