Shall I Tell You? (on Ravel’s Tzigane)

Melancholy
is a desert
dust storm
And then,
and then

the salted scent
of wet caliche blows
down the city street,

and children
step out in rainbow shoes
running to catch rain
on open hands
on arcing tongues
faces, spinning, lifted in glee

but the dissonances,
too much:
too much water,
too much lightning,
flowering thunder,

children fleeing
squealing home,
to tell the adventure
dripping
all over again.
beneath raven braided
regaños*.

~LD

*regaño = a scolding

My thanks to my musician friend who pointed out the  possible poetry in a stray comment on Ravel. ~LD

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I Never Dared Trespass — NaPoWriMo2

(an ode: Lajitas Peak, Lajitas, Texas)

Once, I imagined stretching myself out
in the dust and rock
at the hem of her red velvet dress.

Hands behind my neck,
Elbows stuck out like tomahawk blades —
I knew I would see the dance of
the shimmery beads she wove into hair
so blue, so black
I would plummet with vertigo into
endless strands of braid.

She was so fine, and so right, this Night in the Desert
that she stuck like caliche in a breeze
to every memory and every dream
of untouchable tomorrows
that decades later
I believe I can reach up
and wind dimmed urban Leonids around me
against November’s “garish sun.”

~LD

“take your gaze upward, and write a poem about the stars”
With apologies to The Bard; One of my favorite speeches from R + J. ‘-)

NaPoWriMo — 1 — A Friend Always Says

“Sadly, this town is not like London” –
no Big Ben to count out
hours of our days
or umbrellas
for sale at every street side café.
No one owns galoshes
only a few have a proper raincoat,
settling instead for a black garbage bag
with holes for arms and head.
Also not like Venice,
though the lightest rain
makes gondolas seem like a fine plan
for transportation, while
buildings of concrete block
belie the mirage.
Nor is it Paris
though we boast our own
kind of tower
and from the hill
city lights glitter
and glisten
romantically.
Not a ranch,
not a city.
In between
somewhere else
and
home.

~LD

Describe “something in terms of what it is not, or not like.”

The Trouble with Dust — #NaPoWriMo5 — a golden shovel

(with apologies to William Carlos Williams)

Like wilderness everywhere, an urban desert lies just so
Constantly changing, but not by doing much
Its glowing watercolor sunrise depends
Bug-like, upon

The thickness of industry exhaust, a
long time ago, this city was red
with the blood of civilation’s wheel
that dug up the desert foxes’ barrow

Their eyes looked out and saw the glazed
tangles of steel with
eyes bright from dwindling rain
They walked down to the river only to find no water

The maquilas built the dam beside
The craggy cliffs and stones upriver, while the
Dusty limestone glistened white
All around the rancher’s wife’s chickens.

~LD

Mexican adventures with Mom

The chanates (grackles or crows, whichever) were making their usual spring ruckus in the tops of the trees while I was making oatmeal muffins, when Mom came in and said, “I thought you were in here frying bacon, then I figured you probably don’t eat bacon.” I registered the racket from the park across the street and laughed, “Of course I eat bacon, but not often, and alas, not today.” Mom and I drank tea and ate hot oatmeal muffins before heading over to the park to take a look around.

While I filled her in on the general agenda for my one and only skip day of her trip to TRC, she identified plants by their names in English for me and (I’m guessing) tried to take in the familiar, the unfamiliar and the long unseen. The morning was leisurely, and eventually, the chanates flew off to scavenge the day.

About midmorning, Mom and I trundled ourselves into Jose’s cab and went downtown to the Museo Arocena with a plan to have an early-ish lunch at the Copa de Leche, an old diner-style restaurant downtown that I’ve been going to ever since I first moved here almost fourteen years ago.

Mom goes to TRC and finds COW.

Mom goes to TRC and finds COW.


Writing about a museum visit leaves something to be desired, but I will say that we talked about Mexican history (Oh, how I wished for Mr. Miranda, our History of Mexico teacher!), were fascinated by the Arocena House with its hand-pieced parquet wood floors and stained glass windows. We oohed and ahhed over the “portable” desks with all the accessories from the early 20th century that make a desktop computer with screen look positively featherweight. Almost as an after-thought (we were getting pretty hungry at this point), we remembered the Jorge Marin sculpture exhibit, where we lost ourselves again in considerations less historic and more spiritual, philosophical and Newtonian [Please go to Marin’s website http://jorgemarin.org/ where you can find a gallery of his work]. We even made a cursory tour of the bookstore with mental notes for a return visit if needed.

We beat the lunch rush to the Copa at around 12:30 or so, but we were both pretty famished (we had missed almuerzo which is usually around 10 or 11 am, and lunch proper isn’t until 2 or 3 in the afternoon). We ate, talked and browsed the pamphlets we’d picked up at the museum. The bolillos [French-style bread rolls] with salsa instead of chips was a hit, and lunch (chile relleno for Mom, and huevos a la Mexicana for me) was delicious.

When we finished, I had the bright idea to walk down to the Mercado Juarez, where I promptly wound up walking us in circles until we ended up back at the museum. We took a stroll around the Plaza de Armas — lately armed at catty corners by big Mexican Marine Hummers full of young men in fatigues carrying big guns – grabbed a cab and headed back to my place.

The Mexican Flag at the Plaza Mayor in Torreón, Coahuila.

The Mexican Flag at the Plaza Mayor in Torreón, Coahuila.


Because a trip to the Comarca Lagunera is incomplete without a trip to Chepo nieve, on Sunday I decided we should head over to the Alameda where there’s an authentic Chepo franchise (for the uninitiated, the “original” Chepo is in Lerdo, a couple towns over) as well as the pulga, a public library, and a 7-11 where the restaurant Chihua’s used to be. We ate our lime, coconut with strawberry chepos on a bench in the square and watched people, listened to a student banda de Guerra (war band – drum and bugle) practice. The morning was exactly perfect, sunny but not hot, with a breeze, but not windy.

We spent another chunk of time in the library. It’s really a pretty little library. Cluttered around the edges, but the stacks are orderly, even if many of the volumes are outdated, threadbare and scant. There is even a media center with five or six (ancient but functional) computers for free Internet use by patrons. The stained glass window in the library designed and produced by a local artisan and a local glass company took our attention for several minutes as we deciphered what the window depicted.

Finally, we decided to head over to a little restaurant a colleague had told me about on the opposite corner of the Alameda. At El Sureño, surrounded by colorful paper maiche, clay and wood masks from all over the world, we enjoyed a lunch inspired by foods common to the southern part of Mexico. But not before our waiter plied us with a long list of various tequilas and mezcal. We demurred, asking for limeade with mineral water. Even I couldn’t fathom tequila on a late Sunday morning. While we considered the menu, we enjoyed black bean dip and a couple of kinds of salsa with our totopos. Once we had asked one hundred and one questions about the menu, we settled on tamales in banana leaf and a kind of empanada stuffed with fried squash flower, all drenched in cream and cheese. I don’t think either of us was especially in love with the empanada (the cream was a little sour and unexpected — it might grow on you with practice), but the tamal was MUAH! Absolutely amazing. Something about the flavor the banana leaf adds to the cornmeal changes the nature of the tamal completely. Our lunch that day was long, slow and delightful and bracketed by the library, a few gift purchases in the pulga, and the waiter who was pushing Sunday, late morning booze, and the intriguing masks all around us.
El Sureño masks
El Sureño wood masks
The rest of the week we spent at school. The first morning, I pointed in the general direction of things of interest on campus, walked Mom over to the elementary office and went about my business. By the end of the day, she’d been “roped into” (I don’t think this was a particularly challenging roping job) substituting for a second grade teacher on Wednesday, and wound up as an emergency substitute on Tuesday, as well. We came home at the end of that first day and Mom told me all about the first graders she had worked (played?) with, trying to remember names and picking out personalities when she couldn’t remember names. All week my seniors and sophomores hassled me, “Where’s your mom?” they asked with a slight whine (a la first grade) in their voice. “We want to meet her.” Naturally, when they finally got to meet her, on Thursday, I think, most didn’t know what on earth to do with her. I had to laugh. One student needed no introduction and hugged her when he saw her in the hallway, intuiting that she’s family by extension.

Finishing up their proof of having actually learned something.  I have the best students. (I only included this photo and not the others because I didn't really want to post recognizable people without permission. Y'all don't be mad.)

Finishing up their proof of having actually learned something. I have the best students. (I only included this photo and not the others because I didn’t really want to post recognizable people without permission. Y’all don’t be mad.)


I see this view everyday; occasionally with less haze.

I see this view everyday; occasionally with less haze.


3rd floor CAT_southwest
In the afternoons after school we mostly crashed and burned and then made dinner, but we also did a few other things, like visit the pottery shop where I’ve been going all these years for super cool, genuine Mexican things (like ceramic, hand-painted house number tiles). Mom got most of her loot there (a ceramic lizard, her house number with frame, a time pig for the youngest grandbaby, a ceramic plaque reading “Casa de la Abuela” – serendipity is everywhere), and I was pleased to see the señor owner who had been absent last year. One afternoon after class Mom had the dubious honor of hearing me rehearse an Art Festival song with the band made up of other faculty members, far more skilled than I. Mom was duly impressed. Luckily, I have pretty decent day job that I actually like.

When I went with Mom to the airport on Saturday morning, I pointed out the places she needed to know and talked her through what came after we checked her in. And then I left her there and made the mad dash back to my house where I made all the calls to all the people who needed to know that she was safely deposited at the airport and would soon be back within reach. And then, I had a little siesta. ~LD

P.S. I am terrible about taking photos; even if I carry the camera around with me, I forget to capture moments. I hope these will give you an idea in spite of me. ~LD

Turn Us To Stone

Tonight under a waning early-winter moon,
the smack of gunfire fresh, but distant, on the air,
I’d like to be among the stones
that line the cliffs along
the banks and tributaries
at the presa.
I’d like to stroll —
water rushing off on emergencies
great and small, etching a soundtrack —
and there among the wild grasses, run cool hands
over the faces of those ancient, stony watchers.
The heat of desert sun,
not forgotten, still rising from their skin.

Skin that was aged and pitted when
Revolutionaries rode through
with revolvers and rifles at the ready.
Skin that warms the hides
of a hundred beady lizard eyes —
witnesses to destruction
and foundation for rebirth.
Solid, warm, stones
resonant and humming with the lyrics
to thrilling songs and stories
of a lover at home
of liberty
of life.

I’d like to lean back into their heat
and absorb their ability to stand
Still and silent and strong
in the face of destruction.
Waiting,
watching
for change.
The Revolutionaries
would weep
in their copas
to hear the squeal of sirens
stark and bright under a waning moon.
I want to touch beloved, mighty, wise stones
that they could
banish human greed and
return us, lowly wanderers,
to flesh and motion and joy.

~LD

Dirty Words, at Home

At around four years old, I learned my first words in Spanish: ojo and rojo. I remember these two words in particular because even though they sounded similar, they meant remarkably different things.  Over the years as I “studied” Spanish (with greater and lesser degrees of commitment and interest), I must have managed to absorb enough to keep my “other language” neurons ticking because when I came to México to work in 1999 it only took me about six months to carry on a reasonably intelligible conversation. I didn’t know I had really “done it”, though, until one afternoon riding the city bus I overheard and understood a conversation between mother and daughter about the girl’s latest novio.  I wanted to kiss them both, as if they were somehow responsible for the flip of the switch in my brain; with difficulty, I restrained myself.

By the time I arrived in Torreón, I had studied Spanish off and on for a minimum of eight years in various formal and informal settings.  I had snuck my way through tests of mastery of vocabulary, regular and irregular verbs in all the various voices, tenses and times (I still tend to say “rompido” instead of “roto” for broken). I tried out my spoken Spanish for the first time ever at eighteen years-old on a mission trip to Monterrey, Nuevo León with my grandparents, and while I couldn’t haggle in the market to save my life, I guess I’d have done no better if the language had been English. Thankfully, Pa was a good haggler in any language. A few years later in grad school, I even wrote a halfway intelligible essay analyzing El Lazarillo de Tormes, a picaresque novel by an unknown Spanish author that I’d guess everyone who takes Spanish lit reads. On paper, at least, my Spanish language résumé was quite respectable.

In practice, my second language was, well, something less than the A+ indicated on my report cards.  After years of having only a handful of teachers who ever actually spoke to us in Spanish or obligated us to speak in Spanish, the first months in México I resorted to old high school favorites to get by: I copied and out-and-out plagiarized.  Luckily, this wasn’t school, it was life, and so no points were deducted.  While waiting in line at the grocery store (in those days Gigante, now Soriana), I learned how to ask what the total was by eavesdropping on the customer in front of me.  In line at the convenience store, how to ask for cigarettes and how to pronounce the name of the brand I wanted.  From a nearby table at a restaurant to ask for an ashtray, bottled water, limeade with mineral water, and whether or not the salsa was hot (¿Pica?).  As I gained confidence, I gained new vocabulary and expressions from taxi drivers, students, the bands my students listened to (El TRI!, Maná, and Mecano) and bag boys at the grocery store (one in particular from the Gigante days I am still acquainted with – he has since studied in the U.S. and now works as a manager in the mall. Big step up). Roughly around 2006, I began to be forced to add words and expressions to my vocabulary that no one ever wants to learn, in any language.

The words of violence in the two languages I know are ugly, but curiously graceful.  Gunshots, assassin, deceased. Balazos, sicario, occiso. Disparos, balaceros, granadazos, asaltos, robos, secuestros, narcos, narco-manteles, narco-fosas, narco-bloqueos, nuco, calcinados, explosiones, detonaciones, chivas, federales, marinos, zetas, malandros, agresión, extorsión, “las llamadas feas,” mucho movimiento, amenazas, encapuchados, and malitos — among far too many others. To remain informed, to feel reasonably safe, they were words I had to learn. I’d have preferred my new words to be more literary.  But then, these words are literary, I suppose. Or will be, one day.  Literary the way the language of the mob became literary in Chicago and NYC. Literary the way the language of the Holocaust became literary.  Over time. Far too long a time.

All that brutal language, barren and empty and soiled as it is with the blood of tens of thousands of lives lost — lives of the wicked, the ignorant, and the innocent — is like the desert. While the drought rages in waves of heat and hate, the regular guy on the street keeps moving.  Gets up, goes to work. Works an honest twelve-hour day, earns an honest, if insufficient wage (not like me with my seven-hour work day and relatively high salary). Comes home to watch the Santos game — rejoicing in a win (GOLAZO!!!) and mourning a defeat — or to see an old movie or telenovela, to put the kids to bed after dinner and homework. He joins in the occasional carne asada in the neighborhood and has a couple of beers or four.  And then, after a six-day workweek, takes a well-deserved day off before starting all over again.

When the rain finally comes to end a drought, desert life starts again almost instantly. The greens jump out of the landscape, the cactus bloom, and the desert frogs rise up from under the ground where they’ve waited with patience. We need a rain like that to grow new language that can replace the one we’ve had to create and learn as a defense against scary, unpredictable times. I hope when that rain finally comes, we will have found out that no matter how much has been broken (rota, rota, rota) by the dirty words, we can re-build language in ways that not only change what we talk about, but fill us with hope again. Then we can leave the words of violence out in the wilds to gather dust and erode in the wind of time. ~LD

Letter Home — prose part 1: A Rainy Morning

Every weekday morning around 6:10 or so, I open my front gate and hand my things to José, my regular taxi driver for the past four years.  The independent, headstrong part of me still finds his insistence on walking my bags the five measly feet from the gate to the car annoying and somewhat insulting.  I pass him my bags with a “Buen día, José,”  in any case — reminding myself that his insistence is more about his culture than it is about any weakness, real or perceived, of mine —  and lock up while he loads the car with my lunch bag and messenger bag overburdened with the laptop and the student papers or administrative paperwork I brought home the previous workday.

I fold myself into the front passenger’s seat and buckle up. The morning is dark, that darkest moment just before the sun comes up behind the backs of the mountains all around, surprising them from their slumber. As we begin the twelve-minute drive toward the colegio, I look up to and count a remarkable number of stars for a city sky. Lately, what I assume to be Mars has loomed large, sharp and bright near the ragged, mountainous, eastern horizon.

José’s kids returned to classes nearly a full week after my students did, and he tells me of their various adventures. Their first day of classes, it rained, a frog-strangler that came just as José was dropping me off that lasted until right before the first bell rang an hour or so later.   I stood in the hallway outside my classroom with the yearbook camera trying to capture the sheets of rain in the floodlights above the campus quad, while across town, José’s three kids offered to walk the last blocks to school because the line of cars was impossibly long. He made them stay in the car, and told me that he told them that being late on the first day wouldn’t be that big a deal, especially not in the rain.

After giving up my feeble photographic efforts, I walked down the hallway to the teachers’ room and made myself a cup of coffee, and returned to the open-air hallway to sip liquid wakefulness and absorb the rain with my senses.  Later that day, I knew, when the rain had run out of the clouds, the sun would turn dampness into smothering humidity, but in that moment, with the sun barely peeking through the clouds over my shoulder, it was cool and there was time in the Chihuahuan desert morning to think, to feel and to breathe safe in the embrace of the Sierra Madre.  I would deal with the heat when it came, and marvel in the sketch of my shadow on the damp sidewalk as I found myself home again, wishing we could have a little more rain. ~LD

from EL DESIERTO NO ES PARA COBARDES
by Carlos Reyes Avila

“En el desierto todo tiene el mismo nombre
Díos y el diablo viven juntos
y andan de puntillas correteándose las sombras…

…vivimos demasiado cerca de dios y del diablo
hay que echar solo un ojo a la laguna
para ver la forma en que se dibuja
tu sombra sobre la arena…”

http://www.artecomunicarte.com/ObraDatosPAD3_L.php?Obr=16

from The Desert Isn’t for Cowards
rough translation (by me)

In the desert everything has the same name
God and the devil live together
And walk on tiptoe harassing the shade…

…We live too close to god and the devil
Just take one look at the Laguna
To see the way your shadow
Is sketched on the sand…

(Many thanks to Julio M. for the reminder about this poem, and the inspiration it brought today.)

Letter Home — a poem

my tree

first flowering after the big freeze of 2011 — this tree is now less than half its original size, but flowering again. Anyone know what kind of tree it might be?

The workaday world winds its way in wonder,
wilty-eyed workers drive on
Under whistling stars and winking moon

my inheritance 2012

Taken from the roof into the Mike and Amanda’s back patio…this sun is hanging in my dining room now, sans duckie. =*(

Fine, just fine
The way the sun comes up
Behind the backs of the mountains
Who roll back over and return to dream oblivion
They’ll never know that there was anything to miss

In full sun, the dusty haze of autumn
Begins to collect in the valleys
‘tween here and the ancient hills
behind the steam rising from my coffee mug

Grinding away at stones
We meet and greet
Smile and nod,
We understand and sympathize
Adolescent voices all a-clamor
Adolescent bodies reflect against
each other all unknowing
Like electrons and heat mirages

All summer’s sins sink satisfied against
cliffs’ skin, before the winds sweep in
Brush of winter chill hovers near
Cooler days to come
Will clear the dust from the air
Leaving the day to day
As it always was

the rainy season

All three of these photos are mine, and I accept all blame. =)

The workaday world winding its way in wonder,
wilty-eyed workers driving on
Under whistling stars and winking moon.

~LD