The thing is I wanted to be a writer
even before I knew what writing was about.
I wanted to carve out the words
that swim in the bloodstream,
to press a stunted pencil onto paper
so lines break free like birds in flight—
to fashion words with hair,
lengths and lengths of it,
washed with dawn’s rusting drizzle.
I yearned for mortar-lined words,
speaking in their own boasting tongues,
not the diminished, frightened stammering of my childhood,
but to shape scorching syllables with midnight dust.
Words that stood up in bed,
danced merenques and cumbias,
that incinerated the belly like a shimmering habanera.
Words with a spoonful of tears, buckshot, traces of garlic,
cilantro, aerosol spray, and ocean froth.
Words that guffawed, tarnished smooth faces,
and wrung song out of silence.
Words as languid as a woman’s stride,
as severe as a convict’s gaze,
herniated like a bad plan,
soaked as in a summer downpour.
I aspired to walk inside these words,
to manipulate their internal organs,
surrounded by veins, gray matter, and caesuras;
to slam words down like the bones of a street domino game—
and to crack them in two like lovers’ hearts.
Heavy Blue Veins: Watts, 1959
Heavy blue veins streak across my mother’s legs,
Some of them bunched up into dark lumps at her ankles.
Mama periodically bleeds them to relieve the pain.
She carefully cuts the engorged veins with a razor
And drains them into a porcelainlike metal pail
Called a tina.
I’m small and all I remember are dreams of blood,
Me drowning in a red sea, blood on sheets, on the walls,
Splashing against the white pail in streams
Out of my mother’s ankle.
But they aren’t dreams.
It is Mama bleeding—into day, into night.
Bleeding a birth of memory: my mother, my blood,
By the side of the bed, me on the covers,
And her slicing into a black vein
And filling the pail into some dark, forbidding
Red nightmare, which never stops coming,
Nevers stops pouring,
This memory of Mama and blood and Watts.
Post Laureate Updates by Luis Rodriguez
Below is a link to the recent interview with me for the Los Angeles Review of Books.
For further updates, I now have a publisher for a new book of essays, thanks to my new literary agent at the Sandra Dijkastra Agency. And I’m working with another publisher on a new book about a New vision for America and the World. Drawing on my Native spiritual practices and over 40 years of revolutionary study, organizing, and writing, I hope to extend the dialogue today about the four pillars of a new society: no more poverty, clean and green environment, end of social injustice (including of mass incarceration, police killings, and the rule of money in our electoral system), and peace at home and peace in the world. These were the issues I took on in my run for California governor in 2014 and as vice-presidential candidate of the US Justice Party for the 2012 national elections.
I’m also on the steering committee of the Poor Peoples Campaign and urge everyone to find out more: https://poorpeoplescampaign.org/
Here’s an article about recent actions of the new Poor Peoples Campaign: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/a-new-poor-peoples-campaign-but-the-same-old-obstacles/2018/02/06/68ba1f58-0b61-11e8-8b0d-891602206fb7_story.html?utm_term=.438f9fe025cc
And for those who want an alternative to the corporate-run Duopoly controlling Congress and the government, I’m also on the steering committee of the US Justice Party: https://www.justicepartyusa.org/
The world is changing as most major political and religious institutions are in crisis. Yet renewal and regeneration are also coming alive.
One vibrantly alive organization is Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore based in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, the second largest Mexican/Central American community in the US after the East L.A. area (with a significant African American population). This year Tia Chucha’s received a two-year grant from the Arts for Justice Fund to help change the narrative and reality of mass incarceration through the arts. We were only one of 30 non-profit organizations receiving the first round of these grants. We plan to do a film, a book, and a theater piece with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men and women. We also plan to strengthen our work with youth through our Young Warriors program to end the “School to Prison Pipeline.” New supporters in this effort include Friends of the Family, the Diane Middleton Foundation, and others.
Trini and I, who co-founded Tia Chucha’s 17 years ago, are also making a major transition. We are no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the cultural center/bookstore. We now have a new executive director and assistant director–Michael Centeno and Melissa Sanvicente. Trini and I have turned over most of this work to young people–including Mayra Zaragoza, who founded the Young Warriors–who have been with us since they were high school students. They are now in their late 20s as well as their mid-to-late 30s.
Trini and I will be on Tia Chucha’s Board Directors, and continue to guide and contribute. I am still founding editor of Tia Chucha Press, now publishing award-winning cross-cultural poetry books and anthologies for almost 30 years. Our latest book is Mayda Del Valle’s “A South Side Girl’s Guide to Love & Sex,” available online, where ever books are sold, as well as at Tia Chucha’s: www.tiachucha.org
I’m also still teaching Creative Writing at California State Prison, Los Angeles Count (Lancaster) for the Alliance for California Traditional Arts. I’ve been going there for ten years. I had a hiatus for a while, until I was brought back in October of 2016. In addition, I’m a script consultant for the FX-TV show “Snowfall,” co-created by John Singleton. This show dramatizes how crack came into the ghettos and barrios of Los Angeles in the early 1980s. I’ve also been asked to write a TV pilot on a possible new show based on a book about the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising. Other TV projects and movie scripts are also in the works.
My travels continue, as always, as I speak on all the pressing issues of the day. In April and March, I’ll be in New York City, Boston, St. Louis, and Las Vegas. I also have upcoming local events in San Fernando, Pomona, and in Watts. At the end of May, my family will be in the Navajo (Dine) Reservation for ceremonies with Trini’s adopted family of Anthony and Delores Lee of Lukachukai, Arizona.
I send strong prayers and well wishes to everyone. Much work is being done, but also the degrading political and economic realities are opening up opportunities for new ideas, organizing strategies, and more writing, songs, poetry, art, and theater. The youth led with strong ideas, passions, and commitment during the “March For Our Lives” rallies, around 800 held throughout the US and parts of the world.
Remember–there’s three things we need to do in this world: Bring more Beauty (art in all its forms), more truth (especially in these times when truth is under attack), and more good (a deep and abiding morality), now more than ever.
En la lucha siempre,