V is for Vasquez (Gilliland) – A Journey Home to Find Where Healing Lives: In “Tales from the House of Vasquez”

Mexican-American poet and YA author, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

The Tale of Postpartum

The doctor is ancient
and I don’t think
she can hear me
when I say, my columna
verterbral is on the outside now.

She asks, do you like
caring for the baby?

I nod. Yes, I love
caring for the baby.

And then I whisper.

But how long
can a woman live
with her spine
on the outside.
It hurts so bad,
I can’t even cry.

Good news, the doctor
tells me, staring at
her notes. You don’t
have depression.

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland from Tales from the House of Vasquez, Rattle, 2018

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland won a Rattle Chapbook prize in 2018 for her poetry collection Tales from the House of Vasquez. But that was the least of it! This bewitching and haunting collection is what helped put Raquel back together again after what she describes as a major nervous breakdown following the birth of her first child. Poetry as healing. Stories as healing. The stories of the women in  Raquel’s family, their horrors and triumphs. The female histories from the house of Vasquez that included a history of mental illness of her mother’s side. And how they suffered. These discoveries Raquel made in the making of this book. In the making of her healing.

And it is clear from the poem above that she had to do much of that heal work on her own and through the support of her family.  This poem that shows she needed a poet for a doctor or at least a doctor with a poet’s heart.  Hello! My spine is outside my body. What else do you need to know. I am disconnected! Call that what tyou will!

And here in this next poem, here is where the true doctoring came from, from the so-called House of Vasquez, this mother place, this place where her story lived generations deep. And it’s title: Tale of la Nieta (the grand daughter). Her tale. Told and owned. Healing filling up inside her own bones! This becoming more fully known! Painful or not.

The Tale of La Nieta

The House of Vasquez has the
feet of a puma. And it found me,
baby on my brown nipple, spine
on the old mango tree. The House
said to me, m’ija, where has your,
marrow gone? Let me sit here.
You know the only way to fill
the well of the bone is in the tales.
Let me tell you the tales. And as
she spoke, fat came out of her
voice and into all of my four eyes.
And from there they filled my bones.
My spine unlatched from el árbol
with a sound like the drop of a
plump, soft mango and snakes
back into my body. And La Casa
kept speaking, until the blood dried,
until my baby looked up and smiled.

Raquel Vasquez Gilliland from Tales from the House of Vasquez, Rattle, 2018

And what grounds these poems so often is how they are literally grounded in the ground and natural things of this world. Trees, particularly the mango, animals (pumas and bears) and plants. These women in these poems embody this world. Are part and parcel of it. Breathe out from it. And it is this that brings these poems so alive on the page. This magic that wraps itself the women of the house of Vasquez. It is this that kept Raquel in my heart for the past few years.  That kept me from shelving her book away. It stayed out on various surfaces in my library and when it got buried under other books I would refind it and set it apart and it would get buried again and then refound until…….now! Dare I say the magic here refused to be overlooked! T o stay buried. Like the life of this earth it wanted to grow, grow out of the earth of its pages and find the earth in me. And now I write out of that earth! I celebrate her poems. And this poem. The earth of it. The rootedness of it.  How connected, not separated, we are all to this earth, this cosmos! I, you, we belong. Racquel belongs. Her son belongs.

The Tale of the Earth

There is an earth inside you
and he howls until his feet
pierce the place
between your hips.

You scream.

It sounds
half bear.

Three pushes and he’s out,
face-down, slippery
as though covered
in huckleberry jam.

Put him on your breats,
lean back against the tree.
Introduce little Earth
to ancient Earth.

Tell them both how
thery have oceans
and moons. Tell them both
how they’re herld with stars.

Racquel Vasquez Gilliland, ibid

Since her prize-winning chapbook Racquel published a YA novel last year and has a new one coming out in August this year, How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe. I have pre-ordered it! 



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