But we are not unalike. When we— from “The Island”
look at someone, we are seeing
someone else. When we listen,
we hear something taking place
in the past. When I talk to her,
I know what I will be saying
twenty years from now. She watches
me as if she never went into exile.
Today’s read: The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forché – Harper & Row – 1981
I am again reminded of the COVID-deniers. Their stance at this time to put bowling alleys and tattoo parlors ahead of an exhausted national health system. I know what I will be saying ten years from now. I will remember when I was not at my best. That there were times I felt discouraged and tired. I will also remember people saying Thanks for small things. There have been many smiles and I was able to laugh at the most unexpected times. The people I have chosen and those who have chosen me have modeled vulnerability and also shown strength. Strength to choose other lives, faces we have not seen, above other things.
Pages are cavernous places, white at entrance, black in absorption.— from “WHEREAS when offered…”
Today’s read: Whereas, Layli Long Soldier – Graywolf Press – 2017
Last week I was in a space of anxiety and dread during the pandemic. This week there is a shift to anger with Shelter-in-Place demonstrators. I don’t even know if that is the right word. I am sure it is not protester and it is definitely not rights advocates as right-wing media has been portraying them. Shelter-in-place entitled feels like the best term as I see signs demanding the inherent right to get a haircut or that massages are essential services. It’s a popular meme but it rings pretty true that Anglo America has been asked to cut back on its routines for one month and they can’t handle it. They stepped into the pages of history and their whiteness has not provided any protection or privileges. A strange place indeed for this class of citizen. Give us our baseball we don’t even attend, the authenticity of Chevy’s, and crowded aisles in Walmart. This will be the echo for White Murica.
But the man in the position of great honor does not understand— from “Let All Nations Hear Me”
the man who has power
the fat dictator with a chest full of medals
he smiles at the thought that he cannot die
he does not realize that he like those animals
fattened for sacrifice at the festival
Today’s read: The Psalms Of Struggle and Liberation by Ernesto Cardenal – Herder and Herder – 1971
Foreword by Thomas Merton, Translation by Emile G. McAnany, Photography by Robert Rush
The foreword for this collection is a very brief intro by Thomas Merton is a real joy as I did not know that Merton was a mentor of Cardenal. Merton is one of the few writers that can blend Catholic dogma with modern poetic sensibility and this hybrid is clear in this collection. Another unexpected bonus is the photography of Robert Rush. The combination of biblical language, Nicaragüense political urgency, and 70s urban images is pure delight. The extra bonus is that Cardenal’s prayers for his people to rise to vocalize their disdain for the political bourgeoisie makes this an incredibly urgent and current work. The above stanza not only applies to 45 but can also be used to describe the anti-COVID Americans who see themselves as medal toting patriots who can not wait to rush back to their old normal.
in the valleys, corruption— from “Dispossessions of Empire”
and trash everywhere.
In the city, immigrants
claiming to be natives;
in the country, natives
without a nation:
The democracy of colonies.
Today’s read: Night Is a Sharkskin Drum by Haunani-Kay Trask – University Of Hawaii Press – 2002
Seeing struggle in different languages is another way that poetry is able to help me connect past my own experience. A poet who is unapologetic in their code-switching is a poet who helps me move forward in cultural empathy. The work to pronounce and, more accurately, mispronounce new words is a way for my brain and tongue to physically navigate in fresh directions.
Seeing the above lines I just jump to the issue of gentrification and the need for authenticity of place when so many of us are from other places and even our original homes are still just points of departure.
Shopping bags, pulverized by branches, contort into a new— from “We Used to Call it Puerto Rico Rain”
nation of black flags. Our block was our island.
Today’s read: The Crazy Bunch by Willie Perdomo – Penguin Books – 2019
It has been a pleasure to read varied poetry collections that have taken me to some unexpected places. Today, I decided that I wanted to return back to New York. And not just NYC but the barrio of my teenage years. So I took a ride on the #4 train from Mt Eden Ave down to 125th St via The Crazy Bunch.
Even fifteen years in Oakland and I still feel like I am taking that subway ride every morning. I have so much Bronx in my speech and approach that it comes through both in English and Spanish. Mexicans routinely mistake me for Puerto Rican. Anglos often imagine that I am Italian-American and by that they really mean that I must be a New Yorker but they can’t quite figure out what to do about my light skin tone.
In this collection, I don’t need to worry about that. I can walk through as a visitor from Uptown. I can get off by Lexington Ave and be sure to walk down with the supermarket to left because if I start heading in the direction of the Mickey D’s then I may not find my way. You definitely don’t head down the direction of the Metro North because it”s the 80s and every other empty door is a crack house.
You follow Lexington and watch the street numbers go down and the street narrow until you find my favorite tostones across the street from the museum that looks like a school but there is a real school down two more blocks but not the best habichuelas but not-so-good is still better than anywhere else.
This is how you navigate this island in the middle of an island. You go by memory and swear to the legitness of your experience without the need for rubrics. Though I do know that any time I visited El Barrio I was doing exactly that just walking through and hearing project whistling in the background knowing it wasn’t my business.