Bio Note: Erika Ayón grew up in South Central, Los Angeles and graduated from UCLA with a BA in English. She was selected as a 2009 PEN Emerging Voices Fellow. She has taught poetry to middle and high school students across Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in The Acentos Review, Strange Cargo Anthology, Orangelandia Anthology, Wide Awake Anthology, Coiled Serpent Anthology, and Chiricú Journal among others. Her first collection of poetry Orange Lady was published by World Stage Press.
We Are Not Alone
On the corner of San Pedro and 23rd St.
There is “Rábano” and his mother,
nicknamed “Rábano” by my Apá,
because his face turns coral red when
he stands in the sun too long. They sell
framed portraits of La Virgen María,
red roses with the words Te Amo, angels,
oceans. One for seven dollars, two for ten.
El elotero wears zebra-patterned pants.
He sells corn out of a gray pickup truck.
Three for a dollar, twenty for five. I watch
him dance by himself as he blasts his car
stereo. Norteñas fill the sidewalk.
There are also the passing vendors.
The paletero sells Drumstick ice cream,
Ninja Turtle shaped popsicles. I like
the chocolate flavored popsicles
that taste like Nestlé’s Quik.
The raspado man with his blue cart
shaves ice into small mountains, drizzles
syrup on top that flows down like lava.
The champurrado lady sings Pedro
Infante’s “Cielito Lindo” as she pours
the thick hot liquid that keeps me warm
on cold days when the air inside me
comes out like smoke.
I Married a San Bernardinian
Sometimes when we are asleep,
I am afraid a mountain
will rise from within you.
Your eyelids still carry the dust
that was brought with the evening winds.
Your eyes turn gray like the smoky skies
that appeared above the schoolyard
when you were a child. Whole cities
surrounding San Bernardino
swept their smog into it. The smog
so unbearable they canceled P.E. class.
In your dreams, you return to your
grandfather’s house on Tanner Circle.
You are six years old. You play at the back
where the orange groves used to be.
You become lost between branches
of barren trees. Your cousin, Mikey,
is with you, climbing the dirt mounds
formed from skeletons of orange orchards.
In your memories, you walk down
Ninth St. to Our Lady of Guadalupe
Shrine Church. Where you were
an altar boy. Where your grandfather
is still a deacon. Where after mass
your family went with their own
olla to get offerings of menudo
from Zacatecas Café.
When we go back to visit,
off the freeway, every time you see
Mt. Vernon Ave., you find yourself,
on the passenger side of a car,
your friend Emilio at the wheel.
He drives down the hill at 75 miles
per hour on a dare, crashes
at the bottom. A fire engulfs the car.
Sometimes, in your mind
you don’t make it
out of that fire.
I know you are following me because once in a while,
when in line at the grocery store, I want to cry
while flipping through magazines or reading
headlines of Us Weekly. Sometimes, on my walks
at the park, tears well up in my eyes for no reason.
I have this thing that I do, it must be your influence.
I buy things that people who are gone used to like.
Red and white striped mints for Mrs. Johnson,
my fourth-grade teacher, who died from cancer.
Peanuts and Kern’s canned juice for my father.
Cinnamon for my paternal grandmother.
I never met her but somehow I feel that her hair
pinned up in curls, must have carried this scent.
Sometimes you crawl into bed with me,
bring terrible dreams. They all come back to me.
Everyone I have lost. Grandfather José,
Aunt Ana, Pamela’s brother, Ben. In these dreams,
I can never get close enough to hold them.
In Spanish they call you luto—
widows dress in black for days, years,
lifetimes to honor you. In Cambodia,
they burn fake money to guarantee
a passage into heaven for their loved ones.
In Indonesia, they cut off their fingertips for you.
Grief, I think that if I were to revere you
in this way, you would bear more light.
Your days would have more sun.
Your mourning would be more like a quick
wave that washes over me, leaves behind
calm waters, less like this steady storm
that casts a dark shadow.
Poems are from Orange Lady, published by World Stage Press, 2018
©2020 Erika Ayon
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell him or her. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is the beginning of community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -FF