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.