This year, The Ovitt Family Library in Ontario, California asked The East Jasmine Review to collaborate on a National Poetry Month project to feature work done by poets in the geographical area adjacent to the library. With this in mind, East Jasmine Review chose poets with ties to Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley, The Inland Empire, and Palm Desert. On the heels of Women’s History Month, we also decided to feature women poets with strong times to community organizing and grassroots activism. The library asked us to select poems along the theme of “Lost & Found,” which gave us room to include transnational work, disability justice work, and work around self-discovery. We hope you enjoy the poems we have selected in partnership with the library. We’d also like to thank our favorite librarian Lauren Candia Salerno for reaching out to us for this special project. Read the poems below the cut.
by Michelle Castillo
I sit in your kitchen, and we conjure up stories of
the past, future, and present
Your shaven head is smooth to touch
The plants glimmer and nod all around you
You wear an emerald green cardigan
and start to blend into every item in the room
You keep hacking up dried red blood
But you manage to make me a dish of sliced crisp cucumbers
and thick creamy peanut butter
You let out loud chuckles in between my concerns
I walk into the kitchen and found Halo-halo jellies
and my childhood appears right before me
Author Bio: Michelle Castillo is a poet, writer, musician, interdisciplinary artist, educator, social activist, curator, and community organizer. She is the founder of Wyld Womxn, a feminist artists’ Collective and Lola’s Kusina, a Filipino pop-up eatery. Castillo’s writing and poetry have been featured in The Desert Sun/USA Today, Coachella Magazine, DESERT Magazine, alternative weeklies, and a bunch of funky DIY art zines. Her work as a public school teacher, community organizer, and social activist has given her the opportunity to work and serve in diverse communities. She holds an MFA from University of California, Riverside low residency program. Currently, she is based in the California Desert and is at work on her first book.
by Alana Saltz
My skin is gone, veins and organs and muscles exposed
to the dry exam room air.
Prepared to be discarded, I’m ready to surrender
to another shoulder shrug.
She looks at my life slopped onto pages, asks
questions, types up her notes.
Poking at tender spots along my body, each one bursts
with sharpness, leaves finger-sized stings behind.
She gives me an answer, one cracked clay tile
sliding into another
to reveal a name printed in black and white,
a single word that will connect me
and break me away.
Author Bio: Alana Saltz is a poet, writer, and disability rights activist living in Tacoma, WA. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Huffington Post, Words Dance, Rust+Moth, The East Jasmine Review, and more. You can visit her website at alanasaltz.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alanasaltz.
The Memory of Women
By Cherisse Yanit Nadal
with the women of AF3IRM*
Our memory lives in the smoke of Papa Feo’s tobacco
In the aroma of the Dominican countryside.
Our memory lives in the humidity of my grandmother’s kitchen
Where we are fed by generations of women
Who move with magic
Against the story colonialism has written on our bodies.
Our memory flows through from our lolas
Whose cries for justice echo in the night through Philippine songs
These women who pray to the manananggal–
Our patron saint of rage–
To abort the fear written into our blood
By blades of knives in the grip of our oppressors.
We pray she will show us to the path to liberation.
We pray she will induct us into the sisterhood
Of women whose voices are heard
Whose fruit is always fresh
With the taste of freedom.
*This poem was written from a dialogue facilitated by the women of AF3IRM Los Angeles and hosted by AF3IRM NYC from words and phrases in response to these key questions: What are my hopes and dreams? What will I fight for? How will we stand against patriarchy, imperialism, and fascism? How do I dream beyond the conditions we are forced to live in?
Cherisse Yanit Nadal is a recipient of PAWA, Inc.’s Manuel G. Flores Prize in Writing, is a 2013 VONA Fellow, and attended the UCR Palm Desert Low-Residency MFA program. Her work has been published in Oatmeal Magazine and has been a featured reader at Dirty Laundry Lit, Sunday Jump, Shades & Shadows, and Tuesday Night Cafe. She is a former West Coast Correspondent for DC Asian Pacific American Film, Inc. and has also served two years as Acquisitions Editor at Kaya Press. Previous to assuming her position as Editor-in-Chief of The East Jasmine Review, she served as one of the Non-Fiction Editors. Cherisse has also been featured as a guest co-host on the literary podcast The Blood-Jet Writing Hour. You can follow her on twitter @cherisseyanit.
AF3IRM is a national organization of women engaged in transnational feminist, anti-imperialist activism and dedicated to the fight against oppression in all its forms. AF3IRM’s diverse, multi-ethnic membership is committed to militant movement-building from the United States and effects change through grassroots organizing, trans-ethnic alliance building, education, advocacy and direct action.
34 Reasons I Carry a Blackbird
By Emma Silverman
1) Because it looks cool
2) The pain reminds me that I’m strong when I feel weak
3) It will not let me change my mind, although I am a fickle person
4) Paul McCartney’s voice
5) It encapsulates who I could be
6) I have it therefore I am
8) I didn’t ask first
9) I cannot gain back the body I had without it
10) A reminder of things unseen
11) I, too, migrate south for the winter
12) For myself
13) For the men I was afraid would not love me once I had it
14) An incentive to put my hair up, out of my face and eyes
15) To be the first of my peers to brand myself
16) I decide who sees it and who does not
17) I am my own person
17.5) I am my own person
18) I cam more than a GPA
19) For the men who forced crude tattoos of letters and numbers onto the arms of my relatives
20) For the freedom to decide that inklessness will not factor into my burial place
21) To let something fly in the clouds where my head always presides
22) For my mother
23) For the scars on my mother’s chest where she had her breasts removed
24) Because scars make us stronger
25) Because strength is beauty
26) It is a symbol of wisdom
28) And meaning
29) She is a hybrid, a mutt like myself, of a blackbird, a sparrow, and a raven
30) If she does not need to fall into one category, neither do I
31) The confidence from the moment I made the choice to the moment he lifted the needle from my neck
32) She will never stop flying and I will never stop trying
33) The boy, who drew a tree on his neck ceiling the last nail in the coffin of our relationship, foolish to think she needed somewhere to land
34) With her, I can feel lonely, but I am never alone
Author Bio: Emma Silverman is a double major in English and Religious Studies at Pomona College. She is primary a playwright, but she has also written several poems and short stories. For any inquiries, she can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org
A poem for my late grandfather
By Rozlind Silva
To say I was close to you is a lie
To say I didn’t love you would be one also
This part of the poem will vindicate you
Will talk of the dust on your hand
the calice strong enough to build a fire at the edge of your fingertips
you loved to create everything
a playground for your children,
a shed to house the tools of your artistry,
a small recluse, stringed with lights
in the middle of City Terrace, East Los Angeles,
a fire pit you loved to gather us around,
pancit and tamales
a string of voices trailing through embers in the sky
You loved to see what your hard work came to
your family in a patio fleshed from your flesh
My mother, beautiful and young
The lighthouse of three grandchildren who inherited the music in your veins
My cousins, who sing your DNA in three part harmonies
You didn’t talk to us much,
but looked at us like that shed
like that patio
As if we twinkled in those old irises
as if we were the fire made from your hands
This part of the poem will question you what I can no longer ask
This part will respect how I love you
And how your death has puzzled me in more ways than I can put into a single piece
My mother lies in her bed at 4AM to hear of the news
She cancels work
draped on the mattress
strung on the floor
I hate that I want to ask you
Why you had to leave her twice
Why at first, in the streets of Pampanga, Angeles City
You left for another family
Left my grandma, her daughters, your only son
For another city of Angels in California
And now in the chaos that is my mothers life
In the turmoil of everything she feels–
This is the kind of abandonment that cannot be reversed
This is why I do not mourn easily.
But I want this poem to vindicate you.
Your actions have broken a girl
But built a woman I am proud to call my mother
Your journey facilitated my very existence
The legacy we pass down is that of sacrifice
Of fashioning destiny out of dusty, caliced hands
Of making amends and music around a campfire
with pancit and tamales
couch hopping in Echo Park,
building a new life in the states is no easy feat
you could’ve up and left us for good
that you love your grandchildren impossibly more than you love your own
that your goodness
your sacrifice is embedded in my blood whether I accept it or not
that the heart that beats in mine is part of yours that has stopped
You used to love seeing that which you’ve created
I am here.
I am an honest woman,
girl in mourning,
struggling to find the words to honor you
yet be true to myself.
I hope you can look from heaven
and still be proud
of the girl who looks like music
Author Bio: Rozlind Silva is a spoken word and slam artist from Los Angeles County. As part of her involvement in Say Word LA, she performed and competed in the international youth poetry slam, Brave New Voices (BNV). Additionally through Say Word LA, she worked to encourage literacy and art skills for students in inner-city schools. Competing twice at BNV, she also worked as an editor to former Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman and her magazine OnePenOnePage. Rozlind’s poetry appears on Russell Simmons’AllDefDigital Youtube channel. She was additionally awarded Runner-Up Youth Poet Laureate in 2015, and has served twice as an official Youth Poet Ambassador in Los Angeles County. She is currently the Junior Poetry Editor of The East Jasmine Review.