Sarah A. Chavez – Halfbreed Helene Ponders Her Name in the Numerology Section at Barnes & Noble

Sarah A. Chavez

Halfbreed Helene Ponders Her Name in the Numerology Section at Barnes & Noble

Helene (French spelling): Greek, meaning “bright, torch, light”: pronounced with an “een”
or an “aine” or an “enn” sound at the end, Helene doesn’t feel as current as the more
forthright Helen or the airier Helena.
– “Helene Origin & Meaning,” The Name Book

No, not “Helen,” classic, simple. Not “Helena,”
culturally specific, the name of sexy Latin
actresses with full dark lips and generous hips.

Helene—“hell”: where no one wants to go
and “lean”: what lazy workers do against
brick walls, smoking filter-less cigarettes.

I am not a lazy demon ! Helene thought
indignantly, so loudly, it made her lips move.
And a name without nicknames too. No 

abbreviations for reprieve from the moldy
six-letter tyranny. She envied her friends who got
cute intimacies to denote familiarity: Leti for Leticia; 

Angie for Angelica. She’d asked her mom
once for a nickname or even a pet name,
What about “Lene,” she’d said, Or “Lenny?” 

Her mother crooked an eyebrow. Hell, H had said,
even “Hel” would have been fine. Helene sounds
so formal, so adult—the name of an “an old soul,” 

a despicable phrase said to and about her by men
her father’s age asking her out while waiting tables
or steaming milk for a latte. Ugh, & at Starbucks,

the pronunciations were atrocious! Those
are the times she thought fuck it, and tried on
names like Sally, Maria, or Erica—such delightful

straightforwardness! Her favorites though
were the ambiguous, androgenous names like Sam, Tyler,
Alex, or Jordan. Better to be unknown than falsely
labeled or misunderstood. The reality, of course, was that
she was a half Mexican, half Midwest white, Californian
with a French spelling of a Greek name. Like all things 

in her life, this nomenclature lacked clarity & singularity.
It was—modestly put—a goddamn mess.  

Sarah A. Chavez – Halfbreed Helene Is Good at Hiding

Sarah A. Chavez

Halfbreed Helene Is Good at Hiding

There isn’t a hole in existence that she does not want to crawl into. Coverless manhole, the missing slats on the mobile home, ground dug out for the new rail system, the hole in the concrete of the school from the parent who drunkenly smashed into the concrete corner. 

No matter how thick a brick, how many stacked planks, how solid something looks, there is a hollow lurking beneath, an emptiness, a void, a space, solitary where Helene can crawl. The plus of her shortness, the invisibility of her limbs, no one even knows she’s not present. She was never there to begin with. 

Scared of spiders, but scared of the neighbor boy too, she takes her chances with the 8 eyes & legs & fangs. A smaller bite at least, a shorter pain.

Sarah A. Chavez – All the friendly women 


Sarah A. Chavez

All the friendly women

                                                           in the office 
go to the same salon: the same shears
and spray, the same dye, and chatter. I
could nothing in that experience take joy
—always slightly critical of the scissor angle,
the amount of hair scattered like leaves
at the trunk of the elevated chair. And the price!
                 How could the price be justified??
Some stylists with seemingly so little training,
the same technique employed as used in
the online instructional video watched yesterday.

But they are all so happy! The women
with their balayages, and blonde highlights,
with their pixies, and symmetry. The hair artist too,
so in love with the women chatting about children,
about the pain of menstruation, about proper care
for one’s eyelashes, for their pores. About how
difficult and noble it is to be woman. How men
don’t understand.—I do not understand
the draw in these subjects, cannot (will not?) abide
salon nature, Lady Nature. These breasts belie
belonging. My heart pumps a shapeless red. 

So I hide in the harsh light of the my own bathroom,
fallacious scissors, crude cuts, and box dye. Preferring
the lie of myself as having hair artist talent, to the lie
implicit under the plastic sheet in the chair.  

Sarah A. Chavez – Dear Abuelo & Grandpa

Sarah A. Chavez

Dear Abuelo & Grandpa,

There is only one hummingbird coming to the bright red bulbous feeder in the yard. I positioned it outside the window of the kitchen nook (a weird little room just off the kitchen proper, by the backdoor) so that when I checked email and drank my coffee in the morning, I would be able to watch them place those impossibly thin, fragile beaks into the plastic flowers at the base. D bought a feeder too, which sits outside his office window. He bought organic natural dyed food for his. I melted one-part white cane sugar in two parts hot water, like Dad suggested. He has a loyal band of hummingbirds that visit throughout the morning all the way through to the evening. When I stay the night at his apartment and sleep on the blow-up bed on the living room floor, the incessant buzzing of their wings is a like a gentle alarm; I figure his recipe must be a good one.

Normally, I wouldn’t be able to watch for the birds in the morning, wouldn’t be able to stare into the backyard uninterrupted. It’s this pandemic, you see. It’s allowed the privileged part of the world to work from home and relegated much of the working-class to joblessness, also taking place in their homes. Depending on the home I suppose, my privilege probably looks like another’s laid off. See? I told you both all those sacrifices would pay off. It only took 15 years, four moves to four different states, missed birthday parties and Easters, missed summer bbqs, and missed Sunday dinners, for the true benefit of graduate school and job applications and so may flights back and forth across the country to pay off. I’m here, back on the west coast. With health insurance. In a house. With a backyard. Drinking coffee. Writing and posting things on a machine neither of you understood in life. We have flour and toilet paper—oh, if only you two could have seen the irrational frenzy over toilet paper! I can see both your heads shaking, can picture you in your respective lazy-boys, reading the Merced Sun Star, keeping track of which stores are best stocked and by how much the number of deaths rose in the previous 48 hours. Though you’d be watching different 24-hour cable news channels . . .

Video messaging was the only way to safely “see” people for months and months. If only I could Zoom with you. Or Skype or Facetime or video chat using the Messenger function in Facebook. However, there is no current technology that allows us to the channel with the dead, even though you do not feel any further away than Mom or Abuela—I suppose neither of them use technology well either . . .

You’ll both be glad to know that I am cooking more, which I know you both view as “women’s work.” My enchilada rolls are less sloppy, my chocolate cake a bit more moist, and I’m experimenting with things you never purposely ate, like bokchoy, brussel sprouts, and kimchi. But that’s it domestically, despite the threat of continued illness anchoring me home, I’m not really doing much more in the way of chores, decorating, or planting flowers, I have no instinctual desire to birth a tiny human (as some of my friends have decided)—I keep telling you all, I’m pretty terrible at being a woman, at sitting still, at being quiet, and nurturing. Neither years on this earth, enough money to not live paycheck to paycheck, nor the pandemic has changed this fact. Full disclosure, there is literal dirt under my fingernails right this moment. Dirt and paint and ink, no polish. I can’t stand the site of the white moons which lengthen at the end of my nails and cut them off as soon as they are past fingertip skin. Mom shakes her head at this. When I was there for the funeral last month (as I know you both know, there have been so many funerals), she took my left hand in her’s and said (frowning slightly), “you have your father’s hands.” Which I suppose are also your hands.

Love,

S

Sarah A. Chavez – Halfbreed Helene Goes Outside to Cry

Sarah A. Chavez

Halfbreed Helene Goes Outside to Cry

The pressure that wells 
in her throat threatens 
to choke, but this is not 
the time (this is never 
the time). She nods, 
even though the voice 
that whispers these words 
is on the phone. 

When gone and this morning 
and I didn’t want to tell you
and no, you don’t need
to fly back yet register,
the walls of her rented
room begin to close. 
What hours earlier was 
spacious and airy, sun-
light like an afternoon
aura has become tight, 
invisibly pressing her 
ribs. It’s hard to move
toward the door, her 
legs so unsteady she
stumbles, bruising a 
shoulder on the jamb.

The entrance to the yard
is just off the hallway. 
Rickety rotting wood porch 
Soft beneath her feet. She sits
on the step, presses
her head between her knees
and tries to breath. 

The voice on the other end
says something resembling
a leaving. H waits until
there is a click, like the
way phones used to signal
disconnection. 

When everything is silent
save the cacophony of 
birds singing in the eucalyptus 
and cedar elm that ring
the yard, Helene crawls over,
eyelashes glued and glowing,
to a bare patch in the grass,
digs her fingers into the dirt
making what resembles 
the bite from a large and
ravenous animal. She tilts 
her head toward the hollows
ready to release whatever
might fall from her face.