On Mothers.

I write to you from among the silence,
this distance that grows between us,
these days–weeks–when we last spoke.
Writing to you
in these long, one-directional open letters
similar to those in high school, over 15 years ago,
I once wrote
because it’s the only way
I ever find and feel myself heard.

Those letters written, but never mailed.
Read by others, by never by you.

These days waking up, getting out of bed, and facing the day
are becoming too much, too heavy to bear.
Michael Brown. John Crawford. Jordan Davis. Trayvon Martin.
the list of unarmed Black, Brown and Latino bodies–those whose names we know and those we do not–killed by the racist, un-colorblind, merciless, hands of the law.
Mother, this list is getting much too long.

In an interview, Michael Brown’s mother posed the question,
“Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school & graduate?”
These words hitting like sledgehammers to my heart.
As a public-school-student-of-color-turned-doctoral student, I know this struggle too well. Too intimately. Just the other day, I almost gave up.
But as an educator, having to turn a brave face, and face my students–
all Black, Latino and Brown–day in and day out;
having to teach young people to both be critical and “buy” into a system never designed or meant for them to succeed;
young people of color, who could have easily been,
or could easily one day be,
one of the names on this list that is getting too long;
Mother, the cross for that kind of task is getting to heavy too hold.

And although, granted, this kind of work cannot compare to those of a mother keeping and seeing her child safe both in schools, streets, neighborhoods, and home–I cannot help but wonder, mother:
Who are the children mothers get to birth, rear and keep?
Who are the children mothers get to see realized through their dreams?
And who are the children mothers choose not to keep because their children cannot be who their mothers wish them to be?

During these days and times,
open your eyes and look around you:
Where do you stand in all of this?
Where was your loss?
What child of yours did you get to keep, or selfishly, not keep?
Queer, child-less, marriage-less, God-less: if that’s all that you choose to see, so be it.
But turn on the news, if only for a moment, to see the countless of other mothers scrapping the blood of their children from the concrete and begging for justice on the streets.
And ask yourself: who are the children mothers get to birth, rear and keep?
Who are the children mothers get to see realized through their dreams?


On Names

I have spent a lifetime
in the shadows of an unwanted inheritance;
an inherited name given without my consent.
a lifetime behind, in front, under, and over,
crawling to escape
and carve out an identity of my own.
an identity outside the lineage of men,
a lineage passed on by men,
and women who love men that are unloveable.

I have spent a lifetime stepping out of this shadow
desiring to disrupt the passing of this paternal name,
disrupt the keeping of names:
which get kept?
which become forgotten?
who does the telling?
I cannot,
will not,
be like them.

so I now use my full name,
José Alfredo,
to soften the blow.
searching for the faintest taste of honey,
of freedom,
in a mouth caked with
forgotten resentment,
a throat full of suppressed bile.

when I ask you and others
to call me José Alfredo,
to call me by my given name–
the name given to me by a woman,
who, possessing distaste for her own name,
crossed continents
with two tiny lives made from her cells and ribs
to claim an identity of her own,
only to be received on the other side by empty arms;
a name blessed by the callused, worked hands
of a now-gone abuela,
this woman’s mother,
who in a world of poor and working-class dreamless dreams
dreamt her own children and grandchildren would have more
than she could ever dream for her own life–
know that it is not that I am trying be trendy
nor usurp an identity not my own.
but rather my desire, my relentless attempt,
to reconcile myself:
fuse together my public and private identities,
my public and private realities.
to no longer be Jose at school
and José Alfredo at home.

I am only trying to find myself
in a world that constantly erases me,
invalidates my existence,
actively tries to destroy me.

so when you say José Alfredo,
know that the extra effort your breath takes to push out
an additional three syllables
can make the world of a difference,
makes all the difference to me.
allows me to be seen.
no longer lost in a sea of unoriginality,
no longer lost in the shuffle
or rendered invisible:
a speck of dust
in white America.

On Nostalgia

Sometimes–often–nostalgia has a way of shaping/reshaping
our relationships to people, places and things
–both past and present.

Nostalgia clouds our vision and ability from seeing
what is actually there
because we become so invested in seeing
what we wish and desire to be there.
What we wish and desire to see.

The past wants the present
to forever remember
a particular and packaged
version and iteration
of itself.

What was said.
Who said what.
How things felt.
How events unfolded.
What version we keep and why.

Nostalgia romanticizes memories and his/herstories.
Our relationships to things, places and people.
Especially people.
Thus, we romanticize family members, lovers, friends, friendships, relationships.
So on and so forth.
Because we become so invested in seeing
what we wish and desire to be there.
What we wish and desire to see.

But when the dust settles and the smoke clears,
and we are confronted with the task
of surveying the land–
of who and what remains–
will what we wish and desire to see
actually remain
and be there?



After all is said and done
the hands come down
the chants stop
the mouths close
the signs are put away

Time and morning threaten
to wash us out
we retreat to our homes
before they arrive

We get to go home.

Get to see and hold
our loved ones
once again

Get to decide
when and if we go
back out another day

Get to (re)settle
into rhythms,
and life
as we knew it

We get to go home.

Get to laugh
and cry
and anger
and love

Get to pour wine out,
turn the tv on
and melt the world away

Get to sleep
and wrap ourselves
in comforts and privileges

We get to go home.

We get to go home
knowing well
In our hearts and bones
the folks we were just marching for
only moments ago
they, themselves,
will never, ever
get to go home

But we go home.

I Return To You

I return to you
river dark
bearing the weight
of a shameful past
treading heavy
beneath my feet

I return to you
full of scars
from love’s battlefield
a worn body
seeking new skin

I return to you
armor off
weapons laid down
with no strength
nor desire to fight
I claim defeat

I return to you
a man possessed
seeking liberation
to leave the chains
at the door
for collecting

I return to you
heart exposed
for the empty
to be filled
and the seething
to be cured

I return to you
tried and true
and in need
of shelter
will your love
cover me

I return to you
cloaked in truth
no longer afraid
to reveal
my most intimate sides
and complexities

I return to you
a man renewed
petals open
to your sun
ready to receive
the light you give
and grow beneath
your warmth and care

I return to you
ready and able
to cross the distance
and meet you
on the other side
of possibility

I return to you
full of sound
after years
of aimless wandering
I have learned
to listen,
and gather the signs
laid out for me

I return to you
love unbound
willing to learn
and sacrifice
tools for building

I return to you
moon marked
child of the promise
risen from the ashes
seeking new skin
inviting your love
to cover me

Poem at Twenty-Eight

Do you remember the feeling?
The intimate proximity between curiosity and wonder
Do you remember its shaping?
The fullness that circumnavigates its narrow depth

I dreamt it
Sought it
Lulled it
Desired consult

After 27 years full of depletion
Excavating for bones and remnants, a semblance of a life
I’ve perfected the aimless search and wander down to an art
A quiet, consuming desperation
That sought and seeks to reclaim
Fulfill the stillborn desires of a broken little boy
The little boy with sad eyes
The little boy always on the outside looking in
Invited, but never offered a seat–
Proper placement at the master’s table

I have reset
Like clockwork
And turned my/self inward

Traveling. I’m always traveling.

I remember as an adolescent
Journeying after-school on the 7 train
From Queens to the city
To my job as a library page
Stacking, shelving and organizing books upon books
Setting order to my world
Wondering what life as an adult would be like
Imagining the material things I would finally acquire
After a lifetime of have-nots
Among infinite wants-lots

I would rip out sheets
From composition notebooks
And scribble on the back of used paper napkins and paper receipts
Anything I could get my hands on
This was real
This was learning
This was my education
This was the authoring of my own life

Then the letdown.

After having dedicated my life
To the service of others
Waiting for scraps of legitimacy and recognition
To fall from the master’s table
The shell-shock realization:
That the accumulation of degrees and accolades
Does not necessarily guarantee one’s own personal freedom
Proprietorship over one’s thinking
Possession of one’s own self
The startling revelation
That that broken little boy can no longer be rescued
That that tired life must be shed
Like old skin, husk and all
Deserve so much more.

Therein lays the work.

On Whiteness

They will stare at you
With eyes that say
You do not belong

Look past you
Look over you
Look through you
Or chose not to look
At you at all

Stare you down so hard
Until your features dissemble
Become unrecognizable
Rendered invisible
A speck of dust plastered on the wall

But you, child of wonder,
Keep yo chin up
Don’t drink from the Kool Aid
Of whiteness, power, and privilege
The flavors will always leave acrid aftermaths
In your mouth

Once the lights turn off
And everybody goes home
To take their masks off
It’s yourself, and only your/self
To whom you must belong