Daniel Garcia Ordaz , a.k.a. The Poet Mariachi, a teacher and writer from the borderlands of deep South Texas. His books include You Know What I’m Sayin’? and Cenzontle/Mockingbird: Songs of Empowerment (and its YA version), both mixed-genre collections of poetry and drama. García is a founder of the Rio Grande Valley Int’l. Poetry Festival. He has been a featured poet or panelist at Texas Book Festival, Dallas International Book Fair, McAllen Book Festival, TABE, and Border Book Bash, and the Texas Latino Voices project, among others. His work is being taught at universities and considered in academic works across the U.S. and abroad. García has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He is also a songwriter, former journalist, photographicationisticator, and word-maker-upper. García appears in the documentary, “ALTAR: Cruzando fronteras/Building bridges.” García served in the U.S. Navy as a Hospital Corpsman. He’s presently at work on a children’s poetry manuscript. García’s work has appeared in several journals and anthologies. García has edited several books and anthologies, such as Twenty: In Memoriam, a response by poets across the U.S. to the Sandy Hook shootings. See videos of him on YouTube and follow him at @poetmariachi. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Fishbowl: So, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started writing poetry.
DGO: Seems to me like I’ve always been surrounded by poetry growing up. My dad would take the tunes from mariachi songs and re-write those with his own lyrics. Growing up in Houston and then South Texas on the border, there was that musicality of the barrio everywhere–in Bible verse memorization at church, nursery rhymes in school. I’m a letter writer, so I think I subconsciously wrote poetically to girls I was interested in, to my parents when I was in the Navy, to friends. Now I’ve been writing poetry, seriously, for about twenty years.
Fishbowl: How would you describe your style of writing? Where does it come from?
DGO: As a former newspaper reporter and present eavesdropper, I enjoy telling other people’s stories. But when I get personal, that’s a whole different ballgame. People call me a ham but I’m very shy. I had to find courage enough to share my work with others. I feel like most of my writing deals with language and celebrating ‘voice’. Growing up in a huge household where you have to mix different cereals just to make a whole meal of it, you learn to mix things up. I’m an eclectic writer. I seem to surprise folks with different styles I write in–or even different moods. I stay positive, so they’ll be surprised to read a piece on depression. I play with language and imitate voices, so people have read my work and thought I was African American, for example. Others assume I can’t write Spanish Spanish because I love using Tex-Mex pieces. I’m a believer and I feel that God puts certain things in my heart–no dreams or written messages, but wantings and frustrations and vulnerabilities and humor. I think we’re all creative, but we still need to tap into it as writers. Luckily, it comes naturally to me.
Fishbowl: What are you reading right now?
DGO: Just started a dystopian novel, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, but I’m a serial mixer, so I’m also reading Canción Cannibal Cabaret by Amalia Ortiz.
Fishbowl: So, shameless self-promotion time. What projects do you have going on right now?
DGO: I’m asking for blurbs and pre-publication reviews for a collection of children’s poetry that’s been in the works for twenty years. The working title is Read Until You Bleed. The poems are hilarious! LOL! But there are some serious topics in there, too.
Fishbowl: Any social media links you would like to share so our readers can connect and learn more about you and your work?
Fishbowl: So, tell us a bit about your featured poems.
DGO: “Tied Up in Knots” first appeared in This City Is A Poem. I made some minor tweaks. (Do we ever stop editing?).
“Cenzontle,” which is mockingbird in the Aztec tongue, Nahuatl, is a poem about Maya Angelou. I wrote it after winning an essay contest along with four other UT-Pan American students that allowed us to meet the author backstage. She was a majestic presence. My intention was to give her the poem, but her handlers rejected it. It’s a prose poem that’s the title of my book, which is about emulating voices to “talk in their shoes.” It’s playful and I invent words and have fun but still include difficult topics. The poem previously appeared in Praxis Magazine Online.
“But You Don’t Date Guys Like That” is a little bit noir and a little bit me remembering trying to date. I hate when people say, ‘All the good ones are taken.’ My response? “We were out there once. We were just too dang poetic for you to notice.” So, it’s a little dark but also fun, ‘cause I normally throw in some humor.
“Definition” is a haiku and it freaking rocks! It’s my parting piece at readings. And this explanation is longer than the piece! 😉
Fishbowl: Let’s take a look at the pieces.
Tied Up in Knots
They say a man named Harvey Kennedy invented
the plastic or metal tips on the ends of shoelaces (called “aglets”)
that keep them from falling apart.
But what does Harvey Kennedy know of my grandmother?
My Abuelita Fina taught me how to tie my shoes.
(Whose delicate hands or what monstrous machines
slipped synthetic socks over the lace tips
so consistently that I would not struggle
with split ends as I learned something new?)
I would get dizzy in the back of the car,
running late to church—last one in, first one out—
for looking down at my feet with the car in motion,
the kids always in the backseat—no seatbelts to tie us down.
Two bows, over, then under—no, under!—now pull!
(My fingers too small and too few.)
Her stern directions, lacked the rhythm and rhyme,
lacked the seamless poetry, the Simplicity in the tan delicate patterns,
her seamstress embroidery, her fine crocheting. Her—
Somewhere along the way we remember:
tying one’s shoes is like riding a bike or driving stick or getting over a break-up:
It’s the most difficult thing—until one day it’s not.
Tying on shoes becomes such second nature
that the process is forgot.
My Abuelita eventually succumbed to the patchwork quilt of dementia and Alzheimer’s,
forgot how to tie her own shoes,
forgot to repair the stiches of a life well-lived,
a life not rent even by widowhood but suddenly unraveling.
It became the most difficult thing to get her to remember
how to tie up the loose ends of her life.
It became the most difficult thing to get her to remember
(For Maya Angelou)
And what makes a mockingbird special, anyway? Why it’s the trill from her tongue, the cry from her lungs, the sway of her lips, it’s her dusty, rusty, crusty cries, the trail of tears in her eyes on sheet music playin’, floatin’ and swayin’ to the beat, beat, beating, way-laying, saxopholaying, assaulted, accosted, bushwhacked and busted, cracked open, bruised, banged and accused, flat broke and broken terror bespoken—a token of survivin’, of thrivin’, of juke joint jump jivin’ of death cheaten daily through unwanton wailin’. Why a mockingbird’s got diamonds at the souls of her blues, whip-lashed back-beats at the edge of her grooves, croons of healing above strangely-fruited plains of grieving. She lets loose veracity with chirps still rising at the edge of a knockabout life, troubled and toiled beat-boxed, embroiled, de-plumed, defaced, ignored, encased, caged and debased ‘cause of the color of her skin. But as the din fades and the cool of eve rolls in, there she stands—chest huff-puffed and proud, unbowed and loud, endowed with the power of flight, under the big dip of night, echoing the ancient Even cry of a lioness defending her pride in that sweet mother tongue: I rise up, and, Adam, I shall not be moved today! The mockingbird sings what the heart cannot pray. The mockingbird sings what the heart cannot pray.
*Cenzontle is the Nahuatl word for the northern mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos.
But You Don’t Date Guys Like That
He wants to love you
like a death row inmate loves
the sun, the pain of knowing
like suicide bombers love
martyrdom, the smell of burning flesh
like a butterfly loves
nectar, the caress of the wind
like America loves
Chipotle, cultural appropriation
like Juárez loves
tequila, butchering women
like Austin loves
food trucks, gentrification
like Chicago loves
deep-dish pizza, murder
like Los Angeles loves
He would miss you like
a metaphor misses like, or as
a racist misses Governor Wallace, or as
the sand dunes miss the waves, or as
a new mother misses the weight, or as
a bullet misses the dark, still
smell inside a fully-loaded gun
under a motel pillow.
A Haiku poem
gets to the point succinctly.
My work here is done.
Fishbowl: Some of the qualities I appreciate most in poetic works are word economy and simplicity (being quite MAD for the style of haiku myself). “Definition” not only embodies that but does so smartly. I am familiar with some of your work already and know haiku tends to find its way into your public readings every now and then. What is your relationship with this lovely, distillate short form of poetry?
DGO: I grew up in Boy Scouts, so I’m a fan of the outdoors, staring into the embers and a good starry Texas night. In college, I had CLEPed out of Spanish classes, so I took two basic Japanese courses. Haiku is a gateway form–though, like knock-knock jokes, everyone thinks they can write one. But everything is right there in the open, so it forces strong writing.
Fishbowl: “Tied Up in Knots” is a striking, sobering piece and quite personal (Thank you for that, btw.) I appreciate how it challenges our accepted definition of ‘accomplishment’—‘hero’ even. In terms of process, how was this poem born?
DGO: I don’t always enjoy writing workshop prompts. I tend to journal. But I do enjoy the challenge of a random prompt and that’s how this poem was born. This City Is A Poem editor, friend, and fellow-poet Jo Reyes-Boitel set up a doozie! She sent me a link to a site that cranks out random topics. I got aglets. I was stuck, but I loved that the poem steered itself into the memories of my grandmother teaching me to tie my shoes on a physical level and it was, indeed, very personal. I considered not mentioning the Alzheimer’s because it still hurts, but I’m glad it’s not taboo as it was growing up.
Fishbowl: “Cenzontle” is by far my favorite piece in this offering. I particularly love the ‘word play’, adept use of language, and its beat-stylings to empower your voice and inflame emotion in the reader. Within the context of your own work, in what ways does your use of language define your work and you as a poet?
DGO: I feel like wordplay is my forte. Friends tag me online with every pun they find. (Y’all need to stop!) Maya Angelou told Oprah once that “words are alive” (a biblical idea, too), and that she doesn’t let people curse in her presence because it gets in the rug, it gets in the carpet, it gets in the curtains”–something to that effect. I subtitled my collection Songs of Empowerment because I wish to empower folks to speak their truths–the sexy ones, the hurtful ones, the difficult ones, the funny ones, to voice their pains and victories and anthems because we have become adept at hiding our fears and celebrations. So, I celebrate language for the fun that it is but also for the power that it yields, and Maya brought that out in a lot of us. I celebrate her in this piece and in doing so, I invite others to speak freely because it’s cleansing and healing and truly empowering to sound out!
Fishbowl: What is next for Daniel Garcia Ordaz?
DGO: The moon, baby! I want a line from my poem to be stenciled on every wall–maybe the bathroom stalls or grafitti walls–of every rocket ship to the moon and Mars because without art, the astronauts will go crazy! Also, it’s cleaning day, so I gotta go clean the garage!
Fishbowl: Great, Daniel! Any parting thoughts? Advice for aspiring writers out there?
DGO: You be you! If your genre doesn’t exist or if you’re work isn’t being accepted, keep working at your craft. Listen to reasonable criticism of your work and be willing to accept that not everything you write is gold but ignore the ridiculous notion that you don’t belong. Try different forms. Try different arts. It’s good exercise for the heart and the art. Finally, instead of trying to get a book published, start by submitting poems or stories or articles. Then maybe you’ll have a collection. Writing heals, so if nothing else, keep writing for yourself.
Fishbowl: Last question…What would you want the epitaph on your gravestone to say?
DGO: “Gone to taco heaven” or maybe “HUMBLE Poet” (the HUMBLE in all-caps, preferably in gold.) – I kid. How about “Writer * Teacher”?
Fishbowl: Go for “Writer * Teacher”…I want “Gone to Taco Heaven”.