Casa Blanca | More Than an Idea

The first poem to come out of spending time in Casa Blanca, getting to know some of the people and walking the neighborhood.

Casa Blanca

You are more than your streets

And your people

More than your one square mile of roads

More than any map

in any file drawer

You are




A tangled rabbit hole of fear

A violent



Clenched and caught in the tulgey hearts and minds

Of people who do not know you

And cannot see you

Whose frumious eyes are blinded by headlines

And history and other nonsense

Who jabber on with only the manxome words they’ve read or heard

Devouring your crimes for breakfast

Chewing on newsprint till they choke on it

Whose uffish ears imagine only gunfire

And the vorpal blades

Of police helicopters

snicker-snacking low above cornfields


They do not hear the old stories your abuelas tell at night

Or the prayers your children whisper before bedtime

An incense of innocence rising above your rooftops

Into the night

They cannot smell the tortillas cooking in the morning

With their car windows rolled up

and doors locked

At thirty-five miles an hour

Or hear the mourning doves cooing

In the early hours

High above Madison St.

From St. Anthony’s bell tower

Or notice the daily procession of your Sacred Order of Guatemalans

In their dusty denim vestments

Your mendicant day laborers

Hidden neighbors

Emerging from their garage door hermitage

Making holy pilgrimage to the Home Depot parking lot

The sacramental spot

To offer their sunbaked and embodied “Our Fathers”

In secondhand work boots

Raising calloused hands

Above their heads

In petition for their daily bread—


But I’m beginning to see who you really are

I’ve dared to step out of my car and wander through your streets

And look into your yards

I’ve placed my hand in yours

and you have smiled

I’ve seen the way the late-afternoon sun

Burnishes the passing train cars

pink and gold

And the shadows of your children chasing

Through Villegas Park

Like earthbound angels

And in the quiet all around

I have heard the rustling sounds of turning pages

Wiffling through the library

And the clacking keys of keyboards tickled by curiosity

I have smelled mother’s milk rising from the warm heads of your niños

And tasted your menudo on Sunday morning

I have seen the lilywhite Converse

Peeking their purity from beneath the frothy folds

of your quinceneara’s gown

I have wept with your mothers over their murdered sons and brothers,

Whose shadows no longer pass earthbound across the grass.

I want to hear their stories

Their fleeting glories

To learn all their names

And whatever became of their rooms

Until my heart breaks

At the high stakes they’ve paid

by playing on your streets.


Who needs a mirror when you’ve got these headlines

To show you who you are?

The evening news

meant to amuse others at your expense

Distorts your image like a fun house mirror

And magnifies your shame

In the name of telling folks the latest

They’re after the greatest gains in

Viewership and readership

For an ever increasing sponsorship

In short,

Your sins pay their bills

It doesn’t pay as well to say

or tell

the other things you are


You are so much more than this printed history

Much more than an idea,

You are generations old in one place

Found in the stories told on porches

And over chorizo and beans and beer

Found on Saturdays

On your driveways

Where you display the other lives you’ve lived.

You are flesh and blood and bones and soul

With names and hopes and smells and gifts.

You have wrapped your arm around my shoulders

I have held your hand in mine.

We’ve begun to cast one shadow.

We have prayed together over meals

Making appeals for your children

And your aging Madres

Asking Jesus to bless us all 


Casa Blanca

You are not one thing

You are ten-thousand things

And more

unfolding your mystery

every moment.

Let no one tell you who you are

Before they’ve stepped out of their car

And witnessed all the things I’ve witnessed


They’ll see ,


What I see . . .

That you

are beautiful.