seeking with lorna dee cervantes

Where last week’s poem by Francisco X. Alarcón evoked ideas of presence, this week’s poem, “Freeway 280” by Lorna Dee Cervantes, is driven by self-exploration and self-seeking. Often these themes are approached in poems in loud ways, in declarative statements and pronouncements. In the poem below, the speaker of the poem meditates on the environment around her.

The listing in the second stanza, in particular, moves in a way that points back to the speaker’s sensibility. Amidst the trees “left standing” in the yards she can see, the speaker observes “viejitas” (old women) who come and collect greens and herbs. This juxtaposition of the natural with the human imbues both with a sense of survival.

apricot-orchard-261479_960_720The self-exploration/seeking takes on a literal turn as the speaker scrambles over a fence to get closer to “los campos extraños de esta ciudad” (the strange fields of this city). Once there, the speaker continues to keep an eye on what is present, and, in doing so, evokes their own presence. That this presence is made up of seeking makes it all the more compelling; at the heart of lyric poetry lies such seeking, such presence.

Freeway 280 – Lorna Dee Cervantes

Las casitas near the gray cannery,
nestled amid wild abrazos of climbing roses
and man-high red geraniums
are gone now. The freeway conceals it
all beneath a raised scar.

But under the fake windsounds of the open lanes,
in the abandoned lots below, new grasses sprout,
wild mustard remembers, old gardens
come back stronger than they were,
trees have been left standing in their yards.
Albaricoqueros, cerezos, nogales . . .
Viejitas come here with paper bags to gather greens.
Espinaca, verdolagas, yerbabuena . . .

I scramble over the wire fence
that would have kept me out.
Once, I wanted out, wanted the rigid lanes
to take me to a place without sun,
without the smell of tomatoes burning
on swing shift in the greasy summer air.

Maybe it’s here
en los campos extraños de esta ciudad
where I’ll find it, that part of me
mown under
like a corpse
or a loose seed.

from Emplumada (University of Pittsburgh Press)

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Happy seeking!

José

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survival & presence: francisco x. alarcón

Last week, I got to participate in an open mic at The Gallery at Ten Oaks in McMinnville. When I got up there, I made a note that it was my open mic in our new city, and that I always made it a point to find the open mics wherever we moved. Open mics are we you get to see the stories and the imagination of a city.

During my slot, I offered up this week’s poem by Francisco X. Alarcón in both English and Spanish. It was important to me to let the words hang in the air in both languages. I mentioned that between hurricanes in the gulf, forest fires here in the west, and the consequences of rescinding DACA, survival has been a constant in my conversations with family and friends.

alarcón4I would have loved to hear what Alarcón would say about our times now. His death almost two years ago now keeps being fresh on my mind as I find myself compelled to engage with the personal and political in my poems for new reasons. Only through such engagement can we reach new understandings. I say “new,” but the new always takes us back to the old, or, as in the poem below, the present. Alarcón’s poem asserts presence as a subversive act; being present with this poem allows me to be present within myself. Such is the gift Alarcón possessed and left for us in his work.

Natural Criminal – Francisco X. Alarcón
translated by Francisco Aragón

I am
a nomad
in a country
of settlers

a drop
of oil
in a glass
of water

a cactus
flowering
where one
can’t and
shouldn’t
flourish

I am
history’s
fresh and
living wound

my crime
has been being
what I’ve been
all my life

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Naturaleza criminal – Fransico X. Alarcón

soy
un nómada
en un país
de sedentarios

una gota
de aceite
en un vaso
de agua

un nopal
que florece
en donde
no se puede
ni se debe
florecer

soy
una herida
todavía viva
de la historia

mi crimen
ha sido ser
lo que he sido
toda mi vida

from From the Other Side of the Night/del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems

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Happy naturalezando!

José

hoping with rossy evelin lima

lima coverIn my recent microreview & interview of Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate (artepoética press) by Rossy Evenlin Lima, I wrote about the nuanced way the collection takes on the title’s themes and presents  poems that evoke distinct variations of presence and place. This is poetry at its most direct and evocative; a lyric voice runs through the collection like lightning, illuminating the corners and depths of migration/mutation.

The poem below, “Si hay futuro (If There is a Future),” is from the “Mutate” section of the collection. Here, the speaker takes the premise of the title and imagines a future scene where she herself is referenced in the past tense as “la abuela (Grandma),” a move that implies her absence. The lyric narrative then circles around this absence, the speaker stating that in this future scene she’ll “be seated / in the cooing of the branches.” From this position of “watching over them,” the speaker goes on to “mutate,” stating that she will be “the serpent, the quetzal, / the jaguar and the axolotl” and on through a list of creatures who carry a strong significance in Mexican mythology and legend.

Presence is created in this poem via metaphor. In creating and expanding upon a hypothetical, the poem is able to create a space that acknowledges possibility. From this space, the poem then evokes the act of reading; that “these women of my futures” can “read” the speaker’s presence through her absence in the world around them mirrors what this poem houses and holds up to be read: a voice that hopes for such a future, and a hope that voices itself through poetry.

Si hay futuro – Rossy Evelin Lima

Dentro de varias décadas
estarán dos niñas observando el paisaje,
una le dirá a la otra
-de aquí salió la abuela. ¿Pero cómo pudo
irse? yo en su lugar, jamás
me hubiera marchado.

Yo estaré sentada
en el arrullo de las ramas,
les susurraré que el secreto está
en enterrar el corazón bajo un árbol
y hacer en el aire un nido.

Yo estaré cuidándolas,
las mujeres de mis futuros,
y seré la serpiente, el quetzal,
jaguar y axolotl,
seré la tortuga y el coyote
seré la mariposa.

Hoy les enseño las oraciones
con las que podran revivirme.

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If There is a Future – Rossy Evelin Lima, translated by Don Cellini

In a few decades,
two little girls will observe the landscape
and one will say to the other
“Grandma left from here. How could she
leave? If I were in her place
I never would have left.”

I’ll be seated
in the cooing of the branches,
and I’ll whisper that the secret
is to bury your heart beneath a tree
and make a nest in the air.

I’ll be watching over them,
these women of my futures,
and I’ll be the serpent, the quetzal,
the jaguar and the axolotl,
I’ll be the turtle and coyote,
I’ll be the butterfly.

Today I teach them the prayers
so that they’ll have the power to bring me back.

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Happy futuro-ing!

José

new work & review!

Just a quick post to share the recent publication of excerpts from my poetic memoir entitled A Personal History of Want in the latest issue of Storm Cellar! Thank you to the editors at SC for working with me in bringing a selection from this project out into the world!

Chapters 3 & 5 can be read here.

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Also, I am happy to share my latest review for The Bind. This time around, I treated Jordan Rice’s collection Constellarium (Orison Books) to a close reading using an astrological natal chart of the book.

Illustrated by Andrea Schreiber, the chart uses the publication date of Constellarium as its birthday, and builds a reading frame from there.

Check it out here.

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See you Friday!

José

microreview & interview: Rossy Evelin Lima’s Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate

This week’s microreview & interview features Rossy Evelin Lima’s Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate (artepoética press, 2017) whose poems are presented below in the original Spanish first, followed by English translations by Don Cellini.

lima cover

review by José Angel Araguz

Hacia el sur – Rossy Evelin Lima

En la frontera hay letreros
que señalan con una flecha
hacia dónde está México: hacia el sur.

Yo siempre corro a ponerme atrás de ellos
esperando que esa flecha
se clave en mis pasos
esperando que esa flecha
me haga una marca en el rostro
mientras me traspasa para seguir su rumbo: hacia el sur.

Corro a ponerme atrás de cada letrero deseando que la flecha
sea un arpón y mi pecho cristal,
que se divida en mil estelas,
esperando tragarme esa flecha
como un espina,
como un ancla.
Hacia donde está México: hacia adentro.

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Headed South – Rossy Evelin Lima translated by Don Cellini

On the border there are signs,
an arrow that points
the direction toward Mexico: south.

I always run to put myself behind them
hoping that this arrow
fixes my steps
hoping that the arrow
will imprint itself on my forehead
while it runs on continuing its route: south.

I run to put myself behind every sign hoping that the arrow
will harpoon my crystal chest,
shattering it into a thousand trails,
hoping to swallow the arrow
like a thorn,
like an anchor.
Which direction is Mexico: within.

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One of the things I admire most in a poet is their ability to make their obsessions and themes their own. Rossy Evelin Lima’s Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate makes the themes of her collection evident in the dichotomy of the title. Following suit, the poems are presented in two sections, each taking a word from the title. The “Migrare/Migrate” section is rich in variations on the theme of migration, here specifically between Mexico and the U.S., via poems that place the lyric self right into the drama of (re)defining ideas of migration.

In “Hacia el sur (Headed South),” for example, the reader is presented with the image of signs along the border whose arrows point “the direction toward Mexico: south.” The speaker then riffs on the implications of arrows. In the lines that follow, one can see how this symbol of direction is also a symbol of threat and action, especially when the speaker hopes “the arrow / will harpoon” into her chest, “shattering it into a thousand trails.” Far from being “shattered,” however, the speaker reclaims the arrow through this image of putting themselves “behind every sign” by stating “Which direction is Mexico: within.”

This conflux of images sets the poetic ambition of the collection. In reading the “signs” of her world, Lima presents the lyric self as interpreter. The image of the speaker’s chest shattering “into a thousand trails” can be seen as the urgency with which this poet writes about the costs and stakes of migration. That what the lyric self’s chest shatters into are “trails” is telling; the drive to write poems carries a purpose beyond expression. The poems in this first section point to the practical way “migrating” one’s inner world outward can help others travel within themselves. Through innovative associations (thorn/espina, anchor/ancla), the arrow becomes something singular in this poetic world.

This (re)defining of symbols and images continues in the second section, “Mutare/Mutate.” The poems in this section use the lens of mutation to lyrically evoke the way elements, animals, and other voices change and complicate themselves and the world around them. In “Agua que se rinde (Water That Surrenders),” for example, we find a speaker contemplating how:

Hasta el agua se rinde,
cierra su boca de océano, calla,
se reviste de raíces
se esconde en el centro oscuro
y se empodrece,
se torna esmeralda y carbón y desarraigo.

Even water surrenders.
It closes its ocean mouth, quiets,
searches among roots,
hides in the dark center,
and becomes putrid,
becomes emerald and coal and exile.

This travel of shape is also a travel of meaning; the lyrical ambition of this and other poems in this section is to encompass and face both the light and dark of their subjects. This lyrical ambition is also at the heart of the book’s closing poem, “Mariposa (Butterfly).” Here, the speaker departs from typical ode territory and clearly states the ambition to “conjure” all sides of a butterfly. The repetition of the line

eres la única muerte que promete alas,

you are the only death that promises wings,

does the work of conjuring. Each repetition is a dip forward, charging the poem with mortal awareness. Yet, despite the gravity of such a gesture, the poem keeps its momentum. Mid-poem, we find the speaker “living like a poet / between the canyons of the present.” This direct statement on the poetic act brings back the ambition of the book to present a specific poetic presence. This poem about a butterfly whose “death…promises wings” brings together the two words of the title, and evokes how the reading of a poem can mutate into a presence that keeps the mind and heart in motion.

Mariposa – Rossy Evelin Lima

Transparente presencia rutilante,
eres la única muerte que promete alas,
el despertar negro y naranja de la emigración,
te conjuro, en esta jaula de soles y lunas,
en esta jaula forjada con franjas azules y rojas,
eres la única muerte que promete alas,
eres la firmeza de un vuelo libertario,
mujer Monarca,
vienes cada año para llevarme contigo,
y sin saber por qué me ves cerrar los ojos y los puños.
Eres la única muerte que promete alas,
voy viviendo como poeta
entre los cañones del presente,
voy viviendo como larva
enterrándome el camino como daga,
voy soñando con el néctar de las flores
que crecen al otro lado de la frontera,
eres la única muerte que promete alas.

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Butterfly – Rossy Evelin Lima translated by Don Cellini

Translucent shining presence,
you are the only death that promises wings,
the black and orange awakening of migration,
I conjure you, in this cage of suns and moons,
in this cage forged with red and blue stripes,
you are the only death that promises wings.
You are the strength of your free flight,
Monarch Woman.
You come each year to carry me with you,
and without knowing why, you see me close my eyes and fists.
You are the only death that promises wings.
I go on living like a poet
between the canyons of the present,
living like a larva
burying the road like a dagger.
I dream of the nectar of the flowers
that grow on the other side of the border.
You are the only death that promises wings.

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Influence Question: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

Rossy Evelin Lima: Poetry is not an instrument but a force. In that sense, I think that in poetry, I am the poem’s purpose: I allow it to excavate, to reveal itself, layer by layer, to find in me the path towards a piece of paper.  Like Abigael Bohorquez wrote in his poem Exordio “Poesía, desembárcame, échame a tierra y léñame; como a candil de sangre, enciéndeme…”

I can’t do anything if I don’t empty myself and allow Poetry to bury me, to ignite me with purpose, I willfully accept to be a vessel Poetry can guide ashore. I am not the weaver, I am the thread and the poem is the fabric. As a result, Migrare Mutare, opened my heart to the situations I faced as an undocumented immigrant in the US, a subject I struggle to talk about because in order to talk about it I must relive it, revive it. Nonetheless, poetry condenses my emotions projecting my core to the exterior, exhuming these sentiments in a liberating pull outward.

Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing these poems and how did you work through them?

Rossy Evelin Lima: The challenge I faced when writing these poems was that all the words wanted to come out at once. The first portion of the book, “Migrare,” was written within a day. I could not stop. The words had been roaming around for quite a while, and in all honesty, I was trying to hold them back. Like in Plato’s cave, I would see the shadows of these poems dancing, but I didn’t want to reach out. In an ordinary day, I went to a coffee shop to work on my dissertation, nothing unusual. I had been working for a couple of hours when I found myself staring at a blank page in my notebook. I felt what Lorca would call, the Duende, and began with the line, “en la frontera hay letreros…” I wrote twenty-three pages that day, which were later divided into poems.

I didn’t revisit “Migrare,” until three months later, only to be taken by the same force. I had felt it coming, a very similar feeling to when you are preparing to take a very long trip. I didn’t offer any resistance this time. I noticed that the second portion of poems had much to do with water, an element I identify with, but differing from the rest, these talked about change. As if coincidences exist, a couple of days before, my mom had told me about a phone call she had with a very old friend from when we lived in Mexico. She told me, very preoccupied, that her friend said she “sounded” different. “Well, you are older, you’ve been exposed to a new language…” But no explanation would ease my mom’s mind. “What if I changed?” She asked, “We all change, we are in constant change.” I replied, as my mom looked straight at me and said “What if it really changed me?” I knew what “it” meant, and in that moment it made perfect sense: adaptation. In order to survive we adapt, most of the times unaware of the changes we have to make in order to do so. As immigrants we encounter situations that force us to change with an impact; we move, in Latin expressed by the word Migrare, and we change, expressed by the latin word Mutare. In that moment I was able to see where the poems I had written belonged.

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Special thanks to Rossy Evelin Lima for participating! To find out more about Lima’s work, check out her site. Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate can be purchased from artepoética press.

rossyRossy Evelin Lima (born August 18, 1986 in Veracruz, Mexico), is an international award-winning Mexican poet and linguist. Her work has been published in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies in Spain, Italy, UK, Canada, United States, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, and Argentina. She has been awarded the Gabriela Mistral Award by the National Hispanic Honor Society, the Premio Internazionale di Poesia Altino in Italy, the International Latino Book Award, and the Premio Orgullo Fronterizo Mexicano award by the Institute for Mexicans abroad, among many others. She is the president and founder of the Latin American Foundation for the Arts, the founder of the International Latin American Poetry Festival (FeIPoL), as well as the co-founder of Jade Publishing. In 2015 and was invited to speak at TEDxMcallen to talk about her experience as an immigrant writer in the U.S.

futuring with julio cortázar

two personal notes

I want to first acknowledge and show my support for anyone suffering and struggling due to Hurricane Harvey. In my world, I have been checking in with my family in Corpus Christi since last Thursday. Everyone is safe there; struggled without power from last Friday to Wednesday, but safe. I have done my best to reach out to my Texas friends and other family, and only wish I had more hours in the day. Thank you to everyone who has reached out and shown me and my family support! It means a lot to come together in the face of such disaster. I spent a lot of time thinking of the various hurricanes I lived through as a child and teenager in Corpus, evacuations and refuge sought.

In the midst of the stress and tension of the above, I also participated in my first convocation as a professor at Linfield College as well as my first week of teaching. It was also my birthday last week – so, y’know, things were interesting, ha. I spent the eve of my birthday cleaning house, sweeping and mopping through midnight, the whole time worried about my family.

AerialCorpusChristi
corpus, my corpus

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This quick paraphrase of the fraught mix of light and dark times that have been my last few weeks is mirrored, in a way, in this week’s poem by Julio Cortázar. In “El Futuro/The Future,” Cortázar does a great job of creating a poem of love and affection that also acknowledges the tenuous and mortal circumstances through which love is found between people. In considering a world without their “you,” the speaker creates a space of presence. By the end, the poem stands as a testament to the feelings and meaning that the missing always leave us with.

The Future – Julio Cortázar

And I know full well you won’t be there.
You won’t be in the street, in the hum that buzzes
from the arc lamps at night, nor in the gesture
of selecting from the menu, nor in the smile
that lightens people packed into the subway,
nor in the borrowed books, nor in the see-you-tomorrow.

You won’t be in my dreams,
in my words’ first destination,
nor will you be in a telephone number
or in the color of a pair of gloves or a blouse.
I’ll get angry, love, without it being on account of you,
and I’ll buy chocolates but not for you,
I’ll stop at the corner you’ll never come to,
and I’ll say the words that are said
and I’ll eat the things that are eaten
and I’ll dream the dreams that are dreamed
and I know full well you won’t be there,
nor here inside, in the prison where I still hold you,
nor there outside, in this river of streets and bridges.
You won’t be there at all, you won’t even be a memory,
and when I think of you I’ll be thinking a thought
that’s obscurely trying to recall you.

translated by Stephen Kessler in Save Twilight: Selected Poems (City Lights Books)

El Futuro – Julio Cortázar

Y sé muy bien que no estarás.
No estarás en la calle, en el murmullo que brota de noche
de los postes de alumbrado, ni en el gesto
de elegir el menú, ni en la sonrisa
que alivia los completos en los subtes,
ni en los libros prestados ni en el hasta mañana.

No estarás en mis sueños,
en el destino original de mis palabras,
ni en una cifra telefónica estarás
o en el color de un par de guantes o una blusa.
Me enojaré, amor mío, sin que sea por ti,
y compraré bombones pero no para ti,
me pararé en la esquina a la que no vendrás,
y diré las palabras que se dicen
y comeré las cosas que se comen
y soñaré los sueños que se sueñan
y sé muy bien que no estarás,
ni aquí adentro, la cárcel donde aún te retengo,
ni allí fuera, este río de calles y de puentes.
No estarás para nada, no serás ni recuerdo,
y cuando piense en ti pensaré un pensamiento
que oscuramente trata de acordarse de ti.

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Happy futuring!

José

clarity with louise glück

Came across this week’s poem reading through James Longenbach’s solid book, The Art of the Poetic Line (Graywolf Press). Longenbach does a great read of the poem, noting how the poem is grounded in straightforward syntax in the first line, and returns to this foundation in the poem’s last lines. In between, the poem plays out the ramble and run of memory.

When I read the poem the first time, it was cut and interspersed throughout Longenbach’s prose. Yet, when I read the final lines, I was blown away by them as if I had read it straight through. While Longenbach’s insights added to the piece, of course, it was the power of Glück’s lyricism – it’s ability to remain charged even through essayic insight – that ultimately had me catching my breath.

629px-Van_Gogh_-_Auf_dem_Weg_nach_Tarascon
[Image description: A sketch by Vincent Van Gogh entitled “On the Road to Tarascon.”]

The last two lines of the poem stopped me with their clarity. What’s said there is said as clearly as the first line of the poem; the clarity here, however, rings out in such a way that I was compelled to read and reread the poem a few times. Like flipping a coin and watching the light change, then go back inside the coin when it falls flat, this poem delivers its lyric insight in an urgent way.

 

Nostos – Louise Glück

There was an apple tree in the yard —
this would have been
forty years ago — behind,
only meadows. Drifts
off crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from tennis courts —
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.

from Meadowlands (HarperCollins)

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Happy looking!

José