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Juan Felipe Herrera: A Tribute

To celebrate former Academy of American Poets Chancellor Juan Felipe Herrera's tenure as the twenty-first poet laureate of the United States, we’ve compiled the following collection of photographs, essays, exclusive video, and poems.

poem

tomorrow I leave to El Paso, Texas

see my brother-in-law with a styled shirt

in spite of his cancer below 

then a small dinner in the evening the next day

no one knows except I may be on the road

Mesquite where my father settled in '31

forty-five minutes west then a left you go in

sister Sarita waits for me on Abby Street

after decades in separate families we just met 

now I hear the clock snap I swipe an ant

time to walk my dogs five blocks and back

a different route to soothe the mind

it is the same one but I am hopeful
Juan Felipe Herrera
2010
poem

Here and There

I sit and meditate—my dog licks her paws
on the red-brown sofa
so many things somehow
it all is reduced to numbers letters figures
without faces or names only jagged lines
across the miles half-shadows
going into shadow-shadow then destruction         the infinite light

here and there            cannot be overcome
it is the first drop of ink
 

Juan Felipe Herrera
2015

Juan Felipe Herrera at Poets Forum

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Juan Felipe Herrera
poem

In Search of an Umbrella in NYC

You were having a stroke - i
did not grasp what was going on you
standing almost half ways up half
ways down the colors what were they
i was frozen both us us staring
woman with parasol behind me
are you drunk she said facing
you and the deli behind you      you
leaned shivered dropped your coat
parasol
white
reddish flowers
brain    sweat eyes your eyes moving
seeing me behind me what
black man brown man no man   no
colors you
pushed something away  i was
in a rush  en route to big time
poetry Biz  duded up ironed shirt
the rain was in my way i was not
breathing    you were losing   yourself i
was gaining something   you
stumbled out of your coat  unrolled
a stranger’s language from your lips
pushed your      feet down to
the depths  of the tiny sidewalk even
though it was infinite  burning
ahead of me  to
the food truck at the corner yellow chips
corn violet green sugar drops
fiery torn packs flaring down   and
across the street under the cement i
was moving silent alone a crooked line
going nowhere a woman
touched your hand you were lying
on the dirty shoe ground swimming
up to her i      wanted you
            i was a man
running for cover from the waters
i could not                    lift your suffering
it was too late              the current pulled
i was floating away  (i noticed it)
              you
were rising

 

Juan Felipe Herrera
2014
poem

Nohemi — a Song for Paris

Mimi — can I call you that

this is a song for you —

 

with candles we stand & we kneel

this is how it is now we

well all of us we

send you these flowers across time

this time here which we

                        cannot explain

 

all love goes to you

& your friends the other night

so many with you gone we

stand we play Lennon’s piano

Imagine — we say

a world without violence —

we want to imagine that in your name

Nohemi Gonzalez from El Monte

from Whittier California from

Cal State Long Beach —

then

            we run out of words

 

the words

so many words your mamá

Beatríz your cousin Jacqueline

we know them now — for you

 

we write them a poem too

I do not know how we will do that

we are doing that — that is all

like the designs you made — for a high-spirited world

you said you were high-spirited & self-driven — yes

like the dreams you had

& the words First Generation

the ones you used to

describe               your life

 

we continue with you — somehow

it is not important to know how

it is important to continue that is all

I must — say it again

 

we are all writing a poem

for you for your cousin Jacqueline

for your mamá Beatríz — she loved you

their love will make it alright

all of our love will make it alright        yes

 

                        here is your song Mimi —

 

We light Nohemi a candle

the candle waves across the stars

close they are so close because

Nohemi & Paris are in our hearts

 

Because

            Nohemi &

                        Paris — are in

                                   

   our hearts

Juan Felipe Herrera
2015
poem

Saturday Night at the Buddhist Cinema

                                                            There were elephants

in cabaret dress reddish & cadmium blue

& dolphins in undetermined incarnations (I felt as if

I had interrupted the process I mean

the organ player had not risen

remember the Castro theatre off of Market?

It was Visconti’s Rocco & His Brothers & the lights went out maybe

1992 during the Rodney King revolt

the dolphin was working this out somehow tweeting

blinking his tiny saucy eyes I was in the third row as usual

in the middle) there was a horse torn unbridled

immense & stoic being pinned

with a hideous medal by the War Provosts it turned to us &

waited waited              for someone to take her home

the cow was there

 

            in a Mexican Pancho Villa outfit

                                    spraying everyone with snowflakes &

                        you you            should have seen us

 

how we had realized the Way

how we rubbed the blood off of our faces after the killings &

how we stuck it to the assassins huddled in a shabby corner

you should have seen the Pig Act

the pig                         a real pig with a wig in flames

in pinkish pajamas & a cigar doing a Fatty Arbuckle schtick

he even ordered 18 eggs over easy with 18 sides of sourdough

cranberry sauce sardines & a side of pastrami he was

hanging off the window ledge top story of the St. Francis

yoddling to a Gloria Swanson look-alike in a cashmere robe

(it was hilarious it was

what we all dreamed of yes that was it     it

was what we all dreamed of) the chicken in kimono pirouetted

with piquant harpsichord arpeggios

Sonata in E Major by Domenico Scarlatti the evil iris

on the side of the cheeky make-up popped

that is when I fell out

slid to the toilet but there were no towels or stalls or water

it was some kind of trick I said & blew my nose

into my sleeve an Italian piece from Beverly Hills 1966

(why was I there

all of a sudden?)

 

                        For the Short Feature everyone shouted

Wheres the Tuna?
                                                      We want the Tuna?

                        We want the Tuna!

What about the Tuna?

 

The organ rose from the stage

the song Avremi der Marvikher jittered the chandeliers

sung by a scrubby lanky tenor in a shredded vest

I had the same Chrysanthemum eyes of exile

I had the same wet braided locks & the black spot

            we all danced with straw stuffed violas we lost ourselves

            we regained some kind of  tree-strength that had been severed

the screen lit up with our faces huge hands

reached out to us we lit a tiny fire in the village

that is when my mother María danced an incredible

inappropriate Polka at the center of the plaza (How could that be?

She died decades ago!)

I was expecting parables on the Three Treasures

I was running from the bombs I was delirious for shelter

Outside everything was on fire and the gasman was after me

Imagine that Why me? I said. Why me!  But it was no use

so I ran in here

so I crouched under the seats

next to a woman in an emeraldine scaly dress

she was calm & stunning &

strumming a pearl-edged ten-string Stella

you’re Ava Gardner I said Where’s the exit?

 

 This is the exit.

Juan Felipe Herrera
2013