How to read a poem…

…in front of an audience of strangers after your friends signed you up for an open mic night

Most importantly, you suck in a breath. You hold the stand like an ex-girlfriend coming back to you—just far enough for her to catch your words without falling into the old cycle of things. Downcast eyes, scanning the scrawl of your journal, feeling the beat of each line pulsating throughout our veins—a secondary heart to one you gave away too freely in your youth. Let the air catch the nuances of your voice as you fabricate a lilt that isn’t part of your daily speech because you’ve been taught to read this way. Fabricate an emotional response to your own words, feel the artificial emptiness catch in your throat as you remember a memory you’re not too sure happened or was something you picked up from a television show in your youth. Twist your words into singular nooses on which to hang your audience. Introduce you piece. Talk about your inspiration. Admit that it’s unedited, but never confess how many times you wrote it down until it came out just write. Take in that breath. Close your eyes. And remember, none of it matters. What your teachers said. What your peers said. What you’ve come to believe what poetry means. Erase the rhyme schemes. Blackout the meter count. Drop the stranger’s voice. Just walk up to that mic and read.

A preface in the afterword

I started writing poetry in high school. Like most teenage hopeless romantics, I thought that the medium would somehow score me a girlfriend (and if you count Jeanna’s interest in me, it worked). What I wrote then pales in comparison what I’m capable of now.

A lot of my mistakes as youth stemmed from the fact that high school English classes are cancerous to adolescent creativity. Mind numbingly so. While several teachers growing up did support and encourage me on my writing quest, but they hammered the archaic idea of poetry into my skull and that was a disservice to me. If you’re into writing sonnets, haiku, and couplets, by all means.

Of course there were lessons on how to read a poem. To this day, I see new faces trying to mimic their high school teachers (and, sometimes, college professors) reading the lesson rather than the emotion. I hear all the right pauses and stresses the way teacher taught them to read. They take in the same breaths. They mimic the same airy voices. They’re shackled to the academic ideal for the shake of a flow.

My professors taught me tricks, sure. Taught me how to create a rhythm with my sentences. Taught me that poetry should snake itself into my prose. How to use sentence length for my own benefit. They opened the door to types of poetry that high school teachers hid away from us like our fathers’ back issues of Playboy.

I guess my advice is that people need to quit their shit. If academia is your thing, then that’s fine. It’s your thing. But it shouldn’t be everyone’s thing.


a dumb screenshot of youth

I don’t believe in soulmates. The idea of destiny having any role in who I fall in love cheapens the experience. Besides, the math doesn’t pan out for soulmates. The idea of meeting the one in your own backyard isn’t fate; it’s convenience.

I’m enamored with the idea of “sole mates,” though. The idea of out of the billions of potential people, you’re the one with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. So when I meet a happily married couple (or even a long-term, unmarried couple), I silently root for their happiness.

Not sure if I’m past the age where all my friends are getting married. There are still single people in my circle, after all. But divorce is in season. And I think death isn’t too far off. And the existential crisis starts setting in (but that’s a post for another day).

We spoke about divorce. Namely that of my coworkers’. While I never married Jeanna, the motions that they went through feels familiar. They just handled it better than I did. Or, at least, the way went about it seemed less destructive than path.

I lived my life on the stage. There was nothing too taboo for me to discuss in the public forum. And while I didn’t stay silent on the matter, I was asked not to divulge the details of our break up. And I don’t think I ever did.

When the discussion turned to signs that they missed or were suspicious of before their divorce, I remember the way it was when we broke up in 2008. How, even then, I didn’t handle it well. The things I learned about her and how I learned about them. The helplessness I felt when she slipped through my fingers.

I wasn’t the best boyfriend. I was hardly a partner. My selfishness got in the way a lot. And back then, I wasn’t ready to admit to that. And I did some pretty shitty things to people I loved. Still love.

Sometimes I wonder what’s the proper procedure of moving on. I’ve had my flings. I’ve had my one night stand. I’ve offered my vulnerability to someone who took advantage of it. But when I see people fresh out of a divorce already building a new life with someone else, it irks me. Because what does it mean that someone can get over a marriage of 10 or 13 or 20 years within a matter of months. Unless, your new relationships are just new to the public.

I’m not casting stones. I’m just confused.

Stream of Consciousness

Jenny, This One’s For You

or, I’m Over It & Done with Your Cowardice

Last time we spoke, we let the conversation stretch out that we found ourselves punctuating our sentences with the soft, shallow breaths of our sleep. I came to your image on the screen in which you slept & knew that I had offered up my vulnerability to you like a Christian prayer to a malevolent deity. Despite my best effort, I nursed on your sweet nothings, seeking nourishment in your venom. You pushed me off the road of self destruction into oncoming traffic, where you left me playing a one-man rendition of Frogger in which the motorist of each passing vehicle was you.

As a habit, I replay every single moment of our time together, dissecting them for some deeper meaning. Memories of you visiting me at work, where we sat on the floor between the shelves as you complained about your day while I pretended to work. Of the two us browsing through Walmart where you found a pair of sheep pajamas that you wanted, but didn’t buy—even though you went back to buy later in the night. Of our first kiss outside in a Dairy Queen parking lot, and just how quick I managed to steal your breath. How we chased a frog with your son in the park, the last night you were only a few streets away from me and not the thousand-mile divide you called home.

I searched for clues. Replayed the conversations that initially led to your nonexistent goodbye. Because like the cowardly bitch that you proved yourself to be, you’d rather vanish in thin air than face the confrontation of your casualties. Despite the miles you’ve dragged me through, I still don’t hate you. Nor can I pity you. You’ve given yourself the shovel and dug your own grave. Because I know people like you. Those who want love, but cannot give it. Those who live for the drama of their actions because it allows you to remain the victim of your circumstances without owning up to responsibility.

So here we are again. Estranged. And no matter how much I try to get through to you, no matter how much I demand some closure, the unhappily ever after ending to our story, you’ll never give it up. Because it gives you some false sense of having the upper hand over me. But this is my closure. This is how the story ends—me yelling at the top of my lungs to no one at all. But who the hell cares, right?


There’s always more to say…

Facebook Status Update:
April 12, 2017 at 12:11 am
It's been too long I think. Maybe it's time I just put myself out there. Heh. We'll see.

It’s not too cryptic; it gets to the point. I’ve isolated myself for far too long, and I’m beginning to feel the urge again. You know the urge. I’m sure we all get some form of the urge at some point. The incredible itch that cannot be scratched. At least not scratched alone. But in the last few months, I’ve allowed my walls to crumble. And exposing my raw, emotional self to a live audience left me yearning for more.

Whenever someone asked me if I write, I talked in past tense. I wrote. I performed in front of live audiences. I talked to friends about my work. And added, “These days I’m more content on helping others find their voices on stage than lend my own.” And maybe it was true when I typed those e-mails or responded to that familiar stranger when approached. But as I type this, as I read Lessons in Love & Loss Pt. 1 and Inspired by a poem I watched performed on YouTube, it became one of my greatest fictions.

So it’s time I returned to my familiars, my pen and paper. It’s time that I clear my throat. Time to put myself out there again. To expose myself like a nerve. To stand up in front of the mic and make the world my confessional.

Film 365 · Music

As I Walk Through the Valley

In high school, I lived vicariously through my friends. Anxiety was never a stranger. And I noticed early on that loud noise (no matter how enjoyable) and flashing lights triggered an uncomfortable experience for me. Instead of going to places like Trenton Point for their shows, I’d listen to the stories instead. I learned about bands like Vally Lemons and Inkbag (I later met band member Angela Ink years later when working on an article on the South Texas Rolleristas, a local roller derby team).

I experienced the action via recorded video tapes and mixed cassette tapes. Never first hand. In fact, my first concert was in college and it wasn’t for entertainment purposes but networking.*

In college, I met Ronnie Garza. We had a few classes together, but mostly we went to the same poetry events. Ronnie’s poetry was another level compared to what I wrote—shit, what I still write. We stayed in a somewhat sporadic contact (thank you, Facebook!) after college. I stopped attending poetry events. I became a father. I went through a terrible break up with Jeanna. There is a laundry list that I can give here, but the result is the same: I forced myself into exile. I needed a break from living my life on the stage (though, anyone who follows my social media knows that isn’t true – I mean, *motions to everything on the blog*).

Early last year, or late 2015, I ran into Amado Balderas at Barnes and Noble. After ducking out to use the restroom, I ran into Ronnie and we started talking about the project he was working with Charlie Vela. They wanted to make an in-depth documentary of the Valley music scene. He told us both (Amado later ventured to look for me) how they’re interviewing everyone who’s ever had a foot in the growth of this scene.


The film premiered at South by South West 2017. And, last night, it had its home premiere at the Edinburg City Auditorium. Looking at all those in attendance, it felt like a micro high school reunion. Former classmates to teachers stretched as far as the eye could see. Even in the documentary, I caught glimpses of people I knew attending the concerts. And I cringed at their attire. While mine hasn’t changed much, I still shudder to think of all the clothes I wore in high school.

Hearing the stories again (some for the first time), I remembered that feeling of my youth. Sitting in awe and experiencing these stories as if I were there. I felt the chill of recognition and nostalgia run up my spine. This film is essential for anyone who grew up in the Valley, as well as, those who are still growing up here. I strongly urge those who happen upon this post to head over to Netflix and request this film.

The documentary was followed by live performances of several South Texas bands. Only a few were familiar. Performing last night: Ralph & the Cruisers, Rio Jordan, DeZorah, Confused, and Panteon. (I’m gonna be completely honest, I was only interested in the last two bands.)

It took me a few years, but I finally attended one those concerts I heard so much about in high school.

Thank you, Ronnie and Charlie for making this movie.

* I attended a Christian concert as president of Sigma Tau Delta while trying to woo over the Campus Crusade for Christ to partake in our organization’s book drive. I didn’t have much fun, but at least there wasn’t any loud noises or flashing lights.

In Remembrance

It may have been a tad ungrateful of me; I’m sure my mother made me realize that sometime between receiving the gift (which caused, I’m sure, a negative facial reaction) to returning to the store from which it was purchased. If memory served me well, it was a Polo shirt—you know the kind. The one with the horse embroidered by the collar—and khaki pants. As I pulled the outfit out of the bag and grimaced, my aunt gave me a quizzical look. “You don’t like it?” she asked sweetly.

Where do I begin? I remember the endless mocking I’ve received from wearing my CK tee to school. How I experienced a label switch at a drop of a hat. From misfit loner to preppy poseur. Sure, labels mean nothing to me these days (and maybe they didn’t mean much to me then), but when you’re still trying to find your place in the world, these things meant the world.

“Maybe we’ll find you something you’ll like when we return it,” she said. We did.

A few years later, after high school graduation, my aunt offered to buy me a late graduation present. I shuddered. Memories of clothing that didn’t fit my personality came rushing back. “How about you buy me a book instead?” I asked meekly. And she did. Something called House of Leaves, a book that would later defeat me in college.

Today, I attended the RGV premier of the music documentary As I Walk Through the Valley (more on that in another post), my phone exploded with notifications. Some e-mail. A text. Several from Facebook. The movie was winding down, it seemed. What was the harm in looking now?

Of course, I’d think that.

Even before I started looking at the likes, comments, and replies, a post by my cousin stood out. “My mom died,” it read.

The sound of the film faded. My mind went utterly blank. My aunt Wanda died. Aunt Cookie. The lady who couldn’t understand her nephew sometimes, though she tried. I fumbled with my phone. I couldn’t comprehend. Is this really happening? Breathe.

I called Mom. I needed some sort of semblance. Some sort of understanding what this (not-so) cryptic status update meant. My cousin had called my brother. Through sobs, she told him that her mother was gone. He called Mom and broke the news.

Aunt Cookie, as I knew her. No idea where that nickname came from, or who was the first person to call her that. Gone. Ceasing to exist in a blink of an eye. And parts of me screamed for me to well up in tears. Because this is the woman who had rather me be honest with her than wear something I hated to please her.

I still can’t comprehend it. As much as I understand the words. Understand the story my mother told me later on in the night. What happened. How it happened. When it happened. And the hardest decision my uncle might had to make in his entire life. I still can’t fathom that it’s true.


Not sure if I’ll keep this post up. This is just me. Trying to make sense of the world.