futuring with julio cortázar

two personal notes

I want to first acknowledge and show my support for anyone suffering and struggling due to Hurricane Harvey. In my world, I have been checking in with my family in Corpus Christi since last Thursday. Everyone is safe there; struggled without power from last Friday to Wednesday, but safe. I have done my best to reach out to my Texas friends and other family, and only wish I had more hours in the day. Thank you to everyone who has reached out and shown me and my family support! It means a lot to come together in the face of such disaster. I spent a lot of time thinking of the various hurricanes I lived through as a child and teenager in Corpus, evacuations and refuge sought.

In the midst of the stress and tension of the above, I also participated in my first convocation as a professor at Linfield College as well as my first week of teaching. It was also my birthday last week – so, y’know, things were interesting, ha. I spent the eve of my birthday cleaning house, sweeping and mopping through midnight, the whole time worried about my family.

AerialCorpusChristi
corpus, my corpus

*

This quick paraphrase of the fraught mix of light and dark times that have been my last few weeks is mirrored, in a way, in this week’s poem by Julio Cortázar. In “El Futuro/The Future,” Cortázar does a great job of creating a poem of love and affection that also acknowledges the tenuous and mortal circumstances through which love is found between people. In considering a world without their “you,” the speaker creates a space of presence. By the end, the poem stands as a testament to the feelings and meaning that the missing always leave us with.

The Future – Julio Cortázar

And I know full well you won’t be there.
You won’t be in the street, in the hum that buzzes
from the arc lamps at night, nor in the gesture
of selecting from the menu, nor in the smile
that lightens people packed into the subway,
nor in the borrowed books, nor in the see-you-tomorrow.

You won’t be in my dreams,
in my words’ first destination,
nor will you be in a telephone number
or in the color of a pair of gloves or a blouse.
I’ll get angry, love, without it being on account of you,
and I’ll buy chocolates but not for you,
I’ll stop at the corner you’ll never come to,
and I’ll say the words that are said
and I’ll eat the things that are eaten
and I’ll dream the dreams that are dreamed
and I know full well you won’t be there,
nor here inside, in the prison where I still hold you,
nor there outside, in this river of streets and bridges.
You won’t be there at all, you won’t even be a memory,
and when I think of you I’ll be thinking a thought
that’s obscurely trying to recall you.

translated by Stephen Kessler in Save Twilight: Selected Poems (City Lights Books)

El Futuro – Julio Cortázar

Y sé muy bien que no estarás.
No estarás en la calle, en el murmullo que brota de noche
de los postes de alumbrado, ni en el gesto
de elegir el menú, ni en la sonrisa
que alivia los completos en los subtes,
ni en los libros prestados ni en el hasta mañana.

No estarás en mis sueños,
en el destino original de mis palabras,
ni en una cifra telefónica estarás
o en el color de un par de guantes o una blusa.
Me enojaré, amor mío, sin que sea por ti,
y compraré bombones pero no para ti,
me pararé en la esquina a la que no vendrás,
y diré las palabras que se dicen
y comeré las cosas que se comen
y soñaré los sueños que se sueñan
y sé muy bien que no estarás,
ni aquí adentro, la cárcel donde aún te retengo,
ni allí fuera, este río de calles y de puentes.
No estarás para nada, no serás ni recuerdo,
y cuando piense en ti pensaré un pensamiento
que oscuramente trata de acordarse de ti.

*

Happy futuring!

José

* where the poet is: a personal note

candle vigilIn an essay entitled “Tough Eloquence,” poet Yusef Komuyakaa writes about the life and work of Etheridge Knight. There’s a story and poem towards the end of the essay that has always stayed with me throughout the years:

“Etheridge Knight died in March 1991. For more than a year before, at various readings, he’d say a poem by Melissa Orion, “Where is the Poet?” He often used to say he wished he’d written it. Of course, he had memorized the poem, as if reciting his own elegy:

So I went to Soweto and asked the wounded
Have you seen my friend the poet?

Oh no, answered the wounded, but we’re longing to
see him
before we die

Maybe you should go to the prisons, they said
where there is loneliness, the poet should be”

Orlando has been on my mind all week, in my conversations with Ani as much as in my conversations on social media, but also in my heart, in my silences and loneliness. In my classroom, we have been having some difficult conversations about problematization and empathy, and I am proud of my students’ generosity to have these conversations, to discuss difficult issues with open minds. It’s done much for my spirit.

Through the many conversations, I have not had to wonder where the poet is. This piece by Denice Frohman as well as this poem by Roy G. Guzmán  and this one by Christopher Soto (aka Loma) have meant much to me and others this week, and I share them for anyone in need of insight, solace, or catharsis.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who reads this blog and shares in the community, poetry, and positive energy of the weekly posts. I write driven by a faith in poetry, in words being a place where the ideas and emotions of life that overwhelm us at times can meet,  mingle, and make a sort of sense to us, glimpses of the reality we share.

To everyone who stops by, thank you for sharing.

Abrazos,

José

* Phil Levine & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Philip Levine.

When I read the following poem to Ani she picked up on something I did not when I first read it four years earlier: that it takes place in Spain.  This makes sense seeing as Phil Levine has spent much time in Spain and written often on the poets who suffered and survived in the Spanish Civil War.

Having herself spent time there, Ani spoke of the place in the poem as if she had been there, the way one does in the light of experience.

This is the world…  Indeed!

What moves me still about the poem is the scope of human understanding, how much gets put into the poem, and yet it is only one man’s glimpse, as fleeting and unknowable even now.

the *photo* of time
the *photo* of time

The Music of Time – Philip Levine *

The young woman sewing

by the window hums a song

I don’t know; I hear only

a few bars, and when the trucks

barrel down the broken street

the music is lost.  Before the darkness

leaks from the shadows of

the great Cathedral, I see her

once more at work and later

hear in the sudden silence

of nightfall wordless music rising

from her room.  I put aside

my papers, wash, and dress

to eat at one of the seafood

places along the great avenues

near the port where later

the homeless will sleep.  Then I

walk for hours in the Barrio

Chino passing the open

doors of tiny bars and caves

from which the voices of old men

bark out the stale anthems

of love’s defeat.  “This is the world,”

I think, “this is what I came

in search of year’s ago.”  Now I

can go back to my single room,

I can lie awake in the dark

rehearsing all the trivial events

of the day ahead, a day that begins

when the sun clears the dark spires

of someone’s God, and I waken

in a flood of dust rising from

nowhere and from nowhere comes

the actual voice of someone else.

***

Happy nowhereing!

jose

* from Phil Levine’s News of the World.

* William Meredith on the friday influence

This week’s poem is The Illiterate by William Meredith.

This one is a favorite.  I memorized it years ago and come back to it often.

The simplicity of both the subject matter and form is deceptive.  It is a sonnet but note how the rhymes work, how they envelope around the last syllables – man, hand, hand, man – playing out the story of the poem in the word choice itself.

The extended metaphor takes over after the first line and comes back in the turning over of words at the end of the poem.

I won’t say too much  more, seeing as this is a poem about what is left unsaid.

Enjoy.

letter-proud *
letter-proud *

The Illiterate – William Meredith

Touching your goodness, I am like a man

Who turns a letter over in his hand

And you might think this was because the hand

was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man

Has never had a letter from anyone;

And now he is both afraid of what it means

And ashamed because he has no other means

To find out what it says than to ask someone.

 

His uncle could have left the farm to him,

Or his parents died before he sent them word,

Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.

Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.

What would you call his feeling for the words

That keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?

***

Happy keeping!

jose

* image found here.

* Rilke, winter & the friday influence

I am almost done with The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke.  Fascinating stuff.  Rilke wrote something like 400 poems in French towards the end of his life.  Basically a whole Collected Works in another language.  He approached his poems in French in the spirit of starting over in a way that he couldn’t in his native German.

What does it mean to start over?  Focusing on details.

Case in point, here’s one poem from his series The Roses:

II. *

I see you, rose, half-open book

filled with so many pages

of that detailed happiness

we will never read.  Magus-book,

opened by the wind and read

with our eyes closed…,

butterflies fly out of you, stunned

for having had the same ideas.

***

Those last four lines contain within them so much sensation – so much surprise – you read them and go back into yourself, recognizing an experience there in the words.

Rilke’s French poems are where he goes for it and basically becomes a modern version of Rumi – he sings within his praise for the world.

winter, yo
winter, yo

Continuing with last week’s theme of winter, here is Rilke’s take on it.

In the same spirit of starting over, Rilke also left some of his French poems imperfect.  The poem below is such an example.

The last line almost takes me out of the poem.  It is an unfinished thought.  But, read after so many lines of yearning and remembering, the line leaves us lost in as much thought as the speaker.

***

Winter – Rainer Maria Rilke *

I love those former winters that still weren’t meant for sports.

We feared them a little, they were so hard and sharp;

we confronted them with a bit of courage,

to return into our house, white, sparkling wise-men.

And the fire, that great fire consoling us against them,

was a strong and living fire, a real fire.

We wrote badly, our fingers were all stiff,

but what joy to dream and entertain whatever

helps escaping memories delay a while…

They came so close, we saw them better

than in summer…, we proposed colors to them.

Inside, all was painting,

while outside all became engraving.

And the trees, who worked at home, in lamplight…

***

Happy working!

jose

* as translated by A. Poulin in The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke.

* Keats’ On the Grasshopper and Cricket: a reenactment

Image
Sir Sprinkle Belly in the role of The Grasshopper!

This week on the Influence: (a) play!

It’s winter time and I realize that I haven’t posted up a winter poem.  One of my favorites is John Keats’ “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”.

It is a deceptively playful yet serious sonnet.  Statements on “the poetry of earth” occur twice, breaking up the poem’s argument which consists of a parallel between the lives and seasons of the grasshopper and cricket.  The grasshopper is playful in summertime; the cricket’s song survives with us in the wintertime.

The rhymes are musical and yet there is an undertone of mortality despite the harmony.  The first line hits with two charged words “never dead” and then bounces along with the grasshopper.  This charged feeling is repeated with the words “ceasing never”.  Life – earthly life – is emphatic.

This parallel would be enough except (and as a good sonnet should) there is a turn – only here it occurs at the end.  The cricket’s song suddenly brings forth the memory of the grasshopper.  It is a visceral evocation worthy of Mr. Negative Capability.  Suddenly – like some poetical Venn Diagram of genius – the poem ends with summertime in wintertime.

Keats is the man.

Here is the proof:

On the Grasshopper and Cricket – John Keats
The Poetry of earth is never dead:    
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,    
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run    
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;    
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead      
  In summer luxury,—he has never done    
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun    
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.    
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:    
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost     
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills    
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,    
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,    
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
***

...and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!
…and Lord Sprinkle Foot as Cricket!

It ain’t easy being Sprinkle Foot.

Cookies are courtesy of my lady’s family household.  I totally decorated cookies this week.

Like a boss.

See ya next year (ha!),

jose

p.s. Keats wrote the above sonnet in a contest with his mentor Leigh Hunt.  With this, the mentee became the mentor … ‘s buddy? – the matinee became the mentorasaurus…rex…the –

* Onions & the friday influence

This week on the Influence: Onions!

Seriously: in keeping with last week’s post, I have decided to share this poem of mine, “Onions”, which was also revised after publication.  The original of this poem found a home at The Windward Review.  It came out of a writing exercise where I wrote about something I hated.  The original focused mainly on the graphic nature of chopping up onions.

What I feel is better in this revision is how the poem takes on a human element by becoming an elegy.

The line “dish I was told you liked” was in the original but wasn’t fully developed.  In looking back, I realized – Whoa, there’s a person in this poem completely unacknowledged.

Another revision: I have since made my peace with onions.  Bring on the pico de gallo!

split personality...totally
split personality…totally

Onions – Jose Angel Araguz *

The bulb, hard and heavy as a fist,
The slivers that unravel like the wings
And body of an albino cockroach,

The sharp stink
Of its flesh spitting
Against the blade —

I could do without
This unwelcome act of reducing
A ghost to paper shavings

For a dish I was told you liked,
That I persist in making
Despite your absence,

Except that I believe
That what gathers
And falls from my eyes

Is a part of you
Hungry to come back
To this table.

***

Happy tabling!

jose

* originally published in The Windward Review.

* missing Corpus Christi

mi sea wall es su sea wall...
mi sea wall es su sea wall…

The above image is from the Sea Wall in my hometown of Corpus Christi Texas.  It stretches up and down Ocean Drive, down past the Whataburger by the Bay, down into the palm-trees lining downtown.

Go a little further and you’ll end up at the old site of the factory I used to work at.  We made equipment for oil rigs.  We worked in open-air garages, so close to the water we could look out in the mornings during summer – hurricane season – and watch as little whirlwinds funneled up and over the water, appearing and disappearing against a peach sky.

This week’s poem is one of my own from that time.  An earlier version of the poem was published in Blue Collar Review.  What I feel I finally got right in the present version has everything to do with the word “hands” – how it opens and ends the poem, holds it in place, a young man’s angst funneling up and down in between.

It’s the holidays and I can’t help but get sentimental.  I look at photos like these and hear the water.  Straight up.

Here’s another view, followed by my poem:

cuanto quieres por el downtown?
cuanto quieres por el downtown?

Escape Ropes – Jose Angel Araguz *

Hands raw from setting knots
The few inches apart it takes
For a leg to imagine a ladder,
Ropes designed for escape from a fire
On an oil rig squatted on the gulf,
My mind would work out
Images of men with only the open water
To swim, to march across if they could,
To bob and pray for miracles.

Those knotted afternoons,
The sun made an oven of the warehouse.
The foreman stood me in the back
While other men sat on stools
And looked over, faces worn,
Fingernails yellowed from smoking.
There, I held my tongue,
Grunted against each wince,
And felt fire in my hands.

***

Happy escaping!

jose

* published originally in Blue Collar Review.

* some words from Basho & the friday influence

This week The Friday Influence introduces the “some words from” feature – on the last Friday of each month expect a quote or two from poets that have and are presently influencing my work or simply blowing my mind.

Our first feature: haiku poet Matsuo Basho!

Sabes sabi?

Here he is talking about the idea of sabi:

“Sabi is in the colour of a poem. It does not necessarily refer to the poem that describes a lonely scene.  If a man goes to war wearing a stout armour or to a party dressed up in gay clothes, and if this man happens to be an old man, there is something lonely about him.  Sabi is something like that.  It is in the poem regardless of the scene it describes – whether it is lonely or gay.  In the following poem, for example, I find a great deal of sabi.” *

                        Under the cherry

                        Flower guards have assembled

                        To chatter –

                        Their hoary heads together. 

In citing this poem (by one of his disciples), Basho illustrates sabi as something to be experienced, a thing to be completed through the engagement of the reader.

This attention to not only what goes in a poem but what it does in each of us is part of the reason is why I return to Basho’s work often.  He gets this poetry thing in a way that expands it, gets it in a way that shows the way for others.

He is one of the great travelers, both on the road and the word.

Here’s an excerpt from Basho’s travel journal, The Records of a Travel-worn Satchel:

“In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices there is something, and this something is called a wind-swept spirit for lack of a better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind.  This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong business. It must be admitted, however, that there were times when it sank into such dejection that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit, or again times when i was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain victories over the others.  Indeed, ever since it began to write poetry, it has never found peace with itself, always wavering between doubts of one kind and another.  At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of a court, and at another it wished to measure the depth of its ignorance by trying to be a scholar, but it was prevented from either because of its unquenchable love of poetry.  The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore, it hangs on to it more or less blindly.”

***

Happy hanging!

jose

* all quotes in this post come from Nobuyuki Yuasa’s translation of Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and other travel sketches.

** photos snagged from here and here, respectively.

* special feature: Kenneth P. Gurney

This week The Friday Influence is proud to feature the work of Kenneth P. Gurney!

Ken and I struck up a friendship during my brief time in Albuquerque.  He runs the Adobe Walls Open Mic out of Page 1 Books, the used bookstore where I worked.  Once a month – while helping clean up and close – I would get to overhear the great community of poets he fosters there.

His poetry is marked by his background in art – surrealistic images abound – yet, there is always some of his sense of awe and humor throughout his work, something altogether his own.

Find out more about Ken and his poetry here.

Since moving, we have sent poems on postcards to each other.  I am happy to share some of the poems that have made getting the mail – where bills and rejection letters abound – a bit of a treat.

Missive

Missive – Kenneth P. Gurney

I wrote a letter to the earth

on the bottom of my bare feet

then walked five miles

on grassy lanes that ran

adjacent to greening fields

and two wood lots.

While resting

under the broad shade

of a century oak

I checked my soles and determined

the blue ink to be all gone

& I considered my letter delivered.

Catastrophe

Catastrophe – Kenneth P. Gurney

Spring fails to create the perfect green

as the cat laps chartreuse spilled

from the dropped shot glass

where a trail of mucky pawprints

scub across the sparkling kitchen tile

like so many clouds

unable to congregate

and expel a healthy Albuquerque rain.

***

Happy congregating!

* jose