* charting the world with rafael campo

In searching for images to accompany this week’s poem, I came across the photo below. The photo is from 1933 and is of the Metropolitan nurses home at Roosevelt Island, part of the Renwick Smallpox Hospital complex.

The image below stayed with me for the way it captured what might have been part of someone’s daily commute or walk, a scene that may have been overlooked in day to day life. The image is almost without center, or rather, the center is active, keeping the viewer staring off into the detailed distance as one would be able to should they be turning this particular corner.

This week’s poem – “Chart” by Rafael Campo (pulled from the latest issue of Poetry*) – takes on the idea of people being overlooked in a doctor’s work life. Through the detailing of the particular corners of the people that he knows, Campo keeps the reader looking into the very active center of his poem.

* look over *
* look over *

The Chart – Rafael Campo

Says fifty-four-year-old obese Hispanic
female — I wonder if they mean the one
with long black braids, Peruvian, who sells
tamales at the farmers’ market, tells
me I’m too thin, I better eat; or is
she the Dominican with too much rouge
and almond eyes at the dry cleaner’s who
must have been so beautiful in her youth;
or maybe she’s the Cuban lady drunk
on grief who I’ve seen half-asleep, alone
as if that bench were only hers, the park
her home at last; or else the Mexican
who hoards the littered papers she collects
and says they are her “documents”; if not,
it could be that Colombian drug addict
whose Spanish, even when she’s high, is perfect;
or maybe it’s the one who never says
exactly where she’s from, but who reminds
me of my grandmother, poor but refined,
lace handkerchief balled up in her plump hand,
who died too young from a condition that
some doctor, nose in her chart, overlooked.

***

Happy nosing!

Jose

* p.s. Read the rest of this month’s issue of Poetry here.

* finding work with Rhina P. Espaillat

Last week I had the honor of participating in CantoMundo, a three-day retreat that develops, sustains, and supports a diverse community of Latina/o poets.

Being an introvert, I was a bit apprehensive of jumping into such a social gathering, my main concern being: What if they don’t like me? (I’m surprised by how much one remains in the sandbox no matter how old one gets).

* scared poet is scared *
* scared poet is scared *

Fortunately, the whole crew, including keynote speaker Sherwin Bitsui and Master Poets Lorna Dee Cervantes and Rafael Campo, were warm and welcoming. By the second night, this happened:

* scared poet is (a little less) scared *
* scared poet is (a little less) scared *

During Rafael Campo’s workshop, I was delighted to be introduced to the work of Rhina P. Espaillat.

The poem below belongs to the tradition of Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays,” a poem honoring the hard work of family. Espaillat’s masterful attention to the tension to be generated between narrative and measure really help drive home the heart of the poem.

The last two lines especially captivated me.

Both lines are five beats each, but note how much work the commas do: in the second to last line, three beats are held in place by a comma, then two more follow also held back, then the line break takes us into the next line where the first beat is reined in by another comma – all of this building tension (3-2/1-4 beat breakdown, respectively) allows the last phrase of the poem to really be sunk into while reading, the four beats driving home in rhythm what the words drive home in meaning.

**

“Find Work” – Rhina P. Espaillat

 

I tie my Hat — I crease my Shawl —
Life’s little duties do — precisely
As the very least
Were infinite — to me —

 

— Emily Dickinson, #443

 

My mother’s mother, widowed very young
of her first love, and of that love’s first fruit,
moved through her father’s farm , her country tongue
and country heart anaesthetized and mute
with labor. So her kind was taught to do —
“Find work,” she would reply to every grief —
and her one dictum, whether false or true,
tolled heavy with her passionate belief.
Widowed again, with children, in her prime,
she spoke so little it was hard to bear
so much composure, such a truce with time
spent in the lifelong practice of despair.
But I recall her floors, scrubbed white as bone,
her dishes, and how painfully they shone.

***

Happy finding!

Jose