Selections from My Nature is Hunger
The calling came to me while I languished
in my room, while I whittled away my youth
in jail cells and damp barrio fields.
It brought me to life, out of captivity,
in a street-scarred and tattooed place
I called body.
Until then I waited silently,
a deafening clamor in my head,
but voiceless to all around,
hidden from America’s eyes,
a brown boy without a name,
I would sing into a solitary
tape recorder, music never to be heard.
I would write my thoughts
in scrambled English;
I would take photos in my mind
—plan out new parks, bushy green, concrete free,
new places to play and think.
Waiting. Then it came. The calling.
It brought me out of my room.
It forced me to escape night captors
in street prisons.
It called me to war, to be writer,
to be scientist and march with the soldiers
It called me from the shadows, out of the wreckage
of my barrio—from among those
who did not exist.
I waited all of 16 years for this time.
Somehow, unexpected, I was called.
The Object of Intent is to Get There
“I am in the world to change the world.”
One lifetime meets another lifetime
in a constant lifetime of wars.
Leaning cities greet us at every station
and every wound points to the same place.
If your unique pain cancels out my unique pain
then there is nothing unique about pain.
What’s left to do
but carry your troubles to where they’re going;
once there, you stumble on the rest of us.
When prisons become the fastest growth industry
Our minds and hearts become the imprisoned
When the past of blood and conquest is denied
The land gives back this blood in torrents
When war is the only imagination of the people
The people’s imagination becomes an insurrection
When we sacrifice lives, including our children’s
Evil becomes as common as breathing
When truth scares us to apathy
Our only truths come from the most fantastic lies
When enemies are whoever our leaders say they
We won’t know an enemy from a rainbow
When power and wealth drives social policy
All policies are subject to poetic death
When my son asks, do I have to go to war?
A father’s duty is to war against war first
When people say peace is the absence of conflict
They have no idea what they’re talking about
When war forces us to die outside of ourselves,
We have to learn to live from inside our bones.
I read the newspapers today
and the climate reports again proclaimed
I read the newspapers and saw that things
are worse for our children then they were for us.
I turned on the TV and found the darkening
pulling us along fast-moving swollen rivers,
where we grasp at unstable stones and loose
only to be swept away into the shadows
next to “welcome” doormats and canary cages.
Our leaders have called in the troops
with one or two syllable declarations.
Imagination is a casualty of this war
as are poetic language and moral consistency.
Despite millions taking to the streets against war
we go to war anyway because, hey, we got the
This is a democracy that doesn’t care that people
This is a country that fights evil with guns
although this is evil’s playground,
that opposes affirmative action in colleges
but pushes affirmative action in the military,
that has no vision, although there’s plenty to see,
that has no dreams, although there’s plenty of
that denies reality, although there’s plenty
of reality shows.
Walk with the young, America,
be young, again, America,
be among the defiant and awake,
solid in their dreams.
Be the revolution in the marrow
where passions, ideals, fervors,
purposes and courage
are not just something
people had in history books,
but what we have to possess everyday,
anytime repression, injustice,
fear and greed
gather like night riders
about the gallop
through our living rooms.
Where will your fingers take you when you can no
trace the lines on your mother’s face? When will a
cry stop being the breath of morning? As war
the milk in our cereal, the rain on our sill, the
rattle beneath our car’s hood—so much a part of
we lose the conception of life without war.
we lose what it us to be alive without killing.
I see the lost youth of America
finding their way
with plenty to fight for, not just against.
Thousands marching across the land,
walking out of schools, putting up signs,
and talking the ears off their friends.
Rigorous, animated, and brave
instead of sad and silent down the hallways.
Education cannot be confined to fenced buildings.
It is in the heart, at home, in the parks, in the
Schools don’t teach, you say?
Then choose to learn anyway.
Fight for the schools, but never stop accepting
that with caring, with community,
education is everywhere.
The parents of the dead Iragi War soldier
have pictures of their daughter on a mantle
with photos of childhood school faces
and softball teams next to certificates and
These are monuments to their quiet complicity,
their confused collaboration
in her sacrifice–something they must never
acknowledge even as their tragic mistake
haunts their sullen walk in every room of the
Every few years Tía Chucha would visit the family
in a tornado of song and open us up
as if we were an overripe avocado.
She was a dumpy, black-haired
creature of upheaval who often came unannounced
with a bag of presents, including homemade
perfumes and colognes that smelled something like
rotting fish on a hot day at the tuna cannery.
They said she was crazy. Oh sure, she once ran out naked
to catch the postman with a letter that didn’t belong to us.
I mean, she had this annoying habit of boarding city buses
and singing at the top of her voice—one bus driver
even refused to go on until she got off.
To me, she was the wisp of the wind’s freedom,
a music-maker who once tried to teach me guitar
but ended up singing and singing,
me listening, and her singing
until I put the instrument down
and watched the clock click the lesson time away.
I didn’t learn guitar, but I learned something
about her craving for the new, the unbroken,
so she could break it. Periodically she banished herself
from the family—and was the better for it.
I secretly admired Tía Chucha.
She was always quick with a story,
another “Pepito” joke or a hand-written lyric
that she would produce regardless of the occasion.
She was a despot of desire,
uncontainable as a splash of water
on a varnished table.
I wanted to remove the layers
of unnatural seeing,
the way Tía Chucha beheld
the world, with first eyes,
like an infant who can discern
the elixir within milk.
I wanted to be one of the prizes
she stuffed into her rumpled bag.
Painting 1: José Gurvich, Cosmic Man in Primary Colors, 1967
Painting II: José Gurvich, Untitled, 1954
*Images courtesy of Museo Gurvish, published via public domain