Wednesday, March 31, 2010

César E. Chávez (March 31, 1927 – April 23, 1993)

To celebrate César E. Chávez
(& the movement for farm-workers' rights, justice & peace)
the eulogy written on the occasion of his death.

---------A fines de abril

-------------------------a César E. Chávez

A fines de abril
las viñas ya verdes de brotos,
llegó la muerte al campesino,
al césar de las uvas vestidas de azul,
de las cebollas de fondos blancos,
de las manzanas de vestiduras rojas.

-----Le dijo — ¡Vén, César! —

Y se lo llevó de las uvas envenenadas,
las sandías, los melones llenos de mal,
de las batallas de los surcos,
de las emboscadas de las acequias,
del estandarte guadalupano,
de la bandera roja y negra.

Pero en los surcos
su voz dejó sembrado
su anhelo por justicia —
---que es decir reclamar
--------el pan para el hambre
--------el alivio para el enfermo
--------los libros para el inocente.

Su voz dará fruto
---y habrá regocijo
------en los surcos,
------las acequias,
------las mesas,
------la tierra.

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

(Siete escritores comprometidos: obra y perfil; Fausto Avendaño, director;
Explicación de Textos Literarios vol. 34 anejo 1; diciembre 2007;
Dept. of Foreign Languages; California State University Sacramento;
derechos reservados del autor.)

by Robert Lentz

----------At the End of April

------------------------to César E. Chávez

At the end of April
the vines already green with buds,
death came to the field-worker,
to the caesar of the grapes dressed in blue,
of the onions in white petticoats,
of the apples in red vestments.

-----She said to him, “Come, César!”

And took him from the poisoned grapes,
the watermelons, the melons full of ill,
the battles of the furrows,
the ambushes of the ditches,
the Guadalupe standard,
the red and black flag.

But in the furrows
his voice left planted
his longing for justice —
----which is to say, his demands
-----------for bread for the hungry,
-----------healing for the sick,
-----------books for the innocent.

His voice will bear fruit
-----and there will be rejoicing
----------in the furrows,
----------in the ditches,
----------round the tables
----------in the land.

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


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Full moon:Mooning the Moon

Mooning the Moon

Kanzan with his scroll
and Jittoku with his broom
laughing mocked the moon.
And as surely, such wise-guys
must have often mooned the moon.

---------------------------------------------© Rafael Jesús González 2010

Kanzan & Jittoku Mooning the Moon
by Sakamoko Chichikaida (most recent Heisei period)

Luneando la luna

Kanzan con su rollo de versos
y Jitoku con su escoba
riendo se mofaban de la luna.
Y tan seguramente, tales pícaros
seguido han de haber luneado la luna.

------------------------------------------------© Rafael Jesús González 2010


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

Pagan Bearing Palm Branch

I have traveled throughout the lands under Caesar Augustus and the world is much the same; the rich rule and justice is an uncertain thing and there is more war than peace. Here among these people who call themselves Israel, it is no different. I have studied many gods and what is said of them and this god of the Jews seems but little different from the rest, except for his aloneness. They call me gentile here which means that I believe in many gods. The Jews believe in one only, a male of whom they are prohibited of making an image, or even saying his name. Yet when they tell of him he seems much like our own Zeus or Jupiter — jealous, vengeful, just, arbitrary, blood-thirsty, kind to his own, but unlike Zeus, without a goddess to keep him sweet. Indeed, unlike our Zeuz, he does not seem to like women much. They call their god Father, but how is there a father without a mother unless it be holy Gaea, the Earth herself? And in truth, she has her Sun. These Jews do not paint nor make clay or wood or stone images of their god but idolize instead their strange ideas of him.

Now I find myself in Yerusalem for the Spring celebrations of the Jews. Yerusalem is lovely this time of year and festive and I cannot but be joyful holding a palm branch someone thrust into my hand. A goodly crowd is welcoming a young prophet I have been observing for some odd years. Yeshua they call him, Iesous in our Greek. Son of Yoseph the carpenter, he comes from the countryside, the village of Nazareth, having left behind his craft to teach. He is an unusual man by any count and wonders have been ascribed to him such as changing water into wine, and walking upon water, and raising up the dead, casting out demons, healing, feeding a multitude.

I do not know. I have been present at only one of such purported wonders, a time he is supposed to have fed the crowd. He spoke atop a small hill and people came to hear him from about the countryside, a good sized crowd (though not the myriads that have grown with each telling.) Yes, he spoke long and the folk overstayed their intentions and had to eat. But let us remember, these are country folk, peasants and fishermen, who know well enough to carry food in their knapsacks when they go on an outing, coarse bread, salted or dried fish, fruit. All in all, I dare say there was enough to share. It is said this Iesous multiplied but seven loaves of bread and a few fishes to feed them all. Perhaps; the Earth is full of wonders, but I doubt it. If miracle you can call it, it was enough that he opened the hearts and generosity of the people to share their food with those that had none. I suppose that is miracle enough.

This Iesous, unlike the god of his people, likes women much and frequents their company, consorting with women of even the most lowly and despised among the Jews, like the Samaritans and such. Indeed particularly close to him is one Maryam, a woman of Magdala by some called a prostitute, a social outcast here, not like the holy women in our temples devoted to Divine Aphrodite. I doubt not but there is an amorous tie between Iesous and this Maryam the Magdalene who has nothing of the whore and is much respected.

Still, it is apparent that he likes men just as well. He always has about him a small group of favorites that hang upon every word he says, worshipping the ground he walks upon. Of these, his very favorite is a comely youth named Yohanan, for obvious reasons called “the beloved.” It is apparent that they are enamored each of the other. These men are for the most part simple folk, peasants, fishermen, artisans, tradesmen, illiterate, though some I am sure have some learning, certainly at least in the lore of their religion, some like Iesous probably village rabbis.

They do not have much, indeed this Iesous is not much popular among the rich, the polite classes. He consorts too much with women and children, with the despised, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the unlearned, the outcasts. The fact is that to speak for the unfortunate this Jew puts to test the laws of his ancient cult. I have seen him save a poor woman, caught in adultery, from being stoned to death, according to the law of the Hebrews, by shaming the villagers with their own transgressions. He preaches that the homeless must be sheltered, that the sick must be healed, that the ignorant must be taught, that the foreigner and outcast must be embraced, the prisoner visited. The bone of his teaching is love; the meat is justice and peace.

I have spoken with his mother Maryam and his brothers Yacob and Yoses and Shimon and Yehudhah, and his sisters, his family whom he has left for his preaching. Some say that they think him daft, that his kinsmen try to restrain him as mad. I doubt it (indeed, I believe some of his brothers form part of his inner circle.) I have heard him speak and he makes much sense. He speaks well and strongly, but there is a sting in his words to the powerful. Iesous does not hesitate to call them hypocrites, unfaithful stewards, and such. In his eyes, they are not so much the keepers of the law, but abusers of it. And indeed it would appear so. They grow fat on the suffering of others and do not honor our mother Gaea The Earth.

Another thing is that he does not much believe in the virtue of labor, of work to produce what serves no purpose but to produce and produce. I have heard him say that the Earth already holds enough to sustain us pointing out that the flowers of the fields are more beautiful than the luxurious vestments of Shelomon the legendary king of the Jews. Iesous certainly respects the honest work of the peasants, the fishermen, the artisans, the tradesmen, but he abhors usury, greed. I have seen him in anger upset the counting tables of the money changers in the temple, which caused much outrage among the bankers and such, not to mention the priests. I have heard him tell the young heir of a wealthy family that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter paradise than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. (I believe they call the narrowest gate to the city “The Needle’s Eye.”) No, the rich and the powerful do not much like Iesous.

He is a gentle man this young preacher who is fond of teaching through stories whose principle message is: “you were invited to party but you did not come.” I would not put it past him, if he could, to change water into wine. He can certainly change the hearts of his listeners to something sweeter and more good. Just as he tries to change the image of Jehova (the unspoken name of their harsh god) into the gentler, kinder image of his own. Although there is little effeminate about this Iesous still there is much that is feminine in his nature. I believe he is trying to give his god the one thing Yehova really lacks — a mother, or a sister, or a wife.

He treads a dangerous path, does Iesous, tampering with the stern, one-dimensional image of his nation’s god. Judge not lest thou be judged, he says, but I fear he is much judged already. You without sin cast the first stone, he challenges, and I fear there are already many all too willing to stone him. It is dangerous to broaden the dimensions of the gods, especially those that exist only in people’s heads, defined in books, their laws minutely prescribed (our own Socrates was killed accused of contempt for the gods.) And Iesous does just that. I have heard him say that he brings a new commandment to supersede all previous law: love god above all else and your neighbor as you do yourself. And he did not specify only your Jewish neighbor, but included all us gentiles too. Another time, he said that the law was made for humankind and not humankind for the law. Dangerous stuff.

What the powerful really fear is that a Socrates, a Iesous, and others of their kind may incite the people to question, to think. Thought leads to judgement, judgement to demand. And demands perhaps to action. Before a people aroused, even Caesar must quake. The meek just may inherit the Earth, as Iesous says, but first the meek must find their voice and speak. He has just said that if these should remain silent, the stones themselves would cry out.

The day is beautiful and indeed I do not mind holding this palm branch. I think I too am a bit in love with this beautiful man. There is so much kindness and joy in him — and truly so much courage. The crowd cries its hosannas, hosannas jubilantly as he enters the city to celebrate their ancient Spring celebration, the ritual feast marking their freedom from slavery. It is a joyous time and the people are all glad that it is Spring. There are flowers among the palm fronds strewn before the hoofs of the little gray ass Iesous rides through the street. By Kore, it is a glorious day to be alive. We smile at one another and shake hands and hug — Jews and the Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians, Arabs, Romans, among them, representative of all us gentiles. Many carry palm fronds only because someone pressed them into their hands and they only want to join in the festivity. It is a glorious day on which to wave palm branches.

Still, I worry for him. He speaks his truth freely and the priests, the rich, the powerful are far from pleased. What if more people listened to him, truly listened? What if they bespoke and followed what he teaches? What if truly the people desired justice and peace? What if? Then, by the Graces, truly it would be glorious and I would be content to wave a palm frond every day I live. But I am not an idolatrous priest, nor am I rich, nor powerful — greed and lust for power is a terrible disease. And there are the fearful, the superstitious, the stupid. The people are of divided opinion; some would die for him, some would stone him for blasphemy, some teeter, change opinion one moment to the next. One hears rumors and many are not pleased. This Iesous, I do not think he will live long. He treads a dangerous path. I, the Hellene, the gentile, the pagan, fear for him. The rich and the powerful, they do not love him much.

But it is about us, the people that I wonder. Our rulers indeed are hypocrites — liars and cheats, thieves and scoundrels, war-mongers, that hold the Earth for little and twist the law that would protect the common good to their own advantage, growing evermore more rich and powerful at our expense. And yet, several times already the crowd itself would have killed Iesous. It is not good by any measure.

Today we gather and wave palm branches and yell, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” in joy of Spring, and Iesous, and each other, but this joy that should be the root of our empowerment tomorrow will dissipate and our burdens will not be a grain of wheat more light. Unless, unless finding our voice we demand justice and peace and veneration of holy mother Earth.

These people say humankind was expelled from an earthly paradise and that we must look for a paradise on the other side of death. But it is here, in this life that we hunger and thirst, that we bear the cold and the heat, that we suffer the results of ignorance and fear, that we war and kill one another — and above all, it is here that we love, enjoy the sun and the waters, and the taste of bread and of wine, and the ecstasy of the dance and of music and of art. It is here that we live and if suffering there is, so is it only here that we know what there is to know of joy and happiness.

No, we were never exiled from paradise. We have only spoiled it with our carelessness and greed for wealth and lust for power, and war. Iesous speaks of the kingdom of his Father-God, but the justice and mercy and love he prescribes are of the Earth and no where else.

How long will we tolerate to be ruled by thieves and liars, hypocrites and warmongers? The Hellene, the Athenian in me asks this, impatient with the acquiescence of us, the people. The meek must speak, for our silence is a great betrayal. I worry for us. Will we listen and create his peaceable kingdom of the just and the kind? If enough of us want it, who can stop us? It is up to us.

I do not think Iesous will live long. The rich and the powerful, they do not love him much.

© Rafael Jesús González 2010

(from a sermon given by the author, Palm Sunday 2002,
at The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples founded by Dr. Howard Thurman,
San Francisco, California, at the invitation of its Pastor Dr. Dorsey Blake;
Author’s copyrights.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Archbishop Óscar A. Romero G. 8/15/1917 - 3/24/198

30 Years Later

Let us remember and honor in our hearts the memory of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámes, Archbishop of San Salvador murdered while he said mass in the chapel of a hospital March 24, 1980, El Salvador. He was killed because of his opposition to injustice, to cruelty; he was killed because he loved and tried to protect those he loved. He was killed for being a good shepherd.

------La Consagración Del Cafe

-----------------al monseñor Óscar A. Romero

Un día de dios
en mi patio tomando café
nada es normal —
------ni el alcatraz
------con su pene dorado
------ni el iris
------como lava morada
------que derrama un volcán.
Encuentro en el fondo de la taza
casullas bordadas
de mariposas negras
y guindas manchas —
-----el sol dispara
-----centellas de balas plateadas
-----y de cirios ahogados —
----------hay sangre en su brillar.
Pongo la burda taza en su platillo
con un tierno cuidado
como si fuera cáliz
y digo la letanía:
-------El Salvador.
Y un lado del corazón
me sabe blanco y dulce
como la caña
------y el otro,
-----------como el café,
------------------negro y amargo.

----------© Rafael Jesús González 2010

(Siete escritores comprometidos: obra y perfil; Fausto Avendaño, director;
Explicación de Textos Literarios vol. 34 anejo 1; diciembre 2007;
Dept. of Foreign Languages; California State University Sacramento;
derechos reservados del autor.)

------The Consecration Of Coffee

----------------------to Archbishop Óscar A. Romero

One day of god
drinking coffee in my patio
nothing is normal —
------not the calla
------with its penis of gold
------nor the iris
------like purple lava
------a volcano spills.
I find in the depths of the cup
chasubles embroidered
with black moths
& red stains —
-----the sun fires
-----a scintillation of silver bullets
-----& of candles drowned —
-----------there is blood in its shine.
I place the cup on its saucer
with a most tender care
as if it were a chalice
& say the litany:
-------El Salvador
& one side of my heart
tastes white & sweet
like cane sugar
-----& the other,
----------like coffee,
---------------bitter & black.

--------© Rafael Jesús González 2010

( Visions-International, no. 44, 1994;
author’s copyrights)

On this day 30 years ago, Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated, sparking El Salvador's 12-year civil war.

Romero was appointed San Salvador's archbishop three years before, in 1977, at a time when violence in El Salvador was rapidly escalating. The conflict was largely one of class warfare: the landed wealthy — who were aligned with the rightist government and paramilitary death squads — against the impoverished farm workers and other laborers who had begun to ally themselves with leftist guerilla groups looking to overthrow the government.

Romero had a reputation for being bookish, conservative, and even for discouraging priests from getting involved in political activism. But within weeks of becoming bishop, one of his good friends was killed by the death squads. His friend was an activist Jesuit priest named Rutilio Grande, who'd been devoted to educating peasants and trying to bring about economic reforms. He was gunned down on his way to a rural church, along with a young boy and elderly man he'd been traveling with. It was a clear moment of conversion for the previously apolitical Oscar Romero, who suddenly felt that he needed to take up the work his friend had been interrupted from doing.

Romero canceled Masses all around the country that week, and invited all to attend the funeral Mass on the steps of the National Cathedral, which he presided over along with 100 other priests. One hundred thousand people showed up at the cathedral for the funeral. He also broadcast his sermon over the radio, so that it could be heard throughout the country. He called for government investigation of the murders going on in rural areas, and he spoke of the reforms that needed to happen in El Salvador: an end to human rights violations, to the regime of terror, and to the huge disparity in wealth, with the landed classes getting rich from the labor of the poor. He announced to his congregation that he wanted to be a good pastor, but he needed everyone's help to lead.

He was called to Rome. The Vatican didn't approve of his activism. Romero had become a proponent of liberation theology, a way of viewing the teachings of the Christ from the perspective of the poor. Poverty and oppression came from sin, it argued — institutional sin or structural sin, such as an authoritarian regime or unjust government. In liberation theology, the Gospels are not so much a call to peace or social order; instead they're a call to action, even unrest, to eradicate the sin that is causing poverty and widespread suffering.

On March 23, 1980, the day before he was shot, Oscar Romero gave a sermon in which he pleaded with low-level soldiers and policemen carrying out murderous orders to choose God's command over their government's. The very next day — March 24, 1980, which was 30 years ago today — Romero was killed by a paid assassin while consecrating bread at the altar during Mass. A single bullet from an M-16 assault rifle was fired down the center aisle of the church, striking him in the heart.

Romero's funeral was attended by a quarter million people from around the world. The events galvanized many previously apolitical poor people, who then supported leftist guerrilla fighters trying to overthrow the Salvadoran regime. The 12-year civil war resulted in more than 75,000 deaths and more than a million displaced people. In 1992, peace accords negotiated by the government and leftist rebels were signed in Mexico, with the United Nations and Catholic Church looking on. It included a 70 percent reduction in armed forces, programs for economic growth and to alleviate poverty, and an outside observing system to monitor elections. The accord included a nine-month cease-fire, which began February 1, 1992. That cease-fire has never since been broken.



Sunday, March 21, 2010

World Poetry Day

Poesía, del griego 'hacer'. Es el sonido jugando con el significado, sabiendo que el absoluto, eterno silencio del cual viene no tiene significado alguno mas que el juego que intenta cuando crea voces. La poesía es tautología. La poesía es un espejo que pretende reflejar una flor, un paisaje, un rostro, cuando en realidad sólo se refleja a si misma. La poesía es como qualquier otro objeto — un plato, un fruto, una bota — pero sean cuales sean los usos que pretenda, sólo uno está a sus raíces: nuestra justificación.

Rafael Jesús González

(El hacedor de juegos/The Maker of Games;
Casa Editorial, San Francisco, California 1977)

Poetry, from the Greek 'to make', it is sound playing with meaning, knowing that the absolute, eternal silence from which it comes has no meaning except the game it undertakes when it creates voices. Poetry is a tautology. Poetry is a mirror pretending it reflects a flower, a landscape, a face when in reality it reflects only itself. Poetry is like any other object — a plate, a piece of fruit, a boot — except that whatever uses it pretends, only one is at its roots: our vindication.

Rafael Jesús González

(Peace & Pieces: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry;
Custodio Maurice et al, eds., Peace & Pieces Press, San Francisco, California 1973, p. x)


--------------poeta eres tú que lees

-------------------------(grafitti en una pared
--------------------------de La Habana)

El poeta dice sus versos
al deslizarse el lápiz
sobre el blanco —
enigmas de quimeras y dragones
de lirios y de jaras
de nubes pesadas como plomo
peñascos livianos como suspiros.
-----Allí quedan
ni más ni menos encantados
que una mosca prisionera
en una gota de ámbar.
Allí esperan que los rescate
otro poeta —
-----tú, lector
-----que descifras
-----estas letras.

-------© Rafael Jesús González 2010

(10 años de aBrace, Editora aBrace,
Montevideo, Uruguay 2009;
derechos reservados del autor)

----------------- Poet

-------------- poeta eres tú que lees

---------------------------(graffiti on a wall
----------------------------in Havana)

The poet says his verses
as the pencil glides
over the blank —
enigmas of chimeras & dragons
of lilies & of darts
of clouds heavy as lead
boulders light as sighs.
----There they remain
no more no less enchanted
than a fly imprisoned
in a drop of amber.
There they wait to be rescued
by another poet —
----you, reader
----who deciphers
----these letters.

------© Rafael Jesús González 2010


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring Equinox & Aries


Spring Equinox & Aries



Al morueco de los comienzos
lo impulsa la estrella roja
que relumbra en sus ojos de diamante
y se refleja en sus cuernos de heliotropo,
sus pesuñas de hierro.
-----Guarda el fuego cardinal del anhelo
-----y sobre su cabeza
--------------giran el día y la noche
---------------------la noche y el día
--------------en el baile simétrico
---------------------del tiempo.

-----------------© Rafael Jesús González 2010


The ram of beginnings
is driven by the red star
which shines in its diamond eyes,
reflects in its bloodstone horns,
its iron hoofs.
----It guards the cardinal fire
----of ambition
----& above its head
-------turn day & night
-------night & day
----in the symmetrical dance
------------of time.

----------© Rafael Jesús González 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day

Fiesta de San Patricio

San Patricio echó las culebras
de Irlanda y Santa Brígida
era la diosa de las norias;
hadas residen allí y el trébol
explica la Trinidad;
la isla es siempre verde
y su don del habla
proviene de una piedra.

------© Rafael Jesús González 2010

------St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick drove the snakes
from Ireland & St. Brigid
was the goddess of the wells;
faeries dwell there & the clover
explains the Trinity;
the isle is always green
& its gift for gab
comes from a stone.

-- ----© Rafael Jesús González 2010


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Berkeley Farmers Market César Chávez Commemoration March 23

an afternoon and evening of cultural arts performances
and informational tables to honor the legacy
of farmworker organizer César Chávez.
(Endorsed by Berkeley’s César Chávez Commemoration Committee.)

Free (as always) & Open to the Public

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

2pm-7pm—farmers’ market hours

Derby St. at Martin Luther King, Jr. Way

Berkeley, California

Convenient public transportation: 5 blocks from the Ashby BART Station,
many buses on MLK and Shattuck, streetparking, wheelchair access

The Berkeley Farmers' Markets proudly accept EBT food stamp cards
and WIC farmers’ market nutrition program vouchers.

For More Information: (510) 548-3333;


Rafael Jesús González, poet,
Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing & Literature, founder
of Laney College's Mexican and Latin American Studies Department.

Nina Serrano, poet,
translator, storyteller, independent media producer
& KPFA host/producer (La Raza Chronicles, etc.).

Mucho Axe, music,
led by Edgar and Pepa from Argentina playing South American Grooves
including Tango, Samba, Bossa Nova, Mambo, Cha-Cha and Ska.

Capoiera Mandinga
founded by Mestre Marcelo Pereira in 1984. Capoiera is an Afro-Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, music and dance.

Quenepas Youth Ensemble
performing Puerto Rican bomba and plena percussion, song and dance.
Bomba originated in sugar plantations of Puerto Rico over 300 years ago.

Floyd Salas, poet,
novelist, PEN Oakland board president,
& recipient numerous fellowships and awards.

Claire Ortalda, poet,
novelist, short story writer, editor, & playwright
is the widely published treasurer of PEN Oakland.

Aaron Ableman & The CommuniTree Band
music/spoken wordAaron is an author, educatorand community organizer, and founder of the CommuniTree project offering eco-arts education
and service learning.

Gerardo Marin, Master of Ceremonies,
Co-Manager, Farm Fresh Choice. Coordinator of youth
& family focused food justice programs.

Naima, singer/songwriter.
An Arab-American with a neo-soul, roots style.

Information booths (partial list):
BAHIA (Bay Area Hispano Institute for Advancement)
Farm Fresh Choice – works to improve health and nutrition by increasing access to and consumption of fresh, nutritious and affordable fruits and vegetables in communities with limited access
to produce outlets.

About the Berkeley Farmers’ Markets:
A program of the Ecology Center since 1987, the Berkeley Farmers’ Markets offer a wide range of mostly organic produce and healthy, locally-produced foods. Together with educational events, cooking demonstrations, and live music, these award-winning markets serve as a central meeting place for members of our diverse and vibrant community.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gabriel García Márquez — March 6, 1928

----Lunas de los arcángeles

-------------a Gabriel García Márquez

Dice Gabriel el arcángel
que por cada minuto
que uno cierre los ojos
se pierden sesenta segundos
de luz —
por eso vigila de noche
y enciende velitas de azucenas,
las estrellas sin cuenta,
con su lámpara redonda
de la luna plena.

Dice Rafael el arcángel
que por cada minuto
que uno duerma
se escapan sesenta peces
de ensueño —
por eso vaga la playa nocturna
para coger los peces de azogue,
las estrellas sin cuenta,
en redes con el flotador
de la luna plena.

Dice Miguel el arcángel
que por cada minuto
que uno olvide
se marchitan sesenta flores
del recuerdo —
por eso va por la noche
segando con su espada de plata
los jazmines de llama,
las estrellas sin cuenta,
que recoge en su escudo
de la luna plena.

------© Rafael Jesús González 2010

---Moons of the Archangels

-------------for Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel the archangel says
that for each minute
one closes the eyes
are lost sixty seconds
of light —
that is why he watches at night
and lights votive candles of lilies,
the stars beyond count,
with his round lamp
the full moon.

Rafael the archangel says
that for each minute
one sleeps
there escape sixty fishes
of illusion —
that is why he roams the night beach
to catch the quicksilver fish,
the stars beyond count,
in nets with their float
the full moon.

Michael the archangel says
that for each minute
one forgets
there wither sixty flowers
of remembrance —
that is why he goes thru the night
reaping with his silver sword
the jasmines of flame,
the stars beyond count,
he gathers on his shield
the full moon.

--------© Rafael Jesús González 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010



When Rafael Jesús González agreed to be riverbabble's featured writer, we gave him 28 questions to consider for this interview. After much discussion by phone and email lasting nearly a month, we narrowed the questions to the six which appear below.

------photograph by Peter St.John

LR: What is your relationship to the natural world?

RJG: As opposed to the unnatural world? The artificial world? In my thought and writing, I make the distinction between the Earth and the world. The Earth is this being, the whole of this planet that births, bears and sustains us and all our relations — the other animals, the plants, the minerals of which we are all made — of which we are all a part, inseparable from Her and from each other.

The world is what order or disorder we impose upon Earth with our beliefs, our inventions, concepts, and institutions. Though inseparable, the Earth and the world, the Earth comes first; the Earth bears the world. If the Earth goes, the world goes with Her; if the world goes, the Earth remains, albeit perhaps severely compromised by what the world imposes upon her, but She will endure. “At the beginning was the Word”, yes, and at the end also, but only of the world, not the Earth or the Cosmos.

We of the European-Mid-Eastern tradition (products of Graeco-Roman and, especially, Abrahamic thought and arrogance) are confused by the very language we use. I have no more idea of what is meant by “natural” than I have by what is meant by “God.” I suppose what you mean by the “natural world” is that part of the Earth that is free of human artifice. By “relation,” I suppose you mean my attitude toward such portions of the vast Earth.

So then, the Earth untouched by human artifice, “the natural world” to use your term, is the source of all I know and intuit of the sacred, the divine, of awe, of reverence, of wonder, of love, of exultation. She is life itself of which I am but a tiny part — far tinier even as I know the Earth Herself to be but a tiny part of the Cosmos vast beyond imagining. Being our Mother, She is the Mother of all the gods, the goddesses imagined by our myths through which we try to understand Her, use Her, go beyond Her, fool ourselves. She embodies consciousness even as she embodies us. She is the source of all metaphysics and all metaphor. In Her is our beginning and our end. Amen.

LR: Since you write in both Spanish and English, do you believe that all work can be translated effectively? Are there poems of your own/others which can't be translated?

RJG: Born of highly literate parents on the El Paso, U.S./Cd. Juárez, Mexico border, I was already reading in Spanish by the time I began first grade in El Paso where I soon learned English as well. This made me heir to two muses, one whose tongue is Spanish, the other who speaks in English. More often than not, they speak to me simultaneously such that it is difficult for me to think in terms of translation. I cannot predict which one will grant me her favor first, but almost as soon as a word or phrase comes to me in either language, I think of its equivalent in the other. Or an entire poem will come to me in either language and I will reread it in the other. The effect of this is that then I must reexamine the original line or poem for exactness, or nuance, or grace.

I must confess that this relationship I have with my muses constantly confronts me with how little I know, how ignorant I am of the phenomenon of the word. It forces me to constantly take recourse to three loyal though at times inadequate companions: an English dictionary, a Spanish dictionary, and a Spanish/English-English/Spanish dictionary.

Since every language has its own peculiar exactness, nuance, grace, this has honed my sensitivity to language and my awareness of the play between words and their referents. Tense in Spanish is more subtle and exact, more complicated, than in English. Also, Spanish is more exact in denoting states of being, making a distinction between being as essence (ser) and being as condition (estar) while English must do with only the verb “to be.” English, on the other hand, makes some distinctions that Spanish does not, as for example, between “knowledge” and “wisdom”; Spanish has only the world “sabiduría” to cover both. Having both languages allows me access to two worlds, and I have often wished I knew other languages, other worlds.

However, sometimes I will write a poem in Spanish or English that is so uniquely dependent upon that language for nuance of meaning, for sound, for form that I will not transpose it into the other. That task I leave for others to play with.

Which leads us to the second part of your question; do I believe all writing (language) can be translated effectively? Yes, language is what foremost makes us human, what allows us to know one another and the worlds we make. Were this not so, the world would be dreadfully ignorant, limited, poverty-stricken in perspective. We will never know the sound of the epics of Ur, but scholars have deciphered its cuneiform writing so that the clay tablets on which they were pressed have come alive with the loves and trials of Gilgamesh. We can only imagine the voice of blind Homer, but we thrill with the quarrels of the Greeks, the Trojans, the gods. We destroyed the world of the Nahuas, but the poems of Nezahualcoyotl move us still. Nothing that is said or written in a human tongue is beyond translation, for language is our shared humanity. Some things may not ever be translated precisely, but they can always be translated effectively from one language to another if we learn the necessary languages, if we know something of the worlds they speak.

LR: Politics have figured largely in many of your poems, what role do you think the poet should play in the political life of the country?

RJG: First of all, consider the world into which I was born. My parents came to this country as children whose families had been displaced by the Mexican Revolution, both imbued with strong democratic values. I attended public schools in the United States where those democratic values were espoused. I took those values to heart and they form an integral part of my world, of who I am. I take the role of a citizen seriously. Add to this that in the home my father and mother instilled in us a strong sense of justice and an equally strong compassion. Furthermore, I was raised a Christian in the Roman Catholic church and if I learned anything from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, it was justice and compassion. What grievous sins I have committed in my life have all been sins against justice and compassion. (Committed in states of fear, of confusion, or tiredness.)

The role of the responsible citizen is to take part in the politics of his or her country for the good of the whole. Because the poet plays such a crucial role in the creation of his/her culture, his/her world (Shelley said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world), it is the responsibility of the citizen poet to throw his/her full weight into the political debate to ensure that the government of the country is truthful, just and compassionate, and serves the greater good of the country — and in a globalized world, the greater good of everyone everywhere, and the well-being of the Earth.

So much for my speaking to shoulds. To speak the truth, I resent having to devote so much of my writing to political issues. I would much rather spend my time exploring language and celebrating life, praising the Earth, exploring consciousness and beauty, writing love poems. I resent the distraction of having to confront scoundrels and governments run not on the principles of democracy and justice, but the insane principles of lust for power and self-gain. But as a citizen committed to democracy and the cause of justice and compassion, I must use what tools I have to influence the politics of my country toward the greater good according to my lights. It is personal; I find it hard to be fully happy when I see my brothers and sisters suffer, and when that suffering is caused by the very government that is supposed to represent me but violates the Constitution, wages unjust wars of empire, legitimizes torture, and wastes the Earth, I am enraged.

LR: What would you recommend that a poet and writer study? What did you study?

RJG: Everything. The more a poet, a writer knows about his/her world, the Earth, humanity, the Cosmos, the greater his/her perspective, the greater the range of his/her subject matter, his/her fund of metaphor (connection); the wider, deeper his/her consciousness. Especially, study the myths that are the underpinnings of all cultures; literature, poetry and the use of language; history; philosophy; ecology.

What did, do I study? As much as I could and can. I started reading at a very tender age and I read almost everything I could — especially poetry and literary works. I read a great deal on religion (having at one time considered the priesthood), history, art. My undergraduate work was in pre-med and I had to take a good many courses in the sciences, though I graduated with a double major in Spanish and English literature and a double minor in philosophy and psychology, taking time off to attend the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México to study anthropology and archaeology.

LR: Does revision play a large role in what you write, work on draft after draft, or does a poem come to you whole?

RJG: Once in a long while, a poem may come to me whole at once, impervious to change, usually in a dream, but this very, very rarely; once or twice, perhaps three times. The beginning of a poem, perhaps a line or two, a verse, may come to me, gift of my muses, but I immediately start working it in my head, revising, testing the words, the precision, the facets of a simile, a metaphor, the concepts, changing them, reversing them, first in one language then the other, going back, running them through once, twice, thrice again.

By the time I set the poem down with pencil on paper (always in pencil on paper), the poem has already been pretty well worked out. Then more revision as I see the physicality of the words upon the page, breaking a line here, spacing a phrase there, seeing a relationship I had not noticed before, catching a contradiction in a metaphor, choosing another richer in paradox.

Only then, do I type it into my computer where I find it easy to further edit the poem so that it looks fully finished upon the virtual page.

But it does not stop there; I return to it days, weeks, months later and I see new things, some quite subtle, perhaps a comma needed, a space to emphasize a word or a phrase. Often my editing goes on, to the exasperation of my editors, even as the poem is being sent to press. I tend to be a perfectionist in my writing if not in much else. (Bless my dictionaries that one thing I share with Gabi García Márquez, he has confessed it, is that I am terrible in spelling.)

I might add that most of my working of a poem involves elimination of the superfluous. Elegance is to me synonymous with simplicity. I prefer short poems; it seems to me that it is difficult to maintain in a long poem the tension that I look for in poetry, that makes for subtly of sentiment, delicacy of nuance, or that makes the small hairs at the nape of the neck stir .

LR: You have recently started writing a BLOG which features some of your work. Do you consider this publishing? Or is it sharing your journal with your friends?

RJG: Invariably, in my creative writing classes, students would ask questions about publishing. I would always answer that they should concentrate on learning to write as well, precisely, deeply, gracefully, simply as possible; publishing was not the concern of my classes, writing was. But I did say that if one shared one’s writing with one’s family, one’s friends that was publishing. Publishing is the sharing of one’s work, whether intimately or on a large scale with an unknown public. When the poets of Ur, or Homer, or the bards of the Danes, or Nezahualcoyotl sang their words in the courts, was that not publishing, making public, sharing at large? Publishing (and the concept of intellectual rights) such as we know it, did not have much currency before the 15th century and Gutenberg, what has come to be known as the “Gutenberg Revolution” of the printed word. Now we are inundated with words (many, if not most, hardly worth the ink, much less the paper that carry them.) And we have entered another phase of that revolution, the revolution of the internet through which words are transmitted even more widely and instantly, not through physical, palpable objects such as clay tablets, painted parchment, or printed paper, but, much closer to speech (sound waves), through electrical impulses visually translated onto a screen. The effect of this is that it is straining our ideas about publishing and our rather peculiar idea of “intellectual rights” (meaning private ownership of ideas, making them commodities), something that would have seemed very bizarre to Pythagoras or Euclid, Plato or Sophocles.

Apart from a slim volume of my verse El hacedor de juegos/The Maker of Games, which went through two printings but is now long out of print, I have no published book.* I just have not taken the time to put one together (mea culpa) because I have devoted my time to teaching or have been distracted by political exigencies. My work appears in anthologies and literary reviews, and even so, I have been remiss in regularly sending my work out to editors. (Perhaps in large part due to my aversion to paper-work.)

I came late to the computer, dragged to it by my friends, and where before I shared my poems and thoughts with family and friends through the mail (I was long involved creating mail-art), I began to share them through the internet where I could do it much more rapidly and with a much larger list of friends and colleagues. It was also at the insistence of and through the help of friends that I began my BLOG. Publishing? Sharing? I am unsure of the distinction.

* La musa lunática/The Lunatic Muse, a selection of moon poems by Rafael Jesús González has been published by Pandemonium Press, Berkeley, California and is now available through


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

César Chávez Day benefit for Haiti

Celebrate César Chávez Day
Poetry Reading/Benefit for Relief Funds for Haiti
Also dedicated to Victims
of the Feb. 27 quake in Chile
on Sunday, March 28 at La Peña in Berkeley,
7-10 pm


A Collective Poetry Reading by more than 3o Bay Area poets as a benefit for the relief efforts in Haiti by Doctors Without Borders also dedicated to the victims of the February 27 earthquake in Chile; with San Francisco Poet Laureate Diane di Prima as guest poet, on Sunday, March 28 from 7 to 10 pm at La Peña, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA; (510) 849-2568; suggested donation $10. No one turned away for lack of funds.

List of poets by alphabetical order of first names: Adrián Arias, Al Young (former State Poet Lauraeate), Alejandro Murguía, Boadiba, Daniel del Solar, Deborah Major (past San Francisco Poet Laureate), Dorinda Moreno, Evelie Delfino, Fernando Torres, Francisco X. Alarcón, Francisco Letelier, Genny Lim, Geri Digiornio (former Poet Laureate of Sonoma County), Graciela Ramírez, Jack & Adelle Foley, Jack Hirschan (former San Francisco Poet Laureate), Jacques Wilkins, Jennifer Andrea "Yaya" Porras, Jennifer Fox Bennett, Jewelle Gómez, JoAnne Anglin, Jorge Tetl Arqueta, Joyce Jenkins, Katherine Hastings, Lisa Bernstein, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Lucha Corpi, Marc Piñate, Nicole Limón, Nina Serrano, Mamacoatl, Mary Rudge (Alameda Poet Laureate), Neeli Cherkovski, Nellie Wong, Odilia Galván Rodríguez, Paul Lobo Portugés, Rafael Jesús González, Roberto Vargas, Rosa Escamilla, Samel Iñiguez, Sharon Dubiago.

A Celebrar la Fiesta de César Chávez Day
Lectura de Poesía/Beneficio para Haiti
También dedicado a las víctimas del terremoto
del 27 febrero en Chile

el domingo 28 marzo en La Peña en Berkeley, 7-10 pm


Una lectura colectiva de poesía por más de 30 poetas de la area de la Bahía de San Francisco en Beneficio de los Esfuerzos de Auxilio en Haiti por “Doctores sin fonteras; también dedicado a las víctimas del terremoto del 27 de febrero en Chile; con la poeta laureada de San Francisco Diane di Prima como poeta invitada. El domino 28 de marzo de las 7 a las 10:00 pm en La Peña, 3105 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA; (510) 849-2568; donativo sugerido $10. Nadie despedido por falta de fondos.

Lista de poetas por orden alfabético de nombres : Adrián Arias, Al Young (pasado Poeta Laureado del Estado de California), Alejandro Murguía, Boadiba, Daniel del Solar, Devorah Major (pasada poeta laureada de San Francisco), Dorinda Moreno, Evelie Delfino, Fernando Torres, Francisco X. Alarcón, Genny Lim, Geri Digiornio (pasada Poeta Laureada del Condado de Sonoma), Graciela Ramírez, Jack y Adelle Foley, Jack Hirschman (pasado poeta laureado de San Francisco), Jacques Wilins, Jennifer Andrea "Yaya" Porras, Jennifer Fox Bennett, Jewelle Gómez, JoAnne Anglin, Jorge Tetl Argueta, Joyce Jenkins, Katherine Hastings, Lisa Bernstein, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Lucha Corpi, Marc Piñate, Nicole Limón, Nina Serrano, Mamacoatl, Mary Rudge (Poeta laureada de Alameda), Neeli Cherkovski, Nellie Wong, Odilia Galván Rodríguez, Paul Lobo Portugés, Rafael Jesús González, Roberto Vargas, Rosa Escamilla, Samuel Iñiguez, Sharon Dubiago.