12 March 1945—26 November 2010
Torito would come into my classroom
during his break and sit at the round table
in front of the room, take out a sheet of paper
and begin writing. He loved to hear what young writers
said, and he would help them say it. Raúl
waited until they'd read their poems
and then read his to the class,
signing it, Torito, making a little tail
underneath his signature. The little bull,
helping us understand the history of grapefruit
—migrant life—in our time. Ruby Reds,
the weight in his bag he turned into literature.
Raúl saying to us, "We can do it." He showed us
a side of macho we needed. He walked me
on the Chicano path—not Mexican, Chicano—
nuances in words, his great gift. One day,
he took the orange from my hand. I'd asked him
about gavacho, and the depths it reached beyond
gringo or huero. He began peeling the orange.
"See that skin," turning the underside to the light,
"...white, and always bitter." Amargo, bitter,
after taste of the weight of those grapefruits
in his bag. Freely given. That's the thing
about Raúl. He would give what few others
on either side of the struggle, rarely could—
freeing us all. We'd laugh understanding,
relieved and knowing, released from ignorance
and racism still crippling children and teachers.
No bitterness in Raúl's teaching,
only his Olé, showing the way for all.
1 December 2010
PUTTING RAÚL'S POEM ON THE POETRY POLE
Soy el sueño de mi madre
También fui su pesadilla.
Exacto, camarada. Exacto.
It's not that grapefruit I took from my lunch sack
and held before you, you naming it,
Río Red, taking it from my hands, telling me
which field in Texas it came from,
el valle Río Grande, hermano del Yakima,
not that, that binds us to the same story.
No es el sabor que yo tengo
para la pinche palabra verde.
Tampoco no es porque
tú escribes poemas con el seudónimo "Torito."
Good words make good connections.
Hermano, compadre, carnal, compañero.
Words scorned by the patrones
even as they come from their mouths.
In the poem you gave me last week,
you give me one more, camarada,
closing a circle of protection, knowing
these words of affection have been terrorized
by Zapatistas machine-gunning peasants in Chiapas,
the last word they'll ever hear. Words we exchange
in poems, our forum for knowing.
Words the pendejos y pendejas
en los trajes y corbatas entienden
and know how to use, Hermano
being the favorite of the Christian Fundamentalist.
The dream, and the nightmare.
Living in two worlds takes us invisibly.
Meaning comes in the tantras,
the sounds and gestures made
at the invisible points, connecting us
to multiple others we don't understand.
There is a world inside the line we can open and explore.
The dream and the nightmare.
Abrazos, tu compa, tu camarada.