Today’s News

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.

This Little Piggy

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I came across ¡Pío Peep! Rimas Tradicionales en Español (Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes) and was immediately struck by the unique adaptations of the rhymes. They are clearly not straight translations and made me wonder what makes a rhyme work in two languages and what is lost and what is found in the process of adapting–especially when rhyme is a central part of the experience.

In Spanish, “El sol es de oro” is, although concise in both languages, very different in English.

El sol es de oro

El sol es de oro

la luna es de plate

y las estrellitas

son de hoja de lata.

Directly translated:

The sun is of gold

the moon is of silver

and the little stars

are of tin.


The English adaptation, on the other hand,

The Sun’s a Gold Medallion

The sun’s a gold medallion.

The moon’s a silver ball.

The little stars are only tin;

I love them best of all.

Clearly different.

One that was closest in translation was unfamiliar except for the form. This one seemed to be counted on the hand as the more familiar (to me at least) “This Little Piggy” is counted on toes.

Aquí puso la pajarita el huevo

Aquí puso la pajarita el huevo.

Éste lo agarró,

éste lo partió,

éste lo cocinó,

éste le echó la sal,

y este pícaro gordo

se lo comió.


Here the Bird Laid the Egg

Here the bird laid one round egg.

This one found it,

this one cracked it,

this one cooked it,

this one put salt on it,

and this fat rascal

gobbled it up!

from ¡Pío Peep! Rimas Tradicionales en Español (Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes)

  • What is lost and found in translation? How does this rob or enrich you or a character? What happens when we try to rely on literal translation?

Finding the Saint of Finding Things



In the Tlacolula market on Sunday, I am determined to find a picture of Saint Antonio. Rumor has it that he is a saint of miracles and can help mere mortals find lost items—like love. Here, in Oaxaca, legend has it that you simply need to turn the image of Saint Anthony (usually holding an angelic looking child) on his head (a cabeza) and pray.

I see a stand selling religious books and jewelry and ask the woman if she has an image of Saint Anthony. She does not, but she offers me directions to a shop two and a half blocks off the market. It is called Adonay. I do not hesitate to head in that direction. I consider it a small Spanish test. Can I find the shop on this unknown street in this unknown town? Do I even know what two and a half blocks might be? I have a hat for the sun and it is not raining. I am confident I will find the shop.

C, who is with me, is not so confident. He does not understand why I don’t just download a picture of this guy from the internet. Always a provocateur, he also asks the woman if we will find readings on atheism at her shop. Her face says no. Then, she abruptly confirms: No.

It is definitely farther than three Sacramento city blocks, but we arrive at a beautiful shop with giant Jesus and Mary statues and portraits. It is part garden, gift store, and gallery.

The patient shop keeper tries to sell me a practically life-size Saint Antonio. I assure him that my luggage cannot even accommodate the baby Antonio holds in his arms. He laughs and suggests I get larger luggage—for next time.

He helps me find five cards with the Saint. It turns out C wants two.

C asks to use the restroom, and the kind man says certainly—after I have paid for the cards. As he leads C into the house, a small dog with a pink bow emerges from her doghouse and tries to attack C. The parrot above starts to squawk. I literally scream because I had no idea we were so close to wildlife.

The dog is named Greta. She turns out to be sweet. C finds the children in the back room painting images of Jesus. There are three of them; the husband runs the shop. The wife is the woman we met in the market, the lady of the good directions we name her.

Back out in the chaos of the streets, we have to smile at the adventure and how we never cease to be surprised by what we will find.

I often ask folks if they were to open up a store in the capital (Oaxaca) what the store would sell. Usually people are set on food because everyone needs to eat, but C decides this afternoon that it might be good to sell religious materials, like these tourist-sized images of Saint Antonio that we picked up for under a nickel each. Yes, we could mark them up double and it’d still be cheaper than downloading him from the internet. And, we could help people find things—as we found this little shop.

Noche de Verano


I am walking, after rain, in evening’s sigh, passing the stone cross, on the way to the arches. You know where they filmed scenes from Nacho Libre? You know when Nacho picks on the wrong guys?

I pass the yellow house on the right and remember Miguel and Pia have left for Mexico City and they’ve (perhaps foolishly) left their upstairs window shutters open with little choice but to welcome summer, the bouquet of bougainvillea and morning sun, and a novice guitar player’s sweet strumming.

You know that despairing ballad I repeat, “Ojala,” how it murmurs as plaintive wind chimes?

I know. I write to you now as if we have studied these landmarks together, as if this letter is not my own howling anthem.

Noche de verano
–Antonio Machado

Es una hermosa noche de verano.
Tienen las altas casas
abiertos los balcones
del viejo pueblo a la anchurosa plaza.
En el amplio rectángulo desierto,
bancos de piedra, evónimos y acacias
simétricos dibujan
sus negras sombras en la arena blanca.
En el cénit, la luna, y en la torre,
la esfera del reloj iluminada.
Yo en este viejo pueblo paseando
solo, como un fantasma.

Summer Night

–Antionio Machado

A beautiful summer night.
the tall houses leave
their balcony shutters open
to the wide plaza of the old village.
In the large deserted square,
stone benches, burning bush and acacias
trace their black shadows
symmetrically on the white sand.
In its zenith, the moon; in the tower,
the clock’s illuminated globe.
I walk through this ancient village,
alone, like a ghost.

translated from the Spanish by Willis Barnstone

  • Celebrate a time of day, a season, the colors (natural or human made) of a place.


My Soul Turns into a Tree…

Miguel, the night watchman at the posada, invited me to his town. His directions were specific: which taxi to take, the name of the store to ask for his niece who’d be passing by about the same time I was to arrive. It was a flawless plan (in a small town). I doubt it would work back home.

The niece was sweet though she did not seem to be expecting me. She took me around the corner and down the path to her uncle’s place where I met three grandchildren, a niece and a nephew. (The niece and nephew looked as if they were characters from The Nightmare before Christmas.)

I was seated in a plastic chair outside the door to the house as Miguel cleaned up the remnants of a small fire. I was instructed to give the children English lessons to pass the time. This mostly consisted of them firing off any word that came into their minds. I was like a live Spanish/English dictionary just for them.

We went to the back yard to meet the other dog (there were two). This dog was tied under a tree because he could not be trusted with the half dozen chickens that wandered the yard.

The children climbed an abandoned automobile to fetch pomegranates and limes from the trees until the rain came and we took cover in a small work area with a hammock.

Meanwhile Miguel’s wife, Linda, was making beans and eggs and noodle soup, and cactus. I was finally welcome into the kitchen/dining area, but I was permitted no farther into the dark house. We ate a filling meal and then were off on foot(and one bicycle) to see the town.

Because of me, we became a parade for the townspeople. Some stopped us to ask questions and practice English. Two men in a van circled us four times (until Miguel mentioned their obvious actions). We were like a wreck and people wanted to see how awful the carnage was…

We were especially conspicuous as we went to the place where the rodeo was going to be held later in the day. (I would not stay for the rodeo as transportation home would be impossible, and, as far as I could tell, there was no hotel–only the covered hammock.) The cowboys stared at us as if we were cattle thieves.

We went to the church where we picked more fruit from the trees, some green oranges. They were more for play than for eating. My height was appreciated by the grandchildren who wanted more and more of the harvest.

Miguel, who had been inside a church office, returned to the tour guide role. He proudly showed me the tile he installed in the church, taught me about the town’s patron saint, Geronimo, and pointed out the candles he had purchased for the church as the town celebrated his daughter’s wedding. (Oswaldo was horrified that I did not cross myself as I entered the church; he had never met someone who was not Catholic; he wasn’t even sure if this was a real option.)

Next, we were off to see Miguel’s parents’ graves. We entered the beautiful cemetery that was green with weeds.

Miguel, slightly embarrassed by the obvious lack of maintenance, went into action as he had with cleaning up after the fire, enlisting me in weeding his mother’s side of the plot.

It was nearly 6:30PM, and even the grandchildren were tired out. They all headed home to rest before the big rodeo, and I, dirty hands and all, hopped into a collectivo taxi.

It is afternoons such as this one that I feel are the real Spanish tests. I not only arrived at a remote destination, but I was able to master most of the tasks along the way.

I wondered how to tell Miguel what a lovely day I had, so I also figured out how to use the Kodak machine at the grocery store and gave him some prints of the afternoon.

He was visibly moved to have them, but he said only: “My wife is very short.” I added, “and beautiful.” What more needed to be said?


–Herman Hesse, translated by Robert Bly, from News of the Universe, poems of twofold consciousness

Sometimes, when a bird cries out,

Or the wind sweeps through a tree,

Or a dog howls in a far off farm,

I hold still and listen for a long time.


My soul turns and goes back to the place

Where, a thousand forgotten years ago,

The bird and the howling wind

Were like me, and were my brothers.


My soul turns into a tree,

And an animal, and a cloud bank.

Then changed and odd it comes home

And asks me questions. What should I reply?

  • How much can/has one small journey transform your character?


I went to a writers’ conference in Minnesota in April. It rained; it snowed; it was gorgeously sunny. And, it was four non-stop days of attending workshops and lectures and learning about all of the things I don’t know. I had never heard of small poems before the workshop on small poems. As it turns out, neither had most of the other attendees. I attended a moving panel on Poverty and Poetry. The speakers said things that I have thought for a long time but have never had the words to say. They talked about social classes and leaving people behind and how no matter how much knowledge one has, others can still make her feel like an imposter.

In one session, a Minnesota rapper, POS, did a workshop where he took his own rap lyrics from Genius ( and examined how various commenters had explicated his sentiments. In response to the line: “But so happy to be alive,” from the song, “Lock-Pick, Knives, Bricks and Bats,,” one commenter wrote:
Here, P.O.S. rejoices in the tremendous happiness he feels simply by being alive. This happiness remains with him despite “looking through dirty lenses,” which can be read as a metaphor for the pessimistic worldview one has when depressed.

POS laughed, saying, he was just happy to be alive. Moving on to another piece where a respondent had made meaning of his desire for a sandwich, he insisted, “I was hungry.” There was no psychic hunger or great void to fill beyond his appetite.

I was thinking about the Billy Collins piece, “Introduction to Poetry” where he describes students trying to “torture a confession” out of a poem. Who has been teaching us to read like imposters?