Odes

coalIn poetry class, you are writing odes, odes to soap, music, somebody’s distant cousin–even the sound S makes as you assemble an alliterative sentence. You are crafting tributes to colors and memories and all of the things you love in the world.

You are in front of the classroom describing how the gray blue tile you hold between your fingertips, a color you have named dad’s truck blue, a sort of primer blue hue, reminds you of dad’s old Chevy Apache. And, you explain how when you initially see this shade it reminds you of your first sleeping bag, but it is, in fact, more the shade of the vehicle that was dramatically flattened under a ginormous tamarisk in the late 70s. Decades later, this  tint can still evoke the explosive sound of the tree untethering from the earth just outside the chickens’ coop.

You read recently about Polish idioms, that Polish people don’t daydream. Instead, they think of blue almonds. They don’t speak bluntly. Rather, they tell it straight from the bridge. They don’t beat around the bush; they wrap the truth in cotton. And, you think this is the poet’s work; you spend entire days thinking of blue almonds, lecturing from bridges, and softening the truth.

You think about all of the odes there are left to write: salutes to Warsaw traffic, praise for pickled eggs and beets and herring, testimony for trust and faith and lust, homages to the lost, to the sky streaked with coal, to drunk people falling softly in snow, to every gilded representation of Jesus, to meeting your husband’s relatives who don’t speak your language–still they look into your face and love, love, love you anyway.

Whap

Sock
Merry Christmas!
I was about to draft a list titled what I like best about Oaxaca, but, before I could start, a man hit my arm with his plastic patio chair and ran to fetch an expensive pair of sunglasses he’d left in the restroom.
See that would be a good title to accompany one of the German artist’s pieces.
How do I know this? When he returned, he leaned into my face to tell me the glasses were expensive and that he had paid more than four thousand pesos for them. I wanted to slap his stupid sunglasses out of his hands.
Instead, I said: ok, packed up my things, and left.  I could feel the celebratory inventory of sounds and scents and stories simply vanish with the quick whap of the chair.
  • I was thinking about what happened and how:
    • 1. the incident was significantly palpable and audible
    • 2. the onomatopoeia of the instant marked a change in me.
This made me look for pieces featuring onomatopoeia. Among the pieces, I found: “toon tune,” by Gustave Morin: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/51817/toon-tune. It is an odd piece as the words are embedded in the collage of cartoons. This piece is a delightful play on words–and with words as well as colors and images. This made me think of Susan Howe and her collage pieces: http://www.raintaxi.com/write-through-this-the-poetry-of-susan-howe/. Make your own collage.

Audience

I’m sitting at Subway in the spotlight of vendors of a variety of things. Necklaces, spoons, bookmarks, a toy with chickens pecking at seeds, bubbles, books, music, candies, chargers, chess sets, birdcages, paintings, bracelets, floral crowns, blouses, purses, balloons, rugs, jewelry boxes, tablecloths, scarves, blouses, skirts, masks, flowers, and a range of services: caricatures, portraits, hair braiding, tattooing, song, and whatever it is that clowns do.

The three old guys drinking coffee and sitting next to me are as regular as the constellation of flies that own the bistro tables surrounding the zocalo.
One man insists they must move as the sun floods his seat. He’s says he fears turning the “color of a sausage.”  I refrain from laughing because part of the trick of being a tourist is convincing the locals I understand only a little of what’s going on.
That’s mostly true anyway, but reactions can frighten some into holding their tongues.
The man next to me is out of his chair offering a vociferous theater performance of an argument he had with a child. I think he’s pantomiming for my sake. He’s replicating yelling in a funny voice, perhaps a woman’s.
Certainly he has discerned that I’m an eager audience.
Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, in “Audience,” explains:

1

People think, at the theatre, an audience is tricked into believing it’s looking at life.

The film image is so large, it goes straight into your head.

There’s no room to be aware of or interested in people around you.
In sequence three, she writes:

My story is about the human race in conflict with itself and nature.
 https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/audience
  • What is it that you want your audience to understand about your story?

Chisme Caliente (Hot Gossip)

IMG_4708.JPG
M does not visit Oaxaca with me in the summers. He must work at his job in Sacramento. He also cheerfully keeps the cats company, waters the garden.
Some people here are certain M’s a fiction, that I have stock photos filed on my phone, for what man would permit his wife to wander the streets alone? I try to remember that I am a tourist in a culture sometimes so different it might be a different time.
This morning, I was confronted by Carolina, a blouse vendor, who, after asking how I was doing and making other small talk, inquired about how my FRIEND is.
She wanted me to know she’d seen me sitting under the laurel with C, listening to the band on Sunday afternoon. She wanted me to know that I was the star of hot gossip, that people were watching my show.
I reported that my FRIEND is fine and that I hadn’t seen him since the concert as he is staying in another part of the city. She had all sorts of questions. I offered few answers wanting instead to maintain the intrigue.

Reluctantly starring in town gossip, in a town where I’m a tourist, is somewhat exciting and makes me feel a bit torn as Johnny Cash in the following excerpt of his poem “Don’t Make a Movie About Me:”

If anybody made a movie out of my life
I wouldn’t like it, but I’d watch it twice
If they halfway tried to do it right
There’d be forty screen writers workin’ day and nite.
  • What is the gossip? How does it energize the plot in a positive way?

Hungry–and Afraid

Last night I doubled back to my room for my jacket. I noticed 500 pesos on the floor. I knew it was not my bill. Miguel, who’d been alerted by my indecision and his own about asking me to borrow a razor, asked me what was happening.
I told him I’d found the money and I was giving it to him. He said no. He was sure someone would ask for it. I said I was sure that, had I lost it, I wouldn’t think to ask him for it.
He was clearly shaken by the quantity. He confessed that he’d asked Mari for a small loan for bus money that same morning.
This morning on my way out the door, I asked whether anyone had tried to claim the money. He said no. He wondered out loud what he should do. I said, as far as I was concerned, it was his.
He seemed relieved and said that I’m not just an angelito (a little angel), I am an angelote (a turkey-sized one)!
In the park, I was aware of being turkey-like and thus was unsurprised when a hungry white dog got too close. I could see him licking his jaws at the thought of a delicious thanksgiving.
When he wasn’t trailing me, I kept my eye on him. He even pursued pigeons and a pile of trash.
We both spotted the small girl with the pink lunchpail at the same time. She’d be succulent, like veal.
As he was quickly approaching, she sensed his laser focus from a few feet, and she darted in front of her mother. I nearly applauded her survival instincts.
It is 9AM now. Rowdy schoolchildren surround the fountain and a gang of wild dogs of assorted sizes barges into the park, howling their alarm.
Shadow, my little white dog, listens for a second and then decides he needs a safer spot. I agree.
  • So many things to be afraid of… Check out how Jody Gladding takes on fear with door-to-door evangelists, or salespeople, in the prose poem 1-800-FEAR:
We’d  like  to  talk  with  you  about  fear they  said  so
many  people  live  in  fear  these  days  they  drove  up
all  four  of  them  in  a  small  car nice   boy  they  said
beautiful  dogs they  said  so  friendly  the  man  ahead
of  the  woman  the other  two  waiting  in  the  drive  I
was  outside digging up the garden no one home I said
what   are  you  selling   anyway  I’m   not  interested  I
said  well  you  have  a  nice  day  they  said  here’s  our
card  there’s   a  phone  number  you  can  call  anytime
any  other   houses  down  this  road  anyone  else   live
here  we’d  like  to  talk  to  them  about  living  in  fear
As Miguel feared his fortune, what are fears your characters face?

Funeral Procession

FuneralI saw a funeral passing through the streets. At first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. Funeral processions are more common in small towns.
I was a block away and thought traffic was halted for a parade. Closer, I could hear talking, so I decided it was some sort of manifestation. I thought the low sounds I was hearing might be a recording of the ocean or waves. A few steps more and I saw the people were carrying white flowers and the sound was a funerary dirge.
I felt odd being a tourist, but that’s what I am here.
I watched them head up the hill with the elaborate casket and was alarmed to cross paths with the mourners again after two passes of the zocalo. They’d ambled kilometers and dampened the city more than the tropical storm, more than I imagined possible.
  • Ellen Bass, in The Thing Is, shares what it feels like when “grief sits” with us. It is different when it fills up in the streets and washes up on the sidewalks in song. Write about how we “withstand this” tremendous weight of grief.

The Thing Is

to love love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

from http://elliesway.org/poems/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw_o7NBRDgARIsAKvAgt1AjSbrwhYO89S49fkRQ1aDRv24fbG9ppDZ9EtFchXpdn00qRLo2wEaAu3QEALw_wcB

If you are looking for reading on loss, check out Naomi Shihab Nye’s What Have You Lost? https://www.amazon.com/What-Have-Lost-Naomi-Shihab/dp/0380733072/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1503963720&sr=8-1&keywords=nye+loss

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.”