Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Review: There will be days, Brown boy

Review: Alejandro Jiménez. There will be days, Brown boy. Mouthfeel Press, © 2024. (link)

By Guest Reviewer Rey M. Rodríguez

 

            Any reader of Alejandro Jiménez’s thought provoking and compassionate new book of poetry entitled, “There will be days, Brown boy,” should disavow all preconceived notions of what they may think it means to be Brown in the United States and simply let the words on the page touch their soul.


The book is divided into four parts: For those days when your belonging is questioned; For the days when all you want is to return home; For the days when you forget who you come from; and For the days we need to be gentle with ourselves. These divisions and the book’s title beg the question who should read it. Of course, Brown boys and by extension Brown people, but I would argue all people should, because it is both an expression of Jiménez’s writing and a culmination of a long history of personal and societal pain and trauma that we must all be aware of and confront with the same grace, moral anger and dignity that Jiménez accomplishes with his writings.

            To understand why this book had to be written, it must be put into context. Why would a Brown boy’s belonging be brought into context at all? Jiménez describes what it means not to belong throughout the book, but it is especially personal in “You’re Mexican” when he writes:

You’re Mexican until you make your way toward the dinner table [a white college], and one of them loudly says, here comes the beaner, and they all laugh and one of them tries to have your back: he’s not that much of a beaner. They laugh. You sit with them and eat your dinner anyway because this is the price of the American Dream.

 

Jiménez does not state it explicitly, but the price to pay is racism that was planted by Europeans when African slaves were brought to what is now the United States in 1619. For Brown people it is also that seed of hatred planted by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and, more importantly, by Cortes in 1519 when he invaded what is now Mexico. Cortes instead of embracing the indigenous cultures of this “New World'' attempted to destroy and erase the civilizations of the Mexica and Maya, among many others, through disease, burning of books, and war and destruction of major cities such as Tenochtitlan — all in pursuit of gold.

            These perverse notions of race persist today and explain why Jiménez's book had to be written. His poetry when read serves as a shield for that Brown boy who must confront and combat this more than 500 year old stain on the Americas. The verses also provide comfort to the reader that he is not alone in the battle to conquer these backward, racist notions and give hope for a day when the color of one's skin is celebrated equally regardless of the amount of melanin it might contain.

            Until that day, Jiménez’s poetry, and many books like it, are necessary to highlight both that racism exists and they serve as a guide post to how far we have yet to go to arrive at our reimagined world free of such bigotry. Jiménez quotes Eduardo Hughes Galeano, “My memory will retain what is worthwhile. My memory knows more about me than I do; it doesn’t lose what deserves to be saved,” and then on the next page the poet wrestles with this notion. What happens if memory is based on a false mythology, such as Cortes ``conquered” the Mixeca with 300 white men? Of course, they could not do it alone; they needed the allies of the Tlaxcalans and others, including disease and good luck to succeed. Memory to Jiménez can be a weapon, not only to do harm to others but something that brings pain and joy to the poet. In Colima, Mexico, where he is from, Jiménez can be free to be himself. In the United States where he lives, he experiences a country that rounds up people like him and puts them in cages – “adult and little ones alike.” For Jiménez the memory of his heart has room for many countries. The response to Galeano’s quote is to explain the complicated experience of an immigrant who still remembers living and existing freely in a country that is not the United States of America.

            A white person rarely needs to confront this notion of not belonging or somehow being a stranger in his own country. A Brown person does on a daily basis. But this reality does not absolve the white person from confronting this unfair and unjust situation. Quite the contrary, it requires that all explore it so that all may live in a more abundant world where all stories are free to be celebrated. And it is the pursuit of this American Dream where Jiménez’s book plays a critical role, because until this country achieves this dream then he must write his poetry to that Brown boy for those days when his belonging is questioned.

A poem that reflects in strong terms the hatred that Jiménez must have experienced is “[beaner].” He begins the poem as follows:

When you say it, mean it.

Your tongue must not stumble.

Wrap your whole mouth around it.

 

The poet is writing directly to anyone thinking about using this derogatory term that Anglos use to make Mexican Americans feel less than because beans are a staple of Mexican cuisine. Even as I write this sophomoric reality, it is laughable that it is a hateful term, but context is everything. If the speaker has power and privilege then use of a word, even a stupid one, can carry hateful weight.  Jiménez continues:

What a privilege, murdering,

       [beaner]

knowing you have those borders

and those politicians and all those 

courts and all the constitution protecting you.

This stanza shows the power of a word to chill any idea that the Brown boy belongs. Regardless, Jiménez with the power of his pen challenges those who wish to use it and shields the Brown child from feeling the sting of its intent.

            Despite this need to shield, Jiménez also reminds the Brown boy (and any reader of his work) that he is loved and that he must carry on. It is the last stanza of the last poem of the book that conveys this message of persistence and hope. Jiménez writes in “If the Brown body”:

If the Brown body has no papers / exists where it is not wanted/ speaks broken En-

glish / speaks broken [whatever language is their mother tongue] / is deported/ is detained / is trafficked / is wronged / is silenced; If the Brown body disappears; If the 

Brown body reappears;

 

After we reemerge from these waters:

 

                                                                                 let us   mourn;

                                                                                 let us   grief;

                                                                                 let us   rejoice;

                                                                                 let us   create;

                                                                                 let us   try again;

                                                                                 let us   rebuild;

                                                                                 let us   rebuild;

                                                                                 let us   rebuild.

 

This is the world I want to live in for myself, my children and my children’s children.

 

-- -- -- 

Meet La Bloga's Guest Reviewer: Rey Rodriguez


Rey is a writer, advocate and attorney, who lives in Pasadena, CA.  He is currently working on a novel set in Mexico City and the Mayan Underworld and a nonfiction book on Proyecto Pastoral at Dolores Mission, a nonprofit serving the immigrant community of Boyle Heights for over 30 years.            

Monday, May 27, 2024

CHICANO FRANKENSTEIN on June 2, 2024: A Busboys and Poets Books Presentation

DATE: June 2, 2024

TIME: 6:00 p.m. (Eastern)

PLACE: Virtual

REGISTER: https://www.busboysandpoets.com/events/th-evt-39932457/#

COST: Free!

An unnamed paralegal, brought back to life through a controversial process, maneuvers through a near-future world that both needs and resents him. As the United States president spouts anti-reanimation rhetoric and giant pharmaceutical companies rake in profits, the man falls in love with lawyer Faustina Godínez. His world expands as he meets her network of family and friends, setting him on a course to discover his first-life history, which the reanimation process erased. With elements of science fiction, horror, political satire and romance, Chicano Frankenstein confronts our nation’s bigotries and the question of what it truly means to be human.

Daniel is joining us on the virtual Busboys stage to dive deeper into how the issues in his novel reflect the experiences of marginalized people in our society today. Copies of the book will be available for purchase before and during the event, so make sure to order your copy before we’re out of stock! Your purchase of the book includes shipping anywhere in the United States via USPS.

Register for FREE now by going to this link.

This event is free and open to all. Our program begins at 6:00 p.m., and will be followed by an audience Q&A. Copies of CHICANO FRANKENSTEIN will be available for purchase before and during the event. Please note that this event is virtual and will only be livestreamed.

We ask that guests RSVP in order to receive direct updates about the event from Busboys and Poets Books


PRAISE FOR CHICANO FRANKENSTEIN:

"Richly imagined, Olivas delivers a new classic."

     —Wendy J. Fox, Electric Literature

"Daniel A. Olivas has crafted a novel that is a triumph of storytelling, a work that bridges genres to tell a story that is urgently relevant, deeply human, and profoundly moving."

     —Gerald A. Padilla, Latino Book Review

"Inventive and compellingly readable Latinx retelling of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s classic."

     —Anushree Nande, The Rumpus

"If it were summer I'd say this is a classic beach read, but it's Spring, a season of renewal, for reanimation. Sounds like a perfect season for reading Chicano Frankenstein."

     —Michael Sedano, La Bloga

"An exciting contemporary adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic."

     —Emily Martin, Book Riot

"Part science fiction and part political satire, Olivas’s timely latest explores the pitfalls of assimilation and probes what it means to be 'human.'"

     —Publishers Weekly

"The way Olivas builds on the classic Shelley story and sets it within a futuristic context makes it an intriguing read that will speak to disenfranchised voices and spark discussion among its readers."

     —Jeremiah Paddock, Library Journal

"Chicano Frankenstein makes the most of its sharp futuristic premise with its compelling characters, fast-paced story, and biting political satire."

     —Kristen Rabe, Foreword Reviews

"In the captivating landscape of his new novel Chicano Frankenstein, Daniel A. Olivas masterfully weaves a contemporary retelling of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s classic, infused with a legal twist."

     —Orlando Ortega-Medina, Daily Journal


Friday, May 24, 2024

May Brings Music and Poetry in Santa Barbara

Melinda Palacio, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate



 In one of my busiest weekends, Saturday began with the high energy needed to entertain folks at the Farmers Market. I played music with the Ladies Social Strumming Club, the group of all women string-instrument players. I feel fortunate that Maria Cincotta, who also founded the Brasscals, put together a group of supportive women who gather every other week to learn new songs on guitar, bass, or ukulele. Maria is patient teacher and band leader. I’m not always available to join, but she allows me to drop in whenever they can. Playing music with other women has improved my guitar skills. Saturday morning was my third time performing with the lady strummers. Our set this year consisted of 12 songs; last year, we only had six tunes to offer. We’ve come along way together. 

 

A few hours later, I resumed my Poet Laureate duties at the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara (AFSB). Last month, I received a phone call from Bay Hallowell, Gallery Committee member. She heard the suite of poems that I wrote for Colleen Kelly’s Dichotomy of Laundry exhibit and asked if I would write some poems for the Ruth Leaf collection. In our conversation, we decided to invite more poets to participate. I was able to include 11 poets. It was a special event with Ruth’s family in attendance of the closing reception. Ruth’s daughter told us that the art exhibit represented her late mother’s soul, something that is evident in her hand-colored etching and woodcuts. Hearing excerpts of her letters and the poems inspired by her art was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

 

I was happy to discover the cozy gallery at the AFSB. The corner house at 229 E. Victoria is easy to miss, but worth exploring the Santa Barbara treasure that is only open on Saturdays from 1-4pm. Ruth Leaf’s art exhibit is no longer on display, but you can sign up for their mailing list or visit the website to find out about future exhibits in the beautiful space. 

 

My day ended with an assignment for the Independent to review Cody Jinks at the Santa Barbara Bowl, always a fun time at the outdoor music venue. 

 

Next weekend may be Memorial Day and a holiday weekend for most, but poetry continues with the Mission Poetry Series, this time via zoom at 1pm. Hear inaugural poet Richard Blanco and the winners of the Alta California Prize: poets Fred Arroyo and Amelia Rodriguez.

 

This year, I will be participating in the I Madonnari, not as a chalk artist but as a poet and musician at the stage at 1:45 to 2pm, in a short fifteen-minute set. If you miss this short window, I hope to see you at First Thursday in June, where I will join other poets in offering typewritten poetry on demand. Come and receive a free, personalized poem in front of Old Navy on State Street from 5-8pm. 




*an earlier version of this column was published in the Santa Barbara Independent

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Reflections on the First Racially Integrated Military

 

          Dedicated to those who didn't make it home.                                                                 

After patrol, exhausted, no color lines, Washington D.C., 1967  
       

     Recently, I read something I’d never heard, and that was, throughout history, Vietnam was the first American war fought by a racially integrated military, which meant, from Korea, back, every U.S. military campaign had been fought by a segregated military. In 1948, President Truman signed into law Executive Order 9981, desegregating the military, but the policy was mostly ignored, that is, until Vietnam.

     How did I miss that? I mean, I’ve seen movies of racially segregated units, like in the Civil War, WWI, and WWII, so why was it such a surprise? Maybe I never thought about it. Maybe I just took for granted all of us in uniform were Americans, regardless of color. Yet, if I give it a lick of thought, I recall 1966, myself, a 19-year-old-kid reporting for duty at Fort Bliss, Texas, I, one of many from around the country, bunking beside other soldiers, eating, working, and living together. We didn’t give skin color much thought.

     In the 1950s, I grew up “American,” for that’s how I identified as a kid on Los Angeles’s integrated Westside. What did I, or any of my friends, know about race, ethnicity, segregation, or integration? Our teachers didn’t discuss the topic in school. Though I knew I descended from Mexicans, I saw myself as American as the next kid. It never seemed to be a big deal.

     Oh sure, we saw racial and ethnic stereotypes in the movies and television, Zorro, the Cisco Kid and Pancho, Charlie Chan, and Amos and Andy. There were flashes of Civil Rights clashes from someplace called “Alabama” on the television news, the dogs and water hoses, but nobody talked about that, either. By the time we reached high school, we saw the images of Watts burning, and the news anchors using the word “riot,” something about cops getting tough with a kid on a bike and letting the situation get out of control. To us, it was more a situation of police abuse than race.

     All that was like, far from us, like it was happening in another state, or country. Alabama, Mississippi, and Watts might as well have been Austria or Angola. Out here on the Westside, we just went about the business of graduating high school and growing up, the American Graffiti generation. We had our problems, sure, but nothing like we saw on television. That was like my mom saying, “Eat your vegetables. Children are starving in China.”

     Situated between the Pacific Ocean and, say, Beverly Hills, the Westside was mostly “White,” relatively peaceful, many of the early residents New York transplants from Jewish neighborhoods, like Brooklyn, old-time Dodger fans, Midwesterners looking for open land and fresh air, and poor migrants from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and parts of Texas, escaping the Dust Bowl. We were separated more by class than by color.

     Japanese had been on the Westside since the early 1900s, farming and opening the first nurseries and developing the gardening/landscape businesses. A few Chinese owned laundries and restaurants. Mexicans had a longer and more complex history, some families going back to the early Californio days, when California was still Mexico, but most came between 1890s and 1925, refugees fleeing the Mexican Revolution, the religious wars, and others answering Amerca’s call for migrant labor to work the fields, factories, and railroads, especially during WWI.

     Except for small pockets of segregated communities in Venice and Santa Monica, there weren’t many African Americans on the Westside. Those who did settle here migrated from Louisiana and Texas. The larger black communities were on the Southside, out by what we know today as Southcentral and Compton. One African American friend of mine, a Vietnam veteran  raised near Central Avenue and 120th Street, told me he’d never been to the Westside, until he was an adult.

     I guess you could say many of us out here, beach kids or suburban kids, were oblivious to race. Oh, I knew I was Mexican, Stan was Japanese, and Dickie was “American,” which meant “white,” but we didn’t think much of it. We played ball, joined clubs, and attended school together. 

     During football and basketball season, the Japanese kids, who attended a Japanese afterschool program, had their own team, the Flying Lions. Mexicans and White kids played together on the Bulldogs. The kids from Westwood, the wealthier kids, were in a day camp, Tacaloma, and had their own team, and that was our league. Sports was the great equalizer. If you were good, you were good; sometimes we won, and other times they won. 

     I remember one black kid in the neighborhood, James Walker. He lived on Cotner, something of a Chicano slum, where most of us lived, at one time or another, and home to the local “homies.” James Walker wore khakis and a white t-shirt, or Pendleton. That’s how he saw himself, as a “homie.” I’d seen him hanging with the “guys” at the neighborhood park, but nobody really knew him, not well, anyway, and he didn't really know them, other than as "homies," and the role they played in the circus.

     The kids from Santa Monica and Venice, where there was a more significant African American community, had more exposure to black kids than those of us in West L.A. Still, from what I’d been told, except for sports, as kids and in school, the black kids pretty much stayed to themselves, many of the early black families educated and members of the NAACP.

     When I entered the army, it was normal for guys to group up by ethnicity or hometown, like city and state, “homies.” Chicanos from L.A. found each other and hung out together, same with white guys, and black guys, like New Yorkers with New Yorkers, guys from Philly with guys from Philly, etc., etc. It wasn’t like anyone was avoiding anybody. It was natural, organic. There weren’t many Asians, that I can remember, maybe one or two, usually Japanese, in each platoon. We couldn’t tell a Jewish kid from any other white kid. Native Americans often hung out with Chicanos or with kids from their hometowns.

     As we began training, working together, and forming units, everybody started making new friends and acquaintances, outside their social groups. It was strange. I realized I shared more interests with a WASPY kid from San Francico or Pittsburg, or a black kid from Chicago, than I did with a Mexican kid from San Angelo, Texas, let’s say. Many Chicanos (a word I use here loosely) who spoke better Spanish than English hung out with other Spanish speakers. Culturally, we were different in so many ways. They'd get down on us for mot speaking Spanish like them. 

     I remember hearing urban black guys call rural black guys, good-naturedly, “Country” because they considered them “backwards,” as in their accents and behavior, sometimes too submissive. Of course, the country black guys thought the city black guys arrogant, loud, and “bullshitters.” The country black guys often had more in common with country white guys than with "city" blacks. Guys who read the bible started hanging out with other guys who read the bible, regardless of color. Nerds found other nerds. Intellectuals found intellectuals. Musicians found musicians. Some Puerto Ricans spoke only Spanish, sometimes, barely able to speak English. They stayed close together, both black and white, New Yorkers and those from the Island.

     Like a lot of Chicanos from L.A., my extent of black culture were oldies and Motown, but music can be a powerful connection. It exposes a people's soul, their vulnerabilities and their power. Once I was settled in the army, I bought a portable record player. At the time, right after high school, I was really into everything Motown. even more than I was into the emerging England invasion rock ‘n roll. Even the Chicano East L.A. sound was a derivative of Motown and "soul" music.

      When I put on the music, black guys would crowd around my bunk to see what music I had. We got to know each other. They were the first group of guys I heard “philosophize” about so many subjects, sometimes, about nothing at all, “street existentialists.” They’d go on and on, like scholars, discussing, analyzing, arguing, and ragging on each other.

     After a year, or so, I still had mostly Chicano friends, but it got to where I had different friends for different occasions. I had hillbilly friends, Italian and Irish Catholic friends, North and South black friends, and Indians from South Dakota and Nebraska. Once in Vietnam, we had no choice but to depend on each other, life and death, no joke. We knew which guys we could depend on and which guys to avoid or keep a close watch over. I guess, we got caught up in the collective “I,” one for all and all for one.

     I don’t think many of us really believed we were fighting for democracy and freedom, nor did our D.I.'s believe it We came to understand that was just government propaganda. We were fighting to keep each other alive, to do our jobs, and to win. We were fighting for tradition, for those who came before us, for those who died on foreign battle fields, for our families, and because that’s what our government said we had to do, that or go to jail.

     Some of us came home and served together stateside. We’d survived the “shit” together, so we were tight. When D.C. blew up in riots after MLK was assassinated, we hit Washington’s streets and brought a semblance of peace back to the residents. The military was more like a job than an obligation, and, like in all jobs, some guys worked harder than others. We also saw stereotypes breakdown. We knew “White” guys weren’t always the heroes, like Hollywood had brainwashed us into believing. They could be as cowardly, lazy, or courageous as anybody else. Sometimes, the meekest guy might stand up and be the mightiest.

     One night, in downtown Fayetteville, North Carolina, we learned about “liberty and equality for all,” the values and morals politicians wanted us to impose on the Vietnamese people, except, it was a scam. A group of us went into a bar to drink and watch near-naked dancing girls up on a stage. We got our beers, except for Simpson, a black kid from L.A. The bartender said he couldn’t serve him. When we protested, the barkeep told Simpson he could take his beer, but he had to drink it outside. I don’t know who started the brawl, but the M.P.’s had to come in and stop it. If Simpson, who was by our side in Vietnam, couldn’t drink then none of us would drink.

     “Equality for all!” Yeah, and how about the billboards, announcing, “Support Your Local KKK.” We knew about white supremacy, and we learned about racism. How could our country fight to export democracy and equality to other countries when we didn’t even have it in our own country? 

     I thought, in the ‘70’s, it was getting better, like character over race and reaching the top of the mountain and all that. Then, I watched January 6, and the attack on the capitol, a lot of military guys leading the charge. So much for “brothers in arms,” and all that. 

     I guess an integrated military didn’t do a lot, in the long run, for the country, other than provide politicians more fodder to send to our enemies to cut down, while the big boys rake in billions on Wall Street and Silicon Valley. What I did learn, though, was, at the core, the real human core, we all are pretty much the same, and skin color is just that -- a color.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

VINCENT VENTURA AND THE CURSE OF THE DONKEY LADY: A MONSTER FIGHTER MYSTERY / VINCENT VENTURA Y LA MALDICIÓN DE LA MUJER BURRO: SERIE EXTERMINADOR DE MONSTRUOS


By Xavier Garza

 


ISBN: 978-1-55885-996-8

Publication Date: May 31, 2024

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 149

Imprint: Piñata Books

Ages: 8-12


 

This thrilling bilingual short novel introduces young readers 

to spooky Latin American lore!


 

Vincent and his dad are on a bus in Mexico, headed to his late mom’s village of Nagual, when he hears a loud animal roar! Oddly, no one else seems to have heard it. Looking out the window, he is surprised to see a girl running alongside the bus; he’s even more amazed when she turns into a jaguar! And then he sees a sinister sight: a woman with a cadaverous-looking donkey’s head whose glowing red eyes burn as if on fire! Even in a different country, there’s another monster mystery to solve.

 

The boy monster fighter has never met his mother’s side of the family, but he knows his maternal grandfather Federico blames his dad for taking Luz away. Despite the tension, Vincent is excited to meet his granddad, Aunt Marina and cousins Pedro and Lupe, who looks suspiciously like the girl he saw running beside the bus!

 

Vincent soon learns that Lupe, like many others in the village, is a nagual, someone born with the magical ability to transform into an animal. His cousins tell him the Donkey Lady hasn’t been seen in years, so why has she come back now? They are also alarmed when Vincent tells them that his girlfriend Zulema, a witch owl, is coming to visit. Their grandfather hates witch owls! All too soon, this sixth novel in Garza’s bilingual Monster Fighter Mystery series culminates in a convergence of supernatural beings—witch owls, the demonic Donkey Lady, curanderos and naguales—all fighting in a life-or-death battle!



 

Praise for Xavier Garza’s Monster Fighter Mystery series:

 

“This installment in the ‘Vincent Ventura’ series is full of fun and surprises, with fast-paced chapters and a mystery that is sure to intrigue fans of Latin American folklore. The dual English and Spanish format makes this an excellent choice for youth bilingual and Spanish collections, and the bold artwork interspersed among the chapters is eye-catching and provides an intriguing close-up of the characters. VERDICT: Highly recommended for collections for youth and for readers of retellings, adventure, and fantasy.”—School Library Journal on Vincent Ventura and the Curse of the Weeping Woman / Vincent Ventura y la maldición de La Llorona

 

“Multifaceted portrayals of legendary spirits add depth to a narrative that is enhanced by dramatic black-and-white art… Nuanced folklore shines in this thrilling beginning chapter book.”—Kirkus Reviews on Vincent Ventura and the Curse of the Weeping Woman / Vincent Ventura y la maldición de La Llorona

 

“Monster fighter extraordinaire Vincent Ventura battles his latest foe: the dreadful duende! Book 3 in Garza’s Monster Fighter Mystery series adds a little psychological horror to Vincent’s newest adventure, and this installment [is] a cohesive story centered on friendship and, more importantly, kicking monster butt. A case of lighthearted fun during the witching hour.”—Kirkus Reviews on Vincent Ventura and the Diabolical Duendes / Vincent Ventura y los duendes diabólicos

 

“This fun, illustrated Spanish/English short chapter book has enough Mexican folklore and American teen angst to keep middle grade and reluctant readers interested in the otherworldly adventures of the monster-fighter extraordinaire.”—School Library Journal on Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Witch Owl / Vincent Ventura y el mistero de la bruja lechuza

 

“Garza’s cool series sequel offers a little mystery, a little action, and a lot of fun. A breezy read, Vincent’s latest adventure packs folkloric elements in a fast-paced tale that’s sure to entice reluctant readers. Similar to its predecessor, this bilingual novel contains both English and Baeza Ventura’s Spanish versions, with the latter being superior in readability. A real hoot.”—Kirkus Reviews on Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Witch Owl / Vincent Ventura y el mistero de la bruja lechuza

 

“Garza delves into Spanish folklore and adds action, horror, and mystery to create a wonderfully exciting book. This illustrated series-starter is formatted as a bilingual flipbook, with the Spanish text occupying one half of the book, and English the other. The descriptive Spanish and high vocabulary make it a strong addition to both elementary and middle school mystery sections.”—Booklist on Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Chupacabras / Vincent Ventura y el misterio del chupacabras

 

 


XAVIER GARZA is the author of numerous books for kids, including five previous volumes in the Monster Fighter Mystery series: Vincent Ventura and the Curse of the Dancing Devil / Vincent Ventura y la maldición del diablo bailarín (Piñata Books, 2023), Vincent Ventura and the Curse of the Weeping Woman / Vincent Ventura y la maldición de La Llorona (Piñata Books, 2021), Vincent Ventura and the Diabolical Duendes / Vincent Ventura y los duendes diabólicos (Piñata Books, 2020), Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Witch Owl / Vincent Ventura y el misterio de la bruja lechuza (Piñata Books, 2019) and Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Chupacabras / Vincent Ventura y el misterio del chupacabras (Piñata Books, 2018). He lives with his family in San Antonio, Texas.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Golden Foothills Poetry Anthology from the Green Hills of Altadena

BookReview: Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024.
Peter J. Harris, Ed. Altadena, Ca: Golden Foothills Press, 2024. ISBN 978-1-7372481-2-5.
 
Michael Sedano
 
 
One of the nation's foremost poetry communities populates the northwesternmost corner of California's San Gabriel Valley, Altadena 91001. A pair of Co-Poets Laureate serve two-year terms organizing readings, workshops, events, culminating in a published anthology. This year's book, the thirteenth in the series, features 121 poets with 177 thoughts, covering nearly 300 pages of Golden Foothill Press' Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024 (link).
 
Editor Peter J. Harris welcomed hundreds of submissions in the process of selecting works in section I of the three-section collection. 

In a remarkable publication schedule necessitated by the term of service of Altadena Poets Laureate, Harris and Golden Foothills Press publisher, Thelma T. Reyna, had only seven months from open call to printed copies and produced a magnum opus of contemporary U.S. poetry.
 
The anthology has three divisions. Part One publishes poets from the open call. Part two shares poems from an ekphrastic project of the Laureates in 2023 (link). Part three collects work from a cross-generational workshop, and comes with an introduction by Co-Poet Laureate Carla R. Sameth. 
 
Harris knows most of the poets in the collection but he relates an editorial anomia regarding poet names, selecting poems that move him personally. In his preface, Harris says he selects poems "that call to me." He chooses poems "that stop time in their own ways". The anthology collects numerous Poets Laureate, and awardees of American Book Award and Pushcart Prize, as well as numerous debut authors.
 
Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024 represents a nationwide set of voices with southern California artists in the majority. The anthology's roster of poets reflects the region's diversity with work across ethnic, age, and gender lines. There's an extensive fourth section, not of poems but biographies of poets. After reading a particularly provocative thought, readers will find perspective by reading a poet's one-paragraph file.
 
Harris' "Foreword: Community Without Conformity," and Robin D.G. Kelley,'s "Introduction" will give readers keen insight into the process of selecting, and the critic's understanding of how the poems go together and fall into recognizable ways of looking at a world. Carla Rachel Sameth's "Places We Call Home: Cross-generational Ode to the Land Workshops", frames selections.
 
Poetry itself will deal in universals, a reader expects to read poems about love, sex, reverence, anguish, heartbreak, politics, anger, separation, death. Anthologies collect these from the submissions that reached the Editor, que no? Submission aside, readers expect unique takes on familiar themes and for the Editor to collect stuff that makes sense, together as a collection, stuff that makes sense individually.
 
In this, Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024 exceed all expectations, offering readers a definitive portrait of contemporary poetry right now. It's like a Norton Anthology of contemporary United States poetry in 2023 and 2024 as seen from Altadena, California where Poets Laureate have been doing this for almost twenty years, and publishing for thirteen.
 
Robin D.G. Kelley's "Introduction" views the collection as a stream of consciousness where memory flows through to link poems into themes reflecting the poet's sense of purpose and aesthetic. Dig into the collection and see for yourselves.
 
Poets appear in alphabetical order, which adds to a reader's enjoyment discovering one's own organization of style and theme. Consider the richness exemplified in the first ten titles by seven poets: "May You Rest in My Love", "Shared Magic"; "Super Duper Toxic Masculinity"; "Saltwater Woman"; "Oh Palestine", "The Many Faces of La Llorona"; "Tin Man"; "Streamlight", "Letter to My First String Quartet, Live and Up Close"; "Star Catcher."
 
Kelley's suggestion that memory links these work strikes me as right on. Many poets possess memories built over years. More than mere memory, their poems reflect maturity and long years' experience living those universalities. Mature poets--old people, not-young poets--write poems with strong understanding of completion, finality, absence. Dying and death offer no mystery. Here, poems express resignation instead of regret, acceptance instead of anguish.
 
Two dementia and dying poems especially move me for their ethos and implicit strength, "The Essence of Us. Thirteen Profiles from Memory Care," by Linda Kraai, and Beatriz De Necochea's "Endless Angst". Each voice accepts what is, and finds balance in desolate landscapes.
 
The quartet poem delighted my own memory. People who dig chamber music probably share the childlike delight the poet breathes into the words.
 
Readers will enjoy what I call the "vocabulary poems," for example, "An Experiment in Poetic Physics" evokes "Baroclinic vorticity / (swirly plasma)", also, "WIMPS / (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles)". Turn to the biographies to learn the poet is an astrophysicist in her published poem debut. Elline Lipkin sends me to Webster's for "haint blue".
 
In a cornucopia of poetic delight such as Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024, it's fruitless to catalog all the themes and attempt some forced-selection list of the best poems in the book. According to Peter J. Harris, here are the best poems of 2023-2024, and I, for one, take his word for it. I was privileged to read a draft and contributed a blurb to the back cover, so I was fortunate to spend many hours inside these pages.
 
Critical thinkers like people who read poetry, or would like to, will want to make up their own mind. Independent booksellers will order your copy from the book's distributor. Wise buyers will order publisher-direct, whose pre-order discount has just expired. Lástima.
 
Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2024, at just $19.00 publisher-direct, is poetry's best bargain.
 
http://www.goldenfoothillspress.com
 
Golden Foothills Press Publisher, Dr. Thelma T. Reyna at the anthology debut reading


 
 

Monday, May 20, 2024

About _Tejerás el destino, You Will Weave Destiny_ by Álvaro Torres Calderón

About _Tejerás el destino, You Will Weave Destiny_ by Álvaro Torres Calderón

 


Traveling and being transported to another place means experiencing different seasons and times. It is an essential part of Xánath Caraza’s poetry. The feeling given by the pages of You Will Weave Destiny stems from the complexity of the images with which we are presented. These Nahuatl images and objects appear as offerings for our appreciation and to bring us closer to times that initially seem remote.

This collection is also a passionate homage to one of the women who made a difference in fifteenth century Tenochtitlan.

Macuilxochitzin or Macuilxochitl was a poet born during the most prosperous period of the expansion of the Aztec civilization. Daughter of the royal advisor Tlacaelel and niece of the Tlatoani warrior Axayacatl. Her life and her texts are an example of the gender parallelism of pre-Hispanic Mexico where women had the same opportunities as men.

According to the anthropologist and historian Miguel León-Portilla, there are several chroniclers who refer to the cantos (songs) penned by female authors; unfortunately, we do not know the names of many of these women. The aforementioned songs reveal the poetic talent and the profundity of the female poets’ messages, such as, for example, advice to their young daughters, addresses by elderly women, or the words of midwives who, with the experience of their own labor, give advice to mothers who are about to give birth, whether for the first time or not, since it is a time that is not only physically painful, but special and magic. These are words that flow like blood and water in the creation of life, the continued growth of societies, and the cyclical regeneration of the Mesoamerican vision.

That collection of songs is certainly a treasure and within this literary richness is a song by Macuilxochitzin, native of Tenochtitlan, both in 1435. Hernando Alvarado Tezozómoc, the mestizo chronicler from the sixteenth century, writes that this forger of songs was the eighth of twelve children, and her father was the great Tlacaelel, the extremely famous advisor, or Cihuacoatl, to the Aztec kings. In addition, Macuilxochitzin was the mother of Prince Cuauhtlapaltzin. Macuilxochitzin’s poetry makes it clear that she was familiar with much of the advice her father gave Emperor Axayactl, who confronted diverse groups that would end up joining the empire. In one of these encounters, the emperor was wounded, and Macuilxochitzin recounts some specifics about the destiny of the man who wounded him.

Xánath Caraza brings these scarce (and one-of-a-kind) elements of context together to elaborate on them and give us something more than the “official” story, bringing us to something more personal and emotional. She emphasizes Macuilxochitzin’s importance, as a woman whose lyrical poetry and philosophy offers us a bridge to cross over and more fully understand her world and traditional life, its joys, fears, and heartaches. It is the intrahistory to which Miguel de Unamuno referred.

The poetic voice in this collection travels to the time of Macuilxochitzin’s birth. Her name already carried a mission, whether because she was born on a day of the calendar that carried the date 5-Flower (which is the meaning of her name) or because it became her nickname when her love for poetry became known. It is also one of the titles that was used to invoke the god of the arts, of song, and dance, and in ancient Nahuatl texts, that day was destined to forge songs.

The images that Caraza presents in the first poem, “Macuilxochitzin”, gives us a vision of how special the moment is, as well as in several of the following poems, “You Will Weave Destiny”, “Your Mother Gives Birth”, “A Deluge of Petals”, “Poet of Jade”, “You Are of Poetry”, “Golden Poet”, “Nobility in Your Lineage”, and “White Huipil”, among others.

Knowing Macuilxochitzin’s lineage, it is clear that her education must have been outstanding. León-Portilla, in his Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World, alludes to the fact that the Aztec poet was certain to have heard advice from her mother where the “little girl…is like jade, quetzal plumage, the most precious reality that come[s] forth upon earth.” The author begins the collection by describing the skill of the Aztec poet as a forger of songs, whose words are “conches” or “Obsidian Designs / The Sacred Word ... / A Paintbrush ... / Before the Natural Springs / The Words Are Born … / Your Voice Fills with Jade / You Give Life.”

The images offered by Caraza in her verses are carefully selected and constructed, because she remains faithful to the characteristics of Nahuatl verses, and at the same time, her educational vocation surfaces naturally as she shows us words that sound better in the original language, like “Xochitl” or “Cuicatl,” songs perceived as if by divine inspiration, as well as the sounds of the “huehuetl” and “teponaztli” drums.

It is worth noting that Macuilxochitzin was not only a poet. Her ability to present a concept of life through images or objects that had, for that society at that time, an immeasurable value meant she was not only a poet, but also a philosopher. For that reason, Caraza, in this deeply felt and passionate homage, is meticulous with both style and aesthetics, evoking memories and encouraging interior dialogue. The present-day poetic voice is possessed by the spirit of the Aztec poet. Spirituality and introspection are very important elements in Nahuatl poetry, and the author develops them very well in both this and her previous collections of poetry.

In addition, we have rhythm and meter as formal elements. The verses are musical, as Nahuatl verses always were, as if they were designed to be sung or accompanied by instruments.

Another theme that is very present and especially cultivated by Caraza is the theme of life as a mystery that cannot be resolved. A vital mystery that includes human destiny. In this way, Macuilxochitzin in her song wonders if her words will have a destiny beyond time, although she is comforted by knowing that her verses are heard in her present. In this aspect, the poetic voice takes the flow of Mesoamerican thought from the fifteenth century and brings it to us, making it persist over time. This human destiny is nothing but the implacable passing of time, that which is “ephemeral” about life, a tangible sense of anguish. Like the cycle of things, the Nahuatl poet is renewed with the verses of the present-day poetic voice that has the power to travel: “During a Midwestern winter, in the midst of COVID and uncertainty, I think of youI see how your first cries were covered in precious stones. I too was there.”

This essence is maintained both in the background of the Mesoamerican subject matter and in the formal elements that include the figures of speech typical of the Nahuatl “cuicatl,” such as doublets, periphrasis, repetition, and parallelism.

Having read Xánath Caraza several times, I can say that much of her poetry encompasses all of these elements, weaving together images, sounds, and sensations. The senses are constantly engaged and that leads to the recreation of the Nahuatl world and vision, whose destiny is being forged or woven. This is the mission and legacy that we are left by Macuilxochitzin, “poet of obsidian blood,” who transcends. We need to celebrate them with an incantation, con “cuitatl” songs and “maconnetotilo” dance.

That is also the reason behind the title of the collection, where complexity and beauty go hand in hand.

Macuilxochitzin, the Aztec poet, was familiar with the art of weaving and embroidering along with the art of preparing exquisite food and drink, but she did the same with songs and poems. Macuilxochitzin weaved the destiny of a culture, of a society, of the great deeds of the leaders of her time, including the councils of state of her father, who must have enjoyed seeing his daughter’s talent.

Caraza tells us “Daughter of Tlacaelel: / noble woman of privileged birth / … Talent coursed through your veins. / Song was forged in your heart, / the gods sought refuge in your huipil. / Sacred tattoos inhabit your skin. / They open your spirit to the arts. / Poetry is your breath.”

As suggested above, since the poet was close to her father, she would have learned about the different conquests and quarrels between the Aztecs and other Nahuatl groups. In 1476, the Aztecs were preparing for war once again. In addition to the references to her father’s strategic advice and the exploits of Emperor Axayacatl, Macuilxochitzin does not miss the opportunity to also evoke in her song the decisive action of a group of Otomi women whose entreaties to the emperor saved the life of Tlilatl, the Matlatzinca captain who had wounded him. The fact that Macuilxochitzin acknowledges the valor of the Otomi women who attempted to save their leader is noteworthy, since the forger of songs recognizes and identifies with those women and might possibly have acted in the same way were her leader in danger. She emphasizes the character of those woman and simultaneously underscores her own nobility through the act of recognizing them.

The poetic voice seeks to embrace the Mesoamerican poet to understand and aid our understanding the world that was so tragically mutilated when the collision with Western culture took place. That embrace is combined with a silence that allows the past to connect with the present, a perfect communication of heart and mind, which reveals the secrets of the forger of songs. Together they seal the encounter with the melody created by “the wind between the leaves.”

Another important aspect to consider in Caraza’s verses is the theme of the power of writing and the sequence of images that represent it: night, as the most auspicious moment for inspiration; liquid obsidian, which allows us to capture the heart and mind; amate paper, as proof that it transcends; water, which represents the flow of ideas and the passing of time. Finally, Venus is the feminine force that inspires writing and that remains, even though day is breaking, preserving “…her brilliance.”

The connection between the here and the beyond is represented by the xolo dog that barks in the distance / announcing the passing of the ancestors, / rhythms that guide those who / have left the Earth on this day.” It is the guide in the darkness, like another way of representing Venus’s light. Its origin is the god Xolotl, the brother of Quetzalcoatl, whose mission was to guide the sun to the underworld and protect it from dangers. In Caraza’s verses, the xolo dog announces the passing of the ancestors, and they add their voices to that of the poet, who is a messenger protected by god, whose translation from the Nahuatl to Spanish is “heart of the sky,” “the Master of Near and Far,” or “giver of life.”

Nature is very important in most of these poems, because it serves as a safe haven in the process of creation. The present-day poetic voice travels again, and it is possessed by the spirit of Macuilxochitzin, walking in Tezcutzingo, the garden that Nezahualcoyotl, the Poet King, had built. The gardens are a paradise of natural beauties, flowers, hummingbirds, cenzontl birds, toucans, and fireflies. It is the safe haven for both poets, who walk through these gardens spiritually, a space of communication between the spirits of the here and the beyond in which the poetic voice gives sound to the words of the forger of songs. She speaks to her in the second person as if to confirm her imagination, her steps, her walk through the garden. The words and actions of the Aztec poet are not lost on the wind, and they persist in memories, “the memory of your people, / the history of your blood / The battles are remembered, / the stars recognized.”

Finally, Macuilxochitzin’s body is scattered throughout the universe: it is art, it is music, it is nature represented by jade, the hurricane, butterfly, and orchids in the night.

To conclude, “You Will Weave Destiny” gives us more than history. It gives us the inner workings of a poetic being. It leads us to what the poet of Tenochtitlan would have experienced as a woman, daughter, chronicler, poet, wife, and mother; and at the same time, it brings us closer to her Mexican roots, to the richness of its cultures and its vision of the world. Xánath Caraza affords us a wonderful revelation with these powerful verses, that are finely sculpted, passionate, ‘transgressing’ time and space, inserting the freshness of Nahuatl poetry into our senses, and paying homage to one of the most important pre-Hispanic poets. It was undoubtedly a woman who painted the world in which she lived with such poetic gifts, embroidering images that were initially fragmented, and transcending the centuries with her philosophy of life. This collection opens the door to an intimate dimension that emphasizes the importance of the voice of women and their active role in the pre-Hispanic Mexica society, as well as encouraging the continuous exploration of this and other forgers of song. “You Will Weave Destiny” is an invaluable resource since it makes us reflect on individual as well as ethnic and cultural identities. As the poetic voice concludes at the end of the poem: “You lived the splendor / of your culture, my roots, / that I can barely understand.”


 

Tejerás el destino, You Will Weave Destiny by Xánath Caraza

Translated by Sandra Kingery

FlowerSong Press, 2024

 

Viajar y transportarse es vivir diferentes estaciones y tiempos. Es una parte esencial en la poesía de Xánath Caraza. La sensación de estas páginas de Tejerás el destino es la complejidad de las imágenes que se nos presentan. Son imágenes y objetos náhuatl que vienen como ofrendas para nuestra apreciación y aproximarnos a tiempos que en un principio son remotos.

A su vez esta colección de poemas es la rendición de un apasionado homenaje a una de las mujeres que destacaron en la sociedad de Tenochtitlan del siglo XV.

Macuilxochitzin o Macuilxochitl, poeta nacida en los años más prósperos de la expansión de la civilización Azteca. Hija del consejero real Tlacaélel y sobrina del guerrero Tlatoani Axayácatl. Su vida y sus obras son un ejemplo del paralelismo de género en el México prehispánico en el que las mujeres tenían iguales oportunidades de las que disfrutaban los hombres.

Según el antropólogo e historiador Miguel León-Portilla, hay varios cronistas que hacen referencia a cantos cuyos autores son mujeres; sin embargo, lo lamentable es que no se tiene conocimiento de muchos de los nombres de sus autoras. Dichos cantos demuestran su talento poético y la profundidad de sus mensajes, como por ejemplo consejos a sus hijas pequeñas, el discurso de ancianas, o las palabras de la partera, quien con experiencia de su labor aconseja a las madres que están a punto de dar a luz, no interesando si eran primerizas o no, ya que es un momento doloroso físicamente, pero al mismo tiempo especial y mágico. Son palabras que fluyen como sangre y agua en la construcción de vida, a la continuación del crecimiento de sociedades y regeneración cíclica de la visión mesoamericana.

Aquella colección de cantos ciertamente es un tesoro y dentro de esta riqueza literaria se encuentra un canto cuya autora es la señora Macuilxochitzin oriunda de Tenochtitlan, nacida en 1435. El cronista mestizo del siglo XVI, Hernando Alvarado Tezozómoc, escribe que aquella forjadora de cantos era la octava de doce hijos, cuyo padre fue el gran Tlacaélel, celebérrimo consejero o Cihuacóatl de los reyes aztecas. A su vez, de ella nació el príncipe Cuauhtlapaltzin. Al leer su canto puede desprenderse que Macuilxochitzin pudo haber conocido muchos de los consejos de su padre al emperador Axayácatl y que este enfrenta a diversos grupos que terminan formando parte del imperio. En uno de estos encuentros el emperador es herido y la poeta azteca relata algunos detalles sobre la suerte del que lo hirió.

Xánath Caraza reúne estos escasos (y únicos) elementos de contexto para elaborarlos y darnos algo más que la historia “oficial”, aproximándonos a algo más personal y sensible. Resalta la importancia de aquella mujer, quien a través de su lírica y filosofía nos extiende el puente para cruzar y conocer más de cerca su mundo, la vida tradicional, sus alegrías, temores y angustias. Es la intrahistoria a la que hacía referencia Miguel de Unamuno.

La voz poética viaja a los tiempos del nacimiento de Macuilxochitzin, cuyo nombre llevaba ya una misión, ya sea porque nació en un día del calendario que llevaba precisamente la fecha 5-Flor (que es el significado de su nombre) o porque haya sido un apodo al ser conocida su afición por la poesía. Asimismo, es uno de los títulos con que se invocaba al dios de las artes, del canto y la danza y con relación a los antiguos textos náhuatl este día era destinado a forjar cantos.

Las imágenes que presenta Caraza en el primer poema, “Macuilxochitzin”, nos dan una visión de lo especial del momento, así como en varios de los siguientes poemas, “Tejerás el destino”, “La madre da a luz”, “Lluvia de pétalos”, “Poeta de jade”, “De la poesía eres”, “Áurea poeta”, “Nobleza en tu linaje” y “Blanco huipil”, entre otros.

Al saber de su linaje podemos saber que su educación tenía que ser esmerada. León-Portilla en su libro Quince poetas del mundo azteca, hace referencia a que la poeta azteca seguramente escuchó los consejos de la madre en los que la “niñita …es como un jade, como un plumaje de quetzal, como lo más preciso que brota en la tierra.” La autora inicia el poemario describiéndonos la destreza de la poeta azteca como forjadora de cantos, cuyas palabras son “caracolas” o “diseños de obsidiana / la palabra sagrada.../ un pincel /...Frente a los manantiales / Las letras nacen…/ La voz se llena de jade / Das vida.”

Son cuidadas y bien labradas las imágenes ofrecidas por Caraza en sus versos, porque se mantiene fiel a las características de los versos náhuatl, y al mismo tiempo aflora naturalmente su vocación educadora al mostrarnos palabras que suenan mejor en el idioma original como “Xóchitl” o “Cuícatl,” cantos percibidos como de inspiración divina, así como los sonidos de los tambores “huehuetl” y “teponaztli”.

Cabe destacar que Macuilxochitzin no era solamente poeta. La capacidad de presentar un concepto de vida a través de imágenes u objetos que para su sociedad en aquel tiempo tenían un valor inconmensurable, no era solo el ser poeta sino también ser filósofa. Por tanto, en el homenaje tan sentido y apasionado, la autora cuida mucho el estilo y la estética, evocando recuerdos y promoviendo el diálogo interior. La voz poética del presente es poseída por el espíritu de la poeta azteca. La espiritualidad y la introspección son elementos muy importantes en la poesía náhuatl y la autora los elabora muy bien en este y sus anteriores poemarios.

Sumamos a esto el ritmo y la medida como los elementos formales. Leemos versos musicales como lo eran los versos náhuatl, como si fueran concebidos para llevar acompañamiento musical o ser cantados.

Otro tema muy presente y especialmente cultivado por Caraza es el tema de la vida como un misterio que no puede ser resuelto. Un misterio vital que incluye el destino humano. Así Macuilxochitzin en su canto se pregunta si sus palabras tendrán un destino más allá del tiempo, aunque se reconforta con saber que la escuchan en su presente. En ese aspecto la voz poética toma ese fluir del pensamiento mesoamericano del siglo XV y nos lo trae y lo hace perdurar en el tiempo. Ese destino humano no es otra cosa que el paso inclemente del tiempo, “lo efímero” de la vida, una angustia patente. Como el ciclo de las cosas, la poeta náhuatl se renueva con los versos de la voz poética del presente que tiene el poder de viajar: “En un invierno del medio oeste, entre COVID e incertidumbre, pienso en ti… veo cómo tus primeros llantos fueron cubiertos de piedras preciosas. Yo también estuve ahí.”

La esencia se mantiene tanto en el fondo de la temática mesoamericana como en lo formal en los que hay las figuras propias de los “cuícatl” náhuatl como el difrasismo, la perífrasis, la repetición y el paralelismo.

Habiendo leído a Xanath Caraza varias veces, puedo decir que mucha de su poesía encierra todos estos elementos, tejiendo imágenes, sonidos y sensaciones. Los sentidos están en constante acción y de allí también es que se recrea el mundo y la visión náhuatl, cuyo destino se va forjando o tejiendo. Es la misión y legado que nos deja Macuilxochitzin: “poeta con sangre de obsidiana,” que trasciende y por los que hay que celebrar con un conjuro, con cantos “cuitatl” y danza “maconnetotilo”.

Por eso también la razón del título del poemario, en el que complejidad y belleza van de la mano.

La poeta azteca conocía el arte del telar y del bordado junto con el de preparar exquisitos platillos y bebidas, pero igualmente hacía lo mismo con los cantos o poemas. Macuilxochitzin tejía el destino de una cultura, de una sociedad, de las hazañas de los líderes de su momento, incluyendo los consejos de estado de su padre, quien habrá disfrutado de los dones de su hija.

Así Caraza nos dice “Hija de Tlacaélel: / mujer noble / de privilegiada cuna… El talento mezclado en las venas / El canto se forjó en tu espíritu, / los dioses se albergaron en tu huipil…En tu piel habitan tatuajes sagrados / que abren el corazón a las artes. / La poesía es tu aliento.”

Como se dijo anteriormente, al estar la poeta alrededor de su padre, esta se habrá enterado de las diferentes conquistas y rencillas entre aztecas y demás grupos náhuatl. En 1476 los aztecas se aprestaron a la guerra una vez más. Además de las referencias a los consejos estratégicos de su padre y de las hazañas del emperador Axayácatl, no pierde oportunidad para en su canto también evocar la actuación decisiva de un grupo de mujeres otomíes que con sus suplicas al emperador salvaron la vida del capitán matlatzinca Tlílatl que lo había herido. Resulta de interés aquel detalle en el que la poeta reconoce la gran valía de las otomíes al intentar salvar a su líder, ya que la forjadora de cantos se reconoce e identifica con aquellas mujeres y posiblemente hubiera actuado de igual forma ante el peligro de su líder. Resalta el carácter de aquellas mujeres y al mismo tiempo subraya su nobleza al reconocerlas.

La voz poética busca abrazar a la poeta mesoamericana para comprender y darnos a entender ese mundo que lamentablemente fue mutilado al producirse el choque con la cultura occidental. Ese abrazo se confunde con un silencio que permite la conexión del pasado con el presente, una comunicación perfecta de corazón y mente, aquella que revela los secretos de la forjadora de cantos y sellan el encuentro con “la melodía [del] viento entre las hojas.”

Un aspecto importante para considerar en los versos de Caraza es el tema del poder de la escritura y la secuencia de las imágenes que lo representa: La noche, como el momento propicio para la inspiración; la obsidiana líquida, que permite plasmar el corazón y la mente; el papel amate como prueba que trasciende; el agua que representa el fluir de las ideas y el paso del tiempo. Finalmente, Venus es la fuerza femenina que inspira la escritura y se mantiene, aunque amanezca, “…sostiene su brillo.”

La conexión con el más allá y el más acá se ve representada por el xoloitzcuintli que “ladra en la distancia / anuncia el paso de los ancestros, / ritmos que guían a quienes hoy han dejado la tierra.” Es el guía en la oscuridad, como otra forma de representar a la luz de Venus. El origen es el dios Xólotl, hermano de Quetzalcóatl y cuya misión era guiar al sol al inframundo y protegerlo de sus peligros. En los versos de Caraza el perro xólotl anuncia el paso de los ancestros y se unen a la voz de la poeta quien es mensajera protegida por dios, cuya traducción del náhuatl al español es “corazón del cielo,” “el dueño del lejos y del cerca” o “dador de la vida.”

La naturaleza es muy importante en la mayoría de los poemas que presenta, porque sirve de refugio en el proceso de la creación. La voz poética del presente viaja nuevamente, y está poseída por el espíritu de Macuilxochitzin, caminando en Tezcutzingo, el jardín mandado a construir por el Rey Poeta, Nezahualcóyotl. Los jardines son un paraíso de bellezas naturales, flores, colibríes, cenzontles, tucanes y luciérnagas. Es el refugio de ambas poetas, que caminan por estos jardines espiritualmente, una de comunicación entre los espíritus del allá y el acá, y en la que la voz poética da sonido a las palabras de la forjadora de cantos. Le habla en segunda persona como para confirmar su imaginación, sus pasos, su recorrido por el jardín. Las palabras y acciones de la poeta azteca no se pierden en el viento y perduran en los recuerdos, “la memoria de tu pueblo, / la historia de tu sangre…Las batallas se recuerdan / los astros son reconocidos.”

Finalmente, el cuerpo de Macuilxochitzin se esparce en el universo, es arte, es música, es naturaleza representada por el jade, el huracán, mariposa y orquídeas nocturnas.

Para concluir, Tejerás el destino nos da más que la historia. Nos da la constitución interior del ser poético. Nos lleva a lo que la poeta de Tenochtitlan habría experimentado como mujer, hija, cronista, poeta, esposa y madre; y a su vez nos aproxima a las raíces mexicanas, a la riqueza de sus culturas, y su visión del mundo. Xánath Caraza nos da una grata sorpresa con estos poderosos versos finamente labrados, apasionados, ‘transgrediendo’ el tiempo y espacio, poniendo el frescor de la poesía náhuatl en nuestros sentidos y haciéndole homenaje a una de las poetas destacadas prehispánicas. Fue sin duda una mujer que pintó el mundo en el que vivía con su don poético, bordó imágenes que inicialmente estaban fragmentadas y trascendió su filosofía de vida a través de las centurias. El poemario abre la puerta a una dimensión íntima en la que se enfatiza la importancia de la voz de la mujer y su papel activo en la sociedad prehispánica mexica, así como también alimenta el seguir explorando más sobre esta y otras forjadoras de canto. Tejerás el destino es de una riqueza invaluable puesto que nos hace reflexionar sobre la identidad tanto individual como étnica y cultural. Como concluye la voz poética en el último poema: “Viviste el esplendor / de tu cultura, mis raíces, / que apenas puedo entender.”

 

Álvaro Torres-Calderón, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Spanish

Department of Spanish & Portuguese

University of North Georgia


 

Tejerás el destino, You Will Weave Destiny by Xánath Caraza

Translated by Sandra Kingery

FlowerSong Press, 2024