the night always scared you
ever since they shot efraín in the face,
leaving him to bleed to death on the long dirt road
between the peach orchard and grape field.
you wanted someone to hold you the night you heard,
someone to protect you, but when your mother came
it didn't stop the sky from warning you:
your turn was coming. you were eight then.
and at thirteen
you pretended to be the friend of death.
you boxed your cousins
who never pulled their punches
when making you a man. they told you
to always scar your enemy on the face,
a deep gash down the cheek,
because this was a sign
to everyone of your locura.
and you believed them: they were alive
in the streets that wanted them dead.
so that night in 1981, when you walked alone
through the flats, midnight, a knife in your pocket
and num-chucks caressing the forearm
hidden in your jacket, you pretended
to be a man. but the wind whined
and the bushes blew.
the shadows became the demons
that always wanted to eat you.
you didn't cry, no, not then,
but your heart was ready to break
and your eyes flicked around
and a thin line of sweat
gathered at your upper lip's edge.
you forced yourself to walk slower,
a mean strut to deny the darkness
that was ready to leap on you.
were you ready for the boys
who beat your brother dead?
there was the sound of the road
and the cars grumbling along.
a dog kept barking on one
of the lonely streets,
but all you remember
is breathing like an animal
as the ground before you
came up under your feet
as if the world were spinning
in slow motion beneath you.
the front of your house
seemed haunted in a fog
that was only in your mind.
the car was there, crippled
and green on the curb.
the skin of the garage
was peeling and the porch light
had been stolen, leaving the grass black
like a square hole. were you afraid
of being swallowed?
you went inside
and watched tv alone.
your mother waiting
for the alarm, your sister
and your brother
you went inside
and watched tv alone,
as if nothing was happening,
as if all this was natural.
luciana: this is how i see you
how will i remember you, grandma?
will it be your name, luciana, that I recall
on nights when the forgetful remember
like the wind winding whispers
through the arms of the trees.
luciana: my sister carries your name
and she wears your earrings
and her birth will forever carry
beating boldly for the truth.
how will i remember you, abuelita?
will it be in the kitchen
tortillas on the comal
eggs frying in the pan
and a song of praise
pouring forth from your lips?
it will be your face, a bruised petal of forgiveness
as you told me your story
on a saturday afternoon
how grandpa came for you
smelling of sheep and whores, how your
was old and tired and begging for the cool sheet of a warm bed
to lie down and forget her life, how she sold you or traded you
dragging you away from the dolls
to stand before the priest
and become a woman at
i will remember you
hobbling into the grocery store,
the nylons gathering at the back of your knees
like wrinkled skin,
will i remember your hands, your beautiful hands,
two measures of tender masa
you use to lay on the faces of all your children?
will i remember your prayers prayed,
the powerful breath of your hope
forging a way for us all in this madness?
i tell you grandma, this is how i see you:
you are dancing, your straight leg is bending and your hair
is waving wild
as beautiful laughter like song strums from your mouth into the sky,
and your eyes, your eyes are catching the shine of the Son,
like two huge apples begging notice on the tree, and you are shouting
with your smile, "hallelujah! hallelujah!" and all the angels
are dancing and
laughing with you, and Jesus is saying, "i love you so much, mija."
and you are saying, "mi amor, mi amor," like a beautiful sigh.
a jazz trumpet finds the lips of someone unsuspecting and the stars
find huge caves
of light to hide in. i am left with the quiet power
of the heat and a horn echoing off the cages of concrete
and cars and the cold metal madness of this city.
off in the distance, perhaps on tulare ave,
a cop's corrupt hand is finding its way around
the neck of a boy suspected of being illegal
and in the park, radio park, lovers laugh
at the imagined future of their unnamed children,
at the stories they'll tell as grandparents
still savoring the breath of each other's skin.
in this city i sit waiting for the end of the world.
the neighbors of noah are everywhere
and a strange sky has come staggering in.
i am not holy or noble or righteous, but i still,
from my crippled mouth call, "Christ, Christ!
let your blood bathe me and not night's nasty
glare, let love's power bind peace around the neck
of my soul, and I will stand confident, clinging
to the Cross when the storm's scream comes
stinging at the heels of your saints. oh, Lord have mercy!"
i am not unusual, you see. i am in love, in love
with a girl from the sea who sleeps with her head
in the valley. i cry and laugh and live in the dust of the earth.
i am born, bought with blood into the Spirit, but
still this flesh is of clay, of dust, of death.
but hope holds my heart: the word made flesh, laid down
and picked up again to the right hand of glory.
here in this city i sit, the trumpet's trembling song
fading away like an adulterous man, and i am left with car horns
and gunshots and shouts and smells of grapes
just about to rot on the vine, surrounded by wasps
whispering lies and mothers weeping for children brainwashed
with insanity, and i am determined to know nothing
but Christ and him crucified.
-from the ice worker sings and other poems, selected by Guest Editor T.R. Hummer
BIO: Born on May 18th, 1968, Andrés Montoya died from leukemia on May 26th, 1999, at the age of 31. Montoya received his BA degree from California State University, Fresno, where he studied with Philip Levine and Corrinne Clegg Hales and cofounded the Chicano Writers and Artists Association with fellow student Daniel Chacón. He went on to earn his MFA degree from the Creative Writing Program at the University of Oregon, which was then directed by Garrett Hongo. Montoya published widely in such journals as the Santa Clara Review, in the grove, Bilingual Review/Revista Bilingüe, and Flies, Cockroaches, and Poets. His first book, the ice worker sings and other poems (Bilingual Press, 1999), was awarded the 1997 Chicano/Latino Literary Prize from the University of California, Irvine. The published collection later won a Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award in 2000. After his untimely death, the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize was created by Letras Latinas, the literary initiative of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame to honor Montoya and his work. The prize is awarded to a first book by a Latino/a poet residing in the United States and includes a cash prize and publication by the University of Notre Dame Press.
PROMPT: Andres Montoya's poems are often in praise. Of his past. Of his origins. Of God. No matter the subject matter, Montoya utilizes language and lyric to reveal the beauty beneath the ugliness that is being of human. In "1981," he delves into his violent and confusing adolescence. In "luciana: this is how i see you," he eulogizes his grandmother. In "fresno night," he sings an ode to his his home place and to Christ. Let's write a poem in praise today. In praise of the sunset. Perhaps a long-gone (or newly-arrived!) family member. Maybe an experience that changed you, that informs us (and you) who you really are. You might write a poem about Montoya himself, who passed away many years ago and far too young.
Don't worry much about punctuation and play around with moving your lines around on the page. Keep your poem to 30-45 lines. And be as specific as possible. Note how specific Montoya is in these poems. They are loaded with place names, people's names, brand names, specific types of plants, etc. The more specific you are in your prose, the more authentic and rich the landscape of the poem will become.