Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Guest Blogger: Poet/Writer Christopher Carmona on "roots"

Guest Blogger: Christopher Carmona

My story is Your story. They have the same roots.

My story, like many others, did not begin when Columbus landed on these shores. No, my story, like many others, begins with my mother and her mother and her mother and my father and his father and his father before that. It is a story of people, of practices that my great-grandmother taught my mother and that my grandfather taught my father.

My story has roots in Europe as well as here, what we call the Americas. It has grown many stems and many branches, but both come from the earth, nourished by the same rivers. This cross-pollination has resulted in a new breed, a new fruit that mixes together the qualities of the different seeds.

But my story, the story of Latin@s in this land, has a very violent and vicious backstory. It is a history we have had to deal with since our creation. The cross-pollination of us has tried desperately to eradicate our native seeds through genocide, rape, and re-education.

Wipe out any trace of our native roots, and they will forget they were ever indigenous to this land. “We are all immigrants” is the banner they fly over our heads. We don’t live on reservations. We don’t know our tribal affiliations. We are not native.

How many times have I heard stories of full-blooded Indian grandmothers locked away in little rooms because their families are ashamed of their native roots? How many Chican@s would rather celebrate Cinco de Mayo than remember Wounded Knee? How many Latin@s believe that English is a colonizing language and forget that Spanish has silenced just as many native tongues? We divorce ourselves from our native pasts and embrace our Spanish heritage because we believe we have no claim to our native roots, but we do…

Our blood is filled with as much native blood as Spanish or other European. Our stories are filled with as many native characters as European plotlines. Our poetry drips with as much native imagery as Western forms. 

But where our native roots show more than anywhere else is in our practices. We still have amongst us curanderos and wiseros and heuvos under our beds. We still talk about ojo and know the healing powers of aloe vera. Tortillas, potatoes, tomatoes, and maize are still the cornerstones of our diets, as they were thousands of years ago. 

But we still have a gap in our heritage, a vacancy that has been shoveled over with different traditions, tongues, religions, and practices. We don’t have a visible link to our stories and our practices because of erasure by beliefs that call our native heritage pagan, barbaric, and superstitious. Forgetting the fact that the Maya were practicing algebra, astronomy, and agriculture long before many understood the world was round.

But my story is Your story. They have the same roots.
The Latin@’s history shares the same roots as the native peoples of this land because, as Joy Harjo once told me, “We are all cousins.” We are all family estranged from each other because we have chosen to believe that imaginary borders can divide a people. 

The Rio Grande, the river that I have known my entire life, has never stopped me from crossing its waters: Fences and men with guns do. We create these boundaries mostly because we are told they are important, but these boundaries never serve our people’s interests. They do more to divide us than to protect us. But we are just as much to blame for these divisions as those who created these divisions. It is up to us to change things; it always has been and always will be.

In many ways, we share more in common with native peoples all over the Americas then we do with anyone else. Ironically, the food that is synonymous with Native peoples tells our story better than any other.

Corn (maize) has a unique history because it has never grown in the wild; it has always been cultivated. The only known wild plant that has a link to maize is teosinte. Now teosinte doesn’t look like corn, nor does it behave like corn in any way, yet it shares almost its entire DNA with corn (maize). Teosinte, a Mexican wildgrass, and corn (maize) can even be crossbred naturally, and they will grow and prosper without the aid of gene therapy. What scientists have been able to conclude about the origins of corn (maize) is that corn (maize) retains four out of the five genes from teosinte and that these genes have been relatively unchanged since corn’s (maize’s) creation.

Corn (Maize) is unique because it is able to cross-mingle its origins and still maintain a dual identity, which causes subtle changes while retaining its native genes. These strains become different species of corn (maize), yet they still retain their native wild plants in their genetic memory. So even though corn (maize) is one of the only plants engineered in nature by man, it still remembers its wild roots and is still vital to its evolutionary process.

Our mestizaje, our native and European ancestry, operates in the same way; we still remember in our genetic code our native roots, but unlike corn (maize), we have to remember and practice our native roots as deeply as our Spanish heritage.

My Chican@ story is your Native story. We have the same roots.
--excerpted from I Have Always Been Here, Otras Voces 2013.


Photo 1
Christopher Carmona website logo.

Photos 2, 4, 5,  
Copyright by Christal Cooper

Photo 3
Christopher Columbus is shown landing in the West Indies, on an island that the natives called Guanahani and he named San Salvador, on October 12, 1492. He raises the royal banner, claiming the land for his Spanish patrons, and stands bareheaded, with his hat at his feet, in honor of the sacredness of the event. The captains of the Niña and Pinta follow, carrying the banner of Ferdinand and Isabella. The crew displays a range of emotions, some searching for gold in the sand. Natives watch from behind a tree.  Attributed to John Vanderlyn, the first American painter to be trained in Paris.  Vanderlyn worked on this canvas for ten years with the help of assistants.  Public Domain

Photo 6
Immigrants entering the United States through Ellis Island, the main immigrant entry facility of the United States from 1892 to 1954.

Photo 7
Dat So La Lee demonstrating basket weaving, 1900.  Public Domain.

Photo 8
Don Pedro Jaramillo (Birthdate unknown – died in 1907)is a curandero, or faith healer from the Mexico-Texas region. He is known as "the healer of Los Olmos" and "el mero jefe" (English: the real chief) of the curanderos.  Public Domain.

Photo 9
"Las Tortilleras": women making tortillas, early 19th century Mexico. Hand-colored lithograph. Original size between neat lines: 43.6×30 cm.  Lithograph by Frederic Lehnerb after a drawing by Carl Nebel (1805-1855).  Public Domain.

Photo 10
Christopher Carmona.  Copyright by Christopher Carmona.

Photo 11
Joy Harjo ( on December 4, 2012.  CCA-SA 3.0 Unported License.

Photo 12
Rio Grande near San Francisco Creek. USGS survey party led by Robert T. Hill in right foreground. Brewster County, Texas. 1899.  Public Domain.

Photo 13
Maize: (a) Lower part of the plant (b) top of plant with male inflorescense (c) middle of plant with female inflorescenses (d) ear/cob: (1) two pollen grains of a male inflorescense (3, 4) female flowers (5) female flowers with stigma (6) fruit bottom view (7) fruit side view (8) fruit cross-section views.  Attributed to Franz Eugen Kohler, Kohler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen.  Public Domain.

Photo 14
An image depicting Teosinte, Maize-teosinte hybrid, Maize.  Attributed to John Doebley.  CCA-SA 3.0 Unported License.

Photo 15
Variegated maize ears. Attributed to Sam Fentress.  GNUFD License 1.2 and CCA-SA 2.0 Generic.

Photo 16
I Have Always Been Here logo.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Christal Cooper 1,148 Words


         Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker, 53,  is one of the greatest persona poets of our time, giving voices to African Americans who have made good differences to the world.

         One of those African Americans he writes about is the legendary jockey Isaac Murphy (1861 – 1896) in his book Isaac Murphy I Dedicate This Ride, published in 2010 by Old Cove Press.     
         Walker did not know of Isaac Murphy’s existence until he was in high school, attending Danville High School in his hometown of Danville, Kentucky.

         At the time of learning about Isaac Murphy, Walker was two personalities in one:  the nerd and the jock.  He told Progressive Radio that there were some students who thought he had a twin, because the nerd and the jock were so different, but yet, they were one in the same. 

It only seemed fitting that his classmates christened him, twice elected class president, with a new name of “X” to take into account the two sides of Walker.   

         It wasn’t until 2009 that Isaac Murphy came into Walker’s life – when Walker was commissioned to write a play about Isaac Murphy’s legendary career and life.

         The commission of writing the play grew to the desire to write a collection of persona poems about Isaac Murphy with Isaac Murphy’s voice, the voice of Murphy’s parents James and America Burns; his mentor Eli Jordan; and his wife Lucy Murphy, whom Walker dedicated the poetry collection to.

         Walker, the second of ten children, is a private poet, and never writes about himself, or about his family, but the influence of women in his life has been a strong one, stemming from when he was a boy, enduring a gruesome arm injury by getting his arm caught in the barrel of an old time washing machine.

         While he was recovering from the arm injury, his mother brought him books, magazines, and other materials to read.  It is because of this (and not having a television set) that he developed his love for reading and words and recognized their “magical power.” 

He read The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew Series, Sherlock Holms, and devoured Childcraft Encyclopedias, a gift from his mother.  It wasn’t until his high school years that he started writing poetry. 

         Walker is proud of his history of being reared by women and credits their influence in giving him the ability to create the female voices in his persona poems, especially the female voices in his historical book of poetry about the Lewis and Clark expedition via Clark’s personal slave York’s voice in Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York.

“I believe that because I was raised by women, have been blessed with six sisters, and survived multiple failed relationships, I actually lived the research material I needed to create most of the authentic sounding female voices in my historical poetry.” Walker told CX Dillhunt and Drew Dillhunt in an online interview last year.

         Using the same research that he obtained while writing the play on Isaac Murphy’s life and career, Walker sat in his home office and wrote the persona poems in longhand with ink in his personal journal.   

         In his home office are:  posters of Malcolm X and Jamaican political leader and poet Marcus Garvey; photograph of his bride, Taunya, of less than a year, and other family photos.  

Also in the office are three bookshelves of books, magazines, and other writing materials.  Perhaps the most creative thing in his office, besides paper, is his golf putter.

         He told Kentucky reporter Candace Chaney in April of last year, “A lot of my writing process is just about sort of teasing things out.  I golf to kind of clear my head and work things out.”

The prolific poet writes at least one poem a day, does not believe in writer’s block, and does not carry a cell phone when he is writing:  “I try not to take my cell phone with me.  It gives me free space to think, to tease those things out, to think about a new poem or new idea or new structure."  Walker told Chaney in April of 2013.            
Walker has written six poetry collections, four of those are persona poem collections.

         “Persona poems are poems written in the voice of someone other than the poet.  Adequate research is necessary to make these poems effective.”

Walker believes young people, especially African American Men, will benefit from reading these poetry persona collections because they will learn about history and discover good role models.”

Walker is associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky.  He is presently working on two poetry collections, a play, and has just completed his first novel, which he described as a dream come true.

Walker can be reached via his email at
or visit his website at

Walker’s favorite poem from Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride is “Prairie Song,” because of its connection to the African American literary tradition. What makes this poem an unusual rarity is that it is written in the voice of Walker, telling of his personal experience visiting Isaac Murphy’s final resting place.

Praise Song        
Frank X Walker

Straddling the distance between
African Cemetery No. 2
and the Kentucky Horse Park,
between the straw-lined stables
at Churchill Downs
and the view from Millionaires Row,
between our racist history
and our proud past,
I offer these words, this elegy,
this praise song for Isaac.

For every master teacher
blessed with a willing student,
for Jimmy Winkfield and William Walker,
Pat Day and Calvin Borel,
Eddie Arcaro and Angel Cordero Jr.,
for every jockey hypnotized
by the speed, power
and the music of racing.

For every trainer, groom, hot walker
and stable hand who palmed a brush,
carried a bucket or lifted a shovel.

For every Derby Day hero
generous enough to take a jockey
along for the ride,
for every yearling dreaming
of a garland of roses,
for every also-ran.

I recommit this husband to his wife,
this son to his mother,
this student to his teacher.
I offer all of them to each of us.

I dedicate this ride to a man
whose life’s work was a blueprint
for anyone          black, white or brown
hoping to build something  better,
hoping to fulfill their own potential,
to use all their gifts and blessings
in an honorable way.

Isaac Murphy’s life teaches us
How to honor our parents,
how to love full speed,
how to outrun prejudice and oppression.

I dedicate this ride
to America and Kentucky’s son,
to a legacy worthy of a star on the walk,
a boulevard named in his honor,
this book.

Wrap your arms around his story,
close your eyes,
feel the wind whispering in your ears.

Grab the reins of any and everything
that makes your heart race.
Find your purpose.  Find your purpose.
And hold on.

*Copyright by Frank X Walker and Old Cove Press.
*Printed with permission from Frank X Walker.


Photo 1, 6, 13, 17, 18
Frank X Walker.  Attributed to Rachel Eliza Griffiths.  Copyright by Frank X Walker and Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Photo 2
Jacket cover of Isaac Murphy:  I Dedicate This Ride.

Photo 3.
Old Cove Press Logo.  (

Photo 4
Downtown Danville, Kentucky.  Attributed to Russell and Sydney Poore.  GNUFD License. And CCASA 3.0 Unported, 2.5, 2.0 and 1.0 Generic.

Photo 5
Isaac Murphy.  Public Domain.

Photo 7
Isaac Murphy racing.  Public Domain.

Photo 8
Lucy Murphy.  Public Domain.

Photo 9
Manual barrel washer, manufactured by J.V. Obradampf, Germany, 1930-1935.  GNU Free Documentation License.  CCASA 3.0, 2.5 , 2.0, and 1.0 license. 

Photo 10
Jacket cover of The Tower Treasure

Photo 11
Childcraft Encyclopedias in a home in India.  GNU Free Documentation License and CCASA License.

Photo 12
Jacket cover of Buffalo Dance The Journey Of York

Photo 14
Malcolm X in March of 1964.  Attributed to Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.  is photograph is a work for hire created prior to 1968 by a staff photographer at New York World-Telegram & Sun. It is part of a collection donated to the Library of Congress. Per the deed of gift, New York World-Telegram & Sun dedicated to the public all rights it held for the photographs in this collection upon its donation to the Library. Thus, there are no known restrictions on the usage of this photograph.

Photo 15
Marcus Garvey at his office on August 5, 1924.  Attributed to George Grantham Bain.  Library of Congress – no known restrictions on this photo.

Photo 16
Indoor putting green.  Public Domain.

Photo 19
Jacket cover of When Winter Come:  The Ascension of York

Photo 20
Jacket cover of Turn Me Loose:  The Unghosting of Medgar Evers.

Photo 21
Partial image of jacket cover of Isaac Murphy:  I Dedicate This Ride

Photo 22
Frank X Walker.  Photo attributed to Tracy A Hawkins.  Copyright by Frank X Walker.

Photo 23.
Isaac Murphy.  Public Domain.