My dad’s birthday just passed a few days ago. Part of my birthday phone call went down like this:
- Dad: Hey, I want you to write a poem.
OB: Ok, ’bout what.
Dad: Well, I know you have this whole Palimpsest thing going and I was passing by this construction site thinking about how they tear up, pave, tear up, repave, tear up the same streets all the time. I’m thinking you should write a poem about that.
OB: Will do, viejo.
This isn’t the first time Dad has remarked on my poems. A snippet of our phone conversation from a couple of weeks back.
- Dad: You know what I have in my hand?
OB: Tell me.
Dad: A copy of Palimpsest. I like it, pretty good.
Dad: But what’s up with this “My Father’s Accent” poem? What accent you talking about? Well, that doesn’t really matter, I get what you’re TRYING to say in it, I don’t agree but I get it.
OB: That’s what counts, viejo.
Dad: Yeah, that and your spelling. (Big laugh) You spelled “guineo” wrong, it’s not WEE-neo, it’s GHEE-neo. (More laughter) Ay, it’s OK, I still get what you’re trying to do.
OB: (Also laughing) I’ll fix the typo.
Dad might be the best storyteller I know and certainly my biggest pre-literate influence. Add in that he introduced me to the music of Hector Lavoe and all the Fania All Stars, Stevie Wonder, Manu Dibango, James Brown, The Jimmy Castor Bunch, the late night sounds of DJ Paco and Disco 92 WKT(We Love)U, and other musicians that formed the bedrock of what would become Hip-Hop and his own love for books and you can see where almost all of my poetics come from.
A proud immigrant who has busted his ass every day to make a living for his family, he still wants a cut of all the fabulous royalties I am enjoying from publication. (Biggest laugh) Well, his claim isn’t without merit, I’ve taken snippets of conversation and channeled his voice in many of my poems. So when that fat royalty check does come through (Oh, the cry of the dreamer) I’ll be sure to treat Dad to some good ceviche and a Tropical cola.
More support and well wishes from the family this week as my brother-in-law forwards me a great article on Thomas Merton.
The Fortieth Anniversary of Thomas Merton’s Death
The monk/poet’s journey toward silence
By Frederick Smock • Special to The Courier-Journal
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s death, I want to think about silence. Certainly, Merton took a vow of silence, and he was occasionally silenced by the Vatican. But I am not thinking of those forms of silence. Rather, I want to think about silence and the poet’s art.
Much of a monk’s life is spent in silence. Much of a poet’s life is spent in silence, too — a poet spends a fraction of his time actually writing poems. Merton was both a monk and a poet, and thus well-acquainted with silence. Like meditation, and like prayer, poetry is surrounded by silence. Poetry begins and ends in silence. Silence is also inherent within a poem, like the silences between notes in music. As the great Chinese poet Yang Wan-li said, a thousand years ago, “A poem is made of words, yes, but take away the words and the poem remains.”
This article comes to me just as I’m looking to expand my series of God/City poems and wondering how to develop more urban psalms and prayers. Almost as soon as I finished reading it my sister sends it to me as well making me one happy poet enjoying some great support from my fam.