June 2021 Ralph’s poems
Doing Nothing: Poems before the Pandemic is in progress with editing nearly done and Ella Brown’s illustrations to be added soon. Here I’m posting a thematic table of contents, along with two poems that appear first in Self and the Other, so you can see the range and nature of Ralph’s poems. As I told David Steinberg who reviewed Tales from La Perla and The Illustrated Fractured Fables, if you really want to know Ralph, you need to read his poems. Written from when he was a young man until he died, they show themes he returned to over and over. “Wetback” and “Salt of the Earth” show him drawing on his experience living in a rural corridor used by undocumented immigrant farm workers traveling up railroad tracks and irrigation ditchbanks and on his time in migrant labor camps when picking fruit in the Pacific Northwest. The obviously Mexican-American speaker is coming to terms with being an educated Chicano from a working class background.
Thematic Table of Contents
Self and the Other
Origins and Skin Color
Excursions and Alternate Realities
Paradox Pain and Choices
Ancient and Modern
Myths, Archetypes, Beliefs
Man and Women
The wetback stands at my back door
desiring trade of labor for some food
and water, speaks a few low words
of Spanish, hoping that I understand.
At first glance he looks so young
and frail. Baggy khaki pants fall
in folds about his shoes—dance hall
shoes scuffed loose of any color;
thin brown arms project from bright
and sporty short-sleeved shirt.
At my second glance he looks away,
looks down until I question him
in Spanish. Startled he permits our eyes
to meet, then looks away again.
I am so shamed and angry, halted
at the barrier of his eyes.
I too, almost as Mexican as he,
and his embarrassment.
What is a man cut loose from land
and language? Of a sudden to be colored
in the land of white? No melting here
into the flow of buttery blondness
into the ease of the anonymous.
And yet the ease with which he puts himself
at my disposal! So deferential,
quick to please—he calls me “sir”
and waits upon my order.
My anger grows. I want to grab him,
shake him til his teeth are loose,
wring the servile out of him
like dirty water from a sponge.
The moment that our eyes have met
reflects my fear and my rejection.
Behind his shame I see disdain,
the look that interjects the question:
Who is it hanging loose
from homeland and from nation?
It is I must seek my ease
and hope for his acceptance.
And all the while he stands
and waits on my command.
The Salt of the Earth
Behold, like wild asses in the desert they go forth to their toil, seeking prey in the wilderness as food for their children. . . .They go about naked, without clothing, hungry they carry the sheaves; the tread the winepresses, but suffer thirst.
–The Prophet Isaiah
We always knew we were the bearers and givers,
that we were here to be the gardeners
of Eden; we understood that well;
without our toil the fruit will fall
untended, the earth will dry, the soil blow
in grey-brown clouds,
the garden turn to wilderness.
And Jesus called us blessed,
we who bleed in sweat to wet this earth,
our mother, who will wrap us
in our shrouds.
And you, he told that always
you would have us with you,
the hordes, the multitudes, the crowds
of laboring poor. And yet
we move among you,
creatures of your own devising—
unseen, unheard, unknown. . . .
The shy and deferential wetback
comes down the railroad tracks
seeking work and food.
I let him split some firewood,
trading for a meal.
He moves by night,
hides and sleeps in daylight,
but today has been forced out
by hunger. His companions, caught,
have been deported.
He tells his tale,
eats, then walks on between the rails,
In the migrant labor camp
(owned and run by Uncle Sam)
an old fruit-tramp
tells me all his woes:
gangrene in his toe,
no work, no cash, no food.
He shakes his head confused:
“What can I do. . .?”
When I return to camp that afternoon,
the old guy’s packed it up and gone.
A piece of pie with coffee
in the Chat and Chew Café
while Emilio tells me his concerns:
Brought his family up from Texas—
two sons, two daughters, and a wife—
and everybody worked all summer long
in canneries and fruit fields,
saved their pay to see them through
the lean of winter.
Last night, he says
(too rueful yet to cry)
he got drunk and lost it all
at poker. I buy him coffee
and a piece of pie.
An old couple picking prunes
he sad-eyed, slow moving,
she everybody’s grandma.
There’s trouble with his lungs, malfunction,
and in the mornings I can hear
them strolling round the camp.
She holds his arm
while he hacks up cold obstructions,
clearing out the pipes
before the work truck comes.
It is fall and winter comes apace. . . .
We have heard and know the truth
of what we heard:
We feed and shelter, keep you clean;
we have gathered up your afterbirth,
we will lay you in your grave.
We await in brutal patience
the renewal of the Word;
we wait and on bended backs sustain
all the power and the glory
of all the kingdoms of this world.
The Illustrated Fractured Fables
lllustrated by family and friends with an afterword by William Paul Martin, edited by Geri Rhodes with editorial assistance by Dolores Martin and Alice Beth Rhodes, and graphic design by Ella Brown:
After Ella completed the front and back covers and interior layout–dropping the illustrations into the text–in March 2020 Judith Van Gieson’s ABQ Press http://judithvangieson.com/abqpress.htm agreed to publish Fractured Fables, but the pandemic and Van Gieson’s unexpected death in January 2021 delayed publication until now. I self-published through Tomé Lane Books, and 48 Hour Books printed a first run of 100 books that I’ve been sending to illustrators, contributors, family, friends, and gradually, to bookstores and libraries. With help from graphic artists Ella Brown and Van Gieson’s free lancer George Paloheimo, I’m working on uploading the book to Amazon where I hope it will be available soon, along with Ralph’s other books. David Steinberg says his review will be published in The Albuquerque Journal this month, and I’ll add it to one by Artemis Chakerian on the Events and Book Reviews page. Holed up as I am since the pandemic, I doubt I’ll be holding any events soon. But contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want a copy
El Caballo en la cocina: Las historias de una familia mexicana- americana
El caballo en la cocina in paper and e-book is available on Amazon and the paper version on this site. (See details below.) A new version of El caballo is available for $12, and the earlier one is half price because we found some errors that needed correcting. I don’t anticipate offering readings of El caballo because my Spanish isn’t good enough, and the translators are pretty shy, but Andrea Padilla took copies to Highlands University and hopes some of her former students who are now teachers there will consider the book for their classes. I’ve also let people on the Chicano/Chicana Studies Facebook group know the book is available in English as The Horse in the Kitchen and in Spanish.
Still, your best bet may be to buy the paperback ($12) or ebook ($1.99) on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=El+caballo+en+la+cocina&ref=nb_sb_noss_2
The Town of Tomé Land Grant in Tomé may be carrying El caballo en la cocina soon, and you can order it, as well as The Horse in the Kitchen and Tales from La Perla, here at ralphfloresbooks.com. Or contact Geri Rhodes email@example.com.
IngramSpark takes orders from retailers: https://www.ingramcontent.com/retailers/ordering. And expanded distribution is available at KDP Amazon.
Farmhome manuscript: At my request, Paul Rhetts at New Mexico Book Co-op posted this notice in his NM Book News email on March 25, 2020, but more than a year later, no takers:
OPPORTUNITY FOR GROUP REVISION
Geri Rhodes has posted a manuscript that her husband Ralph Flores wrote before he died. She is offering this here to see if any Co-opers might want to join in a group revision of the story. All she asks as Ralph’s widow is that if anyone does make revisions, that she receive a copy and that Ralph gets credit for the original. If there are enough improvements, she volunteers to be the editor and if she can find a publisher, she would give authorial credit to everyone who contributes. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have things to contribute to the group effort.
Editor’s note: Ralph revised this apocalyptic novel many times. Farmhome tells of the aftermath of a pandemic (which Ralph calla Mombasa) and the efforts of survivors to build a community in isolation . . . until other survivors, some hostile, come on the scene. Considering what we’ve been through in the past year, the book doesn’t seem like science fiction anymore.
Current Project 2021
And now, given lots of stay-at-home time, an edition of Ralph’s poems is in the works, as is his Moral Tales and Ruminations. Ella Brown is illustrating the poems, and our daughter Elena Flores-Tobin is co-editing Moral Tales. So stay tuned.
2019 Tales from La Perla: A Misspent Hippie Youth
The Horse in the Kitchen: Stories of a Mexican-American Family
More at Amazon Central Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B001KI4MTQ
and at The Historical Novel Society: https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-horse-in-the-kitchen-stories-of-a-mexican-american-family/