‘Las Velas’, a Poem on the Remembrance Day of Those We Lost at Pulse Nightclub

On June 12th, I drove home from a nightclub to hear the first reports of the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. By the next morning, the scope of the horror was just starting to be revealed. On June 13th, I attended a memorial at Los Angeles City Hall. Stunned by grief, we marched in a daze, eventually lighting candles (or in Spanish, the religious velas familiar to many Latinx families) and left burning on rainbow flags. On June 14th, it was my beloved late mother’s birthday. I sat down to reflect on her, and thought of all the times she waited for me to come home from a night out, and the mothers of the victims of the massacre. This poem came rushing out of me, as fast as I could write it on a legal pad. It is about the complications of being LGBTQ and Latinx, about mothers and sons, about the violence we are regularly draped in, and the love that is stronger than death.

Las Velas

By Tom Cendejas

Mom, last night I saw a candle,

Burning on the steps of city hall,

The Sacred Heart glowed,

It was a vela, Ma.

Like the kind you

used to light for me —

Every time I left you,

Every time I “went out”,

That I should: “come home safe, mijo.”

La luz, in a glass tube.

You can get them cheap

at the 99-cent store.

The kind every Latina mom lights

When her kids “go out”

That they are happy

That they will be blessed

That they should: “come home safe, mija.”

Mom, those velas were also lit

Last Saturday night, by mamas just like you,

In a state with a name full of flowers.

Some knew where their sons were going

And some did not.

Some only saw them wear petals of glitter

In their black and shiny club hair.

And las madres lit a candle

And they prayed quickly,

Prayed like a cumbia rhythm in their hearts.

“come-home-safe-mijo-come-home-safe-come-home…”

And I think they danced there.

Night velas emanated from the DJ booth,

Or flickers from lighters,

It was a club after all, Ma.

And I think they were happy,

And I think they were blessed,

I know they felt safe.

Then: Fire in metal tubes,

He got them easy at the

99-cent All-American gun store.

He walked in and erupted,

His prophets watching him, or

Turning their eyes from him as he

Blazed hate upon hate upon hate.

Mom, last night I saw a candle,

One with La Virgen, the Holy Mother,

Burning on a rainbow flag;

It had become a shroud, Ma.

La luz in a glass tube.

People so poor they just move the velas

From their homes straight to their

Blood-stained sidewalks.

Still in their nightgowns, or their Target sweatshirts

Con chanclas y todo.

They light the kind of vela

Every Latina mom knows how to light,

The One by the Curb.

And by now,

Las madres de Orlando have come to know

That their hijos are gone,

That their laughter froze,

That they are spirit,

That they did not come home safe.

These saints that we pray to?

The ones on the candles —

Do they protect us, my beautiful Ma?

I remember how hard it was to tell you,

With St. Jude looking on,

I felt like a Hopeless Cause.

I should have known

That the glow from your Sacred Heart

Was what I would need to this day.

But now I’m afraid

That this compassion we feel will ember out.

I keep trying to hold a candle up,

But all my shouting

Keeps blowing out the flame.

So I’ll just light this one I have

Right here in my house.

One that I keep for you,

It smells like “Maja,”

the perfume you wore

when you went out

when you were happy

when you were alive.

I send this light across the years,

On this your birthday, my beloved Ma.

All I want to do is sit on the couch with you

And eat pastel.

But I remember your rules:

Before we could eat, we must pray.

So…

Our Lady of Multiple-Victim Sorrows and Go-Fund-Me Funerals,

Good Shepherd of the Multi-hued Flock and even

the loneliest wolf,

Luz de Jesus y Juan Gabriel,

San Bernardino de los Borderless:

Have mercy on us, your poor banished children of Eve,

And America.

Ruega por nosotros

That their still-shining souls may be remembered,

That their holy mothers may have the strength to

Hug their other children on the couch,

Even though she weeps for the one

Who will never again return at 3am and

Ask her to stroke his hair, as he sofa-lies,

And tells her about the night,

Or

Stays silent about the night.

Most of all, Ma

I light a vela

For this land of War and Mystery and dulce de leche ice cream.

For this world of Love and Fear and Exit Doors.

May we be blessed,

May we know an illuminating God,

And may all of us,

Cada uno,

Come home safe.

This poem is dedicated to my mother, Grace Cendejas, and all the mothers, parents and loved ones of the victims at Pulse Nighclub in Orlando.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFbiyU-OZr8&t=12s

Film, Music, Peak TV, Diversity— Tom Cendejas is sitting on a sofa and unwrapping Pop Culture with a Latino eye, one husk at a time. tomcend@gmail.com