Guelaguetza

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Guelaguetza
Oaxaca, Mexico

Brass bands, marimbas, violin strings
stretched over turtle shell, conch,
mad march of goat-skinned men,
fierce-gazed, horned and ready,
mirror dance, sun sparking
flint flakes from glass buttons
highlighting feathered flounces
lifting to fancy’s flights …

… beggars hold out chronic hands,
snotty-nosed children baited to hook
your heart from your body,
your money from your purse,
pleading lips, desperate brown eyes
primed to conquer the conquistadors
that still stalk, haughty, the square
where tiny women dance
with angels and devils …

… a backstreet now, an alley,
three men in masks,
one with a gun,
two with knives,
probing for the tourist’s
wallet …

Thursday Thoughts: Downsizing

 

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Thursday Thoughts
05 April 2018
Downsizing

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax,
of cabbages and kings,
and if the sea is boiling hot,
and whether books have wings.”

Downsizing: such a sad time. Over the last few weeks we have slowly and steadily packed seventeen boxes with a part of our precious book collection. We are giving it to the Harriet Irving Library at the University of New Brunswick, our local provincial university. The collection contains several specialist areas including Mexico, the State of Oaxaca, and five pre-Columbian Mixtec codices, the 1492-1992, quincentennial facsimile editions. Today the Mexico collection, minus the codices (which we will deliver later, by hand), departed.

Their departure has left an emptiness on our shelves and a sadness in our hearts. Old friends, they are. We sought for them in Oaxaca, chasing through old books stores, market places, state institutions, and the houses of friends. The result: a steady accumulation of literary gems. Clare, in particular, took a delight in the codices, learning first to read them, then to analyze them. Much of the Mexican collection centres on how to interpret these precious documents, one of which still bears the burn marks where a wise priest drew the manuscript codex from the Inquisitional flames and saved it for posterity.

When the Mexican collection settled down in the boxes, a little space remained and we filled one box with the first set of books from our Quevedo collection. This was La Perinola, the Revista de Investigación Quevediana. I lay awake most of the night agonizing on whether or not I should let this review series go. Then, at 4:00 am, I got up, put on my dressing gown, went downstairs and photographed the Perinola, in all its glory. When this was done. I returned to bed and was finally able to fall asleep.

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The Perinola meant (and still means) so much to me. I still remember the thrill of being asked to sit upon the consejo honorífico, the only Canadian scholar, and one of only two Anglophones to be so honoured, my external reader being the other. To read my name next to that of the external examiner for my doctoral thesis on the love-poetry of Francisco de Quevedo (University of Toronto, 1975) was, and still is, an extraordinary honour. I still get butterflies when I see my name attached to this review. The butterflies settled, bit by bit, as I realized that I could preserve my personal memories with a photo while donating the series to the greater glory of Quevedo Studies in the wider world of Hispanic Academia.

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Friday Fiction: Gringos

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Friday Fiction
23 March 2018
Gringos

            By day, I sit in the shade beneath the grapefruit tree and watch as the sun turns each globe of fruit into a shiny planet. The hummingbirds visit me. They whir their wings, bow their heads, and pay homage with their ruby throats.

            On warm days, the sun decks me out in a shining cloak of sumptuous colors, red, blue, yellow, green. When it rains, my captors quickly confine me in a small dark place: no moon, no stars, no worshipers, no forest canopy, no grapefruit planetarium to shape my dreams. Just night and silence. I tuck myself in and hope for the occasional dream to reach out its hand and extract me from my cell.

            Fine weather today. I sit beneath the grapefruit tree and the gringos buzz around me. They push grapes, raisins, bananas, crusts, cigarette butts through the bars of my cage. I scorn them. Gringos, I cry with contempt. Gringos. They clap their hands. Bray with laughter. Sway from side to side splitting their sun-red faces with gold-capped teeth. I eat very little of what they offer. An occasional grape. A chunk of banana. I never take food from their fingers: the temptation to bite the hand that feeds is far too great.

            I am learning their language. The compound guards who allow the gringos in and out of the gates that lead to the outside world teach me gringo words. I can now say gringos go home and this makes for much merriment. The gringos slap their sides and double over with strange cackled cries of laughter. Sometimes tears come to their eyes.

            I drowse in the sun and recall my childhood on the building site. The workers took me from my forest home, placed a chain on my leg, and tethered me to the broken branch of a leafless tree. At first, I couldn’t understand their speech, but they persisted and bit by bit, I picked up their words. When I repeated them, they laughed. Now, I rarely use them and when I do, the compound guards throw a blanket over my head and carry me back to jail.

            I am very careful with what I say. Gringos go home. That is fine. But I rarely say what I really want to say. I want to tell the world how much I love the sunlight as it pierces the leaves and filters down to me, sparking fragmented colors from my frame. My greatest desire is to move in a cloud of many colors, all my family together. I love being part of the crowd-cloud, a voice among voices, all of us in counterpoint and tune. Instead, I sit here, isolated, alone, pining for my brothers and sisters.

            Gringos, I want to say, gringos, let me go home.

          Today, a great event. One of the gringos has picked up my prison and moved it from under the shade of the grapefruit tree to a new spot beneath the balcony. I now sit directly beneath the geraniums. The gringa who lives long-term on the second-floor waters her flowers regularly.

            The gringa grows old and forgetful. She knows she must not water her plants during the day, especially when I am around, but today she is out in the sunshine, forgetful, without her hat, dressed in her dressing-gown and grizzled slippers, with her hair in steel curlers, and a watering can in her hand. Water. It is the symbol of my baptism. It is the element that will release me from my bondage. Water will quench my thirst and free my soul.

            I hear the water, the blessed water, falling on the flowers. I hear the water filtering down through the flower pots. I feel the water bouncing off the geranium leaves threading its way down to settle on my back. My mind returns to the building site of my youth.

            I remember my childhood friends. Their faces flood back and grow like flowers as the waters flow and I remember every word those old friends said as they ran from the building site to take shelter from the rain that stole their money, stole their livelihoods, and stopped them from working.

            Fucking rain, I screech, as the water hits me. Fuck this fucking rain. Fuck this mother-fucking rain.

            I hear the sound of running feet followed by voices.

            “Gertrude’s watered the parrot as well as the geraniums. He thinks it’s raining.”

            “ Quick, fetch his bloody blanket. Shut up, you foul-mouthed parrot.”

        Alas, my moment in the spotlight is over. The play is done. The curtain falls. Darkness descends. I tuck my head beneath my wing and before I fall asleep, I squawk one last feather-filled word:

Featherless-muffer-fuckers.

Gazunda

Gazunda

Gazunda
for John Sutherland

John and I were talking about the rare Gazunda tree the other afternoon. I had forgotten that I had indeed written abut the Gazunda trees that flourish in the zócalo in Oaxaca, Mexico. Oaxaca is a magic place, full of mystery and myth and the myth of the Gazunda tree is not well known outside the confines of the city. I was so pleased to discover this account, written many years ago, when I first became associated with the Escuela de Idiomas attached to the Unversidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (UABJO).

Much remains to be written about my experiences in Oaxaca and I hope to have a collection of prose poems completed fairly soon. They are golden oldies, but like many golden oldies, they are also golden goodies. The Gazunda trees are very welcome when it rains, but they should be avoided, for obvious reasons, during thunder and lightning storms. Then, nobody Gazunda them. By the way, if you do visit the zócalo in Oaxaca, or anywhere else in Mexico, after heavy (or light) rain, be sure to test the seat of your chair before you sit in it. If you don’t, you will soon find out why all the waiters and waitresses have that open, friendly smile the tourists love so much.

Yesterday

Ay Ay Ayeres

Digging around in the photo files that I transferred from my old computer to my Google drive, I discovered this golden oldie composed of my words and Clare’s images. What a revelation: I had completely forgotten that this group of work existed. I’ll dig them out ne by one and post them from time to time. Ayer is the Spanish for yesterday, hier in French. The title “Ay! Ay! Ayeres!” with its multiple plays All our yesterdays and its reference to the old song “Ay, ay, ay, canta no llores” draws together a series of memories, some in the past and some in the future. ‘How can we have a memory in the future?’ you ask. By recognizing a present moment, or one that lies just ahead in a future that ill become soon enough a present, as one that has already occurred in the past, thus confirming the circularity of our lives and the idea that all time is time present, one of T. S. Eliot’s recurring themes.

Ocho Venado: Eight Deer is a central figure (war leader) in the Zouche-Nuttal, a pre-Columbian Mixtec Codex. He is the war leader in the Conquests recorded in the codex (circa 1050-1100).
Quesadillas: Oaxacan tortillas filled with cheese and flores de Calabaza, gourd flowers.
Reyes Magos: the three wise men or kings who visited the Christ Child on January 6, the traditional Spanish Christmas.
Murcielago: the bat and a symbol of death in Oaxacan mythology.
Nueve Viento: Nine Wind descends from heaven to separate the sky from earth and its waters. Nine Wind at Tule meeting with Cortes is mythical not historical, though the meeting of Cortes with the Mixtec chiefs (caciques) did happen.
Apoala: The Mixtec nation was born form a cave (sometimes a tree) in Apoala, Oaxaca.
Spinning the wheels in the snow: a reference to Jean Chretien and one of his famous images.

The piece is written in a surrealist style that mixes historical fact with creative writing. The distant past is recalled (1050-1100), then the middle past (1525-1530), and finally the present appears. This mixing of time and place (Mexico and Canada) is also related to the surrealist movement. Surrealism creates a dream world in which images float and change shape within a time-space conundrum where dream is more real than reality and creates its own new meanings that are individual to each reader.

Any comments on this rediscovered piece will be warmly welcomed.

Sun

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Sun

The sun has decided to take a vacation.
He’s left us and gone down to Mexico
for a week or two. Right now I think
he’s in the main square in Oaxaca.

He’s wearing a flashy, floral shirt
and a panama hat and he’s sunning
himself in El Jardin as he sits in the shade
and sips his ice-cold Oaxacan beer.

This evening he will go to Monte Alban
to see himself set. Tomorrow, bright
and early, he’ll pop over the mountains
to Puerto Escondido where he’ll gild
sand castles and play games on the beach.

I know where he is, because he sent me
a postcard saying “Having a great time.
Wish you were here.” I miss him so much.
I really do hope he’ll come home soon.

Comment: Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 107 years old. I was thinking of him this morning, how he loved the sunshine, the sea, and his glass of cold beer. He also liked to travel. I don’t think he ever went to Mexico, but he would have loved Oaxaca and the beaches at Huatulco and Puerto Escondido. He would have appreciated the old temple compound and palaces at Monte Alban.  I thought of calling this poem, this ‘very raw’ poem, Sun & Son, but it’s all about him really, the Sun as warmth and protector and father, and the Son as missing the Sun.