Christian D.Larson, Female Offenders, John O'Donohue, poems for the New Year, poetry, Writing, Writing Inside VT

Two Poems to Think About for the New Year

So many thought provoking articles appeared this last week about the new year, new beginnings, dreams to reach for, and things to think about. 

Two poems that captured my attention are shared here for you to turn over in your mind, maybe help you to pick up a pen, type some words, sketch, or sing. 
This first poem is listed as a writing prompt on the Writing Inside VT blog where writers Sarah W. Bartlett and Marybeth Redmond bring ” incarcerated women’s words from the inside-out.” They both volunteer at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility and facilitate weekly writing circles. 
For a New Beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
~ John O’Donohue ~
Consider what you are leaving behind in 2012 and what you are bringing forward into 2013.

This poem reminded me of a cocoon breaking open, an unfurling of new untested wings, slow, hesitant, then steady. We may have been on this same route many times before, but this time it’s going to be different. Maybe not a giant step, maybe only a small leap. Whatever the size it’s a link from past to future.

This poem was on my Facebook.

Can you make this promise to yourself? Do you dare? Read it, say it, believe it. 

Breast cancer, Chingonas, Grief, Hospice, Parenting, poetry, Wisdom

Hiding From Grief

Before I sat down at the keyboard this morning, my daughter swung open my bedroom door, crying. 

She had just received a text from her close friend that her mother died after a couple of weeks in hospice care. 

Her friends mother had breast cancer several years ago and it returned last year. Her mother was a little younger than I. Her remission was longer than mine.

I’m on a roller coaster of emotions: Sad that this young woman, my daughter’s age, has lost her mother, anxious because I’m seven years out of my own breast cancer diagnosis and the thought of its return not only looms in my face, but in my daughter’s because we know she is at higher risk for BC now. I wanted to yell:

We hugged until her sobs stopped. Her friend said she’d text again later. My daughter didn’t know if she should go over and see her friend or not, then went back to her room. I didn’t know either. 

My desire to do something to help left me unable to speak out loud. I think I was trying to hide my grief. So I do what I do, I write things out to find answers. 

The first question: Why do I feel anxious?  

The second: How can I help? 

 I began writing on the closest piece of paper. The sadness of hearing this news, coupled with the notice of my aunts impending death last week and my mother’s recent hospital stay, is the main reason I was anxious. My daughter’s grief this morning pushed me over the edge. A mother doesn’t want her children to hurt, kid children or YA children. 

After a few more minutes of writing I wanted to crawl back into bed and cry, but I didn’t. That’s not very chingona for me to start crying while my daughter is upset-I told myself. It was a fleeting thought because I didn’t make it to my bed, I sat in my chair and cried.The anxiety diminished.

My cell phone played its pinball noise. My boyfriend texted “Good Morning, what are you doing?” For once I said exactly what I was doing and why. After a few minutes he texted “I’ll pray for you.” That helped me-a lot.

My daughter came into my room and ask if I thought it’d be okay if she just showed up at her friends house. She noticed my reddened eyes and asked me what was going on. I confessed my reasons for crying which made her cry, “Don’t say that, don’t say ‘what if your cancer comes back.'” 

But I said what has been pent up inside me for a few days, cried again, and said to let me have my feelings. My daughter nodded her head, we hugged and cried some more. I told her it’s okay that she said what she said, I know she’s afraid too sometimes, it’s okay to cry and not know what to do. 

“I’m going to get dressed, go over to see her,” my daughter said, swiping at her tears. 

And then I knew the answer to the second question: How can I help? 

Sometimes the best thing to help someone is to just listen, hug them, hold their hand, acknowledge the pain, be with them, or let them know you’re thinking of them. 

Hiding grief catches up with you. Sometimes crying and not knowing what to do is the most chingona thing you can do at the time. Many times crying, writing, and feeling your feelings helps to end the roller coaster ride.  

Back Toward Light

This poem found me today and I it: 

There is a Sacredness in Tears.
They are the bearers of unspoken prayers, words, pain and hope.

They can reach out and touch hearts, and heal.

Don’t ever take any one’s tears for granted.
And don’t let anyone make you feel bad if you need to cry sometimes.
Feeling – is Healing.

Tears are “Raindrops” – from the Storms of the Soul.
And only You know what Storms you have walked through. ♥

~ Kiran Shaikh

American Library Association, Arizona's ban, Banned Book Week, Banned books, Books, Chicano studies, Chingonas, John Huppenthal, Librotraficante, Mexican American studies, Occupied America, poetry, TUSD

What Does "F-READ-OM" Mean?

Stack of Books tattoo-photo by S. Archuleta, flickr.
Stack of Books tattoo-photo by S. Archuleta, flickr.


I love books, maybe not as much as the young woman shown here, but I could definitely see myself with a minute bookshelf of my favorites, tattooed above my shoulder blade. That’s how much I esteem books.

So it pisses me off whenever I hear about another book being banned-and I’m not talking about banned books in Iraq or North Korea, I’m talking about banned books here, in the U.S.A.

Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” failed to make it through the US Post in 1873, its stories deemed “obscene” and “filthy.” Oh, I definitely remember that one. It was on my Freshman reading list at the conservative Catholic school I attended. Racy! (I jest.)

Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” was also temporarily banned in California in 1939, for its allegedly unflattering portrayal of the Monterey/Salinas area.The Supreme Court overturned the prohibitions on these and other books since then.
While not ‘technically banning’ books,  Arizona chose to eliminate Mexican American Studies in the Tuscon Unified School District in 2010. The TUSD board voted (4-1) to end the Mexican-American Studies (MAS) curriculum, thus ending the use of certain books. 

Their view is that they have ‘removed’ books, not ‘banned.’ It’s an ongoing debate based on perspective.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, J. Huppenthal, declared the MAS program illegal last year under a new state law banning “racially-divisive classes.” He determined that Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program violated a state law, a law that he helped write, that bans courses that “encourage resentment toward a race or class of people,” and are designed primarily for one ethnic group.

The seven removed books are:
Occupied America: A History of Chicanos – Rodolfo Acuña
Rethinking Columbus: The next 500 Years – Bill Bigelow
Critical Race Theory – Richard Delgado
Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Freire
Message to AZTLAN – Rodolfo Gonzales
500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures – Elizabeth Martinez (ed.)
Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement – Arturo Rosales
I’ve read four of the seven books. My mother has read all of them, but then again, she did have a double major in college: Sociology and Chicano Studies. Both of us have had careers in law enforcement and social service agencies. Neither of us resent a race or class of people.

What troubles me is the prohibition of another writer’s viewpoints and removing the ability for young people to be able to read a text (that is approved in all MAS and Ethnic Studies curriculum), debate its contents, and then make up their own mind. 

The organization Librotraficante (Book Traffic) is diligently working to overturn Arizona’s removal (banning) the MAS texts from classrooms. Their by-line:

Vote to Restore the American Dream in Arizona. A Great Nation Does not Fear Kids Reading Books.

Families in a 38-year-old segregation lawsuit against Tucson Unified School District are asking a federal judge to reinstate the school district’s recently suspended Mexican-American studies classes, arguing that they are critical to ending discrimination for students. A U.S. District Court judge has overseen the settlement between the school district and the families, which included the creation of an African-American studies program and then Mexican-American studies in 1997. 

 Danger does not arise from viewpoints other than our own; the danger lies in allowing others to decide for us and our communities which reading materials are appropriate! (Roberta Stevens, Pres. American Library Assoc.)

In support of the right to choose books freely for ourselves, the American Library Association  co-sponsors Banned Books Week (its inception was 1982), an annual celebration of our right to access books without censorship. The ALA and several other associations such as American Booksellers sponsor the event. 

For 2012 the week is September 30-October 6. “It is the one time during the year that booksellers and librarians can talk to their customers about the hundreds of book challenges that occur in schools and libraries around the country every year. 

In 2010, the American Library Association counted 348 challenges.  The most frequently challenged title? And Tango Makes Three, a children’s picture book that tells the true story of two male penguins that adopt an abandoned egg.”

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression will help booksellers make videos of people reading from banned books and post them online. Last year, ABFFE promoted the Internet read-out to booksellers, who produced more than 90 videos. Altogether they and others posted more than 800 videos of people reading from banned books on YouTube, which, ABFFE said, “helped attract unprecedented press attention to Banned Books Week.” Details are available at

So, in praise of books and a big Bronx Cheer to the threat to our 1st Amendment rights and the ability to make a choice in what books we can read, I offer this chingon poem from a Chingona Poet, that I read on La Bloga

By Sonia Gutiérrez
After hearing the ruling,
some people say
they went hiding behind trees.
They scattered
Some escaped the classrooms
and ran across fields, deserts, cities, borders
looking for the place of books.
While others once caught
were stamped with green Bs
on their chests. (Those books
are lost—and nowhere
to be found.) They were taken
by officials to places unbeknownst
to readers—places where their words
were dissected
and formed into secret algorithms
and placed into memory chips
and carefully encrypted 
Others wore scarlet 
Cs across their breasts. These
books always walked in fear
of being booknapped. 
Others, veiled and wrapped
 in brown paper bags,
were singled out during routine patrols
with a, “You. Show me your pages,”
as their private parts
were publically leafed
through, and their words
were poked with accusatory 
index fingers. 
Startled by the news,
others tripped as their letters
fell from the pages
and lay transfixed collecting memories—
of hands grasping their scuffed edges,
of hundreds of identical books being burned, 
of being trampled and kicked
on the spine and then urinated on 
and stuffed in plastic bags.
And yet, these books
banned together—
found their words,
organized, and stood up
in unison shoulder to shoulder
to celebrate
the contents of their pages
as they exchanged smiles
with their ineradicable 
trailing ghosts always always always
looking for the place of books.
Any book lovers out there have something they want to share? 
Artist Frida Kahlo, Chingonas, How to be a Chingona, poetry, Sandra Cisneros, Strong Women

Frida Kahlo- Chingona Artist

Happy belated anniversary date to Frida Kahlo, a chingona artist. She died on July 13, 1954 leaving art that lives on in perpetuity through her incredibly emotive images and poetry.  

N.Muray collection

The term “Chingona” is a Spanglish term, slang, for a

bad ass, wise woman, powerful, individualist, self-activated, a woman who lives a life for their own approval, self-empowered, a strong woman 

You might find the word in an urban dictionary but it’s a subjective term that’s more of a concept than a specific definition.  I think most Latino’s agree with terms similar to those I mentioned above and could probably add more identifiers. 

Frida Kahlo de Rivera was a Mexican painter, and is perhaps best known for her self-portraits. Kahlo’s life began and ended in Mexico City, in her home known as
La Casa Azul ( the Blue House). Diego Rivera was her husband. Leon Trotsky and Nickolas Muray (the photographer of this 1938 photo) were her lovers.

One of my favorite authors, Sandra Cisneros, shares her perspective on “How to be a  Chingona in 10 easy steps.” One of the steps rings true about Frida Kahlo’s life: 

Depression has a purpose if you use it before it uses you. Compost it through art

Frida Kahlo encountered much suffering in her life. The polio she contracted at age six left her right leg thinner than the other, a bus accident resulted in a broken back and a pierced abdomen resulted in subsequent miscarriages. Her husband was also tempestuous and unfaithful.

She produced 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits. When asked why she painted so many self-portraits, Frida replied: “Because I am so often alone….because I am the subject I know best.” This video, from the History Channel, gives a view of Frida’s life:

This visceral poem is one of my favorites:

I had swayed. Nothing else. But suddenly I knew
In the depth of my silence
He was following me. Like my shadow, blameless and light
In the night, a song sobbed…
The Indians lengthened, winding, through the alleys of the town.
A harp and a jacaranda were the music, and the smiling dark-skinned girls
Were the happiness
In the background, behind the “Zócalo,” the river shined
and darkened, like
the moments of my life.
He followed me.
I ended up crying, isolated in the porch of the parish church,
protected by my bolita shawl, drenched with my tears.
Reproduced in The Letters of Frida Kahlo: Cartas Apasionadas, ed. and trans. Martha Zamora, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, p. 9. 
Today, more than half a century after her death, her paintings fetch more money than any other female artist.  Felicidades to a gran chingonaLa Frida.
Now go out and live like a chingona.