Tomorrow night–that is, Thursday, December 9, 2021–at 5pm CST, I’ll be reading my poem “Loyalty Oath: Día de los Muertos, November 2020” as part of an online release for the powerful new collection Gathering: A Women Who Submit Anthology. WWS is a network of women and nonbinary writers supporting each other in shaking up the exclusions of the publishing world. I have poet and literary community builder Viktoria Valenzuela to thank for launching a chapter here in San Antonio, and for forwarding me WWS’s call for creative work written by members amid the multiple traumas of 2020.
I wrote “Loyalty Oath” on the eve of the 2020 election, at the pre-vaccine height of the pandemic, and it was one of those poems that explodes out of you from some other realm. I was deeply honored that the editors of Gathering not only selected it but used it to close out their anthology, and also moved to see it featured on their blog here.
If you’re on Instagram, I want to invite you to gather with us to celebrate and mourn and honor all we’ve been through in the past two years. To view, visit @womenwhosubmit on IG at 9pm CST (it’ll be on yer phone’s mobile IG app, not online via desktop, pretty sure). WWS will be live at that time, featuring earthshattering readings from eight writers included in the anthology.
UPDATE: If you missed the live event, here’s the recording of my performance. Thanks to Sakae Manning for hosting and organizing!
Woah, lotta stuff crammed into the last couple weeks of October. Can I do it all?? Check back with me in November…or drop by any of the following to watch me sweat, slay, wingearlo:
Friday, October 22 @ 2pm
“Adventures in Alt-Ac, Experiments in Deceleration: Toward a Grassroots EJ Humanities.” Virtual presentation for UT’s Environmental Humanities program. Check it out if tensions between academic, artistic, and activist work make your brain explode with frustration and pleasure. Zoom link HERE.
Saturday, October 23 @ 12pm
Special Gulf Coast reading and book signing from Luz at Midnight at Texian Books in Victoria, TX. The only ABA-certified indie bookstore in rural South Texas! Tell all your friends in Cuero, Beeville, and Corpus to come by. Event is in person, so be safe…come fully vaxxed and masked.
Wednesday, October 27 @ 10am
“Literary, Lyrical, Latinx: A FlowerSong Books Showcase.” Virtual panel for the Texas Book Festival with fellow FlowerSong Press writers Edward Vidaurre, Sonia Gutiérrez, and Mauricio Novoa. RSVP here.
“Texas Institute of Letters Presents: Meet the 2020 TIL Award Winners.” In-person panel for the Texas Book Festival, held in person at the Austin Public Library. I’ll be reading alongside poet David Meischen and YA writer Christina Soontornvat, with conversation moderated by TIL President Sergio Troncoso. Read about/RSVP for the panel HERE. And then get yrself some trick-or-treating.
José texts me back a couple days later: Can I call you at 2pm?
Yeah, I text back, lying on my side with my toddler, asleep, hanging off my chest. Or I’ll call you.
Hey beautiful, he says on picking up, like a beguiling Beat-era Hollywood producer. How does it feel to be both beautiful AND a Bolshevik? B&B!
I could ask you the same question! For someone who loves to dish it out he embarrasses with surprising ease, so whenever he teases me I always like to tease him back. How you been?
Listen, it’s been intense. I’m in the thick of it. You remember Allison’s brother John—he just had a brain tumor removed.
Oh my God. The question perches on my tongue—benign or cancerous? But José is talking too fast, actually panting in between words, out of breath.
Yeah, and the family is freaking out—Allison is freaking out, John’s wife, all the brothers and sisters—and John doesn’t want to deal with any of them, says all of them just fall apart in a crisis. And he’s right! So guess who’s on their way for the next five days to New Mexico to deal with everything?
José, just handle it! One of Allison’s favorite exhortations that has stuck with me over the years. An encapsulation of their 50-year marriage but also some essential truth about the secret to successful living. Just handle it! José is a fixer, as am I, though my fixing is far more compulsive and dysphoric. His is optimistic, curious. Every new roadblock an opportunity to size up a situation and engineer a creative solution. Once we ate papa con chorizo tacos on the tailgate of his red truck and he told me: I always just assume that nothing’s gonna work, everything’s gonna fall apart. Whenever you’re able to accomplish anything, then, however ephemerally, it’s…amazing.
So we laugh, remembering Allison’s constant demand—and challenge. Just handle it!
So yeah, I gotta go deal with John, plus the insurance company—they live up in the mountains, you know, up this unpaved mountain road—and the insurance doesn’t want to cover a health care worker from the hospital because it’s too expensive to get up there. No one from the town wants to drive up. So—
Man, your life sounds like mine right now!
Oh yeah! Is it just you trying to assist Juanita and Enrique?
Oh no, there’s a few of us—five others—well, four others plus myself. A little team of us. It’s all I’ve been doing the past few days. But even before that there was all of Dave’s medical stuff, fighting to get appointments, fighting with the insurance—and then Elijah needs stuff too, and that’s not even getting to my own shit—
You know what, both of us need to just sit down at a table together and hold each other’s hand and tell each other we’re gonna get through. Do you still need someone for Enrique?
No, no. We realized quickly that what he needs is too—
Yeah, complex, too intense, for friends and family to really take it on in a good way.
Yeah, my brother was going to see if he could possibly help. But even he said—no, better not, even I’m getting to be too much of an old man! I remember how their own sister passed, from a rare progressive neurodegenerative condition none of us had ever heard of. She’d been a scientist, a brilliant woman. I remember the caregiving José and his siblings had organized, the funeral on the Westside in the cemetery where my own grandparents lay, his brother’s words: You’ve come home, back to the neighborhood.
A moment of silent reflection. Híjole.
Right. Hey, listen! Lemme call you back later! He’s panting again, but probably he’s just walking up the stairs—I remember that he has COPD. Do I also fucking remember Allison saying she thought one reason his lungs were so bad was because he used to swallow fire? I wouldn’t put it past him.
Yeah yeah yeah yeah. Call me back, I’m around all afternoon.
I know he won’t. But it’s okay. We’ve held hands across the table anyway.
Cool cool cool, lata lata lata! His Yogi Bear voice, his Hollywood sign-off as he dashes off to the next resplendent catastrophe.
Next week on September 16, I’ll be doing a reading and discussion with some comadres from the Abuelas en Acción podcast, hosted by the incredible Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar, CA. I’m really excited about this reading because it embodies a virtual coming together across Tejas, Arizona, Califas, and Oregon, specifically around questions of climate justice within Latinx/Chicanx communities. The Abuelas podcast is part of a larger community health project in Portland, OR called Familias en Acción, which is launching an organizing effort around climate justice as public health called Vivir Bien. I’m totally honored to take part in the inaugural event for this broader community effort. I’ll be reading a couple excerpts from Luz and then engaging with the Abuelas in a moderated discussion on how climate justice work in our communities is connected to Indigenous-led global movements for buen vivir and the Rights of Nature.
After weeks of feeling like Delta had the walls slowly closing in on us once more—we’re vaccinated but of course Wolfi can’t be—it was amazing to get out of the house and roadtrip it down to Laredo for my reading with Carlos Flores. It took a lot of finagling to pull off that kind of freedom of movement, Greg taking Wolfi in the morning and my parents in the evening, for which I’m grateful. Asra was traveling with me, so I put together a playlist for our ride, and we blasted Bad Bunny (boricua trap melancholia) and Lil Nas X (his new gay arrival album–poppier than I expected) and old Calvin Harris (Scottish DJ with a core emotionality that has always stabbed me in the heart). I told Asra about how before Harris was well-known, he couldn’t afford featured artists and so he just sang his own stuff, and he thought that was pretty funny.
Forgot to mention at the reading that my grandpa was born in Laredo, that lots of people of his generation who ended up in San Antonio were born there, a generational way station as their families moved al Norte. That there’s always been that connection between our cities. Forgot to circulate my mailing list sign up sheet—half the reason for doing a reading. But I felt like a working writer for the first time, traveling unknown to another town to show my stuff, though between gas and food I think I ended up losing more than I made in book sales. On the first weekend of hurricane season, Ida ominously rolling its way up the Gulf to New Orleans, the heat felt different in Laredo in a way Asra and I couldn’t put our finger on, the sun more intense or the air drier—or wetter? We couldn’t tell. The Phoenix Bookstore was beautiful, an old brick house originally built in 1880 and lovingly restored by the bookstore owner, just a few blocks from where I remember crossing the Puente Internacional with my dad as a kid. Later he told me a story about how when he was a kid his own parents loved to come down to Laredo to shop, returning with bags of Mexican candy, in particular the candied sweet potato my grandpa loved.
At Phoenix I bought Asra a book and we shared an iced mazapan latte—that disc of powdery Mexican peanut candy crumbled into coffee and milk—which was amazing. The reading itself went great. The bookstore was a wonderful host and it was lots of fun to read alongside Carlos, who read from his borderlands satire Sex as a Political Condition and a forthcoming novel called The Pillars of Creation. Tho hard to hear, here’s a livestream of part of the event shot by Margie at The Phoenix.
On the way back to San Antonio we stopped at a thoughtfully designed rest stop in rural La Salle County with nature trails adjacent and admired the wild olive trees and nopales bursting with deep red purple tunas. There I realized that, unlike Greg, I’m no good at the immediacy required to document experience at the same time I’m having it: in addition to forgetting the sign up sheet, I’d only taken one single pic from the whole trip, Asra at The Phoenix reading a book called Hot Pteradactyl Boyfriend. Realizing that, I thought I’d better take another, of the tunas up top, as we walked around the grounds of the rest stop, foraging for some to take back home. Later, looking for dinner, we drove thru Cotulla and Dilley for the first time since we drove through South Texas flyering for Frack-aso, an art show I helped organize a few years ago responding to the fracking boom in the Eagle Ford Shale (which also inspired the rare earth mining plotline in Luz). The last time I was here, during the boom, the main streets were full of shops and diners and hotels. Now with the boom gone bust almost every storefront and hotel was boarded up.
We ended up driving thru Burger King in Pearsall for a couple Impossible burgers as the Backstreet Boys’s “I Want It That Way” came up on the playlist. Window open as we waited for our order, I cranked it–a sort of ironic joke, poking fun at the fact that we both actually really like the song. Leaning out the window to hand us our bag of fake meat fast food, the teenage drive thru worker didn’t raise an eyebrow. Probably too young to get the joke. Or maybe, knowing what a work of art it is, he thought we were super cool.
Did he? Asra said as we drove off, diving into his Impossible Whopper.
For those of you in South Texas, I’ll be reading next Saturday with novelist Carlos Nicolás Flores at The Phoenix Bookstore, Laredo’s only indie bookshop. I met Carlos via a Writers League of Texas virtual workshop on book marketing; we were like the only two Chicanos in the class. And when I invited other small press writers to email me with questions about handling your own marketing and publicity, he took me up on it. As it turned out, whatever his worries about book marketing, man is a seasoned fucking on-fire novelist with a lifetime of work under his belt teaching and supporting and mentoring young writers. I’m currently reading his Sex as a Political Condition, a satirical commentary on borderlands politics laced with lots of sex comedy (as you might imagine from the title). Carlos warned me that his wife threw the book at his head and called it garbage, but at least so far I’ve enjoyed it!
Carlos and I first started organizing this reading a couple months ago, when it looked like we were coming out of the pandemic. Since then of course that ship has tanked again. Because my toddler is too little to get the shot, what was going to be a fun family weekend down in Laredo meeting up with different folks in addition to the reading has turned into a solo dash down 35 to read followed by a dash back in time to put the baby to bed. But it’s still going to kick ass. So if you’re down that way and you’re double vaxxed and masked—come.
Book promotion is intense. Book promotion during a global pandemic, largely without childcare, on top of paid work and amid other multiple crises (climate, racial/colonial, democratic) is fucking nuts and also feels…wrong? to some extent. Also, if you have any kind of social anxiety or introversion, book marketing feels kinda awful. It’s funny. I once thought “writing” meant finishing something. Eventually I realized that “writing” meant the responsibility not only to finish something but to share it with the world, to make it public. But then once you do share something, you realize “writing” also encompasses this whole other realm of work, beyond drafting and revising and even submitting, this industrial or business or busy-ness realm of meta-work, which consists of telling people you’ve shared something and why. (Here’s where my socially anxious brain screams: Isn’t it enough to put something out there? Do I really have to let people know I’ve put something out there??)
Remember what a tragedy it was when you were growing up–a kid, a teenager, maybe even a young adult–and your good friend moved away? Here’s a wistful song one of those friends put on a tape for me after he moved, called “Keeping the Weekend Free” by a band called Liquorice, which had that mid-90s lo-fi sound that so many bands I jizzed over back then did (*cough* Pavement *cough*). So much of that lo-fi indie music I learned about from white friends with older siblings, because back then, before the internet, older siblings were major sources of subcultural coolness.
Anyway, for whatever reason, found this song lodged in my head this weekend while dragging about ten years of brush to the curb. Monday is brush day and code compliance is after us for our unruly yard full of lizard habitat. And while I dragged it out, I found myself thinking about the many small gestures mentioned in the song, which, after the passing of the landline, have become technologically obsolete—long distance, charges getting reversed, hanging up in anger, busy signals, having to stick around the house if you’re desperate to get a call. Asra and I were at a boba tea place recently that decorates in an antique telephone motif, and as we played around with a rotary dialer, I reflected on how immense a cultural loss it is to be unable to slam a phone down in anger. What other gesture so succinctly expresses such a depth of betrayal or anguish?
When I got an invitation to appear as a guest on “No Alibis,” a radio program on UC Santa Barbara’s KCSB, I was nervous. I’m not good at extemporaneous speaking, or at least that’s how it feels from the inside. My go-to tactic in public speaking situations is usually to overprepare, which can be exhausting…but this time I didn’t have time or any questions in advance to prepare. So instead I decided to just trust myself (aka winging it). And it was such a great conversation, in large part because hosts Marisela Marquez and Elizabeth Robinson asked such interesting, thoughtful questions–from the beginning of my involvement with environmental justice work in San Antonio to the meaning of “deceleration” to the transition in my own life from poetry to academia to organizing back again to poetry and fiction.
Here’s the whole show. My segment starts at 20:33, but I’ve included the full broadcast because the second segment–an interview with UCSB Global Studies professor Charmaine Chua and UCLA musicologist Shana Redmond on abolition and the Cops Off Campus Coalition–is so critical right now and always.
Over the weekend I was lucky to attend an online award ceremony organized by the Texas Institute of Letters for winners of their annual literary prizes. I was honored to have Luz recognized, and also grateful the award winners didn’t have to read or speak since I was running a fever, having gotten my second COVID shot the day before. Only the TIL’s newly inducted members read—Cristina Rivera Garza live, and then George Saunders and a singer/songwriter named Michael Martin Murphy via prerecorded videos. I was surprised, then delighted, when I realized that I knew who MMM was: as a kid I’d really liked a song of his called “Wildfire,” about a horse and a girl who died. I was even more surprised and delighted when he proceeded to play an acoustic version of that song for the ceremony. After, he talked a little about where the idea for it had come from—a dream he’d had, he said, possibly linked to stories his grandfather would tell.
I thought about the song all the next day. I’m still thinking about it. Do you know it? “Wildfire” is a song from the 1970s, just a little before my time, but I heard it because every night I would fall asleep to a San Antonio station called KQXT, which played soft whitebread music, instrumentals and easy listening from the 60s and 70s. My parents had tuned my clock radio to that station, setting it so it would play for an hour and shut itself off. They figured the music would relax me, but I’d stay up listening intently to Burt Bacharach, the Carpenters, Herb Alpert, Gordon Lightfoot, that “Send in the Clowns” song, the weird-as-hell lounge cheese of “Muskrat Love”…and then “Wildfire,” whose chorus always made me want to cry, though I didn’t fully grasp the story at the time. A few years ago, I revisited the song as an adult, and it was as musically beautiful and emotionally powerful as I’d remembered it…tho it also surprised me that what had seemed like the climax (“oh they say she died one winter / when there came an early snow / and the pony she named Wildfire / busted down his stall”) happened in the first stanza. As a kid I’d thought the song was about the love between a girl and her pony; when the girl tragically died at the end (possibly thrown in a pony accident?), the pony grew so guilt- and grief-stricken it busted down its stall and ran away. But no, the final verse was about…leaving sod bustin’ behind?