Monday, February 15, 2016

This River Here Poems of San Antonio by Carmen Tafolla

Many thanks to Reyes Cardenes for introducing me to this collection by the first Poet Laureate of San Antonio, Texas, Carmen Tafolla: This River Here Poems of San Antonio. As of 2015, she is the Poet Laureate of Texas. Rich with imagery, culture, history, and language native to the area, Tafolla draws us into the soul of place through the ages. There are also photographs to show changing families and the city through the years, it is an extraordinary read and very difficult to pin down just a few poems to represent such a well-lived collection. I am happy to share a few samples below:

There’ve always been rattlesnakes

especially if you live in Texas,
quietly coiled potent surprises
filled with regrettable poisons
scorpions startled under rocks
tails poised for incisive action
flash floods submerging the floor, the bed
wiping away anything not rooted yards deep
droughts that wilt the cactus,
bake the trees, suck dry the elderly

there’ve always been rattlesnakes,
husbands collapsed to the ground, stores gone broke
grandmothers fading away, bills eating the grocery money,
heart attacks at midnight, heat strokes at 4 p.m.
wagons, cars, bikes, crumpled into broken skeletons
tornados that wreak havoc, lightning that incinerates homes into black ash
cancers that appear when least expected,
disasters that life or nature makes

But even the cruelly unexpected fangs of rattlesnakes
grow brittle over time
crumble into the offended earth
even droughts bathe eventually in the abundant August chubascos
even long-staring skeletons become rich abono
fertilizing the persistent pecan trees
the hope-filled shoots of chile serrano
the motivation of survivors trying to rebuild
bone by desperate bone
to rebuild

Here Tafolla captures Texas in all its glory, with all its critters, flora, and fauna. She encapsulates the way modern civilization coincides and collides with the landscape through heat stroke, flash floods, rattlesnakes. No matter Mother Nature’s arrows, even the “fangs of rattlesnakes grow brittle over time,” even grandmothers fade away. Her poem about all of the living creatures fighting for their place, building and rebuilding, everything will eventually fade away.

Alli por la Calle San Luis

West Side – corn tortillas for a penny each
Made by an ancient woman
and her mother.
Cooked on the homeblack of a flat stove,
Flipped to slap the birth awake,
Wrapped by corn hands
Toasted morning light and dancing history –
earth gives birth to corn gives birth to man
gives birth to earth.
Corn tortillas – penny each.
No tax.

I love the rhythm of this poem, the imagery. If you haven’t seen the flat stoves that tortilla makers use, it can be easily found on Google Images. Tafolla links the earth to man to earth again through the making of the corn tortillas, rightfully poetic, “slap the birth awake,” the tortilla makers slap the tortillas into being just as women and doctors slap a baby’s bottom for the cry—to awaken the birth. Beautiful.

San Anto’s Mezcla Magica

What it means to co-exist,
to bloom together,
is that the lines grow fuzzy,
optical illusions with two different faces
appearing at different times
there is not a street that marks
a neighborhood others have not
crossed into
eaten, loved, lived in, tasted in a different way

Even in Alamo Heights,
tamales end up on the “Old Texas” families’
Thanksgiving tables, while “Graciela’s”sells
designer suits in sarape colors
Even on Nogalitos Street
the Chinese tamarind seed is the top-selling snack
at the Mexican food counter,
Indian curry gets scooped up
in comal-warmed pita bread
Vietnamese eggrolls brim out of
toasty tortillas made from
German-milled white flour

At the corner of French and Fredericksburg Road
Martinez Barbacoa pairs steaming barbacoa
with ice-cold, carbonated Big Red,
imports El Milagro tortillas from Austin
and Virgen de Guadalupe wooden bracelets from Mexico,
stacks avocados just lusciously ripe enough
but not too soft, in front of the lusciously Olympian Aztecs
posed on a calendar that only distantly layers
echoed rhythms of the Aztec Calendar

After barbacoa and corn tortillas for breakfast
we want “something different” for lunch
and pair black-smoked Jamaican Bar-B-Q
with chile-roasted corn
So nighttime at Sam’s Burger Joint we are not surprised
when in the Music Hall out back
a tall, blonde Chicana named Patricia Vonne
(nee Rodriguez and freshly back from concert tour in Europe)
rattles the cage of the stage and
sings a blend smooth as honey
to the harmony of a rock electric guitar
country fiddle
and Spanish castanets.

Blend. This poem is about the ultimate blend of cultures and flavors that continue to percolate here in Texas. It’s a luscious mix that is as addictive as it is beautiful, varied, and extreme. I would dare any visitor to San Antonio, to find it boring or bland because it is anything but. If you ever visit the area ask the locals where to eat, you won’t regret it. The music at night is wild and bright, smooth and sultry, just like the night air. Tafolla captures it completely.

If you enjoyed these poems as much as I do, you may purchase a copy of This River Here Poems of San Antonio by Carmen Tafolla at Amazon for $14.85 here:
You can also download it onto Kindle here:

To learn more about Carmen Tafolla and her work, visit:

You can also find her on Social Media such as Facebook, please support your favorite writers and follow them.

As always, thank you for reading and drop in again soon…