the uncontrollable steaming of
molten rock releases confined exasperation,
cracking charcoaled, ashened lips–
the breaking of civility.

an announcement of an ignorant truth.
no quiero vivir como tú, má.

the air suffocates thirteen year old me,
but i narrow my eyes even harder.
tensions heighten and my eyes soften
like the dimming of a glaring sunlight
on a stained glass window.

mother drops the plastic plates she
had been washing all afternoon,
turns off the faucet
and my legs wobble. she wipes her
soapy hands on her thighs,
and i inhale sharply, bracing myself
for an earned slap.

she leaves.
a raw, cutting quiet to the end
of a storm.

no quiero vivir como tú, má: i don’t want to live like you, mom.

daddy’s little princess

i’m bleeding a vermilion smoke of memories
of when I believed love meant forever,
a promise made by damp kisses
and long hugs, broken when you twirled me
under the light of a dingy street lamp and let me
fade off its edges.

desolation reminds you of the letters i wrote you
inked with the tattered hope of your return
that i fought so hard to keep. scrambling
for an unconditional love, you grab a dusty
flashlight nestled in your drawer and shine
its light where you last saw me.

i’m hiding behind the street lamp whose
bulb died years ago.

my little secret

you’ve spend weeknights in the company of white noise,
the only lighting that illuminates your half-open eyes and
flushed cheeks, saliva dripping from your mouth and
soaking your shirt. beer cans sprawled on the wooden floor
without your noticing.

the family broken by malt liquor and the crushing
of fragmented dreams haunt the bare walls
we once called home. the ghosts of our
faith in you don’t let you sleep because
you’re afraid to ask forgiveness.

shortly after grandma left, too.
initially you spoke of your momma in memory, that’s what
twenty years of bad blood does, i guess–
and life with her seemed like a brother’s grimm
fairy tale. momma was vile, momma was the evil queen
you banished from the kingdom you rescued.
when she actually passed away, may she rest in peace
i think it was then you realized the value of
your crown.

i feel like little black birds are pecking at my insides,
cawing about my reluctance to speak to you
stirring an overflow of guilt and sorrow and anger
and helplessness–a heartless bitch* i am.
i learned from the best.
now you know who.

naomi under the harvest moon

A small blackbird soared between the bare tree branches and landed on my left shoulder. The blackbird, Annikah, cawed and as it ruffled its feathers, its coat shifted into a pearlescent white. She’s great at camouflage–which is why I bought her. All students of witchcraft need a pet.
I had sent her off in search of the heart of amethyst. The heart of amethyst, a heart-shaped pastel purple stone that evokes peace, is the last ingredient I need to conjure my protection spell. I had been hiding for three months now in rural Grinnell. If they find me, they will do their best to change me. They will do their best to strip me from my magic.
I transport Annikah and I to a Louisiana home with tall, French windows–my mother’s old home. I walk along the porch and recalled my mother whistling to the sound of my neighbor’s pop music on her rocking chair. This rocking chair should suffice for the spell.
I sit on her rocking chair and sprinkled red sea salt around it while whispering the names of my enemies to the harvest moon, in hopes that she’ll hear me. They say that she listens to only those deserving of light in darkness.
From the rocking chair, I hear a loud thump on the roof. Maintain concentration, I tell myself. This is what you’ve been studying for.
On the wall adjacent to where I’m seated, the shadows change and I heard my heartbeat accelerate faster than the pitter-patter of rain. They’ve found me, they’ve found me.
“I know witches who’ve tried to do that protection spell. Lucky for me, it never works.” said the familiar voice.
I stand from the rocking chair and face my uninvited visitor, Donald Gines–my father. His silver-rimmed glasses reflected the moonlight, obscuring his eyes from my view. Did his deep skin always have so many folds? While rocking back and forth on his heels, his hands clasped behind his back, he examined the tattoo that adorned my collarbone. On my brown skin, the copper-ink outline of three roses glistened in the moonlight that shone through the windows. My father clucked his tongue. “That’s new. I don’t think your mother would’ve approved,” he remarked as he glanced at the rocking chair.
I crossed my arms. “You don’t know my mother.”
“Remember,” he said, as he walked to the window. “I knew her longer than you did.” He paused, and looked at the bare branches of the evergreen tree outside. As I watched him, I sprinkled red sea salt between us.
I rolled my eyes. “People don’t stay the same,” I said. “They change.”
“Then I guess you’re the exception,” he shot back. Gines clasped his hands together, and sighed. A silver ring with a sapphire stone softly squeezes his thumb. “Naomi, let’s make a deal. Come with me now, peacefully, and I’ll make sure that the Guardians don’t hurt you.”
I laughed.
“If you refuse this, they will come for you.”
“If you only came to warn me,” I began, “you’re wasting your time. I will not let you or the Guardians rid me of my powers because they are all I have left of my mother. You can tell them that I’m not afraid to face them.”
My father furrowed his eyebrows and scratched his graying mustache. His mustache, reminded me of an unkempt broom–frayed and stiff.
“I rather die on my feet than live on my knees*,” I said as I took a few steps back. I raised my left arm and clucked my tongue, and Annikah glided into the room. She landed on mother’s rocking chair.
“You’ve always been a warrior.” He rolled up the sleeves of his navy blazer as he whispered, “At least give me one last hug.”
I stared at him. He looked so different compared to what I remember. The image of his tailored navy suit and graying hairs stunned me all of a sudden–I hadn’t seen him in years. He didn’t look back at me. Instead, he examined his bronze cufflinks. I wonder if the Guardians gifted those to him.
I took a deep breath. “Okay.”
He shifted his gaze to me and smiled, raising his arms out to embrace me. As I wrapped my arms around him, I revelled in his warmth that juxtaposed the cool air of the house. I smelled his aftershave, a classic old spice, and a memory of the three of us engrossed me. He, my mother and I locked in an embrace one night on the couch. We were watching George Lopez and laughing together, eating Doritos. I remember father saying that he was funnier than George.
“I’m sorry,” my father whispered.
I felt a warm pulse on the area where he injected the needle. A thick liquid oozed through my veins, and as it overfilled the chambers in my heart, a rush of heat washed over me. I collapsed, and everything went white.

**This is what I wrote for the writing exercise, “Silvery flakes drifted down, glittering in the bright light of the harvest moon. The blackbird swooped down…”**

*quote by emiliano zapata.

when i think of you

my mother’s stories trace the edges
of your modest mountains and
knead the bumps of your dry, flat lands.

my mother sighs. cuando era niña,
preparabamos la masa para las tortillas
desde las cinco de la mañana.
these mornings
crept behind my grandfather,
who wore straw hats and plaid button-up shirts with
a shiny, silver belt buckle that reflected
the stars. my mother recalls
when he bought her those
zapatos de cuero. the ugliest shoes she’s
ever had, she says.

méxico. where my mother laughed for the first time
like the way fire crackles beneath el comal. méxico,
where her mother sung lullabies in the darkness
and waited for mi abuelo to come home. méxico,
where drunk men cry together at parties because
los borrachos siempre dicen lo que sienten.
méxico, where women like Layda Sansores
don’t give a fuck and boldly stand before oppressors,
sin miedo.

méxico, this happens when i think of you.

spanish interpretations:
cuando era niña, preparabamos la masa para las tortillas desde las cinco de la mañana: when i was a young girl, we would prepare the dough for the tortillas since 5 o’clock in the morning.
zapatos de cuero: leather shoes
el comal: cast iron comal
mi abuelo: my grandfather
los borrachos siempre dicen lo que sienten: drunks always say what they feel.
sin miedo: without fear.

un cuentecito / a little story

mi papá me llamó–las lágrimas de su niñez corriendo por las
arrugas de su carota de seis años. un niño
con los cachetes inflados porque tuvo miedo
subirse al avión y volar por los cielos vacíos.

se entierra bajo las montañas de california,
bajo la luna oscura de sus sueños. cuando llora solo,
oigo sus gritos y la tierra tiembla bajo mis pies. me recuerda
que soy una hija de las montañas y no de los cielos–
no fui creada pa’ volar.

te quiero papi, te quiero
más en retrato que en foto.


*english interpretation*

my dad called me–his childhood tears slipping through the wrinkles
on his chubby six-year-old face. a child with
swollen cheeks who is afraid of getting on an airplane
and flying through the empty skies.

he buries himself under California mountains,
under the obscured moon of his dreams. when he cries alone,
i hear his screams and the earth trembles beneath my feet. he reminds me
that i am a daughter of the mountains and not the skies–
i was not made for flying.

i love you daddy, i love you
more in a portrait than in a picture.


he’s one of the shorter kids in class
who waddles over to jenna to snatch her blocks,
races to emmett to drive his toy-car and hisses at timmy
when he mutters, hello. angel, whose smile blooms
like white chrysanthemums during spring mornings.
he giggles, and i notice the lights in his eyes dancing
as the ripple of his laughter makes me laugh, too.
angel, whose momma died a year ago.

the teachers say he hasn’t been the same since. he refuses
to use his words when wanting his spiderman shoes tied
or when craving sweetened mandarin oranges. angel, whose
favorite song is please and thank you.
if you didn’t know him, you’d think
he’s unfamiliar with these words.

like angel, his daddy hasn’t been the same either.
when angel bites him, he bites back harder and when
angel screams, he screams louder. angel, who always wears
a red shirt and oversized jeans. angel, whose boogers dry
to a green crust on his nostrils and
whose fingernails are rimmed with dirt. angel,
who during nap time dances in circles,
like a lighted carousel.


mi querida mami sways from side to side
holding herself while looking up at the ceiling fan
in the darkness of our little kitchen, with the sink water running

she mutters avemarías y padre nuestros and swears that tonight is it
tonight is the night we’ll all run into the night holding hands
without him.
without my father.

ten minutes later i don’t hear the sink water running anymore.
she mumbles, hoy no. the children are still in school,
she has to go to la fábrica tomorrow, he financially supports us–
this isn’t so bad.

we’ll leave some other time, she says. ya casi.
she’s said this in our small yellow bathroom,
in our cluttered bedroom.
we tell ourselves too
que ya casi.

meanings of spanish phrases:

mi querida mami: my dear mom
avemarías y padre nuestros: hail mary and our father prayers
hoy no: not today
la fábrica: the factory
ya casi: almost

a love pattern

my momma, a petite, quiet woman
who hates cooking but loves sewing,
loves my papa, who hates reading but loves singing,
very, very much. on chilly nights, they’d curl up together
on our new pleather sofa to watch Jeopardy!,
and yell out their goofy, incorrect answers.

once, momma was late for Jeopardy!. she came home two hours late
with a brown, plastic grocery bag. i went to pick up some veggies,
momma said. papa snatched the bag away.
she bit her lip, and said: i also went to Ricky’s to get the—

momma never got to say what was in the bag;
papa slapped her left cheek, shoved her against the wall,
and whispered something into her tiny ears.
she crumbled to the floor and sobbed, while holding
her reddened cheek. later that night, she told me
not to worry; papa loves her, and papa loves me too.
i believe you, momma. i do.

last year, i met a boy. the first time the warmth of his hands
enveloped mine, i knew we were meant to be. he gave me
chocolate roses and white teddy bears
when it wasn’t valentine’s day. he even carried my books
and kissed my forehead. Cosmo quizzes said
he’s a keeper.

after a night of lovemaking, i fell asleep to the sound
of his beating heart. he woke me up, and we kissed again.
when his fingers played with my panties,
i said: i’m tired, and i need to go home. he ignored me.
again, i said: no, leave me alone, i want to go home.
when i shouted, he smacked me;
when i struggled, he punched me.
i cried. he whispered, i’m sorry, i just love you too much.

that’s when i realized that i loved him too much, too.

an american dream

Elena arrived in Texas shortly after Anthony, her 9 year old son, declared for the thousandth time that he wanted to be an architect. For years, he drew a variety of buildings on blank sheets of paper: churches, corporate buildings, schools, castles, and houses. He constantly asked Elena what she thought of them. She always said, ay mijo, que lindo, and Anthony would always remind her of his chosen career path.

I thought it was a phase, but he’s been saying this since he was 5, Elena said to me. I held the receiver closer my ear. Elena sounded like a nice woman. She spoke in a friendly, gentle voice, occasionally laughing about Anthony’s tendencies as a child. Initially, Elena told me that she was calling our organization to see if her son had qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Now, she was explaining their life in Mexico and the U.S.

When Anthony was 8, his father left. He left one morning, casually, after promising Anthony he’d bring gum from el mercado, where he was going to buy meats. Elena had no idea that he wouldn’t be returning from that mandado. She said that she told Anthony that his father went on a long business trip, and wouldn’t be back for a while. Everyday after that, for about a month or two, Anthony would ask his mother if his father came back from his trip. Elena only shook her head, and, after a while, Anthony stopped asking.

A year later, Elena decided that she and Anthony would go pa’l norte because there was nothing left for them in Mexico; the only family she knew besides her husband, her parents, had died. She also reasoned that she would make Anthony’s dreams come true by going to the States and enrolling Anthony in an elite, private school, like the ones they saw on television. He would then have the option to fulfill his dream as an architect, if he still wanted to do that. She was ready to fulfill their American Dream.

They had no family in the U.S., so when they made it to Texas, they were homeless for a few days. When Elena was offered a job at a restaurant that also had available lodging space above it, she accepted the offer immediately. She worked in that restaurant for most of her life; she saved the money she earned and bought a small home. To this day, her and Anthony reside in that house.

Their lives seemed to be going well—she had a stable income, paid for the rent and utilities on time, provided meals, and Anthony had achieved a high grade point average. He also volunteered at a youth center, was a member of the basketball team, and was still set on being an architect. It was his senior year, and he had a college in mind, one that wasn’t far so that he could commute from home. He had also planned buying his mother a lovelier home, one with a front and back patio, soon after he graduated from college and began his career.

During the college application process, Anthony realized that he was ineligible for colleges, including the schools of his choice. His mother couldn’t afford to pay for tuition, and Anthony couldn’t apply for federal financial aid—he was undocumented, and so was his mother. They still are.

Elena fast forwards her story and informs me that Anthony is now a construction worker who injured his back while working. He being undocumented, his boss decided it wasn’t necessary to pay for his health insurance. It has been difficult for Anthony to pay the medical bills and continue getting necessary treatment.

Elena’s voice breaks on the phone. She says that she can’t help Anthony financially because she is disabled and stays at home. They still live together, and although she’s told him to go and start a life of his own, he doesn’t want to leave her. He knows I wouldn’t be able to pay for anything on my own, Elena tells me. He’s the best son I could’ve ever asked for.

There is a pause. I hear Elena take a deep breath, and she sounds like she is no longer crying. So, does he qualify for the program? The other day I asked him to gather all his paperwork from high school and middle school because I know that’s some of the proof the state requires.

I tell Elena that it’s great that she found the paperwork ahead of time. It will make the application process much quicker. I hear the glee in Elena’s voice. She thanks me and Obama for this opportunity.

I grab a DACA application from a nearby folder and write her son’s name. How old is he? I ask Elena. She replies confidently. 32.

My palms sweat. I breathe deeply. I tell Elena that I’m sorry, but at this time, the age limit is 31. He is a year too old.

She answers unfazed. He is just older by one year. One. He grew up here and everything. Surely they will understand.

I apologize. There is a silence. Elena cries. After a minute, she sucks in her breath and thanks me. I apologize again. Out of the corner of my eye, I see my supervisor. He mouths, ask if she wants to be a member. I hold a finger up and nod.

I don’t feel like asking her. But I do anyway. I’m really sorry, I say in a low voice. The legal system is really messed up. There are so many people like Anthony, who barely missed the age requirement. But, if you have time on your hands, you can join us and start a movement for reform. We can fight for your son. People like your son.

I wish I could volunteer, but I can’t leave my house, she says in a small voice.

I tell her not to worry. Before I can say anything else, Elena clears her throat. You know what? she asks, her voice unexpectedly firm. I know how I want to help—tell Anthony’s story, she says. Let people know. Maybe then they’d understand.

I force back tears. Of course, Elena, I say.

She thanks me again, and reminds me that if we need anything from her—anything she can do from home, of course—to give her a call. I take down her number. For the last time, she thanks me, and then hangs up.