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Jokes, poems featuring bird motifs, and mariachis

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Mary and the Giant Mechanism

By Mary Molinary

Tupelo Press

$16.95; 70 pages; poetryA fluttering fragility permeates this debut collection of poems by Tucson resident Mary Molinary, a delicacy of existence that's menaced by the "giant mechanism" in the title. The recipient of the Tupelo Press First Book Award, Molinary's work presents in images, elisions and fragments allusions to 15th- century religious art, physics and freedom fighters; with epigraphs from Shelly, Rilke, Neruda. They are set against the backdrop of the U.S. war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq, and grieve over our complicity in inhumane action. One of Molinary's dominate motifs involves birds. Against the "mechanism," though, the bird seems to hold its own:

There is the body/ Free or imprisoned there is/ Justice or there is not ...

Prepare the cell we have in common/ Sing your little bird to sleep ...

The ribcage is a cage for this/ The ribcage is a fine cage for this/ Marked little bird of a heart.

Quite lovely.

Hotel Mariachi: Urban Space and Cultural Heritage in Los Angeles

By Catherine L. Kurland and Enrique R. Lamadrid; photographs by Miguel A. Gandert

University of New Mexico Press

$29.95; 120 pages; ethnographyAlthough the subtitle of this book about mariachis in L.A. might suggest serious academe, it reads more like a serenade. The Mariachi Hotel is a Victorian-era building in East Los Angeles. Fallen into disrepair, it was purchased by a neighborhood organization in 2006 for renovation for low-income housing. That it's located on Mariachi Plaza, and its inhabitants were itinerant mariachi musicians (who would suit up, instruments at the ready and wait—like day laborers—to be picked up for weddings, quinceañeras and baptisms) made the restoration for musicians all the sweeter. Three writers celebrate the plaza and the mariachi tradition: Evangeline Ordaz-Molina of the neighborhood association, who wrote the introduction; Catherine L. Kurland, whose ancestor erected the building; and Enrique R. Lamadrid, a University of New Mexico professor. But it's the images of photographer Miguel A. Gandert that are most memorable: black and white and at times slightly off-kilter, they show gritty street scenes and faces and instruments and silver buttons. They're so intimate, you can almost hear the trumpets kicking off "Las Mañanitas."

Seriously Funny: Mexican Political Jokes as Social Resistance

By Samuel Schmidt; translated by Adam Schmidt

University of Arizona Press

$39.95; 269 pages; scholarshipSo, I'd love to take the class that would use this book as required reading. It's part political science, part history, part sociology and a lot joke—ideological, verbal and physical.

According to Samuel Schmidt, a professor at Benemerita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, "Political jokes express the confrontation of social wit and that of political power." They empower the powerless, but they're also the domain of the elite. Schmidt suggests that governments and historians write official histories, but the people's humor subverts and equalizes the unequal, and recasts history. His focus is on Mexico, but Schmidt is an all-comers joke sharer.

But enough lecture. Heard this one?

"Pepito gets a homework assignment to write an essay about politics. He gets home and after asking his mother, sister, grandmother, etc., he then asks his father, who responds: Look, I don't know the meaning of politics, but I'm going to give you an example: I am power, your mother is justice, our housekeeper is the people, you are youth and your brother is the future.'

That night the little brother needs to go to the bathroom and he asks Pepito to help him. Pepito goes to call his mother and finds her asleep. He then goes to the housekeeper and finds his father on top of her. The next day at breakfast he says: Now I understand politics: JUSTICE IS ASLEEP, POWER IS ON TOP OF THE PEOPLE, YOUTH IS BAFFLED, AND THE FUTURE IS IN DEEP SHIT.

There are many more where that came from. I'm wondering how to work some into Freshman Comp.

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