Lorna Dee Cervantes

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Lorna Dee Cervantes in 2017

Lorna Dee Cervantes (born August 6, 1954) is a figure in Chicano poetry.


  • I am not driven, so much, by intentions, as I am stunned into being by intent.
    • Author's Note to Drive: The First Quartet: New Poems, 1980–2005
  • Reading African American women poets politicized me. And it was the fact that poetry politicized me that had to do with then saving my life. Then all of the sudden, I started questioning; that's the dynamic of oppression, and especially as a child and as a woman, a girl coming into it. You look around, and you don't see anybody like you in positions of power, and you don't even question it. You just assume that you are not going to achieve anything and [that] no one expects anything from you. And so when I started reading this poetry, then I started questioning and questioning real hard. And I got angry.
  • I intended all of that. And this is what I like about this, and drawings like draw, like the gunman. I call this the shoot out, the high noon draw. That was also my intent as well as drawings; draw a bucket back to the cables and the whole idea about drawings…
  • This is the conscience of trauma. This is a grief book. That's how I refer to it, privately. It's my grief book because my mother was murdered, and raped, and battered. Then they burned the house down. I was dealing with that and with my divorce, and all of that stuff When people ask me, do you believe that everybody can write poetry, in a certain sense, yes, in a certain sense, no. Not everybody can write poetry…
  • When I first went to Mexico in 1974 and was involved in Chicano teatro—Mexican American guerilla theater—I realized that my politics and my poetry could merge; suddenly it wasn’t just for me. Before then, I didn’t share this poetry; I kept it in notebooks…

Emplumada (1981)

Emplumada. University of Pittsburgh Press. 1981. ISBN 978-0-8229-5327-2. 
  • They spotlight those who walk
    like a dream, with no one
    waiting in the shadows
    to palm them back to living.
    • Cannery Town in August
  • My palm cupped her mouth
    As I kissed her, the flesh
    Of my hand between us.
    • The Anthill
  • She would not be
    silent and still.
    She would live,
    having wrestled
    her death
    and won.
    • The Ally
  • And late that night I tasted
    the last of the sweet fruit, sucked the rich pit
    and thought nothing of death.
    • Meeting Mescalito at Oak Hill Cemetery
  • We knew, love, and that was all
    we were ever offered.
    • For Virginia Chavez
  • In the years that separate,
    in the tongues that divide
    and conquer, in the love
    that was a language
    in itself, you never spoke,
    never regret. Even
    that last morning
    I saw you with blood
    in your eyes, blood
    on your mouth, the blood
    pushing out of you
    in purple blossoms.
    • For Virginia Chavez
  • I ran
    flushed and shadowed by no one
    alone I settled stiff in mouth
    with the words women gave me.
    • Crown
  • And finally, it is me
    only guessing at what secrets
    or hatreds they share.
    • Communication
  • I have learned the serenity
    of a mockingbird, the justice
    of a crow, blue jay's strength;
    I've dipped their feathers in blood
    to seal the pact—my path.
    • Caribou Girl
  • There's sky and death
    shimmering the waves.
    • The Prayer pressed between the waves
  • Our dreams wafted over the sullen skyline
    like crazy meteors of flying embers:
    a glow in the heart all night.
    • To My Brother
  • I come from a long line of eloquent illiterates
    whose history reveals what words don't say.
    Our anger is our way of speaking,
    the gesture is an utterance more pure than word.
    • Visions of Mexico While at a Writing Symposium in Port Townsend, Washington
  • I am driven from this world, alive.
    I come to this world, in dreams.
    • This Morning
  • Two hummingbirds, hovering, stuck to each other,
    arcing their bodies in grim determination
    to find what is good, what is
    given them to find. These are warriors
    distancing themselves from history.
    They find peace
    in the way they contain the wind
    and are gone.
    • Emplumada

Interview (1999)


In Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft by Bill Moyers

  • I started writing for the same reason I breathe-because I had to.
  • I was a street kid by day and by night I was a library kid. At the library I would go the shelves alphabetically. I was drawn to anyone with a female name, with a Latino or Spanish name. There were very, very few. But as a teenager I discovered African American poetry. Gwendolyn Brooks was the first. Then Phillis Wheatley. I really identified with this slave woman writing poetry to assert and affirm her humanity. Suddenly my eyes were open to history. There was a whole explosion of African-American women poets-Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, June Jordan. I have a poem in my head that's going to take me years to write down. Its working title is "On Thanking Black Muses." I owe them, because poetry really changed my life, saved it.
  • For me, poetry has been an exercise in freedom. Freedom is like a muscle-the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. Poetry can give you a sense of choice. It's free on every level. Language and memory have no price tags on them. You have limitless choices-in form, language, subject matter-that spill over into life.
  • Things come to me, they speak to me. Stanley Kunitz has had an enormous impact on my life. He once said that poetry is only half language, the other half is a quality of perception, a function of the imagination, a particular form of paying attention. For me, it's a stilling of the self, waiting for this language to speak to me before I utter it.

Quotes about Lorna Dee Cervantes

  • The (Chicano) movement to me is now like a mosaic with all these little pieces. The little pieces are the ones that are now being activated so that a poet like Lorna Dee Cervantes is her own little miniature movement. Francisco Alarcón, Norma Alarcón, José Limón, all the people who are writing are carrying out the struggle against domination and subordination in the kinds of things they focus on-language, folklore, just anything.
    • Gloria E. Anzaldúa 1990 interview in Conversations with Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Writers edited by Hector A. Torres (2007)
  • In speaking from that personal place, and in considering the political questions regarding state-sanctioned death and its dealers-urban poverty and its consequent child abuse; the prison of drugs and apartheid-style education; illegal land occupation and war for profit-I am most concerned about my own inability to control the warring inside me. My beloved and I speak almost daily about the cost of internal occupation. We witness it from the most mundane to the grandest displays of what the poet Lorna Dee Cervantes calls "that nagging preoccupation of not being good enough." As Chicanos, I see it in the often timidez and assimilationist politeness of our writings.
  • One of the deepest wounds Chicanos suffer is separation from our Southern relatives. Gloria Anzaldúa calls it a "1,950-mile-long open wound," dividing México from the United States, "dividing a pueblo, a culture." This "llaga" ruptures over and over again in our writing, Chicanos in search of a México that never wholly embraces us. "Mexico gags," poet Lorna Dee Cervantes writes, "on this bland pocha seed." This separation was never our choice.
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