NLValdez head shot

By Norma Liliana Valdez:


Everything is happening now. Everything is present tense. The horses. The running.

The losing. This operation is a well-oiled machine. All is slow motion until dusk. After

dusk come the icy furrows. Overnight temperatures the kind of cold that enters marrow.

There is so much winter in the eyes. From here the only lights: the moon and Chula

Vista. After the ice, the running. Ravine. Huizache. Thorns. The hiding. A Cadillac.

There is a gun in the glove compartment. There are two boys in the trunk. Two other

boys contort their bodies on the back seat floor, legs entwined. Face down. Face down.

He is the one balled on the front passenger floor because he is the smallest. He is bones

and destiny.


every breath you exhaled

a blanket of hosannas

each hand like prayer, like

unfettered music

you were night, naked

shoulders in moonlight

I lost my breath

beneath your gravity

your touch slid along the arc

of every whisper

I inhaled greedily

filled every room

filled every empty space

inside of me

you must have known my anthem

when you left

urgent as an animal

“Unaccompanied” was the poetry winner of the 2015 San Miguel Writers’ Conference Writing Contest, and “Hummingbird” is an original feature on the Saturday Poetry Series on As It Ought To Be. Both poems appear here today with permission from the poet.

Norma Liliana Valdez is an alumna of the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop, the Writing Program at UC Berkeley Extension, and a 2014 Hedgebrook writer-in-residence. Her poems have appeared in Calyx Journal, The Acentos Review, As It Ought To Be, La Bloga, and Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop. She is the poetry winner of the 2015 San Miguel Writers’ Conference Writing Contest. Additional work is forthcoming in Poetry of Resistance: A Multicultural Anthology by University of Arizona Press. She lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Editor’s Note: Over the years Norma Liliana Valdez’s writing has grown much in the way bougainvillea grows. Along earth-toned buildings in warm places. A steady, fertile spread erupting in vibrant blossoms. Like the sight of bright and blooming bougainvillea, today’s poems take my breath away.

“Unaccompanied,” winner of the 2015 San Miguel Writers’ Conference Writing Contest in poetry, is a work of art. The title is evocative, deftly making its mark. The narrative envelopes us in a gripping and heart-wrenching tale that speaks as much to the experience of the few as to the dreams and suffering of the masses. This work is vocal, political, and brave. Brimming with stunning lyric, we feel “the kind of cold that enters marrow,” see how “there is so much winter in the eyes,” and are left with what reads like a told fortune: “He is bones / and destiny.”

While “Unaccompanied” is yin-like—covert and treacherous—”Hummingbird” is like the yang—in relief, open, belonging to this world. The energy is sensual and intense, with “each hand like prayer.” And while both poems end spectacularly, “Hummingbird” is volta-like in its finale, confessing that “you must have known my anthem / when you left / urgent as an animal.”

This is the poet’s third Saturday Poetry Series feature. Three is a sacred number. The Holy Trinity. Maiden, Mother, Crone. The Triple Bodhi. The Trimurti. Which is fitting, as the poet divines poems that are alchemical. Spiritual. Faithfully wrought and nearly religious in their lyricism. Evocative of a humanity made palpable through poetry.

Want to read more by Norma Liliana Valdez?
Saturday Poetry Series feature, As It Ought To Be, 2011
Saturday Poetry Series feature, As It Ought To Be, 2010
Winners of the 2015 San Miguel Writers’ Conference Writing Contest
Spiral Orb
The Acentos Review

Undocumented and Unafraid

My Name is Mohammad and I am Undocumented

“Get in line,” they like to say, without realizing that many of us were at some point in this infamous line. My family immigrated to the United States from Iran when I was three years old. At the time my dad was accepted to a university on a student visa to get his doctoral degree. After three years, he completed his studies and applied for something called Optional Practical Training, essentially allowing him to extend his stay for twelve months. During that time, he would be able to continue to work and study in the same field he received his PhD in.

While still under the OPT program, he secured sponsorship from a job and applied for a change of status from OPT to an H1b visa. Rather than do this themselves, my parents thought it would be better to put something this serious into the hands of an attorney. However, due to not knowing exactly where to go, they contacted the university and were referred to the international student center where there were immigration attorneys on hand. The school’s immigration attorney handled all of the paperwork, my parents paid the required fee, and they were told everything was set to go, or so they thought. Now mind you, up until this point, we all still had legal status; we were still “in line”.

Eventually a letter came from INS stating that the application was rejected because the fee enclosed was not the right amount. Apparently, INS had raised its fee the previous year, and it was now $20 more than we were instructed by the attorney to provide. Doing what any normal person would do, my parents immediately hired an attorney who was independent of the university. The new attorney, however, turned out to be no better than the free one provided by the school. Rather than file an appeal with INS and provide a check for the correct amount, the attorney chose to bicker back and forth with the school attorney as to why they were even advising students on such matters. The attorney failed to inform my parents that they had only 60 days to appeal the decision; the attorney failed to take any measures to protect our status or to inform us of what could be done to protect our status. And so we lost legal status.

If the immigration system doesn’t work for someone who tries to do everything the right way, then how does it treat those who were never even given the option of doing things the right way?

I now find myself in a constant state of limbo. I am currently enrolled in the social work program at school; I have always volunteered within the local community and have been offered several jobs I have had to unfortunately decline.

I can’t see myself living anywhere else other than America. All of my childhood memories are from America, and it is the only home I have known. Apart from that, I also happen to be gay, and if one is at all up to date on their current events, then I am sure you know how unfriendly a place Iran is for anyone who happens to be LGBTQ. Iran is one of the countries that not only punishes people for being gay but also kills them. Mahmoud Asgari, 16 and Ayaz Marhoni, 18 are two teenagers who were recently killed for no reason other than being gay.

“To execute people simply because they are gay or have had gay sex just isn’t acceptable in the 21st century,” he exclaimed. Their comments follow the public hangings of Mahmoud Asgari, 16, and Ayaz Marhoni, 18, on 19 July in Mashad, provincial capital of Iran’s northeastern Khorasan province, on charges of homosexuality.

In addition to the outright intolerance towards homosexuality, it is the view of the Iranian clerics that the cure to homosexuality is a sex-change operation.

“Approval of gender changes doesn’t mean approval of homosexuality. We’re against homosexuality,” says Mohammed Mahdi Kariminia, a cleric in the holy city of Qom and one of Iran’s foremost proponents of using hormones and surgery to change sex. “But we have said that if homosexuals want to change their gender, this way is open to them.”

Going back to Iran is not even an option for me, and honestly, the only difference I see between myself and the next American is $20, two strong cases of legal malpractice and a piece of paper.

~Mohammad, DREAMer from Michigan

We were so inspired by the DREAMers’ courage in coming out last week that we will continue to feature their stories through the end of March.  Please show your support by signing the petition to pass the DREAM Act.  Thank you.