Poems

BRANDON SOM from Tripas

Author’s note: “Tripas” is a long poem focusing on my Chicana grandmother Pastora Mendoza and her work on the line at a Motorola plant in Phoenix, Arizona. In her 30-year career, my grandmother would eventually inspect components that were assembled in some of the first cellular phones. Examining the fused wiring between Spanish, Chinese, and English, the poem enacts a kind of “telephone” between the three languages—thus echoing my own experience growing up with a mix of my family’s languages as a primarily heard rather than written phenomenon. 

 

Tuning not lute but car radio,
Cocteau’s Orpheus copies out
an underworld’s broadcasts

for his poems. Not quite Aeolian,
the componentry is similar
to that circuitry my nana made:

turntable to radials, Motorola,
from Victrola, wired sound
in DeSotos. A cielo of signals—

his mastery over sound, Orpheus’
ruin was finally in what he
couldn’t see. So many Eurydices:

citing small hands, the factory
praised women on the line
for deft fingers inside chassis.

Dictée to Hell’s transmissions,
what was Orphic in those diodes
women clocked-in to fastened?

*

Edison, the Zacatecan
in Judy Baca’s mural “The Great Wall,”
has a Chichimeca—with hips

a comet-tail of field corn—
whispering in his oreja
the secrets of the light bulb.

At VTech in Guangdong
workers protest 15-hour days & sub-
standard wage by writing

on the bathroom walls—
returning then to stations to fasten
earpieces on cordless phones.

In situ, tibishi etched
into Angel Island’s barrack rooms
make ears of detention

walls: “the ocean/changed
into a mulberry grove/Impetuously,
I threw my writing brush away.”

*

Speaking of poetry’s sources,
Spicer cited quasars
—quasi-stellar radio, traveling

billions of lightyears.
I remember Orion—one slick
matador, Tió called him—

up on South Mountain,
leaning over those radio towers
red-eyed with warning

& somehow—by frequency
by transmissions I vaguely knew
—drunk with music.

Working graveyard, she’d rest
beside me after putting me
to bed, lighting then one

Parliament to smoke before
heading in—each drag like
tower light to planes overhead.

*

I see spinning in quinceañera
the record player
she bartered for in ‘49—

cajoled (chingona) her mother
to buy rather than a party
or a newly sown dress.

On the spindle, she dropped
45s like a seamstress
sets the Singer’s bobbin

Pythagoras with shears
halved the lyre’s string
for harmony—a distance

we call octave. I remember
switching the RPMs—how voices
deepened or sang shrill.

I hear her foot keep the beat.
A treadle might spin a track.
Wax too once made wings.

 


 

Brandon Som is the author of The Tribute Horse (Nightboat Books), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and the chapbook Babel’s Moon (Tupelo Press), winner of the Snowbound Prize. He was the Anne Newman Sutton Weeks Poet-in-Residence at Westminster College, and was awarded fellowships at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and Civitella Ranieri. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Literature Department at the University of California, San Diego.