Tag Archives: american writing

Of a snapshot from behind; on the road in America


We look across the flat lands of New Mexico,

from a seat on the Sandilla Mountains.

It is near sunset and the whole scene looks red

and reminds me of a blazed clay shell

occasionally interrupted by the jutting of an

ancient cordillera spine. It is the backbone

of the native western earth; it is where the sun

was stored at night for safekeeping, away from

the Old World’s shores. We watch low clouds

cross below us, stoking the hard earth with

their shadows, and I imagine they must cool

whatever life there is down there. It is hard

to see anything but red, red earth. Hard to

imagine anything good growing here.

And she just sits next to me in silence, too.

Looking out and imagining who knows what.

She is quiet and unwilling to pose for a picture,

unwilling to participate in the pure illusion of a moment.

Instead she sits next to me looking out at the horizon,

like a person sitting at the bottom of the ocean

wanting air.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2014. All rights reserved.

* NOTE ABOUT THIS POEM: This poem was originally written in 1994 and is about one of my favorite personal pictures. The picture was taken by my friend, Camille Pansewicz, and it is of my future wife and I from behind, looking out across the horizon. There are too many reasons why this picture is one of my all time favorites to explain here. The poem is not one of my faves, but it is a reminder that writing is like taking a picture with words.


on the page

     where i am god


i breath life

into the bodies

of the words

as they appear


i give them form

against the


around them


and promise them space

without the invasion

of capitalization

or the oppression of punctuation


i ask them to gather

in ways that pay honor

to that which came before


and warn them against

the sins of plagiarism

and the vices of being cliché


and i threaten them

that they can be

ripped into letters

left to mean nothing.


Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.

the words escape me

today the words

are not cooperating

it is like they are reverting

to their feral state

in my mind

they bite at their leashes

gnaw off their limbs

until they have chewed themselves free

of my memories

and run off into the darkness to hide

and wait in ambush until

i go hunting for them again


it has been like this lately


i have been pulling out old

photographs as evidence that

these words belong to me and

that we belong together

how well i had caged some of them

for so long that they died

when they escaped back into

the wilderness


the way my father became

just another man before he turned

into a stranger is the same way

that words end up dying —

     eaten by others bigger and hungrier

than memory


when i go hunting tonight

i’ll be covered in blood

hoping to be devoured myself.


Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2008. All rights reserved.

Why Oscar lives in Omaha

No one in the state house intended this

     and Oscar had never heard of Nebraska

     before he was heading there with his father

who seemed to talk

the whole way

about how he had tried

to make Oscar understand

how awful his own childhood had been

repeating how he had left everything behind

     to come to New York

     to make money

     but just ended up being poor

and Oscar didn’t hear his father say

     how he had saved up

          just for this awful trip

to make sure

he could drop him off

before they changed the language of the law.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2008. All rights reserved.

(Inspired by the “safe haven” law in Nebraska)

the volunteers

written Sept. 12, 2001


watching first

          in disbelief and then in horror

and then again

          in helpless disbelief

they scrambled to their feet

         remembering their faith and fingernails

         went running for their hardhats

         and baseball caps

         leaving behind their credit cards

         and writing their names and social security numbers

         on their arms and other body parts

those who were too far to help

        opened up their veins one pint at a time

       against the day’s awful scene.

And in the aftermath

the following days

it was the volunteers who filled our screens. 

© 2008 henry toromoreno

Overcome the Xenophobes

The notion of a nation ceases to be,

     when the stories you’re telling don’t include me.

Or when the stories we all know we learned in our schools,

     turn out to be half-truth written for fools.

We can’t have a union, we can’t have a nation,

     we can’t have a country, founded on falsification

               Of treaties and boundaries

               Of land grants cut shrewdly

               in a rush to fulfill our

               Manifest Destiny.

So why do we question the tension we feel?

When faced with each other, there are things we conceal.

There are thoughts we must fight and words we repress.

We’re still in denial, despite our progress.

     For the nigger was born here

     and so was the spic,

     the hillybilly cracker,

     the wop and the mick,

     the Jewish American Princess,

     the beaner or wetback,

     the just minted towel head,

     the slanty eyed-jap,

     the dicksuckinflog,

     bet you never heard that

     but they were born in America

     and that’s still where they’re at.

And when others arrive and come chasing their dreams,

     we’ll invent a new slur and make up what it means,

     slander their customs and trick them with our schemes,

     make them outsiders; make them clean the latrines,

     pay them minimum wage, and force them to convene,

     in the poorest of places, with the oldest machines.

But still in those corners, some will believe.

They will seek their own answers and stop being naïve.

They will learn of the tricks and how they were deceived.

They will take what they know and then start to weave

     a new American story in which they achieve.

Discard of the labels and get themselves free.

Overcome limitations of what they should be.

Contribute a chapter to our history.

     So this nation of notions

     filled with such commotion

     will include we.

© 2008 henry toromoreno