October, 2021

Re:Generation – A Poem

Antoni Tapies Torso

Antoni Tàpies, “Torso”, 1985. Paint, varnish and collage on canvas, 146 X 114 cm


The bark of the tree grows around the scar carved in the shape of a placaso.
For decades at this time of day, a young boy carves letters of gang affiliation into the skin of a bay fig tree in my father’s barrio.
Upon feeling cut the bark bloats, bubbles, and envelops its wound – but slowly, over centuries.

This child of mine used corrosive chemicals to etch his gang sing into the glass of a neighbor’s bakery,
This child of mine burned his placaso into the ceiling of the public bathroom with a 99 cent lighter,
This child of mine chalked a game of hop-scotch on our sidewalk,
This child of mine scratched letters in an ancient cave,
This child of mine inscribed symbols to loved ones as he contemplated time in the state penitentiary.
I see much of him in me and me in him,

Across the boulevard,

A liquor store wall watches and, like the tree, embraces himself as a wounded healer,
Accepting the gang signs and their mark makers,

As they are


scratched in,

painted over,

thrown up,

sprayed on,

fucked up,

washed out,

scratched in,

burned up,



covered up,

crossed out,


washed out,



These filaments of letters and numbers dance in their light as they scratch the film,
Taking a slow sway to that dream place where symbols and mirages call each other sweethearts.

At the same time,

A street camera witnesses the unspoken American ceremony of scarification.
And, if you look closely at the tape you’ll hear the reminder knocking at the door,
Knock!    knock!     knock!
Being American is being an accessory to a crime.


A color photograph of the tree bark of a Ficus tree in El Sereno.


No bliss without loss,
No perfect skin without scars,
No healing a bone that hasn’t been broken,
No getting to the end of a boulevard without having driven it,
No new branches without snapping the old ones.

For decades at this time of night, a young boy has been feeling the wind blowing through the leaves of a bay fig tree in my father’s barrio.
Upon touching the coming draft his skin prickles, bubbles, and breathes in a manor of speech,
The slang word for the sensuousness of scarred skin.

The flesh of the tree holds a record in constant erasure.
Every gang affiliation, every letter, every symbol, every placaso inscribed has been swallowed by time.
And, every failed American pseudo-initiation of manhood has slipped away into reincarnation,
For the next (re)generation to dance in perpetual violence.

My father disintegrated before my eyes.
Were his atoms absorbed by the roots?
If it was him I saw in the leaves; in the coarseness of the bark; in the shade,
Maybe I would have recognized myself in this tree of ours.
But it is not so.
He is lost to me in this lifetime.

If there is any form of a man for this child of mine to become,
May it be found in the dripping sap resting in the wound of our bark;
Our marred skin.

2021. Ezequiel Olvera



Antoni Tàpies, “Red Graffiti”. 1985. Paint, pencil, varnish and collage on canvas, 250 x 200cm