Asking an English major for a favorite poem, and expecting an immediate answer might well be an exercise in futility. Melanie Bettinelli, who blogs about literature (and other things) at The Wine Dark Sea offered me the poet Marianne Moore as part of a Facebook game. Little did she know Moore is one of my favorites, along with two other poets from that era, William Carlos Williams, and Elizabeth Bishop. I can’t say I love Moore’s poems as much as I love their form, her style. It’s free and long and even as I write this long long sentence I see her influence in my writing. Maybe I should go back to writing poetry.
Here’s the poem I selected for the challenge because lately it seems all I do is stand “looking into the sea.” I don’t know what answers I seek there, or even if I know the questions, but the line “the sea is a collector, quick to return a rapacious look” resonates with me. Is my look so deep, so intent, that it violates? Maybe, like the movement of fishermen’s oars, I look at the sea as if there were no death.
Man looking into the sea,
taking the view from those who have as much right to it as
you have to it yourself,
it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing,
but you cannot stand in the middle of this;
the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated grave.
The firs stand in a procession, each with an emerald turkey-
foot at the top,
reserved as their contours, saying nothing;
repression, however, is not the most obvious characteristic of
the sea is a collector, quick to return a rapacious look.
There are others besides you who have worn that look —
whose expression is no longer a protest; the fish no longer
for their bones have not lasted:
men lower nets, unconscious of the fact that they are
desecrating a grave,
and row quickly away — the blades of the oars
moving together like the feet of water-spiders as if there were
no such thing as death.
The wrinkles progress among themselves in a phalanx — beautiful
under networks of foam,
and fade breathlessly while the sea rustles in and out of the
the birds swim through the air at top speed, emitting cat-calls
as heretofore —
the tortoise-shell scourges about the feet of the cliffs, in motion
and the ocean, under the pulsation of lighthouses and noise of
advances as usual, looking as if it were not that ocean in which
dropped things are bound to sink —
in which if they turn and twist, it is neither with volition nor
Misty days at the shore create a heavy mood around here. The air is soupy. Things slow down. Some people say it’s somber and even a little depressing because everything turns gray, Personally, I think it creates a special ambience — not quite romantic, but certainly mysterious. Like special things can happen.
Anything can happen. Or nothing at all.Read More
I’m grateful for every chapter in my story — good and bad, joyful and sad. Reflecting and sharing part of my family’s experience as political refugees — politically exiled Cubans in the early 1960’s — is only part of the complex series of events that comprise my life. I am grateful for it all, and while it is a part of my identity, it certainly isn’t the whole of it.
It seems the trend to label everyone and put them into a nice neat box, once an efficient way to identify demographics, has turned into a much larger issue that probably does more to divide than unite. I’m guilty of it loads of times. Too many, really, to have a clear conscience about criticizing it, but, it’s not the first time I hold conflicting points of view at the same time. I suppose that’s easy to do when you live in two worlds concurrently, even if they are in your head.
In a couple of weeks I’ll be celebrating the 51st anniversary of coming to the United States. I entered through San Antonio, Texas! Needless to say, Texas holds a special place in my heart.
And then, later this year, I will celebrate the 40th anniversary of becoming a naturalized American citizen. It’s like having a second birthday.
I’m grateful for the opportunity my parents found in this great nation. I’m doubly grateful to be a citizen of the United States, the country that took us in and said welcome home.
My story has a happy ending, so to speak. The U.S. is filled with stories like mine, generation after generation. And yet, there’s another truth, of stories cut short or unfulfilled. That is part of the migrant story, too.
I’m grateful for my family — near and far, and far away.
Otis, our dog, snores. It’s kind of endearing.
The moon is beautiful tonight.
I’m going through edits on my manuscript and it’s both tedious and enlightening.
Some days were made for lazy.Read More
a final little excerpt from Confessions of a Cubanita:
My husband’s uncle, Tío Humberto, was a classic character and a dear man. He passed away a few years ago, part of the old guard that came from Cuba early after having figured out that the coming regime was going to spell disaster in untold ways. Tío Humberto had some first hand knowledge of just how psychotic the despot Castro was, having run around in his youth in similar circles to that crazy bastard.
Tío Humberto was a dentist in Cuba, and like so many of the folks who came at that time, he had to find a different route for supporting the family because of language barriers and the difficulties of time and money for preparing to pass medical boards in the United States. Priorities and the pressing need to support a young family took precedence over personal goals and as a result, he never practiced dentistry again. I think that perhaps of all the indignities suffered by our loved ones in those days, not being able to practice the careers that they loved, and in many cases defined them, had to have been a terrible blow.
Tío Humberto’s case is certainly not an isolated one. When I was in high school, my Spanish teacher, Mr. Pedro Díaz, was another one of those displaced professionals. Mr.Díaz had been a lawyer in Cuba, and relocated to Nebraska during that mass sponsorship program that sent Cubans all over the United States in order to provide different avenues of support. I have to say that the idea of Tío Humberto and his spunky wife, Tía Esther, surviving harsh Chicago winters, and poor Mr. Díaz shivering in Nebraska is a little bit comical but a great deal inspiring. They did what they had to do.
One of the things that I have heard constantly over the years is that everyone who came to the United States during the massive wave of immigration that defined the exile community has a unique story to tell. The universities in South Florida, both public and private, have living history programs that capture these stories. When dressed up in the regalia of academe, these stories take on a profound level of authenticity. They become permanently etched in the history of an era.
Videotaping and documenting these experiences do not define their authenticity. The authenticity is defined on the porches, in the living rooms, and Florida rooms of our homes as our relatives reminisce and tell stories of their youth and their struggles as they learned to adapt to a new country, a new language, and a new culture. Regrettably, at the time when our loved ones had these memories fresh on their minds and the wounds were still raw from navigating the perilous waters of the Florida Straits, we cubanitos, obnoxious teenagers and full of our own angst in trying to bridge those waters and be true to our heritage while becoming more and more American, were turning a deaf ear to this living history.
We all had a Tío Humberto, the guy who would pull us aside at a family gathering and launch into a diatribe. Sometimes it was vitriolic bitterness about the way things have turned out. Other times it was poignant hurt over losses, real or imagined. And often it was a beautiful reminiscence of a bygone era, a rich remembrance of the good times, the adventures, the glory days of their youth.
We were too young and too focused on the future to stop and learn from the past. As youngsters, we turned it into an opportunity for mockery, and so we set up the Mr. Díaz’s in our lives to get going on a binge of memories and expound upon their experiences. It was an easy set up. Who wanted to learn about the proper placement of accents when we could derail the Spanish teacher and send him down memory lane? My friend Martha and I would get him started on a topic in first period, and then check in second period to see if he was still ranting. In retrospect it was a terrible prank, and if our real Mr. Díaz should read this, know that I am sorry. But here is the funny part. We thought we were being so clever in distracting him, but the joke was on us. We picked up more history and more culture in those distractions than we would have benefitted from the grammar lesson. I guess that what those tíos had to share was so powerful that they had to do it, even when they understood that at some level we were trying to ridicule them. They must have banked on the fact that we would grow up and those stories would be a part of ours. How right they were!
What became of all those stories? Well, here I am including them in my own story, a story that will perhaps be mocked by my own children and maybe, just maybe, be picked up in a decade or two out of curiosity. What became of Martha and her pranks? Together with her older brother, Juan, and her younger sister, Luly, they took their abuelos’ lament, “Ay, mi Cuba” and turned it into a board game of the same name. The game, a trivia challenge that encompasses all the generational experiences of exile, covers questions from a pre- and post-CastroCuba, as well as questions from the Miami experience of those Cubans who came during different waves of immigration. It beautifully captures the essence of the cubanito because no one can win the game alone. We need the older generations to build the foundation. It is who we are: part of the past, part of the future, trying to survive in the present.Read More