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From 'My Nature Is Hunger: New and Selected Poems: 1989-2004'

October 16, 2005

From "The Rabbi and the Cholo"

One night, at a "brotherhood" camp,

the Rabbi

witnessed me break down, for the first


since I was eleven: I mourned for all

the dead homies, for the women who


for family and the wounds of silence.

The Rabbi sat down next to me and


"I don't know how to cry like that."

"The Monster"

It erupted into our lives:

Two guys in jeans shoved it through the


heaving & grunting & biting lower lips.

A large industrial sewing machine.

We called it "the monster."

It came on a winter's day,

rented out of mother's pay.

Once in the living room

the walls seemed to cave in around it.

Black footsteps to our door

brought heaps of cloth for Mama to


Noises of war burst out of the living


Rafters rattled. Floors farted

the radio going into static

each time the needle ripped into fabric.

Many nights I'd get up from bed,

wander squinty-eyed down a hallway

and peer through a dust-covered


to where Mama and the monster

did nightly battle.

I could see Mama through the yellow


of a single light bulb.

She slouched over the machine.

Her eyes almost closed.

Her hair in disheveled braids;

each stitch binding her life

to scraps of cloth.


An abandoned adobe hut, crumbled

Walls, gaps in roof, glassless window


Dirt floor with wine bottles, aerosol

Spray cans and soiled newspapers

Pushed up against the corners.

My Navajo friend called it "The

Battered Husband Shelter."

"¡Si, Se Puede! Yes, We Can!"

Beneath steel and concrete,

Beneath night's wandering shadow,

Come the eyes, voices and arms --

elbows and knees --

That make buildings shine, magnifying

the sun into all our faces.

The nameless, the scorned, the ignored

-- yet

They are the humanity that makes

human things work.

Mothers and children, fathers and

uncles, family and family --

They come to make this city dance, the

rhythm of what's just,

What is secure -- the dance of strike

and protest,

demand and dignity.

They toil inside these glass temples --

they clean them --

The truly human who now step into the


into our tomorrows,

And declare: ¡Basta! Enough! What

we clean, we also make sacred.

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