On Mothers.

Mother,
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.

Mother,
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?

Mother,
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?

#staywoke

#BeyondtheMarches

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,
routines,
and life
as we knew it

We get to go home.

Get to laugh
and cry
and anger
and love
again

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
again.

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
wounded
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
prepared
to leave the chains
at the door
for collecting

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

I return to you
tried and true
weary
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
patience
trust
and sacrifice
tools for building
longevity

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
Gots-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
Enters
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
Enters
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
He–you–we
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
Remember
It’s yourself, and only your/self
To whom you must belong

Untitled Poem, 6/4

When your friends love you enough to look for you
Seek you when you become lost
Look for you without your asking
Or knowing that you need to be found

When your friends love you enough to come rescue you
Love you enough to help you pick your/self from the floor
Love you enough to look beyond the brokenness and disrepair
Love you enough to see you whole

When your friends love you enough to help you stand
Love you enough to hold your hand
Until your legs are strong again
Able to walk on their own accord

When your friends love you enough to offer you an invitation
Invite you to lay it down, lay it all down
Armor, sheath and sword

When your friends love you enough to face you
Love you enough to look beyond the guise, the hurt, the pride
Love you enough to face you as you face yourself
Love you so much that they will not allow you to face yourself alone

Children Running Through

remember
the taste
of lazy, summer days
when upon
open fields
you and I would lay
and watch
as clouds
would slowly
shift,
stretch
and change

remember
baptizing
every puff of white
with a shape,
a name?
unaware how
for hours we’d play
this game
and the day itself
would simply
melt away

remember
the cool of sweat,
the blades of grass
that pressed against
our backs
as we
laid upon
the earth

our arms
outstretched,
as though able
to embrace the world
completely enamored
by the beauty
of the sky

our fingers,
in all their smallness,
combing through
air
as if able to
touch heaven
and somehow reach
our ancestors

crowning our fingers
in halos
of sunlight
their faces,
their smiles,
yours,
ours,
mine

hiding behind clouds
though their sight
never left
our side

sorting through noise,
as infinite sounds
spilled
onto the streets
and the laughter
of children running through
as they looked back,
making faces at me

the sound of
of their voices
filling the air
soft and sweet
rising, elevating
clear and free

free, that’s
what I wish
to be.

Towards Becoming

perhaps one day we will love again
when the dust settles and the smoke clears
and the sadness that gripped and coiled our eyes like serpents peels away and disintegrates
empties itself clean and bone hollow
like the belly of newborn babies that seek and starve for a new satisfaction
substance that is purposeful
intentional.

perhaps then
we’ll discover sight.
learn what it means to look upon and recognize one an/other
see our selves for the first time
standing in true form
bodies bare in all of their nakedness
heart, flesh and wounds exposed.
our bones would agitate and shift in their skeletal cradles
turn themselves over
reset like clockwork
return to a place of origin
full of curiosity and wonder.

perhaps then
we’ll regain speech.
have unfastened and rescued our tongues from the clutch of our mouths’ rooftops
learned the meaning behind words we unknowingly acquired
understand now the discourses of love and loss and awakening
possess new forms of communication
new ways to regard one another.

perhaps then
we’ll become found.
like lost children who return home after years of frightful wander
dragging along the weight of limping bodies like damaged collateral
sprouting heavy limbs and trembling flesh that long for rest in the arms of a constant
unclenching starved mouths and thirsting tongues that crave the taste of the familiar
a drop
a morsel
a crumb.
the tiniest parcel to prove the past still remembers

that there still remains some/thing of worth to recover.

Poem at Twenty-Five

the hands on the clock have struck midnight

there is no magical moment for me to unfold.

the phone besides me, for days, remains untouched

with no one at my side, no hands to claim my own

I welcome the years

once again

alone.

I want to tell you about me.

about the lonely nights these longing limbs have spent curled upon on a sofa bed mattress

dreaming

waiting

planning

meticulously wrapping my adolescent bones in grown up skin

without ever realizing how my body had deceived

had long begun to change and age right before me.

I want to tell you about me.

about the desolate nights these driven knees have spent ardently bent upon

aching to understand

scrapping forgiveness in fist and mouthfuls

from tear soaked splintered floorboards

skinning and pulping the flesh off kneecaps while performing repentance

mouthing words ‘cross lips whose depths a forming mind had yet to make sense with

and yet

praying to be changed

praying to be delivered

praying to wake up dead

praying to a god

that just would not answer me

I want to tell you about me.

about the small, crouching animal these tired bones have spent a lifetime encasing and carrying inside.

nameless

ownerless

fatherless

for years, even I, unaware of its existence.

the steady pulse of a second heartbeat

the pressing of sharp, razor teeth

anchored around my intestines, slowly eroding my hunger for life

I want to tell you about me.

about the incessant search for self this relentless heart has spent an existence embarking on.

moving towards.

a constant search for completion

possessing

no origin

no master

no beginning or end

or actual destination.

only arrival.

satisfied if and only until I am found.

me. and only me. whole and complete.

perhaps then I shall be made useful.

traveling. I am always traveling.

I want to tell you about me.

about the many foreign beds this unclaimed body has spent sprawled within.

incalculable sets of flesh this body has pressed against.

inserted itself in.

attempted

desired

struggled

to collectively make a home with.

the many empty hands these fingers have held and wrapped promises around.

the unnamable monsters that have lived and breathed within the warmth of my mouth.

convinced love would somehow be found

between the crevices of open legs and folds of worn sheets.

yes.

I too have been that of that kind.

sought comfort in the arms of strangers

validation in the eyes of a passerby

hoping, one day, someone too would notice me.

I want to tell you about me.

about the blackest cipher this intersected self has spent a living crawling itself out from.

wondering if and how it would survive.

eyes wide open

seeking danger and lurking in the turning of every corner

a constant looking over my shoulder

knowing a final end awaited me.

there simply exists

no easy place in this world for a queer brown boy.

no safe space for his being to fully form.

for the nurturing of his soul to fully

blossom

thrive

grow

I want to tell you about me.

and if I did,

would you stop for just a moment to listen?