Poetry Wednesday – April is National Poetry Month!

I don’t know how I let the time get away from me like this. We are already well into National Poetry Month, but I wanted to remind you that now is the time to sign up for the Academy of American Poets daily poem! This is really how  I make sure I’m reading enough poetry. No, I don’t get to it every day, but if I have even just five minutes to spare, I can read a lovely poem chosen by the Academy. They choose a variety of poets, styles and forms.

So that’s your friendly reminder of the year, now onto Poetry Wednesday!

Oh, what a happy find this poem is! I’ll be honest, when I don’t have an idea for who I want to feature for poetry, I’ll usually read through a bunch of shorter poems until I find one that is right. Mostly I prefer short poems, but also I think more people will read the poetry I post here if it is short.

Well, break out your attention spans kids, because this poem is awesome. And it is long, but it does not feel long. I love poems that play on languages and being bilingual and “Cultural Stakes” does this perfectly. (Please also see one of my absolute favorite poems “Speaking of the Devil” by Leslie Adrienne Miller.) This poem is beautiful, gritty and surprising.


Cultural Stakes; or, How to Learn English as a Second Language by Kevin A. González

Wait on the corner of Isla Verde & Tartak
for your father to pull up in his Bronco.
Your mother will be right: he will not show up
at noon. At 12:20, you will recognize the horn,
its wail like an amplified conch,
but you will not recognize your father—
the gray stubble, the violent tan.
When he asks where you’d like to go,
say the movies, say La Feria, say the moon:
it won’t matter. You will go to Duffy’s.
When your father says, We’re only here for lunch,
his voice will be as straightforward
as a sandwich menu. The bartender
will greet him like a cousin
in a language you cannot understand.
A stick of incense will burn slow
& its ashes will sprinkle into the tip jar.
Fruit will be rolling inside the slot machine;
darts will flash by like hubcaps. There will be
mirrors with bottles drawn inside them
& not a word of Spanish in the air.
When your father gives you a Coke
with two cherries in it, bite the stem
& bite the stem & swallow the juicy red wounds.
When he gives you a stack of quarters for pinball,
recall the chips he’d stack on the counter
after the casinos closed. Recall the night
your mother left him on the loose stitching of a chair,
the living room as silent as a funeral mass
where nobody stands to give the eulogy.
Don’t ask him what compelled him
to call you today, eighteen months later,
& never admit that his absence
was a moist towel stuffed in your chest,
a constant fatigue of wanting. Don’t tell him
what the nuns at school said about divorce,
that tin bruise on the spirit, & don’t recount
your mother’s remarriage to a man
who is as plain as his own mustache.
Your father will tell you many times
he is not perfect. There will be a sunset
on his cheek & a bonfire in his Adam’s apple
& a coaster beneath his drink like a giant host,
the Scotch putting his tongue to sleep
like a pale stingray on the ocean floor.
When your mother asks what you did,
tell her you watched baseball all weekend
& bury your smoke-swamped shirts
in the bottom of the laundry. Every Friday,
she will watch you climb into that Bronco
& slide away till Sunday, your face
eclipsed by the tinted window’s twilight.
At Duffy’s, the women will be blonde
& they will seem as lonely as broken barstools.
When they speak to you, wait for your father
to translate, then reply to him in Spanish
& wait while he translates for them, & smile,
always smile. There will be something soulful
about this: the way your words become his
& his words become yours, as if the two languages
were shaking hands, casting one long shadow.
When your father brings a woman home, know
that laughter will leak through the doorframe,
that the body is an office always on the verge
of quiet. If she stays the night, the next morning
she might pull out a chair & gently say, sit
& this is how you will learn to concede
whenever a girl with sunlight digging into her cheek
taps your shoulder at the water fountain at school.
There, you will sit in the back row of catechism
& wait for the bell to trill its metal tongue.
You will stumble on the words of prayers
as if the short rope of your faith
was hindered by knots, as if religion was a field
with landmines scattered across. At Duffy’s,
shed the red skin off the bull’s-eye
with the lethal tips of your darts,
slide the smooth grain of the cue stick
over the wings of your thumb. Call all your shots.
Touch the chalk to your forehead
& trace a blue cross. When your father
begins to feed the slot machine’s pout,
remind him to save a ten for the Drive Thru.
He will sit on a stool, pushing the Bet button
as if he believed that if he pushed it enough
he would fill with an air that could raise him.
When the language comes, it will be
as if it had always been inside you.
You will look at things & their names
will drip from your tongue. Abstractions
will be archived as events, & there will be
a history you can instantly shuffle through
whenever a word is uttered. For example,
hustle will be the night your father challenges
a stranger to beat you at darts. Discretion, the night
two of the blondes who cooked you breakfast
sit on stools on either side of you. Impulse
will happen over a rack of pool: your father will say
you have an invisible brother who is better than you
& you will spend the rest of your life competing
with a ghost. Abandon will be your first beer,
a squeezed lemon wedge inside the empty bottle.
Independence will be the moment you realize
the only hands reaching out to you belong to clocks.
Irony, you will come to understand, will be
when you ask your father about those expatriates:
who are they & what are they doing here,
so far from home, & why would anyone
ever leave the place where they were born?
Fortune will be every time your father hits
All-Fruits on the slot. Innocence
will come right after Fortune—every time
you say, Let’s quit while we’re ahead,
not knowing how far behind you really are.



Poetry Wednesday – Rhina P. Espaillat (2)

I know I just posted another poem by Rhina P. Espaillat last Wednesday, but when I read this one, I couldn’t help but feature another one. You’re going to see immediately why I like it, I guarantee it. Rhina P. Espaillat was born in the Dominican Republic under the Trujillo regime. Her and her family moved to New York when she was a young woman and she began writing poetry, in Spanish and then in English. I love the way she treats bilingualism as the blessing it really is here. Absolutely beautiful.


Bilingual/Bilingüe by Rhina P. Espaillat

My father liked them separate, on there,
one here (allá y aquí), as if aware

that words might cut in two his daughter’s heart
(el corazón) and lock the alien part

to what he was – his memory, his name
(su nombre) – with a key he could not claim.

“English outside this door, Spanish inside,”
he said, “y basata.” But who can divide

the world, the word (mundo y palabra) from
any child? I knew how to be dumb

and stubborn (testaruda);  late, in bed,
I hoarded secret syllables I read

until my tongue (mi lengua) learned to run
where his stumbled. And still the heart was one.

I like to think he knew that, even when,
proud (orgulloso) of his daughter’s pen,

he stood outside mis versos, half in fear
of words he loved but wanted not to hear.

Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juárez by Marjorie Agosín

Ciudad Juárez is a border town in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.  Depending on who is counting, anywhere from 350-5, 000 women have been killed or gone missing in Ciudad Juárez since the mid 1990s.  A conservative estimate is over 350 women. It’s not even a number you can really fathom.  Ciudad Juárez was recently in the news because a USian couple were killed at the consulate, but why is that what finally gets our attention, when according to one columnist 2, 600 people were killed in Ciudad Juárez in 2009 alone?  I have an add-on for my blog that collects news articles that might be interesting based on what my blog post says.  All of the articles are about the couple killed a couple weeks ago, none of them are about the femicides.

Published in 2006, Secrets in the Sand is a volume of poetry written by Marjorie Agosín and translated by Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman.  This is a bilingual edition that features the Spanish on one page and the English on the other, plus an introduction by the translator.  Marjorie Agosín is a professor and poet at Wellesley College and she is known for her commitment to women’s rights and human rights.  Secrets in the Sand is a demonstration of both of those commitments that describes the terror that happens daily in Ciudad Juárez in beautiful, chilling verse.

What struck me most about this collection of poetry is how quiet it is.  What I mean by quiet is not that these poems are not full of anger, sadness and pain, because they are.  But there is a silence in this verse that is palpable, that appears in almost every poem.  It is found in between every line, it is found in the blank space on the page, it is in everything that is said about these women, but what is not said.   It is contemplation and meditation; it is a slow burning sadness that fills page after page of haunting images.  It is brutal and it is beautiful at the same time.

Some of my favorite poems:


She was dreaming about borders
To cross them and gain permission to enter them
To be another and not to be another
To cross, to travel and to invent another landscape.
Her mother would tell her:
Be careful at the border
Women should not leave   home
Words would not be sufficient to save oneself
Poor women don’t know how to save themselves
Through words.

She dreams about borders
And on a night when the moon is full and calm like a woman
She crosses them
Her feet know the night desert
The sounds of emptiness
The sounds of absence
The hours of death.

It rains
And only death awaits her
Like in the dreams foretold to her by the wise women
The grandmothers of Chihuahua.

News Reports

The news report of  Ciudad Juárez
Announces another death
The child says that it looks like the same woman
All of those women are the same, the father replies
The mother prepares the food
She sees herself in those women
The news report continues
They announce the winners of the soccer tournament
The child asks his mother why
They always kill the same woman
The mother’s voice is strange
Like that of a little girl
And a well of silence
Forms on her sad mouth.

I really can’t recommend these poems enough.  To end this review, I would like to close with the last words of Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman’s introduction: “The world cannot afford to ignore these crimes against humanity that continue to destroy so many lives.  The rights to life, physical integrity, liberty and personal safety must be protected and ensured wherever they are threatened.”

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Poetry Wednesday – Gloria Anzaldúa

Gloria Anzaldúa is the author of Borderlands/La Frontera, which was required reading for my Border Studies class, and it is a very interesting read that I highly recommend.  Anzaldúa is a lesbian chicana, born and raised in the United States and of Mexican descent.  Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza is part memoir, part history book and part book of poetry.  I chose this poem because of the way it speaks frankly of a specific female experience.  This poem deals with many tragedies: from an accident that lead to disfigurement to sexual experiences to the births of children to the deaths of family members.  This poem is long, but rightfully so, as it chronicles an entire life through the eyes of a granddaughter.

Immaculate, Inviolate: Como Ella

She never lived with us
we had no bed for her
but she always came to visit.
A gift for m’ijita
two folded dollar bills secretly put in my hand.

I’d sit at her side
away from the bucket of
enveloped en el olor de vieja
watch her roll her Buglar
yellowed talons plucking tobacco
knotted fingers rolling it thin, thinner,
tongue gumming edge of paper
sealing it pinching the ends
stroking it before striking match on thumbnail
watch smoke escape between chapped lips
curl through her white hair and pink skull.
They said at sixteen it had turned white overnight.

My grandmother could not tolerate heat.
She kept well away from fires.
A long time ago she burned herself.
She’d bent over the belly
of her woodburning stove
had seen no glimmer of a spark
had heaved up a can of kerosene

propping the edge on her hip
and cradling it to her chest
she’d let a few drops fall
on the charred sticks.
An invisible spark ignited
shot up the spout into her windpipe,
It took my uncle a long time
to carry the buckets of water from the well
soak the blankets
wrap them around her.

Mamá, usted ya no puede quedarse aquí sóla.
They made her give up the ranchouse
photographs, books, letters, yellowing.
pantry closets looted
not growing under the covers.

She’d stay two weeks with one, two with another,
back and forth in her black dress
and with her thick
white sweat streaks across her round back,
under arms.
She never stopped wearing
first for my papagrande
who died before I was born
then for her brother
and, until she died elevel years ago,
she wore black for my father.
I didn’t go to her funeral
that too must have made her suffer.

Platícame del rancho Jesús María,
de los Vergeles, Mamagrande,
where I was reared.
Tell me about the years of drought
the cattle with hoof’n mouth
the rabid coyotes.
And as she talked I saw her breathing in the fire,
coughing up sooty spittle
skin blistering, becoming pus
nerve endings exposed,
sweating, skin pallid, clammy
the nausea, the dizziness,
swelling to twice her size.

I watched the charred scars
on her throat and breasts
turn into parchment splotches
they catch the sheen of the coals
glow pink and lavender over the blue skin.
She’d felt numb, she told me,
her voice hoarse from the fire
or the constant cigarette in her mouth,
as though frostbitten.

Once I looked into her blue eyes,
asked, Have you ever had an orgasm?
She kept quiet for a long time.
Finally she looked into my brown eyes,
told me how Papagrande would flip the skirt
of her nightgown over her head
and in the dark takeout his
palo, his stick,
and do
lo que hacen los hombres
while she laid back and prayed
he would finish quickly.

She didn’t like to talk about such things.
Mujeres no hablan de cosas cochinas.
Her daughters, my
tías, never liked to talk about it —
their father’s other women, their half-brothers.

Sometimes when I get too close to the fire
and my face and chest catch the heat,
I can almost see Mamagrande’s face
watching him leave
taking her two eldest
to play with otherchildren
watching her sons y
los de la otra
grow up together.

I can almost see that look
settle on her face
then hide behind parchment skin
and clouds of smoke.
Pobre doña Locha, so much dignity,
everyone said she had
and pride.


In class, we have often discussed what makes a poem a poem.  How many literary devices must your piece have to be considered a poem?  Do it just have to have lines that are broken in the middle?  While I definitely don’t think that is the case, this poem does read more like prose much of the time.  What I think makes this a poem are, of course, not the linebreaks, but instead the way in which this woman’s life and story are told through figure.  It is not “and then, and then, and then”, but rather a series of images that paint a complete portrait of Mamagrande.   Ipersonally love that this poem is bilingual, because it is an integral part of the speaker’s and the figure’s life.  Do you think this alienates readers? As someone who doesn’t speak Spanish, what did you think of the Spanish parts of the poem?

Translation, multiculturalism and children’s books

I have a slightly different fare for you today, here at Regular Rumination.  As avid readers and promoters of books here on our blogs, we have the opportunity to bring to the forefront books that can make a difference, especially books that can inform readers about different cultures and different types of people.  I was recently given the opportunity to sign up to be a host for the Bronze World Latino Book Tours.  I have never participated in book tours before and I’m really excited for this opportunity to bring to the spotlight Latino authors.  One of the first books I received was René has two last names/René tiene dos appellidos by René Colato Laínez, a bilingual children’s books explaining the importance of having two last names in Hispanic and Latino culture.

As most of my regular readers know, I’m not latina, but I am getting my Master’s in Spanish and have worked a lot with the latino community in Virginia.  From working with women in crisis at a rape crisis center to teaching English on the weekends, it’s a community that has embraced me and I am thrilled to be working with Bronze World.  For my senior thesis, I wrote about the importance of bilingual education and having picture books like René has two last names/René tiene dos apellidos is an integral part of bilingual education.  What bilingual education can do, outside of language education, is cultural education.  When there is more understanding cross-culturally, we are a better society.  Understanding and education is the key to ending prejudice, especially among children.  That is why I started learning Spanish in the first place and why I continue to learn Spanish today.

René Colato Laínez  generously agreed to write a guest post for Regular Rumination.  In a bilingual education class, it’s possible that children would read the same book in English and Spanish, so an interesting topic of conversation is the translation of those books.  In this article, Colato Laínez discusses the difficulty of translating certain texts such as the popular Amelia Bedelia books.

The Art of Translation by René Colato Laínez

Due to high demand for Spanish literature in the United States, many books written originally in English have been translated into Spanish. However, translating a book into another language is not an easy task. Problems with names, idioms, rhyming text, and too literal word for word translation complicate the process. What does a translator need to take into consideration? What are the necessary elements to do a great translation and make everyone happy? Let’s look at the English and the Spanish versions of AMELIA BEDELIA by Peggy Parish.

AMELIA BEDELIA is a classic in children’s literature. Amelia Bedelia is a housekeeper who takes her instructions quite literally. She works with Mr. and Mrs. Rogers. The Rogers make a list of chores and tell Amelia to just do what the list says. She does everything she is told but the wrong way.

This is a difficult book to translate because it uses idioms that are very hard to translate from English into Spanish. The editors picked the well-recognized translator Yanitzia Canetti. Because Yanitzia had to change entire phrases in the Spanish version, the editors also hired a new illustrator, Barbara Siebel Thomas.

Yanitzia begins her changes on the first page. She changes the names of Amelia Bedelia employers. Mr. and Mrs. Rogers are now Señor and Señora López. This make sense, López is a very common last name in Spanish, just like “Smith” in English. Children will relate more to López than Rogers. However, Amelia Bedelia remains the same, because Amelia is a name used in Spanish. Yanitzia keeps Bedelia because it rhymes with Amelia. The combination of both names Amelia Bedelia sounds good in Spanish as well as in English.

The text at the beginning of the story is very similar in both versions. There is only a change in the illustration. In the English version Mr. and Mrs. Rogers get into the car and drive away but they are not alone, they take their dog with them. In the Spanish version the dog is missing. This does not make sense at first. The new illustrator has to eliminate the dog from the car because the dog will appear later in the story.

The text is similar in both versions until Amelia Bedelia reads the first thing on the to-do list.  In the English version, Amelia Bedelia reads, “Change the towels in the green bathroom” . Amelia changes the towels by cutting them with scissors.  It would be very easy to translate the original text  “Change the towels” to  “Cambia las toallas,” but in Spanish there is no confusion with this phrase. It only means, “take the towels and put new ones”. Yanitzia changes the text to “Cambia la cama” . This phrase can have two meanings, “Change the blankets” or “Move the bed to another location.” Amelia Bedelia moves the bed next to the door.

The same happens with the second item in the list, “Dust the furniture”. In Spanish it is used to say “desempolva los muebles”. An employer would never say “empolva los muebles,” because it means literally “dust the furniture.” Amelia Bedelia can make the mistake in English of dusting the furniture with dusting powder but in a Spanish it will not work at all. Instead, Yanitzia writes “Busca el periódico”. Amelia looks for the newspaper everywhere in the house and makes a mess. This phrase does not work very well in the Spanish version because it does not have a double meaning, but it works better than “Dust the furniture.”

Yanitzia does a great job with the next item in the list. Perry Parish writes, “Put the lights out when you finish in the living room”. You cannot translate this literally in Spanish. The best you can do is “Apaga las luces cuando termines en la sala”. The confusion in Spanish does not exist.  In the Spanish version the dog comes back into the story. Amelia Bedelia reads “Dale una vuelta al perro” .  This phrase can mean two things, “Take the dog for a walk” or “Flip the dog around.” Amelia Bedelia gets the dog that is sleeping in a sofa and flips him upside down.

For the last item on the list, the illustrator does not create a new illustration; she just alters the existing illustration.  “And please dress the chicken” will have no meaning in Spanish. “Rellena el pollo,” does not have a double meaning. Instead Yanitzia writes, “Y ten listo el pollo para la cena de gala de esta noche”. Amelia Bedelia prepares the chicken by dressing him with an elegant tuxedo, a bow tie, and black shoes.

AMELIA BEDELIA was very hard to translate. Luckily this will not happen with every book. If the book in English is written without wordplay or rhymes, it will not have to go through all this process. The translator only needs to use the right words because a word that is funny in English is not necessarily funny in another language. Sometimes an innocent word in English can be a bad word in another language.

I had the opportunity to translate my picture books from English to Spanish. I started WAITING FOR PAPA with “I wish Papá could be here with me.” I translated it literally to, “Deseo que Papá esté aquí conmigo”. I showed it to the bilingual children’s literature author Alma Flor Ada. She told me that it did not sound so good in Spanish. She suggested changing it to “Como quisiera que Papá estuviera aquí conmigo.”  Both sentences in Spanish are very similar. The first one is closer to the English version but the second one has more child’s language. “Deseo” (I wish) is a word for an older child. Instead small children say “como quisiera”.  Also, “como quisiera” has a more emotional impact in Spanish and it works better as the first line of the story.

Alma Flor Ada told me, “The best translation is the one not similar to the original text.”  I understand this to mean that when you translate something you have to have a clear understanding of both languages. You cannot translate word for word because you change or lose the meaning of the text. There are syntactical rules in languages that have to be followed, and you have to be sure that you are honoring those rules in both languages.

Parish, Peggy. Amelia Bedelia. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1963.

– – -. Amelia Bedelia. Trans. Yanitzia Canetti.  New York: HarperCollins

Publishers, 1992.

René has two last names/René tiene dos apellidos is a perfect addition to any children’s book collection because it introduces children to a culture that they may or may not be familiar with, explains an important aspect of that culture and is also an introduction to Spanish.  The whimsical art and educational narrative make this book definitely worth the read!

René has two last names/René tiene dos apellidos will be making stops at the following blogs on this tour: Joylene Nowell Butler, Tartamunda, Devourer of Books, Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile, Latino Book Examiners, One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books, The Sol Within.

Other reviews: Orlando Latino.

René’s blog.

You can purchase René has two last names/René tiene dos apellidos on Amazon.  I received this book for review from the publisher as part of the book tour.

Review – Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States edited by Lori M Carlson

cool salsa“God wants you to understand… brown
is not a color… it is:
a state of being a very human texture
alive and full of song, celebrating –
dancing to the new world
which is for everyone…”

“Why Am I So Brown?” by Trinidad Sánchez, Jr.

Continue reading “Review – Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States edited by Lori M Carlson”