Poetry Is the Singing

Guitars
It is Saturday night, and I am feeling especially alone in this city full of families and friends and connections.
I like that Jorge, the man who sells scarves, stops to check on me and share snippets of news. Today, he tells of a bridge washed out near the coast and of highways blocked by trees felled in the storm. I offer that the storm’s name is Calvin. He repeats the name. Calveeeen into the breeze.
I like that the lady selling tablecloths shows me photos of her grandchildren and the way she calls me amiga as if we’ve known each other for years. We have.
I like that Max waves as I pass the cafe where he’s a waiter. I like that Pablo will play the game where I ask: what is the thing that–long description here, weird look from Pablo, revision of description with better detail, and then voila! an answer. Today, after several hilarious rounds, I learned drones are still called drones in Spanish. Though I am sure the spelling differs.
I like practicing English with César and Andres. I like that Mari asks for her coffee a different way each day. Today, she had an americano with milk. Thursday it was a cappuccino with cinnamon and sugar.
I like that I can come across a couple of tired musicians snoozing on the street and not worry about their safety.
Still I am feeling alone in the city this Saturday night. And then I see a group of six girls performing an impromptu choreographed dance show to Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean,” and I know, without hesitation, I am part of this grand, happy music video.
  • “Poetry is the singing of what it means to be on our planet.” –Galway Kinnell
    • What does it mean to be on our planet? What does it mean to be a part of this grand, happy music video?

 

Fabric

Class
In Spanish class, my second teacher asks me about the intricate, creative lessons my first teacher plans for me. And then he says he has prepared nothing, but there are two words on the whiteboard, leftovers from the last lesson, and I am welcome to take one.
He recommends tela, fabric, and says, okay; write.
I think, yes, it is really that easy to just go, no fancy instructions are necessary (though they are appreciated).
I want to take a side route and get all of the cliches out of my system, the fabric of life bits that float to the surface of this broad prompt.
The hard thing about writing in Spanish is the limitation on my words and what I have the capacity to narrate.
In Oaxaca fabric stores line one of the streets off the zocalo. I am often drawn into these labyrinthine businesses as hummingbirds seek petunias, impatiens, day lilies, and lupines.
I do not know the names of these flowers in Spanish. Thus, they are banished from the poem. And, I’m off in search of another inspiration that will match the 20% claim I have on this language. I assess the value at 20% because people consistently ask me to quantify my language knowledge in these terms, something i go along with (therefore, reporting 20%), but I insist it is absurd.
Even if I really did know 20% of the language, my lack of knowledge of idioms and culture would cause me to register at a negative number (-40% or something equally preposterous).
The dictionary guesses I want Portuguese and reports that tela is screen. I think of telanovellas (soap operas), the television screen, and the broad cloth that makes a movie screen like my teacher’s white board that contains this broad prompt and that becomes its own large cloth, like a sail, to send me off into the ocean to sail.
  • “The fabric of existence weaves itself whole.” –Charles Ives

How does “way lead on to way,” as Frost warned/reminded in “The Road Not Taken,” how does the fabric seem to weave itself?

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

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.

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?

Ants!

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This girl has a sack of giant flying ants. That is one of them crawling on her left knee.

A horde of us have been out hunting ants, in Llano Park and throughout the city, since sunrise.

A woman fills her red jacket’s pockets; a man uses his moto helmet as a basket. A valet and a waiter scramble to fill grocery sacks with ants. The shoe shiner loans bags to customers. A man pushes ants, wings and all, into a Coke bottle as his wife zips them in her purse.

Some trappers bring crumbs for the birds (as distraction for the competition); some gatherers team up, use their children.

Some gratefully praise the fortune falling from the heavens, and some think I don’t know that chicatanas (giant flying ants) arrive with hurricane season, that I cannot know two full days of rain signal the joyous beginning of hunters harvesting ingredients.

I have sampled this salsa. I have dabbled in the seasonal delicacies here. I know what flavors the weather brings.

  • Most of the poems featuring ants make them metaphor for how infinitesimally small we are in the cosmos: https://hellopoetry.com/words/ants/. A bit more creative, some poets make them industrious little builders. Of course, there are also the picnic destroyers. I like to think of these insects as the Oaxacans do, as a special food delivered by the rains, as sustenance, as sport. How can you freshen a metaphor by drawing from a different culture’s views?