Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

lunes, abril 30, 2007

Supermarkets At Night

In his 1955 poem, A Supermarket in California, Allen Ginsberg wrote:

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for
I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache
self-conscious looking at the full moon.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went
into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families
shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the
avocados, babies in the tomatoes!--and you, Garcia Lorca,
what were you doing down by the watermelons?

This poem reminds me of a solo trip I made to California more than a decade ago. I wanted the fabled nectarines. And the juicy peaches. And above all, mangos. It was late. And dark. I went to the 24-hour supermarket in Marin and headed for the produce.

Ginsberg was right. It was neon. It was full of penumbras. There were whole families shopping at night. It was just wonderful. And what a contrast with the "fruit" in grey upstate New York. I bought bags of fruit and joyfully ate them all.

I didn't see the martyred Garcia Lorca down by the watermelons. I wish I had. I would have talked with him. "I want to tell you how much I like a very short poem you wrote a long time ago."

"What poem?"

"El Silencio."
El Silencio
Oye, hijo mio, el silencio.
Es un silencio ondulado,
un silencio,
donde resbalan valles y ecos
y que inclina las frentes
hacia el suelo.

The Silence
Listen, my son: the silence
It's a rolling silence,
a silence,
where valleys and echoes slip,
and it bends foreheads
down towards the ground.

"Oh, thank you," he might say. "Would you like a slice of watermelon?"

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martes, abril 24, 2007

Like A Sleeping Amber, Como El Ambar Dormido

Pablo Neruda

The world is a better place when there is wonderful poetry. Here is a great poem in Spanish and English. May it make your day brighter. Iremos juntos por las aguas del tiempo.

Sonnet LXXXI

Ya eres mía. Reposa con tu sueño en mi sueño.
Amor, dolor, trabajos, deben dormir ahora.
Gira la noche sobre sus invisibles ruedas
y junto a mí eres pura como el ámbar dormido.
Ninguna más, amor, dormirá con mis sueños.
Irás, iremos juntos por las aguas del tiempo.
Ninguna viajará por la sombra conmigo,
sólo tú, siempreviva, siempre sol, siempre luna.
Ya tus manos abrieron los puños delicados
y dejaron caer suaves signos sin rumbo,
tus ojos se cerraron como dos alas grises,
mientras yo sigo el agua que llevas y me lleva:
la noche, el mundo, el viento devanan su destino,
y ya no soy sin ti sino sólo tu sueño.

* * *

And now you're mine. Rest with your dream in my dream.
Love and pain and work should all sleep, now.
The night turns on its invisible wheels,
and you are pure beside me as a sleeping amber.

No one else, Love, will sleep in my dreams. You will go,
we will go together, over the waters of time.
No one else will travel through the shadows with me,
only you, evergreen, ever sun, ever moon.

Your hands have already opened their delicate fists
and let their soft drifting signs drop away; your eyes closed like two gray
wings, and I move

after, following the folding water you carry, that carries
me away. The night, the world, the wind spin out their destiny.
Without you, I am your dream, only that, and that is all.

-Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), from Cien Sonetos de Amor (1959)

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sábado, abril 21, 2007

The Road Past Tulum

Route 307, Quintana Roo, Mexico, 1980

When I first came here, Tulum was a dusty, little Mayan village and appeared to be just a wide spot in the narrow, two-lane road running from Cancun to Chetumal and then to the Belize border. After Tulum, there seemed to be nothing but jungle for miles. The vegetation and the mangroves were thick, the mud was often quite deep, and the plants were tall and grew right up to the side of the road and into it. Some even tried to reach into the windows of passing cars to touch the occupants or snatch them from their seats. Suicidal birds ran clucking from the sides of the road and directly into the sides of passing cars. Clouds of mosquitoes hovered, waiting for warm flesh. Lizards stood on every flat surface flicking their tongues. The village– then it was more a haphazard assemblage of weakening concrete and rusted, corrugated tin-- didn’t have restaurants and European bars and tourist shops up and down the highway. It didn’t have a bank and places to telephone the US and Europe. It didn’t really have places to telephone anywhere. It didn’t have sunburned backpackers with dreadlocks. Or tattooed and pierced Italians in the summer. That was still years away. The inhospitality should have been clear to anyone who cared to look into the situation, but there weren’t many people doing that.

--from a work in progress

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martes, abril 17, 2007

And Now Appearing

Marcel Proust, the father of blogging

Google is such a useful tool. With its help I've been assembling a wonderful list of literary blogs ("links", a "blogroll", if you will). The list is published to the right of this post. You'll note that it is not alphabetical or organized in any other readily discernible way. I like it like that. One can randomly pick a site with an intriguing name, click on it, and be transported to a place far away. And when one arrives, one can linger and sample the fare. As Proust wrote, "Let us be grateful to people who make us happy: They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."

Blogging being what it is, hopefully a participatory genre, and being an optimist when all is said and done, I thought, "I wonder what lit blogs others would recommend to add to my list?" After all, there really isn't a limitation to the number of blogs I can link to. And maybe others (thats you, dear reader) know of some I would treasure but haven't found yet.

And so, this request: please tell me your suggestions. As Proust pointed out,"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."

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jueves, abril 12, 2007

El Pato Ha Vuelto!

Many years ago in early April I bought four mallard ducklings at Blue Seal Seed and Feed. They were tiny, and like most poultry in this county, they had been mailed with their siblings to the feed store when they were one day old. They lived in a crate and swam on our pond. One survived the nightly predators to full maturity. And because we wouldn't clip his wings, when Fall finally arrived, nature's plan took over. He flapped his wings, circled the pond, quacked a few times, and flew away toward the South. His name was "Tricky Duck." And he was a traveler.

Remarkably, he came back every Spring. He brought his mate with him. And then his children-- I imagine they were his children-- returned each Spring with their mates. And then his grandchildren. And their mates. For almost twenty years.

This Spring has been quite cold and bitter; there have been geese, but, so far no appearance by Tricky Duck.

Tonight was cold. Although it's April, it had rained and snowed and sleeted and hailed all day. Although it's April it was barely 32 degrees. It was so cold and foggy tonight that I only heard 2 or 3 peepers singing to each other. Usually at this point we have gigantic choirs of peepers and celestial oratorios.

But then, tonight, a surprise. I heard him quacking in the dark. Tricky Dick's unmistakeable quack. Quacking to the dog to stay away. Quacking to the sky spirits. Quacking aloud. Quacking for joy. The duck has returned.

Today there was very sad news. My colleague Gerry suddenly passed away. He used occasionally to tell judges, before he was one himself, that if something looked like a duck, quacked like a duck, and walked like a duck, it was a duck. He was not talking about Tricky Duck, whom he didn't know; it was usually about some legal point, some faint and quite distant analogy. But tonight, Tricky Duck's quacking in the dark and fog seemed a fitting, first memorial. He is already missed.

domingo, abril 01, 2007

Love Poems, Where Have You Gone?

Pablo Neruda

Today I am somewhat bewildered. I could claim it was the 2 hour change of time from the Yucatan to here (it's usually one hour). Or that it's jet lag. Or being in beautiful Bahia Soliman for a week and away from the news, the Internet, television, and English speaking media. Or that it was spending a week with my boys, now grown, and then having to return to the workaday world here. Or I could make some other unsatisfactory excuses. But the thing that I keep coming back to is the library.

This past October I was building a library in Bahia Soliman. I wrote about it, and you, dear readers, made suggestions. I continued to carry suitcases of books to Bahia Soliman whenever I went, trying to avoid the over-50-pound surcharge on airlines, putting them on the shelves, and labeling them, "Please don't take from Bahia Soliman." The library has grown to about 65 volumes.

When I arrived on March 23, 2007, I was delighted to be again at the house on the pristine bay with the beautiful coral and the tropical selva. I took a look at the books-- I was finishing one and wanted to start another-- the books, that my daughter painstakingly placed in alphabetical order by author. And, alas, some were missing. I searched the bedroom, the rest of the house, the closets, the drawers. Nothing. They were just not to be found. It seems that Neruda's Memoirs and some books of his poems-- these had the Spanish on one side and the English facing it-- have left the Bay. And, as if that weren't enough, Jorge Amado's books Teresa Battista and Gabriela, Cinnamon and Clove have vanished without a trace. Without a note. Without a promise of return. Into the world far beyond Quintana Roo.

Jorge Amado

Apparently, my original presumption was incorrect. I assumed I would build the library and the guests who rent the house would appreciate it by reading avidly but leaving the treasured volumes behind. Clearly, I didn't fully understand the magnetism of these used, paperback books. I do now.

What if, for example, I myself was two thirds finished with Gabriela, Cinnamon and Clove, and I had a flight in less than 24 hours. And I couldn't miss the flight. And I wanted to savor all of the rest of Amado's prose without making believe I was Evelyn Woods on speed. And I wouldn't want to leave, and fly home, and order the book, and then wait for the book to arrive from That would be too much trouble. No vale la pena. Wouldn't I too steal the book? Probably. And then, wouldn't stealing it make it all the more a treasure? And wouldn't I put it in a special place on my shelves. And wouldn't I look at its bent spine and think of glorious days on the best beach in Mexico's Yucatan. Wouldn't I savor my trip again and again as I sat in cold Minneapolis or Fargo, North Dakota, waiting for a spring that is predicted but unwilling to declare itself?

And then we have the lovers. Oh, the wind on the reef is not the only producer of sighs in Bahia Soliman. And if the lovers had seen the movie the Il Postino, or had read Antonio Skarmeta's novel, El cartero de Neruda. Or if by chance they found Neruda's poems by chance and for mysterious reasons read them aloud to each other in English and Spanish. Wouldn't that be romantic and wonderful? There is, after all, a very good reason why I love these poems.

No, I don't subscribe to the view, expressed by Guillermo Cabrera Infante in Infante's Inferno, that "a love poem is a declaration of impotency." Maybe that's true to a monomaniacal onanist like Infante's hero. But that has nothing to do with these poems. Neruda's love poems are so very, very sensual and seductive. And so, the lovers might decide to bring them home with them. To try reading them in colder climes. To place on their shelves as an exotic souvenir of distant but exquisite sensuality. And why not?

Why not indeed.

I have decided I will continue to build this wonderful library. I have now placed a new sticker on the front of each book yet again requesting that it not be taken home. But I'm moving past mere loss prevention. Yes. I have today begun to expect magic: that these tremendous books, and other great ones just like them, will start to show up unexpected and unrequested in my mailbox, asking me to take them to Bahia Soliman to be read under the palapa roof, under the clacking palms. To be read just as the tide of Quintana Roo flows into the rest of the world and eventually returns.