Denver Bar Association
September 2012
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Denver Lawyers’ Arts and Literature Contest: Poetry Writing Winner Manuel Ramos


M


anuel Ramos is the director of advocacy for Colorado Legal Services and the author of seven published novels, five of which feature Denver lawyer Luis Móntez. His fiction has garnered the Colorado Book Award, the Chicano/Latino Literary Award, the Top Hand Award from the Colorado Authors League, and an Honorable Mention from the Latino International Book Awards. He has written since he was a young man. “I wanted to write stories that allowed readers to escape but also that reflected my reality and consciousness, that is, the Mexican-American community and culture— something almost impossible to find when I was a boy, more than 50 years ago,” Ramos said. “The thing that I enjoy most about being a writer is the final read I give a piece when I realize that it is as complete as I can get it. Although I have never equaled the image I have of a story with the actual product, I have come close and there isn't a better feeling than that.”

Read a Q&A with Poetry Writing Winner Manuel Ramos

Fool Moon Madness
by Manuel Ramos

silver sheen slipped
around twilight
bathing us
in summer’s ache

joan baez sang
it’s all over now
baby blue
she knew the story
behind that song
but she
was not talking
not revealing
any secrets
except for what
I could decipher
from her
emphasized words
orphan
coincidence
blankets

we drank red wine
slapped at mosquitoes
convinced ourselves
age and experience
make up
for enthusiasm
and ambition

the time of year
required an
emotional response
but we staggered
in our search for meaning

we drank red wine
slapped at glowing insects
filtered our thoughts

an accusatory wind
washed through the
urban valley
breaking an
uneasy truce
redefining the moment
our malaise took root
orange-tinged electric paranoia
conquered gray inertia

we lapsed into
the collective dream
of the folding sky

death machines
rolled through the desert
again
children with bloody stumps
stared with charcoalringed eyes
their halos
glimmered against
the smoky night
as they melted
into reflecting pools
of ten thousand mosques

the old glorious shroud
whipped the sand
until only the glassy moon
grimaced
from beyond the horizon

barbed wire dripped
the lava of despair
guard dogs
spoke spanish
but the hunted travelers
were mute
and blind
and lost

they avoided
eye contact
their embarrassment
knocked me to my knees

somewhere an old man
gasped his final breath
an infant breathed
her first and only
ration of life
while pastel heirs
hunted painted eggs
in texas buffalo grass
littered with foil wrappers
and q-tips

i wanted out of the dream
but i was surrounded
by celebrity hounds
licking at my
rusty sandals

young women
puckered elderly lips
plumped with gold
their bruised necks
slumped under
the weight
of diamond chokers
as they waded through
tar-drenched muck
until they drowned
in their imaginations

the thump
of incoherent rhythms
bounced from a tilted
alabaster condo
that stood over the rubble of
little mexico
the bottoms
paddy town
and where inuna-ina
once skinned antelopes

a siren cut the night
but my deafness
prevented a response

the policeman reported
an ignored car alarm
as a useless gesture
contradicting
the schizophrenic cacophony
of neighborhood watch
and worldwide amnesia

he lost his job
when he used his badge
as an umbrella
to hold back tears
from squandered hopes
and violent choices

naked grandchildren
paraded through
a living room
stuffed with their parent’s memories
i whispered something
about the usual suspects

stainless steel jail bars
clutched their errant lovers
who watched the warden
hang himself
elevator music
flooded the cell blocks
i hummed along
because i knew all the words

i jerked away from the dream
and realized
i had not been asleep
there was no wine
and I was alone

 

Q&A with Poetry Winner Manuel Ramos

Tell us more about your work. What was the inspiration? What techniques did you draw on? What do you like about this work?

I am a fiction writer but occasionally I aspire to be a poet. I have written a handful of poems over the years but I cannot explain the inspiration for the particular poems. They appear in my imagination as random phrases and concepts and eventually are transplanted to the page. “Fool Moon Madness” was born almost complete. I did very little re-writing, which is unusual for me. My fiction often takes years of re-writing, editing, and deleting to get to the point where I am ready for someone to read it. The poem, in an abstract, dreamlike fashion, attempts to deal with some issues that were prevalent when it was created and which, unfortunately, are still swirling in the atmosphere: endless war, repackaged racism, apathy that allows crimes against humanity, and, on a more personal level, confusing age with wisdom or maturity. And other issues.

How did you become interested in writing? What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

I have written since I was a young boy—I became a writer because I loved to read, a sentiment often expressed by writers. I wanted to write stories that allowed readers to escape but also that reflected my reality and consciousness, that is, the Mexican-American community and culture—something almost impossible to find when I was a boy, more than 50 years ago. The thing that I enjoy most about being a writer is the final read I give a piece when I realize that it is as complete as I can get it. Although I have never equaled the image I have of a story with the actual product, I have come close and there isn't a better feeling than that.

Why did you become a lawyer? What do you enjoy most about the profession?

I am lucky that I have survived as a legal aid lawyer, and that I have been able to work with people who share my values about justice, equality, and fairness. I don't think I would have remained in the profession if I had to do some other kind of lawyering. I don't say that as a judgment on any other lawyer, I only speak for myself.

Art and lawyering seem to draw on very different skills and different parts of the brain. How do you think being a lawyer helps your art, or vice versa?

The work I do for Colorado Legal Services has occasionally spurred my imagination. My legal work has provided starting points for characters, plot lines, and dialog. But only starting points. The finish is always total fiction. The discipline I need to practice as a legal aid attorney also carries over to the discipline needed for writing. When I am engaged in a writing project I mark out time in the morning, evening, and weekends for that project, just as I have to organize myself for my responsibilities at Colorado Legal Services. 

Tell us briefly about your background as a writer and as an attorney.

I am the Director of Advocacy for Colorado Legal Services, the statewide legal aid program, and the author of seven published novels, five of which feature Denver lawyer Luis Móntez. I am a recipient of the Colorado Bar Association’s Jacob V. Schaetzel Award and the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association’s Chris Miranda Award. My fiction has garnered the Colorado Book Award, the Chicano/Latino Literary Award, the Top Hand Award from the Colorado Authors League, and an Honorable Mention from the Latino International Book Awards. The Móntez series debuted with “The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz” (1993), a finalist for the Edgar® award from the Mystery Writers of America. My published works include the mainstream novel “King of the Chicanos” (2010), several short stories, poems, nonfiction articles, and a handbook on Colorado landlord-tenant law, now in a fifth edition. I am a co-founder of and regular contributor to La Bloga (www.labloga.blogspot.com), an award-winning Internet magazine devoted to Latino literature, culture, news, and opinion. The short story “When the Air Conditioner Quit” is scheduled for publication in “Border Noir: Hard Boiled Fiction from the Southwest” (2012).


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