“A Chicano Poem” by Lorna Dee Cervantes

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A Chicano Poem

They tried to take our words,

Steal away our hearts under

Their imaginary shawls, their laws,

Their libros, their “Libranos señor”s.

No more. They tried to take

Away our Spirit in the rock, the Mountain,

The Living Waters. They tried to steal

Our languages, our grandmothers’ pacts,

Our magma cartas for their own serfs.

They razed the land and raised a Constitution,

Declared others 3/5ths a human being,

Snapped shackles, cut off a foot,

Raped our grandmothers into near mute

Oblivion. They burned the sacred codices

And the molten goddesses rose anew

In their flames. They tried to silence a

Nation, tried to send The People back

To the Four Corners of the world. They drew

A line in the sand and dared us to cross it,

Tried to peel off our skins, Xipe Totec

Screaming through our indigenous consciousness.

They tried to brand “America” into our…

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Tio

This evening my mom’s family gathered at a local funeral home, one that our family has used over the years.  A Rosary service is being held, as is customary.  Tomorrow will be the final service.  The last time I was there was for my grandmother’s funeral.  Same funeral home, same church, same resting place, the family’s cemetery.  I find a certain amount of comfort knowing this.

After decades of being away, I was able to go back home to Texas with my parents four years ago and saw my mom’s family, including my Tio.  He and my Tia were still on the same 13 acre property located in the outskirts of town.  Wild flowers were everywhere, dressing up the pasture and capturing me.  I was driving my parent’s car and had to watch out for the ruts in the dirt road while I delighted in the color surrounding us.

As we ate the breakfast that my Tia and my cousins prepared and I tried the chili pequin salsa she had made from the little peppers that grow wild on the property, we reminisced about the last times I had been there.  They recalled when my mom and I traveled from San Diego, just us girls.  There was a barbecue that weekend at my Tio’s house.  As the men grilled the meat and the my mom and her sisters visited and  helped my Tia with the side dishes,  my cousins and I took turns riding my uncle’s horse.  I somehow, managed to mount with enough momentum to end up on the ground.  Somewhere I have a picture.  A grainy Polaroid someone took just as I was getting to my feet, laughing in my surprise.  To this day when we get together, my cousin reminds me…”‘Member when you fell off that horse?”

These memories take the heaviness from my heart.  Thank you, Tio.

 

 

Tribute to a Veteran Counselor

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My Vet met me in the driveway  to walk me over and make introductions.  I could see the members of his group gathered around the patio where their host was busy barbecuing.  Some were standing, others, those with the bad hips and knees, sat at the patio tables.  They were all talking quietly, more often than not raising their voices for those of the group who had hearing aids.   I knew  a few of them, but I was meeting the majority of them for the first time.  As I shook their hands and was introduced to their wives, each one of them teased or joked about me being married to “the Gunny”.   Even the wives recognized my Vet when I mentioned his name.  “The Gunny” was one of the “movers and shakers” of this particular band of brothers and one sister.

As I made my way around the patio, I realized that these veterans of a particular age, knew my husband far more profoundly and intimately than I.  One  man in particular I was there to meet.  He was the guest of honor.  He was the reason these veterans ventured out of their routine and comfort zone to gather on their usual group meeting day, outside the familiar confines of the clinic room where they met every week for the last twelve years.  They were gathered on that patio to do the unexpected, say farewell to their veteran counselor.

I didn’t know their stories.  The veterans don’t talk outside the group about each other.  But he knew not only each of their stories, but their fears and dreams, their pride and their sorrows.  He was not just their counselor, he was their friend, their consigliere,  one of them who slowly helped each of them learn not just to help themselves, but to help one another.

Over these years I had seen the transition in my Vet.  I watched him hurt when it was easier for him to be “blank”.  I watched him grieve for his mother who had been dead for forty-six years because it had never been “safe” to open the lid to that jar of pain.  I sat silently as tears streamed down both our faces as he let himself feel pain for the families of those he had taken.  I stood by one solitary dismal night  as he raged against the memory of his 19 year-old self, who killed with purpose and efficiency and finally could weep tears of forgiveness for that same country farm boy.  I lay next to him as he prayed in the early morning hours for wisdom and understanding of the incomprehensible.  I listened with trepidation as he spoke without filter to a young veteran close to our family, helping this young man off the edge and choose life over certain death as he wrestled with his decision to seek medical help but was stigmatized by his command because of it.

As these veterans gathered to say goodbye to a man who was so much more than their group counselor, our host remarked that without him and the group members he wouldn’t have “all this” spreading his arms out to encompass the pasture with the horse and donkey, the patio and home, the garage open to the expanse outside, and most important, the wife who stood by him.  We all nodded our heads in understanding.  “… But for the grace of God, go I…”

After I said my goodbyes and made ready to travel back to my office, I took a couple of pictures of the driveway past the pasture and clearing where the house was located.  The trees grew such that they created a canopy over the road and for a moment I remembered my Vet’s description of the jungles of Vietnam.  The lush green density that barely allowed sunlight to filter  through, and I realized this band of brothers and one sister had come a long, long way with the help of their families, each other and their counselor.  This had not just been “farewell”, this had been “thank-you”.

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“Someday Soon…”

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“Grandma,” says Jasmine, “will you come see me tomorrow?”
“Yes, mija, ” I answered, glad we had not skyped, but were on the phone. “Not tomorrow, but some day soon.”

“Okay, Grandma.”

Small necessary lie to quiet the guilt of twenty-six hundred miles.

Journal entry August 10, 2006.

“What began as a love affair became how to manage life with the PTSD veteran ” excerpt from “Train’s Comin…”

“PTSD is a thief.  It steals your job, it steals your sleep, it steals your family, it still is your identity, it’s steals your life”.

This is what my Vet told a young Marine who suffered a breakdown and hospitalization. This is the fight. Fighting the “thief”.  I have observed my husband struggle with this thief for 17 years. I didn’t know what PTSD was. I didn’t know what depression was. I’d heard about them and even read a little about them. What I know now is that love and understanding are key in living with this fight, but counseling, a support group of veterans, as well as family, and your vet’s will to live his best life is what gets him back.

My vet could not have navigated to this point without at some point deciding whether he wanted to stay where life was comfortable in a “bunker” …or in the world with the rest of us.