jueves, agosto 09, 2007

Poetry for Carter

My friend Carter posted this on his MySpace, and challenged me to give it up, but I'm so long-winded, I thought I should post it here instead, where I can fix all the formatting the way I want.

1.THE FIRST POEM I REMEMBER HEARING AND REACTING TO....

Okay this is tough. I went to a Catholic school in Bell Gardens which was, shall we say, somewhat stifled in the creativity department.

We memorized poetry (see below) but it mostly wasn't very good and left little impression.

However, I most remember my English professor at Eastern New Mexico University (Portales), Dr. Patrice Caldwell (who, by the way had an identical twin, a mirror-twin, who was also an English professor...)

...reciting to us William Carlos Williams, "This is Just to Say..."

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

----
but before I forget, let me tell you recent story involving this poem:

A couple of weeks ago, while we were in bed I recited the plum poem to L*
Because it is, in my view, the original fridge poem

(actually, i forgot the line "forgive me" when I was saying it to her)

She seemed rather perturbed by the poem and said that "he" must have been very angry at "her" to have eaten her plums that "she" was saving for breakfast.

In particular, I think she was putting herself in the position of someone who is really looking forward to her morning plums and is greeted with this poem instead.

Now, you must know that L* has been eating LOTS AND LOTS of organic fruits over the past year, and especially the last few months (and upon advice from her acupuncturist and her nutritionist) she's trying to have at least 5 servings a day. Also, with the ambien, she likes to get up and eat in the middle of the night. So upon arising, I frequently find evidence in my clean kitchen: strawberry tops, apricot pits, et cetera.

So I had bought some small plums earlier that week, and they were a little soft so I put them in the fridge so they would last.

L* is not a great fan of plums: she prefers nectarines and apricots and maybe even peaches (i don't like the fuzz, myself).

So that night she was making a list of all the organic vegetables she was going to get at the store.

We were pretty much out of everything at that point. Oh, I said, If you're going to buy more fruit, I'd better finish those plums in the morning.

PLUMS!! she declared PLUMS?? YOU HAVE PLUMS?!!

for all the world as if I'd been holding out on her.

And in a voice not unlike a Wild Thing.

I told her where they were in the fridge, so she could find them if she got up in the night.

Of course the next morning, there was an empty bag and two plum pits, and L* had a whole different perspective on the plum poem.

"delicious, so sweet and so cold!"

Oh, but wait, there's one I remember from one of my books when I was little...

It's really long to paste in here,

It's The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes.

I was mesmerized by that poem, but it might also have had something to do with the illustration of the woman all tied up with the rifle at her breast and her dark hair all awry...

(I would never have been allowed to recite "The Highwayman" at Catholic school, even apart from the illustration)

2. I WAS FORCED TO MEMORIZE IN SCHOOL....

did I warn you this was bad? It's not even really a poem, but...

I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one
But I can tell you anyhow
I'd rather see than be one.

I love that Carter chose Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. I had to be a lot older (and live in some really cold places) before I could fully appreciate that poem. I liked it in college in Indiana (which was cold) but that's because I liked being young and morbid and shocking. I like it for wholly different reasons now.

I'm pretty sure that I memorized parts of The Song of Hiawatha, too, but I'm also pretty sure that Lucille Ball performed some part of it in I Love Lucy, and so that always affected my experience of the poem. As an English major, I developed a bad habit of reading Emily Dickinson's poems to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas." It's amazing I ever became a poet.

3. I READ/don't read POETRY BECAUSE...

Poetry is a short cut: It tells truth to power. It touches your heart. It cuts to the chase. In my classes, I like to read poetry aloud, especially the pissed-off kinds of poems. (see below)

4. A POEM I'M LIKELY TO THINK ABOUT WHEN ASKED ABOUT A FAVORITE IS...
Poem for a Young White Man... by Lorna Dee Cervantes or Diane Burns's Sure, You Can Ask Me a Personal Question.

I first heard both of these poems in graduate school in Colorado.

Lorna Dee gave a reading at a symposium on gender & poetry, and "Poem for a Young White Man…" and "Bird Ave" and "Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway" changed my life forever. Literally rocked my world. Several years later, there was a conference on "the Novel in the Americas." One afternoon panel was on women, and none of men came to the panel: not the colleagues in the department, not one the big-name stars that had been brought in. This was not a separatist panel, the men just weren't interested in hearing about women's writing. They took a long lunch instead. Linda Hogan opened the session with Diane Burns's poem, and read in her clear quiet voice. I still get chills.

Melvin Dixon's "Aunt Ida Pieces a Quilt"
(I will put the whole poem here, 'cause it's hard to link to. And because everyone should read this poem.)

They brought me some of his clothes. The hospital gown.
Those too-tight dungarees, his blue choir robe
with the gold sash. How that boy could sing!
His favorite color in a necktie. A Sunday shirt.
What I'm gonna do with all this stuff?
I can remember Junie without this business.
My niece Francine say they quilting all over the country.
So many good boys like her boy, gone.

At my age I ain't studying no needle and thread.
My eyes ain't so good now and my fingers lock in a fist,
they so eaten up with arthritis. This old back
don't take kindly to bending over a frame no more.
Francine say ain't I a mess carrying on like this.
I could make two quilts the time I spend running my mouth.

Just cut his name out the cloths, stitch something nice
about him. Something to bring him back. You can do it,
Francine say. Best sewing our family ever had.
Quilting ain't that easy, I say. Never was easy.
Y'all got to help me remember him good.

Most of my quilts was made down South. My Mama
and my Mama's Mama taught me. Popped me on the tail
if I missed a stitch or threw the pattern out of line.
I did "Bright Star" and "Lonesome Square" and "Rally Round,"
what many folks don't bother with nowadays. Then Elmo and me
married and came North where the cold in Connecticut
cuts you like a knife. We was warm, though.
We had sackcloth and calico and cotton. 100% pure.
What they got now but polyester-rayon. Factory made.

Let me tell you something. In all my quilts there's a secret
nobody knows. Every last one of them got my name Ida
stitched on the backside in red thread.

That's where Junie got his flair. Don't let anybody fool you.
When he got the Youth Choir standing up and singing
the whole church would rock. He'd throw up his hands
from them wide blue sleeves and the church would hush
right down to the funeral parlor fans whisking the air.
He'd toss his head back and holler and we'd all cry holy.

And never mind his too-tight dungarees.
I caught him switching down the street one Saturday night,
and I seen him more than once. I said, Junie,
You ain't got to let the whole world know your business.
Who cared where he went when he wanted to have fun.
He'd be singing his heart out come Sunday morning.

When Francine say she gonna hang this quilt in the church
I like to fall out. A quilt ain't no show piece,
it's to keep you warm. Francine say it can do both.
Now I ain't so old fashioned I can't change,
but I made Francine come over and bring her daughter
Belinda. We cut and tacked his name, JUNIE.
Just plain and simple. "JUNIE, our boy."
Cut the J in blue, the U in gold. N in dungarees
just as tight as you please. The I from the hospital gown
and the white shirt he wore First Sunday. Belinda
put the necktie E in the cross stitch I showed her.

Wouldn't you know we got to talking about Junie.
We could smell him in the cloth.
Underarm. Afro-Sheen pomade. Gravy stains.
I forgot all about my arthritis.
When Francine left me to finish up, I swear
I heard Junie giggling right along with me
as I stitched Ida on the backside in red thread.

Francine say she gonna send this quilt to Washington
like folks doing from all across the country,
so many good people gone. Babies, mothers, fathers,
and boys like our Junie. Francine say
they gonna piece this quilt to another one,
another name and another patch
all in a larger quilt getting larger and larger.

Maybe we all like that, patches waiting to be pieced.
Well, I don't know about Washington.
We need Junie here with us. And Maxine,
she cousin May's husband's sister's people,
she having a baby and here comes winter already.
The cold cutting like knives. Now where did I put that needle?


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

One I go back to again and again is Gloria Anzaldúa's "To Live in the Borderlands Means You"

To live in the borderlands means you
are neither hispana india negra española
ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed
caught in the crossfire between camps while carrying all five races
on your back
not knowing which side to turn to, run from;

To live in the Borderlands means knowing
that the indian in you, betrayed for 500 years,
is no longer speaking to you,
that mexicanas call you rajetas,
that denying the Anglo inside you
is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black;

Cuando vives en la frontera
people walk through you, wind steals your voice,
you're a burra, buey, scapegoat
forerunner of a new race,
half and half - both woman and man, neither-
a new gender;

To live in the Borderlands means to
put chile in the borscht
eat whole wheat tortillas
speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;
be stopped by la migra at the border check points;

Living in the Borderlands mens you fight hard to
resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle,
the pull of the gun barrel,
the rope crushing the hollow of your throat;

In the Borderlands
you are the battleground
where enemies are kin to each other;
you are at home, a stranger,
the border disputes have been settled
the volley of shots have shattered the truce
you are wounded, lost in action
dead, fighting back;

To live in the Borderlands means
the mill with the razor white teeth wants to shred off
your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel, your heart
pound you pinch you roll you out
smelling like white bread but dead;
To survive in the Borderlands
you must live sin fronteras
be a crossroads



5. I WRITE POETRY, BUT..

I don't talk about it that much. It's still scary to say "I'm a poet." But I am.

6.MY EXPERIENCE READING POETRY DIFFERS FROM MY EXPERIENCE WITH READING OTHER TYPES OF LITERATURE

I get a headache if I read too much poetry in one sitting. I get drunk and stupid. I'm not fit company and am very moody. Novels, on the other hand, I can read 24-7.

7. I FIND POETRY TO BE..

The most fun to teach. My students always think that they don't like poetry, and I like to get 'em to change their minds.

8.THE LAST TIME I HEARD POETRY...

We saw some great poetry and performance in "Mi Cuerpo, Mi Revolución," Friday, June 15, 2007 @ Galeria de la Raza from 7:30-9:30PM part of QUELACO, the Queer Latino Arts Festival. Natro and Yosimar Reyes rocked the house, as did Meliza Bañales.

9. I THINK POETRY IS...

Painful. In a good way.

1 comentario:

Robert dijo...

Hey You- I loved the Plum story. That made me giggle. Also enjoyed Poem For a Young White man.
You are a truly balanced soul.
Love ya.
Carter