National Poetry Month Day 28: Antonio De Jesús López





Self-Portrait as Candidate Statement

I have years of experience 
  looking like a extra for On My Block
of putting on a pinche suit 
  & wearing Cortezes under the table
of hearing those last three words 
  spoken only in Spanish 
by a race of men 
  called my uncles
who’d throw cobija ‘tras cobija
  on our garage floor
& call it a cama. 
  Hallowed be their chests
of refried beans & flea market blankets.
  Luis, Sergio, Felipe, 
who’d end every sentence with the phrase,
  Si Dios me da licencia,
which is Spanish for I hail 
  from a gente who laugh 
more than they live.



  I was born 
inside the toothless mouth
  of a VHS player, 
watching Spy Kids 2 
  on a baby TV
mounted Simba style
  inside a Little Caesar’s,
the K-Mart carts skirted around us, 
  scoffing at how loud we were
as Ama over the phone fed 
the Kaiser lady our insurance,
& saved the world 
  by getting me glasses.
A moment ago, I lazy eyed her 
  wolfing down the medical mumbo 
like a Saturday caricatura
  at the waiting room,
sandwiching syllable & her signature
  on the busted clipboard
handing over our flimsy ID’s 
  to this lady with the whitest teeth
who spoke to us in the clicks of her keyboard 
  behind the counter, its glass 
as thick as the one at the liquor store 
  down our pad.
O the marvel of Amá 
  as she shapeshifted into an accordion, 
her stomach stretching & stretching 
  to sing. To survive, mi’jo,
we must take on many forms.



  Coming from East Palo Alto, 
I was raised by a first-generation 
  nursery of boys who bloomed 
from tanbark, learned since saplings 
  to petal dirt at each other,
to grab fistfuls of fuck you’s 
  & la tuya güey’s, & throw it 
at every exposed part 
  ‘cuz maybe that’s how you grew 
here, in the heart of barkness 
  where it winters in broad gold
& yet the streets are cold,
  where the redwoods & palo altos,
are as tall as tech moguls, 
  and by their very stature & husk, 
fix our face to the forest floor, 
  casting it in a permanent dusk,
leaving victor & vianey’s alike 
  to vie for what’s left
of the rich sunlight. As we climb 
  or at least attempt, 
articles abound, editorializing 
  our ascent, an assembly 
of Attenborough’s who narrate 
  our strange planet,
  These youngsters search 
for some kind of ladder
  by lashing around 
with their whiplike tendrils.
  A raised hand, 
whole limbs shot up 
  from a tagged desk,
a skin of thorns 
  to hide suspensions,
county as my witness
  we spent half our lifespan
pulling each other down,
  and the other 
doubting our brothers to the ground, 
  say to ourselves maybe that’s why 
the planters left us, graded our roots 
  as too gnarly & brown
vines unable to be fed, 
  after all, over a billion has poured 
by Google, Microsoft, and IBM,
  board rooms of silk shoulders shrugged,
we can’t get you to stem.
  We’re sentenced to stay 
in the shadow of the valley, 
  and call it synthesis, a true exchange 
of energy, to save our mothers’ spot in line
  for the dozens of hunger programs.
Is this the dream Dad wanted? To see 
  by the window the second harvest 
trucks lined up at the Boys & Girls Club.
  I watch him, worried
that he grabs a school’s worth of string beans 
  more out of condition than want.


Antonio López is a poetician working at the intersection of poetry, politics and social change. He has received literary scholarships to attend the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, Tin House, the Vermont Studio Center, and Bread Loaf. He is a proud member of the Macondo Writers Workshop and a CantoMundo Fellow. He holds degrees from Duke University, Rutgers-Newark, and the University of Oxford. He is pursuing a PhD in Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford University. His debut poetry collection, Gentefication, was selected by Gregory Pardlo as the winner of the 2019 Levis Prize in Poetry. Antonio is currently fighting gentrification in his hometown as the newest and youngest councilmember for the City of East Palo Alto. More from this author →