Spanish Class

IMG_5155
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

IMG_4762
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

IMG_5048
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

Going for a Run

run

Every morning, I leave the Posada at 7 am to go for a walk. Every morning, Miguel catches me and asks: you going for a run?  The first fifteen times I said, no.
Then, I got with the program and said, yes. Clearly, I will run. I will run as a gorilla does. He says, no, a rabbit. I agree and walk into the cool morning.
Israel, the man who sells beef brain on the corner, calls his dishes kisses of beef. Nearly every time I pass him (sometimes more than five times a day), especially if he has customers, he loudly says, hello, Heather, many kisses for you. I say: yes and thank you.
This morning, feeling sluggish, I hardly accede that I will run. I am going to run as a snail or, I hesitate, a stone. No, Miguel insists, I am a puma. I try to tap my puma mind. I still would prefer to be a pampered, domestic feline lounging in the morning sunlight.
The Mexican tourist asks her five girlfriends, did you just hear what the white woman just said?  She’s laughing at me because in offering to photograph her and her friends (after watching them attempt an impossible selfie) with her iPhone, I promised not to run away with the phone.
As I backed up to include the church in the picture, she giggled nervously. I assured her that I cannot run–fast. They laughed as I snapped the shot.
Tomorrow, Miguel will assert, you’re going for a run. I will wholeheartedly agree. I will run as a turtle does, I will promise him. He will correct me and say, no, like a hummingbird. Of course, I will say, now I remember.
The cool morning, breezy afternoon, post-rain twilight all beckon me to run and run.
  • Langston Hughes’s poem “A Dream Deferred” is an excellent example of similes: https://readalittlepoetry.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/a-dream-deferred-by-langston-hughes/ 

    A Dream Deferred
    Langston Hughes

    What happens to a dream deferred?

    Does it dry up
    like a raisin in the sun?
    Or fester like a sore–
    And then run?
    Does it stink like rotten meat?
    Or crust and sugar over–
    like a syrupy sweet?

    Maybe it just sags
    like a heavy load.

    Or does it explode?

    Check out the simile generator at: http://writingfix.com/right_brain/Serendipitous_Simile_Prose1.htm

This Little Piggy

IMG_4929 (1)

I came across ¡Pío Peep! Rimas Tradicionales en Español (Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes) and was immediately struck by the unique adaptations of the rhymes. They are clearly not straight translations and made me wonder what makes a rhyme work in two languages and what is lost and what is found in the process of adapting–especially when rhyme is a central part of the experience.

In Spanish, “El sol es de oro” is, although concise in both languages, very different in English.

El sol es de oro

El sol es de oro

la luna es de plate

y las estrellitas

son de hoja de lata.

Directly translated:

The sun is of gold

the moon is of silver

and the little stars

are of tin.

 

The English adaptation, on the other hand,

The Sun’s a Gold Medallion

The sun’s a gold medallion.

The moon’s a silver ball.

The little stars are only tin;

I love them best of all.

Clearly different.

One that was closest in translation was unfamiliar except for the form. This one seemed to be counted on the hand as the more familiar (to me at least) “This Little Piggy” is counted on toes.

Aquí puso la pajarita el huevo

Aquí puso la pajarita el huevo.

Éste lo agarró,

éste lo partió,

éste lo cocinó,

éste le echó la sal,

y este pícaro gordo

se lo comió.

 

Here the Bird Laid the Egg

Here the bird laid one round egg.

This one found it,

this one cracked it,

this one cooked it,

this one put salt on it,

and this fat rascal

gobbled it up!

from ¡Pío Peep! Rimas Tradicionales en Español (Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes)

  • What is lost and found in translation? How does this rob or enrich you or a character? What happens when we try to rely on literal translation?

Dancing in Llano Park

IMG_4605.JPG
The Zumba class in Llano infatuates the whole park. Who can resist the joyful music and movement? The way they sway those hips!
Even this construction worker joins in. He’s  on an eight-foot ladder, readying a structure for a canopy, when he suddenly, rapt by the music, breaks into dancing.  How gracefully he maneuvers the ladder, as if he’s on stilts, as if this is just something one does.
That’s the secret to this city. I know better than to question the magic. I just need to let myself be swept up in the music.
  • Umberto Ak’Abal writes, in “The Dance,”

    All of us dance/ on a cent’s edge

    (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/dance)

    Upon what edge are you or your characters dancing? And, what happens? And, what do those watching fear will happen?

Back in Oaxaca

IMG_4371
The officer at passport control in Mexico City asks where I am coming from. I offer Sacramento; he counters with Atlanta. But I am so tired I don’t recognize the word Atlanta. I start to nod no. He repeats, slowly, A T L A N T A. I agree that’s where I have been most recently.

He asks me why I am in Mexico, and I want to tell him that I long for music in the streets, tacos in the park on Fridays, children roaming freely into twilight, a ride in the back of a truck, Indigo skies over Santo Domingo church. Instead, I sneeze the word: tourism, and he sends me off for two rounds of suitcase inspections and impromptu Spanish tests.

I’m usually up for trying out my comprehension, but I left Sacramento at 11:05PM and arrived in A T L A N T A at about 3AM my time, to take a train and find a gate in the vast terminal and then tried to sleep while a little old man loudly read the newspaper and slurped steaming coffee.

The officer has caught me at 10AM his time, 8AM mine, 11AM Atlanta’s.

Before meeting him, I have mostly fruitlessly tried to sleep in three time zones: pacific, eastern, central. I will have experienced a handful of solid minutes of sleep without disruption.

I will, at last, nap deeply in the small plane over Oaxaca and then briefly in a taxi-van full of seven men in the bustling streets leading to my stop (second-to-last) and my room, my comfortable room, at the posada.

IMG_4386

  • April Bernard, in “Roy Orbison and John Milton Are Still Dreaming” (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/roy-orbison-and-john-milton-are-still-dreaming) delivers us the joy of waking from a satisfying nap:
    You know what I mean: In the instant
    of waking in bliss, the whole body smiles—
    Then, she shows how though the mind may want to wake “in bliss” (as in the joy of landing on Oaxaca and being delivered to the posada), reality is often not as generous. In her poem, Bernard offers a list of “happy facts.” What are the “happy facts” that fill one of your characters?