walking working with juan felipe herrera

Some good news: I am happy to report that last Friday, 1/20, I successfully defended my dissertation! This event marks the culmination of four years of effort, doubt, more effort, and study.

After I defended my dissertation, I found myself amidst a crowd protesting the inauguration, which was encouraging, until I saw at the top of the stairs one white student with a BUILD THE WALL poster, and another white student standing there angrily shouting out Trump’s MAGA slogan. I’d had a Skype interview at 9am, then the defense at 10:30am. I was stressed and disoriented, and made my way home in a daze.

The jarring/threatening-vibe continues this week with the executive orders put into place by the new president. There’s also an armed activist (non-student) on campus carrying four guns talking about the second amendment and asking students if he scares them. He’s been here since inauguration day.

What does this have to do with poetry? I share these stories to document what makes up the crucible in which my poems are presently being written in and my life is being led. I look forward to continuing making use of this knowledge and experience (of the PhD, of living in Ohio in 2017) in the service of others. People are made up of a complexity that cannot be simplified or diminished by slogans. Reading and writing poetry, teaching it in the classroom, all of it helps us to read in between the lines.

This week’s poem reflects the work of being “in-between.” The lyric is able to carry various stories via language that moves and challenges the reader to do some of the “walking working” themselves. The poem is at times song and narrative, but always human. By “walking working,” we make meaning out of words; by “walking working,” we persist, resist, and evolve beyond the narratives others would have us live by.

cedarwaxwingeatingberries09

Everyday We Get More Illegal – Juan Felipe Herrera*

Yet the peach tree
still rises
& falls with fruit & without
birds eat it the sparrows fight
our desert
*
            burns with trash & drug
it also breathes & sprouts
vines & maguey
*
laws pass laws with scientific walls
detention cells   husband
                           with the son
                        the wife &
the daughter who
married a citizen
they stay behind broken slashed
*
un-powdered in the apartment to
deal out the day
             & the puzzles
another law then   another
Mexican
          Indian
                      spirit exile
*
migration                     sky
the grass is mowed then blown
by a machine  sidewalks are empty
clean & the Red Shouldered Hawk
peers
down  — from
an abandoned wooden dome
                       an empty field
*
it is all in-between the light
every day this     changes a little
*
yesterday homeless &
w/o papers                  Alberto
left for Denver a Greyhound bus he said
where they don’t check you
*
walking working
under the silver darkness
            walking   working
with our mind
our life
*
*
Happy life-ing!
*
José
*
* Poem published at Poets.org. Here’s a link to a reading of it by Herrera himself.

saying with william stafford

Scars – William Stafford

They tell how it was, and how time
came along, and how it happened
again and again. They tell
the slant life takes when it turns
and slashes your face as a friend.

Any wound is real. In church
a woman lets the sun find
her cheek, and we see the lesson:
there are years in that book; there are sorrows
a choir can’t reach when they sing.

Rows of children lift their faces of promise,
places where the scars will be.

*

Reaching out to William Stafford’s work today in light of the inauguration. Fear still finds its way into conversations between me and Ani. I find myself thinking back on other elections, other times when the “slant” life took unsettled me. Whatever happens, I am grateful again for my readers – of the blog, of the work, of poetry in general. Through these words of ours we learn from each other.

Frozen_River.jpgThe poem above floors me by the subtle way it develops its metaphors, culminating in the image “there are years in that book.” I think of Stafford as one of the great “readers” of the books in scars and moments. Such careful reading breeds careful saying. The poem below is a good example. If read too fast, one might miss what is being said. You might think that the way with all poems. Pues, so it goes. It has taken me years of loving this poem to begin to hear the river elsewhere coursing the river frozen here. Here’s to continuing forward with our saying and listening.

*

Ask Me – William Stafford

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made.  Ask me whether
what I have done is my life.  Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait.  We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

*

Happy saying!

José