Litany

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Some people ask me why I open myself to the sorrows of others, such as the Little Businessman and his family. I cannot imagine a life without them.

For those of us who lack the words to describe the ache that has centered itself within us, for those of us who get up before the sun to wander through darkness because we think the practice will help us on this path, for those of us who listen for the wisdom of the drowsy stray cat, we who are devoted to greeting sunrise, there is hope in the constancy of the crow’s caw and all of the ways the day rises. There is, however dim, light.

For those of us who are disenfranchised, muffled, reminded we do not matter, we who are drowned out by the engine of capitalism and the roar of getting ahead, we who are daily sold someone else’s aspirations and language, for those of us who are told we are not good enough, there is, however muted, light.

For those of us who are hungry, for those of us who know love alone cannot fill us, there is, however faint, the promise that arrives with the light of a new day.

Some people pity the Little Businessman for his hard life.  They are surprised to learn he looks at me with pity for my lack of children, for the busyness of my life.

For those of us who are in various stages of discovering the leagues of our misery, there is, however blaring, the light.

  • Write a litany:
    synonyms: prayerinvocationsupplicationdevotion;

    archaicorison
    “she was reciting the litany”

A Litany for Survival

BY AUDRE LORDE

For those of us who live at the shoreline

standing upon the constant edges of decision

crucial and alone

for those of us who cannot indulge

the passing dreams of choice

who love in doorways coming and going

in the hours between dawns

looking inward and outward

at once before and after

seeking a now that can breed

futures

like bread in our children’s mouths

so their dreams will not reflect

the death of ours;

 

For those of us

who were imprinted with fear

like a faint line in the center of our foreheads

learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk

for by this weapon

this illusion of some safety to be found

the heavy-footed hoped to silence us

For all of us

this instant and this triumph

We were never meant to survive.

 

And when the sun rises we are afraid

it might not remain

when the sun sets we are afraid

it might not rise in the morning

when our stomachs are full we are afraid

of indigestion

when our stomachs are empty we are afraid

we may never eat again

when we are loved we are afraid

love will vanish

when we are alone we are afraid

love will never return

and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid

 

So it is better to speak

remembering

we were never meant to survive.

 

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/147275/a-litany-for-survival

Misunderstanding

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During English class in Arrazola, we played with cootie catchers* to practice the future tense: you will find your true love: you will find satisfying work.
I did not know what the word cootie was. It turns out to be lice (and that’s a whole different conversation, involving lice eggs). Anyway, I said, it’s what my mother told me boys have.
And one of my students, impatient and confused, politely inquired, “Excuse me, do you mean a dick?”
Certainly blushing, I said, “I can see how you arrived at this question, but no, the word I am looking for is lice, piojo.
The young man’s fortunes were hilarious (mis)fortunes (perhaps curses): you will be eaten by a shark, you will lose your job, you will have ten sons. I asked why he hadn’t added “you’ll be bald and toothless.”  He simply lacked the vocabulary, not the cruelty.
We were still laughing about this activity when my friend, who’d arranged this exchange, arrived and commented that the terraza had been filled with laughter all afternoon.
We agreed but dared not offer any explanation.
Instead, we laughed some more.

* A cootie catcher is also known as a fortune teller, a chatterbox, and because of its appearance, a salt cellar (picture it upside down), a whirlybird, and a paku-paku (think Pac Man).

  • Show how misunderstanding can lead to hilarity. Show what happens when our limitations in vocabulary and/or understanding can lead us to great laughter.

Small Talk

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You are happy because strangers trust your Spanish enough to make small talk. They tell jokes about the vendor who’s clearly selling more than the bright blouses his stand pretends, his teal cowboy shirt unbuttoned to his nipples, his how ya doin’ English skills.

The way he scans you as if he can see all of you.

His neighbor warns: He’s a little grandma killer.

You do not worry, even a second, that he murders.

You retort: Womanizer, eh?

The vendor himself confesses with a shrug that translates to: What can I say?

And he invites you to a celebration, promises you a sky filled with fireworks.

  • It is natural to engage in some small talk in any language, but double meanings, flirtation, and jokes are far more difficult to navigate. Create a character (perhaps clumsily) attempting to navigate this.

The Mexican Art of Double Entendre

Questions

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I

This morning, you saw an anarchist on his way to work, and you wondered whether he, all covered in black, with a bandana covering his face to his eyes, was running, as you  would, because he was late, or if, perhaps, he was already on the job.

How would you know?

II

Most of the rest of the city is quiet, fans gripped to television sets and any news of the nation’s soccer scores.

How can we care about the world when our team is down three and time is running out?

III

More than two dozen people plead for me to buy something I don’t want.

Isn’t there a better way to support a family?

 

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IV

Women in wide skirts and men in sandals folk dance on the plaza as if there is something to win in the moves.

Is there? And…

if so, who will tell me?

V

How can I know whether these are even the right questions?

 

  • Another question: And what happens if we all don’t vote? 

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Use questions to drive a tense monologue.

 

 

Frenemies and Word Play

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I just ended one of my intercambios for the summer. I had a whole family: two aunts, three cousins, a grandma, and an uncle. We were a spectacle in the market. I was training three booths in a bustling market how to respond to English-speaking tourists.

We drilled on the difference between fifteen and fifty dollars, between a shirt and a skirt, between wood and wool. We practiced our colors and cordial phrases.

At one of the booths, upon learning the word ugly, the littlest girl shouted it out at an elderly American man. It sounded like a long and loud: uuuuuugleee!

I (as straight-faced and stern as I could muster) reminded her that he could understand her.

I confided to her patient mother that English can be dangerous.

Still I helped the girl write a composition about a “friend” although the child felt compelled to write that the friend has a long mouth and dirty ears. I had to inquire how the recipient would know, from the note, she is truly friend.

The tiny terrorizer decided to add that though the frenemy has greasy hair, she has clean teeth.

Painting with Water

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At the beginning of summer, I traveled to China: Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai. At the Summer Palace in Beijing, I watched this man calligraph with water, painting logograms onto the sidewalk. In the warm afternoon air, his words evaporated before our eyes.

Regardless of our comprehension of what the images represent, we were a rapt audience.

The creative writing students are blogging again this semester. And, we need you to help us expand our understanding of audience. Please follow these bloggers, like them, and tell your friends about Cosumnes River College’s diligent and creative writers.

  • CRCMindImages.wordpress.com
  • ThePlayList2018.wordpress.com
  • LettersFromSacramento.wordpress.com
  • GoSeeDoWrite.wordpress.com

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  • You Go to School to Learn
    By Thomas Lux
    You go to school to learn to
    read and add, to someday
    make some money. It—money—makes
    sense: you need
    a better tractor, an addition
    to the gameroom, you prefer
    to buy your beancurd by the barrel.
    There’s no other way to get the goods
    you need. Besides, it keeps people busy
    working—for it.
    It’s sensible and, therefore, you go
    to school to learn (and the teacher,
    having learned, gets paid to teach you) how
    to get it. Fine. But:
    you’re taught away from poetry
    or, say, dancing (That’s nice, dear,
    but there’s no dough in it
    ). No poem
    ever bought a hamburger, or not too many. It’s true,
    and so, every morning—it’s still dark!—
    you see them, the children, like angels
    being marched off to execution,
    or banks. Their bodies luminous
    in headlights. Going to school.

Where do you go to learn? What are you really being taught?

Little Prayers

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The streets are nearly empty, but the sound of the game hovers over the city, blaring over the playground with children squealing, flinching, cheering in unison; roaring from shop windows, whispering from cell phones for circles of people as if assembled for a campfire. Even the strays seem to listen for the score will ArrrArrrArrrrooooo as the Mexicans protract Goooool as an opera singer stretches a note. I am rooting for Mexico, for the joy of the whole city, for the pride of a nation.

There is an electric jubilation in the streets that makes the hair on my arms stand at attention. We all have goosebumps for the potential.

Another Oaxaca politician has been murdered. The newspaper reports the 150 bullets fired into the truck, the other casualties. The body is unabashedly published in black and white.

The people at the cafe watch the game on the iPad cash register. The Irish bar above the cafe waves the Mexican flag today. The patrons chant and cringe and watch together, eschewing real problems.

I wonder how many people are praying for a win. I wonder whether this is the right thing to pray for. Even more, I wonder if it will work.

When something makes me nervous or upset, like having an unexpected argument, I switch my mind to other things. The music on the radio, the breeze blowing through the windows, how delicious cinnamon is in savory dishes. This is how I cope with the tension in the air.

Even the gum sellers wear patriotic green. The baristas take the news of a point scored by the opposing team as they practice pouting expressions and milk to form designs on top, filming the process.

How long is this game?

I can’t take the groans from the Irish pub. I can’t bear the dismay of the baristas, I escape the cafe, but even Constantino, the man who sells rugs, is certain it’s already over.

Part of me knows that a sport should not mean so much. Part of me knows the value of metaphors and charms.

What happens when my lucky jersey doesn’t bring a win—when prayers aren’t answered?