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Spring/Summer 2003, Volume 20.3

Art & Poetry

 

Raquel Valle-SentíesPicture of artist Raquel Valle-Sentíes.

Between the Lines: The Poetry and Painting of Raquel Valle-Sentíes


Raquel Valle-Sentíes was born and raised in Laredo, Texas. She attended Texas Women's University where she majored in Art. Her first collection of poetry Soy Como Soy y Que was published in 1996 and won the international Jose Fuentes Mares Premio de Literatura awarded by the University of Chihuaha, Mexico. Her poetry has been published in numerous literary magazines in the U.S. and Mexico. Raquel has also written two award-winning plays.
As an artist, her oil paintings have also won awards. In 2002, her portrait "Old Man" won first place in the International Juried Show in Laredo, TX. She is currently working on a series of portraits of Chicana writers.  Read a conversation with Raquel Valle-Senties published in this issue of
Weber Studies.
 

My World of Colors

My world is full of color.
Join me and I will show it to you.

I will show you Mars, red as
the maple trees in the fall that
blush with coming winter's icy kiss.

I will show you the moon,
that once seemed so far,
blue and melancholy as jazz.

I will show you the moaning wind,
purple like the mourning cloths that
shroud the statues of the saints.

I will show you the shadows of the
night, a mix of all the colors
that envelop me, hide me.

I will show you my soul, a prism that
shimmers with all the colors in the
rainbow which I have bared only to you.

"Self Portrait," Oil Painting, 24" x 36"
"Self Portrait," Oil, 24" x 36"
"Mother and Child," Oil Painting, 16" x 20"
"Mother and Child," Oil, 16" x 20"

Grave Revelation

You hurried down
the street towards our house,
leaving a trace of Tabú
perfume in the air.
The black umbrella dwarfed
you, shaded your fair
skin, creamy as the candles
on your altar
to la Virgen Morena.

Thursday meriendas
were a treat. Your eyes,
blue like the Virgin Mary's
mantle, glowed as you
dunked conchas in the coffee,
and reminisced with my mother.
"Did you ever fall
madly in love?" I asked,
my eyes round as your
glasses. "Once," you said,
fiddling with the clasp on your
black bag. Changing the subject,
you talked about dances, tertulias,
and dresses over crinolines that rustled
as you waltzed to "Over the Waves."

Now you lie
a virgin
in your coffin,
skin wrinkled like
the wedding gown that
shrouds your body.
I'm reminded by
the words "forgive me"
in the yellowed letter
between your cold hands
     that the bell
     has not yet
     tolled for me.
 

"Old Man," Oil Painting, 26" x 48"
"Old Man," Oil, 26" x 48"
"Don Polo," Oil Painting, 24" x 36"
"Don Polo," Oil, 24" x 36"
"Young Girl with Rooster," Oil Painting, 24" x 36"
"Young Girl with Rooster," Oil, 24" x 36"

Sifting Through the Ashes

Sometimes it seems like someone
else's dream, blurry as an old black
and white photograph taken in
a rush to go on to more
important things, like feeling
your arms around me
when they were the cord that bound
the stars to my skin,
when your lips tasted like plump,
bittersweet grapes fermented
by your passion,
when in the dark recess of the Plaza
theater, the touch of your fingers
on my arm sent shock waves
through my body,
when the anguish of your absence
was sharper than the pain from scorpion
that stung me during my sixteenth summer.

When the leaves turned to ochre
and crimson, the romance didn't end.
It was nourished by the waters
of the Río Grande,
shaken by the tropical storms
of Veracruz,
set aflame by the evening sun until
consumed in a song of death,
ashes scattered on the banks
of the Papaloapan.
 

"Denise Chavez," Oil Painting, 24" x 32", Chicana Writer Series.
"Denise Chavez," Oil, 24" x 32"
Chicana Writer Series
"Sandra Cisneros," Oil Painting, 20" x 20", Chicana Writer Series
"Sandra Cisneros," Oil, 20" x 20"
Chicana Writer Series
"Monserrat Fóntes," Oil Painting, 32" x 32", Chicana Writer Series.
"Monserrat Fóntes," Oil, 32" x 32"
Chicana Writer Series
"Norma E. Cantú," Oil Paining, 24" x 30", Chicana Writer Series
"Norma E. Cantú," Oil, 24" x 30"
Chicana Writer Series
"Ana Castillo," Oil Painting, 24" x 36", Chicana Writer Series.
"Ana Castillo," Oil, 24" x 36"
Chicana Writer Series
"Cherrie Moraga," Oil Painting, 24" x 36", Chicana Writer Series.
"Cherrie Moraga," Oil, 24" x 36"
Chicana Writer Series
"Carmen Tafolla," Oil Painting, 20" x 36" Chicana Writer Series.
"Carmen Tafolla," Oil, 20" x 36"
Chicana Writer Series
"The Doctor," Oil Painting, 24" x 36"
"The Doctor," Oil, 24" x 36"
"Dead End Street," Oil Painting, 16" x 20"
"Dead End Street," Oil, 16" x 20"
"The Domino Player," Oil Painting, 24" x 36"
"The Domino Player," Oil, 24" x 36"


 

The Ones Santa Ana Sold

We are
    those who fled
    the land of our birth,
    those who built the great pyramids—
    mute witnesses of Cortés' destruction,
    those who invented the Aztec calendar,
    those who leave
    our mothers,
    our wives,
    our children
    because our country—
    rich in oil— can't feed us.

We are
    the wet-backs that cross
    the Río Bravo,
    the brave ones that cross
    the desert,
    that drown,
    that die of thirst
    or sunstroke,
    that are killed by vigilantes
    or border guards,
    those who passively conquer
    the most powerful nation in the world,
    taking back what once belonged to México.

We are
    the traitors,
    the starving Indians,
    the Pochos,
    the Chicanos.

We are the ones Santa Ana sold.

 

Mal De Ojo

Dice mi abuelita Mine
que si eres bonita,
te miran y no te tocan,
te da Mal de Ojo.
Que si te chulean algo
y no lo tocan,
se rompe o se pierde,
Mal de Ojo.
Que en su pueblo
las madres le ponen
un moño rojo a sus animalitos
más bonitos pa'cuidarlos del
Mal de Ojo.

Cuando mi tía Eunice se enfermó,
Mamá Mine puso un huevo
debajo de su cama.
Lo dejó allí toda la noche.
En la mañana se lo talló por
toditito el cuerpo.
El Mal de Ojo se salió.
Se metió en el huevo.
Mi tía se alivió.
Mi abuelita partió el huevo

Era un ojo.
Te lo juro.
Yo lo vi.

The Evil Eye

My Grandma says that
if someone thinks you're
pretty and doesn't touch you,
you'll get the evil eye.

If they praise a ring you're
wearing and don't touch it,
the ring will break or
you will lose it.

In her village, mothers
put a red ribbon on their
babies and on their prettiest pets
to protect them from the evil eye.

Mamá Mine put an egg under
Aunt Eunice's bed when she got
sick and left it there all night. In
the morning, she rubbed it all
over my aunt's body. The egg
absorbed the evil eye. My aunt
was cured. Grandma cracked
the egg open on a plate. It was
an eye. I swear. I saw it.

 

 
Laredo

¡Te odio! ¡Te amo!

Odio your dusty unpaved
streets and blistering days
of a never ending summer.

Amo tus fiery sunsets that tint
el cielo with burnished copper
streaked with peach and purple.

Odio the dry parched tierra
open cracks waiting for rain
like baby birds waiting for worms.

Amo the Depot bistrict con
sus
stately mansions, decaying
dowagers remnants of a bygone era.

Odio la cloaca the Río Grande
has become...thick, fetid, murky
like the slop pails of long ago.

Amo the nearness of México
divided by a border,
united by our raíces.

Odio el downtown, what we have
made of it, an old harlot whose beauty
no amount of paint can bring back.

Amo las purple bougainvilleas,
whose vivid color
brightens patios all year round.

Odio los cadillos that
stick painfully to my bare feet
and the weeds that never die.

Amo your Tex-Mex culture
where hablar español
is an asset not a liability.

Odio the spray painted fences
zombied messages of decadent youth.
 

Pero more than anything Laredo,
amo your people,
mi gente, a pesar de sus defectos,
por sus muchas cualidades
que te aman y te odian como yo.

 

Did Gringos Have Piojos

The fact that we did is supposed
to be very hush hush, almost a
military secret. Want to see my
mother all hot and bothered? I'll
ask, "How did that story go about
the little girl and the lard? The one
you would tell me when you were
picking piojos off my hair?" From
what I gather, having piojos was
something to be ashamed of.
Did gringos have piojos?

I got them at school. Sister Mary
Theresa saw one on me, told my
mother who got hysterical and ran
to City Drug to get a bottle of BB
Brand that had a picture of a dog
on the label. Since it was during
the war, it wasn't easy to get. The
tiny metallic gray balls that clung
together, stank like a witch's brew.
Mom would pour it thorough my
hair like shampoo.

I remember the hot lazy afternoons,
her fingers going through my long
brown hair searching for the nasty
bugs. For a while, I was the center
of her attention. She was all mine.
Her stories were the bribe so I would
sit still. They teemed with love
and warmth like bedtime stories but
better because she made them up just
for me. Since there were no gringos in
Holy Redeemer School, I thought
piojos were part of our heritage.
Did Gringos have piojos?
 

Soy Como Soy y Qué

Soy flor injertada que no pegó.
    Soy mexicana sin serlo.
        Soy americana sin sentirlo.

La música de mi pueblo,
la que me llena,
los huapangos, las rancheras,
el Himno Nacional Mexicano
hacen que se me enchine el cuero,
que se me haga
un nudo en la garganta,
que bailen mis pies al compás,
pero siento como quien
se pone sombrero ajeno,
los mexicanos me miran
como diciendo,
    "¡Tú no eres mexicana!"

El Himno Nacional de Estados Unidos
también hace que se me enchine el cuero,
que se me haga un nudo en la garganta.
Los gringos me miran
como diciendo,
"¡Tú no eres americana!"
Se me arruga el alma.
En mí no caben dos patrias
como no cabrían dos amores.

Desgraciadamente
no me siento ni de aquí ni de allá.
Ni suficientemente mexicana,
ni suficientemente americana.

Tendré que decir,
    "Soy de la frontera,
        de Laredo,

de un mundo extraño,
ni mexicano ni americano
donde al caer la tarde
el olor a fajitas asadas con mezquite
hace que se le haga a uno agua la boca,
donde en el cumpleaños lo mismo cantamos
el Happy Birthday que Las Mañanitas,
donde festejamos en grande
el nacimiento de Jorge Washington
¿quién sabe por qué?
donde a los foráneos
les entra culture shock cuando pisan Laredo
y podrán vivir cincuenta años aquí
y seguirán siendo foráneos,
donde en muchos lugares
la bandera verde, blanco y colorada
vuela orgullosamente al lado de la red,
white and blue
."

Soy como el Río Grande,
una vez parte de México,
desplazada.
Soy como un títere
jalado por los hilos
de dos culturas que chocan entre sí.
Soy la mestiza, la pocha, la Tex-Mex,
la Mexican-American, la hyphenated,
la que sufre por no tener identidad propia
y lucha por encontrarla,
la que ya no quiere cerrar los ojos
a una realidad que golpea, que hiere,
la que no quiere andarse con tiento,
la que en Veracruz defendía a Estados Unidos
con uñas y dientes,
la que en Laredo defiende a México
con uñas y dientes.

Soy la contradicción andando.
En fin como Laredo,
soy como soy y qué.

I Am What I Am. So What?

I'm a grafted flower
that didn't take, a Mexican
without being one,
an American without
feeling like one.

The music from Mexico
makes me feel complete.
The huapangos, rancheras,
the Mexican National Anthem
give me goose bumps, a lump
in my throat and make my feet
tap to the beat, but I feel like
I'm wearing a borrowed hat.
Mexicans look at me as if saying,
"You're not Mexican!"

The "Star Spangled Banner" also
gives me goose bumps,
a lump in my throat.
Gringos look at me as if saying,
"You're not American!"
My soul crumples.
My heart has no room
for two countries
as it has no room for two lovers.

Unfortunately, I belong
neither here, nor there.
Not Mexican enough,
not American enough.

I'll have to say,
"I'm from the border,
from Laredo,
from a strange place
not Mexican nor American,
where at sunset the smell of
fajitas grilled over mesquite
makes my mouth water,
where at a birthday party
we sing `Happy Birthday'
and `Las Mañanitas,'
where we celebrate George Washington's
birthday without knowing why,
where outsiders get culture
shock and can live here fifty years
and still be outsiders,
where in many places the
green, white and red flag
waves proudly alongside
the red, white and blue."

I'm displaced like the Río
Grande, once a part of México.
I'm a puppet jerked by the strings
of two cultures that clash. I'm
la mestiza,
la pocha,
la Tex-Mex,
la Mexican-American,
la hyphenated
who lacks her own identity
and struggles to find it,
who no longer wants to
close her eyes to a reality
that strikes her,
that wounds her,
who no longer wants
to bite her tongue,
who in Veracruz defended
the United States with
tooth and nail,
who in Laredo defends
México the same way.

I'm a walking contradiction.
In other words, like Laredo,
I am what I am. So what?

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