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Alison Parham

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Adela Najarro

With Her Hair Held Back

Yesterday my mother feeling old curled
under sheets and a few strands of hair

eased into softness with her body, her breath.
I am not in San Francisco, but I know my mother.

She wants to get back to work, at seventy, part-time.
Roll under and through the Bay Bridge and drive

to Fairfield where an oak tree's twisted roots bore
into yellow hills. An examiner for the State Board 

of Cosmetology, she will watch the new girls mix
Miss Clairol 28 D and clear stabilized liquid developer, 

make certain the proportions add up to autumn mist,
golden highlights through a cascade of brown. Until then,

she's been cleaning house. An anomaly for this woman
who stood on the rim of Kilauea, a lake of molten lava,

on her one and only vacation, then came home
to Julie, Kathy, and me slapping a whirlwind of dust

from the battered armrest of a hunter green couch.
We hee-hawed and laughed in a twilight cloud

until Eric called and we washed the settled dust off our hands.
Maybe we went to a movie or the pier. Corn on the cob,

clam chowder and seagulls. A store that sold kites. Pearls
pried from oysters. A Jazz band on the second floor.

That's what children are good for. I love her
and I've left her, but I haven't. She's the one

who allows me to understand tai chi, not the class
in a freshly painted studio that once was a sweat shop,

but Teresa, Margarita, and Louisa sewing. Machines
humming under an asbestos heating duct. Wedding veils.

Embroidered designer jeans. A fan in the window. My mother
straight from Nicaragua, did not know how to sew,

but she could stand in line with her hair held in black netting,
slide hot cross buns into white boxes. Embedded between

wooden planks of the tai chi studio floor are stray needles.
Those women who went home on the 14 Mission para un plato

de frijoles, tortillas y algo más. Something more.
A black shoe lifted quiet and low.

In February

It's so difficult to explain even to myself
how the girl who said she'd get a maid

ended up scrubbing behind the toilet. Dust
and hairs no problem. I even stuck

my hand down the toilet bowl
and on my knees rubbed the carpet clean.

Scraped paint off a window pane.
Milk and bananas off a blender. The other

night I packed up and left. First time
in a dream. Usually it's an amalgamation

of all the places I've stayed. White walls.
In apartments the walls are white. A washing

away of an old lady and her dog or
three kids sick with chicken pox. The rooms

turn one into the other. A doorway strewn
with sheer nylon stockings. A lampshade

off-center. There he is telling me
what to do and we're still married. One corner

rounding into the next dank hallway
until a window and onto grass

wet and tall. Tennis shoes spring toward
a train under a moon where stars tell

stories and sky envelopes earth. 
It hasn't been only dreams. Here I am

walking around a frozen pond in February.
Scoops of corn in a plastic pail. A waddling turkey.

His face is blue! As he gobbles, every brown
orange fan of a feather rattles and shakes

with delight over the simple fact
that people with plastic pails dust grass

coming up through snow with yellow kernels.
A feast for a king! Or me. The still winter sky.

Gray water. White ice. On the lake.
A swan's long neck goes forward and comes back.

Temporary Housing

Even on a monotheistic continent,
reincarnation makes sense. Imagine


only to chirp like crickets, cluck like chickens,
howl like monkeys using a trombone throat drum.
Some of us are wisps of cloud
rising through hillside each morning.

Others burn.
Colicky babies that won't quiet,
so angry to be sent into this world again, and again.

What could be so cruel
as to keep us roasting like marshmallows
over a campfire?

With so much beyond
a mathematical phrase, our bodies
may be one bedroom apartments
where we sometimes soil
an already stained carpet.

Take the key. Settle in. Share

banana splits, grilled corn,
roast chicken, romaine lettuce torn into salad.

Then all this business
of keeping the body warm,


the tingling and tickles.

It’s time to order:

two pickles,

a jalapeño pepper,

some salt and spice,


From the Neighborhood

-- on Jesse Treviño’s  Mis Hermanos, 1976, acrylic on canvas

Have you seen
Treviño’s hermanos?
A portrait
de los seis
sitting on a fence.
El chiquito,
plastic cup
in hand. Otro con
mis tío’s sunglasses.
I see Guillermo
y Esteban. El Guapito
lifts his chin
and we all know
the trouble
he’s been in.
Then Beto with wine.
The fine suede shoes
and trouser socks.
Center straight up
is the one who
will be Papí,
somebody’s dad,
her darling
husband. The one
who works, sweats,
and pays the bills,
even after
his preciosa
stays out
one night
too late
and her dancing
ends up
as trouble.

Adela Najarro is the author of two poetry collections: Split Geography and Twice Told Over. She teaches creative writing, literature, and composition at Cabrillo College. For spring 2017, she is teaching a “Poetry for the People” workshop at Cabrillo where students explore personal voice and social justice through poetry and spoken word. More information about Adela can be found at her website:

Emerald Street Poets
Marcia Adams
Len Anderson
Dane Cervine
Robin Lysne
Joanna Martin
Tom McKoy
Adela Najarro
Maggie Paul
Stuart Presley
Lisa Simon
Phillip Wagner

Featured Artist
Alison Parham


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