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Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera's recent work, Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2008) won the National Book Critic's Circle Award, the International Latino Book Award, and the PEN Beyond Margins Award. Los Vampiros de Whittier Boulevard (poems in Spanish translation) is his most recent work. He is the Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at UC-Riverside.


—after Phil Levine's "Zaydee"
Brick beds toilet lines the Mexican road on fire 1917
My mother at ten holds her torn skirt muslin off-white
She speaks of her father dead mother Juana the hungers
The only listener she tells it all to me the only son

I do not ask about the journey the revolution
Mexico against itself the rest of us flowing toward
Nothingness only nothingness and the lice spray
At the station a photograph three women in black

Eyes and plastic buttons three dark cloaks the same
Mamá Lucha Mamá Grande and my aunt Lela
Are they arriving now? Where is Mexico? Hear it
Wiry Elvis speakers door number 7 San Francisco!

Max Factor Emporium Market Street honks 1958
Clintons's Cafeteria we hold hands in the red air
Manolete goared by the Spanish bull wet banderillas
The crowd on its feet I crush the lemon meringue

In the amber theatre the pink box from the bakery
I rub it all on the sides of my Levis the Plymouth breaks
At 17th and Mission Street her apartment second floor
In yellow we sit and I press her hair with open palm

She blesses the kid that stole her watch he was only 12
Her mouth bloody from the bus crash when she goes alone
There are things to be seen scarves to thread the winds
Entrances from the heavens there is life just listen

We sing corridos from El Paso the contraband of 1922
In honey brown suitcases torn lyrics shriveled news
The closet perfumed the floors waxed and the curtains
Wave the light her name the candle-wick tiny burning

Mt. Franklin El Paso with tin beggar cans all secrets
Ascending house to house knees to stone descending
Oil colored the scars the rest is silk the rest is song
Oh the pot of chocolate the casserole of chicken lick it!

Yours the mistress calls her it is all yours now yes
Where does the suffering pour? Where is the fountain?
We sit and toast quesadillas and watch Bogart her heart
Fails a little two doctors stretch her arms the shoulder

Gives the bone tears back to a child's position
She opens the Brownie snaps its red disk at the pier
Alcatraz white boats sails blue green this is what I
Was saying she adds you listen to this then silence

Leaves circle the waters each one cleaved with paints
From a caldron unknown I walk in between Autumns
For a moment notice their lives sit there listen again
A child speaks with a man a man among the trees


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