Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ire'ne Lara Silva on diabetes poetry: An interview by Amelia Montes

Writing, reading, researching diabetes has brought me many surprises. One continual surprise is when friends I have known for many years contact me to let me know they too have the chronic disease. Here is information never relayed, never shared until this moment because I have been writing about diabetes. This is the power of the word: to speak diabetes through words, song, painting, dance.

And so it goes with ire'ne lara silva. I have known ire'ne for many years but until this year, we had not shared our experiences and struggles with this chronic disease. I'm very pleased to bring ire'ne lara silva to this Sunday's Bloga. ire'ne is a fierce poet from Austin, Tejas, whose words instruct me. She has also taught me how to "hechar el grito" and now she is gritando diabetes in her poetry. When ire'ne's first collection of poetry, furia, was published October 2010, it was featured right here on La Bloga. furia received an Honorable Mention from the 2011 International Latino Book Award in poetry.

Now she wants to follow furia with a collection that focuses on diabetes. she has titled it, blood/sugar/canto.

Here is one of the poems from the collection:

"diabetic love song"

understand there are things I will never do with you I will never go to the beach with you in the summer I will never share a stack of pancakes with you I will never stay up all night I will never toss back tequila shots with you or have a beer or a glass of wine I need naps and I need rest and when I get too tired I stop functioning my brain begins its meltdown at 90 degrees I will cancel plans it will all be more than I can bear

and now there are pills in the morning and pills at night and more than one syringe a day there may be three there may be four and everywhere everywhere there are alcohol pads in the house in the restroom on the floor in my purse in my pocket and spent lancets and testing strips with one miniscule drop of blood and I will be pricking my fingers and pricking my fingers and pricking pricking pricking

I can never skip meals I will always need more water I will always have doctors’ appointments looming and sometimes I will rail against all of it and I will howl and gnash my teeth and throw things about and I will despair and there will be nothing you can do and sometimes when I am tired and hungry I will become a screaming monster felled only by exhaustion

given that time is short given that the number of my days are unpredictable I have no patience now for people who put off all their dreams people without dreams people dedicated to accumulation and consumption people who fill their lives with drama and noise because they can think of nothing better to do given that time is short I will cut corners everywhere and preserve energy for what is essential: creating and passion and love and beauty and quiet I will never make beds or iron or clean baseboards I will never go to a mall or a baby shower or any event for the sake of appearances I will never again try to make my family love me

I will always be working on letting go of things that hurt me I will always be intent on healing on becoming stronger and sometimes that will make me flint-faced and harsh and sometimes it will make me the compassionate being I want to live my life as and sometimes I won’t know the difference

but if you stay if you stay I will love you always love you fiercely love you as if you were the only one I ever loved love you like my last hope my only hope sing you the moon and the night wind I will give you the light of my eyes and the touch of my lips and the hot of my hands I will be your road going and your road returning and most of all most of all I promise I will never give up


Amelia: Tell us about blood/sugar/canto and how you have decided to shape the collection with diabetes in mind.

ire'ne: Not every poem will be about diabetes, but that is the central theme. I want to look at diabetes from many different angles--not just from my own experience but the experiences of my family/ancestors, historically, culturally . . . addressing issues like nutrition and food activism, how socioeconomics are tied to diabetes rates and treatment. And I want to write about fear and despair and doubt and hope. Mostly, I want to talk about healing, self-acceptance, and growing into a new appreciation for our bodies.

Other than Sherman Alexie's pieces, I haven't seen a lot of poetry on diabetes. As with other experiences--some beautiful, some painful, I need to make art out of this. I need to own it. I need to share it. And I hope those future readers will find this collection to be a springboard for discussions. I hope it will help those who feel isolated in their illness feel less so. And I hope it will open a window for non-diabetic people into the lives of others.

Amelia: When were you diagnosed?

ire'ne: April 23, 2008. My doctor put me on insulin the same day.

Amelia: On that day, did the doctor also refer you to education classes?

ire'ne: I was referred to a Diabetes Education class, but not to a series of classes or to a support group. The class I went to covered the basics. Mostly it was oriented for people who 1)had no knowledge whatsoever about diabetes, or 2) who had made no adjustments at all to their diet or lifestyle. I also went to an orientation class when I started taking [the drug] Byetta. I couldn't believe how insensitive the doctor was--she told us she had nightmares about being diabetic and how she wouldn't want to live if she was diagnosed with it. I also couldn't believe how many of my classmates were unwilling to reconsider their current levels of alcohol consumption.

Amelia: How did you get through those first days/weeks after the diagnosis?

ire'ne: I was incredibly depressed. It isn't an exaggeration to say that I wanted to die. It's not that I thought it was an automatic death sentence--after all, my father was diabetic for 24 years before he passed away in 2010. I think it was more that I didn't have the capacity at the time to handle the news or process what it meant for me. When the diagnosis came, I was working two jobs, taking care of my brother who is also dealing with diabetes, and was experiencing a lot of pain on a daily basis--I was overwhelmed. Since then, I've had time to come to terms with being diabetic--at turns fighting it, denying it, accepting it, working around it . . . now trying to work with it.

Amelia: What has been most helpful to you since your diagnosis?

ire'ne: In my case, not "a what" but a "who"--my brother has been the most helpful person. He was diagnosed years before I was. I may be his caregiver, but he's been my teacher and my support group. He was the one who pushed me to see a doctor, the one who got me on track with scheduling meals and snacks, the one who makes me take naps when I'd be inclined to push one, and he's been the one with helpful advice as I've dealt with adapting to my medications.

Amelia: What needs to change in our society--regarding Diabetes?

ire'ne: So many things that I barely know where to start. We need more eduction everywhere, especially about food. So much of what we, as a society, are eating is toxic to our health. It's not just fast-food culture, it's all the processed foods and all the additives. Sadly, the least expensive choices are usually also the worst possible choices. I've heard so many people tell me they can't afford to shop at Whole Foods--but I know it's possible to seek out farmer's markets or grocers that sell local produce. We can value the food we eat above a new car or a big screen TV.

We have to change our attitudes about food--educate and love ourselves enough to choose to eat food that can increase our health instead of diminish it--seeking out organic/unprocessed/natural foods wherever we can. It's possible to take some time every day to plan meals, substituting healthier options in our recipes (olive oil for butter or any other oil, fresh or frozen veggies for canned veggies, brown rice and whole grains instead of white rice/white bread/white flour, and skipping altogether on sugar, cream, etc.)

I think Latinos have a huge advantage when it comes to adapting our diets. People blame tortillas and Tex-Mex food all the time, but if we actually took a closer look at what our home-cooked meals consist of and at the dishes that came from our indigenous ancestors (who didn't have white flour or cow's milk or Micky D's), we'd find so many healthy possibilities. Look at dishes like pollo guisado con calabaza or caldo de repollo. It's all in how you make it, especially the quality of ingredients you use.

Amelia: What would you like to tell La Bloga readers and those who have been newly diagnosed about diabetes?

ire'ne: There are just two really important things I want to say to people with diabetes, especially those who are newly diagnosed. One: you have to forgive yourself. You may have done everything in your power for the last twenty years to avoid diabetes or you may have lived in denial or you may not have had a clue. It doesn't matter. What's important is to work on your health from this point on.

And two: in my experience, doctors treat diabetes by making their patients afraid. You can't live your life afraid all the time of everything you eat, everything you do, every medication you take. Only you know what the right pace and the right balance are for you. Talk to other people. Listen to your body. You don't have to be afraid.

Amelia: Thank you ire'ne for your palabras de poesia and your courage.

ire'ne also has her own website and blog. You can find ire'ne at:
In addition to ire'ne's work on blood/sugar/canto, ire'ne is currently seeking a publisher for her collection of short stories, The Ocean's Tongue and she is quite busy writing a novel entitled Naci. ire'ne is also the co-coordinator for the Flor de Nopal Literary Festival coming to Austin December 1-3--very soon. If you're in Austin, don't miss the Flor de Nopal Literary Festival!


msedano said...

raza in particular, gente generally, require good nutrition information and diabetics, doubly so. i am happy but sad to learn ire'ne lara silva has this collection. happy, because the poems add a new dimension to patient care, sad because my mom's gone and never had the chance to read the work.


Anonymous said...

Gracias for featuring ire'ne's diabetic poetry. I rather like odes to our diseases. :)