Saturday, October 31, 2009


- - ---------Trick & Treat

Death at the door,
----or lurking among the leaves,
death itself is the inevitable trick;
the only treat worth the having,
----to love fearlessly,
------------------------and well.

-------© Rafael Jesús González 2009

(The Montserrat Review, Issue 7, Spring 2003;
author’s copyrights)

-----------Chasco y Regalo

La muerte a la puerta,
----o en emboscada entre la hojas,
la muerte misma es el chasco inevitable;
el único regalo que vale la pena,
-----amar sin temor,
------------------------y amar bien.

---------------© Rafael Jesús González 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Mexico's Día de Muertos through the centuries


Pre-Hispanic Mexico

Awed by the eternal cycle of life and death and the need of sacrifice to assure the continuation of life, ages before the Spaniards came to the Americas, the peoples of ancient Mexico, particularly the Nahuas, of which the Mexica (generally called Aztecs) formed a part, celebrated the dead in a great feast quite different from the one we know today. It began on August 8, by the European calendar, and they called it Micailhuitontli, Small Feast of the Dead, to honor their dead children. On that morning, the people went to the forest and cut down a tall, straight tree which they brought to the gates of the city. There, for twenty days, they blessed the tree and stripped it of its bark.

During those twenty days, they did ritual, sacrificed, feasted, danced, and made offerings to the dead of cempoalxochitl flowers, fire, copal, food, and drink. Then, on August 28, which they called Huey Micailhuitl (Great Feast of the Dead), in honor of their adult dead, they made a large figure of a bird perched on flowering branches out of amaranth seed dough, painted it brightly, and decorated it with colorful feathers. They fixed the dough bird to the end of the tree trunk, raised it in the courtyard of the Great Temple, and honored it with more offerings, singing, copal, dances, sacrifice, and bloodletting.

One hour before sunset, the young noblemen climbed the pole to bring down the figure of the bird. The youths who reached the top first and brought down the dough figure were much honored. They broke it up and passed it out among the people to eat; they called it “flesh of the god.” Then they brought down the pole and broke it up, and everyone tried to take a piece of it back to their homes because it was holy.

The pole and its god-bird on flowering branches must have stood for the mythical Tree of Life that grew in the earthly paradise of Tamoanchan. The blood of sacrifice nourished the Tree of Life, just as Quetzalcoatl, Plumed Serpent, God of Life, shed his blood to create humankind. The ritual of the pole and the flesh of the god honored the fact that life cannot be separated from death; we live and die, and our deaths are the price of living.

Composed of both joy and pain, life is brief and uncertain, its end a question that disquiets the heart. Many poems addressing this sad truth were composed by the Nahua poets, the most famous of whom was Nezahualcoyotl, King of Texcoco, who said:

------------------Is it true that one lives on earth?
------------------Perhaps forever on the earth?
------------------Only a brief instant here!

------------------Even the precious stones chip away,
------------------even the gold falls apart,
------------------even the precious feathers tear.
------------------Perhaps forever on the earth?
------------------Only a brief instant here!

The peoples of ancient Mexico created wonderful pieces of sacred art in which life and death are united. The greatest, perhaps, is the great Coatlicue (now in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City), who was at one and the same time terrifying and life-giving, the goddess of life and death, Earth-Mother of the gods, of humankind: mother of all. They carved statues depicting Quetzalcoatl, God of Life, on one side, and on the other, Mictlantecuhtli, God of Death. They painted pictures of the gods of life and death indivisibly joined together, such as the ones in the Borgia Codex, one of the very few of their marvelous books that survive.

When someone died, a piece of green-stone was placed in his or her mouth to take the place of the heart. The people believed that most of the dead went to a gray region of shadows called Mictlan (Land of the Dead), led by a little dog through nine levels of trials. Only the warriors killed in battle, the victims of sacrifice, and the women who had died in childbirth went to the realm of the Sun. Suicides and those who drowned, or were struck by lightning, or died of certain illnesses associated with water went to the place of Tlaloc, God of the Rain. Children who died young went to the realm of Ometeotl, Lord/Lady of Duality, to be nursed by a tree in a place called Chichihualcuauhco.

Mexico under Spain

These were the beliefs and the customs of the natives when the Spaniards came to Mexico and conquered Tenochtitlan and the Mexica empire in 1521. Along with the horse, the gun, and disease, the Europeans brought a new religion, Christianity. They called the people Indians and forced them to convert.

Some of the Christian beliefs were similar to the ancient ones: the Sun had demanded bleeding hearts torn from sacrificial victims to pay for life; God the Father required the bloody sacrifice of his only Son to pay for salvation. Coatlicue had conceived the god Huitzilopochtli without intercourse with a man; the virgin Mary had also miraculously conceived Jesus. The Indians ate the “flesh of the god’’ in a piece of amaranth dough; Christians ate the flesh of Christ in a piece of unleavened bread. Indians did penance; so did the Christians.

But some of the Christian beliefs were entirely new to the natives, such as the notion of a place where the dead went as either reward or punishment for how they had lived their lives: a happy heaven, with angels, saints, and gods (as they perceived the Trinity) and a painful hell, full of demons and evildoers. The new Mother of God was not terrible, as Coatlicue was, but sweet and demure as she stood on the black obsidian moon in front of the sun and wore the starry night sky for her cloak. Tonantzin, Mother of Us All, was now called Our Lady of Guadalupe, an Arabic place-name of Moorish Spain.

In spite of their conversion, the native people kept their ancient customs as best they could by adapting them to the demands of the new religion, transferring the old celebrations to the holidays of the Christian calendar. They were forced to change the rituals of their days of the dead but kept as their core the ofrenda (the altar with offerings to the dead). And they still grew (and do to this day) the yellow cempoalxochitl, the cempoal, marigold, known popularly as flor de muerto (flower of the dead), which they used especially to honor the dead. They transferred the two Feasts of the Dead to the Christian Feasts of All Saints and All Souls. (Long before, between the eighth and eleventh centuries, the Christian Church itself had set the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls on the first and second of November, converting the ancient European Celtic feast of the harvest and of the dead, Samhain [sá-win], into a Christian holiday.)

The melding of two cultures

Spanish art offered images of death, similar to those the natives knew, in the martyred Christ and saints, and memento mori (“remember that you die”) images of skulls from the medieval tradition of the Dance of Death. The conquered people merged their old symbols with those of the conquerors. The indigenous cross of the four cardinal points became the Christian cross. The Tree of Life came to refer to the Garden of Eden as well, and eventually gave rise to the beautiful clay árboles de la vida with birds on flowering branches that we know today. The amaranth-dough offerings were replaced by the popular wheat pan de muerto (bread of the dead).

One great change in the Spanish colonial period was the evolvement of humor and whimsy that we today associate with los Día de Muertos and that make the holiday so uniquely Mexican. The Spanish may have brought these elements from the medieval tradition of the Feast of Fools (associated with Carnaval, carne vale, farewell to the flesh), where everything is equal and open to criticism, ridicule, and frivolity. “We are all equal in death and nothing is beyond mockery,” this tradition said. And humor became a part of los Día de Muertos that we know today.

In the latter part of the colonial period, the people began making sugar-candy skulls, brightly decorated with names spelled out in colored sugar, to exchange as tokens of affection among family and friends. They placed them on the Día de Muertos altars along with the image of Guadalupe, the flowers, the water, the bread, the food and drink, the candles, and the copal that the old ways demanded. They also made toys in the shape of skeletons and little skeleton dolls of clay and papier maché that made fun of people and every sort of human activity. They made playfulness part of the tradition and took from death a little of its sting.

Another thing that the Spaniards brought was the pasquín (mocking verses scrawled on walls to which passing readers added their own lines and comments). Between 1535 and 1539, the first printing press in America was established in Mexico City, and soon pasquines printed on broadsheets were being pasted on the walls of public buildings. These eventually gave rise to the funny verses called calaveras (skulls, also popularly meaning empty-headed fools), often illustrated with caricatures, through which the people freely criticized and mocked the rich and powerful who ruled their lives. The calavera became a part of the Día de Muertos.

Corridos (ballads in the oral tradition whose themes often focus on current events) had grown to be the popular form of political expression by the time Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, and by the late nineteenth century, the corrido and the calavera had almost completely replaced the pasquín. Small print shops throughout the country published the most popular corridos and calaveras on broadsides of colored paper, disseminating information and ideas against the authoritarian Porfirio Díaz regime. The best-known of these presses was that of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo in Mexico City, made famous by the witty poet Constancio S. Suárez and by José Guadalupe Posada, a talented engraver. Posada illustrated the verses written by Suárez, who succinctly put the truth which is the soul of the calavera:

--------------------It is a most sincere truth
--------------------that this adage makes us see:
--------------------only one who was never born
--------------------can never a death’s-head be.

Día de Muertos in the Twentieth Century

These are some of the elements of los Días de Muertos inherited by the twentieth century. With the Revolution of 1910, modern Mexican art exploded into its own, and the young artists repudiated not only the French orientation of the Díaz era (1877–1911) but their own Spanish heritage, idealizing their indigenous past. For the young artists of the Revolution (José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and David Alfaro Siqueriros among them), Posada was the father of modern Mexican art and quoted his images in their own work. Indeed, many of Posada’s images (such as his Calavera Catrina) took on the nature of icons that are now hard to separate from los Días de Muertos.

Rediscovering and reclaiming their Indian roots and folk arts and festivals, modern Mexican writers, musicians, dancers, and graphic artists created works that burst with images, sounds, colors of dazzling brilliance and originality. But for the Indians, Mexico was a country colonized for four hundred years, its dominant language and culture European; what the writers, musicians, and painters accomplished was to foment a new respect for, even to romanticize, indigenous custom and form, not adopt them as an integral part of their own lives. The artisans of the people continued to produce the ever popular Día de Muertos sugar skulls and toys, of course—and the artists and the new and growing educated middle class avidly collected them as arte popular (folk art.

To simply see the tradition of the Mexican los Días de Muertos as a quaint folk custom does it little justice. It has always been a religious practice alive with its own cosmology, vibrant with spiritual and emotional meaning for the people who participate in it. At its center, Día de Muertos is full of reverence, sorrow, and prayer; the levity is more peripheral, an aside. Without their core of belief, of spiritual and emotional power, Día de Muertos would hardly have survived to our day, much less inspired such art.

After the revolution, Día de Muertos lived on in Mexico among the indigenous populations close to their pre-Hispanic roots; thus it was a holiday of the poor, and most especially the rural poor. The urban middle class rarely put up Days of the Dead altars except as quaint displays of “indigenous” art. On All Souls Day, they might visit the cemetery and place flowers on the grave, perhaps attend Mass, but Día de Muertos was not modern, and the tradition was certainly more Indian than they would ever want to be. It was one thing to show off indigenous art, another to be Indian. That the urbanite Frida Kahlo affected Tehuana dresses and wore strings of heavy, pre-Hispanic green-stone about her slender neck did not make her Indian.

As Mexico became more urban and more industrialized, at least in the major cities, Día de Muertos became more secularized. Were it not for the indigenous communities faithful to their traditions, Día de Muertos might have gradually become merely a colorful Indian custom, a quaint though cherished symbol of national identity.

Día de Muertos in the United States

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, there flared up a new interest from an unexpected quarter. United States intervention in Viet-Nam had flared into a full-blown war in which many citizens of Mexican descent saw the U.S. invasion of Mexico (1846-48) reflected. At the same time, inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, the Farm Workers Movement led by César E. Chávez under the banner of Guadalupe went into full strike in the vineyards of California. These two events galvanized the identity of the young U.S. citizens of Mexican descent who began calling themselves Chicanos.

The quest for and formation of an identity is always a spiritual matter, a moral matter, a matter of empowerment, especially in a society which exerts such pressures to conform and assimilate. In 1970 the Chicano Moratorium against the Viet-Nam War coalesced a political and cultural movement with its own music, literature, and graphic arts, especially the mural. Walls in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities throughout the U.S. blazed into color and images that drew inspiration from the mural movement of Mexico. They extensively quoted the work of Posada, Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, and Kahlo, and incorporated such indigenist images as Sun Stones, eagles devouring serpents, plumed snakes, Guadalupes, and Zapatista campesinos. Chicano art, rooted in Mexican culture but of the United States, was something all its own.

In the late 1960s, some teachers of Mexican descent with ties to Día de Muertos tradition began to introduce it in the classroom. Also in the early 1970s, the Galería de la Raza, the Mexican Museum of San Francisco, the Mission Cultural Center of Latino Arts, and other galleries in San Francisco began to mount Día de Muertos exhibitions, inviting artists to create ofrendas. The same occurred in Los Angeles and quickly spread to other cities, such as Chicago, that have large Chicano and Mexican immigrant populations. And in the mid 1970s, El Teatro Campesino performed satirical skits with calavera characters for the workers in the fields. The richly layered Día de Muertos customs that were traditionally practiced in that area to the south known as Mesoamerica, where the high cultures flourished, were not familiar in Aztlan (northern Mexico and what had become the U.S. Southwest), where native cultures were more nomadic. There the ofrenda was not customary, and up to this point only appeared when people who had immigrated from the south put them up. But now Día de Muertos ofrendas and exhibitions began to appear in New Mexico, Texas, and elsewhere in the Southwest.

New Expressions for Día de Muertos

Avid to reclaim their Mexican—especially Mexican Indian—roots, Chicanos took the ofrenda, the element at the core of Día de Muertos, from its original matrix and made it into a new art form. Very few of the artists participating in these exhibitions had lived Día de Muertos traditions, though some elders and recent immigrants from south-central Mexico were drawn upon to create “traditional” ofrendas. These, even if they may not have included all the elements prescribed by tradition—the image of Guadalupe, the flowers, the water, the bread, the food and drink, the candles, the sugar skulls, the copal—did include an altar bearing offerings of some sort, as well as traditional incidental decorative elements like papel picado and streamers, and, if the ofrenda honored a particular person, photographs and personal mementos.

Though “traditional” ofrendas were occasionally exhibited in Mexico in museums and public spaces, often under the auspices of FONART (the National Fund for the Encouragement of Crafts) as samples of arte popular, the ofrenda had been, up to this point, solely a sacred and private expression of devotion and memorial created for the home, sometimes for the family tomb, occasionally for the church.

The intimate and devotional family ofrenda now became a point of departure for more conscious works of art, giving way to public statements, often political in nature, incorporating the sociopolitical function of the calavera with the religious form of the ofrenda. It is true that many artists considered their work sacred art; they often created ofrendas to honor dead family, friends, or public figures, and they ritually consecrated the gallery space and the ofrenda by smudging with copal or sage. But the religious, sacred aspects became more broadly defined; the emphasis was on fine art. This was a new art form, a variation of installation art. In the context of the gallery, the term “ofrenda” is now popularly used for any installation on the theme of death. The intent of these ofrendas as works of art is often not so much to comfort as to disquiet.

This new interpretation of the traditions of Día de Muertos as art for the public very soon exerted its influence in Mexico, and ofrendas of a political nature, honoring public figures and commemorating political events, started to appear with more frequency in such public spaces as galleries, museums, libraries, community centers, and even government buildings. Furthermore, though Día de Muertos in such places as Michoacán, Morelos, Oaxaca, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz had always attracted visitors, popularization of the holiday in the U.S. tremendously increased the number of tourists to Mexico during these days so that the cemeteries were overrun with urbanites and foreigners toting cameras.

Processions were another notable development in the United States. A procession sponsored by Self-Help Graphics in Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles that started in the 1970s, and another, sponsored by Galería de la Raza in San Francisco’s Mission District in the 1980s, both became so popular that, with the novelty of costumes and samba bands, they were more like Halloween events or carnaval parades than traditional honoring of the dead. Interestingly, in the city of Oaxaca since the seventies, comparsas, skull-masked and skeleton-costumed bands, probably influenced by the U.S. Halloween, began to gain prominence in Día de Muertos celebrations, adding an element of carnaval to the feast.

* ------*------ *

In Mexico, the Days of the Dead are still observed with deep emotion and spiritual devotion by the many who are heirs to the tradition, as well as others who are taking up the practice. In the United States, whose mainstream culture lacks a holiday devoted to the dead, many are borrowing Día de Muertos traditions, respectfully adapting them to their own needs and circumstances, putting up altars every year to honor their dead in the privacy of their homes . . .

Los Día de Muertos tradition, as it is practiced in Mexico, comes down to us from the shades of our pre-European past, a vital tradition laden with historical, religious, and spiritual meaning. It will change as it continues to be popularized and as the cultures that nurture and maintain it struggle to keep their identities in the face of the demands of the twenty-first century with its push towards globalization not only of economics but of culture . . .*

* Some U.S., Canadian, and other foreign artists in such centers as San Miguel de Allende are now producing los Días de Muertos “folk art” for export to the U.S. and abroad. Stores of arts and crafts from around the world, such as Global Exchange in the San Francisco Bay Area, now sell little death-figures and glass boxes from Perú and Bolivia painted with Posada images, bamboo curtains from Viet-Nam painted with Posada images, wood stamping-blocks from Nepal with Mexican milagro images, and skull-shaped glass votive-candle holders from China. And of course more and more artifacts, calendars, and books with los Días de Muertos themes are being produced in the United States.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Readings of Remembrance


SAGRADA is pleased to host writer & poet

Rafael Jesús González

"Lecturas de Recuerdo/Readings of Remembrance"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009, 7:30 PM

SAGRADA 4926 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland
near 51st Street

This event is FREE and all are welcome

(photo by Judy Cheung)

As professor of literature and creative writing, Rafael has taught at the University of Oregon, Western State Collage of Colorado, Central Washington State University, the University of Texas, El Paso, and at Laney College, Oakland, where he founded the Department of Mexican and Latin-American Studies. He also has taught in the public elementary and high schools under the Poets in the Classroom program.

In 1996, he was named Poet in Residence at the Oakland Museum of California. In July 2006 he was named Universal Ambassador of Peace, Universal Ambassador Peace Circle, Geneva, Switzerland. Rafael was recently honored by the City of Berkeley for his life's work in writing, art, teaching, activism for social justice and peace, and community work. He currently sits on the Latino Advisory Council of the Oakland Museum of California.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dylan Thomas (October 27, 1914 - November 9, 1953)


-------Occupational Hazard-

-------------------------to Dylan Thomas

--------they said,
-------------------'of love —
how the wind turns
& calcifies the blood.
-----Erect pillars of salt
-----smoke crowned of pity
----------where witches meet
----------to gossip of despair —
set down the foot-steps of the heart,
their echoes climbing
the perpendicular bone streets of loss
-----into a thin tomorrow —'
----------The angular hands of saints
their tears of stone
clanged loudly on the pavements
-----& their incense breath
-----embalmed the lungs.
----------He saw his hands
----------turn to lizards' claws,
---------------his pen's ink
---------------turn to dust,
blow off the page,
blind him —
---------------& he died
of an insult to the brain.

---------------© Rafael Jesús González 2009

(El Grito, Vol. 6 no. 3, Spring 1973;
author's copyrights.)

-----------Gajes del oficio

----------------------a Dylan Thomas

-------------------'del amor —
como voltea el viento
y calcifica la sangre.
-----Erige pilares de sal
-----coronados del humo de la piedad
---------donde las brujas se encuentran
---------a chismear de la desesperación —
fija los pasos del corazón,
sus ecos escalando
las calles verticales de hueso del perder
-----hacia una mañana flaca —'
----------Las manos angulares de los santos
sus lágrimas de piedra
resonaron fuertemente en los pavimentos
-----y su aliento de incienso
-----embalsamó los pulmones.
----------Vio sus manos
----------volverse en garras de lagarto,
---------------la tinta de su pluma
---------------volverse polvo,
disiparse de la página,
cegarlo —
-------------y murió
de un insulto cerbral.

--------------© Rafael Jesús González 2009


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Feast of St. Rafael Archangel

---------En la fiesta antigua
-------de San Rafael Arcángel

Ángel, un poeta me dijo
que tu raza era terrible,
-----pero tus dedos son suaves
-----sobre mis cicatrices,
---------tu bálsamo de luz de pez
---------en la luna plena de octubre
---------escurre dulzura.

Tal vez sea porque
ya no me importa
luchar —
----------consolar, en vez,
----------acariciar las plumas ojosas
----------de tus alas.

------------© Rafael Jesús González 2009

------------On the Old Feast
--------of St. Rafael Archangel

Angel, a poet told me
your kind was terrible,
----but your fingers are gentle
----on my scars,
---------your balsam of fish light
---------on the full moon of October
---------drips sweetness.

Perhaps it is because
I no longer care
to wrestle —
---------------caress, instead,
---------------stroke the eyed pinions
---------------of your wings.

----------------© Rafael Jesús González 2009

---(Metamorfosis, vol. III no. II vol. IV no. I;
----------------author’s copyrights)

Na festa Antiga de S. Rafael Arcanjo

Anjo, um poeta me dissera
que tua raça era terrível,
-----porém teus dedos são suaves
-----sobre as minhas cicatrizes.
------------Teu bálsamo de luz de pez,
------------Numa lua cheia de outubro,
------------escorre doçura.

Talvez seja porque
já não me importa
-------consolar e sim,
-------acariciar as plumas com olhos
-------de tuas asas.

---------- © Rafael Jesús González 2009

© Clevane Pessoa de Araújo Lopes 2007
Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brasil.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009




El alacrán
---en sus ojos de ópalo
---guarda los secretos
---del agua inmóvil.
Eleva, tenaz, su cola de hierro
y su aguijón de topacio
refleja las luces rojas de Marte,
---las luces obscuras de Plutón.
Se esconde detrás del palo erecto,
------en la cueva húmeda;
y sabe los secretos del alma.

----------© Rafael Jesús González 2009


The scorpion
-----in its opal eyes
-----guards the secrets
-----of the immobile water.
It tenaciously raises its tail of iron
& its topaz sting reflects
----the red lights of Mars,
----the dark lights of Pluto.
It hides behind the erect pole,
---in the moist cave;
it knows the secrets of the soul.

----------© Rafael Jesús González 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

La palabra musical/The Music of the Word, Sunday, October 25



Spanish & English

hosted by Avotcja


Sunday, October 25, 2009

3:30 – 5:30 P.M.


3268 Adeline Street

Berkeley, California

(510) 852-4768

SEVÉ TORRES (Rice, Beans & Rhythm)



with poet



español e inglés

presentada por Avotcja


domingo 25 de octubre 2009

3:30 – 5:30 P.M.


3268 Adeline Street

Berkeley, California

(510) 852-4768

SEVÉ TORRES (Arroz, Frijoles y Ritmo)



con el poeta



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Being honored by the city


On Being Honored by the City

Certainly it is absurd & beautiful
--------& wonderful & silly
for the city to declare a day
--------in one's name.
But, hey, it is no little thing
when citizenship of the town
is the one citizenship of which
one has never been ashamed.
It is hard to know how to celebrate it;
----a friend asks:
should we gather together many folk or few?
should they be jolly & loud?
should they be solemn & sweet?

It is not a little embarrassing to hear
the proclamation read by the mayor
in the Council Chambers filled
with friends without whom
----nothing that one is being honored for
--------could have been done —
not the art,
----not the teaching & learning,
not the activism for justice & peace,
for this holy Earth that presents us
----with this glorious autumn night.

----It is amazing, when all is said & done,
to be praised for what is done from the heart.

------------------------© Rafael Jesús González 2009

(riverbabble, issue 16, winter 2010;
author’s copyrights)

-----Siendo honrado por la ciudad

Es cierto que es absurdo y hermoso
--------y maravilloso y ridículo
que la ciudad declare un día
--------en nombre de uno.
Pero, bueno, no es cosa chica
cuando ciudadanía de la ciudad
es la única ciudadanía de la cual
uno jamás se ha avergonzado.
Es difícil saber como celebrarlo;
----un amigo pregunta:
¿juntamos a mucha gente o pocas?
¿deberían ser alegres y escandalosas?
¿deberían ser solemnes y dulces?

No es poco penoso oír
la proclamación leída por el alcalde
en las cámaras del ayuntamiento llenas
de amig@s sin quienes
----nada de lo por cual honran a uno
--------se pudiera haber hecho —
ni el arte,
----ni el enseñar y el aprender,
ni el activismo por la justicia y la paz,
por esta bendita Tierra que nos presenta
----con esta gloriosa noche de otoño.

----Es asombroso al fin y al cabo
ser alabado por lo que se hace de corazón.

-------------------© Rafael Jesús González 2009

(riverbabble, número 16, invierno 2010;
derechos reservados del autor) 


Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day

-October 12 is a feast-day known in various regions and times by many names: Columbus Day, Discovery Day, Hispanic Culture Day, Day of the Americas, Day of the Race, Day of the Indigenous Peoples.

In Mexico in 1928 at the insistence of the philosopher José Vasconcelos, then Minister of Education, it was named Día de la Raza (Day of the Race), denomination of the Iberian-American Union in 1913 to declare a new identity formed by the encounter of the Spaniards with the native peoples of the Americas. In 1902, the Mexican poet Amado Nervo had written a poem in honor of the President Benito Juárez (a Zapoteca Indian), which he read in the House of Representatives, titled Raza de Bronce (Race of Bronze) praising the indigenous race, title which later in 1919 the Bolivian author Alcides Arquedas would give his book. Bronze (noble metal amalgamated of various metals) came to be metaphor for mestizaje (the mixing of the races.) According to the thinking of Vasconcelos, a Cosmic Race, the race of the future, is the noble race that is formed in the Americas since October 12, 1492, the race of mestizaje, an amalgam of the indigenous races of the Americas, the Europeans, the Africans, the Asians, the world — in a word, the human race made of a mixture of all the races which Vasconcelos called the Cosmic Race.

But that this race is formed at great cost to the indigenous American race (and to the African race brought here as slaves) cannot be ignored. Since 2002, in Venezuela the feast-day is called Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance.)

Be that as it may, by whatever name we give it, however way we cut it, it is the same cake — the date commemorates the arrival of the Europeans to America (which for them was a “new world”), not a visit but an invasion, a genocide, a subjugation of the peoples of that “new world” which we know today by the name of a European cartographer who never set foot on the sacred ground of the continents that bear his name. What the date marks is a continuous colonization, exploitation, abuse, outrage of the indigenous peoples of the Americas that has never lessened, that has persisted these five-hundred-seventeen years.

It could well be called Day of Globalization. Since that date, the Earth is concretely, definitively proven to be truly round, a sphere, a ball, a globe. And from that date is imposed by force upon the indigenous American peoples a quite strange (in my view, mistaken) cosmology, attitude toward life, toward the Earth, toward economics, toward the sacred, toward the human being him/herself — a single truth narrow and intolerant, a rapacious disdain toward the Earth seen only as a resource to be exploited, a concept of progress difficult to distinguish from greed and the lust for power.

The cause of the indigenous peoples screams for justice: their lands, their fields continue to be stolen from them, destroyed for their valuable woods and minerals; their agricultural creations, such as maize and the potato, which have saved a great part of the world from famine, are modified at the molecular level and controlled by rapacious corporations; their traditional medicines are patented by those same corporations; sacred water is privatized and stolen from them; even their right to their own beliefs and cultures is not respected. Even putting justice aside, we should all ally ourselves with the indigenous peoples of the Americas (and of the entire world) in their resistance against such abuse because what threatens them threatens us all throughout the whole world — and the Earth itself. They have a very much to teach us about a healthy relationship of humankind with the Earth.

In an Earth much smaller and more fragile than we imagined, we find ourselves in full globalization and struggle against the imposition of an unbridled capitalism and the fascism, its logical extension, that accompanies it. The indigenous resistance that has never ceased these five centuries and some continues in spite of a brutal repression and now all of us of the cosmic race, of pure necessity, must align ourselves with their struggle, for that struggle is ours if we are to survive on the Earth, holy mother of our race, the human race — and of all our relations, the other animals, the plants, the minerals. On the round, seamless Earth all borders are fictitious and what threatens one threatens all. To think otherwise is not only immoral but insane.

© Rafael Jesús González 2009

Berkeley, California


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Solomon's October


--------------Solomon's October

---------------------Stay me with flagons,
---------------------comfort me with apples,
---------------------for I am sick of love.

Sick of love
apples cannot make me well.
Once the leaves have ripened scarlet
on the boughs and the birds winged
their scribblings toward the south,
no prayer can crack the secret alphabet
of all that we remembered to forget.

Sharp are the curves of apples in this light;
their braille unlocks the veins
which spill their juice
more clear and acrid than the apples' blood.

I see the leaves in ecstasy of death now hatch
colors spawned by time in a decaying hoard
of days collected green in careful youth
and in their fevered riot try to catch
from the colloquial language of the Lord
some allophonic truth.

-----------------------© Rafael Jesús González 2009

-----(Oakwood, vol 2, no. 2, Spring 1976,
-----South Dakota University Press; Author's copyrights)

--------------El octubre de Salomón

----------------------Confortadme con pasas,
----------------------con manzanas reanimadme,
----------------------que me enfermo de amor.

Enfermo de amor
no me podrán sanar las manzanas.
Una vez que han madurado las hojas
escarlata en las ramas y las aves volado
sus garabatos hacia al sur,
ningún rezo podrá descifrar el abecedario secreto
de todo lo que hemos acordado a olvidar.

Se afilan los curvas de las manzanas en esta luz;
su Braille abre las venas
que derraman su jugo
más claro y acre que la sangre de las manzanas.

Veo a las hojas ahora empollar en éxtasis mortal
colores desovados por el tiempo
en un montón podrido de días acumulados verdes
en prudente juventud y en su alboroto febril
trato de captar alguna verdad variante
de la lengua familiar del Señor.

------------------------------© Rafael Jesús González 2009


Friday, October 9, 2009

Blow to the Moon

Golpe a la luna

En vísperas de mi setenta y cuarto otoño lanzaron un proyectil para golpear la luna. Se apunta a uno de los cráteres más profundos y frígidos en el lado oscuro de la luna donde jamás ha llegado el sol. En él se hará otro cráter alzando una columna de polvo tal vez como una de las columnas divinas que se dice guiaron a los antiguos judíos a través del desierto. Buscamos las aguas que la luna pueda ocultar bajo sus mares áridos y yermos.

Criaturas de agua de un planeta acuario codiciamos las aguas imaginarias que pueda tener el pequeño satélite que nos hace ronda, nosotros que hemos envenenado las meras aguas de nuestro nacer y que no hemos sabido cuidar a la Tierra y ni mucho menos a uno al otro de los nuestros.

A este extremo ha llegado nuestra locura por la cual una vez culpábamos a la luna misma. Hace cuarenta años cuando nos atrevimos a pisar su suelo virgen, los chamanes advirtieron que se habían soltado monstruos. No lo creo; para monstruos basta con los que nos muestran los espejos. Somos nosotros mismos los ángeles y demonios que imaginamos. No lo suficiente cuerdos para cuidar de la Tierra, abusamos a la luna y me pregunto si en el más allá haya manicomio adecuado para nuestras almas perdidas.

© Rafael Jesús González 2009

Blow to the Moon

On the eve of my seventy-forth autumn a missile was launched to strike the moon. It is pointed at one of the deepest and most frigid craters on the dark side of the moon where the sun has never come. In it shall be made another crater raising a column of dust perhaps like one of the divine columns said to have guided the ancient Jews across the desert. We seek the waters that the moon might hide beneath her arid and sterile seas.

Water creatures of an aquarian planet, we covet the imaginary waters that the little satellite that circles us could hold, us who have poisoned the very waters of our birth and have not known how to care for the Earth much less for one another of our own.

To this extreme has come our madness for which at one time we blamed the moon itself. Forty years ago when we dared to step upon her virgin soil, the shamans warned that monsters had been let loose. I do not believe it; for monsters enough is what our mirrors show. We ourselves are the angels and demons we imagine. Not sane enough to care for the Earth, we abuse the moon, and I ask myself if in the beyond there is an adequate madhouse for our lost souls.

© Rafael Jesús González 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

'Rafael Jesús González' by Jannie Dresser


Rafael Jesús González to be honored Tuesday October 13

October 7, 4:22 PMSF Poetry ExaminerJannie Dresser
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City of Berkeley Honors Poet & Artist Rafael Jesús González
Tuesday, October 13, 2009, 7 p.m.
Berkeley City Hall Council Chambers at Martin Luther King Jr. Way between Allston Wayand Center Street in downtown Berkeley

An old hand-bound, brown leather book contains the poems that his mother, Carmen, typed and read from when he was a boy. Its pages are yellowed and thin but contain poems that he has loved all his life by classical Spanish and Latin American poets: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Juan De Dios Peza, Gabriela Mistral, Amado Nervo, and Rubén Darío among others. This early contact with literature meant that Berkeley poet Rafael Jesús González has “been writing all my life.”

On October 13, at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers, the City of Berkeley will honor González for his contributions to the local community. For someone who describes himself as “something of a hermit,” González has long been active in progressive politics and the creative arts throughout the Bay Area. His political passions are focused on environmental and social justice issues, while a career in writing and literature has inspired many others to use their pens for both personal expression and political action. But, González is also a visual and performance artist. For many years, he has been the elder in a Latino men’s ritual group, Xochipilli, which sets the ceremonial tone for Oakland Museum of California’s annual Día de Los Muertos festivities. González has contributed several art installations to the museum’s “ofrenda“ displays marking the indigenous celebration, also creating installations for the Mexican Museum and the Mission Cultural Center both in San Francisco.

Although he grew up in a house full of books, his path into the arts was somewhat indirect. Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, González had a military career at first, serving in the Navy’s hospital corps and as a staff sergeant in the Marines. He attended the University of Texas, El Paso, on the G.I. bill and took a pre-medicine degree, majoring in both English and Spanish literature with minors in psychology and philosophy. Around that time, he realized he “loved literature best,” and switched gears, receiving a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a National Education Act Fellowship to the University of Oregon to pursue a career in education. González taught literature, English composition, and creative writing, first at the University of Oregon, then at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, Central Washington State University in Ellensberg, Washington, “where it snows a lot in winter,” and finally coming to the Bay Area where he taught at Oakland’s Laney College for 30 years.

He retired in 1998, in part because the increased illiteracy of his college-age students made his job harder though less challenging. “Grading became more of a chore; class sizes were larger.” Students were entering college without the rudimentary skills in reading and composition. He lays this problem at the doors of those who promoted and passed Proposition 13 (the 1978 tax revolt which massively reduced public school funding). As an instructor “there was less time to comment on logic and the development of an argument,” and an increased need to focus solely on punctuation and sentence structure. After leaving Laney, he occasionally taught courses and seminars at the University of California Berkeley and San Francisco State University, and even returned to his hometown of El Paso as visiting Professor of Philosophy to teach aesthetics at the University of Texas. As part of the assigned coursework, he encouraged students to visit one another’s homes to get a sense of each individual’s aesthetic choices. “Everyone is an artist,” González says. “You can not be human without making art.”

A citizen of U.S./Mexican border culture, with both parents having deep roots in Mexico (Durango and Torréon), González is completely at ease speaking and writing both English and Spanish. He writes poems simultaneously in Spanish and in English, but at one time, he felt he had to select the version that sounded the most 'authentic . . . "whatever that is," he jokes. Knowing that the two versions were really one poem, he decided that it was dishonest to separate them and call them two distinct poems, to deny that they were part of one another. He has never described what he does as translation. “I think of a line in Spanish, then in English or in English, then in Spanish.“ The poem comes about through an effortless move back and forth between the two vocabularies. Now, when he sends work for publication, he insists that both the Spanish and English version be printed as he has no interest in publishing what he considers to be a truncated poem.

González has spent less time on his publishing career than his politics and teaching. For years, he has shared poems on a monthly basis via email to friends and acquaintances fortunate enough to be on his list. His last book was published first in 1977: El hacedor de juegos (The Maker of Games) contained 54 poems and had a second edition in 1978. Since then, he has published poems in journals and magazines. A new collection of his work is in preparation now and scheduled for a late October release; it is La musa lunática (The Lunatic Muse) and is anxiously awaited by his readers.

The older he gets, says the 74-year-old poet, the more important he finds the matter of accessibility in the writing. “Poetry does not depend so much on the dazzling combination of words or metaphors but on the spirit of a relationship to Earth, to our wonder of it; poetry shouldn’t require a great vocabulary.” Poets who have inspired him include the ones his mother read long ago, such as García Lorca and Pablo Neruda, but also Walt Whitman, Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens and William Stafford. “Erudition should not interfere with accessibility,” he believes, and offers the advice to young writers to “give their Thesaurus to their worst friend.” Instead, he believes reading and conversing with other people who love literature is the best way to develop your working vocabulary.

In his work, art and politics segue completely. He speaks of the “old cosmology” as having reached its limit, and the need for basing our future on a reverence for the Earth. “If She is wounded, we are wounded.” In spite of the daily news, González insists he is still only “a pessimist of the intellect” but “an optimist of the heart.” In truth, he would “rather be writing love poems” than having to devote so much time to the issues of the day that concern him: global warming, alternative energy, the fight for universal healthcare, peace and justice issues. “My rantings and ravings are manifestations of a love outraged.” The public is invited to the City of Berkeley’s honoring of González.

Copyrighted photographs by Jannie M. Dresser.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Full moon: The Lunatic Muse

----------La musa lunática

La mía es una musa lunática;
-----las cosas necias
que me murmura al oído
bastan para volverlo a uno loco,
cosas de niño tal como que
-----al hombre en la luna
-----le gusta la tuna
-----y que por coger una
-----se ahogó en la laguna.
¿Será esa la misma mera
----------de las faldas plateadas
que le advirtió a la pobre Sor Juana
------que no comiera queso
porque la haría ruda?
Más valdría que se ocupara
-----de los jóvenes;
no es nada propio
-----que tanto moleste
----------a lo viejos.

-----------© Rafael Jesús González 2009

--------The Lunatic Muse

Mine is a lunatic muse;
-----the silly things
she murmurs in my ear
are enough to drive one crazy,
childish things such as
-----that the man in the moon
-----likes prickly pears
-----& that reaching for one
-----he drowned in the lake.
Could she be the very one
----------of the silver skirts
that warned poor Sor Juana
------not to eat cheese
because it would make her crude?
It'd be better if she busied herself
------with the young;
it is not at all proper
-----that she so much bother
----------the old.

---------© Rafael Jesús González 2009


Thursday, October 1, 2009

invitation to honoring of Rafael Jesús González by City of Berkeley, California


You are cordially invited to attend
the City of Berkeley's honoring of
Rafael Jesús González
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
at 7:00 PM
in the Council Chambers
Berkeley City Hall
at Martin Luther King Jr Way,
between Allston Way and Center Street

S0n muy cordialmente invitad@s a asistir
al honramiento de
Rafael Jesús González
por el Ayuntamiento de la Cd. de Berkeley
el martes 13 de octubre 2009
a las 7:00 PM
en las cámaras del Ayuntamiento
de la Cd. de Berkeley, California
en la avenida Martin Luther King Jr.
entre las calles Allston y Center