Today’s News

Dog
Saul leaves the enclosed porch to listen to the town announcement. He says it’s often difficult to interpret what she’s saying into the loud speaker.
I say I thought I was hearing a flock of doves. Alma thinks I’m hilarious. I pretend that I am.
Saul reports that a small brown dog is missing. He adds that this is not news.
In fact, the large dog I just witnessed gulp down three featherless, white chicken heads will wander the town for days, returning only on empty to feast once again.

They Offer You an Umbrella…

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and you respond that you were born in the desert. They look at you confused. “Do you want an umbrella?”  You finish your thought. Because I was born in the desert, I hardly know how to use one.
Their laughter comes as generously as the rain. And you are filled with gratitude for all of this–even though you know you are far from the city and will surely be drenched by the time you return.
An elder in a cowboy hat hops on the bus you’re finally on. He’s holding a shovel. It’s as if he’s reporting for duty–somewhere down the bumpy road.
In English class, you practice saying, writing, owning words like carved, folk art, design, paint, and the dreadfully difficult pre Hispanic.
You struggle to spell things phonetically, so these students will remember how they are said long after you return to the US.
Your students are surprised by your English voice. It is faster and more confident than your Spanish one. Your Spanish voice is timid, quieter.
Back in the city, tourists fill the letters of the name Oaxaca. They line up to take photographs of themselves bending into the O, hovering over the X.
Your English students also hover over their letters, confusing E and I, trembling in the face of English’s irregularities.
You assure them that this is worth the labor it requires. You promise them that although it feels like a hailstorm of weird sounds that thud from the tongue, they are on their way.
Rain
–Kazim Ali
With thick strokes of ink the sky fills with rain.
Pretending to run for cover but secretly praying for more rain.
Over the echo of the water, I hear a voice saying my name.
No one in the city moves under the quick sightless rain.
The pages of my notebook soak, then curl. I’ve written:
“Yogis opened their mouths for hours to drink the rain.”
The sky is a bowl of dark water, rinsing your face.
The window trembles; liquid glass could shatter into rain.
I am a dark bowl, waiting to be filled.
If I open my mouth now, I could drown in the rain.
I hurry home as though someone is there waiting for me.
The night collapses into your skin. I am the rain.
  • What does the weather do to the story? How does the storm enter the characters? The speaker? How do we become the thunder?

And the Man in the Park?

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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.

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)

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