Darlene C Alvarez moved to Oakland from San Francisco over twenty years ago and lived all around Oakland before  making her home in the Lake Merritt area with her husband and two daughters.

Alvarez says her poetry is influenced by living in Oakland’s culturally diverse neighborhoods. She says “I used to think it would be a much more harmonious existence if everyone were the same. I’ve since matured in my thinking and now subscribe to the belief that differences are beautiful. Instead of trying to change people or things, we should accept and embrace each other’s unique qualities. If anyplace is unique, it is Oakland!”

Alvarez says she started writing poems as a sort of therapy. “I wanted to write poems that were accessible and not so flowery that the reader becomes frustrated or feels they have to dissect each word trying to find meaning. For me, if someone reads my poetry and has a physical or emotional reaction (laughter, sadness, confusion, even disgust!) then I feel the poem has done its job, albeit in a creative, concise, and, hopefully, entertaining way.”

Alvarez’s first collection of poetry, The Quiet Child, explored themes such as love, parenthood, friendship, nostalgia, imperfection, mortality and frustration with complacency.  One of her poems was named Best Love Poem by The California Aggie, UC Davis’ newspaper.

She says that one of favorite things to do is walk around Lake Merritt with my family then enjoying an ice cream on our front steps.

 

Crawl

I couldn’t pay

So they

Cut off the cable
Could I roll up into a ball, crawl under the table?

Let me open the door

They’ve come to take more

They go, “Which one is yours? Point it out if you can.”

Instead of my blue car, though, I showed them my neighbor’s white van

I say, “Wait, on second thought, no!

I might just need that, you know

I might need a place to stay

How much do you need so you can go away?”

The landlord’s fed up with my monthly excuses

Quickly, I think of something I hope that amuses

He says, “Pay me – do what you have to. Can’t you take out a loan?”

I tell him, “I can’t call nobody, ‘cause they’ve cut off my phone!”

I’ll write everyone back and promise eventual payment

A challenge though since I’ve got no employment

Downsize, right-size, furlough, layoff – however you categorize

Reflection of a fallen hero looks back at me in my children’s eyes

Let me open the door

But they can’t take. No more.

I go, “Is there anything left? Point it out if you can.”

To where, whom can I turn ‘cause I could really use a hand

Could I roll up into a ball, crawl under the table?

Hoping for a happy ending to this fable

I pray

Sitting on my lazy ass all day

 

Filtered

(from The Quiet Child)

His cheeks shine with the clear gloss of tears

Like a badge of honor for his ordeal

His mouth is stretched from ear to ear

But it’s no grin

As he whimpers and groans

His ivory teeth gleam against his ebony skin

Much like they did weeks before

When he and some friends went swimming in

a dark, murky pond

He took care not to swallow for his mother

had warned him

Still his ears got waterlogged and droplets

seeped into his wide nose

He recalls wailing in joy as he emerged,

refreshed

He is making a noise again as he writhes in the

Excruciating sensation

As they extract the serpentine consequence

 

It Is Time

(from The Quiet Child)

This is about the time

I seek divine intervention

This is about the moment

I clasp my hands in prayer

This is about time.

This is about the time

I feel a metamorphosis commence

This is about the moment

I feel the twinge of nervousness

It is about time.
This is about time

That I’m squandering

Unbeknownst to me

Pointed out to me indirectly

But the message comes loud and clearly

This is about the time

I’m to make a life-altering decision

This is about the moment

I feel a twinge of apprehension

This is the right time.
This is the right time

I must write a new chapter

This is the right moment

I recognize what I’m going after

It is time.

 

Preservation

(from The Quiet Child)

Surely the dead man’s body

Relishes how the ridges in

Her fingertip comb the superfine hairs

On his cinnamon skin

Misses the supple, malleable flesh

Through which you can hear

The gentle hum of warm crimson blood

As it voyages through the intricate network

That runs the length

Recalls the uncomfortable yet pleasing

Sensation of

Uncontrollable fluids spilling

The condensation from the heat of bodies

(in constant motion)

Spontaneous, deliberate, improvisation

Remembers clothed in nothing but

Otherworldly elements

He’s now one with

Sadly, only physically

Mourns his inability to seemingly float

With feet firmly planted

Filling his lungs

With a substance

He has never seen before

But unconditionally trust

Will sustain him

The feeling

The network

The process

The sensation.

 

Routine

(from The Quiet Child)

I get up every morning reluctantly painfully

I curse this blasted routine that rules me

But I forget to thank God for letting me stay today

I make some coffee and stir in the sugar

Who put the empty carton of creamer back in there?

I forget about the little boy who has to walk half a mile

To fetch a bucket of water

I put on my perfectly coordinated outfit

Seems the dryer ate my last pair of socks

But I forget the little girl risking shards

As she makes her way to the corner store

I sprint to catch my bus before he closes the door

Standing, I roll my eyes as I ride with my face

Pressed against the windshield

But I forget the little boy walking to school

Before dawn, fearing ghosts

At the end of the day, I get ready for bed

Dreading the routine which waits for me in the morning

But I remember to thank God

For this comfortable monotony

 

Synthetic Happy Place

(from The Quiet Child)

Vicodin coursing through my veins

Brings me to my happy place

I’m suspended in air, painless

Like a drop of oil in a water vase

Alcohol marinating my insides

Brings me to a tingly place

I transcend the ugly, I’m numb

Like my legs after a marathon race

White-out wafting up my nostrils

Brings me to a higher place

I block out the bad, see only good

Like my mistakes magically erased

Nicotine floating in my lungs

Brings me to a calmer place

I lower my blood pressure, lose weight

Like a diet pill with better taste

Lovin’ happening in the room

Brings me to a soothing place

I undulate from the inside out

Like a baritone projecting the bass…

 

Then and Now

(previously published in Teen-Age Magazine)

Click,

I turn the TV on

Lives taken have risen

To more than 1,000

The newsman says.

I ask, “How could that be? There is no war.”

Why then, do the aircrafts

Just fall out from the sky?

Were they just flying too high?

Mr. President, I ask you

“Did you make a hole-in-one?

While you send thousands of our people

And watch…

And hope to say, “We won.”

The city council calls a meeting

We hear, “Beautify the neighborhoods.”

The workers hear, “Clean up the bloody sidewalks

and sweep away the shells.”

Mr. Baseball player hits a homer

A couple million all the way to the bank

Ms. Education molds minds of the future

A bronze plaque hangs on the wall

A child of six

Pays fare of three quarters and a dime

While I, adult,

Pay the same for mine

I won’t close my eyes

And pretend they aren’t there

Someday I’ll ask,

“Where’s war?”

And they’ll say, “Nowhere.”

Someday. Somewhere.

 

In addition to The Quiet Child Alvarez has published a picture book for children called, Drink Your Pasta, Eat Your Milk!, which helps to reassure young children (in a fun and rhyming way) that it’s OK to make mistakes because adults make them, too, and there is always a lesson to learn from them.

She is currently working on another children’s book that addresses a not-so-common, but wonderfully named, fear: koumpounophobia, the fear of buttons.

 

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