Sarah A. Chavez

Halfbreed Helene’s Mother Says Not to Call Herself That

What? Helene asks, perched on the edge
of her mother’s bed, flipping the glossy pages
of celebrity rags and J. Crew catalogs.

You know, she says waving her hand like an off-
course kite, the white of her delicate fingers practically glowing
against the California sun filtering through the crystal prisms

dangling from the window pane, making their three-colored
rainbows. The bright distinction between the hues
while maintaining a unity in size and intensity was always

what Helene admired most about them, rainbows.
Halfbreed? You’re the one who said it first, Helene
says, not to be disrespectful, not to be contrary

though she knows that is what everyone thinks.
As if her body’s inability to “pick one” to have a solid
“side” has made the intonation of her voice equally

straddling. And she supposes this is true, a genuine
curse to be able to see two perspectives simultaneously,
to empathize with the right hand and the left,

the east and west. This is not to say she agrees,
of course—the other mistake made by those whose
bodies obey a singularity of cultural experience—

rather the vantage from this borderland, the third
space floating outside of belonging is like standing
on the impermeable cement and steel of a sky-

scraper. It’s just visible. Whether you want to see it
or not. Remember? Helene starts to explain that time
in second grade when she came home from school after darker-

skinned girls told her she wasn’t a real Mexican
and her mother in the wisdom of new single-motherhood
told her that she was just a halfbreed and there was nothing

wrong with that. Until now, I guess, she thinks
as her white mother holds up a soft hand to arrest Helene’s voice,
stop it’s movement through the dusky air between them,

the skin not only glowing, H knows, but silk-smooth; a softness
she has never grown around her own skeleton, and would
in fact worry about tearing if she did. Those are the hands

of salt baths and office work, not chlorine and pruning
shears, not industrial soap and scrub brushes. That
is a terrible thing to say,
her mother motions her fingers

like the feathers of a fan, graceful swipe at the air,
brushing away this fact that does not suit her.



Sarah A. Chavez, a mestiza born and raised in the California Central Valley, is the author of the poetry collections, Hands That Break & Scar (Sundress Publications, 2017) and All Day, Talking (dancing girl press, 2014). Her most recent work can be found or is forthcoming in Xicanx: Mexican American Writers of the 21st Century, IDK Magazine, & Five:2:One #thesideshow. Her new poetry project, Halfbreed Helene Navigates the Whole received a 2019-2020 Tacoma Artists Initiative Award. She recently joined the faculty at the University of Washington Tacoma where she teaches creative writing and Latinx/Chicanx-focused courses. She serves as the poetry coordinator for Best of the Net Anthology and is a proud member of the Macondo Writers Workshop.