Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Poem for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile,all the people executed by police, and the thousands of Native women and girls murdered and missing

It's dark out, my friends. I went to sleep last night, still mourning for Alton Sterling whose 15-year-old son is bereft because a policeman with a Facebook page full of white supremacist junk decided to shoot him while he lay helpless, pinned to the ground by cop knees, legs, and bodies. I woke this morning to news of the murder of Philando Castile in front of his four-year-old daughter (who was taken into police custody along with her mother for the crime of witnessing the killing) by a policeman so obviously terrified of dark skin that he shot a man who was complying with his orders four times. And more Indigenous women were raped, murdered, or have gone missing (probably raped and murdered) in Canada, the United States, and Mexico to add to the already-dizzying total of such women whose deaths are never even investigated because law enforcement doesn't think they're worth it. 

The extra-judicial executions are stepping up. #BlackLivesMatter works hard to raise awareness and try to bring political power to bear on the situation. People of good minds and hearts of all colors gather and protest and sign petitions. Nothing seems to make any difference.

I can't cry anymore, but I can still write, so here's a poem. A dark one for a dark time.

(A poem for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, all the people executed by police, and the thousands of Native women and girls missing and murdered)

I can't cry anymore
for murdered brown men and boys,
holding my breath for fear
the next will be one of mine.
Can't cry anymore for brown women
executed, dying in custody, raped, murdered, missing
and no one investigating my sisters, cousins.
All my tears have boiled away in rage
that, even as these murders and extra-judicial executions multiply,
publishers, producers, editors, writers, on-air personalities
continue to present the dark-skinned man as criminal, danger,
someone to shoot on sight in self-defense,
the dark-skinned woman as drunk, drugged slut
deserving anything any man wants to do to her,
no matter her own feelings or rights.
Let's face it—brown skin abrogates all rights
in America.

So white America continues to fear the dark boogeyman
and lust for/despise the loose-moraled exotic woman.
So police see dark skin as a weapon in its own right
that could murder them on sight if they don't shoot first.
So sexual predators--#NotAllMen--see a woman of color
as a come-on, sign of easy prey
no sheriff will arrest for, no news outlet investigate.
And the whole demented cycle, reaching back
to the founding of this nation on the murder and enslavement
of Indians and Africans and the fear of them,
their just anger and desire for freedom,
plays out again and again.
There is rot at the root of the tree of liberty
in America.

© 2016 Linda Rodriguez

Friday, April 29, 2016

National Poetry Month--Coyote in High School

"Coyote in High School" is the final poem of my sequence of Coyote poems that I've posted like a serialized chapbook for #NationalPoetryMonth. In this poem, I take a look at the reality behind the bad boy archetype that's so common in books, movies, and television. 

The Fonzie character in the TV series, Happy Days, may have been the "cool" guy everyone else wanted to be, but his horizons were most likely limited by his family situation and his position in the class structure of his town and his country.


What is it about the bad boy,
the one in black leather
on too loud, too fast wheels,
the one we were warned against in high school?
Behind the scenes of proms and sock hops
and classes sanitized so we wouldn’t catch
the germs of thought,
all the girls had dreams about that bad boy
that we couldn’t even admit to ourselves
while our dates were safe white bread.

When we walked down the halls to lunch,
we knew the bad boys,
leaning against the walls
in cocky poses of insolence and threat,
were using their X-ray vision to see us
naked or--worse--in our schoolgirl underwear.
Some of us hunched over our books
and scuttled past that leering line.
Some of us stretched erect and strutted slightly
on our way beyond their limited prospects.

A classic teacher’s pet,
I snuck out twice with dangerous boys,
sideswiped by the kind of temporary insanity
that catches your heart in your throat,
roller-coaster, sky-diving, over-the-falls-in-a-barrel
fear and excitement blended into one shiver.

The first, in senior year, was careful with me,
insistent on leaving the good-girl scholar a virgin.
He didn’t want to hurt me, he said,
didn’t want to be bad news. I didn’t tell him
my father had taken care of that years earlier.
I didn’t answer his phone calls after that, either.
A couple of years later, the second one took me to his room
on the back of his Harley and made love to me
all night, telling me he knew he wasn’t good enough
for a girl like me, but he’d make me happy anyway.
He did that, and I avoided him thereafter.

I went with each only once,
though they were more gentle than the general run
of jocks and frat boys my friends dated.
After all, the insanity had been only temporary.
I had friends who’d stepped over the line too often
or too long and paid and paid—
as did some of us who mated with business or psych majors,
just in different ways.

Looking back, I wonder
if anyone ever warns the hard-shelled boys in leather
against the honor roll girls?

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

National Poetry Month--Coyote at Your Wedding

"Coyote at Your Wedding," the 9th and penultimate poem in the sequence of Coyote poems I've posted for #NationalPoetryMonth, brings this particular narrative of Coyote to an end. The final poem is a commentary on the class situation of the bad boy/Coyote archetype, and the way the deck is stacked against such people (and even supernatural beings).


He left his shotgun in the car,
though he longed to storm
through the doors and aim
a blast at the groom’s head.
He has no invitation,
of course,
and hopes some fool
tries to make him
leave. He’s a black-leather thunderhead
among the white flowers.
He wants to make a scene,
commit a crime, scandalize
the guests, bloody
the groom’s nose, carry off
the bride kicking and screaming.

As he walks through the crowd,
the invited ones move
to give him space
as they would any wild predator
stalking through the church.
Trouble swirls around him,
creating a wake
of racing hearts
and choked-back squeals.
He wants
to smash the flowers,
throw food at the walls,
rip the bridesmaid’s
dresses, curse the minister.

He’s looking but can’t find you
because you’re waiting
off scene for your musical cue
to enter in procession.
Coyote drops hard
into an aisle seat
in the back row
where he can grab you
and take off when you come in reach.
He props one boot
on the back of the seat in front
to block anyone else’s access
to his row. He doesn’t know
he’s sitting on the groom’s side.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

National Poetry Month--Coyote at the Park

The 8th poem in the serialized chapbook of Coyote poems that I'm posting for #NationalPoetryMonth is "Coyote at the Park." In this poem, for a change, Coyote is the one being watched while unaware of the watcher.

As I thought more and more about the bad boy archetype in fiction, TV, and movies, I came to realize that it has its root in class. The bad boy is always an outsider, poor, working class, rough-edged, not one of the privileged class. He may have found a way to make himself wealthy, like Gatsby, but he always carries that taint of the interloper. He has charm, intelligence, and bags of sex appeal, but he's still from the wrong side of town.


Coyote sits and waits.
He’s asked you to meet him
here where you’ll feel safe,
as if
anywhere were safe
with Coyote.
You spot him
as soon as you enter
through the stone arches,
all that dark shining
in the sunlight.
Teenaged girls in tight pastels
giggle and flirt
with more trouble
than they could ever handle,
and Coyote sends them
off with a wink.
He’s in a good mood,
waiting for you to come
as you promised,
benevolent predator
refusing the prey
on a whim or the hope
of something better.

From behind the stone,
you watch his long lithe body
stretched on the wooden bench
as if to soak up the heat
stored in its slats,
grace unconscious
of your secret admiration.
Coyote is a contented man
today when you are expected
any moment
before he realizes
you’re gone.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

National Poetry Month--Coyote in Black Leather

The 7th poem in my sequence of Coyote poems for #NationalPoetryMonth that I'm posting to this blog as a kind of serialized chapbook is "Coyote in Black Leather." I wrote this poem immediately after writing the poem, "Outside Your House at Midnight, Coyote" (posted here yesterday). This is one of the most popular and reprinted poems I've ever written.

After writing this poem, I began to envision a whole sequence of poems about the bad boy archetype as Coyote in human form. Coyote is the trickster, the troublemaker, and yet often an ally of humans, even as he tries to seduce and exploit them. That seemed a good match for the anti-hero that the bad boy figure in literature, film, and television so often turns out to be.


Coyote slides on black leather
over the T-shirt
that reins in biceps, shoulders, chest.
Dark jeans and biker boots cover the rest
of his long, lithe body as he invades
your everyday, suburban life
like a growl.
You avert your eyes, pretend
you don’t watch
his tight, hard body, his mocking face.
You know he’s bad, doesn’t belong.
Besides, seeing him makes your face too
red, your breath too
short, your bones too
soft, your clothes too
tight. You pretend
not to peek, don’t want him to catch you looking
at the hungry way he stares at you.
Coyote has no class.

Coyote is your secret.
You tell him it’s more exciting that way.
He lifts the eyebrow bisected by a scar and stares
you into silence. He knows
you’re ashamed. He thinks
you’re ashamed of him.
Coyote takes you
to dangerous places.
In dark, dirty bars, he threatens drunks
and fights to protect you.
Coyote takes you
where no one else can.
Coyote takes you
where you can’t admit you want to go.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Monday, April 25, 2016

National Poetry Month--Outside Your House at Midnight, Coyote

"Outside Your House at Midnight, Coyote" is the 6th in my sequence of Coyote poems for #NationalPoetryMonth. It was the second one written, however. "3 O'Clock in the Morning, Alone" was the first I'd written with the Coyote avatar. Several years later, my youngest son had inveigled me into watching the TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a sizzling scene of a lovesick Spike watching outside Buffy's window at night inspired me to write this poem. And this one then unleashed several others.


stands in shadows, only the red eye
of his cigarette showing his presence.
He watches lights in windows
downstairs and your silhouette
against curtains as you move
from room to room, readying for bed.
He grinds cigarette into the ground
with his boot, to join the others
littering the spot where he lurks,
across the street, vacant lot,
under trees along the fence line.

As you switch off lights,
room by room, and climb stairs
to your bed, Coyote moves out
of the shadows, closer to you
by a few feet more. The outer rays
of the light on the corner
catch his sharp features, golden hair,
the hunger on his face.

He watches your light click on upstairs.
Closing his eyes, Coyote can see within
your walls as you undress and slide under
covers. Tendons in his neck stand out,
rigid with tension, and he swallows his own
wanting with pain. He opens his eyes
to the dark again, watches your last light
wink out, whispers something so soft
even he won’t hear, stays to witness
the vulnerability of your restless body.
Sleep. Coyote’s standing watch.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

National Poetry Month--Coyote Invades Your Dreams

(Note: I have no image for this post. I want to warn you not to search for "images coyote dreams" on the internet. It seems there's a popular trap used in hunting coyotes that's called "pipe dream." Your stomach will take hours to settle down from the images of bloody coyotes entrapped, dead in groups and hung on lines like fish on a stringer. Even a dreamcatcher made of coyote skin, head, and tail.)

This is the 5th in my sequence of Coyote poems for #NationalPoetryMonth, "Coyote Invades Your Dreams." The dream world is, of course, a natural for Coyote since he's a supernatural being who has taken on human form. He can come and go there even more easily than he can in the modern material world we all live in.


You’re staying clear
of him. Just because
you noticed him once
or twice doesn’t mean you want
anything to do with him.
He’s beneath you—
and above you and inside you
in your dreams. His mouth
drinks you deep, and you come
up empty and gasping
for air and for him. That traitor,
your body, clings to him like a life
raft in this hurricane
you’re dreaming. His face
above yours loses its knowing
smile as he takes you. Again,
this night, you drown
in your own desire. Coyote
marks you as his.
You wake to the memory
of a growl.

Published in Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009)