A few drops of rain fell outside. He turned from his book to watch, but after a few moments it stopped, only a brief spasm.
The silver-gray evening stood out, but it was in its waning moments. The air, matching the mood, would not be still, but would not be a wind. Strange, that it should still intrude upon his reading. "It's pleasant," he thought before it left him — as the words he was reading began to take effect again. He was able to go on reading, though half of him went out with each lithe rush which came and went — playing with it, wondering around it. "Like the breeze from the sea," he thought. The sound came again outside; it began raining again, still lightly, but more assuredly. The wind, momentarily rising, pushed the rain off its downward path. The half-light flickered, knowing that it would go out soon.
The clouds gathered, and desired to show their other face, counter to the pure white of a summer sky. "Do they stand for something else, those forms?" he thought — "so large." The forms answered nothing, stood on…
What was I, this dear thing,
sodden from the juices of creation,
trailing my tentacles along the wet paint
at Lascaux. Look closer and you will see me
in the little tendrils of pawprints,
in the blown dust they left along the imprints
of their fingers.
Every bit a villain as when the world took shape.
You cannot destroy me - only create.
And in a minute I will undo what years
of careful pondering have done, what roots
and seeds and tinctures have mightily yearned
Graciela Echenique, age 12 ½
Village of Two Rivers, Minnesota
January 6, 1917
Germany hates France, and France
Hates Hungary, and Hungary
Hates Russia, and we’re about
To jump into it and hate everyone down
To the boys we send to become bones.
I wish Wilson was a rat stowed
Away in the steerage of a ship
Crossing the north Atlantic, a mother
Rat cradling its babies and giving
Them suck, in a dark corner
Of the hold, always awake, one eye
Open for a boot or a rod ready
To crush her and her brood. Then
Maybe he’d know…
From the artist:
Carl’s congregation was long ago handed over to someone else,
as was his wife, who, as he put it, was a Jezebel, or
as she put it, “Could not compete with his god.”
He says “It is not a good year for tomatoes,” translation:
“There will be famine.” Before I leave, he hand gestures
like an excited surfer in loquat branches,
his long blond locks lifting in Pacific wind.
“See this forking? It means four horsemen
will arrive soon over the Asian crescent.”
As I leave, he is on the edge of the bed, rocking
back and forth, holding a framed photo of himself
holding his estranged wife.
Maybe you’re like me, driving
with nowhere particular in mind
when you pass a hitchhiker
who resembles you to the freckle.
Startled, you fishtail around a curve.
To one side’s the stone face
of the hill that the road’s cut from,
& to the other, down the steep
slope, mostly pine & fallen rock.
You pump your brakes hard
& turn opposite the skid,
only now, doing a donut,
you’re heading straight
for your double. Remarkably,
there’s just a soft thump upon impact.
You know you ought to stop,
but nobody’s within miles,
so you keep going, still thinking about it,
asking yourself, like me,
what you’re doing with your life.
grinding and binding
the wrong things would bring the blood of transformation
in an age of elegy and time that has no master
except for eternity. Deep with fear but deep with courage,
and riding on horseback close to the cliff as though
summer was nearly over and everything that is now, was before, is not
wasted. As though effort alone was a doorway
to a richer heaven and drowning would teach me how to breathe
underwater. I hold. I hold. I obey the tides.
Sand is in my throat but I am still speaking.
Love comes but not perfect. Love is a boat
with many living on board.
Graciela Echenique, age 16
Lafourche Parish, Louisiana
June 16, 1919
They say childbirth is a curse
Laid upon women by Eve’s sin,
But I say that was written
By a man who did not understand
His own life. Women scream
In birthing for the pain, but their
Desire is not for their husbands
At that moment, but a calling
Back through the generations
To the first ones. The ones
Who knew the earth as friend,
As breast and hip and blood.
The ones who speak not in words
But in the stirring of leaves,
In the pulsing of sap through
The spring woods. You cannot
Learn giving birth from a book,
From a sermon or a lecture given
By a man standing on a box.
You cannot learn love that way.
You have to feel the child
Pulling back to a long line
Of wisdom as it pushes out
Into air. Women make good
Widows when their men die,
For they have lived through
The groaning of their creations,
The loss of their flesh and milk
As their child grows into walking,
Into words and tools and song.
I saw my mother give birth
Three times: once to my younger
Sister, once to a child born
Without a name and without breath,
Who we gave back to the earth,
And once to me, my head crowning,
My eyes wide, my mouth creasing
Open to light and air and noise.
You say that I cannot remember that?
I say that was spoken by a man
Who does not understand that
Memory is not something we choose.
It is a gift, given by those
Who surround us, who bequeath
Our first pain and our first joy,
Persons we thank when our time comes,
Who never stop dying for our life.
Graciela Echenique, age 20
August 3, 1924
I have known men built like railroads:
Steel, steam, the whistle warning all
Flesh to stay away. I have known men
Made like rivers that run wild and cold
In the spring, that meander through
The bottomlands, that dry up and desert
The life they carry along. I have known
Men fashioned like pistols: the less
Said of them the better. I once met
A man I swear was made of butter:
One taste and his flesh melted away.
I have known men who claimed to be
Preachers, healers, truth-tellers,
Fortune-tellers, bank robbers, grave
Robbers, supermen, front men,
Side men, salesmen, highway men,
A man’s man and man’s gift to God,
But I have never met a man
Who would not lie to get out of love,
Nor a man who would not steal
To satisfy whatever hunger held him
Down. Down in the dumps. Down
In the depths where there is no coal,
No gold and no soul. I have never
Known a man who wasn’t afraid
Of dying, who didn’t think killing
Was a way to conquer that fear.
In the Jester’s Closet
From the artist:
Failure is a word you look up in the dictionary, just like you
look into someone's eyes quite young and realize
jubilation is always triumphed in error. Because it's
never over really. Even monks singing to flowers
know that. Even the church mouse still aches. Praise fall
from grace and cracks that let the light in. Too cynical
for words today the chalk screeches mid-way through
a red mark, and the book is too heavy to carry home
from the pew. Relief in the end even if it's too late
to tell the whole story. How it happened. The split,
then the waiting for night to be over, for sadness to
lose its silent wail, and for itching fingers crawling along
sweaty sheets to find a way back to those open
windows in back seats barreling along a lone highway,
corn leaves curled up and glistening, hiding jewels,
for a taste of tomorrow, with King yelling from a
podium to masses a call for redemption, and Seeger
pounding those hammers in a Redwood forest - a song
about you and yourself as lover here, all over.
Audio reading by Victor D. Sandiego
I am the only needle
In my name and of my calling.
Impossible needle stabbing the sky.
And there is no other needle
Of any kind anywhere.
Which can call upon me
Not even for the sewing
Of the tattered clothing.
Not even for compromise
Or for cohabitation.
Not even for the slightest begging
Of an agreement
Or any arrangement.
Dear Momma y Pappa,
I’m okay here in LA.
I should’ve written; I’m ashamed
and feel guilty that because of me
you got caught by the border
police. They sent you back.
But I escaped with Uncle Lauro.
We hid in the furrows of the sand
before making it to a small cave,
its opening covered with sagebrush.
I should’ve listened to you
when you told me not to play
with the flashlight. I was nervous
and I dropped it. It came on.
Couldn’t turn it off before
they saw it. Light travels so fast.
I hope you can forgive me.
I was a stupid ten-year old
and now I am thirty, and still
a little stupid. But I don’t
have to wash dishes anymore
for Cousin Bernardo. I plan
to open my own restaurant
with the money I saved
that I didn’t send to you. Sorry.
I still plan to write you a letter
and even mail it to you.
I am no longer an illegal.
But I still feel that way
because I stole your freedom.
From the artist:
You know why I like the dawn?
Because it’s a slow show
of the real show
in that crossing
from one light
like when you fly up
and the sun
all this time
and the light
and here we are
fumbling for candles
in forgotten drawers.
Maybe she settled for the first guy
in khaki who could dance and being the first
stuck with him despite the bar room brawls,
sergeant knocked down to private before getting hitched,
taking the boat across the Atlantic,
like all the other girls, some with babies
their mates had never seen,
some left at the dock
because no one came to take them
to a ranch at Yonge and Bay,
when maybe she should have married a farmer,
drove a tractor, tanned, brown as a berry,
let a border collie round-up the sheep,
hoed rows of turnip, not scrimped, not existed
for meager toil, and lived with his rotten teeth,
his tendency to flare.
Maybe if she hadn’t settled
for washing floors, laundry, chasing other
people’s dust instead of something
with a bit of passion in it,
tending the wounded,
comforting the sick,
with all her tenderness.
Maybe there came a time when she’d
walked that road too long,
with heavy sacks of what she really didn’t want,
too long a time, that she couldn’t change
and had to settle, could only go
to his palliative-care site every other day,
not every day, because she couldn’t take it any more,
and sit the allotted time, she thought was appropriate,
not talking, not touching, just sitting there,
settled, as it were, upon a chair.
From the artist:
The river writhes through narrow chambers, crisscrossing into reticulation of arteries mapping the heart of earth. For a moment, I’m smaller than a drop of that water dissolving through rock; smaller than a microbe propelling inexorably to the source of life, to the laughter of rain, to the brass-brilliant sun, to the hero of creation.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Smith: What happened out there in the water? Did this horse get away from you?
Jones: (expletive deleted—to read aloud, say things like “shee-ucks!”) The horse is on his own! Once he hits that water, I have nothin’ to do with him.
Smith: Is that right? That’s incredible. Seems like the other fellas stayed with their mounts, and it worked out a lot better.
Jones: I don’ know about that. My horse heads for that shoreline on ‘is own.
Smith: Wait a minute. You know this is very dangerous, right? If a couple a cowboys hadn’t grabbed those reins, we’d have had a few trampled folks out there.
Jones: Why the (expletive deleted) is it dangerous?
Smith: ’Cause you’ve got two or three dozen mommas down there along that riverbank, and they’ve got babies spread all around. You shouldda seen ‘em scatter, soon as those horses hit the water and yours got loose.
Jones: They don’t have to push up there on the banks like that.
Smith: But you know as well as I do, they’re gonna do that. It’s nice n’ cool. The bigger kids wade the shoreline from the start.
Jones: So what’s your point?
Smith: My point? My point is that if you’ve got two or three little stragglers out there, there gonna get crushed.
Jones: (expletive deleted)! They need to get outta the way.
Smith: Those babies are not gonna get outta the way! Their mommas can’t pick ‘em up that fast. You’re gonna have three dead babies out there, under your goddamn horse.
Jones: I don’t give a tin (expletive deleted). That’s their lookout.
Smith: The moms’ or the babies’? You don’t give a (expletive deleted) if your horse tramples three babies?
Jones: Right. I don’t give a good (expletive deleted). They know what’s comin’, and they have to get outta the way.
Smith: Wait a minute. Some family blows in here from Houston to do the big river festival, and they’re supposed to know they’ve gotta clear the river bank to make way for two-thousand pounds of mindless panic? Ain’t this a Chamber of Commerce float? Or barge, or whatever the hell it is?
Jones: Yeah. Chamber a Commerce. An’ I’ll tell you what to do, buster. Write a (expletive deleted) e-mail to the Chamber and tell ‘em about this problem. Make your point with them.
Smith: Do you get my point?
Jones: Yeah. I get your point. And I don’t give a (expletive deleted).
A hispanic woman about thirty, drinking coffee, beautiful, slowly approaches Jones. She speaks to him. With reverence.
Woman: This was one of the most thrilling moments I’ve ever known. It was awesome, magnificent, when those horses hit the water. I’ve never been so scared in my life. Or excited. It was totally unforgettable.
Smith: You were scared? Of what?
Woman (backing away): Listen! I’m sorry. I’m sorry, sir. No, no. I don’t want to get into this.
Smith: You ever been pregnant? Embarazada?
There was a before
The world was closed
in the green shade.
The world was mute
had to be
In the green peace
thread of a voice
where words congeal.
There was a before
there was an after
said before she
at the loom of the marshes
where to say
A flight of words
like a handfull of birds
thrown to the winds
and the world
and millions of words
hang to the stars;
disclosed, the world
and the vaporous lace
of her words
alights on the waters
where She disappears.
Translated into English by the author and Barry Wallenstein
I hate quotations. Tell me what you know. — Emerson
I wouldn’t look closer in the dark.
I wouldn’t put my glasses on after leaving the shower.
I wouldn’t investigate, pressing
my face toward the clawed hole.
I won’t be found with the key in my hand,
with the chart or the film, or the sign on my arm.
I will not crawl through that tunnel
and will not climb into that tower.
I will not answer the knocking at the door,
and whatever is coming can stay in the box,
keeping its knowledge as well as its power.