Luis J. Rodriguez was appointed Poet Laureate of Los Angeles by Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2014. His poetry book, My Nature is Hunger, won the 2005 Paterson Book Award. His 1993 memoir Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A., with close to half a million copies sold, became one of L.A.’s most checked out in libraries—and one of the most stolen. He has over a dozen other books in poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and nonfiction and has been published in 100’s of journals. For over 30 years he has facilitated poetry workshops and readings in prisons, homeless shelters, juvenile facilities, public and private schools, community centers, migrant camps, universities and bookstores.  Rodriguez is founding editor of the small press, Tia Chucha Press, now in its 25th year, and co-founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in the San Fernando Valley. His latest book is It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing, a finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award.  This spring 2016, Rodriguez introduces a new Tia Chucha Press anthology, Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes & Shifts of Los AngelesCoiled Serpent is a highly anticipated anthology featuring well-known Los Angeles poets.

Victory, Victoria, My Beautiful Whisper

for Andrea Victoria

You are the daughter who is sleep’s beauty.
You are the woman who birthed my face.
You are a cloud creeping across the shadows,
drenching sorrows into heart-sea’s terrain.
Victory, Victoria, my beautiful whisper,
how as a baby you laughed into my neck
when I cried at your leaving
after your mother and I broke up;
how at age three you woke me up from stupid
so I would stop peeing into your toy box
in a stupor of resentment and beer;
and how later at age five, when I moved in
with another woman who had a daughter about your age,
you asked: “How come she gets to live with Daddy?”

Muñeca,these words cannot traverse the stone
path of our distance; they cannot take back the thorns
of falling roses that greet your awakenings.
these words are from places to wild for hearts to gallop,v too cruel for illusion, too dead for your eternal
gathering of flowers. But here they are, weary offerings
from your appointed father, your anointed man-guide;
make of them your heart’s bed.


My Name's Not Rodriguez

My name’s not Rodriguez.
It is a sigh of climbing feet,
the lather of gold lust,
the slave masters’ religion
with crippled hands gripping greed’s tail.
My name’s not Rodriguez
It’s an Indian mother’s noiseless cry,
a warrior’s saliva on arrow tip, a jaguar’s claw,
a woman’s enticing contours on volcanic rock.
My real name’s the ash of memory from burned trees.
It’s the three-year-old child wandering in the plain
and shot by U.S. Calvary in the Sand Creek massacre.
I’m a Geronimo’s yell into the canyons of the old ones.
I’m the Comanche scout; the Raramuri shaman
in soiled bandanna running in the wretched rain.
I’m called Rodriguez and my tars leave rivers of salt.
I’m Rodriguez and and my skin dries on the bones.
I’m Rodriguez and a diseased laughter enters the pores.
I’m Rodriguez and my father’s insanity
blocks every passageway,
scorching the walls of every dwelling.
My name’s not Rodriguez; it’s a fiber in the wind,
it’s what oceans have immersed,
it’s what’s graceful and sublime over the top of peaks,
what grows red in desert sands.
It’s the crawling life, the watery breaths between ledges.
It’s taut drum and peyote dance.
It’s the brew from fermented heartaches.
Don’t call me Rodriguez unless you mean peon and sod-carrier,
unless you mean slayer of truths and deep-sixer of hopes.
Unless you mean forget and then die.
My name’s the black-hooded 9mm-wielding child in our alleys.
I’m death row monk. The eight-year-old gun seller
in city bars and taco shops.
I’m unlicensed, uninsured, unregulated, and unforgiven.
I’m free and therefore hungry.
Call me Rodriguez and bleed in shame.
Call me Rodriguez and forget your own name.
Call me Rodriguez and see if I whisper in your ear,
mouth stained with bitter wine.


The Quiet Woman

The quiet woman roams in the din of belly screams.
She knows rivers and caves and curbsides.
She knows the advent of furled fists.
She is the quiet woman, shadow on park bench,
pushed into needle grass, a disheveled syllable
uttered between makeshift schemes. The burden
of memories is the salvage of fantasy flames,
the mossed-faced shoes stare streams through stria.
Here comes the quiet woman, a blossom in the womb of night.
The miracle-pulp in her hands. She swerves
around odors of hurt, odors of neglect,
of treachery and a lie. What’s the scent of a poem?
The quiet woman knows; she breathes it in
and exhales. Others take the naturalism away,
remove the tender. All that’s left is facade
and caricature. All veneer and word play.
But for a quiet woman, a poem is a smile so open
she’s afraid of falling in.


Luis J. Rodriguez



Three poems from My Nature Is Hunger, new and selected poems: 1989-2004

© 2016 Luis J. Rodriguez


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