No Day

911 quote

On the way to Poland for winter break, M and I spent a couple of days touring New York City. One of the places we visited was the hallowed ground of the 9/11 memorial. It is a startling amphitheater of  deep sorrow,  a mausoleum for the 2,977 lost, a monument of remembrance for  the survivors–and the rest of us. It is horror amplified to sensory overload with the sounds of sirens and phone calls and news and the photographs of people frozen in disbelief, dumbstruck, confused, terrified.

There is an urgent seriousness buzzing through the halls, as if the tragedy hovers over us–and it does. I did not know how heavy the news of this particular morning (this vast crime) wears within me. Wandering through the exhibits, the heaviness inflates again with sorrow, and I am almost bursting with the deeply personal stories of the people.

Today is the birthday of a handful of victims whose names are marked with a white rose and whose stories play in a dark room, as a vigil of sorts, with friends telling the stories of their loved ones, how brilliantly they lived, how tremendous the loss.

How tremendous the loss. “No day shall erase you,” I am reminded at my discomfort. “No day shall erase you,” I promise to the void.

“No day shall erase you,” reminds the adamant woman who survived the terrorist attacks in 1993 and again in 2001 by climbing down the stairs, these same stairs where she reports to work each morning as a docent bound to share her story and the stories of those who cannot.

*

I am headed to Poland, and people keep asking me which Polish writers I like. And, I stall, wondering if I have categorized writers by country. I have not. I report that I know I love anything by Wislawa Szymborska. I think of her poem “Hatred” and how relevant it is now–and probably forever. I research other Polish writers and pull out pieces that might accompany blog posts.

*

I am searching now for other poets’ takes on 9/11. And, the first piece I find comes up Symborska. An audio poem with no companion text, it does not prepare me. It does not prepare me:  Photograph from September 11.

*

No day.

  • White roses, stories, monuments, museums, poems, and more combat erasure. What must we remember?

 

[More on Virgil’s quote.]

Even

 

“Even when folks are hitting you over the head, you can’t stop marching. Even when they’re turning the hoses on you, you can’t stop.” – -Barack Obama

Even though your voice is tired from preaching to the choir and anyone with ears and a heart, even though the plodding makes you ache, even when (perhaps especially when) it makes you afraid, even if you must crawl, you must. Even though some days you believe humans are incapable of goodness, of anything more than greed; though you doubt the point of this life or that any hope or light can guide us through darkness, you must march onward, bear witness, rage with all of your might.

Yesterday in poetry class we discussed how last week I speculated that all poems are love poems, but today I insist all poems are political poems. We realize this is not a “but” but an “and,” that these two approaches are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, they are complementary. We discuss Leroy V. Quintana’s “Poem for U-Haul,” from the anthology Poetry Like Bread. (https://www.amazon.com/Poetry-Like-Bread-Martin-Espada/dp/1880684748/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1517383267&sr=8-1&keywords=poetry+like+bread). The poem is a four-line masterpiece that shows how a simple and awful domestic scene can inspire reaction and even action. One of the students says sometimes the act of finally loving oneself is a political one.

Hours later, I am still excited about the conversation from class, about the imperative for writing to be “like bread” instead of  as “like cake”–or “caviar,” of the power of words to express love and show us the way to justice.

According to The Guardian, “Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, whose novels and stories record and define apartheid, argues that a writer’s highest calling is to bear witness to the evils of conflict and injustice.”

  • Write a love poem on the evils of conflict and injustice.

 

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?

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!

 

Little Businessman.JPG
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…

IMG_4529
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?