Norma Liliana Valdez

Feb 2011


special note: This poem first appeared in La Bloga

Click here for a JPEG of the poem:  NLValdez_your life or hers_cropped.jpg

the two of us sit in a coffee shop talking of dollars and rents and people we haven’t

seen in over a  decade   (you don’t see how I’m driving my fingernails into the palm

of my left hand) Paty’s heart has failed    drug-induced comas split-open chests and

this reminds me of the poem I’m writing for our son          you think he’s just going

through a phase       a phase like the one you went through when you were his age

when you’d see your mother in the plaza and walk the other way    when you’d try

to manipulate her with your anger because she wouldn’t let you have a rooster as a

pet or a toy      you remember how when you were a child you knew that place you

grew up in like your own skin    you knew every rock    used them as markers to get

to the river and la peña      you killed birds with your slingshot      played shoot-outs

with the other boys    you have stories of childhood pure and innocent    the middle

of eleven children the night before you left for el norte you only told your mother

you were leaving because she asked    you and three other boys turning into men in

Tijuana winter crossing       no one talks about the deaths in the desert caused by

hypothermia the coyote gave you money to buy a used coat   you waited and waited

until the time came to run and didn’t stop running except for the moment the

midnight helicopters hovered above your head you hid in scrub brush      saw a

woman being raped and ran away      your life or hers    hombre    your life or hers

tu niñez perdida     now our son at ten years old goes hours without talking to me

furrows his brow looks long past my gaze and you’re sure he’s just trying to

manipulate me with his anger because I didn’t buy him that video game    the one

with the prostitutes and stolen cars

your life or hers

Norma Liliana Valdez arrived to California from Mexico in her mother’s pregnant belly. She was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her poetry seeks to disentangle the tradition of women’s oppression and pain through the personal intersection of the psyche with the page. She is an alumna of the Voices of our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) writing workshop for writers of color and the Writing Program at UC Berkeley Extension. She holds a Master’s degree in Counseling from San Francisco State University and works with first-generation, underrepresented students as a community college counselor.