California Hymn by Yaccaira Salvatierra

Yaccaira Salvatierra is an educator and art instructor living in San José. Her poems have appeared in HuizacheDiálogoPuerto del Sol, and Rattle, among others. She is a VONA (Voices of Our Nation) alumna, the recipient of the Dorrit Sibley Award for achievement in poetry, the 2015 winner of the Puerto del Sol Poetry Prize, and a nominee for a Pushcart Prize. Although she has lived in over seven cities in California, San José has been home for the past 17 years where she lives with her two sons. (5:00 p.m. at Hart’s Haven Used Bookstore, 6:00 p.m. at Spectrum Art Gallery)


Pigeons hovered as we lowered your casket next to your gravestone;
they filled their silvery-purple chests, spewed a lullaby into your stone grave.

Grandfather, you once told me that no song of lament to any Saint
could stop pigeons in Mexico City from having the sky be their gravestone.

As a young man working in the city, a pigeon fell next to your feet,
so you left for the Central Valley: clean air and a small bed for your grave.

I had seen pictures of you younger, sunburned, always wearing huaraches—
your toes filled with dirt like that brick-color dirt under your gravestone.

When you were much older, living off of your Bracero’s pension, you
went to church every day, saved money every month for your gravestone.

Sometimes you went to mass without your teeth, said evil spirits hid them,
but it didn’t matter, you still prayed when you thought of your name on stone.

You always cooked a pot of pinto beans and made soft flour tortillas for us—
I think I’ll put a bag of beans and white flour next to your gravestone

instead of lilies.

I carefully placed your portable stereo in the grave so you
could listen to Vicente Fernández sing a ranchera under your gravestone,

hear him cry the Mexican yodel—I don’t think I ever saw you cry, Salvatierra,
but at your burial, we cried your favorite “Chente” song over the bed of your grave,

Yo sé perder, yo sé perder, quiero volver, volver, volver.


Originally posted here along with other other poems:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s