Finding the Saint of Finding Things

 

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In the Tlacolula market on Sunday, I am determined to find a picture of Saint Antonio. Rumor has it that he is a saint of miracles and can help mere mortals find lost items—like love. Here, in Oaxaca, legend has it that you simply need to turn the image of Saint Anthony (usually holding an angelic looking child) on his head (a cabeza) and pray. http://www.stanthonyfinderoflove.com/About_St_Anthony.html

I see a stand selling religious books and jewelry and ask the woman if she has an image of Saint Anthony. She does not, but she offers me directions to a shop two and a half blocks off the market. It is called Adonay. I do not hesitate to head in that direction. I consider it a small Spanish test. Can I find the shop on this unknown street in this unknown town? Do I even know what two and a half blocks might be? I have a hat for the sun and it is not raining. I am confident I will find the shop.

C, who is with me, is not so confident. He does not understand why I don’t just download a picture of this guy from the internet. Always a provocateur, he also asks the woman if we will find readings on atheism at her shop. Her face says no. Then, she abruptly confirms: No.

It is definitely farther than three Sacramento city blocks, but we arrive at a beautiful shop with giant Jesus and Mary statues and portraits. It is part garden, gift store, and gallery.

The patient shop keeper tries to sell me a practically life-size Saint Antonio. I assure him that my luggage cannot even accommodate the baby Antonio holds in his arms. He laughs and suggests I get larger luggage—for next time.

He helps me find five cards with the Saint. It turns out C wants two.

C asks to use the restroom, and the kind man says certainly—after I have paid for the cards. As he leads C into the house, a small dog with a pink bow emerges from her doghouse and tries to attack C. The parrot above starts to squawk. I literally scream because I had no idea we were so close to wildlife.

The dog is named Greta. She turns out to be sweet. C finds the children in the back room painting images of Jesus. There are three of them; the husband runs the shop. The wife is the woman we met in the market, the lady of the good directions we name her.

Back out in the chaos of the streets, we have to smile at the adventure and how we never cease to be surprised by what we will find.

I often ask folks if they were to open up a store in the capital (Oaxaca) what the store would sell. Usually people are set on food because everyone needs to eat, but C decides this afternoon that it might be good to sell religious materials, like these tourist-sized images of Saint Antonio that we picked up for under a nickel each. Yes, we could mark them up double and it’d still be cheaper than downloading him from the internet. And, we could help people find things—as we found this little shop.

I’m in the Art Show

Last night I went to a German artist’s show at the contemporary art museum.

I knew nothing of the artist, Sigmar Polke. 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 young man are sitting in a dark living room full of antique furniture and the father says to the young punk, “someday all of this will be yours.”
At the Saturday 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 asks: and the truck?
I am walking along the pedestrian corridor planning what I will say to the woman at the bakery as I request a sandwich. I walk and negotiate with myself, and then I am interrupted. An elder with coin purses yells at me in English to buy what he’s selling. I pretend I cannot hear him though my ears are open for any suggestion of English.
It strikes me that my entire month here is the art show and each post I can offer is perhaps a long title to accompany the piece.
  • Of course, this experience of being a painting makes me think of Linda Pastan’s incredible “Ethics.” http://shenandoahliterary.org/blog/2011/09/linda-pastan-ethics/ I’m not suggesting you should elect the same question (a Rembrandt painting/or an old woman who hadn’t many/ years left anyhow?) for your writing. Maybe you ought to increase the stakes?

Pisa and the Fallen Angel

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We spent the first afternoon of the new year in Pisa.

The leaning tower with a fallen angel on the lawn near it made us feel as if we’d walked into someplace dangerous.

What could have taken down such a ginormous messenger? And why?

And, had the same force tried to take out the tower, leaving it with its magnetic slant that draws thousands of pilgrims and onlookers as we on this cold winter afternoon? For a geo-technical engineer, as M is, the building is more than messenger, it is a harbinger and admonition for what could go wrong.

The rest of the spectators seemed oblivious to how these monuments were blaring warnings. Perhaps they were in denial or still hung over from new years reveling. It was hard to tell.

This scene seems like something people see and say: “You should write a poem about this…” And, it reminds me of Amanda Earl’s “Ars Poetica 3”:

A poem, not all poems, but some poems, or maybe just this

poem is uncertain, it falters. A poem crawls on its belly out

of shadow, but avoids full-on sunshine. A poem is made

from ashes, nightmare, solitude, erasure, the unknown. It

names itself or it doesn’t. A poem cannot fully articulate or

understand the pattern of synapses made by the brain. A

poem is a long sentence or a line or a group of lines or a

school of images, a fish that swims through uncertain

Read the rest of this poem at the link below.

 

  • Celebrate National Poetry Month this April with Poem in Your Pocket Days: https://www.poets.org/sites/default/files/poeminpocketday_2017b_0.pdf

Mariposa

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The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

http://www.phys.unm.edu/~tw/fas/yits/archive/oliver_thesummerday.html

Some of my plans for my wild and precious life:

  1. On the days I must work, as well as those dedicated to leisure, I will commit myself to absorbing the golden tips of daylight into dusk, of lingering with the cats into the cooling of the day—and season.
  2. I will hold the boundless freedom and joy of summer within me to help me as I strive to be fair and frank and kind to those I encounter on my path. I will leave no strangers in my wake.
  3. After traveling widely in new lands, I will open myself to learning from thousands of grasshoppers and butterflies. And, I will return with new seeds to sow and nurture.
  4. I will generously share the harvest and gratefully receive the bounty of others.

Speaking of bounty, fall semester means creative writing students are collaborating on blogs again:

https://literarytrailmix.wordpress.com/

https://d8lyrantsandreviews.wordpress.com/

https://buddingwritersdaytoday.wordpress.com/

https://socialhawkwardness.wordpress.com/

https://thedailyhassle.wordpress.com/

Please follow these explorers, comment on their words, and like them. They may, as I, have more questions than answers, but they will take you with them as they celebrate our world.

Why Would Someone Do That to a Baby?

HD drama

Jack-in-the-Box and Home Depot Parking Lot

Standing in the gravel of the planter box between the Home Depot and Jack-in-the-Box, we had a rather large circle of up to eleven at some points in our conversation. We were talking about a certain politician’s plans for building a giant wall and the problems it might pose to the US as much as Mexico when we all noticed a man with a stroller crossing the parking lot. He was arguing vociferously into his cell phone.

Because his volume had captured our attention, we were all witnesses as the woman he was arguing with on the phone rolled up beside him in a black Honda Civic. And, trying to pepper spray him, she showered the baby in the stroller.

It took me a couple of whole minutes to register what we had just seen and to grasp that some of my students had been exposed to the particulates carried by the breezy afternoon. Pepper-sprayed a baby!

The whole scene focused on the stroller. A man in a rusty old truck threw open his door as he was still rolling and poured water over the girl to try to stop her awful wailing.

A woman rushed into Jack-in-the-Box to get more water. Another gave me the car’s license number as I was on the line with the Sheriff’s department.

All of us saw exactly what happened. (We just didn’t believe it.)

I dismissed the students and stayed around to offer my statement. The man who’d been sprayed could not hold his daughter because, just as she, he had cayenne oils all over his clothing, skin, and hair.

Because she was too young to have words, she continued to shriek after paramedics arrived and treated her.

Daniel, one of the English students, asked me in Spanish, “Who would pepper spray a baby?” Though I knew it was a rhetorical question, I responded, “It doesn’t make sense in any language.”

On my way home, the afternoon’s events raging in my brain, I carelessly wiped my sleeve across my face. My lips burned nearly as much as my mind.

In class, the next day, we debriefed the incident. One student confided that she could think of little else. Another, a veteran, shared that, were we in battle, this woman would be guilty of a war crime.

*According to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.” Start with an unequivocally evil act, and help readers empathize with, but not condone the actions of, the evil-doer. This reminds me of a poem titled “The Torturer’s Apprentice.”

 

The Torturer’s Apprentice

by Doug Anderson

 

Almost a man now,

he used to shudder

when the old man

slipped hatpin under fingernail

but now he’s got

the master’s calm,

the seducer’s whiskey drift

to ply his subject

to give up his neighbor, tease

from him how many,

where and when.

Next month he’ll have his first,

no more dabbing the old man’s brow

with a cool towel,

no more sopping up the blood,

spraying air-freshener

to mask the lingering stink

of fear and anguish.

They’ve saved a little nun

for him, some dear thing

who still believes

that deep down people

are good.

(From the anthology Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination, FROM Curbstone Press, edited by MartÍn Espada. Get the collection for the rest of this poem. It is a powerful anthology.)

 

Necesito Correr

halekai!

Hale Kai Restaurant, Fairmont Orchid, Big Island, Hawaii  

I regularly start stories with the same first line: “A funny thing happened at Home Depot the other day.” For those of you who don’t know, I learn Spanish (and teach English) in the Home Depot parking lot one day a week throughout the semester.

Thus, a funny thing happened at Home Depot the other day. It was nearly 2:30PM, and we were about to wrap up our hour-long language exchange. We were shaking hands around the circle and offering, “Mucho gusto” and “Nice to know you” in our most practiced accents.

Typically, after this cordial ritual, if I do not have a meeting or another class, I send my college students off and linger a little to chat about gardening (how Lalo’s avocado tree is so much taller, how I plan to plant before the next rains) or when my plans are for traveling to Mexico next (mid-June, I promise).

Then, I regularly say, “Necesito correr” (I need to run) and often posture slo-mo running as I head off to my car. It is my way of sharing an English expression that seems silly in Spanish. (It’s pretty much as close as I get to being able to tell jokes in Spanish.)

The guys who regularly participate in our exchange know this is just my way of essentially saying “the end,” and I follow it with: “See you next week; hasta la proxima.”

However, Alejandro, a man unknown to me before Monday, offered graciously to meet me in a park ay 6PM to run laps and help me get in a mile (five laps) as he understood me clearly state that I need to run.

I tried to explain that it is an idiomatic expression, that I didn’t really need to run, that I knew what I was saying, but I was playing with the words, and that I was grateful for his offer, but that last bit made him think I wanted to meet him at 6PM. And, he offered additional advice for a pleasant, evening run.

By this time, the other guys were beyond giggling; one even held on to a tree as he was guffawing. I felt bad; Alejandro was being friendly and generous. The least I could do was explain what an idiom is. But I had to run.

This experience made me think of a piece I read on the Poetry Foundation’s website:

Language Lesson 1976

by Heather McHugh

from: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/245900

 

When Americans say a man

takes liberties, they mean

 

he’s gone too far. In Philadelphia today I saw

a kid on a leash look mom-ward

 

and announce his fondest wish: one

bicentennial burger, hold

 

the relish. Hold is forget,

in American.

 

On the courts of Philadelphia

the rich prepare

 

to serve, to fault. The language is a game as well,

in which love can mean nothing,

 

doubletalk mean lie. I’m saying

doubletalk with me. I’m saying

 

go so far the customs are untold.

Make nothing without words,

 

and let me be

the one you never hold.

 

*Write about a misunderstanding due to language or cultural barrier. If you don’t have one off the top of your head, thefreedictionary.com (http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/) has an idiom of the day.

** Talk to random people in parking lots to see what misunderstandings unfold.