Funeral Procession

FuneralI saw a funeral passing through the streets. At first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. Funeral processions are more common in small towns.
I was a block away and thought traffic was halted for a parade. Closer, I could hear talking, so I decided it was some sort of manifestation. I thought the low sounds I was hearing might be a recording of the ocean or waves. A few steps more and I saw the people were carrying white flowers and the sound was a funerary dirge.
I felt odd being a tourist, but that’s what I am here.
I watched them head up the hill with the elaborate casket and was alarmed to cross paths with the mourners again after two passes of the zocalo. They’d ambled kilometers and dampened the city more than the tropical storm, more than I imagined possible.
  • Ellen Bass, in The Thing Is, shares what it feels like when “grief sits” with us. It is different when it fills up in the streets and washes up on the sidewalks in song. Write about how we “withstand this” tremendous weight of grief.

The Thing Is

to love love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

from http://elliesway.org/poems/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw_o7NBRDgARIsAKvAgt1AjSbrwhYO89S49fkRQ1aDRv24fbG9ppDZ9EtFchXpdn00qRLo2wEaAu3QEALw_wcB

If you are looking for reading on loss, check out Naomi Shihab Nye’s What Have You Lost? https://www.amazon.com/What-Have-Lost-Naomi-Shihab/dp/0380733072/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1503963720&sr=8-1&keywords=nye+loss

How do you know?

bar

It is time for a turn in Spanish at the Saturday intercambio, and I’m not sure what to talk about. In the English hour, we’ve already covered: names, ages, birthplaces, pets, favorite foods, education, hobbies, travels, dreams. I’m not ready for religion, and (pun intended) God forbid, politics.
So I start with the strangest Oaxacan adventure I have had this year. This is teaser enough to pique their attention.
Thursday night, after teaching English to some delightful children in Teotitlan del Valle, one of my fellow teachers, a German woman, suggested that we go to a bar in the town.
It turns out the micro finance program we volunteer with helped finance the bar, a seriously interesting prospect as the group finance only women and focuses on empowering them to improve their communities.
Because it is the last class for two weeks of vacation and because this teaching team will head off into four different parts of the world by the end of the month, we are excited to celebrate.
The four of us crowd on to a moto taxi that slowly crawls up a steep hill. After ten bumpy minutes, we arrive at a blue door. No sign. Nothing that indicates it is more than a doorway.
We knock.
The woman tells us to come in.  The bar is the size I have always imagined a cave to be. Small. It is about the size of the tack room we had when I was a child–and as dark. Made of adobe, it is also cool.
There are three tables in the bar. There are the four teachers and four other patrons, the woman (and occasional appearances by the husband and young daughter).
The bottles are placed in front of a mirror as they would likely be in a city bar. The bar top is an old door on a pile of bricks.
The other bar goers are interested in knowing what brings us to these parts. They interrogate us and offer to buy us a round.
After we have already tried five shots, I’m unprepared for my free cup, so I offer into to our kind hostess. She’s happy to oblige.
One of the patrons has become the house DJ and is playing tunes in English. He tries to see through the darkness if we are pleased. We are.
It is a sweet evening. And I swear my Spanish is smoother when I’m tipsy.
One of the men knows California and Sacramento; he’s been to the corner store in my neighborhood. He seems to have as much nostalgia as I for this place I call home. He shakes my hand for a long time. He urges me to travel safely, to return to Mexico as promptly as I can.
I tell the ladies at the intercambio, it was unbelievable, this nameless watering hole. One woman suggests: maybe it was just a dream.
Another asks: “How do you know you were there at all?”
  • Moira Egan, in Bar Napkin Sonnet #11, writes about drinking too much mezcal, including a reference to the worm… What does your character learn when she drinks too much?
    Things happen when you drink too much mescal.
    One night, with not enough food in my belly,
    he kept on buying.   I’m a girl who’ll fall
    damn near in love with gratitude and, well, he
    was hot and generous and so the least
    Read the rest of the poem at:

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49272/bar-napkin-sonnet-11

Ceramics

I head to the workshop of Oaxacan master ceramicist Vicente Hernandez. He has a large workspace and six dogs that are jealous because we are taking the master’s attention.
He shows us how he cleans the clay, throws it in a roll to get all of the air out, turns it into a cup or a bowl, dries it, glazes it, fires it in his gas oven, designs it–etching with a nail, glazes it, and cooks it again.
The dogs are relentless though his children try to calm them. They bark and sniff and lick and poke and bark and bark and lick some more.
I think I am not a dog person, and I am incapable of running the potting wheel, but I can listen (even above the barking) and celebrate the birth of cup after cup. In the hour-long session, a man pulls more than nineteen teacups from the block he is working on. He seems to be in his own world, but he says salud twice after each of my sneezes.
The showroom is up the road, closer to the main highway, in a two-story house that is mostly empty.
I find a two couples of shot glasses I like (copitas), and I am determined that I will transport them back home whole and without tears.
One of the daughters packs the copitas into a bag with the business name: Tierra Quemada, scorched earth. I recognize it as a shop off the pedestrian walkway, on Abasolo. According to the maestro, his interests vary. I may be able to see more of his intricate designs.
  • Ekphrastic means writing about art. Including, I wonder, the art of creating art? Kay Ryan, former US Poet Laureate, reflects on Ekphrasis here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2006/12/journal-day-two-56d34c8126d79. Ryan writes about the challenges of chasing after reality with a butterfly net: “I have always been uncomfortable describing what already exists. Existing things are just too hot, too self-radiant. My words get soft and gluey if I try to mold them into a facsimile of something. If I were a sculptor, it would be as if I were forced to work with clay that clung to my fingers instead sticking to my projected dog sculpture.” Be a lepidopterist.

Spanish Class

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My Spanish teacher asks me which–of the five poems I have drafted from random prompts in Spanish in two hours–I like the most. And I am startled a moment at the suggestion that this is any way to write poetry.
Then I just answer.
Trust the process, Heather.
 
I embrace the process and offer: the one about the random green long-sleeve shirt, the one you limited to twenty-five words, I am going to refine it to be twenty-eight syllables. I am going to consider it as William Carlos Williams considered “The Red Wheelbarrow”– at least how I assume he did. And though I can hardly remember Williams’s name and though it does not matter that I recall his name, I am delighted I recall wheelbarrow from the last lesson: cartilla, but I still do not know long sleeves.
The one that started with eight rhyming words will instantly ravel in English. And, the ending needs work. The love letter to the cane is playful but too silly. The hate letter to a spoon has potential, but it needs much more work.
And the acrostic to the frying pan just made me think of pecan pie in a cast iron skillet. It and pineapple upside-down cake are two flavors you have never tasted. But you must.
We spend some time discussing how upside down means on its head, but to describe a cake on its head might make it sound also as if it is made of head or brains and could have the double meaning of being a cannibal’s favorite dessert. Thus, I write about bourbon and brown sugar pecan pie.
Five starts, five different little cupboards she welcomed me to draw ingredients from, five little fires that may someday be stars.
  • Speaking of five new pieces, here are five short stories by Carol Shields to read with brief descriptions of why you should know her work: https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/canada/articles/5-short-stories-by-carol-shields-you-should-read/ I think of the artist embroidering the plaza outside the cathedral on the square in Oaxaca as the blogger describes Shields’s work: “focusing on the everyday interactions and moments of ordinary lives.”

A Pillowy Warm Secret

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I used to be able to say that I dislike most bakery items in Oaxaca. I dislike the besos, the bigotes, the roscas, the ferrocarrils, the conchas, the donas, and especially the (sub Saharan) bisquits, and (Mojave) panques for these bakers too often seen to fail to distinguish between sugar and sand.
But ever the willing sampler of regional delicacies, I tried what appeared to be a dinner roll dusted in powdered sugar. It was carved open on top and filled with custard. Real, ambrosial custard. It was like biting into a pillowy warm secret that sparks joy. Oh, I think, this is how sweets should be done!
I paid 30 pesos for five things that were awful (although quite beautiful) and this toothsome surprise of a dinner roll.
I will give the bag of leftovers to the child whose father plays the accordion all day under the mango tree. He too can sample the sweets and decide which ones are delicious, which ones are for the fat birds.
  • Pablo Neruda writes odes to common things, including bread. Write an ode to an everyday item.
from Ode to Bread
–Pablo Neruda
Bread,
you rise
from flour,
water
and fire.
Dense or light,
flattened or round,
you duplicate
the mother’s
rounded womb,
and earth’s
twice-yearly
swelling.
How simple
you are, bread,
and how profound!
You line up
on the baker’s
powdered trays
like silverware or plates
or pieces of paper
and suddenly
life washes
over you,
there’s the joining of seed
and fire,
and you’re growing, growing
all at once
like
hips, mouths, breasts,
mounds of earth,
or people’s lives.
The temperature rises, you’re overwhelmed
by fullness, the roar
of fertility,
and suddenly
your golden color is fixed.
And when your little wombs
were seeded,
a brown scar
laid its burn the length
of your two halves’
toasted
juncture.
Now,
whole,
you are
mankind’s energy,
a miracle often admired,
the will to live itself.

(from http://www.abuddhistlibrary.com/Buddhism/H%20-%20World%20Religions%20and%20Poetry/Poetry/Pablo%20Neruda/Ode%20to%20Bread/Ode%20to%20bread,%20Pablo%20Neruda.htm)

Art Show

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Last night I went to a German artist’s show at the contemporary art museum.
I knew nothing of the artist. I went because it was free and on the way to a free jazz show. The art was an interesting blend of painting with printing and stamping. The images were intriguing, but, for me, the titles were the arresting element. One painting was named something along the lines of:  an old man and a punk rock youth are sitting in a dark living room full of antique furniture and the father says to the punk, “someday all of this will be yours.”
At the intercambio, I am sitting with Julio, Valentina, Mariela, and Gabriel. I mention the show and the vast titles to Gabriel who wants to learn German. Valentina says my description of the title reminds her of a truck commercial in which a man says to his son, someday all of this will be yours, referring an expanse of property. And the son, unimpressed, asks: and the truck?
An elder with coin purses yells at me in English to buy what he’s selling. I pretend I can not hear him though my ears open for any suggestion of English.
It strikes me that the entire month here is the art show and each post I can offer is perhaps a long title to accompany the piece.
  • Speaking of titles, take a look at “Famous Book Titles That Took Their Titles From Poetry:” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2012/03/famous-book-titles-took-their-famous-book-titles-from-poetry

Abundant Gifts

In one of the classesIn one of the classes this afternoon, a student asked me about a book. GUIDE TO GRAMMAR BY EDDIE MURPHY.  It was really by another Murphy. But I thanked her for the gift.
I could hardly contain my imagination. The ESL chapter could be called COMING TO AMERICA. Other film titles could control the chapter themes.
One of the artisans in the earlier class had asked me why I would volunteer my vacation time to help them. I respond a simple, it’s fun.
But the real reason is (almost) free and sometimes abundant gifts such as the Eddie Murphy grammar guide.
The lady in the sandwich shop looks at my legs streaked in white. They look dry. I want to explain that while mosquitoes don’t seem to pay attention to Oaxacans, they find me even with all of these streaks of mosquito spray on my skin. I also may seem to have chicken pox for all of the red welts on my skin.
Miguel asks why I do not sit on the patio anymore. He knows I enjoy it. I explain that the mosquitoes are just waiting for that.
He tells me that mosquitoes are family members. We share blood.
  • Receive the mosquito, the misunderstanding, the irritated skin, as you would a gift. See how Rodney Jones does this in his “The Mosquito.” The end follows here:
    I watch her strut like an udder with my blood,
    Imagining the luminous pick descending into Trotsky’s skull and the eleven days
    I waited for the cold chill, nightmare, and nightsweat of malaria;
    Imagining the mating call in the vibrations of her wings,
    And imagining, in the simple knot of her ganglia,
    How she thrills to my life, how she sings for the harvest.
    Read the rest at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51742/the-mosquito-56d22faf940de