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?

Beard

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Spanish pronunciation is, unlike English, predictable. A “bird” in English often is pronounced “beard” by a person who speaks Spanish. The “I” makes the sound of a long “E.” Thus, “pitch” comes across as “peach.” I could go on…

While pronunciation is predictable, most of the rest of being in Oaxaca is not.

At the intercambio at the Oaxaca Lending Library one recent Saturday, I was reminded of how important understanding cultural norms is.  I was sitting with Rubi, Paulina, Eduardo, and Iris.

Iris is from China; she speaks Mandarin fluently and is a new Spanish speaker. She knows no English and was not interested in the English portion of the language exchange, so she was only with us for an hour. The Spanish speakers (who want to learn English because, to them, it seems everyone in the world speaks English (or Spanish) could not fathom that Iris (a nickname) does not know English.

Iris could not believe that I, a Caucasian American, speak another language. (We were already breaking down stereotypes!) Iris is a calligrapher by trade and showed us some of her beautiful images. She tried to translate them by breaking down the words into pictures and telling us what the pictures meant and how they came together. (It reminded me of the Hawaiian language.)

As we chatted, our Spanish focused on the basics: food, family, and fun. These are always good (and usually safe) places to start.

Iris explained that she is an only child, and, as a female, feels fortunate to be alive. The Oaxacans were neither familiar with China’s one-child policy nor the preference for males, and they wanted to know what the Chinese would do if the family has a farm and needs helpers.

Iris emphasized, “One child.” She asked how many siblings we have. I have a sister, so does Paulina. Rubi has two brothers and a sister.

Eduardo is in the middle of twelve children.

Iris was astounded, and another hour of Spanish elapsed too quickly.

  • What can you learn about another culture’s food, family, and fun that might inspire an entire story?

 

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?

Brown

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http://www.cc.com/video-clips/qpq2hr/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah-kevin-young—highlighting-the-joy-and-pain-of-the-black-experience-in–brown-

Trevor Noah, on The Daily Show, closed out National Poetry Month with an interview with Kevin Young. Young described the inspirations for his new book Brown.

From James Brown to John Brown to Linda Brown (and Brown v. Board of Education), Young explains how this collection draws on history and current events.

I can’t help but think of Michael Brown and all of the brutality that has historically accompanied the color brown. It also makes me think of the brutality of pink.

My friend has breast cancer and hates pink: the twisted satin tint, the toothache-sweet shade, even the rosé ribbons furling each sunrise. She loathes peonies, camellias, the blushing magnolia in her neighbor’s pristine yard.

My friend insists the cruel incongruity of cotton candy color saturation is mockery.

  • Don’t just describe the pink morning sunrise; show us the precise shade. Then, tell us about the charcoal chrome shadows of the trees and the lavish lavender clouds punctuating the sky.

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My Poetry students have InstagramCRCPoets

Over the Moon

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image from: bradslepicka.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/do-cows-really-jump-over-the-moon/

I am over the moon that Munyori Literary Journal has featured several of my pieces.

From their website: Munyori Literary Journal is a Zimbabwean-American literary platform that features works from global writers and artists. The word ‘munyori’ is Shona for “writer” or “author.” Here we extend its meaning to represent all artists. We are ambitious; we dream to make a significant contribution to literature and the arts. We are writers too, and proudly call ourselves Vanyori, the plural form of the word, but the emphasis is on what each writer contributes, in that moment when the creation of art is a solitary process. It is at that moment when what you are–munyori–is highlighted.

  • Submit. According to poets.org: Research is key to learning where to submit poems. Poets.org suggests spending some time finding literary journals and magazines that publish enjoyable work similar to the contributor’s craft. Publications seeking work are listed at: Poets & Writers or New Pages, or check out a copy of the annual Poet’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books).

 

 

 

Why do bees hum?

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from https://www.pinterest.com/source/facebook.com/

because they don’t know the words.

 

  • Turn today’s writing over to the universe. Visit: http://random-ize.com/ This site offers:
    • a list randomizer (which might be good for making a poem)
    • a list picker (in case you can’t name your baby or pick a number)
    • random English words (such as finespun, sveltest, sternly and untanned)
    • and as many random jokes as you can stand