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Poem of the Week: “Decoy Gang War Victim” by Carmen Giménez Smith

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Decoy Gang War Victim, 1974, by Asco (photographer: Harry Gamboa, Jr.)

In this episode of PoetryNow, Carmen Giménez Smith reads a poem in response to a photograph by the 1970s East Los Angeles art collective Asco. “There’s a young Chicano lying in the street and there are flares. It’s like a crime scene,” Smith said. “East L.A. was really one of the most dangerous places in the world. The LA Times was running articles every day about gang members being killed, and that was the only plane on which Chicanos existed, because that was on the only plane on which they were being portrayed. So they staged this photograph… and I started thinking about who this person was who laid down on the wet street to perform this…act of defiance?”

Hear Smith read “Decoy Gang War Victim” by listening to this episode of PoetryNow below.

 

Decoy Gang War Victim

Just a tick ago, the actor was a Roman candle
shot to the sky, smudged by rain’s helter-
skelter. His motivation was: he’s a stooge
on L.A.’s sodden turnpike, so we have “to make” art. Got
to rezone and react. The world the bare wall to
his bullet. Got to rile up the populace, to fortify
the arsenal. Once in a while, repopulate and penetrate,
paint a list of incitement onto the walls.
An elder told him that to overturn the city, one must
surrender body/belongings to the one explosive
spectacle of truth, making it ongoing. Pay attention.
To overturn the city, not just the scraps but fervor itself.
Not just the wan broadcast of indignation but
IRL incursions into the workhouses and
poorhouses to inflame the thousand points of  light.
A lean surge, departure pinks both ends of  him.
He’s the nth layer folded into the stand’s nerve.

Source: Poetry (March 2016)

If you enjoyed this poem, be sure to read more Smith’s work, including “Bleeding Heart” and “The Daughter”.

More About the Author

Born in New York, poet Carmen Giménez Smith earned a BA in English from San Jose State University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa. She writes lyric essCarmen_Jimenez_Smithays as well as poetry, and is the author of the poetry chapbook Casanova Variations(2009), the full-length collection Odalisque in Pieces(2009), and the memoir Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else (2010). Her most recent book, Milk and Filth (2013), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Giménez Smith’s work explores issues affecting the lives of females, including Latina identity, and frequently references myth and memory. Wolf Schneider, writing in New Mexico Magazine, described Giménez Smith’s poetry as “waves of free verse, incantation and song.” With the publication of Odalisque in Pieces,Giménez Smith was featured as a New American Poet on the Poetry Society of America’s website. Her poems have been included in the anthologies Floricanto Si! U.S. Latina Poets (1998) and Contextos: Poemas (1994).

Giménez Smith is the editor-in-chief of Puerto del Sol and publisher of Noemi Press. She teaches at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico.


You can read the rest of the PINTURA : PALABRA portfolio in the March 2016 issue of Poetry. All images in this portfolio are courtesy of and with permission from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Decoy Gang War Victim by Asco (photographer: Harry Gamboa, Jr.), museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment © 1974, Harry Gamboa, Jr.

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