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
brasas
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,
boom.
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.
Armarios,
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
velices
white sweat streaks across her round back,
under arms.
She never stopped wearing
luto
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?

Nicaragua & LGBT rights in Meet Me Under the Ceiba

It is purely serendipitous that the book I’m reviewing  the day after posting what the GLBT Reading Challenge means to me is a novel that has GLBT rights at the forefront of its plot and motivation.  Meet Me Under the Ceiba, written by Silvio Sirias, is the  chronicle of the murder of a young woman named Adela by an unnamed researcher who became fascinated by her death.  Through a series of interviews with her family, friends and even her murderers to try to piece together the events leading up to her death and her last moments.

This book is not necessarily a mystery: we know who her murderers are from the very beginning and we know exactly why they killed her.  The narrator uncovers small mysteries that paint a clearer picture of Adela’s last day on earth, but what this is really about is giving Adela a fair representation, trying to uncover the lies that have been protecting her murderers.

Adela, a lesbian, was passionately in love with the beautiful Ixelia, a gorgeous young woman who had been abused her whole life and was eventually sold by her mother into a relationship with Don Roque, a powerful and cruel older man.  When Adela tries to rescue Ixelia from her fate, crosses the wrong paths and Don Roque and Ixelia’s  mother, Doña Erlinda, decide to get rid of her once and for all.  Adela’s story is tragic and heartbreaking; you spend most of the novel hoping that something will change, that Adela will be uncovered as alive.  She was so obviously loved in her small community.

I learned a lot about the state of LGBT rights in Nicaragua and it is very difficult to read about.  In Nicaragua and much of Latin America, being part of the LGBT community means that in the eyes of some people, you are less than a person.  During the investigation and the trial, many people simply referred to Adela as “la cochona”, the dyke, never using her name.  Adela is reduced to nothing but her sexuality, she no longer has an identity.

Meet Me Under the Ceiba begins with a quote from Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García  Márquez: “none of us could continue living without an exact knowledge of the place and mission assigned to us by fate.”  There is certainly some inspiration from Chronicle of a Death Foretold in Sirias’ narration, but it is more straightforward in Meet Me Under the Ceiba.  There are many intriguing levels of narration since the story is told completely in flashbacks and interviews, the painful reality is that because Adela is no longer here, we will never really know what happened to her.

Meet Me Under the Ceiba is an important novel.  It addresses Nicaraguan LGBT rights and also the failure of the judicial system.  Most importantly, it paints a tragic portrait of one woman’s unfortunate death in the hopes of stopping future deaths.  Siarias’ story is based on the true murder of Aura Rosa Pavón and at the end he describes which aspects of the story were fact and which were fiction, but in the end I am so grateful that Sirias told this story, because it is absolutely one that needed to be heard.  I definitely recommend Meet Me Under the Ceiba, not only for the important issues that it puts out into the open, but also because it is a highly readable novel that will keep you an edge.

Silvio Sirias will be visiting Regular Rumination today to answer any questions you might have, so feel free to leave a question in the comments!  The author has generously offered to do a giveaway!  If you are interested in reading Meet Me Under the Ceiba, there are a couple ways you can enter this giveaway.

To enter:
+1 for a comment, +1 for asking Silvias a question in the comments, +1 for a tweet or a blog post, +1 for following
Please leave a separate comment for each entry!   This contest is open until Sunday, January 17.

Meet Me Under the Ceiba is part of BronzeWord Latino Book Tours and will be making the following tour stops this week: Book Lover Carol, Brown Girl Speaks, The Tranquilo Traveler, Pisti Totol, Mama XXI, Farm Lane Books, Sandra’s Book Club, Latino Books Examiner, Una in a Million.

I received Meet Me Under the Ceiba for review from the BronzeWord Latino Book Group.  You can purchase Meet Me Under the Ceiba on Amazon.

8:15pm: There’s still plenty of time to ask questions and have them answered, but I just wanted to say thank you so much to Silvio Sirias for visiting Regular Rumination today!  It’s been so wonderful having you here.

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