Poem: Going Back

In her last days she spoke to me

in the old language, her words

summersaulting from thin lips

onto the bedclothes as if released

from long confinement. I frowned,

or grew my eyes, getting the gist,

chancing a phrase when she sucked

air into her small body. 

                                          All this

animation, was it for me,

in a room with synthetic curtains

that crumpled onto the carpet,

or for her siblings running amok

about house and garden years before,

their hapless dad tending his veg

and dreaming of geegees?


was no issue then, only something

you inhaled/exhaled like playing.

It became the gift you’d not seen

fit to give, your mother’s tongue,

choked with her in that last confinement.

But as the child in you spoke,

fingers on pink winceyette,

you found your joy and my birthright.


Posted by Anita on
I am not very good at interpreting poetry. I think that maybe each person interprets it as part of his life experience. my problem is more of a !Que, Que! Valgame Dios! Reaction.

This poem really touched my heart. It reminded me of my fierce grandmother who chased away a priest who wanted to give her the last rites, saying, Sal de aqui, baboso, yo no te llame! I stood next to her in awe with a smile on my face and pride in my heart.
How dare this priest try to rush my gramma!

We spoke Spanish in my home, we lived in a neighborhood where everyone spoke or understood Spanish. At this time, we were only allowed to buy homes or live in areas that were designated for minorities. Segregation.

I didn't know about this and I didn't care I was happy. I loved my family, my friends and my people. I understood them. The axe fell quickly. School! The rule. You may not speak Spanish in school you will be punished. I spoke Spanish and had a piece of masking tape slapped on my mouth for the rest of the day, between the masking tape and the kerosene poured on my head by the school nurse, to kill all the head lice that minority children must have, I didn't want to go back to school and decided to become a 6 yr. old drop out.

The tape story came out of my mouth and my gramma went into action. She went to the school and raised bloody hell at my teacher, MISS MENDOZA! Who chased her away, yelling get out you dirty Mexican, to which she repiied, Tu eres mejicana tambien, no te hagas que no eres cualquier caca de gato. Mi abuelita era una mujer formidable. My mother found out and came out of her widow at 22 yrs. old widowhood stupor and went to the school where a rumble worthy of the world wide wrestling federation took place, minus the physical contact.

Back to the poem. My grandmother died, speaking 1700th century Spanish, as our family had settled in New Mexico in the 1700's when New Mexico was still a Spanish territory. She spoke the old language as well and spoke about seeing her parents calling her and wagons on fire and Apaches, she closed her eyes and the world ended.
Posted by robert on
Thank you for your comments and the interesting stuff about your feisty abuelita, much appreciated. By coincidence, when I lived in LA forty odd years ago my best friend was of New Mexican stock and there were times when speaking Spanish was problematic. In Wales (80 odd years ago) Welsh was similarly banned at school and children who spoke it were made to wear the infamous 'Welsh (k)not', a piece of wood tied around a child's neck with the letters 'WN' on it. I didn't experience that particular form of 'masking tape', but I do feel I lost out on Welsh for various reasons. Fortunately for you, Spanish is more resilient.
Posted by Anita on
We are culturally tenacious!! Was your mom speaking Welsh?

t.v was turned off in the evenings and my grandparents spoke to us. Grampa told us about working at Santa Rita in the Cobre mine in Santa Rita, New Mexico. One day he decided to go down and work the mine, the other miners told him not to, but he did anyway taking his canary with him. He worked and worked and when the canary died, he got out of that mine and told the manos you were right.
One day the family was sitting down to dinner and they heard the two horsemen galloping to the house, they got off the horses, burst into the house, where the family was having dinner and one of the cowboys shot and killed the other one. He said to the family, if you say anything, I'll come back and kill you all. When the sheriff and his deputies showed up and asked what happened. They said they didn't see anything. Grampa would say life in the old west wasn't anything like you see in the westerns. They rarely caught the culprit.

He also told us the story of Geronimo. The Mexicans invited the Apaches to a happy enchilada party in their town as they had signed a peace treaty. When they were asleep, they were killed, Geronimo got away and wrecked havoc on anyone he came across, including my great grandma who was washing in the river and was killed. Grandma found her with an arrow in her back.

Those were tough times. Grampa said that people back then were very strong, if you were sickly, people would usually die. The doctors were not very good.

These two old people were the heart of our family. They were honest, hard working, and strict. When they passed away the world of stage coaches, Spanish influenza, lynchings, indian attacks, the U.S. Calvalry all ended, the best stories were gone and a world ended.
Posted by anita on
I am sorry, I forgot to mention that although I cant say, your painting is very nice, because of the subject matter, it does along with the poem, convey an overwhelming feeling of loss and sadness and I expect that is exactly what you meant to convey. This is what makes it good. This was a person that was well loved and cared for and never to be forgotten.
Posted by robert on
Yes, it was Welsh she reverted to. Over here too miners took canaries down the pit to warn them of escaped poisonous gas, and I believe they would whistle to them.
Posted by Anita on
Dear Mr Havard,
I took your Spanish classes at UCLA when I was 19 yrs old. I am now 65 but I hae am memory like a steel trap, just dont ask me what I did yesterday. Now that I have retired, I can traipse down memory lane and decided to look you up. You are a renaissance man and hae not wasted your time on what I call the What If.... I find this admirable.

I took your classes because I thought you were interesting, you made a statement one day about Spanish women having an intriguing way of manipulating their eyeballs that was quite a attractive. I told my friends about it and we spent the afternoon practicing eyeball manipulation, howling in laughter Dont think badly of us, most of us were in our late teens and yg. girls are really silly. We had not learned to discern bull shit yet.

Anyhow, you told us a story in class that defines any person with common sense. I dont know if you remember it or ot, but I will never forget it and I think it might define you as it defined me and other strong people I have known.

There were two men, one was a monk named Simon or Simeon, the other was a violent scum of the earth type. The monk prayed to God to tell him what his fate would be. God spoke to him and told him his fate would be the same as the scumbag murderer. The monk gave up and lived a desolute life as he felt there was no hope The murderer, repented and found salavation.

This really appealed to my catholic indoctrination so I thought I might as well take more classes with you and in addition to this, 46 yrs ago, you were finer than frog fur.

The bet of the classes dealt with poetry which I could never interpret correctly no matter how hard I tried. Suffice to say you were a good teacher.

Now I will tell you what I have been doing for the past few yrs. I became a librarian and worked in the inner city. Some of my jobs were working in outreach services that included service to prisons, shut in and pueblo reservatons in Los Angele and New Mexico, where I lived for awhile. I even taught 4th graders at a Catholic school. My main emphasis of service has always bee working with children because I like them.

I have three children, two sons and a daughter and they are all handsome. I would tell you if they were. They are all fine people because some of the things I taught them might have stuck. Be good to everyone, look before you leap, and appreciate the life God gave you and become the best person you can be. Work hard and dont take short cuts.

Dont blame others for mistakes, you have free will, take responsibility for your actions. Be good to each other, the world is a hard place and your family should be a haven and a place of support and peace.

You know Mr. Havard, you never know what impact your life might have on others and your Simon, Simeon story still holds true.

Thank you for the gift of knowledge.
Posted by robert on
Thanks for the comments, Anita. The plot you mention, about the monk and the scumbag, was from the play by Tirso de Molina, El condenado por desconfiado, which most students were glad to have summarized for them rather than read. Sadly, the old frog fur is a lot thinner and moldier now, but thanks anyway, and good luck. R
Posted by Aly Chiman on
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