TOYON LITERARY MAGAZINE
q TOYON Volume 68
Hope & Healing
© 2022 by Digital Commons @ Cal Poly Humboldt. Toyon reserves first North American publishing rights, and non-exclusive rights to reproduce, display, and distribute the work in print, online, or other media platforms. Print rights return to the author after first publication in Toyon and personal-use exceptions are granted to all contributors. The views expressed in the stories, poems, essays, and reviews in this magazine are solely those of the authors. Toyon Literary Magazine is published once a year by Marketing & Communications Cal Poly Humboldt 1 Harpst Street Arcata, California 95521-3321 Toyon Literary Magazine Founders Hall 205 Cal Poly Humboldt 1 Harpst Street Arcata, California 95521-8299 Email: email@example.com Printed in the United States of America. Cover printed on 100% pcw recylced paper, text printed on 30% pcw recycled paper. Reproduction, posting, transmission or other distribution or use of the work or any material therein, in any medium as permitted by a personal-use exemption or by written agreement of Digital Commons @ Cal Poly Humboldt, requires credit to Digital Commons @ Cal Poly Humboldt as copyright holder (e.g., Digital Commons @ Cal Poly Humboldt © 2022).
Cover art: “infinitamente hueco” by Maria Lopez
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Andrea Delgado Andrea Juarez Associated Students Barbara Curiel Cal Poly Humboldt Library Cal Poly Humboldt English Department Cal Poly Humboldt Environmental Studies Program Cal Poly Humboldt Department of World Languages and Culture Cal Poly Humboldt College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences Cal Poly Humboldt Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Cal Poly Humboldt Marketing and Communications Cal Poly Humboldt Music Department Carlos Cordero Carly Marino Cassandra Curatalo Christina Hsu Accomando Corey Lewis Cyril Oberlander El Centro Académico Cultural Garrett Purchio Heal McKnight Janelle Adsit Jeff Crane Jim Dodge Kenna Kay Hyatt Kirk Lua Kyle Morgan Loren Collins Matt Brunner Melitta Jackson Mike Dronkers Nancy Pérez Patrick Malloy Peggy Stewart Rosamel Benavides-Garb Sarah Godlin Sarah Jaquette Ray Umoja Center for Pan African Excellence
EDITORIAL STATEMENT Welcome to the 68th Volume of Toyon Multilingual Literary Magazine! In this year’s edition, we decided to have a focus on the theme of hope and healing. This theme came from everything we have gone through this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hope and healing in this moment require that we take a step back to gain perspective and look forward to a future we aspire to live in. Reminding ourselves to breathe and become present has become difficult, but it is something worth remembering. We would like to thank all of our authors and translators for allowing us to share their work within our pages. We would also like to thank all those who came to share their knowledge and expertise with the Toyon staff this semester; Cal Poly Humboldt Music and The Happy Choir for collaborating with us on the 2022 Sana, Sana Music and Poetry Contest; and the Department of English at Cal Poly Humboldt, the University Senate Instructional Related Activities (IRA) committee, and the Cal Poly Humboldt Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for their continued support of the journal. This magazine is made to share our narratives, thoughts, and ideas with those around us. Learning from one another’s narratives helps us grow and understand, very much like hope and healing. Literature and art are incredibly powerful, personal, inspiring, and the more we share, the more we know. Toyon Multilingual Literary Magazine is made possible by its amazing student-run staff. This volume is a reflection of each of our efforts to help share these amazing works in
our very own journey. We recognize the emotion, editing, and revising the contributors put into their work just as the staff put into this volume. We hope you enjoy this journey.
Ernesto Iñiguez Volume 68 Managing Editor
TABLE OF CONTENTS Grace E. Daverson.........................................................1 Each Time I Held a Dying Bird
Meghan E. Kelley.........................................................6 What’s Left for the World to Say?
Konstantinos Patrinos.................................................7 Icarus After the Crash
Larissa A. Hul-Galasek...............................................8 Climate Change / Cambio Climático Translation by Kirk Lua
Jude Rouland..............................................................10 Going Up the Creek
Celeste T. Colmenares..................................................20 Happy Birthday
Marc Eichen................................................................24 Kutogunduwa (To be Overlooked) Translation by Shani Khalfan
Maurizio Castè............................................................40 Germogli verdi / Sprouts of green Translation by Toti O’Brien
h Jessie C. Bullard..........................................................42 “My woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice”: Poetics of Sensuality as Reclamation of Memory and Self in Yesika Salgado’s Tesoro
Maurizio Castè...........................................................68 È forte il vento / Strong, the Wind Translation by Toti O’Brien
Robert T. Pegel.............................................................70 Examination of Self
Ambar A. Quintanilla...............................................72 Dismantling Structural Systems of Oppression Through a Revolutionized Pedagogy
Angela M. Acosta........................................................88 Primer sorbo de zumo de naranja / First sip of orange juice Translation by Kirk Lua
Cyerra Colomba Guzman...........................................90 Chaparrita
Ian Haight...................................................................92 Mandala Deity
Ashlee Murrieta...........................................................94 The Sound of Grief
Q. Noah Veil................................................................95 Snowbound
Dobby Morse................................................................96 The Fate of the Earth
Alison Silver...............................................................98 None of the Above / Ninguna de las Anteriores Translation by Kirk Lua
Sandeep Kumar Mishra...........................................100 A Father’s Son
Richard S. Spilman.................................................112 Pompeiian pottery
Patricia K. McCutcheon............................................113 Darnella
Walid Abdallah.........................................................116 The Queen of My Heart
Guido Setton............................................................117 Pulpa
SPOKEN WORD Jasmine Fortunato Just Thank You
Alannah Guevara Tempus Rex
The Possibility of Love, Almost
The Forgotten Suite, Part 1
f VISUAL ART Joshua Lamason.........................................................60 Cotton Candy Chicory
Joshua Lamason.........................................................61 Recreate
Ernie Iñiguez.............................................................62 Thinking
Kylee A. Conriquez....................................................63 Rest in Peace, Esteban
Mario Loprete..............................................................64 Concrete Sculptures
Justin A. Paduganan.................................................65 S is for Sza
Joshua Lamason.........................................................66 Black Sands Meet Blue Sky
Andy Graber...............................................................67 Hope on the Horizon
AWARD WINNERS Barbara Curiel Award in Multilingual Writing and Translation Guido Setton Pulpa
Jodi Stutz Award in Poetry
Meghan E. Kelley What’s Left for the World to Say
Richard Cortez Day Prize in Fiction Marc Eichen Kutogunduwa (To Be Overlooked)
English Department Award in Critical Analysis
Ambar A. Quintanilla Dismantling Structural Systems of Opression Through a Revolutionized Pedagogy
Redwood Creative Nonfiction Award Grace E. Daverson Each Time I Held A Dying Bird
Toyon Staff Award in Visual Art Joshua Lamason Recreate
Environmental Studies Program Award in Environmental Justice Writing and Art Larissa A. Hul-Galasek Climate Change
Fuerza Award in Spoken Word, Audio, and Multimedia Jasmine Fortunato Just Thank You
2022 Sana, Sana Music and Poetry Contest Alannah Guevara Fresh Fruit
Jo Gibson From the dirt of our skin Jo Gibson So about that hole in you Azarel Garcia Orgullo
Special thanks to Kirk for his translations and to the Cal Poly Humboldt English department for their generous support of the Volume 68 translation project.
4 Each Time I Held a Dying Bird Grace E. Daverson Canary There were eggs resting in the palm of Mama’s hand. There were four of them, each a pale spotted blue, delicate and tiny, about the size of her pinky nail. She took me to the smallest room in the house and turned off the light. There was absolute dark, and then click. A penlight. She made sure I had a clear view as she pointed it up and through one tiny egg, lighting it up from the inside. There were no shadows in it, only golden light shining through a paper thin shell. “No baby in this one,” she told me, “Want to hold it?” Yellow Cockatiel She was the size of a whiteboard eraser, decorated with happy yellow feathers. On each cheek, a perfect red circle. When she was happy, the feathers on her head would stand up like a woven crown, a mohawk of joy. I named her Treat, because she liked treats and I was nine. Taking her outside wasn’t my first mistake. My first mistake was teaching her how to fly with clipped wings. It was just too sad for her not to. She was meant to fly and she wasn’t allowed to and so I helped her. We practiced until she could circle around my room with ease. And then I stepped outside with her and she flew and I never saw her again.
[ TOYON 1
Grey Cockatiel He was the same size as Treat, had the same beautiful happy mohawk, but he was much louder than Treat ever was. I taught him all kinds of whistles and always made sure to clip his wings. Technically, I didn’t hold him until he was already dead. It was my fault, again. My family was dog-sitting a known bird-killer. I kept my door shut for the entire week, except for the very last day when I forgot. It didn’t matter that I was only gone for two minutes, and it didn’t matter that the bird was in his cage. When I returned, I mistook feathers for fabric, a stuffed animal strewn across my room. I only realized what had happened when his body was in my hand. I can’t remember if I had it in me to cry. His body was already stiff. The dog had already left. Mourning Dove He was too comfortable around people to be safe in the wild, so I caught him and brought him home. I knew he was a mourning dove right away. I was eleven, and had been studying local birds. I wanted to be an ornithologist. I knew he was a he because of the purple shimmer on his neck. You could only see it when the light caught it just right, otherwise he was grey. His name was Olive. He was loudest just before the sun came up, cooing as loudly as his little lungs would let him. A dog got him, too. My aunt’s dog, on Christmas day. Robin Its beak was cracked and its eye had bled over. My brother had hit it with a slingshot. “I wasn’t aiming for it,” he told me, sad, ashamed, embarrassed, “I didn’t want to actually hit it.” Then, because I
2 TOYON \
knew about birds, “Can you fix it?” I tried. I cleaned its eye the best I could. I let it rest somewhere safe for a few hours, and then I set it free. It took a moment for the robin to remember how to fly, but then it flew, and I never saw it again. My Sister Zoe stole a steak knife from the kitchen and perched herself atop the tree in the front yard, twenty feet in the air. She sang out her plans for all to hear, just like any bird would do. No one loved her, she said. No one cared about her, she said. It didn’t matter what happened to her, she said. Zoe was eleven. I was thirteen. When she landed on the ground, it was safely and on her own feet. Police officers surrounded her, taking the knife, giving her water, asking her if she was up for a ride to the hospital. Before she left, Zoe said she wanted to talk to me. We sat down on the step of our porch, side by side. Her eyes were caught on her shoelaces, untied and limp against the concrete. “I want to be like that robin you saved,” she told me, not looking up. “I want to feel pain.” It took me a long moment to know what she was talking about. “Zoe,” I said, being honest, not letting her have this, “That bird is blind in one eye. It has a severe disability. It’s probably already dead.” Scrub Jay A ruffled little blue bird with a dusty brown back, it was too young to be on its own. It wouldn’t fly, only hopped around our driveway. I spent hours chasing it, bath towel in hand. I found it a safe place, gave it water, gave it seed, and still, it died. A day passed, and Grandma greeted me with a joke. “Found another bird to kill?” she asked.
[ TOYON 3
Conure I named him Salsa for his feathers, green and yellow and red. When he was happy, he’d say his name, repeat it over and over again. He had all the speaking ability of a scratchy old radio, but that never stopped him. I came home after a week and found his water bowl dry. It must have been empty for days. He was slack, lying at the bottom of his cage, but alive. Still alive. I fed him water through an eyedropper, cradled him in the palms of my hands. When he died, I felt it beneath my fingers. Chicken There was something downy and soft in Mama’s hand, something that shouldn’t have been red, but was anyway. “A dog—” she started to explain. The chicken made a halfhearted attempt to escape. Its neck flopped from one side to the other. “Can you help it?” I thought about saying no. I was sixteen and had long since given up studying birds. I no longer wished to work with things that live and move. So many things have died in my hands. Still, I thought it’d be worth it to try. Before it died, the chicken drank water. It ate. It moved and chirped and listened when I spoke to it. And still, it died. Varied Thrush It crashed into my window, a stunned mess of orange and brown. It wouldn’t fly, only hopped around my dorm building. Jacket in hand, I caught it easily. I found it a safe place, and let it rest for a few hours. My roommates thought I was some crazy bird-whisperer, but I was just acting out of experience. A wildlife rescue center was called, and someone was sent to pick it up.
4 TOYON \
“We’ll take care of it,” they told me. It was still alive when they drove away. The Thing About Birds, My Sister, and Dogs That Lunge The thing about birds, and songbirds especially, is that they are fragile. They’re famously fragile. Birds are vulnerable to the slightest change in temperature, in air quality, and in the water they drink. They’re vulnerable to cats, to dogs, to buildings, to windows, and to little kids who don’t know as much about scrub jays as they think they do. I’ve never known a bird to die of old age. My sister is not a bird. She doesn’t fly. She doesn’t crash into windows. She doesn’t need to be wary of brothers with slingshots or unattended dogs. She doesn’t need anyone to refill a water bowl for her. She is not a bird. She will still die someday, but first, she will live a long and happy life. I have learned to believe that she will. Sometimes, on a walk, my dog will lunge at a bird. It’s okay, because she is a dog, and sometimes dogs lunge after birds. There’s no changing the nature of things. She hasn’t caught one yet, but I think about what will happen if she does. What will I do if the bird is still alive? What will I do if it’s dying? I think of the robin singing just before it flew away. I think of my yellow cockatiel flying a lap around my room, landing on my hand, and whistling all the way. I think of golden light shining through a paper thin shell. I think of all of this, and I know exactly what I’ll do.
[ TOYON 5
2 What’s Left for the World to Say? Meghan E. Kelley When the mountain’s echo shouts to the sea, When edges of waves break through plastic surface, When yellow foam and sulfur sky muffle a distant sob that bends into soundless space— There is no satellite to sense a quake’s body blow. There is no whale to make music from stray memory. There is no sand to slip through an empty hourglass. Once the drone of flies cannot float in air, Once the hiss of cicadas cannot sound, Once all the earth that’s left is closed in a single casket— where do you bury a blue, dead planet?
6 TOYON \
2 Icarus After the Crash Konstantinos Patrinos Think back, he said, when mosquitos landed fiercely on ultraviolet light, tiny fireworks crackled confused. Curiosity left us all with empty hands and melted wings. You see, those flat blues and whites above weren’t meant to be openings, arcane passages to other worlds, unless one became spectral, odorless mist— almost invisible. We hide now in shadows of olive trees, cling to phantom limbs, dry-salting their translucent contours in hot archipelago air, under the mistrusting searchlight beams of sun, ceaselessly sweeping—calling.
[ TOYON 7
2 Climate Change Larissa A. Hul-Galasek The world is on fire but here we are sitting under the walnut tree the branches are reaching covered in bright green moss the usnea dripping down cloaking us. We know. We know. This stretching for peace just can’t be because we don’t forget the world is on fire they try to say there is no fire but how can that be? For there are days shrouded in dark the ash collected on the windshield they try to say nothing can be done but how can that be? Because you feel a ripping at the seams the cry of pain in the distance. Meanwhile the world goes on. It seems impossible that the world goes on when the world is on fire but here we are sitting under the walnut tree the branches are reaching
8 TOYON \
Cambio Climático Larissa A. Hul-Galasek Translated by Kirk Lua
El mundo está en llamas pero aqui estamos sentados debajo del árbol de nuez las ramas están alcanzando cubiertas en musgo luminoso verde la usnea goteando encubriéndonos. Sabemos. Sabemos. Este estiramiento por la paz simplemente no puede ser porque no olvidamos el mundo está en llamas intentan decir que no hay fuego ¿pero cómo puede ser eso? Porque hay días envueltos en oscuridad la ceniza acumulada en el parabrisas intentan decir que no se puede hacer nada ¿pero cómo puede ser eso? Porque sientes un desgarro en las costuras el grito de dolor en la distancia. Mientras tanto, el mundo sigue. Parece imposible que el mundo sigue cuando el mundo está en llamas pero aqui estamos sentados debajo del árbol de nuez las ramas están alcanzando
[ TOYON 9
3 Going Up the Creek Jude Rouland Sam was not very excited about his cousin coming to spend the summer with him. It wasn’t hard to see his lack of enthusiasm. He was told he’d be a good influence like it was meant to be a comfort, but when his mother told him to sit up a little straighter, uncross his arms, his frown only deepened. “Sammy, you can’t keep it up for the entire summer,” his mom near-pleaded. “It’ll be fun.” “Sam!” he corrected her, but he might as well have cut the formality of words and just gone right to biting. At times it was all he wanted—to clench his teeth so hard that they shattered. “You keep saying that.” “And wouldn’t you know it, it’s true every time.” His mom ruffled his hair and went to stand in the doorway, as she often did. When she knew someone would be coming, she was always in the doorway, leaning against the frame, feet uneven on the threshold. Waiting for someone to come home. Sure enough, Noah came bounding up the path. He wore a shirt that proclaimed an affinity for his favorite video game, or so Sam’s mother had told him it was Noah’s favorite. He’d hardly spent any time with Noah, and he was not about to be the one to start. His mom stretched her arms out for him, though, and he ran into them like a lost puppy. As if Noah remembered her—like he’d seen her since he was last a little baby. “You’ve gotten so big!” she laughed as he nodded in agreement. At eight years, he was getting a little big for all
10 TOYON \
the picking up and carrying, but he was still small for his age. Sam remembered being bigger, at least. He slinked over to stand distantly behind his mom, but he kept his arms well-folded and his brow well-furrowed. Noah peered at Sam from over his mother’s shoulder. His brown eyes were round and soft. Sam raised his lip, baring his sharp canine tooth. Noah gasped. “Hi, Sammy!” He wiggled out of his aunt’s arms—she was probably about to let him go, anyway—and she let him bound over to see his cousin. Sam recoiled, bending out of the way of Noah’s path. This was the person who was going to be in his dad’s old office? Sleeping in that room like it was his own? Despite Sam’s coldness, Noah was unshaken. Sam looked him over, making sure to be thorough about it. He had wavy, messy brown hair, a lot like his own, when he was Noah’s age. When he’d looked at Sam from over his mom’s shoulder, he’d known the look, the shape, the color of his eyes—they could have been his own. Maybe if he’d had a brother. They were separated by freckles, and perhaps a pair of glasses, if Sam ever bothered to wear his. “Mom, where’s he going to go when Dad comes back?” Sam asked, keeping his voice loud. She blinked back at him, surprised. At a loss, she only gave him a shrug. It was about what he expected. “Let’s treat Noah well, Sam. Do you guys want lunch?” Sam contemplated this for a moment. “Yes.” After lunch, Noah had asked if they had any video games. At his mother’s behest, Sam had said yes, and showed him where they were. He picked out a game and told Noah, “This is the best.” “Then can we play?” he asked. Like he was asking on purpose. Sam frowned. If he frowned a moment more, his dad would’ve warned him that his face would get stuck that way. “I’m going to be player one.” Noah didn’t take any issue with it. He only picked up a controller, let Sam tag in, and then tried to get his own
[ TOYON 11
remote working. When the little lights inside failed to respond, he turned it upside down, as if it would reveal all of its secrets. “Sammy, it’s not working,” he said. “It won’t turn on.” Another frown. Sam took the controller and, just as Noah had, turned it over in his hands. It felt too light. “It doesn’t have any batteries,” he reported. Certainly not in a way that implied he was going to do anything about it. After all, it was because of him that the remote had no batteries in the first place. When his mother had suggested they’d be able to play games together, it seemed the only solution. “Oh.” Noah deflated. “Do you have any batteries?” “Maybe.” Sam put his remote down. Despite the millions of copies of the game that existed and were played every day, Sam had only played the game with his best friend and his dad. It was too close to play. It was too close to play with Noah. “I don’t want to play anymore.” “That’s okay, I can go get the batteries,” Noah said. “Just tell me where they are.” “I said I don’t know.” Sam said. He leaned forward and turned the console off. He tilted back into his cross-legged seat and kept himself very still. Noah stood up, full of purpose. In the short amount of time he’d been there, Sam had found he was often full of purpose. “I’ll find them.” He puffed out his chest. “But we can play something else.” Sam didn’t bother to get up and watch him go down the hall or root around in the kitchen drawers, but he heard it well enough from where he sat. A few moments later, Noah came careening around the doorway, slipping onto his bottom on the carpet, right next to Sam. A little too close. He stuck his hands out to show Sam the brass frog that his mom kept on the windowsill. “Look!” he proclaimed. “A frog!” “I’m looking,” Sam said. He was thirteen—a little too old to be excited by his mother’s decorations. “It is definitely a frog.” “No, it’s real,” he said, enough confidence to blow the
12 TOYON \
snowpack off a mountain. “Not this one. I mean, gold frogs, in creeks and rivers and stuff. I’ve seen them before.” Sam rolled his eyes. Eight year olds were prone to lies, he’d read on the Internet, but still he said, “Maybe you’ve got golden frogs in California. But not here.” “Here,” Noah insisted. “I mean, I haven’t seen them here, but I know they’re here. They’re anywhere if you know where to look for them.” Sam scoffed. He looked from the stupid little frog to his stupid little cousin. He brought his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, head turned away. “Just go away, Noah. I don’t want you here.” Noah’s round eyes bore into him. “I can show you. Really. We can go find one.” He slipped his small fingers around Sam’s upper arm and pulled as hard as he could, which was not very hard at all, but he still managed to rock Sam just enough. His head whipped around as he took in a sharp, angry breath. If he took Noah out to the woods, maybe he’d get a thorn caught in his foot and he’d want to go home, or at the very least, never try to get Sam to “play” with him ever again. If he didn’t go, then Noah would never shut up about the frogs. Sam bit the inside of his cheek. He let his face soften. “Okay. But then you’ll leave me alone for the rest of the time you’re here.” “Maybe!” Noah said, wicked smile on his small face. He sprang up, waiting for Sam to get to his feet before dashing back to the kitchen and putting the frog back, just so. While he worked on preserving the integrity of his aunt’s amphibious display, Sam climbed the staircase to his mother’s room. He pushed open the door as quietly as he could. If she didn’t hear him leave, would she notice that he was gone? “We’re going out back,” he said. “I’m taking Noah to the creek.” His mother lay on her bed, staying away from the right side. Her long brown hair was splayed over the pillow, the gray streaks on display. She had a paperback book folded open on her chest, but an eye pillow over her eyes. It was a
[ TOYON 13
small bag she’d sewn together, full of glass beads scented with lavender that mostly lived in the refrigerator, coming out only to star in his mother’s best stress headaches. “Don’t let him fall in, okay? I don’t want him getting cut on a rock or something.” She did not remove the lavender-bag to see her son off. Sam crept into the room, a little closer. “Remember when Dad took me out to the creek and I tried to see how long I could hold my breath under the water, but the current was too strong and I slipped and scraped my leg? And he made me walk home to you, and you were so mad when you were helping me wash it off?” His mouth showed a smile. He laughed about that story when he recounted it to her a few months before. She never found it funny, despite how good of a story Sam found it to be, despite how much his dad had laughed, too. With a tired hand, she pulled the bag off her eyes, moved the book onto the right side of the bed, and pushed herself to sit upright. “Sam,” she said, “it’s okay that Dad’s not coming back. It’s for the better.” He took a step back, placing himself in the doorway. He grabbed the handle and began to close the door. “Go back to sleep. We’ll be back before it’s dark. No falling in the creek. Got it.” The two boys picked through the brush until they hit Sam’s favorite spot: a clearing right next to the creek, where the bank came to meet the water. The ledge on the other side of the water was nice, sure, but it only took one twisted ankle for him to learn it was a bad idea to forget his wits over there. The water was clear and true blue, each of the rocks visible underneath the stream. Tiny fish and mosquito larvae fought the current. The bank on their side was dotted with smooth rocks of all sizes and a few patches of sand. Around the creek, trees grew true and tall: hickory and sycamores and cottonwoods. It took Noah hardly any time at all to get right down to business. He flipped rocks, poked at the sand with sticks, and pressed into logs with his well-worn sneakers.
14 TOYON \
“Good luck,” Sam told him. Noah looked at him and nodded with a wide smile. He was missing one of his teeth on the left side. Another was growing in ugly. Noah sat down right on the bank and got to work rolling up his jeans as high as he could get them. He pushed his shoes off and stuffed his socks inside of them. Without a moment’s hesitation, he waded into the creek. The cold water rushed around his feet and he found himself smack in the middle of it, wet up to his thighs despite the water only passing up just below his knees. Somehow, Noah’s jeans were already soaked. When Sam was young, he’d always found some way to get his jeans soaked too. He sat down, knowing the sand would stick to his pants and be a pain later, but choosing not to care. He rested his elbows on his knees. His gaze fell to the side, to a few rocks that held onto the moisture of the creek despite having been baked by the sunshine all day long. Halfheartedly, on a chance, he turned one over. A spider ran out from underneath and scuttled into the thicket. “Did you see anything good?” Noah asked. Sam turned his head up to look at him. The sun caught his soft brown hair, summer and excitement bringing a pink tinge to his nose and cheeks. He gave his younger cousin a smile, earnestly this time. “Just a spider,” he said. “I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever seen a frog around here before. A few salamanders, maybe, if I was lucky.” “You’ve just got to give it time!” Noah assured him. His face looked as if Sam had told him of some terrible tragedy of his life. He might as well have. Still, he smiled, like he was the only one who could cheer Sam up after such a thing. “You’ll be catching all the frogs in the creek in no time.” Then, very seriously: “You let them go, right?” He nodded. “Of course I did.” “Good.” Noah turned his attention back to the water. He turned over rock after rock, sending streams of sediment down the flow of the creek. Despite all his pushing and
[ TOYON 15
shoving, the water still did not turn cloudy, whisking all his troubles away in the cold current. A sharp gasp. Noah plunged his hand into the stream and pulled it out just as fast. He waddled over to Sam. Sam peered over his closed fist, watching with intent as his fingers uncurled to reveal a tiny brown frog. Sam recognized it from one of his wildlife guide books as an upland chorus frog. “Not gold,” Sam noted. “Not gold,” Noah agreed. “But look! It’s a frog!” Sam looked from the frog to his cousin, and back to the frog. It looked so small, even in Noah’s small hand, and so dark against his pale palm. The frog turned in place. Its bulging black eyes met Sam’s face. In the blink of an eye, it turned and hopped away, back to the creek to be whisked away in the current. He couldn’t help but smile. “It sure is,” he said. “You oughta get back in there if you want to find a gold one, though.” Noah nodded dutifully. If there was in fact a gold frog anywhere in that creek, it was going to be Noah who found it. He shuffled back into the water, making his way past the center and toward the ledge, toward the deepest part of the water. It wouldn’t reach too high up, and his mom had said that Noah knew how to swim, that he was a strong swimmer. Still, Sam bit the inside of his cheek. He’d known how to swim, too, when he’d come with his dad. “Be careful over there,” he warned. “I scraped my leg really bad over there before. I don’t want you to get hurt.” His cousin turned to give him a thumbs up. Sam wouldn’t have listened to the same warning when he was eight. But here was Noah, a smile on his face, soaking wet denim sticking to his skinny legs. A fly buzzed around Sam’s head. He waved his hand around, but the fly was unconvinced. He grit his teeth. The fly landed in his hair, making Sam shake his head around like a dog out of the bath. He swatted at it when he saw it take flight again. It flew away, seeming to have had enough. Sam turned his attention back to Noah, who was still stand-
16 TOYON \
ing, safe, watching the water, turning over rocks. Sam gave a sigh of relief. It was too dangerous for Noah to not be even in the corner of his eye. The sun was considerably lower than it had been when they got there. Sam watched the sky for a moment, then took a moment to feel the breeze. “Noah, the sun’s gonna go down soon. You ready to come out?” “The frog!” he said. “I know, the frog,” he said. “But I told Mom we’d be back before it got dark.” “Five more minutes,” Noah pleaded, in the way young children did, where they thought five more minutes might grant them another day’s worth of time. Sam agreed, reluctantly. “Okay. But I’m not putting the itch cream on your bug bites.” Noah shrugged. “I won’t need it.” He flipped over another rock, pushing around a plant that was held in place by the stone. Something glinted under the clear blue water. Another gasp. Noah reached with his arm, then his shoulder, then his chest. He was soaking wet, but in a heartbeat, he came up, and went as fast as he could against the water, his fist closed, tight-but-not-too-tight. He waddled up to Sam, fighting his stiff jeans, and fell to his knees beside him. His fingers uncurled. In the palm of his hand, sure enough, was a small golden frog. No bigger than the last one, but no smaller, either. It was brilliant, its honeyed hide catching the sweet rays of the early summer sun. Sam couldn’t find his words. He opened his mouth, but when nothing came, he closed it again with care. “Just like I told you,” Noah said. “Real.” “Real,” Sam echoed. It was real. As real as he or Noah. He was almost scared to breathe, as if the intake of air would be too loud and scare the small thing away. He took Noah’s cold wet hands in his own, cupping his palms underneath Noah’s, like the tiny little frog was too heavy for him to hold up on his own. Noah’s fingers were so gentle. He had to
[ TOYON 17
keep them safe. He almost couldn’t take how much bigger his hands were. The frog hopped away. The two boys were quiet for a minute in its wake. “You did it.” “I did it!” Noah said, proud as ever, full of purpose. “This is a good creek spot, Sammy. We should come back tomorrow.” Suddenly, Sam didn’t want to leave. “What do you think your mom is making for dinner?” Noah asked, sitting down beside Sam, unrolling his heavy jeans and shoving his socks back onto his soggy sandy feet. Like he didn’t know the enormity of what he’d found. After dinner, it didn’t take too long for Noah to get tired, and then not much longer still for him to get ready for bed and to be tucked in by his aunt. Sam didn’t get put to bed like that anymore—it was unbecoming of an upcoming high schooler, after all. But he couldn’t say he didn’t miss it, a little bit. One night, she’d put him to bed, tucked him in, and the next night, she didn’t. One day, she’d picked him up, put him down, and the next day, she didn’t. One morning, she’d left a note in his lunchbox, tucked between the sandwich and the ice pack, and the next morning, she didn’t. It was almost too much for Sam to bear. She let him stay up until his usual hour, watching television next to her on the couch. He didn’t care for the show, and to his memory, she didn’t either, but it was something to watch. That was how it usually was. How it had been. He’d been so excited the first time she let him go to the creek alone, with just his friends, no grown-ups around. Something was different now. And when he was in bed, he found that for the first night in many nights, he couldn’t sleep. He squirmed under the covers onto his left side. Maybe his dad would open the front door at any second. He rolled over onto his right side, pressing his face into the pillow. Maybe Sam didn’t want him to come back. His leg itched.
18 TOYON \
He plucked his pillow from his bed, made his way down the hall, and knocked on his mother’s door. He pushed it open to find her reading her book with her lamp on, the eye pillow nowhere to be seen. Her hair was pulled back away from her face, tucked into a halfhearted bun. Against the lamplight, he could see the lines forming next to her eyes and around her mouth. She looked up to see him and her face softened. Quietly, he asked, “Mom, can I sleep with you tonight?”
[ TOYON 19
4 Happy Birthday Celeste T. Colmenares There were nine individual candles on my birthday cake that year. I wanted one single solid candle, shaped as the number nine. My mom told me that the one candle would cost five dollars at Party City while the pack of 100 from the dollar store would last us a whole year’s worth of birthday parties. This was the case for every birthday. It had been reinforced, “You’ll get something, and it doesn’t have to be something that you want but you should be grateful anyways.” So there was no need to be sour. There never was. Because acting sour was acting spoiled which we, for one, were not. I was haunted by this each time my family stole food from my daycare and went to the thrift store to shop instead of the mall. My parents made sure that my sisters and I knew we were not spoiled. But that night, I sure did feel like it. On that Thursday night inside of Shakey’s, I had made it to the big times, in terms of playground banter. I played in a game room crowded with sweaty gamblers that reeked of pubescent aggression that was soaked within their greasy hair. The flashing rainbow of illumination and blaring beeps, dings, and theme songs coming from the machines reminded me of similar machines that stood beyond the thick bold outlines in hotel lobbies. But instead of this room smelling like cigarettes and flabby skin, it smelled like a cafeteria on a rainy day when all the children are crammed in there and you can smell the person next to you, the person across the room, the breakfast they served earlier, what they
20 TOYON \
served the day before, and the bleach layed over the throw up residue in the restroom. I played eight dollars worth of arcade games and when I went to ask my mom for another wrinkly bill to flatten into a coin exchange machine, she said, “Don’t ask me for any more. That’s enough. If you want more money, then open presents.” That was always an uncomfortable move, opening presents just to immediately utilize the green paper hidden in between vibrant birthday cards. So, I asked her for my dad. I wanted his money now. I thought I could get away with acting spoiled for a minute. When she said he still wasn’t on his way I wondered why he had to work so late. But I thought I saw him at home. He was in the apartment complex parking lot. But maybe I didn’t. My mom said I didn’t. So maybe I didn’t. The rundown pizza parlor was so bright and loud that I kept forgetting to remember to ask for him. But I kept thinking about him. Where was he? When was he going to show up? Maybe he was just buying me my present. I wished my mom was as optimistic as I was. “He’s not coming. He’s busy. He’s doing ‘his shit.’” She said that a lot, but she never did say what “his shit” was. So, I grew up thinking maybe it was cigarettes that made someone neglectful. Maybe he was smoking again from the glass pipe I found in his car that one time and maybe it was that stuff that made him forgetful. Maybe it was that other stuff that would smell up the house. The stuff that he always needed capsules for, and papers, and cards, and spoons, and strings, and pipes, and lighters. Maybe it was that stuff that made him careless. I cancelled out drinking because his drinking didn’t make a mess in the sink the way that other stuff did (the stuff that got my mom really mad). His excessive drinking was only a problem when we were in public, not in the privacy of our home where only our apartment neighbors could hear the shouting and slammed doors. Also, my mom never called Bud Light “his shit.” I was a child corrupted by fantasy. I was a fool who
[ TOYON 21
searched for him amongst the crowd of his blood relatives singing happy birthday to me. Where was his bald head? Where was his bigote? Where was his overworn Brady jersey that he wore on game days? Where were his tattoos? I did not turn around while my guests sang to me. I usually did, to keep an eye on my favorite man. This time I just focused forward. I looked at all the smiling faces that I saw every year. I saw the party decorations hanging from the ceiling fans (dog-themed because The Dollar Tree didn’t have other unisex options), I saw a young female worker getting scolded by a man in a different color work shirt than her, I saw an overtly sexual Carl’s Jr. commerical filling space between the 1st and 2nd down of the Patriots game, but I never looked back. I did not turn around. I never did, because he was always there. He usually was. He was supposed to be. Ready to shove my face in the cake as soon as I blew out my candles. He always did, on all my birthdays, to all my cousins, to all my sisters, to all my family, but he did not do it for me on that birthday when I had nine individual candles on my birthday cake. My face did get shoved in the cake that year but that time I really did not want it to. But still, I forced a laugh so hard it made my shoulders move, though it might have just been dry heaving from the disappointment. The person who dumped my face in the cake has an identity that remains unknown, because it does not matter the way it never did. I blindly walked to the bathroom with my arms out in front of me. I used my crashing to guide me. The walk felt like forever. Was nobody going to help the little girl with the new pair of Converse on? Where was that boss man that was yelling at his employee earlier? I could have used his help. But instead I persisted, with frosting swallowing my eyelids and clogging both of my nostrils. I struggled to breath and suffocated on the sweet fabricated neon paste on a pastry that signifies nothing more than a celebration of a year closer to becoming my parents.
22 TOYON \
[ TOYON 23
3 Kutogunduwa (To be Overlooked) Marc Eichen I. You know, cousin Juma, it is all too easy to concentrate on the small things and fail to notice the big things; those things that are absent, those things that look us right in the face. The road is sealed so those going by can pass without so much as a wave. You must think it was always this way. But when I was young, well before you were born, what was the road, crushed stones? And before that was it deep red earth, rutted when the rains came, choking us with dust the rest of the year? Years ago, my father, your uncle, would sit in front of our shop, where the road petered out to little more than a path, selling fruits and vegetables. Those passing would slow to greet him, to ask about our family, about the weather, about Kidonge, our village, our shehia. It was difficult for me to believe he knew everyone who stopped but he opened his hand to all. “You are welcome to join us. God has been good to us here. The children will be healthy. The rains will come in abundance. And the farms of our neighbors will bless us with their goodness, their shade and their fruit. Insha Allah.” “I swear,” you say to me now, Juma, “I heard this in my dreams.” I’m laughing. Because when you say this you pull at your face as if you’ve found a familiar bug stuck once again in your ear.
24 TOYON \
Were my father’s words a prayer? Maybe he thought if he said it a hundred times, a hundred thousand times… If he said it to every person on the island, it would come to be true. You had already come to live with us after your parents died and you asked at the mosque, just after my father’s funeral, “Who is to say these prayers did not help us, at least a little?” But my father was more than a jovial shopkeeper; he was our sheha and a good listener. For every piece of news he shared—that one’s son has married and lives in town behind the Persian mosque, this one’s daughter, just older than you, died last year of diabetes—he received two. My father would tell me God had given him the patience to answer a question with a question. When it was time to calculate taxes and Ali, the clerk from the ZRB, asked how many new homes were built in the shehia during the past year, father would say, “My friend, who is to say what a home is? Is that boma, there on the beach with the crazy mzungu, a home? What about that shed past the field? A family lives there now. But perhaps they are staying, until God takes them someplace better, like all of us. How many new homes were built? It’s not such a simple question. Let’s have tea and discuss it.” Even I could see these negotiations would conclude in our favor. Yes, yes. I know. You remind me often, I too am an important person. I am the sheha of Kidonge. Walking in my father’s footsteps after his passing. May God rest his soul. I would not want to boast too excessively, but I have seen many changes. And so have you. You hardly went to school and can barely read or sign your name. You too have lived to see a sealed road, mobile phones, latrine toilets… And now you’re laughing, Juma, because even you have one. Humdu Allah. You complain. Yes, don’t put your hands up. It’s true. You ask why we must buy water from the truck on the days when our water tastes of salt. You say there is little work beyond
[ TOYON 25
mending nets or fixing a bicycle here and there, beyond bringing chai when I ask and helping in the kitchen. Yes, yes, I know. There is little work. Maybe it is because we have been blessed with so many young men. You say Amina’s father hardly notices you, hardly greets you when you see him at the mosque. Can you blame him, honestly? He only wants the best for his daughter. And what can you offer her beyond the life of her mother and grandmother? But life here is not so bad. Each morning as we wake we see the world is young and green. We say to ourselves that we have lived to see the many ways in which God has blessed us. But what we can’t see… What we don’t see… “What is it?” you ask me. “What is it that we don’t see?” A good question. An important question. I will tell you. What we don’t see—is a bridge. Those who come north by daladala will tell the driver to hurry until the road ends abruptly at the river, like it had been chopped with a blunt axe. And then, on the far side, if the fog has not already thickened, they might make out our village. They might see men returning from the mosque, women half submerged in the rice fields as the sun rises in the east and children darting behind sheets and khanga hanging outside each house. When the wind comes in from the shore, they might smell the smoke from the charcoal fires that bake the bread. When you were a child, Juma, not so long ago, the channel was narrow. Do you remember? I think you were seven when you hit Amina by successfully kicking a stone across the river. She told her aunt, who yelled, so the entire village could hear, that your penis would fall off that very night unless you apologized. You’re laughing, but you remember when the river was narrow enough that a single board could span it easily. Even Issa, who lives on the bank and was lame ever since a horse crushed two of his toes, was able to carry bags from one side to the other.
26 TOYON \
Now the river grows wider every year. The seasons make no difference. During dry season, even, everyone must be escorted. Those few visitors from town must leave their taxi and cross by balancing on stones. And if someone is going in the other direction, from our village, it is the same. “Place your foot here, but be ever so careful of the smooth spot on the submerged board. Watch out. Don’t step there. That stone, yes that very one, will tip under your weight.” If someone is carrying something heavy, they will not be able to cross without the young men offering their opinion and assistance for a small fee. What do you call them? Ah yes, our “crossing guards?” God forbid someone begins to cross while another person is coming from the other shore. Do you remember the time Idrissa was coming north to us with bolts of cloth, and Momfrieda was going south to town? I can see from your face that you do. They met in the middle, arguing for over an hour. Neither was willing to give way until Momfrieda threatened to pelt Idrissa with every egg she was carrying. And that is on the days when the sky is clear and the weather good. In the rains when the river is swift and even the large footing stones have been swept away, no one, not even the strongest of the crossing guards, dares to venture into the river. Some in Kidonge ask, what does this matter? There has never been a bridge. This is how life has been since before we were children. Why change now? But this is the dilemma my father understood so well. As it was then, we have the blessings to see our children and their children grow. We tell them our dreams and our dreams become theirs. This is our life and we would not trade it lightly. Yet these days the river has widened and the masika rains grow harder and longer each year. And when they do and the young men are afraid to cross, the children cannot go to school and the old people cannot get to the clinic in Masingini or Mwera. The propane gas and the plastic pots sink into the mud on the far bank while we wait. We
[ TOYON 27
are always last. And these days, as time passes ever more quickly, to be last is to be left behind forever. That why I must go to town tomorrow morning. That is why, without so much as a cup of tea, I will be standing on the other side of the river, my sandals in hand, my feet still wet, having crossed the river in darkness. And you? Maybe, if we go together you will put aside any thoughts—how do they say it in English?—that the grass will be greener on the far side of the road. Maybe if we are able to deliver a bridge, the elders of Kidonge will make you sheha, after I have retired. Or maybe, well, maybe I like your company, traveling all that way to town. II. The daladala, a converted pickup truck, squatted in the small field just beyond the river next to a couple of broken chairs, a haphazard pile of tin roofing and bales of plastic trash. Just beyond, two boys were unenthusiastically selling candy, cigarettes and pens. The way they looked over their shoulders at him, they might have been assigned this task by the man, dressed in a nylon undershirt and Chelsea football jacket, hoping to sell sweetened tea from a single cup. The seats in the cab, next to the driver, hunched over the wheel, snoring, were given to older women as they boarded. Others walked quickly out from the darkness to fill the two rough wooden benches facing each other in the back. Two women sat together. They were dressed in black buibui that covered all but their hands, which had elaborate henna designs, and their eyes, decorated with Omani kohl. Five young men, smelling of sweat and dressed in clothes soiled with concrete, plaster and paint, were squeezed together in a space that was big enough for only two. A young pregnant woman, who didn’t look older than eighteen, boarded with her daughter, maybe four or five years old, who knelt on the floor at her feet. An older man, dressed to
28 TOYON \
work in a hotel or a government office carried a worn file folder and sat on the bench across from Juma. When the daladala was almost full, the conda jumped onto the running board at the back and banged twice on the iron frame with a handful of coins. The driver awoke and in a single movement, released the brakes and jolted the engine to life as the broken teeth of the gears ground together. Every two or three hundred meters the driver pulled over haphazardly to pick up—or pass, without apology or explanation, additional passengers. The conda banged once on the frame so travelers could alight and then banged twice or yelling “Tembea” to continue the journey. When all the bench seats were taken, there was always room to kneel or, for the men, share the running board at the back. “Are you going the entire way to town?” the older man with the worn file folder asked. “Yes,” Juma replied as Abubaker elbowed him in the ribs. “No need to tell everyone.” “I don’t mean to pry,” the man continued, “but I can see how you are dressed. This must be important.” “I’m meeting with the Minister of Public Works,” replied Abubaker. And then as an aside to Juma, “He won’t believe me if I tell him we’re both meeting with the Minister.” “Congratulations. You must be a famous person.” “In Kidonge.” “Oh yes. A small place, just on the other side of the river. I’ve never been there because, you know, there’s not much there. “It’s peaceful.” “Unremarkable,” the man laughed, “like any of the hundred other villages we will pass this morning on our way to town.” Abubaker, to his chagrin in front of Juma, was unable to formulate a reply, to think of anything which made Kidonge a place worth visiting much less a place of renown. “Have you been to town before?” “Juma here has not, but he is with me. He thinks he wants to live in town. Can you imagine it?” Abubaker chor-
[ TOYON 29
tled, looking around to find some support for his view of this unlikely prospect. “Permit me,” the man said raising his eyebrows in surprise, “to tell you something. These days you have to be careful in town. Watch out for your money, particularly in the market. There are young men, probably foreigners from Congo or Nairobi, on drugs.” All the women, who suddenly appeared to be paying attention, nodded in agreement. Juma listened as Abubaker responded. “So, you’re telling me town is dangerous?” “Yes, that’s true.” “And I’ve heard it is expensive.” “It is expensive to find a place to live,” the older man warming to his own description of town life, “and there is no land to grow your own food.” While Abubaker shook his head trying to picture the place where they were going, Juma looked at the village fields as they passed. Their similarity to Kidonge made him wonder how his life might be different, different from every other Juma in every other village on the island. Except the workers, who had fallen asleep as soon as they got on and leaned over each other like a pile of unwashed clothing, everyone riding the daladala seemed to know someone in town and was planning to stay for a few days at least. One of the women in black said, “I have a cousin who lives in Amani and another in Mwanakwerekwe.” “I’m going to stay for a few days with my sister in Kiembe Samaki,” added the other. “Tembea!” The conda jumped back aboard and daladala regained the road. “Oh yes,” Juma said to no one in particular, “Amina has a brother there and Yasir Ali, his uncle owns a boat.” “It sounds like this could be a terrible place.” Abubaker’s face looked as if he had eaten rotten fish. “Why would anyone want to live there?” The older man leaned forward as daladala swerved to avoid two men pedaling bicycles, “Can I tell you a story?”
30 TOYON \
“Of course, time will pass more quickly.” “My cousin had a very small plot in the south of the island where his wife’s family lived. His neighbor had four kids, a girl and three boys.” The older man gave his file folder to one of the women so he could gesture emphatically, waving both arms as he continued. “The oldest of the boys was very naughty. He’d tangle up this one’s fishing net or throw stones at that one’s cow. His older sister, whose job it was to watch the younger children, would beat him and then, when he got home in the evening, his father would beat him again. They called him dafu because he became so hardened to the beatings. He would be good for a few days, attending school, running errands for the elders in the village. And then, the next week he’d be at his mischief again.” “Finally, his father told him he could either get a job on a fishing boat or they would send him to town to live with a cousin’s uncle.” Without a second thought he chose town. His family put him on a daladala and said that his uncle had a stall in the market. He could ask anyone to find it. They told him to send money when he could.” “His uncle gave the boy a job running errands and minding the stall when he was at the mosque. Within a month the boy got a used mobile phone and was able to send money to his mother. And then less than a year later he was able to borrow money and open his own market stall. In just a few years he had a wife, a house and twins.” “A house… a wife. And after only a few years? Allah kareem,” Juma exclaimed, thinking of his minuscule chances for either. Abubaker looked at the floor of the daladala, saying just slightly under his breath, “I’ve heard twins are bad luck.” “I know an even more remarkable story,” said one of the construction workers suddenly arising from the slumbering pile. “My friend knows a young man who worked in a hotel in town. He went up to a room to fix one of the lights and
[ TOYON 31
the European woman staying there asked for his help carrying her bags in the market. Less than two weeks later, they were married. She got pregnant and arranged for them to live outside, in Europe.” One of the women in buibui shook her head. “What can you expect from a such a woman? He’ll be back within the year. What do they really know about being married.” “Don’t believe everything you hear.” Abu said to Juma. “Yes,” replied Juma, “but there must be some truth to these stories. Everyone seems to have one.” “We’ve all heard such stories,” said the older man. “And who knows if they’re true in every detail. Town is where the very best and very worst in people are on display. You see all of it. But it isn’t what you see that’s important. It’s what you don’t see.” “What you don’t see…” Everyone in the daladala leaned forward to be sure to hear. “What you don’t see is that town makes things possible.” As the man leaned back and crossed his arms suggesting that was the end of the story, everyone on the daladala began offering their opinion about this. One said such possibilities were an illusion. Allah determined what would happen to you from the moment you were born. Another said such possibilities were only there for you if your family already had money. And another said such success was only there if you sold drugs or committed a crime. As the passengers debated and Abubaker dozed, Juma, looked at the dead-end lanes of the passing villages and repeated quietly to himself, “town makes things possible, town makes things possible,” first in amazement, then as if he was negotiating and finally in acceptance. But of what, he wasn’t yet sure. In the waiting room of the Ministry, Abubaker washed his hands and Juma discreetly adjusted his kanzu, straightening the collar and pulling on the sleeves, to make sure they made the best impression. After the appointed hour they
32 TOYON \
were ushered in to the Minister’s office, Abubaker leading and Juma close behind. Although Abu wanted to make it seem as if he went such places daily, they were both taken aback as the door to the office opened. There was air conditioning and several fans turned above their heads. The mix of sweat and dust from the journey congealed on their faces and under their clothes. “Juma, this temperature. This must be what it is like to live,” Abu paused, “in Europe.” Along with this, they were both surprised to see a woman sitting behind the ministerial desk. For an instant they both thought they had caught one of the office assistants illicitly reading official papers. But when she spoke, they realized by her demeanor that she in fact was the Minister of Public Works. “Ah, Babahamid, Mzee, Shikamoo. Karibuni kae.” She pointed, and they sat in two low, hard chairs. The size of the wooden desk and the piles of documents atop it made the minister’s head to seem as if it was bobbing like a boat barely afloat on an ocean of paper. “Marahaba, Bibi,” replied Abubaker. “So tell me, how are things in…” the Minister looked at the paper in front of her, “Kidonge?” “Life is good. The children grow, the old are respected.” “Ah, life in the country. It is so pure. I trust your journey was uneventful?” “Uneventful, praise be to God. Yes, we are all well. And your family?” “Things continue peacefully. I believe your father may have known my father, the sheha of Vuga.” “Ah yes.” Abu’s face flushed with the embarrassment of ignorance. “My father spoke of him often. A learned man.” “He instilled the love of learning in all his many children. I went to the University in Kampala.” “A very impressive achievement.” They sat a moment in silence. Juma was aware of an unseen clock ticking somewhere in the office. “How can I be of help to you this fine morning?”
[ TOYON 33
“You know our village? It is on the road north, of course.” “Of course.” The Minister looked again at the papers in front of her. “Kidonge. I know it. A beautiful place.” “It is beautiful and we manage. God provides and our wants are few.” “Indeed, God provides. Compared to God, what could the Ministry of Public Works even hope to bestow?” “True, but some small things are more in the purview of the Ministry and less in the purview of the Divine. I was hoping, we were hoping, to get your help—” “Of course,” the Minister nodded, “that is what I am here for. What we are all here for.” “You see, the road north is—” “Well kept. Although I seldom get to Kidonge because it is so far, I ride on this road often, back and forth in the ministerial automobile. Just to verify the condition.” “Indeed, men from the Ministry come several times each year to repair it. The road runs up until it reaches the river, and that is the problem.” “What could be wrong with that?” “Well Ministeress, how shall I say this? The road runs up until the river, but it doesn’t cross the river.” “Most roads do this. They end, eventually.” The Minister laughed at her own joke. “Yes, yes, your Grace.” Abu quickly laughed as well. “But it would be more…efficient if there was a… bridge.” “A bridge?” The Minister looked through the papers on her desk as if Truth were there, if she could only locate it. “Ah yes, it is here. There has been a request for a bridge for many years. Made by,” she thumbed through several layers of the paper, “your own father. You must have been a young man when he made such a request.” “That is true, your Highness.” “And I can see that the Party and Government, after all these years, finally approved this request most recently, with my strongest support. And not just for any bridge—for a modern bridge, one made from concrete and steel.” “And we are extremely grateful, your Majesty. Without
34 TOYON \
your strongest support, we are just…words fail me.” At this moment, Juma spoke up, shocking both the Minister and Abubaker, “Yes, Madame Minister, in Kidonge we are just small potatoes. And without your support, Madame Minister, we will continue to be uncooked potatoes. That is the problem.” “Uncooked potatoes. That’s a big problem. But forgive me for asking but, who is this?” “Forgive us, your Ladyship, this is…my assistant, Juma.” The Minister looked from one to the other, “Karibu, Assistant Juma.” She continued, “So if a bridge, a modern bridge, has been approved already, what is the problem?” “The problem,” Abu said slowly, “is that the river has grown. With time, it has gotten wider.” “The river is wider.” The Minister looked at the papers again. “And if the bridge is a modern one, why is that a problem?” Gaining confidence, Juma spoke up again. “You approved half a bridge.” “How is that possible. It is true at university I majored in library science and not engineering. But I would never approve a bridge that only went in one direction?” “No, no, your Grace,” Abubaker said, “it’s not exactly that—” To Abu’s shock, Juma interrupted him again. “The river has grown. It has gotten wider. The modern bridge you approved would only go halfway across the river.” Despite his interruption, the Minister avoided looking at Juma when she spoke. “Well then, there it is.” “There what is, Your Honor?” “There it is.” she repeated. “It is not our fault. Look on this paper, it’s very clear. We approved the request your father made, albeit many years ago. And that’s the entire budget.” “Yes, your Excellency, but—” “If your father had wanted a longer bridge, he should
[ TOYON 35
have asked for one.” “But, Your Highness—” The Minister shuffled the papers, closed the file on her desk and rose from her chair, “I’m certainly glad we had this meeting. You know the Government, and of course the Party, is always glad to hear from as many of the sheha as possible, even those from the small and rural areas. It keeps us in touch with the people we all serve.” The meeting was over. Abubaker and Juma stood up so as to not offend the Minister. But as she opened the door, Juma whispered into Abu’s ear, “She doesn’t know about bridges. She knows about… budgets. Ask her for the foundation only, the foundation which supports the bridge.” “Your Excellency, could I have just a moment more of your valuable time?” The Minister looked at her watch. “We are very busy here, but yes.” “Suppose instead of half a bridge,” Abubaker began, “the government could build the foundation of concrete and steel? And we, the citizens of Kidonge, could add a traditional wooden roadway.” “You want the Government to build only the foundation?” Standing behind Abu’s shoulder, Juma replied, “Yes. The foundation could span the wider river. Our crossing guards and the men in the village would add the necessary wooden roadbed as the river grows in the future.” She hesitated and Juma seized the moment. “We will build the roadway at our own expense. It will cost the Ministry less.” The Minister seemed to consider this for a moment and nodded, “Abubaker, that is an excellent idea. I’m glad we thought this through together. It’s a creative solution to a difficult and perhaps intractable problem. Let me call one of my engineers.” She dialed a number on her mobile and talked for a few moments. “He says, his crew will build the bridge supports in the river from concrete and when these are set, men from your village can build the roadbed from wood. Our road crew will continue maintaining it in the future. If this is agreeable,”
36 TOYON \
she stopped and the three of them leaned forward as if they were looking through a window into the future, “then I will write a memo to the Engineering Department. It is done.” III. The heat of the day was beginning to yield to the late afternoon as we left the Minster’s office and walked toward the market. Our kanzu were slightly stained and dusty from the day, but no one seemed to notice. The mwenyeduka called to Abu, offering plastic bins, tooth powders, kitchen containers, sharp knives, all of which were unavailable in the countryside. In the swirling dust and noise, we were treated no better than others—visitors, whores, traders and imams—but then, probably no worse. Abu purchased spices from Pemba, as well as cashews and apples from the mainland, that his cook had requested. I bought a few special khangas in the upstairs shop across the main road, and Abu did not ask for whom as he gave me money to buy mandazi and chai. We sat together and rested at one of the small tables behind the Gapco petrol station. “I suppose, Juma, I should be thanking you.” “For what?” “Well, you know.” Abu adjusted the packages and took a small sip of the tea. “For your solution to our problem. You have a good head for business. These things will go well for you when it comes time to consider the next sheha. Yes, I should be thanking you for—” “You know, baba, I am just a small link in the chain.” “What do you mean?” “If you had not invited me to attend this meeting, as your assistant, what then? And before that, if Kidonge had not asked you to meet with the Minister, where would we be? And even before that, so many years ago, if your father hadn’t made his original request, what then?” “And you think each of these steps was important?” “I think each was—how do they say it in English?—neces-
[ TOYON 37
sary but only together, sufficient.” Each of us us of us had a sip of tea and a bit of the mandazi. “And you know, Abu, I think if we don’t hurry you will have to stand all the way to our river on that daladala.” “I will? And what about you?” “Me,” I said, taking another sip and feeling the rhythm of the market in front of us. “I think I’m not going to return to Kidonge, at least not today. I think I’ll stay here in town and try things out.” It was as if I had hit Abu with a rock. “Are you joking?” “Not at all. Do you remember when you told me it was important to see what can’t be seen? Do you remember the story the man told us on the daladala? I’m going to try finding what my life might be, what I can’t see yet. To do that, I need to live here. Maybe I could persuade Amina to come and claim the khangas I bought for her. Maybe I could persuade her father that I am more than a simpleton, not even worth a greeting. Or maybe not.” “But what about the next sheha? What about your future…in the Kidonge? Yes, now you are uneducated. You work in the fields. Now, you are,” Abu stammered, seemingly wanting and not wanting to speak his mind, “nothing.” “Exactly. And that is why I want to live and try my luck here. Even if I become sheha, it will be many years in the future. I am uneducated. I have no land and no wealth. For so many in Kidonge, I will always be less than nothing. My life will be a bridge to nowhere.” “That’s not what I meant.” “Yes you did. And you spoke the truth, baba. So please let me finish.” “In Kidonge, that is my life now and that is what my life will be for as long as I live. But if I come here, to town, my life might be something else.” “You want to be one of those?” Abu said, pointing at men struggling to haul vegetables in a cart with a broken wheel. “It is true, baba, this is where life will start for me. I
38 TOYON \
might be a broken wheel, at first. But if I push hard enough even those wheels can begin to roll. There is no guarantee. Mwalimu mdogo taught me a little English and you said yourself, I have a head for business. If God is good to me and if I have some luck, here I have a chance at a different life, a life which has not been already written from the time I was born. For this reason, I will stay in town.” Abu took my cup and dusted off my kanzu. We looked at each other. His brown eyes were wet and his skin reflected the dusty sunset in the harbor. Over his shoulder I could see the ferry coming in from the mainland and the fishing boats letting the wind take them out for a night’s work. “I will go to the mosque tomorrow morning and pray for you,” he said. “Pray especially for your future.” “May Allah hear your prayers.” We wished each other a safe journey. For me to wherever God might take me. And for him to Kidonge. A place where the children share our dreams and the sheha might answer a question a question with a question. A place just beyond where the road ends, where the river meets the sea.
This story was translated to Swahili by Shani Khalfan. To read it, scan the QR code above or visit our website. https://www.toyonliterarymagazine.org/read
[ TOYON 39
5 Germogli verdi Maurizio Castè La città si sveglia, attonita. Dunque Non eravamo immortali. La natura non ha del tutto Gettato le armi È ancora possibile la disfatta. Povere scimmie angosciate! Se unissimo le nostre fragilità Potremmo scampare il diluvio O perlomeno Affogare con dignità Ma ognuno è troppo occupato Ad afferrare il ramo più in alto. Su gli alberi, intanto, affiorano Teneri verdi germogli. Mi consola che il mondo Se la cavi benissimo -E forse meglioAnche senza di noi.
40 TOYON \
Sprouts of green Maurizio Castè
Translated by Toti O’Brien
The town wakes up in awe. See, we weren’t immortal. Nature hasn’t surrendered yet, not in full. We can be defeated still. Poor anguished monkeys! Should we unite in our frailty we could escape the flood at least drown with dignity. But we are eager to reach, first the tallest branch on our own. Meanwhile the trees bloom with tender green sprouts. I am relieved. The world can manage without us. Perhaps better. Without us.
[ TOYON 41
1 “My woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice”: Poetics of Sensuality as Reclaimation of Memory and Self in Yesika Salgado’s Tesoro Jessie C. Bullard I am built of colors. I have named them holy and they each bring the poems to me. look at the cursive of my flesh. it is how the stories arrive. it is how they leave. with me. intact. inseparable. complete. Yesika Salgado, “Canela” from Tesoro Introduction: Salgado’s Poetics of Sensuality and a Framework of Resistance Within Yesika Salgado’s second poetry collection entitled Tesoro, stories comprising familial grief and love, linguistic and bodily identity, sexual awakening, relationships, and decay in living and dying are presented within five sections. Salgado explores the tension between memory and erasure, particularly for Latino/a individuals in the city of Los Angeles where Salgado’s poems are mostly set, and its relations to questions of collective trauma and intersectional suffering. This tension is additionally depicted through the dichotomy of trauma and healing, wherein Salgado’s meditations upon familial strife, perseverance, grief, and death raise questions about reclamation of one’s self as a way to begin healing generational wounds.
42 TOYON \
The framework of Salgado’s poetics has been raised within several discourses concerning language, memory, and survival. Gloria Anzaldúa addresses the importance of language as connection to one’s identity in her essay “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” from her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Anzaldúa asserts that ethnic identity is “twin skin” to linguistic identity, underscoring the importance of accepting her language(s)—and having them accepted—in order to accept herself (39). In a similar way, Allison E. Fagan’s chapter “Negotiating Language” offers a contextual understanding of the difficulties that surround the asserting of linguistic identity. Fagan extends Anzaldúa’s discussion of this linguistic tension enveloped within linguistic identity by addressing the decisions involved in representing Latino/a texts. This connection between language(s) and identity can be further delineated within Karina Oliva Alvarado’s work with cultural memory in her essay “Cultural memory and making by US Central Americans.” Alvarado examines artistic works that she argues contributes to “diverse constructions of Latinidad in the United States through counterpoetics, countervisuals, and counternarratives” (Alvarado). While Salgado’s collection, as a whole, serves as a counterpoetics to the oppression of cultural identity and community, her poems that seem intentionally to invoke the senses are perhaps the most powerful in achieving what Alvarado describes as reactivating perceptions of home or belonging. In particular, her poems “Tesoro,” “Canela,” “A Guanaca in Los Angeles,” “La Americana,” “Tamales,” “Mami’s Cooking,” “Survival Tactics,” “Echo Park,” and “She Names You Corazón” offer visceral, corporeal experiences in carrying and responding to trauma and celebration. Salgado’s invocation of the senses through language, food, and the body reveals the ways in which her poetry confronts forms of cultural erasure through generational trauma, colorism and racism, while also preserving collective and individual memory in relation to family, culture, language, and self. Moreover, she elevates experiences of joy and liberation
[ TOYON 43
within her poetry through celebrations of memories revolving around language, food, and the body—all of which Salgado reflects through representations of her family, her city of Los Angeles, her Salvadoran culture, and her brown body. “I am my language”: Salgado’s Sensual Resistance to Monolingualism Salgado negotiates the tension between visceral trauma and healing by invoking the sensual, specifically through language, food, and the body. One of the most prevalent ways in which Salgado’s poetics invokes the sensual throughout her collection is through the constant negotiation of language. In “Negotiating Language,” Fagan discusses the accommodation-resistance spectrum many Latino/a authors are confronted with in either “[accommodating] or [challenging] the linguistic abilities of one’s readership” (210). As an author who utilizes code switching and both Spanish and English throughout her work, Salgado is quite literally negotiating the earlier tensions underscored in “Tesoro” in her uncertainty of being fully “American” or fully Salvadoran through language. Negotiating identity through language is one of the central issues taken up in Anzaldúa’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Within this essay, Anzaldúa asserts: Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself. Until I can accept as legitimate Chicano Texas Spanish, Tex-Mex, and all the other languages I speak, I cannot accept the legitimacy of myself. Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate. 39-40
44 TOYON \
Within this passage, Anzaldúa describes the frustrations of always being expected to speak a certain way for a certain audience—not by her own will or desires, but by theirs. In the demands and expectations to speak only English or to translate Spanish to allow English speakers to remain comfortable and unchallenged, or in the expectations not to use variations of Spanish she prefers, Anzaldúa’s autonomy becomes suspended and, as a result, so does her identity. Fagan extends Anzaldúa’s assertion by examining the ways in which Latino/a authors choose to engage with the accommodation-resistance spectrum. A choice that holds the most resistance towards the monolingual English speaker is to write either entirely or heavily in Spanish, so as to frustrate the reader: “By metaphorically displacing the ideal monolingual American reader and by producing texts whose poetic and cultural signifying require cross cultural competency, contemporary US Latino and Latina writers are marginalizing and even potentially excluding the monolingual reader” (Fagan 212). By marginalizing—or even excluding—the monolingual reader, Latino/a authors reclaim not only their own linguistic autonomy, but also arguably their own sense of self from the demands and expectations of a normative white ideal reader. Salgado’s collection negotiates language in a way that slides up and down the accommodation-resistance spectrum. Some of her poems are written entirely in English, with most of the poems throughout the collection code switching in both Spanish and English. One poem that is significant, though, in this discussion of linguistic resistance is her poem “A Guanaca in Los Angeles,” which is the only poem in the collection written entirely in Spanish. By including a poem in her collection that is entirely in Spanish and offers no translations, Salgado seems to take up Anzaldúa’s call to “legitimate” the tongue by choosing to not accommodate the expectations of any monolingual readers. In a sense she is freeing herself from accommodations and the question of legitimacy entirely by writing this particular poem the way she wants to write it. In addition to “A Gua-
[ TOYON 45
naca in Los Angeles,” Salgado’s “Tesoro” offers a poignant moment directly engaging with this tension of the accommodation-resistance spectrum: “were you born in El Salvador?/ y le digo que no / he says, then you are an American/ y le digo que no /I write this half in Spanish /mitad en Inglés /to show him I’m not really /una americana /or completely anything at all” (59). By underscoring that she is not “completely anything at all” through her negotiation of language—“I write this half in Spanish/ mitad en Inglés”— Salgado resists another’s desire for her to be neatly categorized as either “American” or “Salvadoran.” Rather, she writes in both Spanish and English to express her own agency in denying any label or oppressive force imposed upon her body. Salgado points to her body as a transnational site, one not categorized or defined by the limitations of national borders and its problematic historical divisions and categorizations of people. Salgado’s transnational treatment of her body as a site wherein her languages can coexist and extend outward from her, she challenges the “temporary” status given to her through oppressive forces of colonization. Her Spanish will not be made “temporary” or impermanent by the expectations to speak and write in English. Rather, she resists these oppressive forces through her making permanent both languages on her own terms. Language is a way in which Salgado constantly evokes the sensual by playing with the accommodation-resistance spectrum; depending on the reader’s own linguistic abilities, the poems will enact different emotional or visceral responses of comfort, discomfort, frustration, confusion, or clarity throughout the experience of consuming the collection. In doing so, Salgado not only creates an embodied linguistic experience for the reader, but also reclaims an embodied linguistic identity for herself. “Come taste this”: Food Invoking Cultural Memory in Tesoro Salgado also negotiates her embodied trauma and healing by invoking and celebrating the sensual through food. As
46 TOYON \
food is often linked with the intimacy of gathering, community, and cultural tradition, Salgado’s celebration of food is one way in which she transcends the suspension and erasure of trauma and reclaims a space of belonging. Salgado’s poetics as they invoke food, in particular, engage in what Maurice Halbwachs calls postmemory work. According to Halbwachs, postmemory work “actively reconstructs collective memory—transmitted intergenerationally from person to person, transgenerationally from one generational group to the next, and intragenerationally ‘from within age groups as communities of memory’” (Alvarado). Within Salgado’s poems invoking the sensuality of food, familial and cultural memory are often associated with the eating, sharing, or preparing of food. For example, in her poem “La Americana,” she writes: “my grandmother / would laugh at my sadness / what did I know of love? / I couldn’t wash my own calzones / didn’t know how to palmear any tortillas / I burned the rice” (34). In this interaction between the poem’s speaker and a grandmother figure, Salgado depicts a certain disappointment the grandmother feels in the speaker. In illustrating this disappointment, the speaker’s lack of experience and ability to prepare food—tortillas, rice—also expresses a certain sense of loss the speaker feels in their cultural connection to both food and their grandmother. In the poem “Tamales,” Salgado offers a more celebratory perspective of food through memory. She writes: Mami. Tía Marina. Tía Reina. Tía Paz. Tía Morena. Tías with names forgotten. borrowed Tías. adopted Tías. cousins old enough to be Tías. all busy at the table … I am a little girl with her curls pulled into bun. today I get to hold a ladle and scoop the masa onto the banana leaves. I pass it along to a Tía who adds the salsa. another adds chicken. another potato. another ejote. another wraps it and drops it into a pot the size of my body. 15
[ TOYON 47
Within these lines of the poem, the speaker witnesses the women in her family—her mami and tías—preparing tamales for Christmas. There is comfort and admiration the speaker expresses in watching the women in her family prepare tamales, and the poem’s form of taking on a childhood memory further invokes the sensuality of food as postmemory work. There is a connection established between these women intergenerationally because they all partake in a shared domestic space doing domestic work, but empower and bestow agency to one another due to the sharing of knowledge and company. Furthermore, the speaker ends the poem with: “my sisters call my name. I ignore them. I am learning magic today” (15). By describing the experience of watching the women in their family prepare tamales as “learning magic,” Salgado elevates the sensuality of food preparation not only to a celebratory level but to a nearly sublime level. This memory recollection of a young girl witnessing the magic of her mami and tías preparing tamales invokes the senses in a reconstructive belonging both transgenerationally and intragenerationally. Additionally, Salgado’s celebratory portrait of this moment between a young girl who has not yet experienced the sense of loss depicted in “La Americana” and the older women in her family negotiates trauma and healing generationally and reflectively. This intergenerational proto-feminist bond is, perhaps, further echoed in her poem “Mami’s Cooking,” where Salgado writes: “her smile as we eat and say que rico. her dancing eyes when we ask for more. Mami and the way she feeds us her neverending heart. come taste this. I saved you some. do you want me to pour it into a bowl? I was waiting for you” (9). The imagery of mami saving food for her children, emphasized in “the way she feeds us her neverending heart,” and the mami’s words that she was waiting for her children, reveals a safety and belonging within the sharing of food. As the young girl witnessing the women in her family preparing tamales was magical, the speaker in “Mami’s Cooking” recognizes a part of herself in both her mami’s cooking and the act of sharing food together. The call for the speaker—or
48 TOYON \
even the reader—to “come taste this” additionally invokes the sensual and intimacy of sharing food within individual and collective memory, as well as within Salgado’s poetics. “I am a brown woman who writes poetry about her brown life”: A Language of Flesh in Tesoro In negotiating embodied trauma and sensual healing, Salgado also invokes the body in order to find joy and celebration in belonging. While the trauma she identifies within her poetry is also visceral, imposed upon her body and remaining within her body, her poetics also reclaim the body as a site for sensuality and intimacy—for her own self and for those to whom she gives consent to touching her body as well. Consent is significant in the case of Salgado’s celebration of her body because of colonial relationships imposing experiences of unwanted intrusion and attention. This is shown in earlier excerpts from poems like “Tesoro,” addressed in lines like: “maybe now I’m all american/ pero yo nunca quise eso /is this how it that works?/ la colonization,/ gentrification/ vienen aunque nadie las quiera/ how do I resist being taken?/ como le hago para sentirme /less lost?” (5859). Salgado centers much of the trauma held within her body as embodied suffering caused by violence and unwanted attention, stemming from oppressive forces of white supremacy like colonization and gentrification. Another poem that conveys this nonconsensual and unwanted attention to the body is “Survival Tactics,” where the speaker interacts with a white man on a dating app. In the first stanza of the poem, the reader learns that a white man on a dating app is telling the speaker of the poem that he “likes curvy Latinas” and that he always wanted to sleep with someone like her, a “smart kind of ‘Mexican’” (Salgado 62). Within this opening scene, the transgression already occurs: a white man begins to fetishize the speaker’s body based on her appearance. He hypersexualizes her curves, while also (incorrectly) assuming her racial identity and casually sending a racist comment about Mexican people.
[ TOYON 49
The body as a site of trauma associated with white supremacy is further underscored in the second stanza of the poem. Salgado writes: “white man offers to buy me/ tickets to any concert/ says he can spoil a little brown girl like me/ he’s already dreaming about it/ how holy that would be/ how saved I will become/ white man is already colonizing/ teaching me he is God,/ I don’t know better/ it’s his job to show me/ after all I am brown/ meant to be walked on/ like soil/ hands/ backs” (62). These lines further reveal the body to be a site of constant trauma—of both phantom traumas and new traumas—for those Othered under the condition of white supremacy. Particularly, the imagery of the speaker being walked on invokes a strong visceral reaction of pain and humiliation, with both “soil” and the body—“hands,” “backs,”—nonconsensually carrying and holding the violence being perpetuated by a white man’s casual racism on a dating app, the remnants of more violent forms of racism and colonization. This is only further echoed through the gendered aspect of colonization: land is often portrayed to be feminine and serves as the historical target of conquest. Salgado’s parallel between the land and human backs being walked on, paired alongside a white man targeting her body for his own conquest, underscores the gendered aspect of colonization that targets not only a feminine landscape, but feminine bodies. It is important to emphasize the body as a site of Salgado’s reclamation of self. While the body serves as the site of trauma and suffering in her poetry, so too does it elevate joy, sensuality, and intimacy for her own relationship with her body and her consensual relationships with others. This reclamation of autonomy and the body is important in the light of testimonio, or the “[creation of] knowledge and theory through [one’s] experiences” (Latina 8). In using a poetics of sensuality that centers the body, a site of colonial trauma under white supremacy, Salgado validates the body as not only a site of significant knowledge for combatting colonization, but as a site of healing from trauma as well. In Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios, the introduc-
50 TOYON \
tion stresses the Latino/a testimonio’s capacity to capture how the body (both individually and collectively) remembers trauma: “the alchemies [that] disfigured our bodies; and yet, somehow we had found moments or processes of resistance, memory, and recovery” (Latina 14). Salgado’s poetics of sensuality fall under the genre of testimonio because through her stories and imagery revolving around language, food, and the body, Salgado finds moments of resistance, memory, and recovery. In playing with the accommodation-resistance spectrum in negotiating Spanish and English in her poetry, she finds resistance. In invoking intimate memories between herself and family involving the eating, sharing, and preparation of food, she finds memory. And, in celebrating her body and the intimate (consensual) moments between her body and other bodies, she finds recovery. Another framework to consider Salgado’s celebration of the body comes in Roberta Hurtado’s “Language of the Flesh: Colonial Violence and Subversion in the Poetry of Judith Ortiz Cofer.” Within this essay, Hurtado examines Cofer’s poetry under a lens she calls “language of the flesh.” According to Hurtado, “language of the flesh” describes a presence wherein depictions of human embodiment “[combat] colonial discourses of ‘bodies’ under surveillance, [promoting] a project of healing” (108). By re-taking the site of colonial violence, both of which are imposed upon and within the body, Salgado creates a new space of embodiment for healing and recovery. In her poem “Canela,” Hurtado’s concept of “language of the flesh” is perhaps most apparent in Salgado’s language alone. In the poem’s opening, Salgado writes: “I am a brown woman who writes poetry about her brown life. I read it out loud and my accent curls the corners of my words. I am made of two languages coiled into the braid of my tongue. I belong to this country and to the one who birthed my mother” (3). With these lines, Salgado emphasizes her experiences through an embodiment of who she is; she begins by describing herself as a “brown woman who writes poetry
[ TOYON 51
about her brown life,” removing herself from the surveillance of colonial discourse—as earlier imposed upon her in “Survival Tactics.” Rather than being talked about by a white man through racist assumptions and ownership, the speaker in Salgado’s “Canela” speaks for herself. She also touches into the sensuality of the body by describing the “two languages coiled into the braid of [her] tongue” as well as how her accent “curls the corners of [her] world” (Salgado 3). In this moment, Salgado bridges her physical body with the bodies of her languages, each full and vibrant in shaping the speaker as who she is. Additionally, Salgado invokes a birthing imagery when she writes “I belong to this country and to the one who birthed my mother.” Birth denotes physiological, geographical, and emotional facets of one’s identity as human bodies and the land itself are centered in the significance of the birth. Where one is born, and to whom, informs a perception others construct of the person’s identity moving forward. This perception becomes more invasive and dangerous, however, when one’s birth or birthing is within the systemic oppressions of colonization and anti-blackness in the U.S. However, birth is also a very personal and intimate bodily experience, and ideally a private one. Birth is an effective metaphor for Salgado’s own poetics in reclaiming her body as a site of healing because birth is a site of both trauma and recovery; the process of birth takes an immensely physical—even violent—toll on the body, causing at times physical scars and emotional wounds like postpartum depression. However, birth also creates a site of healing within the body—not only in the birth of new life, but in the more timely process of recovering from the trauma of giving birth. In this way, Salgado’s invocation of birth in these final lines not only serves to reemphasize her belonging to both El Salvador and the US, but her belonging to her own body and its recovery as well. Another instance in which Salgado’s poetics of sensuality adopt “a language of flesh” is in her poem “Echo Park.” In the beginning of the poem, the speaker shares:
52 TOYON \
on Saturdays we used to hop on the 4 headed downtown. we’d jump out at Echo Park Blvd. first, we’d hit up Fashion Forever where they sold the stretchy jeans that forgave my panza. they never lasted very long but they did the trick. one time we had a few extra dollars and my white eyeliner looked pretty dope. my best friend’s baby-oiled hair caught the light just right. we took some glamour shot pictures. 30 Within this poem, the embodiment Salgado invokes occurs on multiple levels. First, she situates the poem on Echo Park Blvd., in Los Angeles, a particular “body” Salgado centers throughout her collection. The tension Salgado feels in being “fully american” or “really from” El Salvador is often negotiated through Salgado’s choice to embrace Los Angeles as a “body” or place with which she feels comfortable identifying with. Los Angeles almost becomes its own character in several of Salgado’s poems due to the significance its “body” carries in Salgado’s own embodiment of belonging. Next, Salgado celebrates her own physical body by deriving joy from the “stretchy jeans that forgave my panza” and her “white eyeliner [that] looked pretty dope” (30). Salgado embraces her body as it is—as she sees, feels, and loves her own body. In saying the stretchy jeans “forgave” her “panza,” or stomach, she suggests that she is fat; however, the tone of this poem does not suggest a negativity to the idea of fatness. Rather, the poem’s tone seems to embrace and find moments of happiness in the speaker’s fatness. Additionally, the speaker’s admiration for her makeup offers another moment of recovery as she is admiring her own body and appearance rather than being the object of admiration for another, like the white man on the dating app in “Survival Tactics.” The difference in agency regarding the body is significant in “Echo Park” because Salgado reclaims autonomy for the speaker through “a language of the flesh.” Lastly, there is also a sensuality in the embodiment between the speaker and her friend. The speaker notes her friend’s
[ TOYON 53
“baby-oiled hair” catching the light “just right,” offering her friend a similar elevation of joy and admiration. However, unlike the “admiration” the white man in “Survival Tactics” imposed upon the speaker—where the words were a dictation of his desires—the admiration the speaker in “Echo Park” attributes to her friend leads to a shared, consensual experience of having a glamour photo shoot together, an activity that allows the women to engage in bodily recovery and celebration together. In this way, both women not only retain their own autonomy, they also reclaim an agency that is often taken from them through colonial violence. They are also able to share a form of bodily appreciation and, perhaps, sexuality that is not defined by a male or colonial gaze. Sensuality expressed through the body as a reclamation of self and healing is also conveyed in Salgado’s poem “She Names You Corazón.” The poem centers a loving and romantic relationship between what seems to be two women-identifying people. Throughout the poem, the experiences of the two women are often expressed most palpably through the body. For example, the speaker’s lover in the poem is described with special attention to the mouth: “she says she experiences everything twice, even love. first in one language then another” (Salgado 41). This centering of the lover’s mouth through the importance of language conveys the necessity of the body in what makes experience. For the speaker’s lover, language is not only a way to communicate, but also serves as an entry way into embodied experience wherein she is present with others. Additionally, the speaker in the poem describes intimate moments between herself and her lover: “she stretches her arm against yours. look baby, cafe con leche. laughs and presses her mouth to your chest. you don’t know if she is talking to you or your heart” (41). This private moment between the speaker and her lover is expressed primarily through the body, with the intimate touch of the lover’s arm resting against the speaker’s, the emphasis of voice and laughter, and again the sensuality of the mouth as it is pressed against the speaker’s chest. In expressing these private and loving moments between the
54 TOYON \
two women through bodily experiences, Salgado reclaims the body from a site of trauma and suffering. She celebrates the body as belonging not because of how bodies “identify” or how one can “categorize” bodies under colonial discourses; rather, she removes the body from this site of surveillance entirely and creates space for the body to belong by visceral, sensual experience alone—through experiences like walking down the busy streets of Los Angeles, pulling on a pair of comfy jeans, taking photo shoots with a friend, or being kissed while falling in love. One of the most poignant moments in which Salgado centers the sensuality of the body is in the poem “Tesoro.” The poem ends with a stanza describing the speaker’s memory of her mami keeping all her baby teeth in a jar, along with her father’s gold and her grandmother’s jewelry. She reflects on how Spanish was the only language she knew during this time of her young childhood, when her mami would place her fallen baby teeth into a jar. She recalls spitting out her baby teeth because she was told something “more permanent” was coming, echoing the eternal suspension of indefinite obscurity and temporariness Rodríguez describes of the Salvadoran diaspora (Salgado 60). This line can also refer to the expectation that a “more permanent” English language is supposed to substitute for the Spanish of the speaker’s youth, a type of loss present within numerous poems in Tesoro. Salgado’s decision to write in both Spanish and English then becomes even more significant due to the resistance in allowing her Spanish to become “temporary” or “lost.” After sharing these memories, the speaker asserts: “if you love me, even a little, I will call you corazón. small and pretty. like the first tooth my father pulled out of me. look at it. aqui esta. es mio. yo lo creci. aqui dentro de mi” (Salgado 59). The sensuality within this stanza also centers the mouth—the speaker’s loose baby teeth, the idea of “spitting out” what is only temporary, the awaiting of something more permanent to arrive in its place. The mouth also evokes the imagery of creation, wherein one’s voice emerges as a vessel for invention and expres-
[ TOYON 55
sion, guiding us to the meaning within the next line of the poem. The imagery of the speaker’s father pulling out her loose baby teeth, followed by the very intimate words “aqui esta. es mio. yo lo creci. aqui dentro de mi” (“here it is. it’s mine. I grew it. here inside of me”) conveys the connection between memory and the body. Salgado, again, removes colonial discourse from the site of the body by removing the surveillance that often ensconces bodily experiences for people of color in the US. While this stanza does address the fear of temporariness that Rodríguez addresses of immigrant communities under colonial surveillance, the tone shifts to focus completely on the speaker’s own autonomy in growing these parts of herself in her own body, however “temporary” they might be. She emphasizes her ownership over these parts of herself, while also embracing others in her life who have shared these parts of herself with her. Her father retracting the loose baby teeth from her mouth, her mami collecting the baby teeth into a jar, and the baby teeth then sharing a space with intimate belongings from her father and grandmother all suggest that the reclamation of the body as a site of celebration and joy not only reclaims autonomy for the self but community and memory for the collective. Additionally, Salgado’s speaker seems to address the reader when saying that they “will call [them] corazón,” conveying a sense of collective recovery and healing that the testimonio genre speaks to. Conclusion: Reclamation of Memory and Self through Sensuality By reclaiming visceral experience through language, food, and the body, Salgado’s poetics reclaim sensual embodied presence, thus also reclaiming agency and identity within her intersectional experiences. Salgado’s poetry confronts the conditions of cultural erasure through the oppressive forces of colonization and white supremacy, delineating the traumatic impressions left upon and within the body as a result of suffering. While Salgado emphasizes that the body
56 TOYON \
does remember these traumatic experiences throughout various poems in her collection, with particular emphasis on the nonconsensual or unwanted attention imposed upon her under the surveillance of a colonial gaze, her poetics of sensuality also usurp the colonial discourse of the “body” by celebrating sensual embodied experiences based around language, food, and the body. Her Tesoro, as illustrated through her poems “Tesoro”, “Canela”, “A Guanaca in Los Angeles”, “La Americana”, “Tamales”, “Mami’s Cooking”, “Survival Tactics”, “Echo Park”, and “She Names You Corazón,” utilizes a poetics of sensuality to elevate and commemorate her family, her city of Los Angeles, her Salvadoran culture, and her brown body. By invoking sensual experiences, Salgado reclaims the visceral as a way to resist erasure caused by generational trauma, creating space for readers to also confront these traumas and for collective recovery and healing.
[ TOYON 57
Works Cited Alvarado, K.O. “Cultural memory and making by US Central Americans.” Latino Studies, no. 15, 2017, pp. 476– 497. https://doi-org.csulb.idm.oclc.org/10.1057/s41276017-0093-8. Anzaldúa, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, 1987. https:// www.everettsd.org/cms/lib07/WA01920133/Centricity/ Domain/965/Anzaldua-Wild-Tongue.pdf. Fagan, Allison E. “Negotiating Language.” The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature, edited by Suzanne Bost and Frances R. Aparicio, Taylor & Francis Group, 2012, pp. 207-215. ProQuest Ebook Central, https:/ ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/csulb/detail.action?docID=1039357. Hurtado, Roberta. “Language of the Flesh: Colonial Violence and Subversion in the Poetry of Judith Ortiz Cofer.” Chiricú Journal: Latina/o Literatures, Arts, and Cultures, vol. 1, no. 2, 2017, pp. 107–124., www.jstor.org/ stable/10.2979/chiricu.1.2.09. Rodríguez, Ana Patricia. “Chapter 6: ‘Departamento 15’: Salvadoran Transnational Migration and Narration.” Dividing the Isthmus : Central American Transnational Histories, Literatures, and Cultures, University of Texas Press, 2009, pp. 167-194. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/csulb/detail. action?docID=3443396. Salgado, Yesika. Tesoro. Not a Cult, Los Angeles, 2018.
58 TOYON \
[ TOYON 59
Cotton Candy Chicory Joshua Lamason
60 TOYON \
Joshua Lamason [ TOYON 61
Ernie Iñiguez 62 TOYON \
Rest in Peace, Esteban Kylee A. Conriquez
[ TOYON 63
Concrete Sculptures Mario Loprete
64 TOYON \
S is for Sza
Justin A. Paduganan [ TOYON 65
Black Sands Meet Blue Sky Joshua Lamason
66 TOYON \
Hope on the Horizon Andy Graber
[ TOYON 67
5 È forte il vento Maurizio Castè È forte il vento E talvolta sgretola La roccia più dura Ma la sabbia sottile La sposta soltanto; In giro la spande Con implacabile furore Finché non si deposita Nel fondo degli oceani. È forte il vento E spesso schianta Una possente quercia Ma il tenero giunco Lo piega soltanto; A terra lo schiaccia Come una verde serpe Che instancabile danzi Ma intatta Rimanga al suo suolo. È forte il vento Ma quando è passato Solo ciò che è cedevole Leggero ed arrendevole
68 TOYON \
Ritorna al suo posto. Tra le macerie lasciate Dalla peggiore bufera Sopravvivono sempre Piccolissimi, splendidi Fragili fiori.
Strong, the Wind Maurizio Castè
Translated by Toti O’Brien
Strong, the wind. It crumbles the hardest of rocks and yet only shifts sand, spreading it with implacable fury until it all settles, at last at the sea bottom. Strong, the wind breaks the mightiest oak though it just bends tender reeds crushing them to the ground verdant snakes madly dancing on dirt yet keeping intact. Strong, the wind. When it’s gone only flexible, light and supple remain. Among ruins left behind by the fiercest storm minuscule, fragile
marvelous flowers are unfailingly found.
[ TOYON 69
2 Examination of Self Robert T. Pegel My sacred self, My higher self, watches my lower self, from outside myself. Observing. Never judging. Free of emotion. Knowing all is fleeting, And gone in an instant. Attach to nothing. Love everything. You can’t see yourself, your face, except in a mirror. Oh, there’s a reason why. We have to get outside of ourselves, beyond our limited minds. Our temporary bodies and our false sense of self. Where nothing good happens, if there is no connection.
70 TOYON \
Reach out. Reach out. It’s all right there, just go without looking. Your inner knowledge has the answers. There is no need to even ask the questions.
[ TOYON 71
1 Dismantling Structural Systems of Oppression Through a Revolutionized Pedagogy Ambar A. Quintanilla Introduction Imagine living in poverty and your parents juggling multiple jobs to barely make ends meet. Imagine a family of five being crammed into a one bedroom or studio apartment. Imagine coming from an abusive household, a community ridden with violence, with all odds stacked against you. Imagine feeling intellectually inferior to your classmates, constantly punished with detention or suspension, constantly being deemed as a failure, but nevertheless, school remains your only safe haven. Imagine this safe haven taken from you. When COVID-19 came about it posed new challenges and devastating threats for our Black and Latinx students who already live in these disadvantaged conditions. They were already struggling in school, struggling to exist, and COVID-19 has exponentially increased the risk factors. It is important to acknowledge that COVID-19 affected all members of society at some level, but the ones who felt the greatest impact were Black and Latinx students. Educators, parents and students are not at fault; the discriminatory systems and institutions we have in place are responsible. COVID-19 simply exposed decades of socioeconomic inequities and structural systems of oppression embedded in our educational institutions. Examining preexistent pedagogical
72 TOYON \
practices is central to understanding how society has and continues to fail the most vulnerable students in our educational system. Literature Review As a relatively new subject matter, the conversations revolving around the educational effects of COVID-19 on Black and Latinx students are limited. Nevertheless, current scholarship reveals the glaring disparities between Black and Latinx students and their White counterparts. Diane Reay, a writer, scholar, previous inner-city schoolteacher of twenty years, and current Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of Cambridge, discusses educational inequities and injustices affecting underserved communities in her article “English Education in the Time of Coronavirus.” Reay draws a contrast between wealthy families who were able to achieve the same quality of school at home and disadvantaged families who lacked the resources to benefit from at-home learning. She writes, “Appalling educational inequalities existed long before COVID-19, but the isolation of many families from community and friends, and the further impoverishment of the already poor it has caused, has exacerbated those inequalities” (314). Reay’s statement supports my claim of institutionalized racism and how the government, and even society as a whole, has failed the most marginalized communities through systemic socioeconomic inequities. In an article titled “Disparities in Education: E-Learning and COVID-19, Who Matters?” published in the Children & Youth Services Journal, Julet Allen, et al. argue that those who live in disadvantaged communities are carrying the burden from virtual learning and COVID-19. Elucidating Reay’s claim, Allen et al. express their concerns about virtual learning “because it risks contributing to and reinforcing inequitable education policies as it fails to acknowledge race and discrimination which are factors seldom measured and addressed” (209). Allen et al. deem race and discrimination as significant factors of an inequi-
[ TOYON 73
table education, which COVID-19 intensified. Some critics specifically attribute the inequities of education to lack of resources. For instance, Dr. Fawzia Reza, Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator at American College of Education, examines the “resource-driven challenges” experienced by underprivileged families and indicates that the institutionalized segregation of schools in the United States are at fault. Students are required by state or local policies to attend “public” schools in their districts resulting in the following circumstance: “Many African American and Latino students who belong to lower socio-economic backgrounds are therefore directed into schools where resources are more limited than they might be in schools with students from higher socio-economic backgrounds” (Reza 70). This approach supports my claim about oppressive systemic inequities in education because it reveals the commonality of social structures reinforcing race and discrimination through pedagogical practices. Approaching the vast disparities of inequities in education through a Critical Race Theory (CRT) lens is necessary to fully comprehend the complex institutional and social structures at work. More importantly, in the wake of COVID-19, a CRT lens facilitates in outlining the various ways in which hegemonic power structures have disproportionately failed Black and Latinx students. In addition to the preceding sources, I will integrate Ramón Grosfoguel’s multiple hierarchies/power matrix, bell hook’s discussion of the banking system of education and engaged pedagogy, Aja Martinez’s counterstory and abstract liberalism, and Cornel West’s nihilistic threat to expound on how racism has been and continues to be socially constructed and discriminatory. Understanding these theoretical concepts and the multiple forms of hegemonic power structures is valuable to achieve socioeconomic equity in education and a revolutionized pedagogy.
74 TOYON \
Argument: Socially Constructed Systems of Oppression Shortly after the Civil Rights Movements in the 60s, theorists and critics began forming new theoretical frameworks, which included racially diverse narratives, in an effort to combat and obliterate racial inequality. Grosfoguel argues that these narratives, though conceptually inclusive in their approach, strictly derived from a colonial epistemology. He critiques postmodernism and poststructuralism for “reproducing within its domains of thought and practice a particular form of coloniality of power/knowledge.” Grosfoguel conceptualizes this reproduction of Western knowledge with what Peruvian sociologist, Aníval Quijano terms “colonial power matrix.” The power matrix, composed of [W]hite patriarchal, capitalistic hierarchies, formed cultural systems of oppression by “colonially impos[ing] the ways of thinking, acting and living to the rest of the peoples in the world” through dominant social ideologies (Grosfoguel). The multiple hierarchies consequently ignore the voices from the marginalized while validating and applauding Western thoughts and concepts about the marginalized. One of the most permeating systems of oppression the power matrix produced, where “race and racism become the organizing principle,” is a pedagogical hierarchy, limiting and silencing the voices and culture of Black and Latinx students while elevating White intellectuals (Grosfoguel). Reiterating Grosfoguel’s critique of postmodernism and poststructuralism, Martinez analyzes society’s tendency to obscure dominant ideologies and social oppression through color-blind abstract liberalism. She states, “racism is endemic and central, permanent, and ‘normal’ part of US society […] operating concurrently within multiple forms of social oppression” (10). Abstract liberalism, whose intentions are to eliminate racism, does not take into account the permanence of socially constructed forms of oppression. To tackle this, CRT and Martinez’s goal is to “theorize racialized experience” in the form of counterstory, to “expos[e]
[ TOYON 75
stereotypes and injustice and [offer] additional truths through a narration of the researchers’ own experiences” (Martinez 17). She aims to decolonize and de-academize this pedagogical hierarchy by uplifting Black and Latinx voices, which I will discuss in detail in the final section. The ultimate objective for both Martinez and Grosfoguel is, of course, social justice. Grosfoguel’s power matrix can also help contextualize the disproportionate educational gaps between Black and Latinx students and their White counterparts. Those students thriving at the top of the pedagogical hierarchy have structural socioeconomic advantages. For example, they have the ability to create a makeshift classroom in their homes where they are left undisturbed; they have internet access; they have parents with a high school diploma and/or college degree, or tutors, who can assist with schoolwork, all of which a large percentage of Black and Latinx students lack. Natalie Spievack and Megan Gallagher’s article in Urban Wire, “For Students of Color, Remote Learning Environments Pose Multiple Challenges,” recognizes that these educational gaps “[do] not reflect a lack of effort on the part of families, but rather a magnification of structural inequities in school quality and home environments baked into our society.” It is important to consider how these structural inequities led to heartbreaking news stories about students who had to go the extra mile to participate in virtual learning. Reza recounts some of these stories: An Arizona news station (News 4, Tuscan 2020) shared how a student climbed a tree to connect to the public WiFi to complete his assignments on time. The principal of a school in Arizona also found three students under a blanket trying to access school Wi-Fi so that they could complete a school assignment (Buono, 2020) In California, we witnessed two girls sitting outside a Taco Bell to access free Wi-Fi with notebooks and pencils on the pavement. A Taco Bell Corporation spokesperson told CNN,
76 TOYON \
the photo of two young girls outside of a Salinas, CA Taco Bell is a tough reminder of basic inequalities facing our communities,” (Ebrahimji). In California alone, “25% (1,529,000) of the state’s K-12 student population don’t have the adequate connection and 17% (1,063,000) don’t have the adequate devices for distance learning. Ebrahimji This reality is not a consequence of COVID-19; it has been alive for decades, structurally embedded in our society, but we continuously fail to notice or choose to ignore the multiple risk factors affecting Black and Latinx students daily. Reinforcing Structural Systems of Oppression Through the Banking System of Education In addition to socioeconomic advantages, Grosfoguel and Martinez argue that hegemonic power structures maintain dominance in educational settings by sustaining and promoting master narratives. One of the forms in which this is accomplished is through the banking system of education. hooks describes this approach as “learning that is rooted in the notion that all students need to do is consume information fed to them by a professor and be able to memorize and store it” (14). The problem with this approach is Black and Latinx students cannot relate to the information that is being fed to them by these master narratives. They cannot “memorize and store it” because it is irrelevant to their everyday experiences. This negatively results in their inability to comprehend the subject matter rendering them to be labelled intellectually inferior to their White counterparts. Amy Stuart Wells, Professor and Director of the Sociology and Education Program at Columbia University, further criticizes the banking system of education by denouncing standardized testing and admissions criteria in her article “Racial, Ethnic, and Cultural Diversity Across K–12 and Higher Education Sectors: Challenges and Opportunities for
[ TOYON 77
Cross-Sector Learning.” She views these two systemic regulations as “tightly interconnected and interdependent when it comes to addressing issues of diversity and equity” (57). Standardized testing is a system of oppression that categorizes students based on their banking knowledge and does not consider their cultural and social knowledge. Moreover, to uphold the banking system of education, “teachers are held accountable for improving students’ scores on standardized math and reading tests at the cost of almost everything else that matters in education” (Wells 59). Although the Los Angeles Unified District (LAUSD) did not administer standardized testing in 2020 and does not plan to this upcoming year, students are still being measured by their academic performance, despite the hardships experienced by COVID-19. I asked some of my younger cousins in the LAUSD system, parents of LAUSD children, and friends who are LAUSD teachers if academic expectations drastically changed since the birth of COVID-19; none attested to that. They report that students are still being tested based on the banking system of education, still expected to complete all assignments and still awarded for academic excellence. The decision to suspend standardized testing does not absolve the racist systems of oppression that are rooted in our educational system. As Daniel Solorzano and Tara Yosso theorize in “Critical race and LatCrit theory and method: counter Storytelling,” systems such as standardized testing “create meritocracy, which assumes all students begin in a level playing field” (480). In difficult times, such as COVID-19, we are reminded that this is absolutely not the case. Unfortunately, students from disadvantaged communities who were already below the “playing field” are now either struggling to stay there or are falling deeper underground, which causes feelings of inadequacy. Feeling inadequate is an ongoing battle with the self for many Black and Latinx students and the effects of COVID-19 exacerbated these emotions. In Race Matters, Cornel West explores this pervading existential crisis
78 TOYON \
through what he calls the “nihilistic threat,” which leads to self-hatred, worthlessness, meaninglessness, hopelessness, and lovelessness. West defines the nihilistic threat as a “profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness, and social despair” (12). The unequal playing field given to Black and Latinx students by an oppressive society leads to this psychological depression because it “feeds on poverty and shattered cultural institutions,” such as inequitable educational systems (West 16). Witnessing White students thriving during a pandemic can trigger the nihilistic threat for Black and Latinx students, specifically feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred. The incessant reliance on test scores and academic achievements ignores diversity and cultural conditions. Failure to address these conditions hinders racial progress. Racial equity and diversity in education cannot be achieved without the elimination of power structures, such as the banking system of education and standardized testing. If we do not dismantle these pervasive systems of oppression, the nihilistic threat will remain undefeated. Master Narratives and Conservative Backlash on Racial Equity I am fully aware that this will require significant work and progress because racial equity is a threat to hegemonic power structures. Despite efforts to overturn inequities in education, conservatives to this day remain adamant about preserving master narratives. In May 2021, according to an article in the Washington Post, Idaho withheld approval of a state budget bill to increase teacher salary until H377 was brought to the Idaho Senate floor for voting. The legislature passed on April 26th, 2021 prohibiting “schools from “indoctrinating” students through teaching critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence U.S. politics, culture and law” (Meckler & Natason). Conservatives argued that CRT reinforces the narrative that White Americans are oppressors and colonizers. This
[ TOYON 79
narrative, naturally, runs counter to society’s master narrative. The fact that the deconstruction of the colonial master narrative continues to be up for debate, even after COVID19’s exposure of such inequitable educational disparities, highlights the permanence of race. There will almost always be conservative backlash in discussions of race and racism when White interests are excluded. Martinez refers to Derrick Bell’s term “interest convergence” in her CRT analysis to discuss how racial progress is “cyclical, rather than inevitable” (11). Those who belong to dominant discourses will only accept progress if it does not disrupt the colonial power matrix. In conversation with Bell’s interest convergence, Enrique and Sonya Alemán in “Latin@ interests always have to “converge” with White interests?: (Re)claiming racial realism and interest-convergence in critical race theory praxis’, Race Ethnicity and Education” assert that “[W]hite interests must get served, leaving out implications of race and racism or the discomfort of a discussion of White privilege” in order for them to become allies of marginalized communities (17). Teaching CRT implies that the U.S. was built on racism and White privilege and reduces White Americans to oppressors and colonizers. Considering Martinez, Bell, and Alemán’s dialogue on interest convergence, conservatives’ fear is not that students will learn about race and racism, but that it will devalue the master narrative. White Students’ Interests Far More Valuable than Black and Latinx Students’ The theoretical concept of interest convergence can be applied to the manner in which California responded (better yet, did not respond) to Black and Latinx students’ interest during COVID-19. According to California Public Health Department data published in an Ed Source article titled “White students in California more likely to be getting in-person instruction than Black, Latino and Asian students,” Sydney Johnson and Daniel Willis report that “about
80 TOYON \
80% of students on a free and reduced priced lunch plan, and 80% of English learners” continued to mostly receive a remote-learning education. Furthermore, nearly 90% of Black students and 85% of Latinx students attend school districts that were primarily distance learning, compared to 64% of White students (Johnson & Willis). School districts within high infection rates, such as Los Angeles, are opened slower than affluent areas (Orange County, for example) due to several socioeconomic factors: schools lack proper ventilation, COVID-19 is spreading faster in those areas and those communities tend to be overcrowded (Johnson & Willis). The majority of public schools in LAUSD lack funds and resources to properly serve Black and Latinx students because they do not benefit the interests of White America. These socioeconomic racial disparities did not appear overnight; they are merely a result of pedagogical hierarchies that have always existed and will continue to exist if no substantial institutional changes are made to our educational system. Forming a Revolutionized Pedagogy Before proposing solutions, I want to admit that I genuinely do not know if we will ever reach a place where we no longer have to theorize about pedagogical oppression, nor do I believe my proposed solutions are all-in-one. It is going to take decades to undo the educational damage COVID-19, and most importantly, decades of structural racism, have inflicted on Black and Latinx students. The emergence of CRT introduced new methodologies to expand pedagogical thinking, with an emphasis on socioeconomic contexts. Achieving a revolutionized pedagogy will require socioeconomic equity in education. The first step to attaining a socioeconomic, revolutionized pedagogy, according to West, is to examine “the distribution of wealth, power and income – a distribution influenced by the racial caste system that denied opportunities” to underprivileged communities (63). Martinez has an alternate proposal: to
[ TOYON 81
obliterate color blindness because “ignoring racial difference maintains and perpetuates the status quo” and allows for the categorization of “the hegemony of systems of domination and subordination, advantage and disadvantage” (7, 27). Once we acknowledge race as a social construct founded by capitalistic, patriarchal hierarchies, systems of oppression, master narratives, and interest convergence strategies, we can then begin to visualize a more just future for Black and Latinx students. Shifting our focus to a revolutionized pedagogy, we can begin by implementing Martinez’s counterstory, Yosso’s culturally relevant curriculum and hooks engaged pedagogy. Martinez’s method and methodology will help validate the voices of Black and Latinx students by empowering students to share testimonios about oppression and marginalization. The ultimate goal of counterstory is to critique and dispose of master narratives while concurrently recognizing “experiential knowledge of the nondominant as ‘legitimate, appropriate, and critical to understanding, and analyzing racial subordination’” (Martinez 16). In times like COVID-19, we need to remember that our Black and Latinx students are suffering. They do not have the cultural and educational resources to survive. Providing students with iPads or Chromebooks does not take into consideration their familial, linguistic and cultural conditions. It simply forms an additional barrier—a technological barrier. We need to listen to their testimonios before proposing abstract solutions that do not directly benefit their educational success. We need to ask ourselves: what social constructs do we need to address or eliminate to ensure the success of Black and Latinx students? Yosso tackles social constructs by reversing underlying cultural deficit theories through community cultural wealth. She describes community cultural wealth as “an array of knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed and utilized by Communities of Color to survive and resist macro and micro-forms of oppression” (77). Yosso shifts focus away from deficits and disadvantages and focuses on
82 TOYON \
multiple forms of cultural assets and wealth. She identifies at least six forms of capital: aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial, and resistant capital (77). These are cultural capital forms that marginalized groups possess but are not recognized or valued in education. As the educational gap continues to expand during COVID-19, we need to develop pedagogical practices that are more culturally sensitive and centered. We need to allow Black and Latinx students to bring individual, familial and communal knowledge into the classroom and rid ourselves of the structures and institutions that only serve to sustain discriminatory, racist systems. We need to praise Black and Latinx students who have had to take care of younger siblings while virtually learning, or had to turn on their cameras to expose their poor, overcrowded living conditions or had to learn to be their own I.T. person because of technological or parental language barriers or had to keep themselves motivated and engaged or had to endure the pain and sacrifices of their parents all while adjusting to a virtual learning environment. This experiential knowledge needs to be embedded in our teaching practices if we want to reduce the educational gap. A failure to do this will just add to the already existing feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred—the nihilistic threat Black and Latinx students experience. Empowering students through education is a concept posited by hooks twenty-six years ago to decrease this psychological torment. De-academizing and decolonizing pedagogical hierarchies does not only call for student-based transformations; as a community, we share a collective responsibility to engage with this transformation. Academics, theorists, scholars, professors, teachers, administrators all need to collaborate to change current educational practices into education as the practice of freedom. hooks reevaluates the role of academics: they should self-actualize and heal within themselves before teaching healing so they can create a space for resistance. She envisions a classroom that “employs a holistic model of learning […] where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process” (21). Teachers and stu-
[ TOYON 83
dents should engage and learn from one another to create a holistic classroom. Observing teacher vulnerability will deconstruct oppressive classrooms and open the space for revolutionized pedagogy, for counterstories—stories about Black and Latinx struggles, resistance and liberation. CONCLUSION I realize that by limiting my discussion to Black and Latinx students, I am excluding other races that suffer from similar systems of structural oppression. I do not aim to devalue their experiences. As a Latina who had to overcome multiple discriminatory institutional and structural barriers throughout my childhood and adulthood to reach the privileged level of higher education and financial security, as a mother of an Afro-Latino child, and as a friend of many Black and Latinx students who suffered similar conditions, I feel a personal responsibility to focus my research topic on Black and Latinx students only. As Solorzano and Yosso put it, I have “survivor guilt;” I have a responsibility to “keep the path open for those who will come after [me]” and commit myself to “breaking down barriers, abolishing policies of exclusion, and building on students’ strength, so that [I] can widen the path, clear some barriers” (488). COVID-19 has exacerbated challenges and risk factors for Black and Latinx students. These communities are, without a doubt, the ones suffering the most. I have no absolute solution to the new level of socioeconomic educational oppression that has been inflicted on Black and Latinx students. Nevertheless, I strongly encourage educators, administrators, scholars, and theorists to implement some of the CRT methodologies I discussed so Black and Latinx students can have some hope for a better future.
84 TOYON \
Works Cited Alemán, Jr., Enrique and Alemán, Sonya M. “Latin@ interests always have to “converge” with White interests?: (Re)claiming racial realism and interest-convergence in critical race theory praxis’, Race Ethnicity and Education.” 2010. Allen, Julet, et al. “Disparities in Education: E-Learning and COVID-19, Who Matters?” Child & Youth Services. 2020. Ebrahimji, Alisha. “School sends California family a hotspot after students went to Taco Bell to use their free WiFi.” CNN US. 31 August 2020. Grofoguel, Ramón. “Decolonizing Post-Colonial Studies and Paradigms of Political-Economy: Transmodernity, Decolonial Thinking, and Global Coloniality.” TRANSMODERNITY: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World. 2011. hooks, bell. “Engaged Pedagogy.” Teaching to Transgress. Routledge – Taylor & Francis Group. Reprint 2020. Johnson, Sydney & Willis, Daniel. “White students in California more likely to be getting in-person instruction than Black, Latino and Asian students.” Ed Source. 2021. Martinez, Aja Y. Counterstory: the rhetoric and writing of critical race theory. Conference on College Composition and Communication of the National Council of Teachers of English. Champaign, Illinois. 2020. Meckler, Laura & Natanson, Hannah. “As schools expand racial equity work, conservatives see a new threat in critical race theory.” Washington Post. 3 May 2021. Reay, Diane. “English Education in the Time of Coronavirus.” Forum. 2020. Reza, Fawzia. “COVID-19 and Disparities in Education: Collective Responsibility Can Address Inequities.” Knowledge Cultures. Vol. 8, Issue 3. Addleton Academic Publishers. November 2020.
[ TOYON 85
Solorzano, Daniel & Yosso, Tara “Critical race and LatCrit theory and method: counter Storytelling. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education.” 2001. Spievack, Natalie & Gallagher, Megan. “For Students of Color, Remote Learning Environments Pose Multiple Challenges.” Urban Wire. 2020. West, Cornel. “Nihilism in Black America” and “Beyond Affirmative Action: Equality and Identity.” Race Matters. Beacon Press. 2017. Yosso, Tara. “Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth.” Race Ethnicity and Education. Taylor & Francis Group Ltd. March 2005.
86 TOYON \
[ TOYON 87
5 Primer sorbo de zumo de naranja Angela M. Acosta (Al aterrizarme en Madrid, me compré un zumo de naranja del quiosco en el aeropuerto.) La delicadeza se ha convertido en mi musa, mi ángel caído del naranjo, la cara anaranjada que veo en la luna, el sabor de la frescura de la mañana. No tomo café con leche en los famosos cafés de Recoletos ni tinto de verano cerca del Prado, pero me apetece la dulzura de la fruta recién cosechada. Ya viene el taxi, y ya recojo las maletas, es la hora de pasear por Madrid después de un brindis de bienvenida.
88 TOYON \
First sip of orange juice Angela M. Acosta
Translated by Kirk Lua
(Upon landing in Madrid, I bought an orange juice from the kiosk at the airport.) The delicacy has become my muse, my fallen angel from the orange tree, the orange face that I see on the moon, the fresh taste of the morning. I don’t drink coffee with milk in the famous cafés of Recoletos nor a summer red near the Prado, but I do crave the sweetness of freshly harvested fruit. The taxi is coming, and I pick up the suitcases, it’s time to ride along Madrid after a welcome toast.
[ TOYON 89
2 Chaparrita Cyerra Colomba Guzman Why do you do that? You told me to stop breathing Stop breathing? Why would I do that? You tell me I’ll feel less My throat burns Why do you do that? How many times are you going to keep tying me up? Until I bruise and bleed? Please.. Tell me.. Am I doing something wrong for you to want to keep me closer? I keep running around with power, maybe it’s from all the blood I’ve lost. I’m all out of air. Too many breaths wasted. Another long and lonesome night with you. I feel nothing. The sun hits me harder than that.
90 TOYON \
I can’t hear over all this yelling. He yells louder and louder, and my heart gets smaller and smaller. The tension is making the paint peel. I want to trip down these stairs so I don’t have to listen to his stupid fucking spiel. Displeased with pleasure, I feel it getting tighter, harder, more aggressive. You see right through me, through my eyes, my veins, my bones. Stop searching. I keep looking at you with grace and lucidity, but little do I know the void I have yet to meet. Some days I feel so alone. My body aches, but not from the cold weather. I try to remember the last time I was happy, The last time I felt something looking at a flower so graceful. The last time I looked at you, and reminded what it was like to feel whole. I wrote this for you.
[ TOYON 91
2 Mandala Deity Ian Haight How strange this Buddha drawn to keep and prepare you for the next world. Brush strokes thick, assured—thin hairs on its head. Cat-like eyes, irises looking left the bamboo walking cane crooked at the top pocked and ridged. Shoulder, overly-pronounced, as a mountain. Pug-nosed, clichéd garbage man under the moustache a line of lip with a slight downward curve. A hair’s edge fraying defines your presence—or the blotched
92 TOYON \
pupils. This Buddha’s aura’s gray. Five years have passed and the sponge of this painting bloats. The time has come for this art to burn to let the ashes and atoms go where they will.
[ TOYON 93
2 The Sound of Grief Ashlee Murrieta There is no fill no closure When I take the pebbles from our dirt leave them on the bench overlooking the city Mouthful of lights No fill No closure I circle the hole I guard it fiercely In the crook of my arm close to my chest the echo and the hollow
94 TOYON \
2 Snowbound Q. Noah Veil Bitter is the cold, only heart’s warmth maintains me, The chill pervades as Winter takes her rightful seat... The clouds descend, fog shutters last light, Benighted, the north wind rips cloaks off, words away, Futilely steering steeds struggling for footing, Reluctantly releasing reins to trust their sense of home, Frozen, first leaning with manes whipping faces, Argent-frosted and anonymous, barely animated, Slipping from saddles iced with frozen sweat In both exhaustion and fear, clinging desperately First to reins, then snow-clotted tails, trudging blindly, A frozen image, a mirage begins to shimmer, A trembling ember within the howling maelstrom, The chasm of bent-boughed trees parts, Revealing a roaring bonfire, set heavily with wood and hope, Fur-clad figures rise as dancing shadows, rushing forward, One last vision through icy lashes, Numb in the snow, smiling as a frozen scarecrow, Our eyes meet, you rekindle my soul.
[ TOYON 95
3 The Fate of the Earth Dobby Morse It’s cloudy when I set out for Founders Hall and I don’t expect to see the bay. I wander up the walkway and note the softness of the berry bush—something my dreams failed to convey. While I could theoretically jump the rails without hurting myself, I choose not to for the sake of the bushes. I look up to a clear sky underneath the dispersing white clouds. I look up and see the bay, and I can feel the screams trapped in my chest. The night before, the bay exploded. It looked pretty at first, like fireworks. But anyone with a working knowledge of the environmental damage they cause know it’s just a farce, a front for the fire and pollution that last long after the pretty sparks fade. I write this as I pace the walkway of Founder’s Hall, watching the crows fly over the alders in circles. I turn back towards the exploding bay. Two humans walk my way. They are not screaming. Not like the night before, when all that could be heard were the booms of a natural explosion taking revenge on unnatural acts. They can’t hear the screams of humans burning to death. One of them wears heels and I can hear them clacking down the stairs. They think I’m insane. Maybe I am. Maybe I’m the sanest person alive. I was in a good mood this morning. I thought it was nice of Morpheus to concentrate my fears into a dream so that I could write today. But this anxiety is constant; it bonded to me when I was eight years old and read a child-friendly
96 TOYON \
account of polar bears drowning in their homes because of the lifestyle my grandparents led. I can still hear last night’s screams over the hum of the building. Maybe I have PTSD from a lifetime of living like this. Living under Bill Nye’s assertion that the youth will innovate new technologies that will stop the things that happened last night. The clock tower sets off a series of calming chimes, much like the therapeutic keyboard that my middle school teacher brought in. She noted that I enjoyed the forest green mallet, as if my destiny as an Earth Justice lawyer was so burned into my soul that I vibrated at the frequency of the Earth. I am twenty-two again, a writer. Just a writer that isn’t writing what they set out to write. I’ve yet to touch on the moon and her advocacy for her ailing mother as she guides her into the nursing home. The moon has always cared for her mother, and that care will wipe out countless coastal communities all around the world. But would it do any good? I have lived with this burden all my life. But others barely acknowledge it or outright dismiss it. My vegan diet and spot-wash showers matter to me, but do they matter to Earth while the military invent useless, jet fuel burning tasks to get more money, or when McDonald’s burns down the Amazon for the same reason? I’m just a writer, and not a very prolific one. I can’t save Earth with my little vegan lifestyle or even a well-written article. I can do my part to ensure that I’m not causing harm, but I can’t order all US military bases abandoned or the Amazon replenished. The youth are not your saviors. We’re just your victims.
[ TOYON 97
2 None of the Above Alison Silver You must be faking it Your own brain tells you The same brain that keeps you up at night Despite the best efforts of store brand gummy melatonin Staring into the cheap popcorn ceiling Wondering if you’d be happier If the doctor had declared that you were a boy The day you emerged from your mother The same brain that jumps for joy When a mail carrier at work calls you sir That same brain that falters When given any easy choice a form Male Female Other Decline to respond If gender is a performance then you are a bad actor Who cannot even convince yourself
98 TOYON \
Ninguna de las Anteriores Alison Silver
Translated by Kirk Lua
Debes estar fingiendo Tu propio cerebro te dice El mismo cerebro que te mantiene despierto por la noche A pesar de los mejores esfuerzos de la melatonina gomosa de la marca propia de la tienda Mirando al techo parecido a palomitas de maíz Preguntándome si serías más feliz Si el doctor hubiera declarado que eras un niño El día que emergiste de tu madre El mismo cerebro que salta de alegría Cuando un cartero en el trabajo te llama señor Ese mismo cerebro que flaquea Cuando se le da una forma fácil de elegir Hombre Mujer Otro Negarse a responder Si el género es una actuación entonces eres un mal acto Quien ni siquiera puede convencerse a sí mismo
[ TOYON 99
3 A Father’s Son Sandeep Kumar Mishra The mourners were not plentiful the day of the funeral. Charvik Sharma had not been a popular man in this life, having dedicated very little time to cultivating and maintaining relationships. Sahil, his eldest, watched the people move about in respectful silence, occasionally stopping at one of his siblings or mother to offer quiet condolences while the chanters continued through their mantras. Some made their way over to him, but he had nothing to say to them in return. Everything was too fresh. Sahil wasn’t sure how he felt about his father’s death yet. He hadn’t even seen his father for at least ten years before now, having gone off to live with his aunt while still a boy. He looked over at his mother, his brother Ishaan, and his sister Shaleena. His mother looked sad at least, but Ishaan and Shaleena looked about as numb as he doubtless did. He wondered what the past ten years had been like for them. If their father had changed at all since failing Sahil. He would never forget the first time his father struck him. It was a miserable, humid day, the air so wet that you could almost taste it. Charvik was home, classes having been let out, and was especially short of temper. Sahil, still a small child at the time, refused to go outside to play. “It’s too hot,” he remembered protesting. “I’ll melt!” His mother had gently but firmly encouraged him to go outside anyway. “You won’t melt, I promise. But you really should go outside. The sun is good for you.” “I don’t want to!” His little voice rose in aggravation. “Sahil, my darling, please go outside.” His mother looked around, fear coloring her face. It was the first time Sahil
100 TOYON \
could recall seeing his mother afraid, though it would not be the last. Charvik appeared around the corner, his face an oncoming storm, and Sahil instinctively understood his mother’s fear. “What is the meaning of this noise?” It was less a question than a demand. Sahil ventured a reply. “I don’t want to go outside.” The baleful gaze Charvik leveled at his son burned into the young boy’s soul. “I heard your mother tell you to go outside. Why do you stand there mewing?” “I—” SLAP. “Do as you’re told! If I see you in the house again before supper you will get twice as bad!” Tears ran unchecked down Sahil’s face, and he bolted through the door before his father could rebuke him for those, too. Oblivious to his surroundings he fled off into town, and did not dare return home until well after dark. “Sahil?” Sahil glanced over to find his sister standing beside him, her previously numb expression now one of concern. “Yes, Shaleena?” “I just... I wondered if you were alright. You’ve barely spoken a word since coming home.” Home. This was not his home anymore, hadn’t been his home since he had been sent away. “I’m fine. Just a little impatient to be done with this.” Shaleena nodded. “You and father never did get along.” Sahil gave her a glance. “You say that as though I am unique in that respect.” She shrugged slightly. “He... tried, I think, to make some small amends. He never apologized, not in as many words, but he was... softer.” She hesitated, as though weighing her words. “I think he missed you.” Sahil scoffed. “I find that unlikely.” Shaleena was quiet for a long moment after that. “Well, I missed you at least. And I’m glad you came back, even if it’s just for this.” She briefly touched his arm, then moved back
[ TOYON 101
towards their mother without further comment. He allowed his mind to wander again, passively listening to the chants and watching the dancing flames of a candle. “I know your father was very cruel.” Sahil shook his head and looked over to where his Aunt Shashi was addressing him. “Perhaps he will be kinder in his next life.” Sahil couldn’t reply to that. He wasn’t certain his father deserved another life. “I am sorry you did not get to say goodbye,” his aunt ventured again. She was a kind woman, almost a second mother to Sahil, but she was too forgiving. “I am not.” The first words Sahil had spoken since the funeral began. “We said everything we needed to say to each other a long time ago.” A young Sahil stood nervously in his father’s cramped office. Their small house afforded little enough space for their steadily growing family, yet Charvik refused to give up this room. Sahil had no idea what it was for, he just knew that his father’s claims to it meant that he and his new brother Ishaan would be sharing a room. “Your brother will be your responsibility,” he remembered his father saying sternly, eyes intense and hard. “I expect you to take the responsibility.” Sahil didn’t speak. He knew by then that discussions with his father were not truly discussions, they were just brief moments when his father bothered to remember he had a child long enough to impart specific instructions. Any words on Sahil’s part would earn him a backhand, and that was if his father was in a decent mood. “That means helping your mother feed and change him, teach him, and—” “Keep him out of your way?” The words were a mistake—Sahil knew that before he said them, but sometimes he couldn’t help himself. He stood defiantly as the fury entered his father’s eyes. He would feel the repercussions of that remark for a long time, and remember them even longer. Sahil wasted no time after the traditional ten day mourn-
102 TOYON \
ing period to get back to his life. The fact that he even had to take ten whole days off irritated him, and he was unreasonably short with his family because of it. He wanted to leave this house and its memories, wanted to get back to his own wife and child and job, and wanted to burn the past away just as the body had been burned. On the tenth day his brother found him alone and sat beside him. Sahil looked over skeptically; he and his brother had never been close and disagreed often, and had hardly spoken to each other these past days. “I assume you plan to leave with the sun,” Ishaan began, not looking over. “Before the sun, if I can manage it. I have a long ride home and the earlier I start the earlier I am back where I belong.” Ishaan shook his head. “You never cared for home.” “You make it sound like I chose to leave in the first place,” Sahil countered, frowning. “Perhaps not. But you did choose not to come back.” “Father—” “Damn it, Sahil, this isn’t about Father!” Ishaan stood suddenly with this outburst, spinning so he looked down at Sahil. “You left more than Father behind! You left Shaleena and Mother too, or did you think being sent away to school freed you from your responsibilities as eldest?” “I checked in when I could. Everything was under control, and Father didn’t want me back besides.” Ishaan threw his arms in the air. “Typical Sahil. Always running from Father. If you only gave him the respect he deserved, perhaps—” “You want to talk to me about respect?” Sahil was standing now. “You call abusive behaviors worthy of respect?” “He was our father. He deserved your respect regardless.” Ishaan began to head back inside, but paused in the doorway. “But I don’t see you’ll listen to me. You’ll just run, like you always have.” By sunrise on the eleventh day he was packed and ready to go, not even staying for breakfast. He had nothing more
[ TOYON 103
to say to his mother or siblings, and they had lived the past ten years without him; there was no reason to stay here any longer. So he quickly and quietly slipped out of the home of his childhood to catch the first train of the day and refused to look back. As he walked, his thoughts wandered. He looked forward to home, hoped the train was running on time, hoped his wife Viha had set aside some dinner for him, and a thousand other thoughts like these—anything to get his mind off where he was and what had just happened and get him moving forward. He was so focused on putting the past behind him that he didn’t notice the football until it was almost too late. With a small yelp he bobbed his head to the side, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with the flying ball. He shook his head, startled and confused, and looked around for the ball’s owner. He spotted them easily enough, a young boy— who was smiling apologetically—and his father—who was laughing—just down the road. The father jogged towards Sahil. “My apologies,” he began, still laughing a little. “My son and I like to come out for a little game before I have to go to work, and we are unaccustomed to sharing the road so early.” Sahil took a moment to gather his wits before answering. “Ah... it is alright. I was not hit, so no harm.” His eyes drifted back to the boy. “You two do this... often?” The father nodded. “Most mornings. I work long hours, so I cherish the moments I can. Surely you can understand this?” Sahil looked back at the father. Such genuine happiness, speaking about his son, was something Sahil did not understand at all. “Sahil, why does father never come out to play with us?” Sahil didn’t turn to look at his little sister. Shaleena was barely five, but already she was noticing that their house was not like the houses of some of her friends. Her father was practically a stranger to her, only seen at meals and on
104 TOYON \
holidays. No great loss there, Sihal thought with no small measure of distaste. “Because he is too busy,” Ishaan said when it was obvious that Sahil had nothing to say. “Busy with what?” Ishaan paused. “Work, I guess.” Shaleena clearly didn’t understand, but filed the information away nonetheless and pressed on to her next question. “And why is he so sad?” This got Sahil to speak. “You think he’s sad?” Shaleena nodded and Sahil scoffed. “Why do you think this?” “Because he never smiles. Sad people don’t smile.” It made sense, in a little kid logic sort of way, but Sahil had trouble picturing his father’s constantly sour expression as anything but angry. “He isn’t sad,” Sahil said finally, frowning at the football by his feet. “I don’t know what he is, but he isn’t sad.” This confused the little girl more but Sahil chose that moment to kick the ball and she took off after it, screaming with joy. Ishaan looked at Sahil and frowned. “Don’t speak of our father like that.” Sahil rolled his eyes and watched Shaleena run. “Why not? It isn’t like he’s around to hear us, and even if he was he never listens to anything we say.” “But—” “I don’t want to hear it, Ishaal. Come on, let’s catch up to Shaleena.” Given the early hour the train station was thankfully quiet, and Sihal managed to purchase his ticket and board with minimal wait. He also had his choice of seats for the long ride ahead of him. Settling his luggage above him, he sat heavily and sighed, thankful to be on the way home at last. The rest of his day promised to be an easy one, as it was nothing more tedious than waiting until he reached his stop that evening, then getting a cab to take him home. Comforted by these thoughts, he drifted into a light nap as the train began to move. When he stirred a few hours later, he noticed the car was
[ TOYON 105
significantly more crowded than it had been, with nearly all the seats outside of the one directly beside him taken. He also noticed a lone man who, noticing that Sahil was awake, headed his way. “A thousand apologies, sir, but is that seat taken?” He indicated the seat beside Sahil. “No. Please, sit.” The man nodded his thanks and situated his own luggage, pulling out a well-worn book before stashing the bags, and settled into the seat. Sahil’s eyes were instantly drawn to the cover. The man noticed Sahil’s attention and held the book up for better inspection. “I take it you are familiar with ‘Songs of Kabir’?” Sahil startled at the man’s question as though shocked. “Oh, ah, not as such. Or rather I have not taken the time to read that particular collection myself. Someone... I knew, they did. Spoke of it very highly.” The man nodded understandingly and began flipping through the pages. “It is a good book. If you have any love of poetry, I highly recommend it.” “I... shall keep that in mind.” “Are you a student of poetry?” “I teach a high school literature class and occasionally write my own pieces. Nothing worth publishing, but....” The man nodded. “It’s nice to put thought to paper?” “Exactly. And poetry has always been special to my family.” “What are you reading?” Sahil looked up from his own perch across the room from the conversation, watching where Shaleena had approached their father’s armchair and interrupted his reading with her question. He instinctively tensed, waiting for the cold dismissal or fiery rage at being disturbed; the first would cause Shaleena to run away hurt and Sahil to follow so he could calm her down, and the second would be directed at Sahil for not keeping her distracted in the first place. Either way it was about to become Sahil’s problem. Yet Charvik did neither. Instead, he looked up slowly
106 TOYON \
and studied his daughter for a moment, as though trying to remember who she was and how he should react. Then he closed—actually closed—his book in order to show her the cover. “This is a book of poems. Can you read the title?” Shaleena squinted at the letters. “Songs of Kabir?” She spoke slowly, careful to get every word correct. Sahil couldn’t help but be a little impressed. He hadn’t realized her reading skills had progressed so far. Charvik smiled at her, and Sahil frowned in confusion. “That’s right,” their father said, sounding pleased. “Would you like to read some poems with me?” Sahil looked back down to his own book, but he couldn’t focus on the words anymore. That was the kindest he’d ever seen his father behave towards anyone outside of their mother. He watched and listened as Charvik read to Shaleena, poem after poem after poem. He didn’t seem to grow tired, or annoyed, but rather he seemed almost... happy. “Are any of these by you, dad?” Charvik paused at that question. “No. I have written poems, but I have not been so blessed as to have them published.” “Maybe someday?” “Yes,” he said, a wistful look in his eyes. “Maybe someday.” Hailing a taxi to take him from the train station to his home didn’t take long, thankfully. It was already much later than Sahil had hoped to arrive home, as a scheduling mixup with a different train had caused a delay of nearly two hours, and he was now more anxious than ever for the comfort of his wife and bed. As he was driven across the city, the driver made occasional attempts at small talk, most of which Sahil answered with polite but short replies, doing his best to avoid a protracted conversation. One comment, however, caused him to pay attention. “Are you excited for the start of Onam tomorrow?” Sahil blinked. “That’s tomorrow?” The driver nodded. “I love Onam, personally. Well, specifically the Onasadya Feast, but the entire festival is fun.”
[ TOYON 107
Sahil glanced at the driver’s bulky figure and guessed that the man did not save feasting for the festival alone. “Do you participate?” “Hurry, Sahil! Father wants us to be among the first visitors to the temple!” Sahil groaned, stretched, and tried to rub the sleep from his eyes. “The... temple?” “Yes, the temple!” Shaleena was entirely too excited and loud for this early hour. “It’s the first day of Onam!” Sahil shook himself more fully away and swung his legs over the side of his bed. Onam... he smiled a little as Shaleena scampered off, her mission accomplished. Father was always in high spirits during religious festivals and holy days, his usual dour expression lightened and stormy mood calmed. He might even be persuaded to give his children treats, so long as all the proper observances are met. “It is a holy day first and a festival second,” he would solemnly intone. “Be respectful of that.” And they were. They were quiet and respectful, said the correct chants to the best of their abilities, and answered every question Charvik had for them about the origin of Onam. Then, finally, the religious observances were finished and it was time to decorate. Their house was never so clean as it was during Onam. Everything practically sparkled with the effort put into cleaning. And between Shaleena and Charvik it was harder to find a house more thoroughly decorated, either. A veritable hillside’s worth of flowers were braided together and hung on every door frame and window. Sahil looked at the flowers and frowned. What was it about flowers and a stupid festival that suddenly made his father so cheerful? Why couldn’t he always be like this? He wanted to tear all the flowers down. Sahil slipped quietly into his home, unsure if his wife was still awake and knowing their infant son was not. He paused just inside, seeing the flower decorations all prepared for Onam. A frown tugged briefly at his lips, but he shook it away; the holiday had never done him any harm. Setting his
108 TOYON \
luggage down in the entryway and taking off his shoes to make as little noise as possible, he made a quick walk of the house. Everything was spotless. His wife had done an excellent job keeping up with the cleaning, even with the added responsibility of their newborn. He smiled slightly as he paused by the dining room table, laying a hand on their son’s highchair. She is a good woman. I hope I am a good husband to her. He wondered briefly if his father ever had the same concern. He moved into his office and saw everything was just as he had left it. It was, by agreement, the only room she didn’t routinely clean, as Sahil had his own method to the seeming madness. He knew where everything was and that was the important part. He looked over his papers, his bookshelf, the grading pens and the half-finished poems, and he frowned. It looked remarkably like how he remembered his father’s office being laid out. How had he never noticed that before? “Am I becoming my father...?” The question was asked quietly, barely even whispered, as though Sahil was afraid of the answer. In a way he was; were not all men their fathers’ sons? What hope did he have to build a better life for himself when he mirrored his father in even this tiny detail? In what other ways had he shaped himself after a man he... he what? He missed. Here, in the darkness and the silence, he could admit it. He missed his father. Or, perhaps put better, he missed the idea of his father. He missed the connection he saw so often, even just coming home from the funeral. Someone he could talk to, someone he could play ball with, someone who led by example and listened to the worries of his children. Charvik had never been any of those things for Sahil, but he’d seen glimpses of that man in the way Shaleena interacted with him, and wondered if he had changed at all after Sahil had left. If he really had missed his son as much as his son now missed him, as Shaleena had suggested. “It’s too late for regrets,” Sahil told his ghosts, trying to
[ TOYON 109
push them away. “He’s dead. Whatever that may mean for him, it means to me that he is beyond reach.” Forgiveness and healing were beyond Sahil’s reach; there was no saving Charvik’s memory or salvaging the relationship. The abuse, the neglect, and the fear were all Sahil had to remember his father by, were Charvik’s only legacy to his son. But Sahil was more than his father’s legacy, more than the abuse and neglect and regret. He would prove that, to himself and to his family. Sahil left his office and its ghosts and headed up the stairs. He paused midway up to look at the pictures hanging from the wall—him and his wife on vacation, on their wedding day, on the day they brought their son home for the first time. They were happy in those pictures. Sahil knew true joy in every moment captured and it showed. He thought back to pictures of his father; Charvik had rarely smiled in person and never for the camera. Even in the oldest photos he looked serious and stoic, never expressing joy in his life. “I am not you,” he whispered, wondering if Charvik’s spirit could hear him from wherever it had gone. “I will not be you.” He finished climbing the stairs, bypassing his own bedroom to check on his son. The child was sleeping soundly, completely oblivious to the presence of his father, and Sahil smiled down at the small bundle. Resting a hand on the side of the crib and nearly crying for reasons he couldn’t explain, he made his son a promise. “I’ll do better. I swear, I will do better.” The floor creaked softly, and Sahil looked over his shoulder to see his wife, wrapped in her dressing robe, squinting sleepily at him. “Sahil?” Her voice was barely audible, and he quietly crept over to her after a final look at his son. “I didn’t hear you come in.” She squinted at him again, then reached out and touched his face, concern taking over her expression. “You’re crying! What’s wrong?” Sahil cupped her hand and smiled. “Nothing. Come, let us go back to bed. I am ready for today to end and tomorrow to begin.”
110 TOYON \
[ TOYON 111
2 Pompeiian pottery Richard S. Spilman Small shards bound in dirt. Signs tell us these are the past’s property. But they’re so familiar we can’t resist. They’re us blessed by age and tragedy. At Laguardia, the agent sees bits of trash and drops them among the socks. We keep them in felt, take them out to rub between our fingers. Charms to ward off what? We can’t say, but no denying the comfort they bring, still slick from use, jagged at the break.
112 TOYON \
2 Darnella Patricia K. McCutcheon Only seventeen, she changed the world when she heard a man begging for his life and hit RECORD. In him she recognized her dad, her brothers, friends, saw immediately it wasn’t right. Struggling, to breathe, he lay there. Dauntless as a black Athena, her weapon not a spear but a cell phone, she stood her ground when the cops threatened to mace her. She filmed ten minutes, shaking this country and beyond. Enraged by a bogus press release claiming the man died “after a medical incident during police involvement,” Darnella posted her video,
[ TOYON 113
put a match to kindling, wildfire erupting as the video went viral: Chauvin grinding his knee into George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds. A steely-eyed witness, she exposed a cop snuffing out his life, a helpless, handcuffed, dying man, at the end calling out for his mother went viral to millions, including me, including those twelve jurors in Hennepin County Courthouse. And now Darnella tries to sleep at night, tries to put aside her feelings— heartsick, enraged, powerless. Instead she cries, apologizing over and over to George for not doing more, for not intervening, for not saving his life. I too try to sleep at night, having seen the gruesome video, listened to the trial
114 TOYON \
for weeks, heard the verdict. I too try to put aside my feelings— angry, sad, relieved. Struggle with my white entitlement, know I’d have never had her Athena courage, search for what more I can do than apologize.
[ TOYON 115
2 The Queen of My Heart Walid Abdallah My mother, the queen of my heart Eternal love that will never depart You gave me life and soul Your name is on my heart wall I see the world with your eyes You are the true love that never lies You feel my pain before I say I love you more every day Whenever I feel lonely and desperate You’re always there, you’re never late Your love is always there for free Without you, I would never be Mom was the first word I said The first thought in my head You have every beat my heart sends You’re the backbone that never bends When you smile, I feel secure When I am sick, you are the cure Stay with me and never say bye Without you, my heart will die
116 TOYON \
5 Pulpa Guido Setton “No busques en el espacio lo que se te perdió en el tiempo.” Amos Oz (1939-2018) Ayer, mientras esperaba mi turno para pagar la compra en el supermercado Safeway, una de las cadenas más grandes de USA, atravesé la góndola de productos hispanos. La larga fila estaba detenida y había solo dos cajeros en servicio. Me puse a curiosear un poco: vi marcas como Marroc, Chocolinas y paquetes de yerba Cruz de Malta. Muy cerca del borde de uno de los estantes, casi a punto de caerse, asomaba una botella de jugo de limón cuya etiqueta parecía querer decirme algo. Me descubrí agarrándola y la puse en el changuito. Unos minutos más tarde, pagué, cargué las bolsas hasta mi camioneta y las metí en el baúl. Me senté, di arranque y antes de manejar rumbo a casa, recordé a mi abuela Raquel. El departamento de la abuela Raquel estaba en una torre de Billinghurst y Mansilla, pleno barrio norte de la ciudad de Buenos Aires, más precisamente en un piso diecisiete. No había muchos edificios así de altos por aquellos años y la luz era una presencia constante. A través de la puerta de vidrio del balcón, el sol, con el paso de las horas, jugaba a modificar la intensidad de los colores. La pared blanca cambiaba y en los vasos de cristal que estaban sobre la mesa se reflejaban pequeños arcoíris. Nos reuníamos a almorzar todos los sábados. ¿Cuántos éramos? Catorce. Mis padres, mi hermana Dafne, mis
[ TOYON 117
primos Luchy, Mariel, Tere, Débora, Beto, mis tíos Ana Lía y Samy, Reina y “Chiquito”, mi abuela Raquel y yo. Con el tiempo llegaron novios de mis primas que se convirtieron en maridos. Más tarde, bebés que apenas llegué a conocer y que ahora están en la universidad. Transiciones. En algún momento mi primo Beto se fue a vivir a Israel y mi prima Débora se divorció, modificando ligeramente la asistencia a los almuerzos. Almuerzos de los que no recuerdo detalles particulares, ni temporadas distintas, como si todos hubieran sido un largo y único evento. Tampoco podría precisar cuándo fue la última vez que estuvimos todos sentados en esa mesa. La abuela Raquel era una mujer de carácter muy fuerte. Se había divorciado a mediados de los años cincuenta, en ese breve lapso en el cual el divorcio fue posible en la Argentina, entre el primer peronismo y la llamada Revolución Libertadora. Era modista, toda su vida trabajó y disfrutaba mucho de salir: le encantaba ir al teatro. Nunca se quejaba. Enérgica y positiva no dudaba en acomodar su visión de la realidad a lo que la hiciera más feliz o le diera calma. Una vez llamó a mi mamá para contarle lo linda que estaba una orquídea que tenía en su casa. Nada más. Quería compartir algo de belleza que había visto. Era dulce y amorosa, pero su voz adoptaba rápidamente un tono severo cuando algo no le gustaba. No toleraba ninguna desprolijidad. Al llegar a su casa, la mesa ya estaba llena de platos tan ricos como excesivos. Pita con hummus, papa con huevo y una tonelada de mayonesa, matambre relleno, la kepeh de carne en sus muchas variantes: recubierta de trigo burgol, en forma de croquetas de carne agridulce que se servían con arroz, los niños envueltos, el lajmayin. Luego vendrían los platos principales como el maude de carne y de pollo, un tipo de guiso, cocinado a fuego lento que es sumamente pesado y gratificante, porque las papas, cortadas en cuadrados, primero se hornean y luego se fríen. La comida se servía en unas fuentes enormes, que se apoyaban sobre unas bases de metal expandibles para evitar que toquen el mantel. No recuerdo haber visto a la abuela sentada comiendo.
118 TOYON \
Iba y venía de la cocina, paseaba la mirada y se aseguraba de que cada uno de nosotros probara todo lo que había preparado. En un momento me advertía rigurosa “no te llenes con las entradas que ahora viene la comida,” cuando cinco minutos antes, tras preguntarme si había probado tal o cual plato, me había servido ella misma esa porción que ahora, le parecía excesiva. En esa época, se comía de un solo modo: hasta reventar. Hacia la sobremesa, un enorme frasco de Chofitol pasaba de mano en mano. Unas gotas de alcachofa disuelta en los vasos de cristal teñían el agua de un verde claro y ese aroma, como de eucaliptos, flotaba en el aire. De postre, además de frutas, se servían chocolates de todo tipo, pero principalmente los llamados bloquecitos Suchard que venían en envoltorios de diferentes colores: a mí me gustaba el rojo, que tenía arroz. A veces también había paragüitas de chocolate, o bombones Pernigotti. Lo acompañábamos con café y tés de gustos variados como mandarina y tilo, marcas Lipton, Bigelow y La Virginia. A eso de las tres de la tarde, mi papá y mis tíos se iban a dar una vuelta por las calles de Palermo y tomaban un café en Tiziano, o algún otro bar de la avenida coronel Diaz. Yo siempre me preguntaba de que hablarían, pero nunca pregunté. Mientras mi mamá o alguna de mis tías ayudaba a mi abuela a reorganizar la mesa, mis primas distribuían blocs y lapiceras para jugar al Boggle. Dieciséis dados con letras sacudidos en un gran cubilete de plástico translúcido naranja. Reacomodadas las letras, se trataba de encontrar la mayor cantidad de palabras posibles y anotarlas hasta que un reloj de arena indicaba que el tiempo se había acabado. Leídas las palabras en voz alta, se tachaban las descubiertas por más de un participante y se asignaban puntos a las que solo eran propiedad de un jugador. También se leía la borra del café, tradición que, creo, arrimó a la mesa familiar mi tía Ana Lía Terminadas las bebidas, un poco en serio y un poco en broma, se daban vuelta las tasas y la borra “hablaba” dando lugar a todo tipo de dibujos. A veces formas etéreas
[ TOYON 119
como nubes, otras, criaturas salidas de un cuento de terror. Recuerdo un demonio de un solo ojo, o pedazos de animales como la cara de un perro. Creer o reventar. Con mi primo Luchy armábamos cohetes de papel con las páginas satinadas de las revistas Hola, que mi abuela guardaba en su mesita de luz, y después los arrojábamos desde el balcón. A veces, los más chicos nos sentábamos en dos filas de sillas frente a un ventilador simulando que estábamos en un avión que despegaba al apretar la botonera y poner las aspas a girar. A pesar de que éramos tantos, no recuerdo conflictos ni disputas. Quizá lo más disruptivo fue cuando Dafne, mi hermana tres años menor que yo, se hizo vegetariana en aquella época, en que nadie lo era, lo que tornaba a ese cambio de hábitos en algo exótico. Siempre le preguntaban algo que la irritaba sobremanera, “¿cómo resolvés la proteína?” El departamento de la abuela Raquel tenía dos ambientes y un solo baño. El cuarto, sencillo, una cama de una plaza, la mesa del televisor Grundig, una cómoda con algunos remedios, y algún libro a medio leer: Mi Planta de Naranja Lima de Vasconcelos o la última novela de Sídney Sheldon. También había un silloncito y no mucho más. El centro de la casa era la imponente mesa que ocupaba la mayor parte del living. Mesa que, durante los almuerzos de cada sábado, y en otras celebraciones especiales como Pesaj y Rosh Hashaná, estaba siempre cubierta por manteles blancos. Durante la semana, en cambio, se veía despojada y la combinación de formica roja y negra quedaba a la vista. En los almuerzos, la mesa, se extendía en una tabla de madera que descansaba sobre dos caballetes. Contra una de las paredes, justo antes de la entrada a la cocina, resaltaba un enorme freezer sobre el que se apoyaba el teléfono de la casa Era color naranja y todo un trofeo considerando que mi abuela había esperado unos quince años para que Entel se lo instalara. Por aquel entonces contar o no con una línea telefónica influía sobre el valor de las propiedades. Podría tomar un calendario y elegir al azar un día
120 TOYON \
sábado cualquiera de los años ochenta y noventa y seguramente estuve allí. En octubre de 2001 dejé Buenos Aires. Emigré a Montreal, Canadá, y desde entonces me mudé diecinueve veces: tres países, cinco ciudades, diez cambios de casas y departamentos. Cuando volví de visita, mi abuela ya había fallecido y el departamento había sido vendido. Mientras manejaba después de hacer las compras, todo aquello apareció en mi cabeza. Y vi con claridad que fue allí, en unos de esos almuerzos donde una vez encontré una botella de jugo limón que la abuela Raquel usaba para humedecer la carne. La etiqueta decía: “el sedimento es pulpa que precipita.” Al llegar a mi casa lo primero que hice fue sacar de la bolsa aquella botella, marca Minerva. Sí, era igual a la que recordaba. La abrí y olí de nuevo el aroma del limón, mezclado con el de alcachofas del Chofitol, el desodorante de ambiente Glade que mi abuela usaba en el baño y las mil fragancias contenidas en nuestro pasado. Cuando levanté la vista sentí que más de treinta y cinco años después las paredes blancas de mi casa también iban cambiando de tono a medida que transcurrían las horas de esos sábados que alguna vez me parecieron, pero que no eran eternos.
[ TOYON 121
To hear our Fuerza Award winning spoken word piece, as well as the other spoken word pieces accepted to Toyon, scan the QR code above or visit our website. https://www.toyonliterarymagazine.org/listen
PERMISSIONS The following works have previously appeared in other online and print literary publications. Artists retain copyright. Eichen, Marc. “Kutogunduwa (To Be Overlooked).” Still Points Arts Quarterly, Fall 2021 (Number 43), https:// www.shantiarts.co/landing_SPAQ.html Mishra, Sandeep Kumar. “A Father’s Son.” Black Cat Publi cations, September 2021, https://whitecatpublications. com/2021/09/25/a-fathers-son/ Pegel, Robert. “Examination of Self.” Ariel Chart International Literary Journal, February 2021, https://www. arielchart.com/2021/02/examination-of-self.html Italian poet and artist Maurizio Castè has provided written permission for Toti O’Brien to publish English translations of the poems “Sprouts of green” and “Strong, the Wind,” which appear in this issue in both English and the original Italian.
CONTRIBUTOR BIOS Alannah Guevara is a junior English major at HSU. She is serving as Toyon’s production team leader for the 68th volume. After graduation, she will build a career in publishing. Alannah previously worked as a student staff member on volume 35 of RCC’s MUSE. She has one prior publication, a piece of flash fiction in the J.J. Outré Review. Any day now she’ll escape the SoCal heat and move up to Humboldt with her life partner and their soon-to-be-born baby. Alison Silver is a queer non-binary writer and recent graduate of Cal Poly Humboldt. They hope to keep using writing to better understand their identity. My name is Andy Graber. Besides creating various forms of artwork, I am also interested in music and writing stories. I was born and raised in the northeast part of The United States, and I am now currently residing out west. Ambar Quintanilla is pursuing an M.A. in English at California State University, Long Beach. After completing her M.A. program, she aspires to become a professor at a community college with a diverse student population. Having to overcome multiple systemic and educational barriers herself, she is committed to a lifelong pursuit of advocating for social justice and equity in education. Angela Acosta is a bilingual Latina poet and Ph.D. Candidate in Iberian Studies at The Ohio State University. She conducts research on twentieth century Spanish women writers and has published works in ¿Qué Pasa, Ohio State? and Rainy Day Literary Magazine with poems appearing in Pluma, the Spanish language literary magazine at Washington and Lee University. Ashlee Marie Murrieta lives among the rain, trees and clouds of the Pacific Northwest. She is an Undergraduate and Masters alum from Humboldt State University in the Literature and Education fields. She is previously, though briefly, published in the Toyon Literary Magazine. Her
current works include poetry and mixed media memoir vignettes. Celeste Colmenares is a senior transfer student who attends HSU. They enjoy reading poetry, creative nonfiction and more recently, vibrant comics. They write poetry and creative nonfiction and gain inspiration from writers like Jeanette Walls and Raymond Carver. Cyerra Colomba Guzman is a current first-generation college student, born and raised in Los Angeles by her Latino father and Italian mother. She has been fascinated by the beauty of emotional release. This is her first piece. Dobby Morse is an HSU Journalism major and Philosophy minor. They were a contributor to the Lumberjack during the 2019-2020 school year and hope to write for environmental organizations when they graduate. They enjoy hiking, dark academia novels, and making evil plans with their cat. Ernie Iñiguez is a writer, digital artist, and musician. He graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in English and currently lives in Arcata, California. Fortunato (21) attends Cal Poly Humboldt as an English major on the Teaching Language Arts Pathway with a minor in Anthropology. She is currently one of two of the the RAMP Major Based Mentors for the English Department at Cal Poly Humboldt. She spent the last term participating in The Future Scholars of America. Over the summer, Fortunato was involved in the Promotorx Program where she taught in literary studies circles to elementary students. Her poem titled, “Just Thank You” has been dedicated to her two year long partner Casey Pyle whom she met at Freshman Orientation. She will graduate in the Spring of 2022, meaning she will complete her Bachelor’s Degree in three years rather than the standardized four. She is a show off and knows this deeply, but refuses to get help for it. After graduation, Fortunato plans to enroll in the English Master’s Program at HSU, followed by a single subject credential program when she finishes. It is her ultimate plan
to become a high school teacher until she is ready to get her PhD to become a professor. Her passions outside the realm of academia are baking fresh bread, reading, and painting. She is currently rereading, “The Shack” by William Young, but plans to read, “The Steal” by Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague. Fortunato suffers from being a boring perfectionist. We all are praying for her to pull through. Grace E. Daverson is a writer, poet, and student at Humboldt State University. She hopes to one day have the power to refrain from cheating kids at Battleship. Currently living in Arcata, Guido Setton graduated as an attorney from the University of Buenos Aires in 1998. He has lived and worked extensively in Vancouver, Montreal (both in Canada), Tulsa (Oklahoma) and Houston (Texas). He relocated to Arcata in January of 2020 for family reasons (his wife grew up in Humboldt and attended HSU). He admires the work of Raymond Carver and Truman Capote among others that inspire him. Ian Haight’s collection of poetry, Celadon, won Unicorn Press’ First Book Prize. He is the editor of Zen Questions and Answers from Korea, and with T’ae-yong Hŏ, he is the co-translator of Borderland Roads: Selected Poems of Kyun Hŏ and Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim—finalist for ALTA’s Stryk Prize—all from White Pine Press. Other awards include Ninth Letter’s Literary Award in Translation, and grants from the Daesan Foundation, the Korea Literary Translation Institute, and the Baroboin Buddhist Foundation. Poems, essays, interviews, reviews, microfiction and translations appear in Barrow Street, Writer’s Chronicle, Hyundai Buddhist News, Full Stop, MoonPark Review and Prairie Schooner. For more information please visit ianhaight.com. Jake Sorgen (he/him) is a music-maker and poet currently based in Chicago, IL. His work primarily lives at the intersection of music, storytelling, and text with a wide range of approaches to each. His compositions have been performed by Loadbang Ensemble, Kite Saxophone Quartet, Invoke String Quartet, and Avaloch Artistic Director Ashley Bathgate as well as a myriad of ensembles featuring Jake as
a musician and speaker. He has released several albums of songs on I Am Them. Records and is the co-founder with his creative partner Matt Bowdren of Small Giants, an interdisciplinary ensemble based in Chicago. More information is available at jakesorgen.com. Jessie Caitlin Bullard is a graduate student of rhetoric and composition and Teaching Associate at CSU, Long Beach. Their scholarly and creative work focuses on embodied perceptions of self and others, particularly through memory, sensorial expression, and play. Joshua Lamason was born and raised in Southern California. He is an honors graduate of Humboldt State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Writing Practices. Joshua is the founder and co-creator of Hucksters Art Preview, a free art magazine based out of Arcata, CA. He is also a published writer and photographer with a wide variety of work experience. Outside of his art and publishing activities, he can be found exploring nature and traveling along the western coast of the United States. Jude Rouland is a senior in the history department at Humboldt State University. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, they moved to Humboldt to pursue higher education, and have since been inspired by the scenery and community in the area. They intend to pursue a graduate degree in Library Science and further their passion for good reading and good writing. Justin Paduganan, also known as KeanuGrieves, is a multimedia artist who focuses on creating physical encapsulations of his visual vantage of the world around him. With a unique outlook on placing and composition Paduganan finds the scope of his pieces through varying lenses which he portrays through his choice selection and attention to details. Padugan draws inspiration from the likes of Basquiat, Choe, and Crayola. Kealin Morgan served as an Editorial team lead and Acquisitions Editor for Toyon Literary Magazine Volume 68 of Humboldt State University. She is currently in her third year working towards a B.A. in English - Writing Practices
and a minor in Literary Publishing and Communications. She has been published in the Miracle Mile Mirror: the Official Newsletter of the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. She will have a spoken-word piece featured on the Toyon website this coming spring with the release of Volume. 68. Kealin is a Central Oregon native, though upon graduation she plans to stay in Humboldt county to earn her M.A. while working and writing and then hopes to travel and teach in other countries. In the future, Kealin would like to self-publish her own works. She has a passion for writing short stories and reading literature and is looking forward to sharing that passion with her peers and others in the future while being able to travel and experience more of the world and what it has to offer. Konstantinos Patrinos is an aspiring writer based in Berlin, Germany. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rust + Moth, Pinyon, California Quarterly, Paris Lit Up, Door Is A Jar, Open Minds Quarterly, Tiny Spoon, and others. When he’s not writing poetry, he enjoys getting punched in the face during kickboxing classes. He’s a high school teacher for political science and philosophy. Kylee Conriquez is a Humboldt State Studio Art student with a love for her community and for wildlife. She enjoys working in mixed media collage and on multiple surfaces. Recently, Kylee finished a project called Creek Fire Project, where she drew homes that were lost in the Creek Fire for her community. Illustrating for children’s books, important environmental issues, and education is close to her heart. She is excited to graduate and have more time to dive into the world of illustration. For more info on her projects, visit: KyleeConriquezart.com Larissa Hul-Galasek (she/her) is an expressive arts and nature based therapist in Humboldt county. She is committed to raising awareness of climate catastrophe, taking action and offering emotional support to those impacted by climate grief and anxiety. Find more about her at LHGcounseling.com Marc Eichen has a Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Geography, Clark University with a research specialization
in political geography and natural resource management. Since retiring he has worked as a Visiting Faculty member at the State University of Zanzibar. His fiction focuses on life in Zanzibar and in red-state America. Current projects include a book of short stories in both Swahili and English and a novel set in Sandpoint, Idaho. Born in Rome in 1961, Maurizio Castè has a degree in Theater and one in Philosophy of Language. He has been active for three decades as an actor, director, composer and musician. He has published a poetry collection, Libro Chiuso (Firenze Libri). His poems are also featured in the anthologies Porte e Tempo (Progetto Cultura, 2016-17) and Navigare (n. 84, Pagine, 2017). My name is Mario Loprete. I’m an Italian artist. Painting for me is my first love. An important, pure love. Creating a painting, starting from the spasmodic research of a concept with which I want to send a message to transmit my message, it’s the base of my painting. The sculpture is my lover, my artistic betrayal to the painting. That voluptuous and sensual lover that gives me different emotions, that touches prohibited cords. This year, I worked exclusively on my concrete sculptures. For my Concrete Sculptures, I use my personal clothing. Throughout some artistic process, in which I use plaster, resin and cement, I transform them into artworks to hang. My memory, my DNA, my memories remain concreted inside, transforming the person that looks at the artworks a type of post-modern archeologist that studies my work as they were urban artefacts. I like to think that those who look at my sculptures created in 2020 will be able to perceive the anguish, the vulnerability, the fear that each of us has felt in front of a planetary problem that was Covid-19 ... under a layer of cement there are my clothes with which I lived this nefarious period, clothes that survived Covid-19, very similar to what survived after the 2,000-year-old catastrophic eruption of Pompeii, capable of recounting man’s inability to face the tragedy of broken lives and destroyed economies. Meghan Elizabeth Kelley is a poet and writer in Jenkintown, PA. Her articles have been featured on No Sidebar, and her poems have appeared in District Lines, For Women
Who Roar magazine, and the Trouvaille Review. She is also a yoga nidra and meditation facilitator, which helps shape her creative process. Pat McCutcheon is retired from teaching for thirty years at the college where, as a student, she was first encouraged to become a poet. She lives with her wife and writes in the redwoods of far northern California. Her poems have been published in Sinister Wisdom, Fish Anthology 2018 and Pisgah Review, among others. Her chapbook, Recovering Perfectionist, was published in 1996. In 2015 a second, Slipped Past Words, was published as a winner in the Finishing Line Press’s Women’s Voices Chapbook contest. Q. Noah Veil is the pen name of a previously unpublished American author, an avid student of global history, Chinese language and English classics. Residing in the shadow of the Rockies, Noah takes photos often of clouds, composes matching lines for them and works as called upon in translation and massage therapy. Richard Spilman was born and raised in Normal, Illinois, and lived for many years in the Bay Area (his younger daughter still lives in Alameda). He and his wife are now raising their grandsons in Hurricane, West Virginia. He is the author of In the Night Speaking and of a chapbook, Suspension. He has also published two books of short fiction. Robert Pegel is a graduate of Columbia University where he has a BA. He majored in English and has always loved to write. Four years ago, Robert’s only child, his son Calvin, died in his sleep from unknown causes. This has led Robert to find meaning. He has begun to write poetry in an effort to transform his pain. He thinks writing helps him cope with the unimaginable and hopes this will help others who are struggling too. Sandeep Kumar Mishra is the author of bestseller One Heart- Many Breaks (2020), an outsider artist, a poet and a lecturer. He is a guest poetry editor at Indian Poetry Review. He has received Readers Favorite Silver Award-21, Indian Achievers Award-21, IPR Annual Poetry Award-2020 and
Literary Titan Book Award-2020.He was shortlisted for 2021 International Book Awards, Indies Today Book of the Year Award 2020 and Joy Bale Boone Poetry Prize 2021 and Oprelle Rise up Poetry Prize 2021.He was also The Story Mirror Author of the Year nominee-2019. Toti O’Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. Born in Rome, living in Los Angeles, she is an artist, musician and dancer. She is also the author of Other Maidens (BlazeVOX, 2020), An Alphabet of Birds (Moonrise, 2020) and Pages of a Broken Diary (Pski’s Porch 2021). Walid Abdallah is an Egyptian poet and author. He is a visiting professor of English language and literature in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Germany and the USA, his poetry includes “Go Ye Moon,” “If you were here,” “ Dream,” and “My heart still beats.” His books include Shout of Silence, Escape to the Realm of Imagination, My Heart Oasis and Man Domination and Woman Emancipation, and his co-translations with Andy Fogle of Farouk Goweda’s poetry have previously appeared in Image, RHINO, Reunion: Dallas Review, and Los Angeles Review. These translations won prestigious prizes in the USA like “Cause,” “Egypt’s Grief,” and “Strangers’ Cross.”
FALL 2021 MASTHEAD LEADERSHIP TEAM Managing Editor Ernie Iñiguez Community Liaison Noemi Maldonado
EDITORIAL TEAM Editorial Team Co-Lead and Acquisitions Editor Kealin Morgan Editorial Team Co-Lead and Authenticity Editor Sara “Sprad” Spradley Division Editors, Fiction and Playwriting Kaitlynn Gerton and Lizzy Spears Division Editor, Creative Nonfiction Jo Gibson Division Editors, Poetry Nicholas Nielsen and Ricardo Lara Nava Division Editor, Critical Analysis Sara “Sprad” Spradley Division Editor, Environmental Justice Award Ethan Atil Division Editors for the Multilingual Award Ernie Iñiguez and Noemi Maldonado
SPOKEN WORD & WEB TEAM Team Lead & Social Media Manager Kae Frederick-Dennert and David Cruz Spoken Word Editor Drew Robinson Archive Editor Brittany Fuher
PRODUCTION TEAM Production Team Lead Alannah Guevara Visual Art Editors and Cover Designers Maria Lopez and Taryn Roberts Typesetter and Book Designer Madeline Eubanks
Faculty Advisor Marcos Hernandez
Hope & Healing
Hey, how have you been? Yeah, us too. That’s exactly why we’re here, together, right now. Thank you for being here. Thank you for picking up Toyon, Cal Poly Humboldt’s student-run journal of multilingual literature and art. For 68 years, Toyon Literary Magazine has published works of writers and artists from around the world. This year’s theme of “Hope and Healing” came about as a means to remind ourselves to take deep breaths and be present in the world around us. The COVID-19 pandemic has radically shifted the ways we live. We mustn’t forget the importance of taking care of ourselves and each other. We hope that you enjoy the theme of “Hope and Healing.” Please allow it to be a reminder to ground yourself in the moment and breathe. WARNING: This product contains love, anxiety, dysphoria, tenderness, birds, affection, grief, orange juice, trauma, anger, and maternal bonds. Side effects may include self-reflection and a sense of inner peace.