Richard Garcia is the author of Rancho Notorious and The Persistence of Objects, both from BOA Editions. His most recent publication is a chapbook of prose poems, Chickenhead, available only online from FootHills

       On Libations: My favorite brew is heather ale from Scotland. Maybe because when you raise the glass to sip you get a whiff of the heather it was filtered through. Or perhaps because it has been celebrated in poetry by Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Three Poems by Richard Garcia

History of the Minstrel Show

     As little George Washington prepared to chop down the cherry tree, he got an idea. What if he was seen chopping down the tree? So he blackened his face with a burnt cork. Now if he were seen, it would be blamed on one of the slave children. Little George was seen that day, but only by the slave children, who thought this looked like fun. Sneaking into the kitchen, they dipped their faces and hands in flour. Back in the yard, they played at being white people. They stood tall; they spoke slowly, gave each other commands, and danced their version of a minuet. The children were seen by their parents, and the overseers, and by little George’s father. What fun, they all thought, and thus began the tradition, one day a year the slaves would paint their faces white and become like the masters. The masters would paint their faces black and become like the slaves. They would take commands from the slaves, slap their knees, tell jokes, dance and have a good time. And so on through history―Pat Boone became Little Richard and sang a song he thought might be about ice cream. Even across the ocean, Mick Jagger, an accounting student listening to the blues in his dorm, lost his English accent and learned to talk just like Muddy Waters. Oh Mississippi Delta, Oh Africa, Oh harp and fiddle and banjo. Oh young Elvis, visited in a dream by the ghost of his twin, Jesse. In the dream Jesse was black, whispering, Brother, when you sing, sing like a black man, dance like a black man. Elvis quit his job at the trucking company that day, and began to sing as no white man had sung before.

The Rory Calhoun Film Festival

     They met at the Rory Calhoun Film Festival. She was wearing a black cowboy hat just like Rory Calhoun wore in The Rider. He sported a fedora, a replica of the one that Rory Calhoun wore in Highjack. Her first words to him were, You look like a holy barbarian. Ah yes, he said, you refer to The Beatniks, Rory Calhoun’s least-known picture, in which he was unshaven, wore a sweatshirt and played bongos in a dive where Beatniks read poetry; but actually, he was a detective on the hunt for a missing heiress. Impressed by his knowledge, she knew in that moment that she wanted to die with him, perhaps in a black car that plunged over a cliff, tumbled down a hillside and exploded, just like Rory Calhoun and Veronica Lake in Diamonds to Dust. Veronica Lake, that’s who she reminded him of. The blonde hair flowing, covering one side of her face, revealing, concealing. They would never know that they had been in the same kindergarten, that they had been born on the same day in the same hospital, that they were twins, separated at birth, stolen by baby traffickers. They would never know that even before they were born they were Rory Calhoun fans, as their mother sat alone in the dark watching Rory Calhoun in Dark Angel, while they lay side by side in her womb, each of them attempting to devour the other.

A Portrait of My Childhood Painted by Goya

     In the kitchen an infant is standing in a corner as if he were shackled upright. He hears his mother calling softly, Camínte, niñito.  Older now, he is trying to count to five. A hooded inquisitor from the church stands over him. The boy cannot seem to get past five. The inquisitor slaps his belt against a table. Count! The boy counts, rapidly from one to ten in English, then rapidly from ten to one in Spanish. The shadow of a wolf disappears into the wall. A slow pan of the kitchen: colander, knives, a cleaver. Voiceover: Bombs away! Geronimo! Ai Cisco! Ai Pancho! Hi-ho Silver, away! The boy opens his eyes many years later but he is still in the kitchen. His father is wrestling with a huge bird. Is it a turkey, a chicken? His father is behind the bird holding its wings out, laughing. The boy closes his eyes. Through the smoky sky, an old man clings to the back of an enormous bird.

Photo by Laura McCullough

Also by Richard Garcia