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FERNANDO D. CASTRO was born in Ibagué, Colombia. Just two months before turning fifteen he left familiar surroundings to emigrate with his family to the New York City neighborhood of Jackson Heights – the heart of New York City's Colombian community. He grew up in an immigrant working-class family that wanted to embrace the American dream and yet was painfully aware of its contradictions. A writing vocation called late but loudly after he relocated to Los Angeles in 1984. Fernando branched out from the rigors of architectural practice to poetry, playwriting, journalism, teaching poetry and cultural activism. His publications include Fernando’s Café, from Inevitable Press, 1998; The Nightlife of Saints, 2007; Redeemable Air Mileage, 2011, from TA’YER Books; and contributions to more than a dozen anthologies.

Fernando is also responsible for 25 anthologies of creative writing by youth and adults. For more than a decade, he has been an artist-in-residence in programs sponsored by such agencies as the California Arts Council, the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Cultural Affairs, and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division. He is the winner of a City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs COLA 2010 fellowship in Literature. He is a co-founder of TA'YER Multicultural Performance Collective, a non-profit organization that works with youth-at-risk, recent immigrants and the LGBT community.


Cashing a Rain Check

Don’t need the codeine of cough medicine
to make me drowsy; the sound of rain will do.
Add the stupefying threats of December — Christmas blues coming;
wake me up January 2nd when all the holiday fuss is over.

There are those days when you get a body quorum:
your toes agree with your vertebrae,
one’s thumb raises its nail: unanimous;
general consensus to enter a grizzly bear slumber;
live off one’s fat, don’t eat, drink, no TV necessary.

Media blackout, voluntary curfew,
drowsiness, pillows angelic wings;
tender embrace, pajamas or briefs don’t matter;
fat, skinny, old or young — what useless notions!
Laugh at wrinkles, it’s OK, it’s fine
to just be rain, today and tomorrow.
The streets have gained a permanent blanket of gray.
Rain drums the shingles of my house, trata, trata, trata;
exploding kernels of pop corn, drops as large as puddles.

I sleep awake, the job world is distant;
no concern if this coma will last forever;
belly full, cozy bearish tickles.
I believe today is Friday, furlough Friday.
The great recession of 2009:
my bills are paid;
Francisco mended the roof last month.


Thank You October Occupiers

They came to disrupt the melancholic autumn leaves,
alter the mismatched Halloween costumes of 99¢ stores,
discover new uses for cheap toy district merchandise,
irritate pigeons and downtown business drag,
add new parishioners to the Mission’s soup kitchen,
dig the shallow grave of my day to day resignation.

Have own costumes will travel.
Quickly install tents behind LA’s city hall:
the new pueblo sprawls with slogans, first aid booths,
thrift store libraries, drumming circles and John Lennon karaoke.
LA County sanitation quickly shut down the makeshift hotplates;
peanut butter and jelly, cold cereal and milk
— bananas when available became the compulsory diet.

They dress like backpackers, refugees from Berkeley’s People’s Park,
Burning Man voyeurs, dust bowl survivors.
The occasional lawyer on the way to the courthouse
breaks for lunch, that was her or him before marrying a practice
— a mortgage and breeding children and becoming another boring adult.

Daria and I blush for our token participation
but she knows Alex one of the occupiers from
her days working at the video rental shop in Topanga.
We have brought oranges, strawberries, donuts, peanut butter
and jelly; want to add a grains of sand 
— ammunition to a collective statement.

Fuck NPR, fuck the newspapers that demand
a political platform, a ministerial bureaucracy!
What consistency? There is no consistency!
CBS, NBC, Fox, KTLA vans ransack the carrion
from Dr. Conrad Murray trial; sorry Chaz Bono got kicked out
of “Dancing with the Stars,” but frankly who cares
if Cher sobs rivers for TV Trash News!

I love my KPFK free speech delirious –
B of A, Wells Fargo, Citibank are more of a kill.
Their dirty laundry stinks up the air of our financial districts!
Boycott those thieves! Why not corporate gossip TV!
Expose their dirty CEO 10 digit salaries at our expense!

The kids are so right on when they begin carving pumpkins
with the faces of Bush, Koch’s David H. and Charles, Cheney,
Rumsfeld, Berneke, Greenspan, Geithner, Henry Paulsen
and other market mongrels to whom we owe
this putrid long recession, mortgage default sickness

My baby boomer generation has screwed the generation
that followed us; after the draft and Viet Nam ceased to exist
many of us went to sleep, but the grapevines stumps remain alive.
I love you occupiers, quixotic barbarian invaders
Unlike New York, downtown LA is glad to accept you:
New company to the homeless, the new dwellers of loft condos
and a fledgling nightlife. Thanks for allowing us to all come home!


(Excerpted from)

La Nueva Luz

It is the portly Mexican waitresses that keeps me coming;
their hirsute Frida Kahlo witch beards
and makeshift Mexican peasant uniforms,
can’t help but to be drawn to their motherly figures;
feel comfort under those hens spriteful skirts.

Solid nurse shoes grip the floor
even when customers have spilled orchata, slippery salsa splashes;
they watch me attentively as I order a ration of carnitas;
owlish stares that capture my flimsy tray,
and before I get a chance they have asked where I’ll sit;
grab an extra salsa dispenser to please me,
and direct me to sit by the porch facing Placita Olvera.

On weekends, tourists and locals fill the dining rooms
come back to Olvera Street as an urban pilgrimage
— sad mockery of a Mexican Alta California.
They discover an alternate, tamed version of Mexico,
much closer and suposedly safer than Tijuana or East LA;
yet unaware of the Mexican core of Los Angeles.
Duos, trios of musicians sing old Los Pancho’s torch songs —
voices and guitars they no longer bother to tune.
They go from table to table until someone
breaks down and offers five bucks for a Besame Mucho or Perfidia;
they depress me no end, but they do much for the borderlands decor.

On the Placita, the Aztec dancers strut the repetitive steps dictated by drums
      and shell horns;
hefty men jump in discordant turns yet in unison: shoed in heavy guaraches;
peaccock headresses without which their costumes would be incomplete;
yet, how is it possible to prove authenticity after so many centuries of
It must be exhausting to prance and shake, followed by younger apprentices
who cannot yet master the stamina of the elders.
Yet they all agree that their dance is a light that must be kept on
in memory of mythic Aztlan still occupied by yet another colonial power,
even if there is a zero possibility of seceeding from the union.

Pigeons and sparrows who have stolen our last grain of compassion
during the working week, scavenge oh so solicitous on weekends.
Their begging beaks come directly at your table for a morsel;
children love to give away their portions of tortillas
and the dried up tamales’ masa with so little meat, the bloating power of two
     cans of beer.

Breaking in the Old Landlord

While some shoot heroin, gamble, drink,
love addictively, complain,
Irma, my new tenant, does laundry, basketfuls
properly separated between whites and colors,
synthetics, polyesters.
Pantyhose and wool will never mix in the house of Irma,
when it comes to purification.

She plays with the cycle switches of her washing machine –
accomplished keyboard pianist,
marrying technology and process.
Watch that light; it’s time for fabric softener,
or else jeans will stand up, rebellious after drying,
indomitable collars will refuse ironing.

I’m glad I haven’t let her down;
the house water heater works fine in summer.
I know she is on “rinse” when the stairs vibrate —
globs of lint cloud the stoop steps
when I come from work after the dryer has climaxed.
I leave for the Hollywood Bowl moments later.

I was livid when she plastered her children’s sneakers
all over the stairs; shared space is sacred —
she’s violating my barriers.
Footwear is intimate. Laundry lines look great in Italian films.
My idiosyncrasies crash against Irma’s,
and I get the feeling I am being petty.
It’s hard to be reasonable; next Irma will take over my house
and evict me; I must control the domination.

I leave a letter about the water shortage:
California is drying up; the bills are crippling.
And it had to happen: “Nothing that I do seems to please you,”
she complains to me.
Privately, I have to agree with her, ashamed.
Mercy on me,
I go through this ritual every time I get a new tenant.
Property, territory, one’s space or threats, the fear…
Humbly, I must dig the bug out of my ass and calm down.
I hardly spend any time home anyway.

I’ve been told to sell and be on my own,
but that rental money is a most appetizing temptation.
A month flows to the next with lint, cigarette butts, and beer seals
that become part of the routine my assistant helps me to clean up.
On occasion, I throw their tiny trash on their BBQ stove
with passive aggressive delight.
With time, rent money sweetens my crankiness.
I laud her for her impeccable living room.
If Irma says she is married to Jeremiah, her partner,
so they must be.
I resign myself to BBQ, beer and loud music on Fridays till 10 PM.
Jeremiah comes in when I go out to play,
all too eager to light the coals of passion
cook meat on the Barbie,
thank her for the fine job she has done in giving him a fine home —
no papers necessary.



© 2012 Fernando Castro

Fernando Castro

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