Monday, December 27, 2010

Making Verbal Tamales for Christmas

My family making tamales. Photo by Gabriel Bermejo.

A month or so back my friend Erika Ayon and I met to collaborate on poetry projects. During our meeting we created a form together. I've always wanted to create my own form, and this felt like the perfect time. We call it a tamal, as in the Mexican treat often eaten at Christmas. A tamal should be seven lines long, begin and end with the same line, rhyme on the 2nd, 4th, and 6th lines, and customarily mentions food.

On Wednesday December 23rd (aka Christmas Adam), I spent the day with my grandmother at her house in Boyle Heights. While sitting with her I heard a young girl singing Silent Night through the streets as part of a Posada*. This moment inspired the following tamal.


A young girl sings Noche de Paz
through a silent East L.A. night.
From my Grandmother’s stoop I watch
families weave winter streets by candlelight.
"Grandma, lo oyes?" She sets knitting down
to listen. We find our shelter tonight
as a young girl sings Noche de Paz.

My grandmother's front stoop. Photo by Erika Medrano.

Happy Holidays, to all! I hope you all have enjoyed moments of peace and beauty with those you love.

Please feel free to give the tamal a whirl. What kind will you make?

*Posadas are a Mexican tradition where a community reenacts the journey of Mary and Joseph through Bethlehem to find an inn. People walk through the streets going from house to house singing songs and asking to be allowed inside. They are denied many times until they get to the home/church/community center that welcomes them in. Once inside there is a party usually with piƱatas, champurado, pan dulce and other treats.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


On this 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death, I wanted to write something about him. Make a tribute. Say something worth saying (if it is even possible when talking about such a larger than life personality).

John Lennon has long been a a focus of inspiration for me. I remember being a junior in high school taking a Religions of the Word class(I went to a Catholic High School). For my final project I made a poster in black pen and marker of different symbols from all the major religions with the lyrics to Imagine and All You Need is Love written around the borders. I got an "A".

John Lennon was one of my earliest influences (after my parents) in concern to my interest in human rights and social justice.

He still continues to be a major influence on me and a beacon for hope and reason. I have often asked myself, WWJLD?

On 9/11 when President Bush made his public address--his goofy drawl and odd smile giving me no comfort--I thought two things: I want Clinton! and My god, what would John say if he had lived to see this?

And then again, in the last few years--feeling the drag of two wars and the apathy within me and those around me--I have wondered, where is our John Lennon? Where is that person to unify us, guide us, give us hope. These days, those great leaders feel like a nostalgic trend of the past, of days gone by. From time to time I wonder, are all our best leaders dead?

The most tragic part of Lennon's story--at least for me--is that he still had so much he wanted to accomplish. With a small child and an new album on the way, he was bursting with desire to live life. And then I think about that little 5 year old beautiful boy.

Three days before being murdered on the sidewalk in front of the Dakota, where he had made a home with Yoko and Sean, he was quoted in an interview as saying, "What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean. I'm not interested in being a dead fucking hero."

As his immigration lawyer, Leon Wildes, said "Can you imagine, if that beautiful man had lived more than five years after he had gotten his green card, what magnificent music he would have continued to bless us with?"


Speaking of immigration. I found this great story from Lennon's immigration lawyer, Leon Wildes, complete with personal anecdotes and hilarious little insights like when he got the call to represent the Lennons he asked, "Alan, tell me, who is John Lennon?" (he also didn't know what cannabis or hash were)

You can read the story here