Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reading your stuff aloud: memory. On-Line Floricanto: Tonantzín

Reading Your Stuff Aloud is a third-Tuesday La Bloga feature.
Working From Memory

Michael Sedano

Memory and memorization are a writer-performer’s best tools to add effectiveness when reading one’s work before an audience.

Hands and eyes freed of manuscript, the memorized reading encourages enhanced vocal and visual variety including eye contact, movement, gesture, and personalization.

Aristotle thought of memory as an essential skill, a canon of rhetoric that placed memory on equal footing with creativity and argument. Nowadays kids in school don’t memorize. I query kids if they can recite something they learned in school, Portia’s speech, Stupid America, anything they were forced to learn? Sadly, no. In other words, something once taken for granted has become a rarity

Delivery is a different issue from delivering a memorized reading. Standing, sitting, strolling, eye contact, vocalics, gesture: delivery. But delivery counts a lot, like the benefits of good eye contact that come automatically with memory. More vitally, memory gives an audience a different voice.

Numerous readers adopt a “reading voice” that becomes customary and comfortable to them. An audience accepts the distance between writer, reader, and text such readings construct; it’s expected. Memorization is novelty, and people find that cool. Better still, memory coaxes a personal, natural voice that audiences find satisfyingly eloquent.

In the course of a ten or twelve minute program, the writer carefully selects the content to read: snippets from several works, one sustained passage from a longer form, small finished pieces that fit the event’s objectives.

A reader at a selling event has limited opportunity to capture an audience’s goodwill, often from a crowded podium. Standing out consists in having and choosing good stuff and making a grand impression. One method to stand out is start and finish from memory. Read the middle stuff from the page. Let the uniqueness of memory add to a prospective reader’s decision to buy.

A key principle to be mindful: A memorized presentation is extemporaneous. You make it up as you go along, according to plan. The oral presentation doesn’t have to be the same every time and it doesn’t have to be the same as in the book. It has to be close, and it has to be complete.

Delivering a memorized performance can open new possibilities to a writer willing to accept the reward and risk of the effort.

The You Tube video linked below illustrates Malín Alegría's prodigious memory in this reading from her novel Estrella's Quinceañera. Alegría impresses with her use of voice, gesture, posture. The point and shoot camerawork keeps her feet planted in one spot.

On-Line Floricanto. Floricanto on the theme of Tonantzín

Elena Díaz Bjorkquist, Francisco Alarcón, and other moderators of the Facebook group Poets Responding to SB 1070, put together this mid-winter celebration of poetry honoring Tonantzín.

I've long been convinced that Juan Diego found not roses on that hill, but epiphyllum cactus blossoms that bloomed that year in Spring, then again mid-Winter. Califas' ferocious storms consumed many of my epiphyllums, 50+ year-old wonders. I found one penca on the ground with a promising bud that opened on Guadalupe's day, December 12, 2011 and inspired my own version of Guadalupe / Tonantzín's origins.

Following that, find the BIOS of today's poets, Raúl Sánchez, Andrea Hernández Holm, Hedy Trevino, Elena Díaz Bjorkquist, Francisco X. Alarcón:

“Tonantzin Cemicac Ichpochtzintl” by Raúl Sánchez
“Confessions of a Goddess" by Andrea Hernández Holm
“She Walks alone across the Sky” by Hedy Trevino
"Una Oración / A Prayer" By Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
"Whispers in the Wind / Susurros al viento" by Francisco X. Alarcón

Tonantzin Cemicac Ichpochtzintli   Our Revered Mother, Holiest Virgin
by Raúl Sánchez

I see her with folded hands
behind glass and neon lights
above the Mexican flag,
tattooed on men’s back

her image colored by children’s hands
messages on papel de estraza
on window stickers, retablos,
on top of cars and trucks

her Image dangling from rear view mirrors
adorned with colorful lights
to whom immigrants pray
to get them safe to the other side

on old ladies hands rosaries
praying waiting for her blessing
I see her on the back of bullfighters capes
embroidered with golden thread

Moros and Cristianos, Aztec dancers
drum-beat-rhythmic teponztle
conch-shell sounds the Concheros play
copal lingers to the shrine

pilgrims holding pennants visit from
all over the valley of Anáhuac
pilgrimage to the holy shrine
covered under rebozos, sombreros

beyond Zacapoaxtla
bearing her image on their heads
twelve candles bought along the way
to the hill El Cerrito to pay La Manda

red roses fragrant roses at her feet,
her blessing shines on the faithful
who visit her house pinning Milagritos
on the Hill of Tepeyac

“Ca oncan niquincaquiliz in inchoquiz,
in intlaocol, inic nicyectiliz nicpatiz in ixquich
nepapan innetoliniliz,
intonehuiz, inchichinaquiliz”

“There I will listen to their lament,
their sorrow, to remedy, to alleviate,
all their needs, their miseries, their pain”
(from the Nican Mopohua)

Confessions of a Goddess
by Andrea Hernandez Holm

      We decided that we would hide,
return to the 13 levels of heaven and wait.
After all, some things are inevitable,
some stories are already written
and even we can’t change them.
Our hearts broke as children died
and temples crumbled.
I saw many of us weeping for our people.

      There were those, of course,
who said the people deserved what they were getting.
They’d become selfish and lazy.
My holy children said,
      “We’ve seen this before,
      endured this before,
      We can begin again.
      Xolotl can revive them,
      retrieve their bones,
      make them greater
      in the next world.
      We will know what faults
      to sweep from their human flesh.”

      “Imagine!” they cried.
      “We will mold humans so loyal and strong
      gentle and humble,
      they will be almost divine.
      We can wait.
      The dawning of the next world
      will be the best one yet.”

      And so we slept,
curled into the clouds,
and under the stars
and in dark caves Coatlicue still kept.
But oceans of blood
and pock-marked children invaded my dreams
and the cries of noblemen pierced my heart.
I could feel their anguish
and I yearned to walk among them again.

      And then I heard him call my name,
      sing it to the rhythm of a rosary,
      whisper “Tonantzin”
      and I knew that I would return to them.

      I waited for him,
held vigil on the swell of earth
that had been mine for so long.
I tempted him
with the scent of roses
and the sweet sounds of the eastern world
until he could resist me no more,
came to my side
      Loving me
      Needing me
      Calling me beloved.

He brought me
back to my people
and together we endure.
We are created anew.
Even without our temples
and so many of our ways,
we thrive.

I walk among them,
walk with them in their prayers and songs.
I thrive on the flames of candles burnt for me
and am nourished by the tears we share.

      I survive
      with the smallest of my children
      even as the others sleep.

Andrea Hernandez Holm 2000

She Walks Alone Across The Sky
by hedy garcia treviño

She walks alone across the sky
from east to west in amber gowns

The fearless queen of light

From east to west she danced she pranced
upon the freshly fallen snow.

Prepared to shed her amber gowns
and light the sky in shades of scarlet hues

Upon her head a crown of purple rubies glow
behold the fearless queen of light

Who walks alone across the sky

Una Oración
by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

Virgencita bendita
Siempre estás conmigo
En mis bellas artes
En mis escrituras
En mis esculpturas
Me bendigas

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A Prayer
by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

Blessed Virgin
You’re always with me
In my art
In my writing
In my sculpture
You bless me

Whispers in the Wind
by Francisco X. Alarcón

alone in the crowd
far away from your sacred home
festing on your day

I whisper your name
and a soft wind blows over
tree tops, heads and hearts—

may the peaceful bring
peace everywhere; may the dreamers
have their dream in life

December 12, 2011
© Francisco X. Alarcón

Susurros al viento
por Francisco X. Alarcón

solo entre el gentío
lejos de tu santuario
en tu romerío

susurro tu nombre
y un viento suave mueve
árboles, cabezas, corazones—

que los mansos traigan
paz dondequiera y los soñadores
hagan sus sueños realidad

12 de diciembre de 2011
© Francisco X. Alarcón

The Miracle at Tepeyac

Michael Sedano
Foto taken on December 12, 2011
The man lies at the edge of a deep pool, his arms motionless in the water despite the icy chill. He stares intently at his day's meal floating tantalizingly out of reach. Just as the large axolotl drifts into his grasp, the indio sees the reflection of the priest lean over him. The axolotl struggles weakly as Amoxcallín squeezes its life out.

“Mi’jo, what is your name?” The indio uses his baptismal name. “Juan Diego, did you thank God for delivering that meat into your hands, mi’jo?”

The Indian’s head shivers involuntarily, which the priest accepts as denial. “Mi’jo, God’s gifts are many. To be blessed with such a fat bounty and not thank our Almighty Father is a sin." The monk reaches a hand as if to slap the indian but stops short. "I will take this meat as your penance.” With a sharp uña, the priest guts the water dog and throws the offal at the hungry indio. Amoxcallín sighs. Today’s meal will be tripas.

“¡Amoxcallín! Tonantzín’s cactus are covered with buds, how beautiful they'll be.”
“Ay, Amaranta. If I could eat the blossoms I'd find the true beauty of them.”
“You know, with the land so barren now, I’m sure the Archbishop would pay us for these flowers to decorate his chapel." The young husband fails to notice the urgency of her voice when she adds, "We could go to the mercado and bring home some fresh meat.”
“Pay! That fat priest seized the axolotl I caught, saying it was a penance for my sins.” The skinny boy spit on the ground. “If I take that gachupín these blossoms he will pay nothing. He will invent another sin to forgive me, taking the flowers as my penance.”
“Mi amor, the Archbishop is our only hope. Please. I need to eat meat, to build strength for two.”

“Yes, two. La curandera tells me I am pregnant. Our little one-- if it survives--will come when Tonanzín’s flowers bloom again next Spring.”

Pregnant, Juan Diego thinks. Why does Tonantzín give me such joy and such beauty—my Amaranta, our  child, these annual winter blossoms—yet trouble me so? Our Mother's flowers will burst forth in three days, and after three or four days, they will wither and die. If I cannot feed my wife every day, our baby will be dead before she--or he--sees light. These people tell us their God works in mysterious ways and we must abandon our gods and pay for our sins in order to be saved. Who will save us from them?

Gently, the boy man strokes the girl woman’s cheek. He lifts her downturned face by her brown chin and looks into her hopeful glistening eyes. “I wish I knew why we must we pay these church men when it is God’s mercy we seek. Tonantzín has no church, yet she blesses us every year with these beautiful flowers. And now our child. Tomorrow, I will go see the Archbishop.”
The empty hope in his wife’s voice echoes in his ears, “if it survives.” No. Not ‘it’, he thinks, our child, our future. A spark ignites in his eyes. If Tonantzín had a church, she would protect us against that other church. She would.

He places a stone on the earth to mark each step of the plan. The Archbishop believes in mysteries. He converts pulque into the blood of Jesús, and tortilla into His flesh. Tonantzín's blossoms--with the right mystery--will be converted into roasted axolotl and dried rabbit. Perhaps even fresh horsemeat.

Amoxcallín runs steadily through the pedregal. His path twists around clusters of spiked agave and vast stretches of the vicious leaping cholla. He leaps over stands of the inedible purple nopal whose tiny espinas reward a touch with a lifetime of irritation. He stops. He realizes he has forgotten his mother’s name for those plants. So much he had forgotten. Such was the price of being Saved. He runs steadily. The Archbishop’s chapel emerges from the morning fog into view.

The indio feigns breathlessness as he kneels at the Archbishop's feet. The first step of his plan begins with a story of mystery. An apparition had appeared. Jesus’ mother la Virgen Mary herself told him to run without stopping to tell the Archbishop to build a chapel in a miraculous place!

The Archbishop slaps the Indian for his impudence. How dare this swine claim to have spoken to Our Lady! He slaps the indio again. “You lie! You blaspheme” Slap. “You bring The Church no offering, instead bringing me lies.” That felt good, so he slaps the impudent boy again with a gusto that knocks the indio backward. “Go! Never return to this place empty-handed again.” The Archbishop has the burly Sexton drag the indio to the street. “Beat him for his penance!”

Juan Diego laughed at the pain of salvation. The first part of his plan has worked as he’d predicted. The Archbishop’s jealousy fueled the priest’s anger, leaving him more red-faced than usual. Juan Diego had taken the slaps and his beating quietly, mostly, other than a muffled grunt when the Sexton's boot found a rib.

Two days later, the sun has not yet risen over the eastern rim of the valley when Juan Diego rattles the Archbishop’s gate. The Sexton angrily pulls it open. When the red-faced Sexton sees it is the same filthy Indian he’d savagely beaten two days before, the monk discovers empathy and tells the indio to go away. Juan Diego had expected not kindness but another kick in the ribs. He is surprised when the monk quietly ushers him through the door of the chapel and rings the Archbishop’s bell.

The Archbishop screams for his whip as he strides darkly across the center aisle of his chapel, discerning that indio again. He raises his fist to punch the indio’s smiling face when the Archbishop notices the man holds up his tilma between his penitent’s hands, some unseen bulk bulging behind the woven hilo de maguey.

“So, Juan Diego. Have you learned to respect The Holy Mother Church? Have you returned this early hour with some bounty from the land for our breakfast?”
“Forgive me, my lord and master,” Diego begins his speech. “The Mother of God has appeared again to me,” Diego speaks clearly but quickly to get out the words before the Archbishop slaps him into silence. “She commands me to bring this miracle to you to show my sincerity.” And with the word “sin-“ he releases the tilma and dozens of spectacular colors spill onto the stone floor, glistening in the dim fitful light of burning tallow.

“Rosas! Rosas? Where did you find these? In December? How? What? Rosas! A miracle, a miracle!” The Archbishop falls to his knees. He shakes off the arms of his Sexton, instead prostrating himself, rubbing his face into the blossoms.  For minutes the old priest lay there, trembling, squeezing the blossoms, staining his face and the tilma with their juice.

“Help me up, mugrosos.” Archbishop fixes the indio with reddened eyes. “Explain!” he commands the indio he calls Juan Diego.
Amoxcallín and Amaranta had practiced the revelation story. He began as they’d rehearsed. “Our Lady commands me to bring these blossoms to your Lordship, so you will know I do not lie. ‘Build my church at this place, the place of roses,’ she commanded, padre.” Amoxcallín holds out his hands in supplication, points his face to the ceiling, wonder filling his rising volume.

“Her light grew brighter than the sun, yet all about me was darkness, señor. I was blinded by the light, and despite the biting cold, I was warm as a summer’s day.” Here Juan Diego squeezes his eyes tightly and continues speaking in dramatic intonation that echoes through the rafters and walls of the empty chapel.

“And as the brilliance of her light began to fade away, oh my father…” Amoxcallín particularly hated this part of the speech, the words fill his mouth with bile. This evil man is not Tepeyac, Amoxcallín’s father, but as Amaranta had coached, the indio called Juan Diego speaks the words with sweet sincerity. “…my father.” Amoxcallín swallowed and his stomach grumbles loudly.

“I looked where she had stood. And there" he points toward the flower-covered tilma, "where her gentle feet have touched our barren earth,” another of Amaranta’s suggestions, “these..." Amoxcallín Juan Diego pauses, forgetting if Tonantzín's flowers were supposed to be 'celestial roses' or 'miracles.' "...Where these divine gifts remained as a sign of Our Lady's commands and her love for you!”
Then the Archbishop surprises Juan Diego. He orders breakfast. As they sit in front of a blazing fire eating, the Archbishop faints. With light he sees the tilma.

The Archbishop’s party of priests and soldiers follow Juan Diego up the path leading to the miraculous place the community knows as Tepeyac. That same day, the Archbishop orders all the indios in the region to come work at Tepeyac to build the shrine Our Lady of Guadalupe has commanded.

The days were long, the work hard, but that was nothing new. The labor crews broke rock into gravel, leveled the land, laid out and dug foundations. They built walls using stones hauled from the city’s ancient temples and lumber from el monte. The Church paid the laborers by feeding them and allowing them a day's rest on Sunday, after three Masses. The iron tools the soldiers supply especially please the indios, given the contrast with iron spurs, swords and pikes that had been their sole contact with iron. The Church’s engineers taught blacksmithing to some, surveying and geometry to others. Selected children learn to copy and write, to read and recite prayers to la Virgen. Over the years as the Tepeyac shrine grew, the community prospered like never before.

Amaranta and Amoxcallín had three daughters and two sons. These were their flowers now, and for the rest of their happy lives, those epiphyllum cacti kept blooming in the dead of winter. But the community kept this annual miracle private from the succession of administrators who did the new Archbishop’s bidding.

Amaranta, she of the skillful hand, taught her children to weave canvas from hilo de maguey, fashion paint brushes, find and mix colors, and to paint images of Tonantzín de Tepeyac, riding a black moon, surrounded by flames.
© michael v. sedano, 2011


“Tonantzin” by Raúl Sánchez
“Confessions of a Goddess" by Andrea Hernández Holm
“She Walks alone across the Sky” by Hedy Trevino
"Una Oración / A Prayer" By Elena Díaz Bjorkquist
"Whispers in the Wind / Susurros al viento" by Francisco X. Alarcón

Raúl Sánchez is a Seattle Bio-Tech technician, prosody enthusiast, translator, and DJ at KBCS 91.3 FM community radio station, who conducts workshops on The Day of the Dead in Tieton WA. He was featured in the 2011 Burning Word Poetry Festival in Leavenworth WA. His work has appeared on-line in The Sylvan Echo, Flurry, Gazoobitales, Pirene’s Fountain and many times on La Bloga, as well as other journals, local magazines and newspapers. His most recent work is the Spanish translation of the continuation of John Burgess’ "Punk Poems" which appear in his new book "Graffito" by Ravenna Press. His work appeared in the second Anthology by The Miracle Theatre Viva la Word!, Latino Cultural Magazine, on bookmarks by the Seattle Public Library 2007 Poetic Art Project, and in the Anthology Speaking Desde las Heridas (Publisher: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México). Currently he is one of the moderators for the Poets Responding to SB 1070 Facebook page. His debut Chapbook will be published Spring 2012

Elena Díaz Björkquist, a writer, historian, and artist from Tucson, writes about Morenci, Arizona where she was born. She is the author of two books, Suffer Smoke and Water from the Moon. She is nearing completion of another collection of Morenci stories entitled Albóndiga Soup. Elena has been on the Arizona Humanities Council (AHC) Speakers Bureau for ten years performing as Teresa Urrea in a Chautauqua living history presentation, and doing presentations about Morenci, Arizona and also the 1880’s Schoolhouse in Tubac. AHC recently selected her to do a presentation on El Día de los Muertos.

Elena is co-editor of Sowing the Seeds, una cosecha de recuerdos, an anthology written by her writers group. The project was funded by AHC. She co-edited a new anthology entitled Our Spirit, Our Reality; our life experiences in stories and poems that will be out in late October of 2011.

A SIROW Scholar at the University of Arizona, Elena conducted an oral history project funded by AHC; “In the Shadow of the Smokestack.” A website she created contains the oral history interviews and photographs of Chicano elders living in Morenci during the Depression and World War II. Another project funded by AHC and the Stocker Foundation is “Tubac 1880’s Schoolhouse Living History Program.” Her website is www.elenadiazbjorkquist.net/.

Elena is one of the poet moderators for the Facebook page “Poets Responding to SB1070.

Francisco X. Alarcón, award winning Chicano poet and educator, is author of twelve volumes of poetry, including, From the Other Side of Night: Selected and New Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002), and Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation (Chronicle Books 1992)  His latest book is Ce•Uno•One: Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe Press 2010). His book of bilingual poetry for children, Animal Poems of the Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008), was selected as a Notable Book for a Global Society by the International Reading Association. His previous bilingual book titled Poems to Dream Together (Lee & Low Books 2005) was awarded the 2006 Jane Addams Honor Book Award. He has been a finalist nominated for Poet Laureate of California in two occasions.  He teaches at the University of California, Davis.  He is the creator of the Facebook page POETS RESPONDING TO SB 1070 that you can visit at:

Michael Sedano is co-founder, with Rudy Garcia and Manuel Ramos, of La Bloga. Sedano's "Reading Your Stuff Aloud" column appears every third Tuesday. His "The Gluten-free Chicano" column appears the fourth Tuesday, including December 27. Visit Read! Raza for fotos and background and GF recipes.

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