Remembering Lives Lost

California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera poems honor victims of bus crash, Kansas City shootings

Juan Felipe Herrera

California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, a professor of creative writing at UC Riverside, has written two poems in memory of those who died in the Northern California bus crash and in shootings at  Kansas City Jewish facilities.

Ten people died April 10 when a bus carrying high school students and their chaperones was hit by a FedEx truck en route to a Humboldt State University preview weekend. Three people were shot and killed Sunday by a white supremacist at Jewish community center and Jewish retirement community.

In the last two years Herrera and many of his students at UCR have sent poems of sympathy and solidarity to communities as varied as Newton, Conn., after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School; to Boston after the bombing at the Boston Marathon; and to the Philippines after a super-typhoon decimated the island of Leyte.

“In a time of crisis, poetry from people’s hearts finds a way to calm the storm,” Herrera says.

Tragedy and Flowering

        — for those that perished in Orland, California, ninety miles
            north of Sacramento, on the 10th of April, 2014

In a white tour bus, of luminous horizons
en route to Humboldt, in search of a dream
at five forty-five in the afternoon – shock, a horn
in flames, a truck of lightning broke the center

ten lives dimmed, five students, two
drivers, three chaperones, now at the edges
of this Interstate 5, we sing, of your clear days
writings, rhymes and cell texts. Yes! We sing

we give gracias for your lives, that radiate still
sisters, brothers – lives of transcendent light
of dawn, of more life, for all, mothers, fathers,
brothers with flowers, sisters with gourds of

rainbow and suns, your souls, crystals, rivers
mountains, you will go on, each and everyone,
will go on, flowering, in all of our hearts,
on these lands and hours of emergency. Yes!

This is why we elect life and voice – today,
we gather the warmth of your hands, books,
laughter and green infinite hope, your breath,
dream-torches that return, rise up from emptiness

from the fields, barrios of the South, you go
toward Letters – we sing with Mariachis, plumed
danzantes. the tender trees of gold do not forget, and
your rain of poetry rains your brave free verses

toward the North, as your familia once journeyed,
we remember you, here, in procession, interwoven
into eternity, into each home, into each university
we harmonize your vision, yours – the first generation

because of you it advances, with you, continues,
ascending, forever ascending

—Juan Felipe Herrera
Poet Laureate of California
UC Riverside

Tragedia y florecimiento

               —para los que fallecieron en Orland, California,
                  noventa millas al norte de Sacramento, el 10 de abril de 2014

Era un blanco camión con luminosos horizontes,
vía a Humboldt en pos de una esperanza,
cuando a las cinco cuarenta y cinco de la tarde, trueno
y cuerno de flama, otro camión saltó, relámpago,

y apagó diez vidas – cinco estudiantes, y dos
choferes, tres chaperones, y ahora, en los orillas
de esta carretera #5, cantamos de sus claros días, de
sus escritos, rimas, textos de celular. ¡Sí! Cantamos

y damos gracias por sus vidas, que todavía brillan,
hermanas, hermanos – vidas de fecunda luz, de
hondo resplandor y más vida, para todos – madres,
padres, hermanos con flores, hermanas con jícaras

de arco iris y soles, sus almas, sus cristales, ríos,
montañas, ustedes seguirán en camino, todos
seguirán floreciendo en nuestros corazones,
en estos terrenos y tiempos de emergencia. ¡Sí!

Por eso elegimos vida y voz – por eso hoy, juntos,
empuñamos el calor de sus manos, libros, risas y
verdes, infinitas esperanzas, su aliento, sus senderos,
esos sueños que renacen y surgen de la nada,

de los files, de los barrios del Sur, y van hacia las Letras,
aquí, les cantamos, mariachis y danzantes empenachados,
y los tiernos árboles de oro no se olvidan, y las lluvias
de poesía, la suya, derraman sus bravos versos libres

hacia al Norte, como sus padres y abuelos caminaron,
aquí los recordamos, aquí peregrinamos, entretejidos
eternamente, en cada hogar, aula, en cada facultad
armonizamos su visión, tan suya – la primera generación

por ustedes avanza, con ustedes prosigue,
ascendiendo, siempre ascendiendo.

Juan Felipe Herrera,
Poeta Laureado de California
Traducción, JFHerrera y Lauro Flores


Fill Yourself with Joy

For Reat Griffin Underwood, 14 yrs old,
Dr. William Lewis Corporon, his grandfather and Terri LaManno,
ambushed and killed in an anti-Semitic hate crime, Kansas City,
Missouri, Sunday, April, 13, 2014. – For their families.

              “Why does the sun burn? Why do the hills cry?”
                 Philip Levine, from “Zaydee”

Fill yourself with joy, sing it, Reat, sing it,
We shall conquer anti-Semitism, hate, all of it
Your life-voice, your life heart, your life,
Un-charted, is here, plainly here, for us
For us, yes, for all, as you sang it to be, now

Your grandfather, Lewis, too, you stand here, full
We shall conquer that hate, in its formlessness
Against Jews, against us, that is, all of us
It has been too long, ancient, to turn away, to drag
Away from it all – you faced it – now, we, here

Thread flowers, the ones for peace, multi-voiced
The ones of writing, art, stillness, piercing love
When I say piercing, I mean, resolute, light
That awakens mountains – is this too much to say?
Too soon? We must gather, as we are, as you

Loved, sang, served, family – the road
We follow, we sing with you – Terri La Manno
We visit our mamas again, somehow, in Village Shalom,
We remember you – you demonstrate the steps
This is the arc of love, all of it, yes, complete

In its circles and spirals and depth, volume
We shall conquer hate, four uneven letters, mumblers –
Anti-Semitism, split skull, that arises to surround
Our kid brother, our elder, our sister, it grins
In front of us, it is here, today, we begin again

To end it
To pay homage
To the brave ones, the good ones
To the ones who were busy joining hands

So we sing, we sing.

Juan Felipe Herrera,
California Poet Laureate, 4/15/14


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