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.

I Found the Little Businessman!

 

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After nearly a week of searching, I first bumped into Mateo (14). Immediately after, I encountered Cecelia and Agostino. Agostino immediately reminded me of how we first met, that I permit him to use my phone, that we sometimes have coffee over there under those trees, and popsicles, and corn, and… I asked him if he had a new show, any new tricks. He reported that he had nothing to offer.
I told him and Cecelia that I’d expect: chistes, bromas, burlas, una charla, or un show tomorrow. They both giggled and said they’d be ready with some kind of a stunning performance.
I wonder how long we will know each other, how things will change in our lives, what fortunes await us. Then, Cecelia informs me that Mateo is married and she introduces me to her sister-in-law, his bride.
I am stunned; I try to say felicidades. I try to understand. I try to remember Jane Hirshfield’s “A Blessing for a Wedding:”
Read the whole poem at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/53393/a-blessing-for-wedding
Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly
Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears
Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes
Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you
Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days
  • What does your character fail to say? Why does she fail?

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?

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?

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

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

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.”