Jose Hernandez Diaz speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about his poem “Ode to a California Neck Tattoo,” which appears in The Common’s spring issue. In this conversation, Jose talks about finding his way to prose poetry, initially drawn in by its casual language and style. He also discusses the process of editing and revising poetry, his interest in the surreal, and what it’s like writing from a first generation point of view.
Podcast: Jose Hernandez Diaz on “Ode to a California Neck Tattoo”
A man in a Chicano Batman shirt got a tattoo of the state of California on his neck. He rode his longboard to the tattoo parlor early in the morning. This was going to be his third tattoo. He also had a tattoo of palm trees on his chest and a skeleton on a surfboard on his calf. He smoked a cigarette as he arrived at the shop.
The archetypal creation story of Latin America, the Popol Vuh began as a Maya oral tradition millennia ago. In the mid-sixteenth century, as indigenous cultures across the continent were being threatened with destruction by European conquest and Christianity, it was written down in verse by members of the K’iche’ nobility in what is today Guatemala. In 1701, that text was translated into Spanish by a Dominican friar and ethnographer before vanishing mysteriously.
Simon Marshall (interning tour guide, Art History, ABD) stands in the empty gravel yard of Donald Judd’s museum in Marfa, Texas. The sun dips below the high walls of the compound, illuminating a perfect half of the courtyard. Behind Simon a wide expanse stretches, interrupted only by Donald’s outdoor dining table, still holding two copper pots, as if the artist has just stepped inside to catch a call and has not been dead for decades. Simon, having shooed away the final tourist of the day, crosses the courtyard to lock the gates. The gate rears far above his head, solid wood aged to black and buttressed by iron. He feels medieval whenever he does this—who else but a feudal lord would need such protection? Tonight, there’s a moment of resistance before the door shuts and a figure, shadowed and slightly blurred around the edges, pushes through him. Literally right through him.
Un pájaro puso a su dueño en una jaula. “Nuestros papeles se han invertido”, dijo el pájaro. “¡Quiero que cantes!” El dueño se quejó: “Pero yo no sé cantar”. “No importa”, gritó el pájaro. El dueño silbó pero claramente no tenía ningún ritmo. “Prefiero que bailes ante mí”. El dueño bailó sin ninguna gracia. El pájaro se sintió desilusionado. “De cualquier manera te mantendré en la jaula”. Sin embargo, una hora más tarde el pájaro estaba del todo aburrido. “No me había dado cuenta que tener una mascota es como estar en la cárcel. En la medida que controlamos a los demás ellos también nos controlan a nosotros”.