THE DAY MY LITTLE BROTHER GETS ACCEPTED INTO GRAD SCHOOL,
he posts on Facebook, the digital block.
all his old friends & crushes come by to
dap him up. imagine the flowers they place
on his lap. he smells them, but not for long.
back when he graduated from college, he threw
his cap into the sky & it fluttered like a bird
with a broken wing. when it landed, my brother
was still broke & unemployed. the day my brother
gets into grad school, he can’t afford a happy meal
& still the praise comes through: my mom thanks
god. my dad offers my brother a cold beer, which
is how my family celebrates everything: a toast.
a drink. my dad prays between gulps. my mom
drinks when god blinks. my family: two fists
colliding. nothing strong enough to stop
my parents from raising a home in a city
being razed or to stop my dad’s steel mill from closing or
the foreclosure notice from landing at our doorstep,
& here we are, my brother is going to grad school:
another promise, the familiar fluttering. my brother
grown in the after wash of a cold beer. in the after
math of a long prayer. amongst the weeds in the vacant
lot that used to house our dreams. mixed up with dirt.
ordinary ground. no magic but water.
MEXICAN AMERICAN OBITUARY
after Pedro Pietri
Juan, Lupe, Lorena became American this way,
serving crackers at a picnic while a strange wind
swung through the branches carrying names.
Juan, Lupe, Lorena died this way, too, silently
while trump won the presidency & the police
kept killing their Black neighbors & relatives.
Juan died saying it was none of his business.
Lupe died believing their degrees would save them.
Lorena died after loading the gun & handing it over
to the policeman that aimed it at her whole family.
Juan, Lupe Lorena all died yesterday today
& will die again tomorrow
asking Black people to die more quietly,
asking white people not to turn the gun on us.
MEXICAN AMERICAN DISAMBIGUATION
after Idris Goodwin
my parents are Mexican who are not
to be confused with Mexican-Americans
or Chicanos. i am a Chicano from Chicago
which means i am a Mexican-American
with a fancy college degree & a few tattoos.
my parents are Mexican who are not
to be confused with Mexicans still living
in México. those Mexicans call themselves
mexicanos. white folks at parties call them
pobrecitos. American colleges call them
international students & diverse. my mom
was white in México & my dad was mestizo
& after they crossed the border they became
diverse. & minorities. & ethnic. & exotic.
but my parents call themselves mexicanos,
who, again, should not be confused for mexicanos
living in México. those mexicanos might call
my family gringos, which is the word my family calls
white folks & white folks call my parents interracial.
colleges say put them on a brochure.
my parents say que significa esa palabra.
i point out that all the men in my family
marry lighter skinned women. that’s the Chicano
in me. which means it’s the fancy college degrees
in me, which is also diverse of me. everything in me
is diverse even when i eat American foods
like hamburgers, which to clarify, are American
when a white person eats them & diverse
when my family eats them. so much of America
can be understood like this. my parents were
undocumented when they came to this country
& by undocumented, i mean sin papeles, &
by sin papeles, i mean royally fucked which
should not be confused with the American Dream
though the two are cousins. colleges are not
looking for undocumented diversity. my dad
became a citizen which should not be confused
with keys to the house. we were safe from
deportation, which should not be confused
with walking the plank. though they’re cousins.
i call that sociology, but that’s just the Chicano
in me who should not be confused with the diversity
in me or the mexicano in me who is constantly fighting
with the upwardly mobile in me who is good friends
with the Mexican-American in me who the colleges love,
but only on brochures, who the government calls
NON-WHITE, HISPANIC or WHITE, HISPANIC, who
my parents call mijo even when i don’t come home so much.
-from Citizen Illegal (Haymarket Books), selected by Spring 2023 Guest Editor, Gerard Robledo
José Olivarez is the son of Mexican immigrants. His debut book of poems, Citizen Illegal, was a finalist for the PEN/ Jean Stein Award and a winner of the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize. It was named a top book of 2018 by The Adroit Journal, NPR, and the New York Public Library. Along with Felicia Chavez and Willie Perdomo, he co-edited the poetry anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNEXT. He is the co-host of the poetry podcast, The Poetry Gods. In 2018, he was awarded the first annual Author and Artist in Justice Award from the Phillips Brooks House Association and named a Debut Poet of 2018 by Poets & Writers. In 2019, he was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Paris Review, and elsewhere.