Poetry at the Post: It’s All About Red in Oaxaca with Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Red Ghazal
BY AIMEE NEZHUKUMATATHIL

I’ve noticed after a few sips of tea, the tip of her tongue, thin and red
with heat, quickens when she describes her cuts and bruises—deep violets and red.

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Red! I love the color—and the poetic form of the ghazal. It’s not difficult to find the color red in Oaxaca, Mexico—it’s everywhere! These are some quick shots I took on  my iPhone Sunday morning while walking back to my apartment after breakfast. Just red!

 

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I’m terrible at cards. Friends huddle in for Euchre, Hearts—beg me to play
with them. When it’s obvious I can clearly win with a black card, I select a red.

Poetry at the Post: Seeing Green in Oaxaca with Delmore Schwartz

In the Green Morning, Now, Once More
BY DELMORE SCHWARTZ

In the green morning, before
Love was destiny,
The sun was king,
And God was famous.

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I tried to capture the “green” of Oaxaca, Mexico—a place known more for its reds, pinks, and blues than green but here’s what I discovered tooling around el centro. 

green 1

green 3

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Today I also learned about the Batallón San Patricio. In a nutshell, this was a battalion of a few hundred immigrants, mostly from Catholic Ireland and Germany, who fought on the side of Mexico against the United States during the Mexican-American War. Fascinating story!

"In memory of the Irish soldiers of the heroic St. Patrick's Battalion, martyrs who gave their lives to the Mexican cause in the United States' unjust invasion of 1847." photo credit: Fennessey CC .30 by SA
“In memory of the Irish soldiers of the heroic St. Patrick’s Battalion, martyrs who gave their lives to the Mexican cause in the United States’ unjust invasion of 1847.”
photo credit: Fennessey CC 3.0 by SA

Poetry at the Post: Opera in Oaxaca with Phillip Gross

Opera Bouffe
BY PHILIP GROSS

The count of cappuccino,
the marquise of meringue,
all the little cantuccini…
and what was the song they sang?

 

Teatro Macedonia Alcala Oaxaca, Mexico March 2015
Teatro Macedonia Alcala
Oaxaca, Mexico
March 2015

The warmth and sun of Oaxaca contrasted with the medieval Scottish highlands of Rossini’s La Donna del Lago transmitted live last Saturday in Mexico—as well as in more than 70 countries worldwide—thanks to the New York Metropolitan Opera’s simulcast program.

Running a bit late, I rushed up the white marble staircase of  the lovely Teatro Macedonia Alcala — a theater built at the turn of the 19th century in the style of Louis XV. I took my seat on the right, aisle E.  Michele Mariotti lifts his baton, the aria begins….

The story is simple: three men in love with Elena, a young woman whose wishes are at cross purpose to her father’s political ambitions. He chooses one man; she wants another. And, oh yes—there’s special ring, a king and a very happy ending. I loved it!

“Tanti affetti”—the final showpiece aria sung by the marvelous Joyce DiDonato—had me humming and joyful on my walk up Calle Alcala to my minimalist apartment uptown.

As it was Saturday, it was wedding day and just as I passed by Santo Domingo, a bride and groom were exiting the church.
 

Marmota  Santo Domingo  Oaxaca, Mexico March 14, 2015
Marmota
Santo Domingo
Oaxaca, Mexico
March 14, 2015

I stopped and prayed for Jimena and Claudio…may this day not be the end but a beginning of a journey through life with love.  Meanwhile, poor Elena is doomed to the nightly repetition of her angst over three men never to be released into the real world after the final aria at Stirlng Castle..

We’ll slip away together,
perfect ghosts of appetite,
the balancing of ash on fire
and whim—the mating flight

 

Poetry at the Post: Wall Art in Oaxaca with Ray Gonzalez

The Walls
BY RAY GONZALEZ

Sor Juana de la Cruz hid her new poem
in a hole in the wall, but when a fellow nun
went to retrieve it after Sor Juana’s death,
it was gone
.

wall art #1

On my way to class at UABJO this morning, I decided to focus my attention on walls.

The walls of Oaxaca offer a quick peek into contemporary Oaxacan culture. Walking the streets of El Centro Historico, you’d been challenged to find a building free of graffiti, poster remnants or paintings on its walls.

It was cloudy and cold this morning in Oaxaca. Yes, cold in March! In fact, it even snowed in Puebla overnight causing the closure of the main highway to Mexico City. Snow???!!! Just the thought of it made me run into Lobo Azul for a latte para llevar but before I did, I snapped a couple of photos.

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Ray Gonzalez, a poet from El Paso, Texas, has written a terrifying (although not totally lacking in humor) poem connecting walls to quasi-historical events. After reading “The Walls,” I don’t think I will ever think about walls in the same way again.

Two days before Salvador Allende was assassinated,
Pablo Neruda, dying of cancer, woke at Isla Negra
to find the walls of the room where he lay
were covered in hundreds of clinging starfish.

Poetry at the Post: Walking in Oaxaca with Thomas Traherne

Walking
BY THOMAS TRAHERNE (1636-1674)

To walk abroad is, not with eyes,
But thoughts, the fields to see and prize;
Else may the silent feet,
Like logs of wood,
Move up and down, and see no good
Nor joy nor glory meet.

 

Lake at Santo Domingo Tamoltepec March 2015
Lake at Santo Domingo Tamoltepec
March 2015

 

I woke up yesterday and felt the need for a poem—a poem to accompany me on a hike in the hills of Oaxaca, Mexico.  There is a poem for every occasion, mood or opportunity. It’s true. If you seek it, you will find it as I did with Traherne’s “Walking,”  with its opening line of  “To walk abroad is, not with eyes, But thoughts…”

Stained glass  at Hereford Cathedral   Thomas Traherne window by Tomm Denny and installed in 2007. photo credit: Pam Fray CC by SA 2.0
Stained glass at Hereford Cathedral
Thomas Traherne window by Tomm Denny and installed in 2007.
photo credit: Pam Fray CC by SA 2.0

 

Little is known of Thomas Traherne, an English poet, clergyman and theologian. Not a well-established poet of his time, he is almost “wholly a discovery of twentieth century scholarship” after one of his manuscripts was accidentally found in a London bookstall in the late 19th century.

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Although I am not a big fan of metaphysical poetics, “Walking” was the perfect text to contemplate on the trails of Santo Domingo Tamoltepec.

While in those pleasant paths we talk,
’Tis that tow’rds which at last we walk;
For we may by degrees
Wisely proceed
Pleasures of love and praise to heed,
From viewing herbs and trees.

Poetry at the Post: The Travels of an Accordion

Урок по акордеон * by Alice-Catherine Jennings, as translated from the English by Dimana Ivanova

Те се вмъкнаха в ретро колата и седнаха на предните й места.

Това беше времето, което прекарваха заедно всяка

Oaxaca skyline photo credit: John Jennings
Oaxaca skyline
photo credit: John Jennings

To see your work in print in your own language is pretty great but to see it transformed into another language is totally awesome.

“Accordion Lesson” began as a response to a  prompt: ‘Write something from your childhood.” Uh oh! I really did not want to walk down the stairs to that dark basement of memories yet I felt committed to the exercise.

In Oaxaca, Mexico to study Spanish, I was feeling removed from my life in the States, and even more so from my life as a child growing up in Ohio. I was stumped. One morning on my way to the university, I found a connection—the acordeonistas of Oaxaca.

Yes, I admit it. I played an accordion as a child—for about 5 years. My accordion was big, emerald green with a tiny diamond in the center to  mark the middle C. I was a tall, skinny kid and the accordion overwhelmed my body.

My green accordion has traveled far via this poem—from Oaxaca to publication in Ireland and south to Bratislava, where my translator, Dimana Ivanova, currently lives.  Dimana, is not only a scholar and translator but also a poet. Here are the opening lines of her lovely poem “Come.” You can find the full poem is on her website. 

Come by Dimana Ivanova

Translated from Bulgarian by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

Come and enter my soft sorrow,

with a velvet tail of silver!

Enter me like a gray fox,

enter and run tenderly on my flesh,



*”Accordion Lesson” was first published in Boyne Berries,  March 2014

Accordion Lesson by Alice-Catherine Jennings

They slip into the front seat of the station

wagon. This is their time together

Poetry at the Post: I am a Nomad

“The Dancers in the Plaza”
“Nomad’s Song”

JOHN GOULD FLETCHER

Let mine lips salute the rain—
Salute the rain—
As the sunlight blazes, wavers,
over the long stamping lines
of the dancers in the plaza:

I’ll never be the one
who grows roots out of her feet.
I’m a traveler.
I live to wander.

Alani map cc by 2.5
Alani map
cc by 2.5

There have always been nomadic folk:

the Bastarnae,
the Samartians
the Alans,
the Costoboci,
the Carpi too.

We all have our reasons:

Wanderlust?
A search for new lands?
Opposition to status?
A desire to leave behind guilt and depression?
Or just a yen to see it all?

John Gould Fletcher
John Gould Fletcher

Originally from Arkansas, John Gould Fletcher spent much of his life in England. He eventually retuned to Arkansas with his second wife, the noted author of children’s books, Charlie May Simon. They built a house outside of Little Rock but traveled frequently to New York, the Southwest. Sadly, suffering from depression, Fletcher committed suicide by drowning himself in a pond nearby his home.

NOMAD’s SONG

By the blaze of the last campfire
We will eat, we will drink, we will be merry.

Whether you are the one who stays or the one who wanders, be merry.

Poetry at the Post, Day 8: A Trip to Argentina!

“Running Water” by Alfonsina Storni (1892-1938), as translated by Muna Lee

May 30, 2014
May 30, 2014

Yes, I move, I live, I wander astray—
Water moving running, intermingling, over the sands…

I am obsessed with water Yes, clean, abundant water. After three years living on and off in Oaxaca, Mexico, I have lots of water stories. Oaxaca,Oaxaca is a city of scarce water.

I seem to be attracted to dry places. Now I am in the desert of Far West Texas, It is June and we are waiting for the rains. If all goes well, the rains will begin soon. They have already begun in Oaxaca.

Alfonsina Storni
Alfonsina Storni

When I read Storni’s poem “Running Water,” I can see and feel the water running….But wait! There is something else, an obstruction: “What are you doing here…/You, the stone in the path…?”

We all find those stones in our way. Sometimes, they are more than stones. They are boulders. I prefer to read the ending of this poem as hopeful. The stone in the path offers a diversion, another possibility. You can read the full poem here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse/26/3#!/20575067

Sadly, for Alfonsina Storni, the boulders of breast cancer and solitude were just too big. At 1:00 am on October 25, 1938, she left her room and walked down to the sea.Legend has it she just kept walking into the sea until she drowned. Her body was discovered later that day.

Here is a link to “Alfonsina y el Mar,” a hauntingly lovely song in memory of Storni. Composed by Ariel Ramírez and Félix Luna, it is sung here by Mercedes Sosa.

I read “Running Water” to the deer this morning. With poetry, you have to find your audience wherever you can. They were not impressed. They ran away.

Poetry at the Post, Day 5: Belly Dancer by Diane Wakoski

May 27, 2014
May 27, 2014

I had the pleasure of meeting Diane Wakoski a few years back in Tulum, Mexico. We were staying at the same small inn downtown. In Tulum for the program, US POETS IN MEXICO, Diane gave a reading one night in a palapa by the beach. I was mesmerized by the poems, her presence.

Belly dancers bedazzle me too. I almost signed up to take belly dance lessons one year in San Antonio, Texas. That was the year I tried lots of strange stuff. While reading “Belly Dancer” this morning at the post, I could still recall that desire to wear the long silk skirt, the beaded fringe.

Where does this thin green silk come from that covers my body?
Surely any woman wearing such fabrics
would move her body just to feel them touching every part of her.

You can read the entire poem here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/176001
And for more information on US POETS IN MEXICO, visit http://www.uspoetsinmexico.org. In 2014, the program will be held in Oaxaca, Mexico October 27-31.

The Poetics of Laundry—A Garden Looking To Be Tamed

laundry1

Doing the laundry is akin to reading The Iliad. There is the ritual of loading the washer. If not done regularly, the task of clean clothes becomes a burden. Such is the work of The Iliad. If a commitment to read daily is not made, your charge to push through to the end of it seems overwhelming.

A charge it is as the description of war takes up at least half of The Iliad. And no two battles are the same. “…every battle rises above the last in greatness, horror, and confusion.” (Alexander Pope)

Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus by Nikolai Ge
Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus by Nikolai Ge

In Oaxaca, my life is easy. I stuff my clothes in a bag and carry them up a cobbled pathway and drop them off at Lavanderia Burbumatic. Some days, it is loco at the laundry. The mound of clothes is a Mount Olympus.

I imagine the lavandera lifting her head from those mounds and crying “Oh dear brother, help us! Give us your horses—so I can reach Olympus….” (The Iliad, 5: 359-60, as translated by Robert Fagles.)

I don’t know how they keep it all straight yet week after week whatever I put in in that bag, I get back—unlike at home. There a sock-eating Cyclops that lives inside my washing machine. He must. How else could so many sock “singlets” go missing?

My comrades left me here in the Cyclops’ vast cave…It’s a house of blood and gory feasts, vast and dark inside. (The Aeneid, as translated by A. S. Kline) Oops! Mixing classics.

The Cyclops by Odilon Redon
The Cyclops by Odilon Redon

Burbumatic must be monster free as my socks, like vowels in Ionic diphthongs, are reunited and layered between the pants and leggings. Each piece of clothing is folded art, a cotton origami.

Budapest is in my future. I’m very excited. I will miss Oaxaca, my neighborhood laundry, yet soon I’ll be walking the streets of Buda looking for my local patyolat. Patyolat??

Spoiler alert! At last, when young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shown once more, …the Trojans buried Hector breaker of horses. (The Iliad, 24:926, 944, as translated by Robert Fagles.)

Achilles Slays Hector
Achilles Slays Hector

We’re reading The Iliad this May in the Global Reading Group, a virtual literary salon. Contact me to join @ alicecatherinej@gmail.com. And, it’s not all battles! We’re looking at food too!

http://www.kalofagas.ca/2009/05/24/parsley-salad-μαϊντανοσαλάτα-σύρου/