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Poetry and Literature

The Library of Congress > Poetry & Literature > La Casa de Colores > La Familia > Third Segment: November 15 - December 14, 2015
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La Casa de Colores, Hosted by Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2015-

La Familia (The Family) is an opportunity for you to contribute to an epic poem of all our voices and styles and experiences that will run the span of my Laureateship. By contributing to La Familia, you will be part of my family—and all our words will be seen and our voices be heard, throughout the nation and beyond. – Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2015-

"Language Weavers"Theme for November 15-December 14, 2015

We all speak in different languages. We connect the words of our ancestors, our home and world through our voices. For this month, I want you to weave in and out of two or more languages—weave together the language of your new home, your homeland, the way you speak to your grandmother, your banter with friends on the court or field, or just everyday lingo of "¿Qué Pasa? What’s Happening?" Or link up critical news reportage, Hip-Hop, and the high words of prayer into one powerful Colores statement or description. Let your language colors flow, so we can all grow and glo'!

Andanzas
Mis pies-corazón me llevan
de aquí para allá
from here to there
de los brazos de mi madre
hasta mi presente-yo
migrantes somos
mis pies-corazón y yo
untiring
resolute
we set out
each day
each turn
each dream

Dos ríos giran por
plum blossom trees shadowed scrim
Veo detrás de los sueños
su singular cara, rambling
tossed through midnight's dark petals.

GRANDMOTHER HINDA
I WALK THROUGH CHOTIMSK TIL CHOTIMSK IS A POEM
TO MY GRANDMOTHER HINDA’S HOME
SHE WEARS A GREEN RAYON DRESS
LACE AT HER NECK.
"KAK VEH POJOVAYETE"? HOW ARE YOU?
I GAVE HER A KISS AND A HUG.
HER BREATH WAS FROST AND SNOW.

Native sounds
Adopted lands
Adopted letters
Native customs
Alphabets and tones
Nay ho?
Oranges and peaches
English and Cantonese
Suits and T shirts
Americans in schools
School courtyards
Church altars
We live different
We talk together

Your gentle hands braiding my hair
Singing, “Que Sera, Sera”
Your voice resonates now more than ever
The future’s
Not ours to see.”
A lightning bolt
Kissing the ground.
Adiós, Abuela.
I braid my hair alone as I sing
“Que Sera, Sera.”

¿Bueno?
Yes, this is she,
Reney, Reney
no, not
Brittaney.
Mum in a muffled mumble,
"¿Qué dijo ese
viejo?"
No se ni como traducir
sus sonidos
que salen
de su boca
de serpiente.
No, it's
Renee
roll
your
"Rs"
like a roaring
lion
would.

Deep at the roots of my family
Vi si trova una lingua.
A language that ties us all together
Uno che è conosciuto da generazioni
Before us
E dovrebbe essere conosciuto da generazioni
After us

I ask my Abuela, ¿A dónde se fue el sol? For I fear the dark, the absence of sun. She explains el sol se fue a dormir. This confuses me I miss the warm rays on my back and hair. Why did it have to go I wonder when will it return, cierro los ojos es un sueño

New Beginnings
I am overwhelmed.
When I hear the knock on the door,
My heart hits the floor.
Mi papá, ¿QUÉ PASÓ?
Here one day and gone the next
Last I heard was a simple text
“La quiero mucho”
Sun comes out
New seeds have sprouted.
¡Vamos a superar!

The party of the first part,
trilingual in legal/bureaucratese/English,
with a smattering of poetry
and also food names in many languages,
Braids words like challah dough
Fully compliant with 21 CFR part 136
And la Familia rises.

I meet a new friend
and I say “Tsharrafna”
I am honored,
And I remember the importance of respect,
Or “Shalom”,
And I remember peace,
Or “Buongiorno”.
All these bring a good day,
A good life,
A good world.

¿Cómo está abuelita?
Dale un beso, my mother would say
Yummy beans cooking
La leche es para el café
El Paisano en el paso
¡Quevo!

Abuela, ¿Por qué te fuiste?
We long for your sopita.
Tú amor era el mejor, the best!
We miss your smile, hasta las regañadas.
Te sentías mal, you needed the rest.
My only wish, mi deseo would be,
Abuela, péiname
Like when I was a kid.

I always thought that life was just to pass all my classes and grades. My parents always say "Jennifer, a la escuela se viene a aprender y no a jugar y tener novio". I'm thankful for that, because now I focus more in school to succeed in life.

In El Paso del Norte,
I have experienced the passing of my childhood.
Each day's end punctuated
By yet another breathtaking desert sunset.
This is not my hometown, but, oh,
This is my home.
I have found myself here,
A true desert dweller.

Kitte mattai,
kitte lapai
Buds spring awake as trees yawn,
stretch their rumpled bark
cast off winter’s dream of bees for
March winds, warm sun, showers;
blossoms blink at a birth-busy world.
Another year,
another set of leaves.

A monarch in the physique kingdom
heeding to my body
chaotic motivation.

Confianza, hija.
Sweat beads
Respiring deeply.
Vencer.

A piercing silence of iron: electrifying.
Veni vidi vici.

Dignified stature
Lifting 205 lbs
Derroté el rey.

La Familia
A soft kiss and the right words,
Create a warm welcome.
¿Qué onda flaca, cómo te fue hoy? You look tired
“Sit down, ándale para que comas."
They make sure you have
"La pancita llena y el corazón contento."
Son mi hogar—my home
La familia

¡Mija, ya son las 8 de la mañana! Me levanté con one eye open y el otro cerrado. 7:14am. I cover my head with my sábanas. ¡Todavía no son! I say. ¡Mija! ¡Ven rápido, te tengo un surprise! Roses and mariachis. ¡Feliz cumpleaños to me!

My mishpocha is a shtark, loving bashefenish with many arms tzu halten mir.
Ich geyn tzu zey when I am sad or frightened aun ich blyen in zeyer embrace.

“...y libranos del mal, amén.”
I say, lowering my extended arms.
My mind starts to wander already.
I’ve got an essay due today and…
I suddenly realize where I am again, and see my dad, he's deep in prayer.
I envy him.

"¡Hola gringa!"
Two worlds fused together, diversity
Stereotypes of white and brown folks, adversity
The Spanish language and the Mexican culture
The English language and the "White" culture
El Paso and México, fortunate neighbors

Language
That thing that connects us to others
Esa herramienta que nos ayuda a expresarnos
Mientras más idiomas conoces
The more you can express
Palabra por palabra
You get to know worlds
Worlds of people
Palabra por palabra
You open a door

Yo!
I swear I ain’t no bum, hell I'm an English major.
"Yea" I talk like I'm from the Southside,
but truth is I deserve an Oscar.
My friends, "my mains," they ain’t nothing more than homies.
If they knew I was only acting, they'd "drop me."

Grandma tells me she loves me: "Te amo, mi nieta". I love you too, grandma. Even though you have to tell me in my dreams. I still hear the words you said to me. Te amo también, grandma.

Home is where the heart is, that is right. In my home, my family is the heart. My home is petite but it gives our guests a warming sensation. I have watched my family grow into fourth even fifth generations creating una familia dedicada y feliz.

Eres Mujer

As a woman
society tries to
limit you
trap you
what a women
should be

Pero tú eres una mujer

creator of life
You are the soul
of the earth
the laughter in the wind

the curves in the ocean
Powerful
perfect just as you are
porque eres mujer

"Mensch!" flowed from my German mother's lips,
Often in frustration, like "Aw, man!"
Or the coarser cowboy curses of my father.
To my Jewish ears these days,
Mensch is the highest of compliments,
Indeed a blessing, not a curse word at all.

Las hojas están cambiando
The leaves are changing color.
Cuando se viene el otoño
El cielo crisp pierde su color de azul
Las nubes cubren el cielo
And we forget the summer sun
As brisk viento frio
Chills us to the bone

I finger these words, like
beads of an ancestral rosary:
Buona sera, signorina!
Céad mile fáilte! Muito obrigado.
So many voices flow into
the sea of who I am,
my heart beats polyglottally,
many-tongued and joyful.

Famiglia
è
una coccola
e
la dolcezza
di una torta di mele
Familia
es un abrazo
y
la dolzura
de un pastel de manzana
Family
is
a cuddle
and
the sweetness of an apple pie

Tii ilu! Sounds of my forebears slip from tongue to air,
swirl round, catch wisps of my hair, rustle and raise them
as if to say we are a living sound—sing us, speak us, hear us.
Lauluima, hääli imedänne! Song-Mother, magical voices!

Sing unto all a new song.
Let music be the bard.
Hum notes of thanks.
Chant odes to action.
Croon sounds of love.
Trill airs of triumph.

If every word was a poem,
every song is a prayer.
Voices in harmony,
a chorus of grace.
Be glad. Sing out. Amen.

In the mirage of opportunity
Your nourishing presence sustained me
Now on, mi tierra
Mis sentimientos están escritos en mi cara
In the quivering ease and release
Lagrimas de amor
Que viaja de mi alma
Touching
Gently absorbing in your cheeks

My english-german-irish-french heritage fades.
I live in my brain,
And my brain is hard-wired in a midwestern American English.
Try as I might,
Here on the west coast,
I cannot escape the tongue and twang.

Caramba, I recall my mom and dad said to their houseful of ten children: "¡We need to teach you kids English!” “In our day, the school blistered us when we spoke Spanish, even on the playground, and that won't happen to you kids.”

That's Love.

"Halito!" said Great-Grandma.
"Chahta sia hoke!"
Proud to be a Choctaw!
Not many Choctaw words left
after the boarding schools.
Yakoke, Great-Grandma!
Thank you for our words!

Reaching across stages
Across continents
Across cultures
Words connect
Con calor y humor
Our shared experiences
Penetrar nuestras mentes, nuestros corazones
with what it means to be human

Some build walls
others build bridges...
Practice nonviolence...
Don't go by what is,
go by what can be...
One global human family!
Build community
by communicating unity
Paint the piece, plant the
seed & push for peace,
¡La familia es todo!

Hold. Bold, young, fleet, fists of poems in my sack—
Your. Mine. The common phrase perfect, but another language called—
Horses. Gabriel! Mi corazón hermano, tell, how to say? Detengan sus caballos.

Ven. Búscame. Llámame.
Suspira mi nombre al viento.
Dedicate a song for our future.
Hablarás con la luna de mí.
Every step of mine will be yours.
El sol sobre tus hombros son mis besos.
Sabor a cenizas y rosas

My mother tongue
a blend of whispers to coos
etches hearts and cells
mitochondrial eves and refugees
sister goddesses of space, time, place
gather roses bloomed in winter
trace lines on ancient figurines

Veo, veo. ¿Qué ves?
La plata’s rust cloud
of algal bloom, matanza
steeping a shipyard
in ribbons of oil—
una cosa-rumbled
mélange of wordless
roar, semblance of song
materializing cumulus
overtop—¿qué cosa?
La Bombonera. Maravillosa.