Poetry

          What does it mean to keep faith with poetry, to link art with activism? What is social justice? What is poetic justice? How are these issues addressed locally in Virginia, Washington, Willimantic, Medellin, Isla Negra, Chicago and along the US Mexico border? What role does globalization play? These are the questions Hispanic Studies faculty and students are answering in their research and their poetry. Some of our work is posted here. Click on comments to read it.

 Students:  If you are interested in publishing a poem here, please contact me at tvlong@wm.edu.

 

The comments:

Longo, Teresa . “A Poet’s Place … from Macchu Picchu to a Starbuck’s Parking Lot.”

Goergen, Juana and Silvia Tandeciarz. “Reconquista / Reconquest.”

Ressler, Robert. “Untitled.”

Corcoran, Kristen. “Machu Picchu is Closed Today.”

Russell, Mary. “why I should have listened to mom and majored in computer science.”

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  1. tvlong

     /  May 14, 2008

    This is my article about poetry and activism. I published it in a special edition of Critica Hispanica dedicated to Pablo Neruda.

    Teresa Longo
    A Poet’s Place, 2004: From Macchu Picchu to a Starbucks Parking Lot

    Piedra en la piedra, el hombre, dónde estuvo? / Aire en el aire, el hombre, dónde estuvo?
    Stone upon stone, and man, where was he? / Air upon air, and man, where was he? – Neruda

    I begin my essay with these well known and often cited lines from Neruda’s Canto General for two reasons. The first is that, here, Neruda evokes the geographical places, the American landscapes, with which he so insistently identified throughout his life. Concurrently, Neruda announces his own poetic and ideological search for the people who inhabited those places. On the occasion of Neruda’s centennial, scholars around the world have returned to Neruda in order to research, celebrate and understand the poet’s “inexhaustible” place in twentieth century culture. As I also return to Neruda , I hope to make further sense of his place, particularly in the geographical and geo-political sense of the word, in the United States. This brings me to my second reason for quoting the Canto General in my epigraph: Neruda’s writing of the Canto General was a geo-political act associated with an anti-capitalist critique of the United States. Yet Neruda is immensely popular, even revered, in this country. Through the writing of this essay, I hope to arrive at a better understanding of Neruda’s place in a country that has so often promoted the antithesis of his ideology. Therefore, in the pages that follow, I will demonstrate how Neruda’s question (“and man, where was he?”) with its emphasis on place (meaning both geo-political ideology and stature) has influenced at least one U.S. writer in a profound way. Through an analysis of the work of the California-based novelist and poet, Marcos Villatoro, I explore the ideological implications of Neruda’s place in contemporary U.S. culture. I suggest in my analysis that Villatoro employs a Nerudian poetics in order to rearticulate a fundamental ideological (and epigraphic) question: “and man, where was he?” I argue that the response to this Nerudian dilemma, now reconfigured in the twenty-first century, is ultimately tied not only to issues of place but also to displacement, late-anti-capitalism and a critique of globalization.

    I. Marcos Villatoro: an Introduction (by way of Neruda)

    In the Canto General, particularly “Las Alturas de Macchu Picchu” from the second canto, Neruda addressed previous generations. He envisioned his role as one of spokesman for his silent, voiceless American ancestors: “Sube a nacer conmigo, hermano. / [… ] Hablad por mis palabras y mi sangre” (140-141). Issues of subalternity and the problem of speaking through Neruda’s authorial voice aside, it is important to note that it is not past but future generations who ultimately speak through Neruda. Case in point, Marcos Villatoro: Villatoro’s publications include the novels The Holy Spirit of My Uncle’s Cojones (Arte Público 1999), A Fire in the Earth (Arte Público 1996), Home Killings (Arte Público 2001 and Random House 2004), Minos (Random House 2005), A Venom Beneath the Skin (Justin, Charles and Company 2005) and the memoir Walking to La Milpa (Moyer Bell 1996). His poetry collections are They Say that I am Two (Arte Público 1997) and On Tuesday, When the Homeless Disappeared (Camino del Sol 2004). It is not difficult to locate Neruda throughout Marcos Villatoro’s writing. At times, Neruda’s place emerges as if in passing, when for example, the protagonist/detective in the Romilia Chacón mystery series (the novels Home Killings, Minos and A Venom beneath the Skin) reads Neruda in Spanish. In the poem “Oda al catarro” Villatoro uses Neruda as a kind of starting-point from which he springs forward in time in order to locate himself in Long Beach, California, immersed in images of the twenty-first century (On Tuesday 85). In “The Elders,” the poet speaks not only through Neruda, echoing his tropes, images and rhythms, but along-side “a ninety-five pound Nicaraguan man / Who carried corn sacks half his body’s weight / Through a war zone of pine and coconut” (On Tuesday 54). My focus, however, will not be on the “in-passing” Neruda but on the more deeply influential Neruda present throughout Villatoro’s work, especially the poetry.

    In his first collection of poems, They Say that I am Two, Villatoro situates his Nerudian desire for social justice alongside an equally Nerudian desire for poetry. The book’s first part begins with a reference to the Canto General. Devoted largely to the question of political activism and living (“walking”) Nerudian ideals, the title of this section of the book, “Central America: Walking the Sweet Waistline,” echoes lines from the fifth canto of the Canto General. The last part of the book, including “Oda a Neruda,” addresses Villatoro’s decision to leave full-time activist work in order to become a writer. In Villatoro’s second collection, On Tuesday, When the Homeless Disappeared (published in Neruda’s centennial year), we find the poem “El Salvador, 1932-1981.” Villatoro’s insertion in the opening lines of his poem of the images and rhythms of the fifth canto indicates Neruda’s obvious place in the younger poet’s writing: “Before the trumpet sounded, before / Anyone needed to lift their skulls, before / There was a reason to mention any of this, God touched the head of a fly named Martínez (25). Indeed, Neruda is a constant in Villatoro’s work, and Villatoro himself makes this clear in his testimonio on Latino poetry: “Neruda’s poetry, all of it, his entire sea of poetry, has had a personal, profound effect on my life as an activist and as a poet” (“In Search of Literary Cojones” 165). Based on my readings of both Neruda and Villatoro, I would add, here, the following observations about Neruda’s “profound effect” on the younger poet’s work. For the purposes of this article, I am primarily interested in the third effect, although all three are worthy of note: (a) With Neruda as his geo-political guide, Villatoro is beginning to map a new poetic territory wherein U.S. Latino writing, like work produced in Chile, Mexico or El Salvador, may be read as part of the Latin American literary canon. (b) As a poet who generates his poetic language vis-à-vis the canonical Neruda, Villatoro is moving Spanish-language poetry into the U.S. literary mainstream, offering no English language translations or bilingual versions of some of his most recent work. (c) Finally, by grounding his professional identity in Neruda, Villatoro is able to negotiate the tensions between poetry and activism, and to ultimately produce poetry that is also activism. I see each of these “profound Nerudian effects,” and the latter in particular, as the elements of a larger poetic and ideological positioning, a Nerudian stance transfigured and made new for the twenty-first century.

    With this assertion in mind, I will focus now on the question of activism vis-à-vis Neruda in Villatoro’s poems. On this issue, there are poems worthy of study in the early collection, They Say that I am Two. The poems “Ode to an Avocado” and “Oda a Pablo Neruda” are obvious examples. Neruda is, perhaps, even more formidable in Villatoro’s new book On Tuesday, When the Homeless Disappeared. Unlike the earlier collection, On Tuesday does not always proclaim or overtly insist on Neruda’s presence. But the Nerudian positioning is nonetheless significant and provocative. The book opens with a preface which, in part, serves to explain the reason for its title: “One Tuesday, while driving home from my college, I passed a gentleman standing in the curve of Sunset and the 405 ramp. He had a sign. Rain had pulled the words down the cardboard. A grocery cart stood behind him. Some drivers gave him money. I had none. Perhaps tomorrow, I thought. Tomorrow I’d bring change. Tomorrow came. His cart rested against the cement railing. But he was gone.” (On Tuesday 1) In addition to this explanation for the book’s title, the same preface allows Villatoro to articulate his position on a poet’s reasons for writing. At least temporarily in this preface, Villatoro positions himself not through Neruda but through W. H. Auden, particularly Auden’s statement that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ (1). And on this point, Villatoro remarks: “Overall I agree with Mr. Auden. We don’t write poetry to make something happen. A poem is not a memo; rhymed verse doesn’t mean to say ‘You’ve got mail.’ Very little will change with the composing of a line of iambic pentameter. We write a poem, not to send a message, but simply because we must write a poem: we must come to know ourselves” (1-2). I admit that I’m not fully convinced here: Villatoro is a man who worked to halt the flow of money from Washington to the Contras (“Literary Cojones” 163); he is a creative writing teacher who encourages Latina students in his college English classes to write in Spanish (“Literary Cojones” 166); and he is a poet who in “Oda a Pablo Neruda,” writes about confronting the police instead of seeking refuge in the library (They say that I am Two 81-82). Therefore, the gap between Villatoro’s actions and his alignment with Auden doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense except, perhaps, as a strategy for situating his work. After all, Villatoro lives, works, writes and publishes from within an Anglo tradition. Thus, he is positioning himself accordingly, as an insider to that tradition. Nevertheless, he is an insider inspired by Pablo Neruda: “Ever since the day W. H. Auden said, ‘Poetry makes nothing happen,’ we poets have struggled. How can poetry be useless? Have not Václav Havel and Pablo Neruda roused freedom in Czechoslovakia and Chile? Maya Angelou’s own witness to racism and poverty has made us, as a society, more aware”(1). Villatoro’s discourse — one of struggle, race, poverty, and awareness — is an activist’s discourse. It responds to Eduardo Galeano, Paolo Freire and Pablo Neruda.

    Neruda, the poet “who roused freedom,” is a constant in Villatoro’s work. Take for example, the poem I introduced earlier, “El Salvador, 1932-1981.” The poem denounces two separate but not unrelated moments in El Salvador’s history, the massacre at Izalco of indigenous Salvadorians by the military government in 1932 and the massacre at El Mozote at the beginning of the U.S. – funded civil war in the 1980s. To an extent, Villatoro’s influences, here, are personal. His mother witnessed the Izalco massacre; the concientización of his early adult years occurred near the time of the massacre at El Mozote. The imagery, positioning and perspective, however, reveal the influence of Pablo Neruda. Much of “El Salvador, 1932-1981” is told through the poetic voice of a Salvadorian girl hiding in a cornfield: ‘I crawled away to other stalks / Across from the plaza. / Two soldiers played soccer with skulls. / Five soldiers worked to make more balls’( 25). Much of the tension driving the poem revolves around whether the girl will remain silent and survive the horrific massacre(s) or scream and let her presence be known to the soldiers: ‘Don’t scream girl. / Don’t cry. Don’t scream’ (27). In the poem, the girl survives, and when the moment arrives when it is safe to scream, she screams into the earth. The poem echoes the earth imagery so constant in the Canto general and, as a result, a Nerudian force surfaces: ‘A warm arm wrapped my shoulders. / She pushed my head into the hole. / I could not see the morning light. / I smelled the humid earth. / I heard her gentle commands / Repeated above me, ‘Now child, / Go ahead. Cry. Sream, child. / Right in there’” (27). As is the case in the Canto General, the poetic voice in Villatoro’s poem emerges as a response to an ancestral presence. The girl’s instructions come from an older woman who survived decapitation long enough to show the girl where to place her scream. Thus, the poet’s place becomes the place where the generations have survived and learned to speak. Indeed, the girl/advisor relationship in the poem “El Salvador 1932-1981” is not unlike Villatoro’s more extensive relationship with his mentor Pablo Neruda. In the Canto General Neruda wrote, “Sube a nacer conmigo hermano / Dadme la mano desde la profunda / zona de tu doler diseminado” (Canto General 140). A few generations later, Villatoro responded: “The shoulders lifted from the earth, / Hauling a face from a hole in the ground … Cry. Scream, child. Right in there” (27). Screaming into the earth’s zona profunda, Villatoro situates himself, as does Pablo Neruda, in a place where earth/ancestry and voice are inseparable constructs. Telling, naming and speaking are among the many revolutionary actions of the Canto General: the salitrera Margarita Naranjo tells her story from the grave (425-426); Tupac Amaru speaks from the silence of the earth (213-214); la tierra names itself Juan (436-437). In On Tuesday, When the Homeless Disappeared, these same revolutionary actions, filtered through the poetic voice of a girl who witnessed decapitation and survived, are transformed into an activist’s scream sustained across generations.

    II. From Placement to Displacement.

    “Las Alturas de Macchu Picchu,” the poem par excellence about ancestry and voice, may be one of the most thoroughly analyzed of the Canto General. Scholars have focused on issues as varied as the poem’s articulation of Latin American identity, its treatment of the human condition and the problem of cultural authenticity. Yet, from a scholarly point of view, the poem remains, to borrow language from Ariel Dorfman, “inexhaustible.” For this portion of my analysis, I am primarily interested in what “Las Alturas de Macchu Picchu” reveals about the ultimate certainty of Pablo Neruda’s geo-political positioning. Beginning with its opening lines, “Del aire al aire, como una red vacía / iba yo entre las calles y la atmósfera …” (127), the poem articulates an existential quest layered with questions concerning the human condition: “Qué era el hombre?” (129) and “… el hombre, dónde estuvo?” (137). Nevertheless, as a poetic/political force, the poet knows where he stands. Indeed, Neruda’s imagined geographic position — facing the ruins of the Incan empire — could hardly be more obvious: “Entonces en la escala de la tierra he subido / entre la atroz maraña de las selvas perdidas / hasta ti, Macchu Picchu” (131). Neruda’s perspective and positioning vis-à-vis Macchu Picchu is, first and foremost, American. Furthermore, an array of America-associated images (corn, vicuña, condor, eagle) serves to solidify his emphasis on the Americas: “Esta fue la morada, éste es el sitio:/ aquí los anchos granos del maíz ascendieron / y bajaron de nuevo como granizo rojo. / Aquí la hebra dorada salió de la vicuña” (132). And the most significant of these America-associated images are the stones upon which ancient civilizations were built: “Túnica triangular, polen de piedra. / Lámpara de granito, pan de piedra. / Serpiente mineral, rosa de piedra. / Caballo de la luna, luz de piedra. / Escuadra equinoccial, vapor de piedra. / Geometría final, libro de piedra.” (136) The issue, then, is not just that this is an American landscape, but that it is a landscape and a civilization built on the stone-like strength of the generations for whom Neruda speaks and from whom he finds his voice. When Neruda writes, “Sube conmigo, amor Americano. / Besa conmigo las piedras secretas” (134), he reveals no questioning of his authorial presence. When he addresses his now voiceless ancestors, “Hablad por mis palabras y mi sangre” (141), he is certain of his poetic right and responsibility as their spokesman. And when he offers a critique of his hemisphere’s history, “Hambre, coral del hombre” (138), he is equally certain about who are the victims and who the villains.

    According to Neruda’s Canto General, Latin America’s mid-twentieth-century enemies included a specific group of U.S. based companies and an equally specific group of Latin American businessmen and politicians who facilitated these companies’ capitalist intervention throughout the hemisphere. As part of the book’s, or more specifically, the fifth canto’s anti-capitalist critique, Neruda named Latin America’s enemies as follows: “Los abogoados del dólar” (“Infierno Americano … hay otra / lengua en tu pérfida fogata: / es el abogado criollo / de la compañia extranjera” 324); “La Standard Oil Co.” (“Sus obesos emperadores … compran seda, nylon, puros, / tiranuelos y dictadores” 332); “La Anaconda Copper Mining Co.” (“Nombre enrollado de serpiente, / fauce insaciable, monstruo verde” 333); “La United Fruit Co.” (“conquistaron la grandeza / la libertad y las banderas” 335); González Videla (“Triste clown, miserable / mezcla de mono y rata, cuyo rabo peinan en Wall Street con pomada de oro” 365); and the “dictadura de las moscas” (“moscas Trujillo, moscas de Tachos, / moscas Carías, moscas Martínez, / moscas Ubico …” 335). As I mentioned earlier, naming, telling and speaking are among the many revolutionary, anti-capitalist actions of the Canto General. Through the naming process that takes place in the fifth canto, Neruda constructs a specific historical context against which the victims of a subsequent canto, canto eight, eventually will tell their stories and locate themselves in specific geo-political terms.

    “La tierra se llama Juan,” the eighth canto of the Canto General, consists of personal stories of individuals, for example, the fisherman Antonio Bernales and the miner José Cruz Achachalla. Neruda reconstructs their stories as poems, and because he assumes a first-person poetic voice, many of the poems open with lines such as “Camarada, me llamo Luis Cortés” (417) or “Olegario Sepúlveda me llamo” (418). Each of these named voices then speaks from a specific geographical place in the Americas, from remote villages like Talcahuano Mexico or cities like Concepción. Thus, the heretofore unnamed and unheard citizens of the Americas claim their place in history. As this history unfolds, each of the voices also explains his/her specific socio-economic or political predicament. For example, the miner José Cruz Achachalla states, “vivimos mal, las casas rotas, / y el hambre, otra vez, señor, / y cuando / nos reunimos, capitán,/ para un peso más de salario, / … la policía nos golpeaba, y aquí estoy, pues, capitán …” (427). The political prisoner Luis Cortés, offers a similar account: “Cuando vino la represión, en Tocopilla / me agarraron. Me tiraron a Pisagua. / Usted sabe, camarada, como es eso. / Muchos cayeron enfermos, otros / enloquecieron. Es el peor campo de concentración de González Videla …” (417). There is no question that the hardships delineated here by Cortés, Achachalla and others are the result of mid-century capitalist interventions: “Estoy muerta,” states Margarita Naranjo, “Soy de María Elena. / Toda mi vida la viví en la pampa. / Dimos la sangre para la Compañía / norteamericana …” (425). From Neruda’s perspective, there is also no question that the alternative lies in Marxism for as he draws the Canto General to a close, Neruda addresses, praises and thanks the Communist Party: “Me has hecho ver la claridad del mundo y la posibilidad de la alegría” (628). The Marxist positioning with which Neruda closes the Canto General is the very alternative he called for when he spoke in the second canto from the heights of Macchu Picchu. Certainly, Neruda’s renowned lines, “Sube a nacer conmigo, hermano / … Acudid a mis venas y a mi boca. / Hablad por mis palabras y mi sangre” (141), comprise a directive not only to the poet’s silent ancestors but also to his contemporaries.

    More than fifty years later, Neruda’s anti-capitalist positioning continues to resonate in Marcos Villatoro’s On Tuesday, When the Homeless Disappeared. I am interested in the book’s centerpiece, the poem that bears the same title as the collection, the poem Villatoro attempts to explain in the preface where he negotiates his alignment with Auden and Neruda. In this preface Villatoro also states, “we write a poem … because we must write a poem: we must come to know ourselves” (1-2). In the Canto General, Pablo Neruda came to know himself through his alignment with indigenous/ancestral America, with the victims of capitalist intervention, and with Marxism. To an extent, a similar process of knowing and/or positioning plays itself out in Villatoro’s “On Tuesday, When the Homeless Disappeared.” Previously, I quoted Villatoro’s own summary of the poem and I return to that summary here: “One Tuesday … I passed a gentleman standing in the curve of Sunset and the 405 ramp. … Some drivers gave him money. … Tomorrow I’d bring change. … Tomorrow came. … But he was gone” (“On Tuesday” 1). The alliances hinted at here are developed more fully in the poem where, as one might expect, Villatoro positions himself in a Nerudian fashion. Clearly however, this twenty-first century poet is more than a master’s apprentice. “On Tuesday, When the Homeless Disappeared” begins with the contemporary images of a shopping cart and a cardboard sign. “No doubt that we’d become a happy lot. / We had a lot of dough. When I drove home / I’d hand a wad to the guy with the sign / On Sunset and the ramp. There was his cart, / But he was gone. He had folded the words / Into a cardboard airplane. No other message / Of his whereabouts. …” (7). Were it not the case that Villatoro has positioned himself so consistently in relation to Neruda, the master poet’s influence might go unnoticed in this edgy, ironic contemporary piece. But Neruda is present still, as is his fundamental question from “Alturas de Macchu Picchu”: “Piedra en la piedra, el hombre, dónde estuvo? / Aire en el aire, el hombre, dónde estuvo?” (137). Granted, there are some differences: Villatoro insinuates the question without asking it directly and his American landscape consists not of ancestral stone but of ordinary asphalt and cement. Nonetheless, Neruda’s question lingers: “It was a Tuesday when we saw the signs / Of disappearance …” (7); “We still weren’t sure, as we drove home / Where all those people who once pushed carts / Had gone …” (8). Just as Neruda’s silent, invisible ancestors are rendered present through a poet’s evocation, so too L.A.’s invisible poor. In a decidedly Nerudian fashion, Villatoro’s poem brings their invisibility to light. Reminiscent of Neruda (“hablad por mis palabras”), Villatoro brings their silence to bear as well. Nevertheless, it is significant that Villatoro never tells us what the cardboard sign “on Sunset and the ramp” in the gentleman’s shopping cart said. Rather, he chooses to communicate only that words once were written there and that the man’s predicament is shared by many: “…All those cardboard messages / Abandoned in rusted, badly parked carts” (7). The point is not only that the poor have been silenced, but also that Villatoro does not have them speak through his words: “…in one cart of a Starbucks parking lot / Near a Brentwood home, they found a cardboard sign. / It had no message. Not one written word” (8).

    It is not inconsequential that the geographical setting in Villatoro’s poem includes a Starbucks parking lot in an L.A. suburb. Even as Villatoro distances himself from his mentor, there is something delicately Nerudian about his naming of this site. In the Canto General, Pablo Neruda named the enemy, the capitalist investors of Wall Street and complicit Latin American dictators. He named the victims, poor workers like Olegario Sepúlveda and Luis Cortés. He named their predicament: “hambre, coral del hombre” (138). And he named the Marxist alternative in “A mi partido.” This overt naming process does have a place in Villatoro’s work as well (recall, for example, the opening lines of “El Salvador, 1932-1981”). But in “On Tuesday, When the Homeless Disappeared,” the strategy is considerably oblique. Unlike the names “La Anaconda Copper Mining Co.” or “La United Fruit Co” which appear in the titles of Neruda’s poems, the Starbucks name is almost background here: “… in one cart of a Starbucks parking lot / Near a Brentwood home …” (8). If Villatoro is positioning himself relative to a corporate “enemy,” then he is also introducing a certain amount of ambiguity into that position. Indeed, the poet himself makes no statement about where he stands on the Starbucks controversy or even the exact nature of what the controversy is. The lines are not very clearly drawn, so let me intervene: According to Starbucks (see the brochure “Commitment to Origins”), the company honors “enduring relationships with coffee growers,” pledges “to provide the highest-quality coffee while contributing to the social, economic and environmental sustainability of coffee production” and promises that purchasing Starbucks coffees will help “improve people’s lives.” Activist organizations like Global Exchange contest the Starbucks claim and argue that contemporary “coffee farmers are becoming even more impoverished, going further into debt and losing their land due to extremely low world coffee prices” while “companies such as Starbucks … are pocketing the difference” (1). In 2004 (Neruda’s centennial year), the Mexico City daily, La Jornada, referred to the company’s actions as “la colonización verde” (Angeles Mariscal 1). I would venture to guess that despite the apparent ambiguity of his poem, Marcos Villatoro (Neruda’s activist-apprentice) is not neutral on this matter. Rather, his seeming departure from Neruda’s overt poetic practices has something more to do with his position on globalization in the early twenty-first century.

    Globalization’s consequences, specifically hunger and homelessness, are the central motifs of Villatoro’s poem. Given that the poem is also the centerpiece of Villatoro’s most recent poetic production, the globalization question (the critique of late-capitalism) is thus central to the poet’s work. In addition to the naming of Starbucks, Villatoro provides the following insights on the issue: “Then one among us got a cellular word / Of someone who went public. Yet another sign! / There was no reason for us to go home, / Not with new emails bringing the message / Of a really great buy. We quit the lot. / The cardboard settled back into the cart” (7). It is my contention that what is most important here is not just that Villatoro critiques his/our late-capitalist predicament. The fundamental issue is that, as part of the critique, the poet also recognizes and reveals his/our participation, or place, in its dehumanizing spread. Consider the climactic lines from the penultimate stanza. The poet’s “we” with its implications of complicity is hardly insignificant: “… too many signs / Told us that we should celebrate our lot” (emphasis mine 8). Of course, the profound effect of Neruda’s ideology still resonates. But the lines are not as clear as they were mid-century. In Villatoro’s contemporary critique, poets, readers and scholars (the makers of culture) also have become beneficiaries of the plan. Thus, Villatoro’s work tells us something important about our place and time and about the poets who write in it. It seems that the poet’s place in the early part of this century is not, as it were, to speak from the heights. As Villatoro suggests, a poet (even a Neruda-inspired poet) writes a poem to know himself, to know where he stands. Ultimately, knowing means recognizing his/our uncertain place (“el hombre dónde estuvo?”) as both participants in and activists against the contemporary displacement of humanity.

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    Higher Education, 50:43 (2004 July 2), p. B13.
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    Tempe, Arizona: Bilingual Press, 1998.
    Villatoro, Marcos McPeek. A Fire in the Earth. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1996.
    —. The Holy Spirit of My Uncle’s Cojones. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1999.
    —. Home Killings. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2001.
    —. “In Search of Literary Cojones: Pablo Neruda, U.S. Latino Poetry, and the U.S.
    Literary Canon: A Testimonio.” pp. 163-178. Longo, Teresa (ed. and introd.). Pablo Neruda and the U.S. Culture Industry. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002.
    —. Minos. New York: Random House, 2005.
    —. On Tuesday When the Homeless Disappeared. University of Arizona: Camino del
    Sol, 2004.
    —. They Say that I am Two. Houston: Arte Público Press, 1997.
    —. A Venom Beneath the Skin. New York: Justin, Charles and Company, 2005.
    —. Walking to La Milpa: Living in Guatemala with Armies, Demons, Abrazos and
    Death. New York: Moyer Bell, 1996.

  2. srtand

     /  May 14, 2008

    What does it mean to keep faith with poetry, to link art with activism? What is social justice? What is poetic justice? I address these questions in translating Juana Goergen’s poem, “Reconquista,” published in Tameme.
    Following, first the poem, in Spanish and English translation, then my translator’s notes.

    Reconquista

    Cuando los trenes
    suben por mi garganta
    ahogando un grito,
    no hay máquina ni método
    el ruido inventa el tiempo
    y cuanto escribo
    a grito enmudecido
    en otra lengua me desnombro
    “Oak Park” “Lincoln Park”
    “Logan Square”
    “Green Line” “Brown Line”
    “Tous Les Matins Du Monde”
    grita alguien fuera de contexto
    y yo
    de tanto no estar
    en dos lugares
    pierdo el centro.

    Desnombrada
    ni siquiera Walt Whitman
    osaría intentar reconocerme
    mi nombre es un manojo de huesos
    llanto de mástiles
    sobre las orillas
    nada contiene esta figura de mujer
    colonizada
    una ternura incierta
    un reloj ensombrecido
    un animal que piensa
    un ojo que se asoma
    al balcón de otros ojos
    que vive de miradas
    de otras miradas
    y que se vuelve a ti
    Walt Whitman
    y que vuelve a llamarte
    de vacío a vacío.

    Desnombrados
    dime, dime, Walt Whitman
    ¿qué edad tendrán estas orillas
    que se roban mi cuerpo poco a poco?
    y estas manos
    que no se asombran
    y estos ojos
    que se desploman a mis pies
    ¿qué edad tendrán?
    dime, dímelo tú
    Walt Whitman
    que entre ruido de trenes
    me preguntas
    ¿quién soñó a esta mujer
    que pule y afila
    los hilos de su escoba?
    a esta mujer
    que es agua en movimiento
    alrededor de una isla
    imaginaria
    que entró por las paredes
    grabando su escritura
    en las ventanas
    y preguntándose
    ¿quién te soñó a ti
    Walt Whitman?
    entrando solo al templo
    de un reino transparente
    que me quitó mi país
    mi país
    mi país
    que me quitó mi país
    que también se pregunta
    ¿quién soñó a esta mujer
    que va cambiando los muros y las puertas
    y que camina un sueño
    que resienten los ancestros y el “status”?

    Pobres
    pobres tú y yo
    Walt Whitman
    este reloj no tiene péndulo que asista
    déjame darle
    participación a la crisis
    que la mañana es nueva
    y un animal desnudo me vincula
    a los ojos de una niña diminuta
    y tú
    que me andas lejos
    debajo de la voz
    y yo
    a oscuras
    yo
    a gritos
    comida a tiendas
    por el ojo hirviente que me canta
    no existo
    y al desnombrarme
    y al renombrarte a ti
    Walt Whitman
    desaparezco intacta
    y me destierro
    me destierro a un poema.

    Reconquest

    When the trains
    rise up my throat
    drowning a scream,
    there is no machine, no method
    noise invents time
    and what I write
    in muted cry
    in another tongue I unname myself
    “Oak Park” “Lincoln Park”
    “Logan Square”
    “Green Line” “Brown Line”
    “Tous Les Matins Du Monde”
    screams someone out of context
    and I
    from so much not being
    in two places
    lose my center.

    Unnamed
    not even Walt Whitman
    would dare try to recognize me
    my name is a heap of bones
    the weeping of masts
    upon the shores
    nothing contains this figure of a woman
    colonized
    an uncertain tenderness
    a clock in shadow
    an animal that thinks
    an eye that glances
    at the balcony of other eyes
    that feeds off looks
    off other looks
    and turns back to you
    Walt Whitman
    and calls you once again
    from emptiness to emptiness.

    Unnamed
    tell me, tell me Walt Whitman
    how old are these shores
    that steal my body little by little?
    and these hands
    that are not awed
    and these eyes
    that topple to my feet
    how old can they be?
    tell me, tell me yourself
    Walt Whitman
    who between the noise of trains
    asks me
    who dreamt this woman
    polishing and sharpening
    the threads of her broom?
    this woman
    that is water in motion
    around an imaginary
    island
    who entered through the walls
    recording her writing
    in the windows
    and asking herself
    who dreamt you
    Walt Whitman?
    entering alone into the temple
    of a transparent kingdom
    that took away my country
    my country
    my country
    that took away my country
    that also asks itself
    who dreamt this woman
    who goes about changing the walls and the doors
    and walks a dream
    that the ancestors and the political status resent?

    Poor us
    poor you and I
    Walt Whitman
    this clock has no pendulum to help
    let me enjoy
    this crisis
    now that the morning is new
    and a naked animal ties me
    to the eyes of a diminutive girl
    and you
    who wanders in me from far away
    beneath the voice
    and I
    in the dark
    I
    screaming
    devoured gropingly
    by the seething eye that sings me
    I do not exist
    and in unnaming me
    and in renaming you
    Walt Whitman
    I disappear intact
    and exile myself
    exile my self to a poem.

    Juana Goergen
    Translated by Silvia Tandeciarz

    Translator’s Notes.
    Although I only recently have begun to translate poetry, I’ve been involved in translation work for some time. First as a graduate student in literature, and later as an academic, I was invited to translate several theoretical pieces of Latin American postmodern criticism. I translated those pieces, always with a collaborator, without really stopping to think about what that work entailed, what I needed to know in order to perform the tasks required. It came “naturally” to me because, being bilingual and involved in the kind of research these critics performed, I understood both the audience for whom the translations were intended, and many of the subtexts and references hidden in these Latin American critics’ work. I enjoyed the challenge of finding the right turn of phrase to render in English an idiomatic expression in Spanish; I was driven by the content, much more than the style or tone of the piece. And I was, by and large, satisfied with the results. Since setting out on this path, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect a bit more on what I do as a translator; I’ve encountered new challenges and glitches, and I’ve pulled out more hair. While I continue to translate the work of Latin American cultural critics—Nelly Richard currently—I see the task of translating theory as driven by quite a different set of guidelines, needs, interests than the work of translating poetry. I’d like to focus here on the latter, on the process of translating Juana Goergen’s poetry and what it means to me.

    A few words about Juana first. Goergen is a Puerto Rican poet and professor of Latin American literature. A specialist in the colonial culture of the Caribbean, she received her PhD from Stony Brook and currently teaches at DePaul University in Chicago. She is married to a German political scientist, another academic, and they live in Oak Park with their two young children, Lukas and Karlos.

    I first read Juana’s poetry shortly after moving to Oak Park to assume my first teaching position after graduate school at DePaul University. At the time, she was preparing the manuscript of what would become her first book, La sal de las brujas; she asked me to read it and offer advice. Although I was able to make some suggestions about organization, I don’t think I actually understood then what she was trying to do. My access to her poetry as a reader and potential translator was blocked because I had no context in which to place her work. It was getting to know Juana as a colleague, a writer, and a friend, that gave me the tools to unpack her library, her points of reference, the stories she was trying to tell. It was exposure to the Puerto Rican community in Chicago, to Latino students at DePaul, and to Juana’s own conflicted position somewhere outside these groups, but in dialogue with them, that enabled me to hear what she had to say. It was listening to Juana speak about the course on Afro-hispanic cultural traditions she was teaching, about syncretism and the influence of African deities on Caribbean structures of belief, that enabled me to understand the references to Ochún, Papá Eleguá, Papá Ogún, Mamá Erzuli in her poetry. This orientation proved a first, very important lesson: that is, that the work of translation is first a work of interpretation. In order to translate, I first had to learn to read critically; and in order to read critically, to understand the nuances, the allusions, associations, symbols, metaphors, I had to know something about the text’s context of production, something about its author, something about its intended audience.

    By the time I attempted my first translation of one of her poems, I had spent over two years working in an office next to hers and collaborating with her on a range of projects: serving on university committees, planning events for Latino students, organizing poetry readings and conference panels. I had had countless conversations with her about identity, about becoming a mother, about the importance of transmitting our Latin American heritage to our children, about getting lost in translation and being forced to find our way home. What I want to say is that by the time I began translating her poetry, her poems were more than words on paper that spoke to me, in an abstract way, of a Puerto Rican woman’s experience: they were Juana speaking to me, they were the sound of her voice, a particular intonation. I could hear in them, now, the way she chose to stress certain words, the way the lines fell into each other, the breathlessness in which each poem expired. I could identify with the personal story they told, even as they transported me to a realm of experience quite foreign to my own. And I had the tools I had lacked before to render meaningful her metaphors, her interlocutors, her points of reference.

    This affinity, born of friendship and a history of collaboration, however, is only the beginning of this story. While it’s taught me how important communication and familiarity with the author are, in terms of outcome, product, clearly not much would be translated if this were the standard to which every potential translation were held. Although perhaps it should be, translation isn’t always a labor of love. It’s often simply labor. Anyone who’s attempted a translation I’m sure would concur that it entails hard work, that beyond a certain linguistic ability, your authors must, in some way, fit into or become your own field of expertise, and that part of the work of translation is ensuring the text’s readability to those outside that field of expertise. In other words, the goal is to create a piece that travels well: to provide the context, to situate it, so that less meaning is lost, so that it continues to signify as it travels.

    Given that it is such hard work—and the kind of work that often is not rewarded in the Academy that will or won’t grant me tenure one day—I’ve begun to ask myself why I continue to do it. Why have I embarked on this journey? What does it give me, personally, on a private level, and what can if offer to others, as an exercise meant for public consumption? The clearest answer I can offer is simple: to travel. I translate in order to return to parts of myself that I have repressed for one reason or another; I translate to try to bridge two worlds I often experience as mis-aligned, disjointed; I translate to discover new worlds through which I am potentially transformed.

    Translating Juana’s poetry is like being invited to a masquerade ball. It gives me the chance to dress up in someone else’s Spanish, to don a disguise that helps me travel back to the Spanish-speaking child buried deep within. It is like playing dress up: the end is not to hide, not to mask some “real” self, but rather to liberate what feels constrained; it is putting on another’s shoes and attempting in them the stiletto walk for which there seems to be no room in my own world. Translating Juana’s poetry allows me to become another me: a rebellious puppet in the hands of a master ventriloquist. It means freedom. Liberation. Thinking through the Spanish of another puts me in touch with the self I have sacrificed to a certain professionalism and academic rigor, to the dominant language of the academy. It helps me find my way back to what I want to say, to the Spanish voice inside me.

    But this experience of liberation, of reconnection to my other voice is something I discovered once I embarked on the work. What drove me to do it in the first place was the conviction that Juana had something to say, and that what she had to say needed to find the hearts of English speaking Americans. “Reconquista”/ “Reconquest” is the poem that convinced me of this. It speaks to the colonial legacy in Puerto Rico, and to the impact of colonization on the poet’s identity. When I was an undergraduate studying American literature at Stanford, one of my professors, Al Gelpi made a comment in class that has stayed with me all these years. He was teaching a seminar on the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, and he said that no poet since Whitman had managed to capture and represent the American soul as fully or eloquently; he said that he had been searching throughout his career for a female version of Whitman, for a female poet who could approximate his achievement, his voice. Adrienne Rich came close. At the time, young and radical, feminist to the core, his comments infuriated me. I didn’t have the words then to articulate what I know now about reading and interpretation, about meaning and the ways in which legacies are constructed, about canons and hierarchies and the systematic marginalization of some of those multitudes Whitman would contain. I didn’t have the language to signal what bothered me about the way in which he articulated the problem, or to question the language of “greatness” it invoked.

    When I heard Juana read “Reconquista” a decade later, I was transported back to that classroom. I felt here was one answer to Professor Gelpi’s quest, one answer to Whitman as America’s master storyteller. In “Reconquista” Juana addresses Whitman directly, saying: “Unnamed/not even Walt Whitman/would dare try to recognize me/my name is a heap of bones/the weeping of masts/upon the shores/nothing contains this figure of a woman/colonized”—she speaks as someone quite outside the American dream dreamt by Whitman. She responds to this monumental figure asking, “tell me, tell me Walt Whitman/how old are these shores/that steal my body little by little?/and these hands/ that are not awed/ and these eyes/ that topple to my feet/ how old can they be?” She gives voice to the drama of the Puerto Rican diaspora, to the experience of not belonging and the awareness that as a mother, she will have to find a way to make sense of this legacy for her children. She ends her poem with a lament: “Poor us/poor you and I/Walt Whitman/this clock has no pendulum to help/let me enjoy/this crisis/now that the morning is new/and a naked animal ties me/to the eyes of a diminutive girl/and you/who wanders in me from far away/beneath the voice/and I/in the dark/I/screaming/devoured gropingly/by the seething eye that sings me/I do not exist/and in unnaming me/and in renaming you/Walt Whitman/I disappear intact/and exile myself/exile my self to a poem.”

    I translate so as to bridge Professor Gelpi’s world and Juana’s, to foster a dialogue between them, and the world views they represent. How can Juana become another American storyteller, another recorder of American life, if the majority of English-only Americans have no access to her experience? The U.S. is rapidly changing; not yet quite the melting pot it thinks itself, every day it comes closer to that reality. As translators, we are in the enviable position of carving out the paths to this new America, of finding voices that speak the experiences of globalization, in all of their complexity, of rendering subaltern perspectives in the dominant tongue so as to affect change. This is an awesome responsibility, a contract to be forged with humility and only the best intentions. As Walter Benjamin writes, invoking the work of Rudolf Pannwitz, “The basic error of the translator is that he preserves the state in which his own language happens to be instead of allowing his language to be powerfully affected by the foreign tongue. Particularly when translating from a language very remote from his own he must go back to the primal elements of language itself and penetrate to the point where work, image, and tone converge. He must expand and deepen his language by means of the foreign language ” (81, my emphasis). Translation, as Benjamin articulates it, provides us with a model for engaging the other, for being transported by that other, for communing with the other. Our work, at its best, models solidarity, increases representation, and propels cultural transformation.

  3. Robert Ressler

     /  May 16, 2008

    [Untitled] (1)

    You stand on the other side of the fence
    Bug-eyed
    You draw a line in the dirt
    A line that is imaginary(2) in dirt that exists
    Dirt that has existed since before history
    Antes de los dioses
    Dirt that’s been fought, bled, and pissed on
    That’s nurtured crops, fed families, and cracked in the heat
    Rock, mud, clay, sand, dust(3) , dirt that no one can own
    Dirt that has existed before your country
    that has been claimed too many times
    “Mine” you say
    “I don’t particularly like speaking Spanish in MY country.”(4)
    “Yours”
    A pudgy jabbing finger points

    I want to call you ignorant
    I want to yell and spit at your face
    I want to shake you until your eyes roll back in your head
    Breathe.
    Do not allow this to compromise my civility.

    ———-

    A scar runs down the goddess’s body
    A scar that leaks black tar
    Split from breezy hairline to fertile crescent(5)
    Mother nature shakes with sobs

    At this line this border
    You put up your signs
    Of a woman with her two small children
    “Wanted” (6)
    And “Welcome to America”
    Their iron and wooden posts dig into the ground
    Into bodies
    Too many dead migrants who couldn’t survive
    The brutal passage your line has mandated (7)
    Que la tierra está tan llena de muertos
    Que no se puede enterrarles
    They have to rot on the sweltering desert surface
    Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers
    They all look the same
    Shriveled up like Egyptian mummies (8)
    Polvo(9) blowing in their noses and out their eyes.

    What pain have you caused?
    What say you now, possessor of dirt, of dust?
    If the wind could be purchased
    You would suffocate the poor
    Or have you already?
    Smoke that rises from the chemical powerplants dotting the stream by the poorest neighborhood in the city(10).
    Smoke that rises, contorts in pain, and falls back down to the earth
    You run through a field of decapitated daisies(11)
    A machete in your pollen-stained hands.

    But stand tall on your construction of Nation
    Under the shadow of a crowned lady in green
    Foundations lay on bone
    Imagine(12) your landscape
    Of opportunity, freedom, and family first
    While you force others to witness
    The reality of dehumanization where hope has no name.

    You rejoice in your migrant heritage
    Pretending as though you have something in common with the transnationals of today
    “Is mexico dangerous?” a blonde-eyed blue-haired child asks
    “Sí. Está llena de mexicanos.”(13)
    And we all know they don’t come in religious-freedom-seeking white pilgrim family edition. (14)
    Painfully funny because it is so publicly believed.
    “They’re a foreign invasion
    With their anchor babies as their weapons!” (15)
    A newborn child becomes an oozie
    While the united states wages “peace” for five years in Iraq

    The line you scratch
    Divides countries
    Divides families
    Divides identities
    Divides bodies
    Destroys bodies
    Trades bodies (16)
    Blood pours from the raw wound
    Of yours rubbing against theirs (17)

    Globalization, deindustrialization, consumerism
    A never ending cycle that first creates
    And then fills through modes of disenfranchisement and oppression (18)
    Women leave their families
    To care for other women’s children
    They cross wide rivers, who have long forgotten their crystal blue days
    And are now clogged with pollution
    Corpses, and dismantled dreams.
    Grita la Llorona, “¿Donde están mis niños?”(19)
    Angels fall from heaven
    To crash burning into Joshua trees
    The heat dries the abandoned infant’s tears

    With towers and wire
    Night-vision, heat-seeking, helicopters
    With concrete, steel, plywood, and pain(20)
    You have ripped the earth with your wall
    Gouged it to its center
    Boiling lava will bubble up and cover everything
    Archaeologists will fill plaster molds
    Of your inhumane politics
    With their chipped white faces twisted in pain and clutching the gold of their households.(21)

    Trapped in your encrusted cage of privilege and
    Oxygenized steel, inlaid with brilliant mirrors
    You cannot see outside
    You do not want to see the world where mother nature grieves her children
    And so the earth is dark for everyone.
    The stench of your injustices will carry on the winter wind
    Mixing with the smells of decomposing leaves and cold air
    To ferment in the nostrils of your children’s children.

    Notes:
    I wrote this poem for the Earth Visions poetry reading that my HISP481 class participated with. I found inspiration in several readings and discussions from a seminar I had with Professor Bickham-Mendez’s on Latino immigration into the United States, as well as a variety of other personal experiences. Below are the footnotes for the poem.

    1. This poem has gone through many titles, but in the end I could not settle on one. Perhaps this was because after everything was completed, I felt the space was better left filled by the readers themselves.
    2. I’m drawing on work by Benedict Anderson here.
    3. The reference to dust here, a reoccurring theme, is directly related to Pacheco’s use of the term “polvo.” It is meant to trivialize and contradict itself, meaning simultaneously everything and nothing.
    4. This quote, and the entire scene described, is taken from the 9500 Liberty videos on youtube.com. In this instance the speaker is ironically talking to a group of legal immigrants and American citizens. This vignette sets the stage for the rest of the poem to illustrate how such thinking is unjust, damaging, and contradictory.
    5. I suppose that my inclusion of the “fertile crescent” was Nerudian in vein, including text that has an inherent sexualized meaning. However, this illustration also serves a purpose of globalizing the impact of the poem, displacing the location of the poem from solely American to other parts of the world as well.
    6. Once again these images were provided for me. The first sign I’m referring to contains a woman dragging two children by their arms apparently fleeing across the boarder. The ironic juxtaposition of the word “wanted” has multiple meanings in this scenario, where the women actually find a place and occupation within American culture, as though they were “wanted” there all along. The “welcome to America” sign only furthers this point.
    7. During a presentation a previous student of Bickham-Mendez’s whom I can only remember as Lily, demonstrated how the United States physical construction of a wall was not stopping immigration, but actually causing immigrants to choose even more dangerous paths of entry into the United States.
    8. This image was actually handed to me by an immigration officer. I was originally attempting to research the actual names of migrants who may have perished on the journey across the border, and instead stumbled upon a news article where the officer was callously referring to dehydrated bodies and people that were picked up along the border every day. By resituating it in context I’m attempting to show how public discourse on immigration serves greatly to dehumanize individuals, as we will see later with the “anchor baby” line.
    9. See footnote 3. The presence of dust in the eyes seems to hold images of knowledge through or in spite of death. Death is knowing, but knowing is nothing. Las plumas son piedras.
    10. Another image gathered through outside sources, this time my Environmental Sociology course. Due to their lack of economic and political impact, poor neighborhoods (which are predominantly black) are often the targets of environmental racism, where policies and laws regarding environmental protection are unevenly enforced or regulated.
    11. This image of decapitation is a homage to Villatoro’s “El Salvador 1932-1981.” It’s meant to implicate the American political system in the very causes of the immigration it now so harshly objects to.
    12. See footnote 2.
    13. This quote comes from the movie “Babel.” I’m restructuring it very similarly to what I imagine the author/director of the script intended, however I’m removing it from its humorous setting and placing it into my considerably more somber poem, in an attempt to emphasize the harsh realities of the statement.
    14. Here I’m referring to “Covering Immigration” by Chavez who discusses the predominant American identity as a “nation of immigrants,” in-so-much as they are European and white.
    15. Direct quote from a speaker at the 13hr citizen’s time in Prince William County in the 9500 Liberty videos. I include it to show how atrocious and dehumanizing the language used by anti-immigrationists and the media can become.
    16. Special thanks to Saskia Sassen for her elaborations on this point.
    17. I read this metaphor in a piece by Anzaldua where the boarder is described as “una hierda abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.”
    18. This cycle was clearly outlined for me in a discussion with Bickham-Mendez concerning upper-class professional women and their immigrant nannies.
    19. La Llorona poses an interesting juxtaposition of Latino/a cultural expectations and the necessity of transnational women to redefine what good mothering means. Its mere inclusion in the poem counters previous images of children as weapons.
    20. A critique of the current militarization of the border.
    21. This image is taken from an introduction to the book “Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster by Michael Eric Dyson. Dyson describes how the slaves of Pompeii were unable to leave the island so they ran into the houses and grabbed all the valuables so as to possess something, even once, in the final moments of their lives. He of course draws parallels to the victims of the hurricane. I, however, rearrange the characters in the narrative to construe the Pompeii slaves to allude to the privileged Americans who will eventually meet the same fate of so many people they have oppressed, dying with nothing but pain and a handful of gold.

  4. kkcorc

     /  May 26, 2008

    Machu Picchu is Closed Today (1)

    Escondido entre
    las nubes que encubren
    la enormidad
    la majestad
    la neblina se separa (2)

    But (3)

    Se está cayendo
    Piedra por piedra
    Se desliza hacia abajo
    Pushed down (4)
    aside
    La tierra
    se escapa. (5)

    Machu Picchu is closed today for
    renovation
    The neighborhood association mandates
    Buenos vecinos. (6)
    Antique stones
    surround manicured grasses
    in white picket fences
    enclosing
    leashed llamas
    Don’t let them pee
    on the lawns
    They say green is in this year.

    Machu Picchu is closed today for
    revitalization.
    Stone terraces crumbling
    Eroding
    farming
    Maize dried up
    Congress is saving the water for
    Iowa (7)
    The Urubamba flows Coca-Cola
    sprouting across the Andes
    black and white Yankees chullos
    One size fits all
    Sold
    where Kodak is a deadly weapon (8)
    Its shots sear
    inverse bullets
    The carnage sitting on the mantel
    Machu Picchu meets the suburbs
    in a glossy 4×6. (9)

    Machu Picchu is closed today for
    gentrification.
    Quinua by Wheaties
    to make buenos días
    good mornings
    As the Goodyear condor (10)
    singing his morning song
    settles steely talons upon
    the shining Golden Arches of the puerta del sol
    where the dollar menu
    isn’t a choice
    but a daily wage.

    Machu Picchu is closed today
    con cada golpe
    erosiona
    chocando
    hacia abajo
    La Urubamba lo rescata
    Llevándolo al museo
    Exhibit A (11)
    B
    C
    Don’t touch. (12)

    NOTES:
    I wrote this poem for my HISP 481 Local/Global Issues course with Prof. Longo. I was influenced both by the works studied in the course (especially the poem “Alturas de Machu Picchu” by Pablo Neruda) and my own experiences in Peru while studying abroad. Below are the footnotes for my poem.

    (1) El poema “Alturas de Machu Picchu” de Pablo Neruda me influyó mucho y de una manera es como un punto de partida para mi poema. El poema de Neruda es una transformación personal; en contraste, no tengo un “yo” en mi poema. Sin embargo, como Neruda he escogido a Machu Picchu como un lugar que simboliza la cultura, el nacimiento y la tradición de América Latina.

    (2) Aunque no tengo un “yo” en el poema, la manera en que Machu Picchu entra el poema es similar al poema de Neruda; si Neruda sube para encontrarlo, en mi poema está escondido hasta que las nubes se lo revelan—aquí empieza un encuentro entre el lector y Machu Picchu.

    (3) El uso de Spanglish está presente en muchos de los poemas de Quique Avilés. El idioma siempre es una decisión; aquí, empiezo el poema en español pero el inglés lo interrumpe, lo empuja y en fin lo domina. Uso el idioma como otra forma de dominación de una cultura (o lengua) subalterna. El español vuelve al fin, pero pronto está llevado al museo como otro artefacto cultural ya extinto.

    (4) Exploro aquí el tema del hogar y tierra. Claribel Alegría describe una separación violenta de su tierra (país). En mi poema, vinculo la erosión física que ocurre en Machu Picchu con fuerzas globales; literalmente, la presencia de miles de turistas cada día acelera la erosión de Machu Picchu, pero la violencia (“pushed” y los “golpes” al fin) viene de lo que representan estos turistas–las fuerzas de la globalización y el neocolonialismo, especialmente de los EE.UU., que erosionan la cultura, economía y política de sociedades subalternas.

    (5) Neruda considera muchas cuestiones existenciales. Aunque no tengo un “yo,” en mi poema considero cuestiones existenciales no del individuo, sino de una cultura. ¿Qué será de la diferencia cultural frente a la globalización? (la nota 11 explica la respuesta que sugiere, o amenaza, el poema).

    (6) En “Alturas,” Neruda sube para llegar a Machu Picchu. El poema, entonces, presenta Machu Picchu como algo aparte del mundo. En contraste, en mi poema el mundo extranjero ha llegado a Machu Picchu (no sólo en la referencia a la política de Buen Vecino, sino también con los Yankees, McDonalds, etc). Es un poema para un mundo globalizado. Como Neruda, para mí Machu Picchu es un símbolo de la cultura de América Latina pre-conquista; pero ahora, la nueva conquista ha llegado a Machu Picchu con el neocolonialismo. Lo utilizo como símbolo porque aunque todos estos cambios no han llegado a Machu Picchu mismo, sí han tenido influencia en otras partes del Perú y el mundo subalterno. Entonces, es una crítica de la fuerza hegemónica estadounidense en América Latina pero también se aplica a todas partes del mundo donde la globalización amenaza las diferencias culturales.

    (7) Como Carolyn Forché, decidí tomar una perspectiva ideológica en vez de nacional. No soy peruana, pero la base de mi poema es un símbolo nacional peruano. Me molesté la idea de apropiarme de un símbolo indígena–¿qué derecho tengo yo de hacerlo? Pero por tomar una perspectiva ideológica, traté de no hablar por otros, sino proveer mis observaciones ideológicas de afuera. También, creo que el hecho de que Machu Picchu es un símbolo tan fuerte refleja el poder del turismo. El sitio sólo fue una ciudad normal en el imperio Inca, pero por su redescubrimiento por Hiram Bingham en 1911, ha llegado a ser famoso por su naturaleza y arquitectura impresionantes. Entonces, es un símbolo de una cultura indígena, pero también un símbolo de turismo y apropiación. Segundo, como Forché, escribo desde una perspectiva ideológica formada por mis experiencias propias. Uso un estilo distinto de Forché; ella narra un evento (una cena) que representa una situación más amplia, mientras que yo agrego mis experiencias en Perú y los sitúo en Machu Picchu para plantear mi punto.

    (8) Un ejemplo de piedras/plumas. Específicamente, hay una influencia de Marcos Villatoro y su poema “El Salvador 1932-1981” en que tiene muchas metáforas sobre la muerte (por ejemplo, “soccer balls” como “skulls”). En mi poema, una cámara Kodak se hace arma.

    (9) Este verso refleja la influencia de Avilés. En su poema “Ghetto with a Twist of Lime,” describe una comunidad que quiere el otro accesible: un poco de lo exótico sin la conciencia de lo que significa. Igualmente, un “glossy 4×6” es un recuerdo lindo que oculta las complejidades de las influencias políticas y socioeconómicas del turismo.

    (10) Uso transformaciones para demostrar los vínculos entre lo local y global. Creo que es parecido a la tendencia de Alegría de vincular las varias niveles (local, nacional, global); por ejemplo, el café no es sólo un producto para exportación, sino para los elites significa la riqueza (el café se transforma en Cadillacs). En mi poema, las transformaciones (por ejemplo, de un cóndor en un Goodyear blimp, o la puerta del sol en McDonald’s Golden Arches), revelan la presencia de una cultura dominante estadounidense a través de la globalización.

    (11) Al fin, tenemos una respuesta para la pregunta existencial; la cultura ya no vive, sino que es un artefacto y parte de un museo. Se la puede ver, pero no la puede vivir (ni tocar como demuestra el último verso).

    (12) Como Neruda, termino con un mandato. Sin embargo, el mío es más pesimista. Al escribir el poema, pensé escribir una estrofa final en que Machu Picchu resiste los golpes y empieza levantarse para luchar por su identidad. Pero decidí terminar así para que el poema sea sólo una crítica, o un aviso. Por siempre decir “today,” trato de enfatizar que no es una condición permanente; el lector tiene la responsabilidad de interpretar el poema y decidir qué hacer.

  5. Teresa Longo

     /  December 15, 2008

    This is Mary Russell’s “why i should have listened to mom and majored in computer science.” She says it was inspired by Martin Espada’s Imagine the Angels of Bread. Mary presented her poem at the 2008 Earth Visions poetry reading in Botetourt Theater at William and Mary.

    yesterday i scolded manuel in his native tongue
    trabaja, no juegues. es necesario
    we had so much to catch up on.

    ingles. i told him.
    even though he knew i understood him.
    he told me he couldn’t memorize the diagram
    of the layers of the earth.
    why learn them all,
    when only the upper crust is important?

    the bell rang, the sheet staring still blankly,
    manuel still blankly staring.
    will you finish it at home?
    i hopefully asked.
    yes, the second grader and
    the treaty of guadalupe hidalgo lied.

    watching the zapatista army of ntional liberation
    board the screaming yellow school bus,
    upper-class, recently graduated,
    william walker in a sweater vest
    gushed over how well his students were doing.

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