How do you know?

bar

It is time for a turn in Spanish at the Saturday intercambio, and I’m not sure what to talk about. In the English hour, we’ve already covered: names, ages, birthplaces, pets, favorite foods, education, hobbies, travels, dreams. I’m not ready for religion, and (pun intended) God forbid, politics.
So I start with the strangest Oaxacan adventure I have had this year. This is teaser enough to pique their attention.
Thursday night, after teaching English to some delightful children in Teotitlan del Valle, one of my fellow teachers, a German woman, suggested that we go to a bar in the town.
It turns out the micro finance program we volunteer with helped finance the bar, a seriously interesting prospect as the group finance only women and focuses on empowering them to improve their communities.
Because it is the last class for two weeks of vacation and because this teaching team will head off into four different parts of the world by the end of the month, we are excited to celebrate.
The four of us crowd on to a moto taxi that slowly crawls up a steep hill. After ten bumpy minutes, we arrive at a blue door. No sign. Nothing that indicates it is more than a doorway.
We knock.
The woman tells us to come in.  The bar is the size I have always imagined a cave to be. Small. It is about the size of the tack room we had when I was a child–and as dark. Made of adobe, it is also cool.
There are three tables in the bar. There are the four teachers and four other patrons, the woman (and occasional appearances by the husband and young daughter).
The bottles are placed in front of a mirror as they would likely be in a city bar. The bar top is an old door on a pile of bricks.
The other bar goers are interested in knowing what brings us to these parts. They interrogate us and offer to buy us a round.
After we have already tried five shots, I’m unprepared for my free cup, so I offer into to our kind hostess. She’s happy to oblige.
One of the patrons has become the house DJ and is playing tunes in English. He tries to see through the darkness if we are pleased. We are.
It is a sweet evening. And I swear my Spanish is smoother when I’m tipsy.
One of the men knows California and Sacramento; he’s been to the corner store in my neighborhood. He seems to have as much nostalgia as I for this place I call home. He shakes my hand for a long time. He urges me to travel safely, to return to Mexico as promptly as I can.
I tell the ladies at the intercambio, it was unbelievable, this nameless watering hole. One woman suggests: maybe it was just a dream.
Another asks: “How do you know you were there at all?”
  • Moira Egan, in Bar Napkin Sonnet #11, writes about drinking too much mezcal, including a reference to the worm… What does your character learn when she drinks too much?
    Things happen when you drink too much mescal.
    One night, with not enough food in my belly,
    he kept on buying.   I’m a girl who’ll fall
    damn near in love with gratitude and, well, he
    was hot and generous and so the least
    Read the rest of the poem at:

    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49272/bar-napkin-sonnet-11

Ceramics

I head to the workshop of Oaxacan master ceramicist Vicente Hernandez. He has a large workspace and six dogs that are jealous because we are taking the master’s attention.
He shows us how he cleans the clay, throws it in a roll to get all of the air out, turns it into a cup or a bowl, dries it, glazes it, fires it in his gas oven, designs it–etching with a nail, glazes it, and cooks it again.
The dogs are relentless though his children try to calm them. They bark and sniff and lick and poke and bark and bark and lick some more.
I think I am not a dog person, and I am incapable of running the potting wheel, but I can listen (even above the barking) and celebrate the birth of cup after cup. In the hour-long session, a man pulls more than nineteen teacups from the block he is working on. He seems to be in his own world, but he says salud twice after each of my sneezes.
The showroom is up the road, closer to the main highway, in a two-story house that is mostly empty.
I find a two couples of shot glasses I like (copitas), and I am determined that I will transport them back home whole and without tears.
One of the daughters packs the copitas into a bag with the business name: Tierra Quemada, scorched earth. I recognize it as a shop off the pedestrian walkway, on Abasolo. According to the maestro, his interests vary. I may be able to see more of his intricate designs.
  • Ekphrastic means writing about art. Including, I wonder, the art of creating art? Kay Ryan, former US Poet Laureate, reflects on Ekphrasis here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2006/12/journal-day-two-56d34c8126d79. Ryan writes about the challenges of chasing after reality with a butterfly net: “I have always been uncomfortable describing what already exists. Existing things are just too hot, too self-radiant. My words get soft and gluey if I try to mold them into a facsimile of something. If I were a sculptor, it would be as if I were forced to work with clay that clung to my fingers instead sticking to my projected dog sculpture.” Be a lepidopterist.

A Pillowy Warm Secret

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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

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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

Abundant Gifts

In one of the classesIn one of the classes this afternoon, a student asked me about a book. GUIDE TO GRAMMAR BY EDDIE MURPHY.  It was really by another Murphy. But I thanked her for the gift.
I could hardly contain my imagination. The ESL chapter could be called COMING TO AMERICA. Other film titles could control the chapter themes.
One of the artisans in the earlier class had asked me why I would volunteer my vacation time to help them. I respond a simple, it’s fun.
But the real reason is (almost) free and sometimes abundant gifts such as the Eddie Murphy grammar guide.
The lady in the sandwich shop looks at my legs streaked in white. They look dry. I want to explain that while mosquitoes don’t seem to pay attention to Oaxacans, they find me even with all of these streaks of mosquito spray on my skin. I also may seem to have chicken pox for all of the red welts on my skin.
Miguel asks why I do not sit on the patio anymore. He knows I enjoy it. I explain that the mosquitoes are just waiting for that.
He tells me that mosquitoes are family members. We share blood.
  • Receive the mosquito, the misunderstanding, the irritated skin, as you would a gift. See how Rodney Jones does this in his “The Mosquito.” The end follows here:
    I watch her strut like an udder with my blood,
    Imagining the luminous pick descending into Trotsky’s skull and the eleven days
    I waited for the cold chill, nightmare, and nightsweat of malaria;
    Imagining the mating call in the vibrations of her wings,
    And imagining, in the simple knot of her ganglia,
    How she thrills to my life, how she sings for the harvest.
    Read the rest at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51742/the-mosquito-56d22faf940de

A Month Off

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You take a month off from your real life, every summer, to just think, walk, eat, see, sleep. It’s simple, and here you are simple with your small grasp of the language and culture, with your wonder at the world surrounding you.
Though you are alone and have no one to take care of you, this is the closest you will be able to get to your childhood, to carefree afternoons spent in a park chasing pigeons to singing into the wind from the bed of a rickety pickup truck.
Back home, lists of chores await your return, and you know, for now, they can wait, so you refuse their entrance to this wonderland though some nights they return as insistent nightmares causing your jaw to ache, reminding you you are still an adult.
Sometimes you know you need more than a month of simplicity and make lists, like recipes, to retain or regain this peacefulness.
But in reality this leisure, this luxury of time and reflection, is unrealistic, is rapidly ground down by impatience and the demands of adulthood.
This morning I promise to savor the month, to prevent preoccupation with priorities, and to lounge in the luxurious mornings as if there’s nothing left to be done in this life.
From Morning
–Billy Collins
Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?
This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—

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