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The Grandma Poems

The Grandma Poems


A note from the author of this series: “Every New Mexico Chicano of a certain age grew up with at least one mean grandma. As a kid in small-town, border New Mexico, I was fortunate in that my mean grandma was also honest, generous, and fiercely loyal to those she loved. She liked Jack Daniels and casinos and taught me not take sh#@ from anybody. She also made the best red chile I’ll ever eat in my life. Since her death in 2004, I have tried every which way to capture her, clouding her in so many words. Then, in a moment of clarity, I remembered that she’s the only person I’ve known who said exactly what was on her mind, all the time. “The Grandma Poems” came to me when I got out of her way (and mine) and let her talk.” – Michelle Otero


Beauty Tips from Grandma China
Who Wants Me to Have a Husband
and Kids Before She Dies (and she’s not even sick yet)

There was this woman
in church today, Michelley. She
looked just like you, pero
she was beautiful, her hair
was long and she wore makeup. And
I told your grandpa, ‘Michelle
would look pretty if
she wore lipstick.’”


When I Tell Grandma I Broke
Up With the Chicano Attorney who
Wears Gray Ropers Every Day (even
with business suits) and Combs His Mustache
Like Emiliano Zapata

Good. I didn’t like him. He was too Mexican.


Last Morning of the Family Reunion (during
which my sister-in-law and two cousins announce
their pregnancies) Grandma China Corners me in
her Kitchen as I’m Serving Myself a Bowl of Menudo

Michelley, when are you gonna have a baby?

You don’t need a husband.

Just get pregnant.


When I Tell Grandma I Broke
Up With the Chicano Writer
because He’s Kinda Mean and
Drinks too Much

Already? Ooooh…qué la.


Home After Having Her
Cancerous Lung Removed,
Grandma Catches
Grandpa Slouching

Stop walking like an old man.
Look at him, Michelley,
You’d think I was already dead.


Back in Critical Care with Pneumonia, Grandma
Reacts to Her Post-Pneumonectomy Treatment Plan

Four chemos.
Not bad.


Grandma Pulls the Oxygen Mask
from her Mouth to Announce
Her Future Plans

When I get out of Intensive Care
I’m gonna get Michelley
a boyfriend.

But we’re gonna have to get her
new clothes. She looks like a boy.


Our Last Conversation

I’m gonna be fine. You
go do good in school. I
said stop crying. You know
we’re proud of you,



michelle-oteroMichelle Otero is the author of Malinche’s Daughter, an essay collection based on her work with women survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Oaxaca, Mexico. Her work has appeared in Brevity and New Mexico Magazine. She lives in Albuquerque’s South Valley where she works with fellow artists and local farmers to implement the Community Table project, which combines art, local agriculture, and economic development as a platform for neighborhood revitalization. She is a co-founder of the TIASO Artist Cooperative and a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop.