El Valiente

Every time my pa would drive 

With me in the backseat,

He would be silent

Except for the brief moments

Of broken prayers

I often wondered if he imagined

Himself on a dirt road

Somewhere in Miraplanes, Mexico

Searching for lost cattle,

Or sheep,

Or for himself.

 

His bracero hands, 

Tainted with earth

He’d be proud of

 

My interruptions would come 

In the form of questions

Are you proud of us?"

When I caught him

whispering to himself

He wanted to go back.

It is painful

Watching a root grow

Where it is not wanted.

 

And I,

Keep going back to the day

In my abuelo’s old pickup 

On our way home from a charreada,

My pa’s rodeo jeans and sombrero

Matching my brother’s,

And I sitting quietly in the backseat,

With muddy boots,

And my pa saying,

this is the last time you will get boots,”

A prophecy interpreted,

girls aren’t meant for things like this.”

 

Now,

When I dream,

I see revolution in his eyes,

Zapata-esque visions

I see him

Escaping pal otro lado,

 

Full of color

Like an upgraded tv,

No static.

 

And I wake up and wonder

is that what a valiente looks like?  

A man

With a lasso and some hope.

*

Published in The Briar Cliff Review

Tongues 

 

My Pa lost his tongue 

somewhere between El Rio Grande 

y el Desierto de Sonora 

while chasing the American Dream 

he did not notice its absence 

until he opened his mouth 

and what came out 

was more white noise than melody 

the tongue- now shrunken and dried, 

sits in the sand like a raisin. 

The day he gave his naturalizing oath 

he was told to offer his heart as sacrifice 

the temple- the country that replaced his tongue 

he now speaks with a recycled organ, 

stressing syllables foreign to him, 

foreign like him 

I tell him Pa 

you lost your tongue 

but there is nothing 

in this world that can 

be replaced 

only imitated 

habla el Espanol 

que tu sabes 

conduct melodies  

in your own chest, 

revive the heart, 

the drum of life 

it is still yours. 

 

Me, I am different, 

my supple tongue 

speaks for two 

los dioses Azteca 

blessed me with a forked tongue, 

like a double-headed serpent 

it rises 

each defending 

her 

territory, 

her language, 

her voz. 

*

Published in The Briar Cliff Review.

Freedom is a Fleeting Thing 

for Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez,

murdered by U.S. border patrol on May 23rd, 2018 

 

It is hard to imagine, 

Your face half dirt, half blood, 

Pressed against U.S. soil.  

The only way this land will claim our kind.  

 

This is what happens you see?  

The agent reminds the three survivors, 

As he places handcuffs on their brown, sun-scorched skin. 

A misdemeanor turned murder, 

When he refused to acknowledge  

That your eyes 

Held a story 

Many will never get to hear.  

 

Two weeks ago, you promised mamita 

A better life back home, 

Once you reached Virginia and your lover. 

On the television screen, 

Your mother begs for your body  

To be returned 

‘Where it belongs.’ 

 

Princesita,  

The world mourned you. 

 

Still does. 

We all have moments of silence, 

When rage consumes us. 

I often wonder if our voices still have sound. 

 

Some days, 

When silence fills the air, 

I think about the children in cages, 

Their cries asking for any sign of familiarity, 

From two lands who cannot raise them to take flight. 

One they fled from, and the other only knows how to spit them back. 

 

Did you feel what freedom feels like, before your eyes turned safety white? 

Are you finally at peace? 

I know San Juan Ostuncalco will always think of you, 

Maya Nam hero. 

 

This is what happens you see? 

When it becomes too easy to 

confuse human with animal, 

Pointing aim at life, 

At anything that dares to interfere 

With Manifest Destiny. 

 

Claudia’s dream did not belong in this America, 

Only in fictitious history textbooks, 

Making white man the hero  

Of every scenario, 

Disguising violence with promises of ‘greatness.’  

Lady Liberty has turned her back, 

Using the pretext of fear to close the golden gate. 

This is no New Colossus. 

 

In America, migrant dreams are flightless birds.  

In America, you, the migrant cannot dream, lest you are dead.  

 

This is what happens, you see? 

When the world becomes devoid of empathy, 

Filling in blanks with new names of the murdered, 

Of the lost, 

Of the forgotten. 

 

To the ones in power: we demand action. 

Words mean nothing  

When Claudia cannot read, cannot see, cannot live.  

When motherless children have dreams 

Of light-up sneakers, 

And survival. 

Ejected from courtrooms, 

For their profane silence 

When their mouths have yet to hatch the word mama.  

 

This is what happens you see 

When borders become militarized weapons, 

And bodies become numbers, 

Claudia was only 19 years old. 

 

Some nights, 

I think I’ve made it.  

In the moonlight, 

My skin is iridescent, 

Its pearly whiteness  

Teases me with privilege.  

I shake it off, 

Remember Claudia, 

Remember the children- 

Where are the children?

*

Published in Glass Poetry Press, Poets Resist Series

On Being Woman (in ten parts) 

 

I

The day I lost my accent, my voice was called sexy, 

And I couldn’t help but think of my mother 

Still repeating words for emphasis 

As if the more she speaks, the faster 

She will gain approval, 

While I’ve become 

An exotic dish 

Expected to fill 

him. 

I used to want to be more like my mother 

Now she wants to be more like me. 

 

II 

The females in my family are plagued with unsatisfactory lives 

Doomed by inaction 

And regret. 

Sometimes I think of the sacrifices 

 my tribal ancestors have made 

Both physically and ritually 

Always throwing out 

Tongues, 

Words, 

Hearts, 

Bodies, 

Haven’t we already given too much? 

 

III

The kitchen is where one learns womanhood. 

My Papa says I should know my place. 

He said, that way, 

I will find a man, 

But what about my chosen place? 

Like with her, 

Her sheets, 

Her bed 

Our sheets, 

Our bed. 

I learned womanhood the day 

I learned her. 

 

IV.

I am an angry woman

Because I love my culture

But hate its 

Bind,

Its grip,

Its harshness,

Its unforgiving reverence to religion,

Its force.

Because I have been taught to be quiet.

Because there is nothing beautiful about silence.

Because I no longer want to be like my mother,

Docile,

Quiet,

Graceful,

Her throat,

Full of everything she’s ever had to swallow,

Because that’s what good women do.

 

V

I am still learning how to be a woman

 

VI

There are days I don’t want to be a woman 

 

VII

My mother pleads with me to find my spirituality 

She says 

that is all I will inherit 

But I often question the value of her God 

Question if her prayers hold any worth 

When she still goes to sleep wondering 

When father will tell her he loves her for the first time after twenty-three years 

When she will stop feeling used on nights when all she craves is a conversation 

When she will begin to feel like a woman

and not another piece of unfinished furniture. 

How many times must you share your body,

before you begin to feel the confirmation of your own existence? 

 

VIII 

My sister wants to die. 

She is only 13. 

She doesn’t feel smart enough. 

Pretty enough. 

Loved enough. 

She doesn’t feel enough

She thinks she takes up too much space 

I’m beginning to sense a pattern. 

 

IX 

I stopped wanting to be like my mother 

Like my aunt 

Like my grandmother 

And I started wanting to be more like me. 

 

X

Some days I still wonder 

If I am woman enough. 

*

Published in Roanoke Review.

Weathered

 

You ask if I know where I come from. I remember the death of my father’s dreams, the sand, the sun - how it gives and takes, I remember the river of both water and blood. 

I remember, how could I forget? 

 

How could I forget the women in sus casitas, folding laundry, talking to their neighbors about no se que, secretly longing for their husbands, whose faces they swear they will not erase. Years consumed with tired prayers, their homes, makeshift altars, hungry for the ring of the phone.   

 

How could I forget -- my grandmother who I only met in photographs, her eyes a sadness you cannot mistake. The day she passed on, alone, I bet she thought of her children, the years of longing, them too busy with their lives on the other side.  They say she died of a collapsed lung, and I wonder if she spent her days holding her breath-- waiting. 

 

My Ma also had dreams, dreams she still brings up at the dinner table, spoken with her mouth full, careful not to be understood. I know she never guessed her life would be consumed with mops and rags, whitening up spaces she is not welcome in. 

 

I cannot forget the fear of those too criminal for dreaming, too desperate to give up. Every time I think of them, I imagine that if their exile had a sound, it would be of sobbing mothers and fathers -- guilt wrapped around their conquered throats.   

 

I know where I come from -- a place that only knows of my existence when I call for it on nights when I feel the shedding of my skin, the swelling of my tongue evicting words, both becoming foreign. The place whispers reminders of my roots. 

It tells me it is still waiting for me to come home. 

 © 2020 by Angelica Mercado-Ford

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Angelica 
Mercado-Ford