Do read this powerful, very moving poem by a young San Antonio poet named Nati Román. She delivered it last Friday at the conclusion of the Reverberations of Memory, Violence, And History: A Conference for the Centennial of the 1919 Canales Investigation of the brutal, lynchings of Mexicans by the Texas Rangers in the early 1900s at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin, Texas.
Some of the descendants of the victims attended the conference on Thursday. Although I was unable to attend, I heard that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. (You can read more about the J.T. Canales investigation here.)
The whole conference will be made available to the public by the Texas A & M Center of Digital Humanities Research. Kudos to Professor John M. Gonzalez, Director of the University of Texas at Austin Center for Mexican American Studies and Texas A & M History Associate Professor Sonia Hernandez for putting on such an excellent conference.
Nati is very modest. We’re all letting her know that she’s got real talent with her soulful, poetic verse and historical imagination. Keep writing poetry, Nati!
Because you were a strong little semilla
Full of life
You burst forth from the soil that nourished you,
Lifted your eyes to the sky
And let your billowing branches stretch across
The rippling silk pasture as if reaching
For the ends of the earth.
Because the Earth loved you and
The sky fed you,
Your roots burrowed deep
And your glistening leaves fluttered
Like a million tiny wings
Quien era el primero?
Who was the first to look upon your
Handsome, grooved face your
Thick, jutting limbs
And see their potential
Those men, pale as stone
Insatiably hungry for land
Who draw lines in the dirt
Lines in the water.
They fitted you with cords and rope
That squeezed your arms like a tourniquet
Burned your bark and
Scraped it clean
That tugged like a caught bird and then
The men of stone circled on their horses
Shouted and blasted their pistols into the air
And as the men kept coming
And your arms kept burning you
For the men whose contorted clay faces
Lay etched in your mind.
Men the colors of clay and leaves
Men who laughed and fought
Kissed and spit
Men that twirled their señoras when
That slurped their caldo
And bounced their children on their knee
Men that worked long days
Men that worked for months men
Always willing to work
Men whose eyes burned like fire
Before the grip of the tree
Turned them to glass.
You heard the women cry out for them
In the distance
The women who suffered
So many women that suffered
Who put the pieces of their lives back together like patchwork
Who grew skin as thick as yours.
Do you feel the spirit brush
Your canopy as it ascends
Into the atmosphere?
Does it linger in your tangled branches?
Is it crystal cold with fear
Or warm like a flash of sun between
The shifting clouds
The birds no longer nested
In your tresses
You prayed for these souls to shake free
From your grasp
With the next heavy rain
Prayed the rain would cleanse you
Of the putrid stench of
When your leaves like memories shriveled and dried
You cast them into the night like
Cenizas in the wind
Then the winds changed
Tales of Cortina pierced the fog of fear like the arrows of our ancestors
Stories of resistance sprouted amongst the weeds
Women and men stood up and said:
“No nos vamos!”
And here you stand and
Here I stand
161 years later
Once a gateway to death
Now a portal to the past
I trace my finger along your deep ridged grooves
Like a needle along a tired record and
Hear the echoes of tragedy reverberate
Like a corrido with whose melody we cleanse
I have traveled back in time to see you
To make sense of the stories
Told by our abuelas and our mothers
You have been waiting for me
You wait for all of us
Are you surprised by how quickly we have forgotten?
But here we are now
Face to face
And you still weeping year after year for
The souls that turned to butterflies beneath your shade
And you wait for us to remember
Reclaim our rightful place in