Wednesday, November 25, 2009




Thanks & blessing be
to the Sun & the Earth
for this bread & this wine,
----this fruit, this meat, this salt,
---------------this food;
thanks be & blessing to them
who prepare it, who serve it;
thanks & blessing to them
who share it
-----(& also the absent & the dead.)
Thanks & blessing to them who bring it
--------(may they not want),
to them who plant & tend it,
harvest & gather it
--------(may they not want);
thanks & blessing to them who work
--------& blessing to them who cannot;
may they not want — for their hunger
------sours the wine
----------& robs the salt of its taste.
Thanks be for the sustenance & strength
for our dance & the work of justice, of peace.

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

(The Montserrat Review, Issue 6, Spring 2003
[nominated for the Hobblestock Peace Poetry Award];
author’s copyrights.)


Gracias y benditos sean
el Sol y la Tierra
por este pan y este vino,
-----esta fruta, esta carne, esta sal,
----------------este alimento;
gracias y bendiciones
a quienes lo preparan, lo sirven;
gracias y bendiciones
a quienes lo comparten
(y también a los ausentes y a los difuntos.)
Gracias y bendiciones a quienes lo traen
--------(que no les falte),
a quienes lo siembran y cultivan,
lo cosechan y lo recogen
-------(que no les falte);
gracias y bendiciones a los que trabajan
-------y bendiciones a los que no puedan;
que no les falte — su hambre
-----hace agrio el vino
-----------y le roba el gusto a la sal.
Gracias por el sustento y la fuerza
para nuestro bailar y nuestra labor
--------por la justicia y la paz.

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

(The Montserrat Review, no. 6, primavera 2003
[nombrado para el Premio de la Poesía por la Paz Hobblestock;
derechos reservados del autor.)

--- -

Saturday, November 21, 2009




El arquero apunta a Júpiter,
----planeta de tantas lunas,
cuya luz se refleja en sus ancas,
y en la punta de topacio de su saeta
brota la llama inconstante del anhelo.
------En cadena de estaño
------lleva pectoral de turquesa
------bruñida de ensueños
---------y apunta
-------------------y apunta
---------y anhela herir al cielo.

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


The archer points at Jupiter,
-----planet of many moons
whose light reflects on his haunches,
& on the topaz point of his arrow
bursts the inconstant flame of his desire.
------On a chain of tin
------he wears a medallion of turquoise
------polished by dreams
---------& he points
----------------------& he points
------& desires to wound the sky.

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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986)


-----The Hole In The Bone

------------(for Georgia O'Keefe
------------on her 90th birthday)

Some times we fall into the sky
-----through a hole in the bone
----------or drown in a flower
or fly high on a shingle or shell —
----- sometimes we see
----------& make a life of it
where there are hills
------------------------& sky
-------------------------------& bones
---------& hills
-----------------& sky
------------------------& bones
& it all holds
together with laughter.

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

(The Montserrat Review, Issue 3, Spring 2000;
author's copyrights)

-----------El hoyo en el hueso

------------------(para Georgia O'Keefe
-------------en su nonagésimo cumpleaños)

A veces caemos en el cielo
-----por un hoyo en el hueso
----------o nos ahogamos en una flor
o volamos alto en una concha o tajamanil —
-----algunas veces vemos
----------y de él hacemos una vida
donde hay lomas
---------------------y cielo
-----------------------------y huesos
----------y lomas
------------------- y cielos
-----------------------------y huesos
y todo adhiere
con riza.

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


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans' Day


-Veterans Day

When the First World War officially ended June 28, 1919, the actual fighting had already stopped the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the previous year. Armistice Day, as it was known, later became a national holiday, and in 1954 (the year I graduated from high school), the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor all U.S. veterans of all wars.

The only veteran of that war, “the war to end all wars”, I ever knew was my father’s step-father Benjamín Armijo, from New Mexico, an old man who seldom spoke and whom I would on occasion see wearing his cap of The American Legion. (He was also Republican.)

“The war to end all wars” was anything but that and when I was not much more than five, three of my uncles on my mother’s side (Roberto, Armando, Enrique) went off to fight another war, the Second World War.

I missed my uncles and remembered them by their photos on my grandmother’s home altar, very handsome in their uniforms; in the endless rosaries and litanies the women in the family regularly met to pray; and in the three blue stars that hanged in the window.

My uncle Roberto, tío Beto, did not last his second year; he came home and ulcers and los nervios, nerves, were mentioned. My uncle Armando, tío Pana, in the Infantry division or the Cavalry Division (though not one horse was ever ridden into battle in that war), served in the Pacific Theater, and Guadalcanal is a name that in some way sticks in his history. My uncle Enrique, tío Kiki, the youngest, in the Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles,” served in the European Theater and parachuted into the taking of Germany.

After that war ended, they came home, tío Pana into a hospital, sick with malaria which affected him throughout the rest of his life; tío Kiki with a malady in the soul not so easily diagnosed, hidden in his quiet humor, gentle ways. All my uncles were gentle men, in all senses of the word. And Beto, Pana, Kiki spoke not at all about their experiences of war in spite of my curiosity and questions which they diverted with a little joke or change of subject. What they had seen, felt was apparently not to be spoken and the family sensed this and respected their reticence. Neither of them joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars that I ever knew.

The Korean War “broke out”, as they say, as if it were acne, not long after. But as for me, I have never fought in any war, though I joined the U. S. Navy upon graduating from El Paso High School to become a Hospital Corpsman and obtain the G.I. Bill with which to enter Pre-Med studies upon my discharge; two of four years in the Navy I spent in the Marine Corps with the rank of Staff Sergeant. The Korean War had already ended. And though I served closely enough to it to be given the Korea Defense Service Medal and am legally a veteran and eligible to join the VFW, I never did nor do I intend to.

If I consider myself veteran of any war, it would be of the Viet-Nam War, not because I fought in it, far from it, but because I struggled against it. (I counseled conscientious objectors, picketed recruiting offices, marched in the streets.) The war veterans I have most intimately known are from that war, many, if not most, wounded and ill in body (from bullets, shrapnel, agent-orange), wounded and ill in the soul (terror, guilt, shame, hatred putrefying their dreams, tainting their loves.)

I am leery of being asked to honor veterans of almost any war, except as I honor the suffering, the being of every man or woman who ever lived. I am sick of “patriotism” behind which so many scoundrels hide. I am sick of war that has stained almost every year of my life. Especially now, in the midst of yet another unjustified, immoral, illegal, untenable, cynical, cruel war our nation wages in Iraq, in Afghanistan. I am impatient with fools who ask whether I “support our troops.”

What does it mean to “support our troops”? What is a troop but a herd, a flock, a band? What is a troop but a group of actors whose duty it is not to reason why, but to do and die? In the years I served in the Navy and Marine Corps as a medic, I never took care of a troop; I took care of men who had been wounded and hurt, who cut themselves and bled, who suffered terrible blisters on their feet from long marches, who fell ill sick with high fevers. If to support means to carry the weight of, keep from falling, slipping, or sinking, give courage, faith, help, comfort, strengthen, provide for, bear, endure, tolerate, yes, I did, and do support all men and women unfortunate enough to go to war.

Troops, I do not. If to support means to give approval to, be in favor of, subscribe to, sanction, uphold, then I do not. The decision to make war was/is not theirs to make; troops are what those who make the decisions to war use (to kill and to be killed, to be brutalized into torturers) for their own ends, not for the sake of the men and woman who constitute the “troops.”

I honor veterans of war the only way in which I know how to honor: with compassion; with respect; with understanding for how they were/are used, misled, indoctrinated, coerced, wasted, hurt, abandoned; with tolerance for their beliefs and justifications; with efforts to see that their wounds, of body and of soul, are treated and healed, their suffering and sacrifice compensated. I never refuse requests for donations to any veterans’ organization that seeks benefits and services for veterans. I honor veterans, men and woman; not bands, not troops.

If you look to my window on this day, the flag you will see hanging there will be the rainbow flag of peace. It hangs there in honor of every veteran of any war of any time or place. Indoors, I will light a candle and burn sage, recommit myself to the struggle for justice and for peace. Such is the only way I know in which to honor the veterans of war, military or civilian.

Berkeley, November 11, 2007

© Rafael Jesús González 2009


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cover to Cover/Open Book - KPFA 94.1 FM

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Cover to Cover/Open Book

Friday, November 6, 2009, 3:00 PM (PST),
KPFA 94.1 FM

Producer, Nina Serrano continues her Poet-to-Poet series. Friday, November 6 she interviews Rafael Jesús González, recently honored by the City of Berkeley for his poetry, scholarship and activism. González reads from his work and discusses his artistic evolution.

May also be heard then or any time on
on Cover to Cover/Open Book,
November 6, 2009, 3:00 PM (PST)

Listen Live

Pasta a Pasta/Libro Abierto

viernes, 6 noviembre 2009, 3:00 PM, KPFA 94.1 FM

Directora, Nina Serrano continua su serie Poeta-a-Poeta. El viernes 6 de noviembre entrevistará a Rafael Jesús González, recientemente honrado por la Ciudad de Berkeley por su poesía, investigación y activismo. González leerá de su obra, español e inglés, y discutirá su evolución artística.

También se podrá escuchar entonces o cuando sea en
en Cover to Cover/Open Book,
viernes 6 de noviembre 2009, 3:00 PM

Monday, November 2, 2009

Full moon: Moon of the Dead


------------Luna de los muertos

La luz de la luna plena
en la ofrenda de la noche
atrae las mariposas nocturnas,
----las almas de los muertos
--------los luceros.
Vienen con sed y hambre,
buscan las flores amarillas del otoño.
Y piden cuenta de nosotros:
----¿Qué han hecho en voto a la vida?
¿Han, aun un poquito, menguado el sufrir?
¿Han cuidado de las aguas, de la tierra?
¿han cuidado los unos a los otros?

Agachamos la cabeza:
lo que sabemos de la virtud es por vosotros,
también lo que sabemos del pecado, del temor.
Pero no por eso somos menos culpables.
Les rendimos homenaje por la vida,
gracias por lo bueno que enseñaron,
----perdón por lo malo.
Y en el humo del copal van nuestras gracias,
----nuestras disculpas,
--------nuestras promesas para vivir mejor.

Y la luna que nos ha vigilado siempre,
----que ha sido víctima de nuestra locura,
madrina indulgente intercede por nosotros
----y suaviza la luz inexorable
--------de los luceros.

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

---------------------Moon of the Dead

The light of the full moon
on the altar of the night
attracts the night moths,
----souls of the dead
--------the stars.
They come with thirst & hunger,
they seek the yellow blooms of fall
& ask accounting of us:
----What have you done for the sake of life?
Have you, even a little, lessened suffering?
Have you cared for the waters, for the earth?
Have you cared one of the other?

We bow our heads:
what we know of virtue we have learned from you,
also what we know of sin, of fear.
But not for all of that, are we less failing.
We rend you homage for life,
thank you for the good you taught,
----forgiveness for the bad.
& in the smoke of the copal go our thanks,
----our promises to live better.

And the moon who has watched over us always,
----who has been the victim of our madness,
indulgent godmother intercedes for us
----& softens the inexorable light
--------of the stars.

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


Día de muertos (Feast of All Souls)


--Consejo para el peregrino a Mictlan

------------------------(al modo Nahua)

Cruza el campo amarillo de cempoales,
baja al reino de las sombras;
es amplio, es estrecho.
Interroga a los ancianos;
son sabios, son necios:

— Señores míos, Señoras mías,
¿Qué verdad dicen sus flores, sus cantos?
¿Son verdaderamente bellas, ricas sus plumas?
¿No es el oro sólo excremento de los dioses?
Sus jades, ¿son los más finos, los más verdes?
Su legado, ¿es tinta negra, tinta roja? —

Acepta sólo lo preciso:

-----lo que te haga amplio el corazón
--------lo que te ilumine el rostro.

------------------------© Rafael Jesús González 2007

-----Advice for the Pilgrim to Mictlan

------------------- (in the Nahua mode)

Cross the yellow fields of marigolds,
descend to the realm of shadows;
it is wide, it is narrow.
Question the ancients;
they are wise, they are fools:

— My Lords, My Ladies,
What truth do your flowers, your songs tell?
Are your feathers truly lovely, truly rich?
Is not gold only the excrement of the gods?
Your jades, are they the finest, the most green?
Your legacy, is it black ink, red ink? —

Accept only the necessary:

-----what will widen your heart
----what will enlighten your face.

------------------------© Rafael Jesús González 2007

Descent to Mictlan, The Land of the Dead

(Trance Poem in the Nahua Mode)

[Descent to Mictlan, Land of the Dead: Trance Poem in the Nahua mode (commissioned by the Oakland Museum of California while the author was Poet in Residence under a Writers on Site award by Poets & Writers, Inc. and a grant from The James Irvine Foundation in 1996) was written as a performance piece for voice, drums, didgeridoos, and movement intended to guide the audience upon an introspective journey of the imagination down into the kingdom of Death.

It is not so much entertainment as it is ritual art which, with the consent of each person in the audience to give himself or herself to their imagination, would induce the heightened perception of trance to descend into our collective and personal past to examine the legacy of our ancestors. What they have given us, we have become. It may be read by the attentive reader in the same way.

The times demand that we take stock of who we are, for our great Mother the Earth is wounded and, to heal her, we must heal ourselves, learn from the wisdom of our forebears and discard their mistakes. And in return for what each brings back from the store house of the past, each must make a commitment, in good faith, to change and to heal ourselves; and to care for and protect the Earth, all that she bears, and each other in brotherhood and sisterhood of the spirit and of the flesh. It is a gift and a blessing. Any less and we risk our own extinction on the Earth.]

Cruzad el campo amarillo de cempoales.
Cross the yellow fields of marigolds.
Bajad al reino de las sombras — es amplio, es estrecho.
Descend to the realm of shadows — it is wide, it is narrow.

We come to the mouth of the cavern of caverns,
realm of Mictlantecuhtli, Mictlancihuatl,
Señor-Señora Muerte, Our Lord, Our Lady of Death —
It is wide, it is narrow;
pasad, enter this chamber of yellow blooms,
--------the cempoalxochitl, the shield flower,
------------flor de muertos, flower of the Dead.

We step, we walk;
-----we walk the sacred;
---------every step is sacred.
We walk in the tracks of our ancestors,
we step in the tracks of the old ones,
----our grandmothers, our grandfathers,
----the ancients:
--------the people of the drum
--------the people of the canoe
--------the people of the pyramids
--------the people of the spear
--------the people of the shuttle and loom
--------the people of the sickle and plow,
------------our ancient ones, all of the clans.
They taught us to see;
they taught us not to see;
-----from them we learned to see;
-----------we learned not to see.
They taught us to dream;
------they taught us to fear;
-----------much to learn, much to unlearn.
We step in their tracks, we step on the sacred.

We walk, we step in the tracks of our ancestors,
----our relations:
---------the ocelot
---------the buffalo
---------the coyote
---------the bear
---------the salmon, the serpent, the eagle, the hawk,
---------monkey, turtle, frog,
---------the owl and the bat.
Further, further we walk:
the spider, the moth, the fly, the coral, the mite,
ameba, paramecium, germ, virus - all of the clans.
They taught us to see, to live in the now,
------to smell, to taste,
------to hear, to live in the now.
We step in their tracks,
-----we walk on the sacred —
---------all our relations, all of the clans.

We walk, we step in the tracks of our ancestors,
our relations:
-----the fern, the redwood
-----the pine, the oak
-----the cactus, the mesquite
-----the violet, the rose
-----the fig, the grape-vine, the wheat
-----the corn, the thistle, the grass
-----the mushroom, the moss, the lichen, the algae,
-----the mold — all of the clans.
They taught us to touch, to fully delight in the here,
------to find contentment on the here.
We step in their tracks,
-----we walk on the sacred —
---------all our relations, all of the clans.

We walk, we step
-----in the tracks of our ancestors, our relations:
--------the granite, the sandstone
--------the jasper, the serpentine
--------the turquoise, the flint
--------the opal, the crystal
--------the agate, the jade
--------the gold, the iron
----the silver, the lead, the copper, the tin,
----boulder, pebble, sand, dust — all of the clans.
They taught us silence, quiet;
------they taught us to stay, to be.
We step in their track,
-----we walk on the sacred —
---------all our relations, all of the clans.

------It is dark; it is light —
here the roots of the Tree of Life,
------árbol de la vida, tree of Tamoanchan.
Look: wealth, treasure, our inheritance.
Look: teocuitatl, oro, gold, shit of the gods
-------chalchihuitl, jade, jade, the green stone
-------quetzalli, plumas, feathers, the precious things
-------xochitl, flores, the roots of flowers —
gifts and burdens,
------the useful, the hindering,
----------the dark medicine, the glittering poison.
Pick and choose: empowering joys there are,
--------------------useless sorrows there are;
needs true — clear and lovely as water
desires true — ruddy and joyous as wine;
--------needs false and deadly as arsenic
--------desires false and deadly as knives;
swords of jewels, plows muddied and dulled by stones;
--------dazzling powders, herbs rich in visions.
Choose and sort — it is not much you can carry.

Our ancestors, our relations make council; listen:

Much have our mothers, our fathers
-------our grandmothers, our grandfathers
-------our ancestors left us:
-----------gifts are there for our blessing
-----------debts are there for our curse.

Interroga a los ancianos — son sabios, son necios.
Question the ancients — they are wise, they are fools.

Señores míos, Señoras mías — my Lords, my Ladies,
---------¿Qué verdad dicen sus flores, sus cantos?
---------What truth do your flowers, your songs tell?
---------¿Són verdaderamente bellas, ricas sus plumas?
---------Are your feathers truly lovely, truly rich?
---------¿No es el oro sólo excremento de los dioses?
---------Is not gold only the excrement of the gods?
---------Sus jades, ¿son los más finos, los más verdes?
---------Your jades, are they the finest, the most green?
---------Su legado, ¿es tinta negra, tinta roja?
---------Your legacy, is it black ink, red ink?

They offer gifts, they give teachings:
------precious, worthless
------healing, dangerous —

sort, choose — choose the precious, the healing;
-----------------discard the worthless, the harmful;
------there is much to learn, there is much to unlearn.
Choose - each offers gifts, our ancestors, our relations —
---------human, animal, plant, mineral —
------------------they are us, our relations.
Choose and sort, sort and choose
---------these gifts are of the Earth, la Tierra
---------these gifts celebrate and nurture her
---------these gifts blaspheme and destroy her
---------------------These gifts are of the Earth.
Sort and choose, choose and sort.
-----The ancients are wise, the ancients are fools;
----------riches they gathered, garbage they hoarded.
Acepta sólo lo preciso; accept only the necessary:
--------lo que te haga amplio el corazón
--------what will widen your heart
--------lo que te ilumine el rostro
--------what will enlighten your face.
Pick and choose —
------hush —
--------------in silence sort and choose, sort and choose.

Hush —
----------Look carefully - have we chosen well?
the way back is hard, full of dread
----and much have our ancestors left us.
---------What of their gifts is worth the sharing?
----------------Consider well —
------------------------the gold and the jeweled sword
--------------------is not more than the work-dulled plow.
Consider, test your choice —
---------------------------------hush —
Tasks await us on the Earth for our healing, for hers —
-------difficult, great.
---------------Choose well for the journey, for the work.
hush —
----------------------joy is the root of our strength,
------------- the roots that feed us come from the heart
---------the science most wise disturbs least —

-----hush — hush — hush

So, we choose what we choose.
Remember: from these gifts we make our own;
--------------we add to the hoard.
-------Do not burden the children.
Do not carry so much we cannot hold each other’s hands.
----Remember: the most precious treasure
-----------------is that which we take for the giving.

We choose what we choose —
-----make ready — take up your bundle,
-----the seeds of our making - it is light, it is heavy;
-----precious are the bones of our ancestors;
-----leaving them buried makes them no less precious;
they are of the Earth, Madre Tierra, Coatlicue,
-----------------Pachi Mama, the Earth needs them.
------ehecatl, aire, air
------tletl, fuego, fire
------atl, agua, water
------tlalli, tierra, earth.

Make ready to leave the store house, the treasure;
walk round the cavern once as the clock turns
------from the East, red and gold with knowledge
------to the South yellow and green with love
------to the West black and blue with strength
------to the North white with healing.
You are now at the threshold — it is wide, it is narrow
-----------------------------------it is dark, it is light
-----------------------------------it is steep, it is plain.
Do not look back;
leave Mictlan, reino de la muerte, realm of the dead;
-------leave the cave of the ancients,
--------------the cave of our treasure;
------------------begin the way back.
What you bring back from the land of the dead,
-------from among the bones of the ancestors,
-------------is your gift to life.
---------------------Pray the gods you choose well.

Vuelve, vuelve, return.

It is your commitment,
-----the healing of yourself and the Earth.
What will you do?
-------How will you honor the ancestors?
-------------What will you say to the children?
--------------------What will you do for justice and peace?

Vuelve, vuelve, return.
Go, vete —
------------lleva la bendición de la vida;
------------------carry the blessing of life.
------------Go, vete —
form a face, form a heart.
forma un rostro, un corazón
in ixtli, in yollotl

Go, vete, go —
que los dioses te tengan, may the gods keep you.

In whatever you do, bendice la vida,
--------------pass on the blessing of life.

Vete y bendice la vida;
-----Go and pass on the blessing of life.

Vete, ha acabado; Go, the journey is finished —

Vete y empieza un día nuevo,
-----Go and begin a new day.

-----Vete, Go.

© Rafael Jesús González 2008


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Feast of All Saints (to make an ofrenda)


El corazón de la muerte ~ The Heart of Death

-------ofrenda a los difuntos --------------- offering to the dead

---------al modo nahua------- / --------------in the Nahua mode

---Le hacemos, formamos
---el corazón a la muerte —

---We make, we form
---the heart of death —

de flores
de flores amarillas,
del cempoalxochitl —

of flowers
of yellow flowers
of marigolds —

de agua
de agua clara,
consuelo de la sed —

of water
of clear water
comfort of thirst —

de pan
de maíz, de trigo
nuestro sustento —

of bread
of corn, of wheat
our sustenance —

de comida y bebida
de nuestro alimento
que da deleite al paladar —

of food & drink
of our nutrition
that gives the palate delight —

de luz
de luz que alumbra el camino
anhelo de mariposas
-------------------nocturnas —
of light
of light that shows the way
desire of night moths —

de calaveras de azúcar
de calaveras dulces
como la vida fugaz —

of sugar skulls
of candy skulls
sweet as fleeting life —

de copal, artemisa,
incienso, humo perfumado
que invoca a los dioses —

of copal, sage,
incense, perfumed smoke
that invokes the gods —

de flor y canto
de flor y canto le hacemos
el corazón a la muerte.

of flower & song
of flower & song we make
the heart of death.

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