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Vickie Vértiz




              My first kiss is with an uncle


                            me as Amá throws

                            up two dollar wine

                            after a pool party


              I do not know the language of that place

Sitting on the edge of a cracked red plastic couch

I am grateful in an ill-fitting girl dress    lavender roses dot the


The embrace is short                  His breath is two cases of

cigarettes and one aluminum beer

              He says good night; the songs of crows

              outside unspool

When his sons leave for the Persian Gulf             

he kisses them too       and I’m               confused

              because men never embrace around me   

They shove each other’s oil hands into

                            car guts and machines that make glass

              Not tender        not soft


I understand, then         there must be other       ways to love

                            your children


For Iguala and Ferguson

We will sing about the dark times, about school.

About how La Llorona needs a vacation from that riverbed.


Trenches filled across without paper.

And what’s fucked is how—


How worn—Che on a T-shirt and Frida is a handbag. What concerns me is being disposable.


What concerns me are posters of our colleagues, missing girls.

On every lamppost, the buildings are not in heaven, they dream

about us. Dream in a time of war.

It is always a time of war, and what concerns me

is the basilica and no one cared.


How can you live? Citizen and for what.

If we are breath, then bring what is matter.

What concerns me are babies who used to lap

milk now exhale burning hair and skin.


What worries me is that our rights are porous

and we study and read and find what.


Poverty, that’s what. Who said? We have when. We have order.


We have a No. We burn it down. Do you see?

There is no paper.

No document can hide the dusk of a grave.

Students are pebbles skipping down that fucking riverbed inside



I do not claim the empty notebooks. I am state protected, that

handshake that moves up the arm and begins to feel like



Hearts, what we want, we already have: an e-mail, a loan, a beam.

Before and beyond the colony,

            Who can take away what we’ve already danced?


How can we be left behind when we are what they want to be?

The shine of black leather boots. The sky that great safety—and

not guilt—that injures

             What injuries does education breathe?


And in the middle of a punctured lung,


          is resistance


For Morrissey fans

Because we craved permission to be despondent in English

              Desperate to hide erections for boys

              Behind Trapper Keepers

              To document Kotex leaks in our journals


We needed

              To be maudlin, to be untranslatable

              To do this in private, in the company

              Of someone with rank


We hunted for you in crates, battled mold and being broke

              Scraped pennies from grandparents who collected

              Cans to feed us

              We needed your ’50s guitar in the key of sorrow


Mexican and not, born here or not, our duplexes

              South of the 60 freeway

              No Movement murals cushion our daily gray sky

              Our 99 cent interchanges


To your voice, we work our lives away in UPS trucks, as perfect

              Receptionists, in community college forever


This is how you hate the queen

              I seethed at the church for making me dirty

              So we were instant friends


You made me want a public transit death, so we

              Could be together


We saved you from the has-been dollar bin

              We’re your American Manchester day dream, empty tire

              Factories, soot-covered eyelids, cracked front

              Teeth and bleeding lips


We fondled open your shirts and built a country around you

              Of sidelong glances and glum gladiolus


When you saw our tight black jeans and creepers

              You could taste our penchant for racing Chevys down

              Slauson with no headlights


We’re your wistful twin, that boy you won’t share

              You watched us make love in cemeteries

              Made us trim our sideburns, Las Vegas Elvis beats made Us jump like beans


We are fatalists by nations on all sides

              Death happy because it constantly raps at our door

              In the carcinogenic heart of this Manchester

              Our black lungs sing with you


Because every time we listen

              It’s our last day too

-??????????from black god mother this body (Black Freighter Press), selected by Spring 2023 Guest Editor, Gerard Robledo

The oldest child of an immigrant Mexican family, Vickie Vértiz was born and raised in Bell Gardens, a city in southeast Los Angeles County. With over 25 years of experience in social justice, writing, and education, Vértiz is an alumna of the Woodrow Wilson and Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowships.

Her writing is featured in the New York Times Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, Huizache, Nepantla, the Los Angeles Review of Books,  KCET Departures and Artbound, and the anthologies: Open the Door ( McSweeney’s and the Poetry Foundation), and The Coiled Serpent ( Tia Chucha Press), among many others.


Vértiz’s first full collection of poetry, Palm Frond with Its Throat Cut, published in the Camino del Sol Series at The University of Arizona Press, won a 2018 PEN America literary prize. She has been a resident or fellow at Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Conference, Macondo, CantoMundo, VONA, Vermont College of Fine Arts, and the Community of Writers. Her work was chosen in 2016 by Natalie Diaz for the University of Arizona Poetry Center Summer Residency Program. 


Vickie has taught creative writing and given craft talks since 2008 at the Claremont Graduate University, 826 Valencia, the Center Theater Group, and her alma maters, Williams College, Bell Gardens High School, and UC-Riverside, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2015. Vickie also holds a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from UT-Austin.


Vickie is a proud member of Colectivo Miresa, a feminist cooperative speaker’s bureau. Her first poetry collection, Swallows, is available from Finishing Line Press. She teaches creative writing, writing for Chicanx Studies, writing for Gender Studies, summer bridge writing for EOP students, and Composition at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

All work on this website is protected under the “Attribution Noncommercial No Derivatives” license. View at:

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