This week’s poem – “The Right Way to Die for a Poem” by fellow CantoMundista, Juan Morales – presents a brief but powerful catalog of poets’ deaths and the human frailty and risk – whether satire resulting in a death sentence or accident in the tub – involved in those deaths.
What moves me the most is how the poem feels like a cascade of lives in which the speaker’s own life is in the mix, each versifier carried along by “inspired gusts.” For me, this image of lives tumbling in the wind parallels some of what happens when a poet sits down at the page, how we carry our own personal histories – cultural, reading, familial, emotional – as well as the histories of the words we choose, everything alive with us as we press each borrowed word fresh onto the page.
This poem is from Morales’ new book, The Siren World, available for pre-order from Lithic Press here.
The Right Way to Die for a Poem – Juan Morales
Osip Mandelstam in a gulag for a cockroach written on Stalin’s lip,
Garcia-Lorca buried where he fell for siding with those
who have nothing, Roque Dalton gunned down
by ERP comrades, and the Spanish writer I read about
accidently electrocuted by a hair dryer in her tub.
Thinking of them, I want to know if this
is the way I really want to go:
scribbling words about a shirtless man on top of
a southbound train on the back of a gas receipt
against my steering wheel with both hands
at 80 miles-per-hour, praying a deer
will not cross the interstate and
wary of the strong, inspired gusts.
My friend Michel is an army officer
in Somoto up near the Honduran border,
and he told me he had found some contraband parrots
waiting to be smuggled to the United States
to learn to speak English there.
There were 186 parrots
with 47 already dead in their cages.
He drove them back where they’d been taken from
and as the lorry approached a place known as The Plains
near the mountains which were these parrots’ home
(behind those plains the mountains stand up huge)
the parrots got excited, started beating their wings
and shoving against their cage-sides.
When the cages were let open
they all shot out like an arrow shower
straight for their mountains.
The Revolution did the same for us I think:
It freed us from the cages
where they trapped us to talk English,
it gave us back the country
from which we were uprooted,
their green mountains restored to the parrots
by parrot-green comrades.
But there were 47 that died.
For the past two weeks I’ve been doing my best to share with my intermediate composition students what it means to problematize. Last week, one student neatly summed it up as “asking questions to see beyond the surface.” I was so fond of that definition that I’ve adopted it into my day to day thinking.
Poems, in a way, do this kind of questioning, whether explicitly or implicitly. Robert Frost couldn’t just let the two guys build their wall, he had to go and write a poem about it. What else the act of putting words to what we experience but an admission of wanting to understand, to “see beyond the surface?”
This week’s poem, by Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal, takes us beyond the surface of a story about parrots into what he would understand and have the reader understand with him. The voice remains straightforward to the point that we don’t notice when the “surface” of the story is broken and when the deeper levels of political and personal meaning start to take flight around us.
I wanted to take a moment and say thank you to everyone for the good wishes on the release of my new chapbook, Reasons (not) to Dance. The show of support and kindness here and elsewhere has meant the world to me. I am extremely proud of this project. To officially be a “microcuentista” and add what I can to the rich traditions of the prose poem, flash fiction, short-short, microcuento, etc. is an honor. Thank you for being along for the ride!
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this collection of prose poems and flash fictions imaginatively explores moments of hesitation and celebration in the tradition of the Latin American microcuento as practiced by Ana Maria Shua, Eduardo Galeano, and Agosto Monterroso.
To celebrate, I will be posting short readings throughout the summer. Along with excerpts from the chapbook, I will be sharing some of the artwork that made as well as almost made the cover.
Speaking of which, the ink painting on the cover is by Andrea Schreiber (often referred to on the blog as “Ani”). Here’s the original piece:
The image was inspired by the piece “Look” which I include below along with a short reading. “Look” was originally published in Blue Earth Review and earned 2nd place (along with another Reasons piece, “Relinquished”) in BER’s 2014 Flash Fiction Contest. Enjoy!
When the afternoon light has turned to evening light and she turns to tell you this, points out the purple as the kind of purple she would want a whole room painted in, and you consider what that room would be like if you stood in it, this purple at every side, when the sky you are both looking at seems different each time you look and in your mind say look to yourself and look because she has been looking and wants you to as well, when she perhaps has even gone as far as to enter that room and close the door behind her and is standing alone with this purple at every side, when all you can do is turn from the purple glints across her eyes and look again at the sky, a deeper purple now that imbues itself on the stones of the church, on the sides of the tree, on the slick of the leaves, on the skin of the couple passing by, a purple distance between them, a purple silence and a purple expression on each of their faces – then it is time to shut the blinds and for a moment stand with her in the completely darkened room and let your eyes and hers adjust.
To purchase a copy of Reasons (not) to Dance go here.
Just a quick post to announce the release of the latest issue of Star 82 Review which includes my piece “Hangman Ode.” Read it here.
The issue features work from B.J. Best, Eve Kenneally, and Todd Mercer along with other fine work. Check it out here.
I’m especially excited because “Hangman Ode” is a part of Reasons (not) to Dance, a flash fiction/prose poem chapbook forthcoming from FutureCycle Press. The project explores ideas of risks as played out in short prose pieces that range from the fabulistic to the memoiristic. My guides in writing these come from the Latin American microcuento tradition, writers such as Augusto Monterroso and Julio Cortazar.
Stay tuned for further news to come later this week on this project!
I came across this week’s poem – “Café San Martín” by Agustín Cadena – while reading through the anthology Goodbye Mexico: Poems of Remembrance. I find in the lyric a subtly profound meditation on the past, or rather the past we live with in our memories which is always juxtaposed against the ever-changing the present.
This being the first week of June, I thought this an apt piece to share. In the poem, it is always June. The speaker’s address is one of emphasis: the name of a cafe no longer there is repeated until everywhere there are cafes. The moment the poem wins me over is when the speaker’s shoes fill with water, as if the rain were a memory seeking him out.
Café San Martín – Agustín Cadena*
Do you remember the Café San Martín?
I do, sometimes,
when it rains in the afternoon and it’s summer.
We liked to go there and drink coffee
and smoke while we looked at the rain.
The Café San Martín was small,
lukewarm, and it had big windows
that looked onto a meridian of June.
But it is no longer there.
Now on that corner where it was
they sell video games.
Have you tried to go back?
Have you walked in the rain, alone,
remembering the girl you were
and asking yourself where would these people have gone,
Just a quick post to share the news of two recent publications.
First, this weekend marked the publication of Right Hand Pointing’s Issue 87 “Alabama,” a states themed issue. I’m happy to have been allowed to do my part to rep both Oregon (here) and Ohio (here). Special thanks to the RHP editors!
Also out this week is the latest issue of The Citron Review which includes my microfiction piece “Twitch.” Read it here.
I’m especially excited about this piece as it is part of my forthcoming chapbook “Reasons (not) to Dance.”