Cesar Chavez, Cesar Chavez
A man, Mexican American,
Lacy Telles, not Tell-us
Biking down the streets of San Francisco
Crossing Cesar Chavez Street
Not paying attention at first
Until I biked by Cesar Chavez Elementary
Until I got a day off of school
Until I took a picture of the mural
in the Mission District, rainbow eyes
inside the weathered face.
I didn’t know that Cesar Chavez
was a pioneer, a leader, a man
willing to stand
up for human rights, Chicano rights
(And do you know what Chicano means?)
And not just Chicanos, but workers.
Workers exploited, abused,
you know the story
but just because you’ve heard it all before
does not mean you know.
The parade that parades down the streets
of the Mission does not tell the tale
of the man who fasted
does not tell the tale
of the man who prayed
does not tell the tale
of the man who fought
for the freedom of others,
not just his children, but yours too.
And if you are a farm worker
March 31st isn’t just another day
on your calendar
and if you are a union worker
you know that these things are never easy,
have never been easy
And if you, like me, find yourself
riding a bicycle down the spine
of the San Francisco history book,
past the produce markets and
taquerias of Valencia Street,
remember the man
Si, se puede.
Cesar Chavez, Cesar Chavez
Two a.m. and no-one is home
Turn off the lights, put down the phone
Crawl into bed with only a book
Pages of words to fill every nook
No work, no school, no paycheck worries
Only space for vibrant stories
Solitude a New York fight
In darkness do I see the light
Look in the fruit basket, pushing aside
the uneven orbs of citrus until you find
the dark and malleable egg,
the fruit posing as a vegetable,
bright green enveloped by dark green.
Where do you come from, avocado?
I make nachos, and I think
“Make sure to invite ol’ A to this fiesta”.
I stir fry peppers and green beans
in soy sauce and lemon;
we all know it wouldn’t taste the same
without you, Avocado.
Pasta and panzanella salad?
Bellissimo! Buon appetito!
It just doesn’t make sense, Avocado.
You’re that actor they cast
as the villain in that one movie,
the father in the next,
Santa Claus in the holiday feature,
and then as the bumbling genius who gets
the pretty lady and saves the world.
How can you be so many things to
so many people?
And do you know what??
I saw you in a smoothie the other day.
What the hell, Avocado?
Someone needs to put you in your place,
before you spread yourself too thin.
Pick a cuisine, already, quit showing up
on every menu in every type of restaurant.
It’s flashy, and frankly, kind of
Ok, ok, ok, I take it back.
Dear A, I love you.
There are the simple things, like boot versus trunk
or toe-mah-toe sauce versus ketchup.
(Catsup? Does anyone spell it that way, anymore?)
That first time you told me you had the shits,
and I was alarmed.
When my sister killed her interview,
you were alarmed,
then turned around and murdered your burger.
Who sings that song, “I Got You Babe”?
Sonny and … Sure.
Sure. That’s not how you spell it.
Sure! Sure! You say. It’s Sure.
And then your dad offered me a rissole,
which sounded like rizzle,
at the Ari, which sounded like aria,
but was really the RSL,
which is kind of like an Elk’s Lodge,
except I don’t really know what Elk’s Lodges are
but basically families go there for affordable food and space.
Remember we played the pokeys at the Ari?
At first I thought you were inviting me
to engage in illicit acts at the family gathering
(I wouldn’t put it past you, you dirty girl)
but the pokeys are what we call slot machines, slots,
which, come to think of it, do not
sound so innocent, either.
Howyadoon? Four syllables shrunk to two,
your favorite trick.
Reckon it will rain? Grab the brollie.
I feel like bogan is a slang I shouldn’t use,
just like you should maybe stay away
from calling anyone white trash.
(It isn’t very nice.)
We both dislike pikers, except I didn’t know
I disliked pikers, I just knew I hated flakes.
We look into each other’s eyes, and you say,
“Sometimes I think you don’t understand me!”
and I stare back at you and reply
“I don’t understand you.”
How can a scone be a skahn,
and a cone be a witch’s hat?
How can someone wear a pair of carkeys?
You no longer say “Djal-ah-pee-no”,
but Carlos becomes the loss of a car
and Spanish will always be my thing,
not yours, leave the translating up to me, babe.
Do we need a translator?
Nah. It’s better this way.
A couple of months ago I joined hundreds of New Yorkers in celebration of Margaret Atwood’s birthday. I sat in the audience, by myself, as Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman engaged in witty conversation, running the gamut from books to politics to film to America. Something Ms. Atwood said resounded so poignantly, it moved me. Mr. Gaiman told her that he counted her as one of the few role models he could look up to, for she was a poet, a screenwriter, an inventor, and an author of speculative fiction as well as historical fiction. He proclaimed this an anomaly, since most writers stick to one genre or one medium, and he found himself to be more like her, unwilling to be boxed in to just one category. Ms. Atwood replied that she was one of the lucky ones, because “back when she went to college”, there was no one who sat you down and made you decide between fiction or poetry; they just let you write. This spoke to me, since I have always been able to move from prose to poetry to screenwriting with fluidity, yet have also faced barriers because of this unorthodox approach. It was even more time appropriate because just one week prior to this event, I was informed that even though I am a Creative Writing major at Brooklyn College, I actually needed to choose an emphasis between fiction, poetry, or plays. This was news to me, and frustrating news, indeed. I am primarily a fiction writer, but I really want to take a poetry class in Spring, and yet this is not recommended unless I want to choose poetry as my emphasis.
And so I sat alone in the audience, for once thankful that no-one was able to accompany me that night because I might have been more self conscious over my emotion. Margaret Atwood is my hero, and she has given me the encouragement I need to refuse a stifling label.
Tonight my sister leaves for Israel. She will be flying into Tel Aviv and then trekking over to Jaffa to start a 5 week program with UCLA. (http://www.nelc.ucla.edu/jaffa/site.html)
When I tell people that my kid sister is going on an archaeological dig in Israel for over a month, usually I am faced with wide eyes, exclamations of awe, and tinges of fear or jealousy sprinkled in the commentary. While Indiana Jones might be a stretch, she will be digging and working with stuff from 1400-1200 B.C., which is pretty awesome.
She will be thrown into a foreign environment, staying with a band of students from various cities, laboring in the heat, and learning in an environment so very far from her home. She has a stack of massively heavy textbooks stashed in her luggage, in addition to the studying she has already completed in advance. She is going to rock it.
Basically I am brimming with pride for my kid sister who is following a dream and barreling through her limitations. This is not an easy adventure, and no doubt she will be faced with surprises each week and unforeseen challenges that inevitably occur when you are on your own in a completely different environment. For those of us that know her, we can see the strength she has been building and accumulating.
She is one smartypants that will no doubt succeed, but I still sometimes look at her as my shy little sister who needs assistance talking to strangers. So proud of the little baby.
Sitting in a coffee shop, snow on the streets outside the window and glasses fogging up. Seriously, my glasses keep fogging up. I presume it means I wear them too flush against my face, but I like it this way, less times during the day of me pushing them back off the tip of my nose.
And it is cold outside, but colder than that, and I think about the girl I met yesterday who asked me if I missed California.
The girl who confessed that she hated it here, loathed living in New York, but was sticking it out a little longer because of her boyfriend. They had tried living together in LA, but he hated it, so he dragged her back to New York, and now look where they were. She wanted me to agree, to laud the warmth of the west coast and shake my head at the cold of the east coast (the wind, the stares, the lack of “hello’s” from strangers in line) but I didn’t.
How could I tell her about my friends and my book club and my work and my writing and my bike rides without sounding like a braggart? Like her year and a half of giving it a go just couldn’t compare to my success in fitting in. I thought about inviting her out but then saw the futility in my gesture because it was obvious to both of us she was going to move back to the land of sunshine.
And the sun is shining here, right now, I can see it over my misty glasses and the fogged up window and it is almost possible to forget the chill that awaits because that hopeful sun is shining so brightly.
(P.S. The photo is one I took in Australia. I am dreaming of those sunny days on the water.)
Part of the reason we joined the tour that we did was because we were gung ho about seeing the Mountain Gorillas. I had never met anyone personally who has done the trek, but I've heard about it through clients and we read about it and were intrigued. We even re-watched the movie “Gorillas in the Mist” (with a few parts that we had to fast forward through) in December to help prepare us. (Sidenote: Despite a few graphic and intense scenes, the movie is worth watching and holy cow was Diane Fossey a pioneer!)
We left our campsite early in the morning (which was status quo for the whole trip, by the way, and any time we were able to sleep past 5:30 in the morning we were ecstatic) in a combi van driven by a local. There were six of us in our group, including me and Hunya, and since the maximum allowed to see a gorilla family is eight, we had two stranger dangers placed with us by the National Park. We were assigned a tour leader, and a security guy equipped with an automatic weapon. (By this point I was so used to seeing men and women strolling around with automatic weapons, I was not that wide-eyed.) We drove to a small village near the border of the Bwindi Forest and we began our hike. Within the first ten minutes, we were winded. It was a high elevation and a steep incline and we had been sitting in the truck for days, so we were ill prepared for the seriousness of the hike. Little did we know that the beginning of the hike was easy compared to the rest of the hike once we were inside the National Park. There are not really trails and many times we were climbing over trees and branches and praying that our feet would not slip through to some unknown depth. My walking stick, which I had initially considered cumbersome, became my gauge for every step and also my balance for when I had to hop and jump and plunge and pray that I didn't miss a step and plummet down the steep mountainside deep into the rain forest. I am telling you, this hike was serious. Erika, an older woman from Germany in our group, was the unlucky one who actually fell. A tangle of interwoven branches caught her like a net, saving her from hurting herself too badly. (It was so shocking when it happened that it took thirty minutes for our concern to wear off into laughter, because she totally fell backwards like out of a movie, and of course it was funny!)
Anyway, after a couple of hours, we finally came upon the gorillas. (Trackers leave early in the morning to find the family for you to see then they radio the guides.) We were lucky enough to see two Silverbacks and one baby!! No joke, the baby did a little mini chest pounding with his tiny fists, which was the cutest thing ever. The gorillas have wee beady eyes set in their oddly shaped noggins and their necks and shoulders and biceps are massive. Beyond massive. The power exuded just when walking is incredible. They can destroy everything in their path while making it look like they are just pulling up tiny weeds. I couldn't stop staring, even though their actions were mundane and simple, and I couldn't stop taking photos. We were all enthralled.
We had to follow them a bit, and it was interesting watching the trackers at work, determining which way to go without getting too close. The law is that an hour interaction is all that is allowed, so when our time was up, we left them to go eat lunch and then head back down. While we were eating lunch, I kept looking up in the tree above us because I thought I heard something. Van and I were a little separate from the rest of our group, but we couldn't see anything above us. Then! We finally saw movement in the super tall tree above the one we were looking in and it was a Silverback shaking around!! He was so high up and disguised in leaves, but then he shimmied down and we watched the whole thing. Of course I uttered the ubiquitous, “I told you so!” but it was lost in our wonder at seeing another big guy right above us. So amazing.
Our hike down was almost as tedious, for it still had inclines and booby traps and despite the man with the machete ahead of us, it was not a trail. Then we had to drive for over two hours to get back to the camp in a van with no AC that kept sucking in red clay and blowing it all over our faces. It felt like we were in a cartoon when the cloud of red dust puffed out all over our faces. When we got back to our camp we discovered that the other group had returned three hours before us. It turns out that some people have easier hikes than others, and that different families are more accessible. Despite our exhaustion, we were so stoked to have had such an adventure. It was untoppable.
A serious highlight of our trip was the day we went to the Little Angels Orphanage in Lake Bunyoni. Duncan, a 25 year old local, had started the orphanage after growing up in an orphanage himself. The interesting thing about this school/center is that many of the kids are not orphans in the technical sense, but they often have parents who just simply cannot afford to feed or clothe or take care of them. They are fed at Little Angels, and they are schooled by young teachers. A group of us hiked over from our Lake Bunyoni campsite so we could observe and assist with the kids. As a visitor, I was called upon to teach the class something. Of course we were all embarrassed (though there were a few teachers in our group who melded in a bit more naturally) but what could we do? I dragged Hunya up with me so we could play “Simon Says” (which is kind of tricky when the kids don't speak English very well) and the “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. At the end of our “lesson”, all of the kids in unison recited, “Teacher, Teacher, you are so good and precious.” I cannot tell you enough how touching this was, and they even said it to each student who got a correct answer. Come on!!
For lunch all of the classrooms piled out onto the grass next to the lake and ate together. Lunch consisted of a plastic cup of watery porridge, a slice of bread, a banana, and a bag of orange “drink”. I would estimate that there were about 60 kids present. After lunch, the teachers would yell out questions (What is the definition of a domesticated animal? What are some examples of wild animals? How do you spell “eleven”?) and a student would stand up and answer out loud and as a reward would receive an extra slice of bread or a banana. This one kid, Jared, stood up more than once when he clearly did not know the answer!! Either he was overly confident in himself, or he just wanted the half slice of bread he would get for at least attempting an answer. Too cute.
At the end of our time there, Duncan asked if anyone would want to sponsor a child. Three children were sponsored from our group! Vanessa and I decided to sponsor a kid together, and we left it up to Duncan to choose who he thought was the neediest at the school. (Who the heck would be able to pick a kid on their own accord? Way too gnarly.) When he brought in 6 year old Tracey, it was all Vanessa could do not to lose it. She started crying, but luckily her glasses provided camouflage and I kept elbowing her because I was trying to hold it together and she was not helping. Tracey came over and gave us a big hug and a big toothy grin. We gave her the Lion King coloring book we had brought and she was obviously very excited, which made us happy. Then she got to pick out a “Little Angels” t-shirt (she picked orange, which I thought was a great choice!) and we took a few pics. Duncan told her that we were sisters and we gave her our names and hugged her a bunch. As cheesy as it sounds, it was so dang special.
We paddled our way back to the site in a canoe (which was not that easy, by the way) and we kept smiling, thinking about little Tracey and how she was bound to be the smartest in her class and how we couldn't wait until she spoke more English so we could communicate better. I knew ahead of time that we would be visiting an orphanage, but I had no idea that we would have ended up sponsoring a kid and creating a unique relationship with a 6 year old girl from Uganda.
The Little Angels accepts volunteers, monetary donations, sponsorships, and various other donations and their information can be found online at: http://www.littleangelsuganda.org/
During our tour, we camped one night at the East African Mission Orphanage. This was a new route for the Africa Travel Company and our group was trying it out to see if it was something that they would permanently add to their tour schedule.
The EAMO is located on a big plot of land and has large, open stone buildings that serve as classrooms and also contain dorm rooms filled with bunk beds on either side. I am guessing there were almost 200 kids there, and we joined them for dinner on a Wednesday night. After grabbing a bowl of soup and a few pieces of chapati, Vanessa and I made our way to the table of boys that had scooted over to make room and frantically cried out to grab our attention.
We sat with a group of 12 year olds, though you wouldn't know it by looking at them for they were all quite petite. Their English was superb and their manners were sweet. It turns out that they often get visitors (there is another tour group that makes regular stops to the site) but it was clear that they were happy and appreciative, nonetheless.
When a motorcycle came pulling up outside, the kids all raced out in excitement. When I asked my new friend Daniel about the older Aussie couple that had pulled their bike right up to the door, he announced, “It's Mom and Dad!!”. Ralph and May, the couple that had started EAMO so many years ago, was his Mom and Dad, along with everyone else's.
They all called them that and they all clearly adored them; it was touching.
To learn more, visit their website at: http://www.eastafricanmission.org/