J.J. Hernandez


J.J. Hernandez is a poet in Fresno, California. He holds an MFA in poetry and served as the inaugural fellow in the Laureate Lab:Visual Words Studio under Juan Felipe Herrera. You can see some of his work in Tinderbox, Queen Mob's Tea House, and (forthcoming) Crab Orchard Review

Imaginary Lines 

My father drives us to California, once
a year, so that he can see his mother. Colorado, New
Mexico, Arizona, & California blend
together only separated by imaginary
lines on mesas, green fields, old
volcanoes, & desert valleys.  SEE LIVE
BUFFALO splays billboards
somewhere. My dad tells us to look
from the highway, that we have buffalo
in Colorado. Mom plays country
music and the sad songs lull us
to sleep. I dream of the empty
plain, of the dark starry
night, of the underworld, of the layers
of the earth’s core. Crust, mantle,
core. I wake up & we’re in the mausoleum
at Carlsbad. The stalagmites & stalactites
dripping, spiraling into each other.
I remember wandering dark
caves and mashing my feet on bat
shit & wet limestone.  I awaken
again to my parents arguing
about traveler’s checks &
money. More buffalo & more
land. I tell my brother we found
him under a red
rock somewhere
on the New Mexico/
Arizona border. Another imaginary
line. Outside of Gallup we stop
to buy illegal fireworks at a store called
Blue Water. In New
Mexico there is a town called Tome, my
Grandparent’s home.  My father looks
like he’s going to cry when he talks to
an older woman making chile
Colorado. The town was probably built
on the land that my ancestors once
owned. Land that was most likely
stolen, the new America.
She’s probably my cousin he tells my
mother.  She nods and scans
the radio for something else
besides country. In Needles,
my brother is crying, again, he
doesn’t want to be an adopted
child of the desert & my mom pinches
us all from the front passenger seat. In
Fresno, my dad tells his mother
that he went to Tome in New Mexico, while
they talk on her red porch. The paint
is chipping and the sun has beat
the black chairs into grey, but they
own it. They can pass something
to their children, another tradition not
lost, the birds of paradise
that my grandmother loves
still grow & do not die.   

Trinidad, Colorado 2017

For My Mother

I never hug my mother anymore,
         but her sister is dead, her sister
is gone, & I have to hug my
         mother. Peace is a fabrication.
When my aunt died, she labored
         for breath, the hospice manual
called it “fish out of water” syndrome.
         Mom told me it was hard, but she
thinks god took her home. The
         bible tells me so. The bible tells us
so. In my hometown I walked
         along railroad tracks looking
for memories that I lost, for a rock
         landing, limestone, granite, dirt
cactus. Is the end of the world coming,
         is the fire going to kill? I wandered to
a beaver dam that has been in the area
         for years, & when the floods wash it away,
they rebuild. California is burning & the
         aspens of Colorado mimic the fire,
red, orange, yellow,  & the leaves
         rustle. Fire is a tree, a tree is fire.
Mom washes my aunt's bed, cleans her
         closet. Her sisters cry & fight. The
clothes are old, but beautiful. My mother
         isn’t young anymore, streaks of
gray & the sadness in her eyes
         make her look old. We don’t live forever
eternity is a fabrication. Mom asks me to
         write a poem to read at the funeral,
but how do you tell your mother
         you are empty. That you are in the
process of rebuilding, that you
         are not going to live forever. In the last
days perilous times will come. I want
         to go home, I want to wander the brick
streets of the mining town. I want to make
         my parents proud of me, I miss
my grandpa, this is the end of an era, this is an
         era of rebuilding. The city is on
an upswing. Mom, I’m getting there. Sew
         a button on my black shirt for me? I’m
using it more often, the seams are coming
         apart the threads are breaking, the fire
gone, ash carbon, I am carbon.    

© The Acentos Review 2018