In this second installment of “Sabiduría: Words of Wisdom”—a collaboration with NPR’s Latino USA that features conversations with established and emerging poets—Tim Hernandez discusses growing up in rural California, the limitations of visual art, and why he migrated toward poetry. Hernandez has written three collections of poetry and two novels; his most recent work, Mañana Means Heaven, tells the story of Bea Franco, the heroine of Jack Kerouac’s story, “The Mexican Girl.” Click here to read an excerpt published on CultureStrike last year.
Listen to Hernandez read “Dear Hector,” “Adios Fresno,” and “Brown Chris.”
They say I’m a mama’s boy
like it’s a bad thing, when all along
I thought that’s what a man was.
They say my skin was made from goat’s milk
and that my eyes were plucked
from cherry blossoms in the month of February.
A mama’s boy they say,
with hands too soft for picking
legs thin as sprigs of mesquite.
They say my voice lacks
the asphalt grit of courage, that I
should work on it
and that my name is too short
to call me by name,
and they’re right—
When they say
I was born with a hole in my heart
the size of a tiny fish eye.
They’re right when they shout, Mama’s boy
and poke at the tenderness that is my back
claiming that my hair was quilted from a beggar’s scarf
and that my smile was strewn
from tender husks of sugar cane
Since I’ve fondled and groped at the inside
of my mama’s womb,
just a squirming confirmation of father’s lust,
I’ve scheming ways to retreat
to that warm familiar sack of membrane
and love manifold.
This is why
I lead with the docile nose of a house cat,
speak my intentions
in raw doggerel utterances
from the stiff
core of a loose
Why I tweeze the nose hair clean
behind locked doors,
using the reflection off surgical steel
lather my jaw with baking powder and lava rock,
for the morning peel
because I am soft