Mini-Mums

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Permit me to introduce you to my two Mexican mini-mums, in the market square in Oaxaca, with their mini-mums. They sell them at minimum price, a giveaway for tourists who arrive with the all-powerful dollar and yell and holler about how this year’s prices are so much higher than last year’s prices. The flower girls giggle and smile. They have heard it all before. They know where each of the prospective purchasers comes from. They now how they walk, talk, slur their words, cajole, bully, and offer absurd amounts of money, either much too much or much too little. Those tourists: they seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Meanwhile, in spit of appearances to the contrary, the cakes are on sale and the flowers are on sale, but the flower girls, Mano y Petate, and no, those are not their names, those things are definitely not for sale.  “Everything,” the tourists say, “has its price.” True, perhaps, in some circumstances. But people are not things and it’s brutally cruel to put a price on people. Occasionally, a tourist will recognize these girls. They are the ones who decorate the altar in the main cathedral in the square. They have also been known to sing, in Spanish, Latin, and Mixtec, along with their mother, before the high altar in Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo, the church with more than six tons of gold and gold leaf layered throughout its magnificence, a true treasure of humanity and an internationally protected building. Once, though, a long time ago, God’s Dogs, as the Dominicans were then called, ran baying through the Valley of Oaxaca, gathering workers with promises of heaven and visions of paradise. The work, they said, was the Lord’s and the Lord wanted them, the people of the Valley of Oaxaca, to build this temple in his name. And here they would stay, under lock and key, until the Lord’s work was done. El Cristo de la Columna: Christ tied to the pillar, stripped to the waist, and flogged. This symbol stands in every church in Oaxaca, and all the People of the Valley of Oaxaca knows exactly what it means, fr it is the punishment meted out to those very people if they do not work hard enough, long enough, fast enough, at their vision of heaven, their taste of paradise, this building of the Church of a Lord who is not even theirs. The tourists marvel at the church, the gold, the paintings, the statues. They praise the mother and her children singing at the high altar: “what beautiful children, what beautiful voices.” But they know nothing about the blood, and the sweat, and the tears that went into the temple’s building.

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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

Empress 070

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.