And the Man in the Park?

IMG_4871.JPG
A scruffy-looking white guy is propped against his white Titan truck. He has been in the park for more than an hour. I am returning from an errand, and he still looks confused.
The magnitude of confusion is far beyond not knowing a word or how to conjugate a verb correctly or where the neighborhood Volcanes–that name they’re always hollering out of the bus window–is.
No, this confusion is tremendous, more like: How the heck did I arrive in Mexico? Am I really this far south? What am I going to tell my boss?
And where are my shoes?
Before he became my subject, I was thinking about how North American I am, too North American I thought–before seeing this dude.
I’m focused mostly on how my frankness, forthrightness, perhaps directness often come across as impolite.
Going to the butcher and asking for two pounds of meat without first:
1. Making eye contact.
2. Saying hello and good afternoon.
3. Broaching the subject with “please.”
4. Softening the request with “might I be able to have…”
5. Finishing with two pounds of meat
is akin to running into an establishment and demanding:  MEAT!
In Oaxaca, I never fail to be delighted that a man with a scowl will soften at a: “Hello, good afternoon,” from even the most foreign-looking stranger on the street.
It’s all about manners, I think. So I practice what I will say to the man selling hot tortillas. The more I improve my petition, the fresher the tortillas are. This morning I got a quarter kilo straight from the machine.
And, the man in the park?
I’m going to leave him there for now, for I’m quite certain that’s where he’ll be when I head out next.
Lost in the Forest
–Amy Gerstler
I’d given up hope. Hadn’t eaten in three
days. Resigned to being wolf meat …
when, unbelievably, I found myself in
a clearing. Two goats with bells
round their necks stared at me:
their pupils like coin slots
in piggy banks. I could have gotten
the truth out of those two,
if goats spoke. I saw leeks
and radishes planted in rows;
wash billowing on a clothesline …
and the innocuous-looking cottage
in the woods with its lapping tongue
of a welcome mat slurped me in.
Read the rest at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43397/lost-in-the-forest
  • Get your speaker this lost; take her off course; plunge her into the middle of the motion somewhere she’s never been before.

Finding the Saint of Finding Things

 

IMG_5411

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

4b53b956-ff1a-4348-8d16-099bba0b0befa3368f42-8976-4703-a32b-f925b3758a0dc6e966ab-b7f0-4f21-ae2d-d1279b92f8de

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

mariposa.jpg

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.)