November 8, 2018

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

THE TALE OF LA LLORONA

I was born with one eye open
on the back of my head. It made
it easy to walk along the branches
of mango trees. Limb to limb,
finger to finger, I walked to the
house of my mother, then to my
grandmother’s. In between
I discovered the House of Vasquez,
connected to me and my sister
and my mother like the marrow
of bone. Inside the house were
secrets. An eyelash at the grave
of my mother ’s sister. A black pupil
looking from my grandmother’s
silver hair. I asked my mother,
why are the Vasquez women
born with so many eyes? And
she said she thinks it’s because
we have so many tears. When
I was pregnant, it became difficult
to wrap my bear feet around
mango tree arms. Once, a wind
blew so hard, I fell. My baby slipped
all the way down to where I open,
to where my body becomes a star.
In order to push him out, I had to cut
open my fourth eye. For the first time,
I saw whole from the back and
the front. And my God. This world
is made of nothing but estrellas.
My spine fell out of my body and
latched to the tree as my baby did
to my breast. And when I cried, the
tears came from both sides. The tears
were saltier than the ocean. I didn’t know
this at the time, but they were also sweet.

from Tales from the House of Vasquez
Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

__________

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland: “Nearly two years after having a nervous breakdown after the birth of my son, I started to examine this experience with poetry. Mental illness runs on my mother’s side of the family—with the Vasquez women, specifically—and in searching for the reasons why, I found stories. Some of these are from the lips of my grandmother and mother, some are ones I unearthed inexplicably, from the fertile dirt where poems grow.” (web)

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October 4, 2018

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

THE TALE OF POSTPARTUM

The doctor is ancient
and I don’t think
she can hear me
when I say, my columna
vertebral is on
the outside now.

She asks, do you like
caring for the baby?

I nod. Yes. I love
caring for the baby.

And then I whisper.

But how long
can a woman live
with her spine
on the outside.
It hurts so bad,
I can’t even cry.

Good news, the doctor
tells me, staring at
her notes. You don’t
have depression.

from Tales from the House of Vasquez
Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

__________

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland: “Nearly two years after having a nervous breakdown after the birth of my son, I started to examine this experience with poetry. Mental illness runs on my mother’s side of the family—with the Vasquez women, specifically—and in searching for the reasons why, I found stories. Some of these are from the lips of my grandmother and mother, some are ones I unearthed inexplicably, from the fertile dirt where poems grow.” (web)

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September 4, 2018

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

THE TALE OF THE EARTH

There is an earth inside you
and he howls until his feet
pierce the space
between your hips.

You scream.
It sounds
half-wind,
half-bear.

Three pushes and he’s out,
face-down, slippery
as though covered
in huckleberry jam.

Put him to your breast,
lean back against the tree.
Introduce little Earth
to ancient Earth.

Tell them both how
they have oceans
and moons. Tell them both
how they’re held with stars.

from Tales from the House of Vasquez
Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

__________

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland: “Nearly two years after having a nervous breakdown after the birth of my son, I started to examine this experience with poetry. Mental illness runs on my mother’s side of the family—with the Vasquez women, specifically—and in searching for the reasons why, I found stories. Some of these are from the lips of my grandmother and mother, some are ones I unearthed inexplicably, from the fertile dirt where poems grow.” (web)

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August 17, 2017

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

I KNOW ALL MOTHERS SAY THEIR CHILDREN ARE SWEET,

but Ansel is sweet like raw raspberry pie.
He hugs and kisses my breast before latching
for his morning milk. When we last left
New York City, he whispered goodbye
to it as though he wished it would
remember him kindly, sticky on my lap at
Columbus Circle, delighted with each
of the hundreds of vehicles.

I think to when I was sixteen: walking my
dog down the street. A man angled his
white truck at us, stomped on the gas
and charged. Headlights ablaze like
orbed torches. I ran, pulled the leash
and screamed for my mother. He stopped,
backed up and laughed so hard as he sped off.

Now I wonder if he went home to children.
Did he cradle them with the same hands
that gripped the steering wheel, read
Green Eggs and Ham to them with
the same voice that cackled at my terror?

Then there’s me at eighteen, walking to
the grocery store in Kansas City for
navel oranges. A man grabbed my
shoulder and waist, pressed his erection
into my hip. My spine became stone and
stayed that way for so long I couldn’t
cry or it would shatter.

Now I wonder if this man was ever sweet.
Did he hug his mother with the same body
he assaulted me with. Did he nurse while
looking at her as though she were all
that’s good and wonderful in this universe?

As I watch footage of men whose faces
curl in smiles at violence, who believe
power can only come from subjugation,
I feel desperate.

How do I get my baby to remember his
sweetness. How do I get my baby to remember
his sweetness?

from Poets Respond

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Raquel Vasquez Gilliland: “This poem began with me outlining the ways I have been terrorized by men on the street, as triggered by the Charlottesville violence. I encountered a Twitter thread by @boguspress that made me consider how aggression is encouraged in boys from such a young age, which changed the poem to a mother’s voice.” (web)

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September 4, 2016

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

LIFE ON EARTH

My mother doesn’t believe in aliens,
says the only world God whipped up
is this one, these people, this cup
of instant coffee, this concrete house.
God works in mysteries, Mom says
when we discuss star signals from
94 light years away. If that hum
were from something fleshed,
limbed, someone reaching out
to touch us. The ensuing rush
to present a polished humanity.
But I say if aliens are looking,
from this strum in the dark
or anywhere else. Let them
look at my mom. At her tiny
hands with wide nails, her grey
roots, her bible, so worn its
pages are now paper skeletons.
See her cramped kitchen,
the arroz con pollo steamed
on the last working burner,
flavored with bell peppers
and onions, garlic and bone.
See her over strawberry
sundaes with the neighbors,
Luz and Delores. In her yard,
the white orchids clung
to palm trees and jasmine.
How she speaks to them.
Let them into St. Luke’s
as she signs the cross.
As she prays to Jesus
for grace. As she lights
Mother Maria’s candle
for her children. Here
is life on Earth.

Poets Respond
September 4, 2016

[download audio]

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Raquel Vasquez Gilliland: “This week, I read that a Russian telescope detected a strong signal from sun-like star HD 164595. Though unlikely to be from aliens, I considered how we might introduce ourselves to an extraterrestrial civilization.” (website)

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