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La Tierra Santa by Chicano Artist Cecilia AlvarezLa Tierra Santa by Chicana Artist Cecilia Alvarez
Photo Credit: Cecilia Alvarez


In honor of Mother’s Day on May 11, my Poetry Corner May 2014 features the poem “I am looking for you, Mother” by Chicano poet Lisa Alvarado. (Chicano poetry and literature is the term used for writing done by Mexican-Americans about their way of life in America.)

“I am looking for you, Mother” talks about a mother who is lost to drugs.

So you give the man the paper
and he gives you the pills.
The pills help you.
The pills have stolen you from me.

The following lines from Alvarado’s poem inspired my Haiku poem, “Mother”:

I wonder if you will ever hold me or tell me
I am beautiful.

“I am looking for you, Mother” is the final poem in Alvarado’s poetry collection, aptly titled, Raw Silk Suture. Her poems are like raw wounds stitched together with tenderness. Her six poems in the opening section, “The Bone House,” about childhood sexual abuse, best exemplify this.

In the opening poem, “R.E.M.,” the daughter does not understand how the sexual abuse happened. She knows only that she hates her father. Her old wounds of childhood are restored in “Journal Keeping,” the final poem in the section.

My body is a family album;
a record of where rage came to rest.
The task is now absorption,
the quiet remaking of cells,
folding softly and strongly
into myself.

The section, “The Housekeeper’s Diary,” first drew me to Alvarado’s work. She not only calls our attention to the life of the Latina housekeeper, but also takes us inside the home of the rich American. Here, too, the poet throws us the raw bone.

In “Reason #1,” she writes:

Women clean
every time
they picked up a pen
every time
they danced
broke their fingers
bound their feet.

In “Hand Laundry,” the intimate revelations of washing another woman’s underwear indicate the woman’s disregard for and trust in her Latina housekeeper.

I shouldn’t have to know these things…
What is important
is I fold
and store
her life
her sex
in the right place,
and keep my mouth shut.

The mother of the rich, white, Jewish family in “Sons of the Very Rich,” sees her nineteen-year-old son as a sweet boy, a good boy. The housekeeper sees a young man who is dirty and lazy. She knows the amount of dope he smokes and used condoms to be disposed of before his mother comes home.

The housekeeper’s “Home” reveals another reality: a place where she can come back to [her]self in the arms of [her] beloved.

Smells linger everywhere.
Not odorless and antiseptic,
like the place you call home,
the place I clean for you.
This is where I live.
In a place the size of your living room.

Read “I am looking for you, Mother” and learn more about Lisa Alvarado’s work at my Poetry Corner May 2014.

A Happy Mother’s Day!