* 2015 end of year reading

Time once again for my end of year reading – which technically this year is more of a first of year reading – so however you feel fit to see it, please do. See it, that is.

I have been busy the past 3 weeks reading through the last leg of my reading list for my exams later this month. Here be the last stack(s) of books:

last leg

If you’re like me and can’t see a photo of books without scanning to see who’s in the “crowd,” here’s a short list of what’s visible:

a book on haiku poetics; Borges’ DreamtigersA Sense of Regard (essays); By Word of Mouth (William Carlos Williams’ translations); Pablo Neruda and the U.S. Culture IndustryWithout a Net by Ana Maria Shua; two books by Octavio Paz; Rigoberto Gonzalez’s Butterfly Boy (sans-book jacket, esta frio!); La Otra Mirada (microrrelato anthology); William Carlos William’s PatersonComplete Works and Other Stories by Augosto Monterroso; Takuboku Ishikawa’s Romaji Diary/Sad ToysConversations with Mexican American Writers (interviews); Sandra Cisneros’ My Wicked, Wicked Ways; Rosa Alcalá’s Undocumentaries; Pat Mora’s Aunt Carmen’s Book of Practical Saints; & flanking the stacks: William J. Higginson’s The Haiku Handbook; Juan Felipe Herrera’s Half of the World in Light.

***

I took a break last week to record a few readings from Everything We Think We Hear by the Ohio river after eating our annual Christmas Eve Eli’s BBQ. Below is the video and text of “Jalapeños” and “Holiday Policy.”

Looking back, I realize these two poems are a good example of the kind of range I was going for in this collection. “Jalapeños”is a kind of homage not only to the chili pepper but also to Yeats, family, and Corpus Christi, all refracted via nonlinear, lyrical momentum. “Holiday Policy,” on the other hand, is driven by a more linear narrative, but is subverted in its story within a story framework.

Enjoy!

*

Jalapeños – José Angel Araguz 

Pickled, you gleam, a smile hiding its teeth. Photo negative from Picture Day, money missing from my pockets, that smile. I can live without money; without food, I’m useless. Hunger is a tide: I walk down when it is low and see more. Over time, you’ve taught me to fashion sensibilities after what I can tolerate. When I am old and gray, and have eaten enough, I will tolerate everyone. When your darkness first cracked, did everyone go silent as you spilled out your many, tiny moons? And did he think himself a sky, the first to place your moons upon his tongue? Or was it only later, after biting into your body, thinking his own body turned water, that the first looked down and found, piled in his hand, the dunes of ellipsis you keep inside? You are commas, keep each bite separate. You are semicolons, a tip of the hat to greet the day. Shape suggestive of the J in my name. Shape suggestive, period. My aunt threatening with you if I ever cussed. Sting of I should’ve known better than to. Without you, I am useless. Corpus Christi Bay begins to glisten with you. You keep riding on the color of the waves, mocking, many and mocking. Family pickled. Family sharp with vinegar. Family broken with bites. Hunger is a tide: when it is high, I remember I cannot swim. Through skin and seed, my filthy existence resumes, after the sting.

Holiday Policy – José Angel Araguz 

My friend, who with his white beard and wide chest looks like Santa Claus, tells me of working at a liquor store and having to take polaroids of people paying with a check. He did this when he was my age, but because I am my age, my friend becomes Santa with a camera and nametag, standing as straight as steel bars on windows, watching me buy my liquor. He laughs telling the story, but the Santa whose eyes are hard on me is silent. Under white eyebrows, I see myself already doubled, following the motions of the story: white flash, pen collapsing on the counter, bottles pointing fingers from brown paper bags, fluorescence hum below the words: Holiday policy. The photo hangs like a tongue out of the camera’s mouth, my face slowly appearing from gray-white to a grainy, blurred reflection. It was enough to put cash in their pockets, as if it had been there all along, says my friend in the story, who himself dissolves into the friend in the room, grown quiet, as if he could hear himself speaking in the memory I would later have of him after he died, and disappointed that there isn’t more to him than stories like this one.

*

Happy policying!

Jose

P.S. Check out my Instagram account (joseangelaraguz) for two more shorter readings!

* kevin honold, the ohio river & the achaeans

* achaean *
* achaean on breakean *
* bridge over the Ohio *
* bridge over the Ohio *

One of the great things about reading is connecting what you read with the world around you. It’s a simple enough concept – one reads to find out what it’s like to be human – but like actually reading the assembly instructions before building something from IKEA, not everyone slows down to do it.

Luckily, there are the times where life forces you to slow down and “read” into life a bit further.

This week’s poem, “Achaeans” by friend and fellow UC poet Kevin Honold, is a good example of the kind of wide connections available if life is read closely. From the battles scenes of Homer’s Iliad to the drive to work, Honold connects the sights and sounds of the modern world with that of Homer’s time, bringing the risk and humanity of every day existence to the fore. The defiant tone at the end is complicated by the risk involved in the speaker’s line of work. In a way, the speaker is saying, after so much killing – then and now – at the end of they day, there is only the living and the dying.

Achaeans – Kevin Honold

Real crackerjacks, they were. I woke up before work
just to read how they died, how the homesick son of Hellas
aimed the ships’ eyes, painted red on the prows and
livid with froth, away from the shore where the companions lay,

where a forest of planted oars marks the graves.
When I crossed the Ohio in a pipe truck that morning
the hulls I saw spin down the green water,
helpless before a quartering wind, breaking apart

on the pylons of the Covington bridge.
I saw the survivors paddling broken oars to shore.
Potholes banged the copper pipe in the racks behind me
like the clangor of speared Achaeans rattling

in their armor as they hit the sand, cut down
by the hundred in windrows like wheat by sickles.
Homer used up all the killing similes but I got
an acetylene tank with a Turbo-Torch

and fifteen foot of hose. I can sweat copper. Fix leaks.

***

Happy Achaeaning!

Jose

p.s. “Achaeans” is from Kevin’s book Men as Trees Walking.

p.p.s. I am happy to announce that my poem “Joe” has been selected for RHINO Poetry’s 2015 Editor’s Prize. Check out the announcement here.