Matt Sedillo’s “Mowing Leaves of Grass” (FlowerSong Press, 2019) is many things to many people, but for me, his book is but one big brown middle finger to America. Not just the Orange Madman’s America, but to an imperial, colonizing, capitalist America, one that was here long before the would-be dictator. But indeed, the biggest middle finger is reserved for him.
His poem “Custers” is an “A list” of who gets the middle finger, from Custer, to John Wayne to the Orange Madman’s entire family… and you too, if you support them. And for this reason, in “Chicano Bros in Jaguar Suits,” he prides himself in being a “shit-talker.” Perhaps a shit-kicker too. Mowing Leaves
Sedillo was born long after the Floricanto generation – In Xochitl In Cuicatl – of the late 1960s and 1970s, a time of cultural renaissance, political upheaval and spitfire poetry. The political context of that era was what is referred to as a “primary process,” the equivalence of a massive volcanic political eruption. This is the era Sedillo should have been born into for his words and the language he uses are very much a part of that tradition.
Sedillo is a veteran wordmaster and yet he is a youngster. He is in the mold and tradition of Ricardo Sanchez, Jose Montoya and Raulsalinas. Sanchez was a hard-core Pueblo-Chicano poet that very much embodied that generation; all three of them did. He also embodies the fire and spirit of Reymundo “Tigre” Perez, who is also associated with the Floricanto and Canto al Pueblo festivals of that bygone era.
Prior to that massive political eruption, Mexican-Brown peoples in the United States were, relatively speaking, not just compliant, but also, assimilationist, still wanting to be accepted as part of White America. And when the Chicano Movement erupted, that’s when the middle fingers came out in a tornadic fury.
Most of those from that generation are now gone or not writing, but one could say that Sedillo picks up where they left off. His words, his poetry, takes no prisoners; rolls no punches and makes no excuses. His poetry is a scorched earth policy in reverse. That is, he takes on any of those who suck up to the rich, who stay silent in the face of white supremacists – who insist that brown people “go back to Mexico” – while refusing to be invisibilized. If there was a word to describe him, a leading candidate would be: seditious. Another description that works: radical leftist Chicano Indigenous poet.
East LA educator, Lupe Carrasco, refers to Sedillo’s work as part of decolonial work. And that it is. Plus it is also liberatory – the antithesis of “progress” – and we see this throughout, though specifically in “Pedagogy of the Oppressor.” Part of that decolonial process is tied into that primary process – of releasing that vented up collective anger – that still has not subsided. In fact, it would not be an understatement that that volcano is once again ready to erupt. Mowing Leaves
In his signature piece, of the same name as the book’s title, Sedillo puts forth not only another list of Euro-American poets that can safely be ignored, but also, a who’s who of Raza writers and poets that should be required reading, from Gloria Anzaldua to Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. He also puts forth not simply a treatise, but the equivalent of a dissertation. Here are some lines from that poetic dissertation:
To all that we are
And all we have been
Galaxies and dimensions
Of pain, pride and resistance
Are the solar showers
In the days of living music
When the people of the sun
Are dancing to the tune of Valenzuela
And la luna
Was a calavera
As the ancestors
Welcomed in the future
through circular calendars
Where I am you
And you are me
Sitting at a desk
Looking to the stars
Searching for the end
To a poem
That never began
That always was
And forever shall be
I end here by acknowledging his work as that of creation-resistance.
by Roberto Cintli Rodríguez
Roberto Cintli Rodríguez, Ph.D., is a columnist, author, and an associate professor of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona. His most recent book is “Yolqui, a Warrior Summoned from the Spirit World: Testimonios on Violence” is available now on University of Arizona Press.