Poetry: Alma Luz Villanueva



Ceremony Photos Ceremony PhotosCeremony Photo 3


Climbing the Sixth Sun,
Sacred Sun Pyramid,
straight up, warm
Sun, cool morning

Wind God pushes me
up, I pause to
breathe deeply,
drink water, a boy

of four behind me
begins to cry, he’s
thirsty, forgot to
bring him water, I

offer mine, he smiles
and drinks- work at
the top, not able
to climb to the top,

a great-grandmother in her
eighties is helped to
the almost top, her
family bracing her,

no one is bracing me, it
seems to be my path,
to climb the Sacred
Pyramid of the Sixth

Sun alone, the only
(grown) child I miss
is my youngest, but
la vida calls him,

as it should, his own
family, families in great
need, a daily warrior
in the world, and I

needed to come alone,
all one, to greet
the Sacred Sixth
Sun, and one thirsty

four year old boy.
Unable to climb to the
top, I circled, my
rattle singing, next

year I will be a
great-grandmother and
no one will brace me,
yes they will love me,

that’s allowed, maybe
in my eighties when I’m
a great-great-grandmother,
maybe, right now the

waiter has read my mind,
plays native flute, drums,
rattles, my birth
day gift, so well

deserved, bird song,
rattles, all day
sacred white butterflies
followed me, yellow

monarchs, little bees,
brash young men, “Hola
hermosa…I have a special
gift for you…Mi amor…

Take it it’s free,” I
didn’t do my usual come
back, “I’m old enough
to be your grandmother,”

now “I’m old enough
to be your great-grandmother,”
I just laughed, right now
the music is only rattles,

the sound of sweet
bones, the ancestors
winging home, I’m a
baby, I’m an

ancient, I’m not
born, I’m dead/transformed,
I’m newly born, always
to the song of rattles,

sweet bones, winging us
home, dancing us home-
I just told the waiter, my
grandson, youngest son’s

age, “This music, flute, drums,
now only rattles, is
perfect, gracias.”
“It suits this place,

your presence.” (He
doesn’t bullshit me
with senorita, I’ve
been called senorita all

day, I laughed, they
wanted something, my
smile, my money, my
life)- he’s an eagle

dancer, a deer
dancer, a wind
dancer, a sun
dancer, I know

his mother loves him,
he loves his mother,
the women in his
family, sacred, he

knows I need the
sweet bones of the
ancestors, a pure
chocolate cake woven

with fruit, drizzled
with honey/chocolate,
a perfect birth day
cake- I sit by the

pool, too cold to
swim, a clay flower
painted senorita, I
* * *
An older man, probably
my age, asked me if
I’d done ceremony on
the Pyramid of the Sun,

without thinking I answered
yes, the two silver bracelets
symbols of Quetzalcoatl,
Sacred Sixth Sun,

I bought, 50 pesos each,
the third a gift,
he smiled, “Fuego,”
fire should always

be a gift, the
entire day, a
ceremony, the gift of
water and fire,

I hear the laughter of
my four grown
children, grandchildren,
great-grandchild in the

cosmic womb dreaming,
the ancestors singing
the rattle song, all
my friends, some over

thirty/forty years, my
students seeing me whole, I
see them whole, we are the
gift. We are the

* * *
White butterflies,
ancestor souls,
guide me/us to
Quetzalcoatl’s Temple,

some know it,
some don’t,
yet we all
arrive, Quetzalcoatl’s

Spirit laughing in the
young grass, the
large rocks tiny
red ants carry to

their mound/pyramid, bleeding
cactus fruit/flowers, ancient
clouds/air Quetzalcoatl
breathed, laughing, I

hear him laughing,
sometimes weeping
for his children,
I sit facing

steps that he
climbed (still
climbs Full Moon
Mother blessing him),

flanked each side Sacred
Snake, Sacred Jaguar,
Sacred Eagle, Sacred
Shell, I hear him

laughing, take out my
bird rattle, Quetzalcoatl’s
flute I bought here
thirty-four years ago

at the foot of Pyramid
of the Sun, lone vendor,
almost sunset, newly
married, we climbed to the

top that day, each
playing it, we became
Gods, today I play
bird rattle, snake/eagle

flute, weaving tears and
laughter, loss and gift,
folly and wisdom, marriage
to the Other, marriage

to the Self, silence
and song, stillness
and such dancing, today
I became fully

* * *
We all
we all circle
we all circle the
we all circle the sacred
Pyramid of the Sun
rattles in hands
flutes to our lips
laughing weeping silent
singing limping dancing
we all
we all enter
we all enter the
we all enter the Sixth
we all enter the Sixth Sacred
we all enter the Sixth Sacred Sun
we all enter the Sacred
Sixth Sun
bracing each
other up


Changing woman Photo

Changing Woman, The Girl

I’ve been hypnotized
and analyzed
and idolized
and sanitized

and I’m still here-

I’ve been fantasized
and criticized
and vandalized
and marginalized

and I’m still here-

I’ve been cared for
and cheered for
and threatened for
and spoken for

and I’m still here-

I’ve been lied to
and cried to
and laughed to
and forgotten to

and I’m still here-

I’ve been danced with
and fucked with
and loved with
and betrayed with

and I’m still here-

I’m the strongest woman
you’ll ever meet-
I’m the softest woman
you’ll ever meet-

I’m the wisest woman
you’ll ever meet-
I’m the biggest fool
you’ll ever meet-

I’m the one with courage
to spare-
I’m the one with fear
to share-

All of me in a crazy
all of me in a sane

I want my Windhorse,
color of the night
and dreams,
I want the lightning

to remember my name (Sudden
Rainbow) over and over, to
bring me to the place
I am always born,

always made new, (Sudden
where the Sun is birthed
daily, her vulva- where
I become the girl seeking

only wonder, where (Rainbow
only wonder is her mother,
father, child, sister, brother,
secret lover, every (Sudden

star sings, We’re still
here, the diamond
wonder, perfect perfect
wonder, always here- (Rainbow

The girl
I become
this wonder
Changing Woman. (Sudden Rainbow)

Author’s Note: Changing Woman is the Navajo Goddess, who walks to the horizon when she’s tired and old, about to give up- to become The Girl, the child, once again.


Dear world, dear angel Photo

Dear World, dear Earth,

dear Angel Of Despair And Joy,

                                January 10, 2011

Early morning, as we land in Mexico
City, I see the immense angel, I
blink my eyes, I stare and
stare, it doesn’t disappear, it

remains firm, hovering at the
edge of Mexico City’s sprawl,
Cloud Angel, Spirit Angel, Angel
Of Despair And Joy, Begging Angel,

Starving Angel, Murdered Angel,
Tortured Angel, Child Prostitute
Angel, Angel Of The Well Fed Loved
Child, Angel Of Loving Parents,

Angel Of Those Who Feed The Hungry,
Angel Of Those Who Give To Beggars,
Angel Of Those Who House The Beaten
Human Body, Angel Of Those Who

Weep For Mercy Compassion
Harvest, Angel Of Those Who
Rage For Poverty’s People, Angel Of
The Unashamed Who Bellow, Angel Of

The Shamed Who Whimper, Angel Of
Our Humanity, Angel Present Alive
Every Where, Angel At The Edge Of
Mexico City, I didn’t know you

were there until this morning,
December 9th 2010, if I flew
city to city, country to country,
continent to continent, I would

see you firm, hovering, your
immense wings folded softly,
fiercely, your speed of light
eyes balancing the terror,

the wonder, of being
human, you temper our
blindness, give us sight,
Angel Of Diamond Light

Eyes, watching, weeping, gazing,
our strange, stubborn, human
beauty, we persist because of
you, Angel Of Despair

And Joy, at the edge of
Mexico City, every city, town,
village, every Turtle Island,
our Earth.
* * *
Los Angeles, The Angels, at noon,
Angel Of Illegal Immigrants, Spanish,
Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian spoken
on the streets, many more, do you

sing in every human language,
Turtle Islands, once the massive
Tortoise emerging from primal,
cellular, swirling sea, from

space blue blue blue womb
water, I hear you singing on
the streets of Los Angeles, your
sweet, clear voice pierces my

stubborn, persistent, will-to-live
human heart…Angel Of Dreaming
Immigrants, Angel Of Native People
Of This Continent (their drums, their

voices, their rattles, dance, song,
keeping us alive, ancient prophecy
coming home, coming home to the
streets of Los Angeles, The Angels, the

Earth, coming home), Angel Of The
Ancient Trade Routes, Angel Of
Shimmering Shifting Borders,
Angel Of The Dispossessed,

Angel Of The Possessive,
Angel Of Diamond Light Eyes,
I hear your sweet, clear voice
piercing even the concrete, flowing

over the Pacific, her still fertile,
swelling waves, piercing every
stubborn human heart, our
Angel Of Despair And Joy,

I hear you singing in every
language, I don’t know
the words, what I hear/feel is
your harsh, persistent healing,

O our
Angel Of
Diamond Light
Eyes. Singing.
* * *
Santa Cruz, Holy Cross, ancient
symbol of healing (not the crucified),
night, oh Angel Of Scattered
Families, oh Angel Of Gathered

Families, how do we stand to feel
so much, I wonder, these gathered
memories from sheltered womb to
open door, the delicious, terrifying,

lush, killing, O beauty, O horror,
this human world,
this perfect Earth,
O Angel Of Diamond Light Eyes,

O Angel Of Terror And Wonder,
O Angel Of Despair And Joy,
O Angel Of Scattered Gathered
Families, the families we’re

born to, birth to,
the families we create,
O Angel Of Endless Weeping,
O Angel Of Endless Laughter,

we heard your harsh, persistent
voice, healing, and we danced,
oh we danced, to your song,
terror, oh the wonder,

at the edge of Santa Cruz,
at the edge of Los Angeles,
at the edge of Mexico City,
at the edge of every floating,

rooted Turtle Island continent,
at the very edge of our Cosmos,
O Angel Of Diamond Light Eyes,
keep watch as the ancient prophecies,

the ancient trade routes, come
home, keep singing your harsh,
persistent, healing song, every language,
every family, O Angel of Despair And Such Joy.
* * *
(Watsonville, Califas, a few
miles south of Santa Cruz)-
my granddaughter works with the
Farm Workers, their children born

two fingers each hand,
im-perfect (as my four
children were born
perfect), spraying of

the fields, their parents
with cancers, dying
to pick the food of
millions, fresh cheap

food at supermarkets, ICE
separating illegal parents from
their legal children, we marched
the streets with Chavez, la Huerta,

over thirty years ago, still they
spray the fields (everywhere, this
Turtle Island), two fingers to a
hand, the im-perfect children, to

their parents perfect- my youngest
son works with the families of the
dispossessed, the hungry, no
food or refrigerator to hold it, no

place to sleep (bed, mattress), no
place to sit (couch, chairs), no
table to gather (food food), the
country of wealth, abundance,

one in four children are hungry,
Martin Luther King, “The worst violence
is poverty,” O Angel Of The Farm
Workers, Angel Of Toxic Food,

Angel Of The Im Perfect,
Angel Of The Perfect,
Angel Of Violence,
Angel Of Healing,

surround each field, unfurl
your wings, tip to tip,
O Angel Of Diamond Light Eyes,
keep watch, our despair and
our joy.

Author’s Note: To nine-year-old Christina Green, all of the murdered, wounded, in Tucson, Arizona, in January 2011…as the Angels surrounded Tucson, wing tip to wing tip. May Arizona’s people demand/begin the healing.


Que Pinche Photo

Que Pinche

From San Miguel to
Los Angeles, Customs waiting
for baggage- on
the Mexican plane

I had my customary
shot of free tequila,
yes, they serve you free
breakfast, juice, cerveza

y tequila, the stewardess
always laughs as she
pours me a shot at
7am, only a few men

join me as we reach
the clouds, sun
rising, the burning comfort
of tequila with breakfast

tamale, juice, cafeso
I’m feeling relaxed
till I read the sign in
Customs, $500,000 fine

for smuggling fruit, food
(whatever) across the border,
and I remember my Mexican
banana in my purse, I

forgot to eat my Mexican
banana, so I quickly pull
it out, begin stuffing
it in my mouth-

DOWN!”Jehovah booms

over the loudspeaker, “It’s
a Mexican banana,” I mutter,
stuffing my entire Mexican
banana in my laughing

mouth, others begin to
giggle with me- he
rushes out, fat and
red-faced, “I could

fine you for that,
lady!” he whines
without the loud
speaker, “I told you

to put that banana
down!” “The Mexican
banana is now in neutral
territory, my stomach,”

I stare him down, fighting
not to laugh, giggles
spring up around me as
he stomps back to his god

cage, the guy next to
me says, “Que pinche,”
which says it all, and I
want a second shot of

tequila. Do they own all
the bananas on this Earth,
especially the Mexican
bananas I see in the

supermarkets USA,
do they own my eyes,
my hands, my feet, my
laughing mouth, and do

they even own my stomach,
my heart, my sweet womb that
my Yaqui Mexican grandmother
gave me, the fertile

womb that she gave
me, the defiant womb
that she gave me- all I
can say is,

after my second
shot of
“Que pinche.”
* * *

San Miguel de Allende,
in the huge mercado,
market, vege vendors
wield their swords, slicing

papaya, mango, watermelon,
fat strawberries for you,
“DISFRUTA,” they laugh,

shoving it into your
hands, heavy, ripe, wet,
so delicious, sensual,
alive with pleasure Mexican

fruit, veges, no one
claiming dominion over
your eyes, hands, feet, laughing
mouth, heart, sweet womb,

your curious, hungry stomach,
do, I do.

In the modern Mega supermarket
it’s become a mercado, freshly
cooked food, piles of
tempting vegetables, fruit,

a pig’s head decorated
with daisies, surrounded by
pastries, I’ve stopped
asking, Why this combo, I

just enjoy the beauty, the
chaos, DISFRUTA-
people leap and smile to
serve me red rice with veges,

block of quivering flan, stewed
broccoli, cauliflower, carrots
con cilantro, fresh red, green
salsas with chunks of

tomatoes, jalapenos floating,
piles of cobalt blue
tortillas, still warm
in their wrappings-

I’m so happy I don’t
need a shot of tequila
(though I wouldn’t pass
it up), and a young

woman has sample
plastic cups of the
best, hey it’s 10am,
it is the best, she

smiles DISFRUTA-
the first time I saw
this I was tempted to
speed dial ‘911,’ just

moved here, in the wide
vege, fruit area, right in
the center, a butcher’s block
with an immense machete,

gleaming and wet, I watched
a woman pick a perfect
papaya, bring it to
the butcher block, the

gleaming machete, she
gently, so lovingly,
sliced it open,
revealing its endless

rows of black-seed
glistening children that
taste like pepper compared to
their mother’s sweet womb flesh-

I walked over, picked a
perfect, green, ripe watermelon,
to the butcher block, people
actually stopped to watch,

sensing my virgin journey of
the gleaming, wet machete,
I balanced it with my left
hand and gently, so lovingly,

sliced, revealing her sweet,
juicy, red womb, her tiny,
hard, black-seed children,
and I stole a slim slice,

and people smiled DISFRUTA
and turned away, as
the perfectly ripe Mexican
watermelon melted in the

neutral territory of
my stomach, my curious
hungry human Yaqui
Mestiza stomach, and I

placed the machete
down, wrapped the Mexican
watermelon in plastic, muttering
“Disfruta,” all the way



Talking About Time, Transformation, and Prayer: Alma Luz Villanueva

(Interviewer: Ashley Maser, Poetry Editor for SPACES)

Ashley: First, I want to say that I really enjoyed the poetry and photographs that you sent over. For you, is there a strong connection between your poetry and geography?

Alma Luz: Yes, where I am speaks to me. I think of Voltaire’s, “Paradise is where I am.” When I travel I write and take photos,  and I love to get lost so I can listen deeper. 

Ashley: Has your poetry changed at all as you moved to new places?

Alma Luz: Time and transformation have changed my poetry, of course, but I keep listening. The Earth’s voice has a different/unique song wherever I go, I listen. And I also pay attention, am tuned, to the ‘human condition/our condition,’ globally. My ‘Dear World’ poems in their 19th year…I call them my ‘bitch and moan poems.’

Ashley: Speaking of voices, your use of language really intrigued me. It’s interesting to see the mix of Spanish and English. Is this how the language of the poems comes to you?

Alma Luz: Spanish was my first language, how I spoke to my Yaqui Mamacita. When I went to school in the racist 1950s, I was punished for it. I also woke to Mamacita chanting prayers to the Child Sun in Yaqui. Now that I have lived in Mexico for the past 8 years, yes that’s how the poems come to me, how I hear them. In fact, there’s more Spanish but I like the blend/marriage in my poetry.

Ashley: You mention being punished for your Spanish in the 1950s. Does it feel like you’re reclaiming that language with your poetry? Does it give you power?

Alma Luz: I feel I learned English and made it my own, and now I love it for itself. Friends from Europe speak at least 3 languages, taught as children. How ignorant that the USA doesn’t do that. My older kids went to a Pilot School in San Francisco in the 1970s where Spanish, French, Chinese were taught. I drove them there for the experience.

Ashley: That’s definitely true about the lack of diversity of language in the US. There’s something so freeing in experiencing the sounds, culture, and communication of new languages. Your poetry has a strength that feels very much attached to language.

Alma Luz: One of my older sons, who’s blonde/blue-eyed (the gene pool, we call him Gringito), took Spanish in high school/university, read books in Spanish at home, we spoke. He speaks beautiful Spanish. Now uses it for ‘his kids, parents’ as a high school psychologist. He also writes beautiful poetry. I also grew up listening to the women in church cooking after services on Sunday. They were from all over Latin America. Starting a poem, the next woman and the next woman until the poem was complete. And Mamacita taught me poetry by heart in Spanish to recite at church. She was a ‘closet poet.’ My grandfather a published poet. Both from Sonora, Mexico.

Ashley: It sounds like you come from a long line of poets. Do you feel like their influence comes through in your poetry?

Alma Luz: My grandfather was a ‘fiery poet’ and Mamacita a fiery woman, so no doubt. He was a Baptist minister (from a Catholic, well-to-do ranching family), Mamacita a curandera/healer. They journeyed to East Los Angeles to minister to his church in the USA. At the border, the border guard unpacked all of Mamacita’s boxes, the final one a sack, she emptied it, blew it up and popped it, shouting, ‘Aire Mexicana…Mexican air…” I love that story.

Ashley: Are there any poets/writers/artists who influence you in the same way, carrying that same ‘fiery poet’ in them?

Alma Luz: Pablo Neruda (“Heights of Maccu Picchu,” amazing), Federico Garcia Lorca (“In Search of Duende”), Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Linda Hogan, Isabel Allende, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie. Sylvia Plath (her work meant a lot to me when I first started to write, but Neruda is my mainstay), and I love Rumi…“Dance when you’re broken open, Dance in your own blood, Dance when you’re perfectly free.” My favorite prose is Colette’s “Earthly Paradise,” and I love Herman Hesse. I would also add Luis Urrea, all of his books, fire. But again, many others. Walt Whitman.

Ashley: That’s quite a diverse group. Those that work in primarily Spanish, how do you feel about reading their work translated in English? Does it lose something this way?

Alma Luz: Of course some deeper meaning/connection is lost but I read the Spanish first, then the English. Joy Harjo’s newest collection of poetry is wonderful….

Ashley: That’s interesting that you read both versions. Do you write any of your poetry in Spanish first?

Alma Luz: I have when the poem calls for it.

Ashley: Do you work with any other art forms? Visual art, music, etc.?

Alma Luz: Dylan Thomas, Robinson Jeffers, Jeffers’ wonderful epic poems, “The Roan Stallion,” stunning. I wrote the novel that’s going to be published this fall, “Scorpion Hunter,” to a painting by the Spanish painter who moved to Mexico, Remedios Varo. I always have an image to remind me, inspire me. And I write to Carlos Nakai’s wonderful flute especially in the first hours, then switch to flamenco, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos for another flow. Of course, Frida Kahlo’s imagery is all over mi casita, and I have a main altar, as Mamacita did, where I start my day. And then yoga for all the sitting.

Ashley: It seems that writing and art are very much entwined with the spirit. What purpose do you feel that poetry serves in this sense?

Alma Luz: With dance breaks during the writing—I give this advice to my students, yoga/dancing. For me, poetry is the voice of prayer, not in the Christian sense, but in the Cosmic sense. It allows everything, and this voice wishes to heal, transform. It was first heard in dreams, then sung around the fires.

Ashley: If poetry allows for transformation and healing, do we have a responsibility to use it in this way for others?

Alma Luz: When I hear the first line, a sense of pregnancy/tension/filling up/the volcano core. I know the poem wants to be born, and my poetry guides my prose/fiction/stories, and dreams guide my poetry, la vida. I think that’s why we poets write. I think of Neruda’s voice in “Macchu Picchu,” if you haven’t read it please do. Another writer I’ve loved, Ntozake Shange, “For Colored Girls…” “I found god in myself. And I loved her. I loved her fiercely.” Morrison’s “Beloved,” “You your best thing, Sethe.” These words continually heal me—as poets/writers we pass it on. “Dance when you’re perfectly free.” Rumi. I think of Shirley MacLaine’s book, “Sageing While Aging,” just read it, love her humor/honesty. She writes that the ETs, Star Beings communicate directly through thought. Which makes me think/wonder that we poets/writers put in words what so many of us humans are thinking but never express in words.

Ashley: I love Shange’s “For Colored Girls…” All of these writers seem to really get at the idea of communal healing, healing through shared experience, through shared pain. I know that some of your work has been approved for study in China, some of which considers the trouble between China and Tibet. Do you feel your work is helping people to understand what is happening at the moment and what has happened?

Alma Luz: Some of poetry in the “Dear World” series is in protest of China’s occupation of Tibet, so I’m waiting for me to be unapproved. But I read recently of a young Chinese man being censored for his blog, his support of Tibet, their people—he studies Tibetan Buddhism. My ‘travel bible,’ the book I carry, is “Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior,” Chogyam Trungpa. My youngest son, Jules, also studies Tibetan Buddhism and was born with a ‘Buddha nature,’ which he now uses in his work with families, kids, teens at risk in California, walking into pretty dangerous situations.

One more piece of news: I’m going to be a Great Grand Mamacita this year. My granddaughter Ashley and Jules born in the same year. I had my first child, her mother, at 15. I think of the racist ‘counselor’ at my high school, “Girls like you just have babies.” And my beloved, gay English teacher, Mr. Griffith, who told me, “You could be a writer, Alma.” And so I did both. My granddaughter Ashley has worked with farm workers in Watsonville, parents with cancers, babies born with three fingers, the spraying of the fields. All of my grown children are in the healing professions, the gift from Mamacita.

Ashley: Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I know your story, the incredible work you have done, will inspire and heal so many of our readers.

Alma Luz: Gracias, Ashley, I appreciate our time together.


Alma Luz Author PhotoAlma Luz Villanueva is the author of three novels and six books of poetry, as well as many anthologies and textbooks.  Her third novel, Luna’s California Poppies, was recently excerpted in Califlora, A Literary Field Guide and Sudden Fiction Latino. Her upcoming novel, Scorpion Hunter, and a book of poetry, Gracias, will be published in the fall of 2013 by Wingspress Publishers.

More from Alma Luz Villanueva:

Website:  www.almaluzvillanueva.com