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Selections from My Nature is Hunger

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The Calling

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

of change.


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.”

-Muriel Rukesyer


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

perpetual nightfall.

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



Tía Chucha

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.


But crazy?


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

About the Author: Luis J. Rodriguez

In 1954, Luis J. Rodríguez was born in El Paso, Texas. He grew up in Watts and the East Los Angeles area, where his family faced poverty and discrimination. A gang member and drug user at the age of twelve, by the time he turned eighteen, Rodríguez had lost twenty-five of his friends to gang violence, drug overdoses, shootings, and suicide. He wrote two autobiographical accounts of his experiences with gang violence and addiction, It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing (Touchstone, 2012), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, and Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. (Curbstone Books, 1993), winner of the Carl Sandburg Award of the Friends of the Chicago Public Library.

His books of poetry include My Nature is Hunger: New & Selected Poems, 1989-2004 (Curbstone Books, 2005), winner of a 2006 Paterson Poetry Book Prize; Trochemoche (Curbstone Books, 1998); The Concrete River (Curbstone Books, 1991), which won a PEN West/Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence; and Poems Across the Pavement (Tía Chucha, 1989), which received San Francisco State University’s Poetry Center Book Award.

He is also a journalist and critic and the founder of Tía Chucha Press, which publishes emerging, socially conscious poets. In May 1998, Curbstone Press published his first children’s book, entitled América Is Her Name. In 2014, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed Rodríguez as the poet laureate of Los Angeles. Rodríguez currently resides in California and manages the Tía Chucha Cultural Center in San Fernando.

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