mother’s day revisited

Vanessa Martir‘s Writing Our Lives workshop series offers participants a larger view of mothering within a patriarchal and historical context, as well as within the context of our own mothers’ upbringing. I was able to participate in the worshop when she came down to San Antonio last year and was invited to submit work for this special feature through Intervenxions. You can read Vanessa’s intro and work by other participants. Mine is also there but I wanted to include it here too.

“bitter oranges”

My mother always said she had horse’s hair and I would laugh because I thought horse’s hair was super soft. Hers was more like skunk or goat. Thick. Bristly, but shiny. It moves as one, like an animal breathing—in then out—as fingers pass through. Her skin dewy, fresh from the shower. She smelled like soap, the scent lingering on her skin for hours. When she cooked, her fingertips smelled of sweating onions, or the cold, wet smell of meat. Sometimes a distant cigarette. She always smoked outside, even in the coldest months, stepping away from her own exhales to avoid the lingering scent.

I was born in Minnesota. An outlier, of course. Born in Havana, the island became a myth for my mother. In my life with her I’ve seen her choose other places to temporarily call home. Always Florida, in one way or another. Homestead sometimes, Miami proper when she feels free. We are in Central Texas, which is an endurance. Like bitter oranges which have a tantalizing appearance, but leave an impossible tartness in the mouth. Sour. She’s made do but never cared for this place.

For Christmas, I special ordered a couple of pounds of bitter oranges and was set to make dulce de naranja agria. It’s my mother’s favorite dessert. My grandfather would make it over several hours until the house smelled like orange syrup. I scraped away the orange zest until my hands were sticky with its oil. I scooped out the flesh and membrane to make mojo later. I cleaned the rind out, cutting it into quarter moons. They sat through three cycles of rolling boils for hours, until they became ghosts of themselves. Finally, they could be doused in sugared water and boiled down once more with cinnamon sticks. A sweetness thought unfeasible.

I placed it in a decorative glass container with an orange ribbon. My mother bites into one of the sugared skins and tells me it’s like a gift from her father, my grandfather, who by this time has been gone twenty years. Then she is silent. Her face creases and her look has moved from remembrance to anger. I don’t know what is bothering her. “I shouldn’t have had kids,” she finally says to me, not looking in my direction. She took a role she never wanted and somehow, she thought she was expected to hold the weight of that decision until the lilt of freedom was truly gone. Then she says to me: “You are so nice. I give advice and you listen, but you don’t take any of it. You’ll do what you want, I guess.”

World Refugee Day 2021

June 20 is World Refugee Day.

In San Antonio local and regional nonprofits, community leaders, city representatives, and poets are celebrating the vibrancy of our migrant and refugee populations with a poetry declaration.

Those interested in reading with regional poet activists can submit work. Please visit www.poetrydeclaration.org for more details. More details will be posted here as they are announced.

mouth : forthcoming chapbook

Neon Hemlock, a small press based in Washington, DC, is a purveyor of queer chapbooks and speculative fiction. Their recent call for poetry chapbooks resulted in two books: Who is Owed Springtime by Rasha Abdulhadi, and mouth, by me.

I’m super excited to be chosen by NH’s guest editor Saida Agostini. The gorgeous cover art was crafted by dave ring, publisher/managing editor for NH.

Support queer literature! Pre-sale copies are available for purchase here.

Advance praise for mouth:

From Neon Hemlock’s guest editor Saida Agostini:

Agostini chose mouth because it “offers a precise accounting of patriarchal violence, a complicated constellation that cannot be cut down or anesthetized for anyone’s comfort. This work is a dare, a challenge to those who would rather turn away from truth. As they write, Those who try to love me cannot swallow my entirety. If you are lucky you will choke on my hips. We are lucky to be blessed with this witness.”

“In mouth, jo reyes-boitel speaks of deadly fear, the complexity of figs, the constant moon, and survival of the queer body — triumphant and illuminating, juxtaposing domestic abuse with distorted beauty, mysticism, and owning your self. mouth by jo reyes-boitel disrupts fairy tale dreams, by telling it like it is to obtain personal freedom.” — Sarah Rafael García, author of SanTana’s Fairy Tales & founder of LibroMobile

mouth invites us to experience the words that unravel the terrors of intimate partner violence, the subversion of BDSM, and the fierceness of femme-centered femininity. With luscious language and striking imagery, jo reyes-boitel compels us to occupy those interstitial spaces that define queer Latinx intimacies of survival, persistence, and elation. — Lilia Raquel Rosas, Executive Director of Red Salmon Arts and lecturer of Mexican American & Latina/o Studies at UT Austin

With pain, power and triumph, Jo Reyes-Boitel’s poems are a meditation, navigating the human geography of longing, loving and surviving, and resisting the seduction of self-destruction to achieve self-redemption. These are strong words and vivid lines that cling to the soul’s memory. — Charles Rice-González, author of Chulito, Bronx LGBT activist, and co-founder of BAAD! The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance

the voiceless

A poem read during a vigil for the Remain in Mexico policy (MPP, Migrant Protection Protocols). Two years of Trump’s policy which, in effect, removed protections for migrants, keeping them at the border trying to survive, because the country refused to allow them in.

don’t call them the voiceless

migrants or asylum seekers

– those who passed countless borders,

who left all they knew because they were persecuted for their beliefs,

chased from their neighborhoods, their lives threatened,

their children doing without,

the scarcity of food, safety,

jobs –  

all for the promise this country offers

Jose Marti says “los grandes derechos no se compran con lagrimas,

– sino con sangre”

this is what it costs to survive,

to wrap into heart muscle the strength and insistence

to complete each day

so that their families have the chance at a better life

sometimes only a few feet away

that this unflowered promise and the scarcity of a life

is better than where they’ve traveled from,

sometimes safer than the uncertainty of their former lands…

and Americans?

we have forgotten our nature is to migrate,

to find safety, to build in a place that will be home,

to carry that desire in our bodies

without doubt

trusting our ability to protect and provide

for ourselves and our families

something in us long ago lost

lost the understanding that we or our families

were born in the same circumstance

this land never ours,

from the Lenape to the Coahuiltecan

we thrust ourselves here

after all that had been inhospitable, unforgiveable

we have forgotten to be gracious

we have forgotten to allow others’ dreams to blossom in this soil

just as our dreams once did

we have forgotten

and this is how we lose ourselves

even while these voices insist,

voices longing to be part of us,

who know survival is not a life

but still blood moves all of us

            blood moving, no time for tears

with dignity, face to face with the layers and layers of denial in this world,

acres of hurt contested, denied, and saturated with the history and blood of people

who have worn down their welcome, been cast aside, approached us, and were denied

as a country we speak of forefathers

inheritance and pride

everything we debate rooted in the conditional

we haven’t yet learned

we inherit only what we offer others

tell me: if all we must do is feed ourselves and feed others,

who feeds those who have built temporary shelters, share food along the border?

who embraces those who attempt to cross, only to drown?

who will hold us accountable because we have lost our way?

who will remind us of that promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

how long until we realize that to deny any who need our help

means we deny ourselves a life of self-respect?

of open arms?

how long until we see we are at the border,

watching the horror of our own acts?

how long until we recognize

we are the ones who hear no one,

who do not see,

who are the truly voiceless?

she wears bells, operetta, to run at Teatro Palo Alto, October 22 – 30, 2020

Written by jo reyes-boitel * Directed by Amber Ortega

Special guest musician Ceiba ili.

Cast of Teatro Palo Alto: Meena Herrera (Coyolxauhqui), Nicholas Ramirez (Coatlicue), and Ashley Flores (Yolottitzin).

she wears bells follows the story of the Aztec teotl Coyolxauhqui, who has lost her battle on Earth and is exiled to the moon. Is she dead or can she transform in order to claim a new legacy?

This event is FREE. Watch performances via livestream on Facebook or YouTube. For more information https://fb.me/e/4nfJtAsno.

With thanks to Joaquin “Muerte” Abrego for his contributions to the stage and script development, and to Anel Flores, who will be leading a Q&A after the performances on Saturday, October 24 and Friday, October 30.

An advance article by the Texas A&M University-San Antonio campus paper, The Mesquite, is available here.

Altar-ing zine

San Antonio treasure Bonnie Ilza Cisneros crafted the Altar-ing: A Latinx Memoir Workshop that was to have culminated, through a series of workshops, in an exhibit. COVID happened. But Bonnie, the San Antonio Public Library (and Emma Hernandez), and the workshopistas weren’t dismayed. The last class moved online and we were gifted with the opportunity to find new ways to build an altar honoring our antepasados as much as our writing/creative process.

It was a challenge to take a small moment in the busyness of a time when work at home has benefits but requires payment. And sometimes I let the anger and frustration of a life get in the way of the knowing I carry that assures me I am supported. And in some of the quiet days of my child’s return to school and my work changing and my own emotions taking me, I find the root in how much I was loved by my grandfather, Adalberto S. Boitel. He filled his life with baseball on the television, cooking everything expertly, and writing letters to his family and friends in Cuba. His kitchen table always had paper, pens, envelopes and stamps. I mimicked his handwriting. It’s what’s made my handwriting unique. The paper he always had available made distant friends feel close. He’s been gone for a long time now. I hadn’t intended to create an altar based on his writing but, in all my feelings, it is what came through.

I needed this workshop at a time when I felt so distant. And I’m glad we created our work in a communal setting. Now, we have a wonderful zine that was just produced and I’m honored to be in such good company.

Pick up your copy here.