My best friend, Damien Flores, has been writing poems since he was 15. In many ways, poetry saved, redirected, gave new form to his life. It’s no exaggeration to say he’d be a completely different person without poems. He might be dead. A few months back, he released his first [full-length] collection of those poems:
Not all of them changed him, of course—it’s the continuing act of making art, the insistence within ourselves that this is the most productive way to address this thing we feel, that can save us. And there, in that redeeming place, is where I first met those poems. They weren’t yet called Junkyard Dogs, though there had been plenty of junkyard dogs in Damien’s life, four-legged and four-paged. I stayed there, living with him a few blocks south of Washington Elementary School, editing with him, for five years.
Then I stayed there again, editing more, at my house in the South Valley, at his house by UNM, at his beloved Tractor and my beloved Sister, the last two years. Then I designed the book. (I shot the front and back covers in his grandparents’ back yard, after his grandma passed this summer, so her dog was already relocated within the family.) I’m so proud to have helped him claim his space in the literary world.
I grew up believing—knowing—there was a place for my language in the world of language. The road for a person of color to that same entitlement is something else entirely. He had to find it in himself, in his experience in his brown family, in his poor brown community, under the boot of my people’s economic power. For a brown woman or man or gender-nonconforming person to release a full-length book requires grit and faith. A mean face, a loving face, a bold face, and a grateful face. It’s a bold and revolutionary act to write those poems, and another to see them through to publication, and release.
Junkyard Dogs was let loose on the public at Bookworks in November. It was a little tender, a little raucous, pretty funny, and totally his own. And a who’s who of local Chicanx talent stuffed the audience.
I’m so proud of you, brother. Congratulations.