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.

One Sock Almost Always Demands Its Pair

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I tell the friendly woman at the laundry that a pair of some other woman’s underwear (or interior clothing) made it into my bag. She says sometimes they are small and hide in the dryer. I agree that they are indeed small.
She laughsand offers the trivia that it is rare for people to return in search of panties, but one sock almost always demands its pair. Neither do people seem to notice the lost washcloth.I
I am grateful for insider information such as this. Of course, I don’t know its immediate application to my life and travels, but I am grateful that I can engage in this sort of small talk with someone who’s smiling and interested in my interest in her domain.
I’m off to the tailor in the market to try out new words.
I can’t help but recall the warning of WS Merwin in his short prose poem “Language,” from: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/language
Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us, and rise with the rest.
  • Which words will you be buried with? Why?

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)

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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?

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.

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.

Spanish Class

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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.”