Weekly Write: “Creative License” by Ramona Lee Pérez

Creative License

I was blessed to see the biopic movie on Chavela Vargas with a queer brown bilingual chica like me. Captivated from the opening scene when she grinned at the camera and declared, “My name is Chavela Vargas and don’t you forget it,” we sat together in the dark, falling head-over-heels for this Latina lesbian musical miracle. Think of her as the Prince of abuela’s generation, busting gender roles and breaking hearts throughout the Americas. After struggling to come out in my early forties, it was liberating to witness Chavela’s life unfurl on the big screen. Her unapologetic sexuality awoke decades of suppressed longing and inspired me to confess crushes on female friends, while her creative drive reignited childhood dreams of becoming a writer. Except for a frantic first affair that ended in disaster, my queer romantic life is temporarily on hold, but the authorial impulse grows stronger the more I accept my subterranean desire.

Remember the movie Frida, in which Salma Hayek does a sizzling tango with Ashley homophobic mid-century Mexico. She achieved overdue fame in Spain decades later and returned to Mexico to rest in state as a national treasure. Existentially, Chavela is older than time itself, has died a thousand times in a single incarnation, and was born eternal. She came of age in a society that only had room for women as virgins, mothers or whores, but Chavela was none of these. Instead, she was a musical shaman who drank and seduced women better than a macho. Every time she sang, she wrung each note for its last drop of blood, then passed the empty glass to her audience.

Rejoicing, despairing, and utterly turned on by this woman who sang like a bullfighter, dumped Frida Kahlo, and bedded Ava Gardner, we sat spellbound until the usher chased us out of the theater. When we finally left, quivering and lightheaded, we went straight to a bar for tapas, shots, and dissecting how much and how little has changed since the 1940s. As a film critic declared, Chavela is “Donald Trump’s ultimate nightmare – a Mexican lesbian diva who can wring your very soul.” What proof beyond the 2016 election do we need to confirm how revolutionary Chavela Vargas was, and how much work we have left to do?

Chavela adored women all her life and enjoyed deep friendships with famous men, but patriarchy savaged her. She enraptured crowds in a uniform of trousers, button-down shirts, men’s shoes, and characteristic poncho. After some initial success, she was blacklisted from Mexican concert halls and lost herself in tequila on the few cabaret stages that would still book her. Chavela did not sing in a major venue until her 80s, touring internationally and finally being invited to sing at Carnegie Hall and Mexico’s national theater, El Palacio de Bellas Artes.

While she finally found fame, she nearly lost herself along the way. Talent couldn’t save Chavela from homophobic hatred and gender policing, racism and poverty. Like her musical mentor José Alfredo Jiménez and other men of her era, she drowned her sorrows in tequila, blacking out on stage and descending to violence at home. She claimed that an indigenous shaman finally cured her of the alcoholism that destroyed her long-term relationship and nearly stole her voice, but Chavela would never entirely transcend isolation and heartbreak. She channeled naked emotion on stage, but always returned to an empty house, and ultimately died alone.

Witnessing such explosive desperation in close-up leaves me pondering, are overdue accolades poisoned by social stigma all that we have to offer our most talented artists and LGBTQIA+ women warriors? How many have succumbed to the despair that nearly broke Chavela Vargas? My best friend and longtime crush, Monika Lilia, was a prodigiously gifted artist whose career was curtailed by intersectional oppression and crushing domestic violence. A born iconoclast, Monika could have soared like Chavela. Instead, she committed suicide at age 43. Her sculpture, painting, song, and dance were inimitable, but her legacy has evaporated, disparaged by her family and confiscated by bill collectors. All I have left of Monika, a shooting star without enough longevity to achieve fame, are scattered emails and a list of disability documents scrawled on a paper napkin.

I am now two years older than my friend when she died, nearly half Chavela Vargas’ lifespan, and I remain inspired and bewildered by the cinematic homage to Chavela’s tumultuous life. I cannot help but wonder, how much time do I have left before my creative license finally expires? How long before yet another artistic life-clock stops ticking? In this post-Pulse, hurricane and volcano inscribed, mass-shooting, #MeToo reality show called Trump TV, we cannot afford any more untimely losses. Perhaps that is what Chavela’s story is meant to teach us, how to persevere in spite of outrageous odds. I am grateful to the filmmakers for documenting her epic dance with despair, 93 years of resisting annihilation and loving as many women as she could along the way. RIP Chavela Vargas. May your song never die.


A scholar, healer, and differently-abled queer Xicana mother, Ramona Lee Pérez teaches Latino history, food studies, and feminist anthropology. Her creative works are published in Hispanecdotes and Snapdragon, and by Silver Needle Press. Her latest writings focus on social and psychic healing. Follow her at https://wildwomanista.com/ and on Twitter @wild_womanista.




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Weekly Write: “kneeling in the Public Garden” by Sean William Dever

kneeling in the Public Gardens   grasping my chest   as family’s step around me    as storm clouds  roll in


splinter your soul over

spilled milk       broken salt shakers  declaring

armageddon   this world      full of narcissists

self-assuredly    dislocating





revel in your     brokenness

or lack thereof    it comes    at once

filling up the bucket       collection

spilling it over     watering the grass




perception lies       the blank slate       acts

nothing more    a marble counter to snort cocaine

invade your consciousness      alien     become more

than yourself    become whole    and eradicate the visage of failure

over hyperboles  tuned     inflated vernacular




why am i any better        eyes fixated

on imperfections       diseases drove  me      cyborg      will

heaven open its gates     for a man        run on batteries

set your bucket down       the storm clouds    rolling in

echo   welcome home, my son



Sean William Dever is a Boston-based poet currently in his last year of his MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, where he also attained his BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. He works as an Adjunct Professor at Emerson teaching Intro to College Writing. In addition, he also works as both a Copy Editor and Business Development Associate. His biggest fan is his English Golden Retriever, Rocco.




“Like”, “Share”, and comment on this poem to nominate it for the Annual Swimming with Elephants Publications 2019 Anthology.

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Weekly Write: “Growth” by Daniel Perez


The sun doesn’t kiss my lips anymore
The breeze does not say hello
when it walks by on its way
to wherever it goes when it’s missed

The things I felt would never leave,
a stroke of the hand
on the small of my back,
a head of hair
splayed across my stomach,
have roots in the earth
Their stems have grown past me
into the sky and toward every star

And as those stems burn,
turning to white ash,
I dig microscopic graves
for every piece that falls back down

Stay with me in the black dirt
Stay with me and dig holes
Don’t grow,
so I can feel beautiful again.

Daniel Perez writes poetry, short stories, and plays. He currently lives and writes in Boston, where he enjoys hearing the shrill scream of the Green Line from his bedroom.

Weekly Write: “through the cracks” by Kat Heatherington

through the cracks

once on impulse, i planted a hollyhock seed
in a crack between flagstones
near the spigot, where the swamp cooler
dripped erratically in the summer.
the first spring, it put up
four small sturdy leaves,
and i watered it whenever i remembered.
that winter came new love and large changes,
and what with it all, i moved away
leaving the hollyhock to live or die in that crack.
most of the rest of the garden
died of inattention.
two years later, i drive down that street
and glance by reflex toward my old front door,
and i can’t even see it
for the height of that deep green hollyhock,
big leaves bushing up from the flagstones,
not just alive,
but thriving.


Kat Heatherington is a queer ecofeminist poet, sometime artist, pagan, and organic gardener. She lives south of Albuquerque, NM in Sunflower River intentional community, sunflowerriver.org. Kat’s work primarily addresses the interstices of human relationships and the natural world. Her work can be read at https://sometimesaparticle.org.

Weekly Write: “Birth Mother” by Michelle Dobbs

Birth, Mother

“I drew my first breath,
went back to work the next day,
walked through the threshold,
and never came back.”

– A Figment Of My Imagination

September 19th, 1990
I drew my first breath,
in a room full of strangers.
No one there wanted me.

I was purged,
as if my mother was absolved from me,
as if one night stand was rewritten to just one night,
as if she was pure again,
after the umbilical was severed.

My mother,
went back to work the next day,
I was hours old.
She left,
and never came back,
for me.
I rendered her breathless.
I knew nothing,
of breathing,
just that it had to be done.

I dreamt of it as if I remember
seeing her
get out of the hospital bed,
put clothes on,
tie shoes,
kiss my forehead goodbye,
she                  walked through the threshold
not my mother,
just a passerby.

That day,
I breathed in all the goodbyes I could ever need.


Michelle Dodd is a spoken word artist based out of Richmond, Virginia. She has performed for TedxWomenRVA in 2016. She is a fellow of The Watering Hole Writing Retreat. She was a member of The Writer’s Den Slam Team in 2016 and 2017; a team placing among the top teams in the USA. Dodd has been published in Whurk Magazine, K’in Literary Journal, The Scene and Heard Journal, SWWIM, and Wusgood online magazine. She has self published two chapbooks of poetry in 2017. She is one of the coaches, for the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) CUPSI slam team for 2018, that placed 3rd internationally.




“Like”, “Share”, and comment on this poem to nominate it for the Annual Swimming with Elephants Publications 2019 Anthology.

Click here check out Parade: Swimming with Elephants Publications Anthology 2018 available for only $10.95.