Red Heels Orchestra,
THE FLICKERING STARS
The Seminoles who lived in Sanford, Florida
knew about the exterminator in the invader’s cold eye.
The wisteria vines, the roses on the vine, the sleepy moths,
and the alligator curled up near the edge of this universe,
where not to kill is a cruel travesty.
The Mayaca Indians who lived along these shores,
Now gone, and only the memory of them lights up
the night like ancient, flickering stars.
The metaphysical question cannot be found
in the blood bursting from a bullet hole in the heart,
Nor the racial slur churning in hateful saliva,
in the fat gut of the killer sluggish in his killing,
for the night is silent in its winter heat.
The murderer knows his rights to ‘stand your ground’
in this country, where every day is hunting season
like the Nazi who went after his quarry
in the streets of Berlin, Hamburg and Frankfurt.
For in this country the slight cough covers up the fear
of knowing where we are living —
I have read in
the newspapers, seen it all on television that there is no
greater country than this country, even though we murder
daily, regardless of the weather, regardless of national
celebrations about liberty (that odd word
in our declarations for our endless wars and perchance
The murderer knows “It was all God’s plan”,
For in ‘God’s plan’, we shall know fear.
Except for the killer, he knows no fear,
For he sees himself as one of the chosen, denying
the Afro-Peruvian blood that runs through
his American veins
The Black youth hurried to his father’s house,
carrying Skittles and Arizona Ice Tea,
His poor baggage to cross the River Styx,
Before the killer stalked and murdered him—
That Phäeton in all of us that wanders,
When that sun-god chariot is brought down
by a bullet setting a nation into an orbit of fire.
I see a swift river shinning like a knife, from
My Lebu, sliced into two halves of fragrance, I hear it,
I smell it, caress it, it travels like a child’s kiss and then
when the wind and rain rocks me, I am sorrowful
like an artery in my temple and on my pillow.
It’s him. It is raining.
It’s him. My father has arrived soaked in water. It smells
of a wet horse.
It is Juan Antonio Rojas on a horse crossing a river.
This is not news. The torrential night collapses
like a flooded mine, and a flash of lightning shudders.
Mother, he has come home: Let us open the door,
give me that lamp, I want to receive him
before my brothers, Let me bring him a good glass of wine
so he can recover, and gives me with a kiss,
and he nails me with the spikes of his beard.
Here comes the man, here he comes
covered with mud, enraged against misfortune, furious
of the exploitation, full of hunger, here he comes
under his poncho de Castilla.
Ah, immortal miner, this is your house
made of oak, that you built yourself. Forward:
I have been expecting you
I am the seventh son
of your children. No matter so many stars
have been passing through the sky for so many years,
that we buried your woman during a terrible harvest,
because you and her have multiplied. It is not important
that the night has been black for both of you.
— Come in, do not stand there
looking at me,
without seeing me, beneath the rain.
Gonzalo Rojas Translated by: Luis Lázaro Tijerina
Down the Road, With My Father
There is no road here, no cathedral
of wax candles to light up before the grave
of my Father, Luis Garcia Tijerina.
His fedora is long gone, blown into the wind,
the crevasse in his skull where lightning struck,
astonished us all, except here he is
visiting again in his khaki uniform,
his black engineer boots hitting the ground.
Athena has accompanied me to this grave
with a bitter smile on her face
because Luis Garcia died so young.
She pulls back her braided hair,
tugging in the folds of her white tunic
before she throws her shield carelessly
over clumps of earth where others are buried.
She reminds me of the braceros my father put to work
in fields bursting with potatoes , cabbages, and lettuce,
these men who brought in the summer harvest
laughing as they threw their full gunny sacks
like ammo rounds over their aching backs.
It’s autumn in Vermont and the cormorants
are flying over the shores of Lake Champlain.
The Adirondacks have all turned blue in the morning mist
but my thoughts move restlessly with the herds
of cattle on the dusty roads of Hereford, Texas.
That is where I see this youthful ghost
dressed up in his sergeant’s uniform,
his photograph enameled on his gravestone.
“What will become of you, my son? You do nothing
but read and kick a ball around in the fields, and collect
toy soldiers. What are we going to do with you?”
I still cannot reply.
Lost in the numbness
of this infinite-starred galaxy,
we still say nothing.
The hands that I’ve clasped out of desire
or simple love, awaken next to me
while Athena winks, again.
Defying death. This October
is a beautiful ruin of color and memory,
its rusted leaves scattering down the road.
“… the righteous man has nothing to fear, neither in life, nor
and the gods will not forsake him.”
It was a cold December morning.
The gods came to this place once known as Quanneapague
before the town bells could ring out their joy to the world.
In the forest surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary,
the hoarfrost hung like Christmas icicles.
Homes along the quiet streets of Newtown
were brimming with pine cones and poinsettias,
with Christmas wreaths and Himalayan green roses.
The gods saw the longing for immortality
in these rolling hills with their winter apple orchards.
This was the same place where the French General Rochambeau
encamped on the way to the siege of Yorktown with his troops.
It was not a massacre then, but a revolutionary war.
These ancient gods who dimmed the hopes
of every schoolchild in Connecticut
were the same gods who sealed the pact
between a great democracy and an even greater anarchy,
proclaiming its right to bear arms.
Here we are again, moved to insidious silence
as we witness men and women of high rank,
along with the somber faces of journalists and TV anchors,
lowering the flag to mourn another mass killing.
The people have gathered outside the Newtown meeting house
not far from Ram’s Pasture
as they have since the Revolution, standing
beneath the Rooster weathervane, its proud tail
spinning at the center of this unending vigil.
Everybody knows what this country is about.
The cathedrals and churches are lit with candles
while gun shops across America are jammed with new customers.
As members of the ‘Commission on Morality and Massacres’
we go on talking about safety
while gawking at children’s coffins on TV.
The chatter on the internet is all about mental illness
and the impossibility of gun control,
as if death was the perpetual star of our nativity.
They fell at Sandy Hook: twelve schoolgirls, eight boys, six adults,
warriors as great as those at Lexington and Gettysburg
but they were no match for two automatic pistols
and the smooth steel of a Bushmaster assault rifle.
Thinking of America’s firing ranges and the carnage
unleashed by one gunman,
the gods came to me this morning.
Before the rooster crowed,
I took my AK-47 and smashed its wood stock,
gutting the firing chamber and breaking its trigger
with a sledge hammer.
I marveled at the precision of this weapon,
at all the beauty and craftsmanship
now lying in ruins.
The gods did not promise me any safe passage.
THE MALADY OF MODERNITY
I am text-messaging to you my malady,
from the ground up from days, months, years
where truth is no longer with us,
except “Breaking News” about the assassination
of a terrorist, as food prices go up
and millions cannot find work in a country,
The Live Reality shows bringing jealousy and laughter
to our private lives and hatred of who we are or were
in this modernity, the skies modern with flame and breaking glass
from shattered windows and bodies shot through
with fragments, glittering like bright pebbles
in a mountain stream.
It is May, the trees not quite bright green with leaves,
Women not yet slightly unclothed along the streets,
Men almost showing their bulges along their waist lines,
Children not quite ready to kill their friends
after watching a violent video in some suburban house,
The afternoons ‘twittering’ with jokes and gossip
about some Hollywood movie star,
or how the President struts so finely after announcing
another raid upon an enemy of his enemy who was once his friend.
The modernity of my life is weak.
App phones, computers with refine hard drives,
Applause for those actors who sit in the White House
Situation Room and hear with astonishment the heroic words
“Visual on Geronimo”, the luster of their history now seared
with glory for casting the great Apache warrior into
a code name for the murder of an enemy that was paid to once
be our friend, I do not have the force
to describe the seals coming out of water or skies in the darkness….
How dazzling it must be to hear music of bravery
that the malady of the rack squeaks out on the Pakistani road.
In the harbor, boats are reeking with foul smells and rat droppings.
The rivers are overflowing and scattering memories of water
across fields and houses, where people once lived in peace… or
in hatred. Sirens scream out, tornadoes slam into buildings, cars,
streets; those who were poor are now homeless amid the shattered
trees now bright green in May. More rain comes, where
is the Arab Spring here? Modernity has cast its spell upon these
shells of outspoken words, and still, and still,
I am weak from the modernity.
Death is a Trumpet Note Away
(To the Jazz Trumpeter, Lee Morgan)
I hear your trumpet notes splitting the evening skies,
breaking up a piano solo, then a sparse hot guitar
opens the modal line for your slow bursts of almost
cornet sounds a river flow of “Avotcja One”-
trumpet sounds “into a bed of plaints” and flurries
for a drink at the bar before midnight,
as a lusty tenor sax whines to the stars.
Your be-bop to hard-bop complaints:
Great trumpet’s fusions into the raging air,
sidewinder complaints of looking for the midnight sun,
The hardcore flow of aimless and good people
moving softly across the dirty dance floors
as if waiting to hear your trumpet announce
the morning sunrise.
On a cold February morning at Slugs’, a jazz club,
your girlfriend shot you through the heart
Death is a trumpet note away.
“Jazz, by its very definition, cannot be held down to written parts to be played with a feeling that goes only with blowing free.”
– Charles Mingus
You don’t have to be religious to love jazz.
There is no gospel in Mingus’s throbbing bass,
no lonely night train on a hot summer night
looking to the heavens for respite.
Rhythm surges six-to-bar to clapping
hands and soul
amid shouts of want and laughter,
drums, like a thousand sticks of dynamite
explode into sound.
Trombone morning for a trumpet girl,
-“Better Git It in Your Soul”,
says the woman next door.
No congregation waits for you.
Say hello to “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”,
that 12-bar blues echoed by the saxophone
as piano bar melodies flirt shyly
with the trombone’s wail
of sliding rhythms.
Mingus plays “Fables of Faubus”,
a jazz protest,
strumming his portrait not in hues of color
but in refrains that echo the bitter fables
of our ravaged country,
mocking apartheid and American invasions
The singular bitter, yet haunting pull of the bass strings
evoke our discontent against the State.
Blossom Dearie, Take These Jazz Words
(For The American Jazz Singer,
Your voice is sweeter than white blossoms scattering
from trees in Montparnasse, where I loved
a certain woman in my youth.
The irony of melodies echoes among the vespers
of cruel winter,
your hands glide across the piano keys
that seem to dance with the falling snow.
Springtime rains come to Paris streets
while children play the ancient games.
How proud we are in summertime
when the forgotten flower stalls close near the Seine,
and nighttime falls, our laughter carried by the winds of night.
Autumn approaches and we walk,
arm in arm, with the sob of jazz in our hearts.
Chet Baker In Paris
In September of that year
when Paris had not yet turned her leaves
into pigments of dry reds and burnt umber,
you played your melodious trumpet sounds,
no mawkish phrases, no murmurings
sinking into the false twists, just cool jazz.
When all is said and done, no one
loved you more than your trumpet,
sending its small, lovely notes to the
night winds near Club St. Germain
You played, “Those Foolish Things”,
“Tenderly” and “Summertime” with sad
trumpet walks on stage at the Salle Pleyel,
your phrases clear,
soft heat in April
everything happening to you.
Monday Afternoon Jazz
The trumpet blows out a cool wind
as shafts of sunlight spin through
a large window café
An upright-Bass gyrates up, down,
then sideways to the urgent rhythms
of an acoustic guitar.
An alto saxophone mutes out the clouds
between a man and woman holding hands
at an old, wooden table
The trumpet moans in answer to
the flute’s teasing notes,
as their passionate exchange
escapes into the steamy, rain-soaked streets
Springtime turns into long summer days,
while our love lingers on a lonely, blue note
on the dance floor
Jazz Suite No.2
After Dmitry Shostakovich
A jazz march on Moscow’s Red Square-
saxophones blare in the cold sweeping snow.
Down the cobbled street
a suite of clarinets and flutes
dance to the blizzard’s song,
Shostakovich’s playful melody skates
on the Neva’s thin ice
white as pristine piano keys.
I lie awake, sipping scotch and soda
Remembering a springtime train ride
to New Orleans, that old city
of foxtrots, blues, and swing,
caught in the mouth of a hurricane’s eye
along the broken levees.
The Jazz Suite escapes its raging winds
bringing memories of your embrace.
We take “Tea for Two” on the dance floor,
Between our lips and fingertips,
the beat of eternity
in a jazz melody written
by the great Russian jazzman.
Luis Lazaro Tijerina is a military historian, a published poet, easel painter, and soccer coach. He was was born in Salina, Kansas and is of Mexican American descent. He currently lives in Burlington, Vermont.