Derrick Ortega

As my work is inspired by individuals who are attempting to reenter society after experiencing big T-trauma, I wanted to provide some of them with a time and place through writing; however, having grown up in a working class geography as well as experiencing trauma myself, there is a lot of difficulty in translating such moods and moments with plainspoken diction. Sometimes, the only way to communicate these experiences is to take off in a direction without knowing where the language is actually headed and strongly hope that it’ll either return to where it started or productively arrive in a new place. I feel these works do so in some capacity. Maybe the language represents a kind of growth in each speaker. Or maybe it’s necessary to render a situation complex to achieve respect–to earn the reader’s ear through its music without any expectation of return.

It began as a joke. // He lathered his beard with shaving cream / fixed bayonet to barrel / and presented the rife it stood tall / honest / no more than a fist from his chest // he dipped it back / slow danced even: jaw to jaw / his unshaven / along the serrated / flirting with his hair trigger / necking away weeks of his beard-- / it was a new identity, they said / his identity, they said / hushed and Haji, they said fit in / with the natives, they said tighten your grip, they said your wife's at home, they said her new friend's / at home, they said your M4 is here, they said the bayonet's only a last resort it's your rifle / that'll maintain a safe distance, they said in every direction, they said finger on the / trigger, they said lock it up, they said don't pull, they said squeeze, they said click // chamberless // he begs for the round click // smokeless // it begs for the round click


After clocking out on Friday // , I'll twist my lower / back, left then right, before driving to Bixby Knolls. / And in all honesty, it's because my grifting / father swore tender recollects the spine // --sometimes I'll ease into yellow lights, waver in the faint / of handkerchief, even echo Christian talk radio because, / one day, I'll have committed to an all-white three piece / suit: score pitches of choir / strummed with huff. --As in, to fall along / the scatter, / --or happen alligator petals upon the knees of a / cypress. // Whatever the occasion, / please believe I'm holding hands with someone / singed with arthritic grip. And in thank you, the / song of thinking goes no boom.


(a)warded handcuffs // The officer placed mazes around my wrists and dropped / the key in his chest pocket. It made me wonder if lock makers / needed to begin backwards, forging an exit first, then carving / walls to the keyway. By its tightness, he's new and already tired of / being scared. I guess my father was right--each tooth on a key is / meant to move along its own side of obstruction, but I still refuse / to have seen this coming.


Derek Ortega is pictured; Derek has short dark haired, lightly styled, and a dark mustache and beard; Derek is smiling and looking straight ahead. Derek is wearing a light blue denim collared shirt, with the top two cream colored buttons undone, and a deeper blue cotton undershirt showing beneath. Behind Derek is a green but blurry background suggestive of foliage.

Derrick Ortega‘s upcoming chapbook, Habits (formerly known as Jigsaw Limbs), explores re-entrance sociality after experiencing trauma and touches on performative normalcy. It will be published with selva oscura press in 2018 with poems anthologized in Snorted the Moon and Doused the Sun: An Addiction Anthology and pieces published in Letter [r] Press, Fact-Simile Editions, and elsewhere. Ortega is currently Poet-in-Residence at the Idyllwild Arts Academy and a poetry instructor for Orange County School of the Arts. He received an MFA in Creative Writing & Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California, Riverside and resides in southern California.