Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Review: Black Dove. Charlotte's Floricanto. On-line Floricanto

Review: Ana Castillo. Black Dove. mamá, mi’jo, and me. NY: The Feminist Press, 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-55861-923-4

Michael Sedano

A memoir is, on its face, non-fiction. Obeying the tenets of non-fiction, ordinarily the flow of events follows a chronological and logical sequence.

First this happened, then, because of this, the next event and so forth from start to finish. Such work risks becoming pedestrian, or ego-soothing apologia. But straightforward this-then-that is not in Ana Castillo’s temperament, so it’s not surprising to find that Black Dove is no ordinary memoir.

Castillo is one of those writers whose readers are legion, and dedicated, reading one after another book as they are published. Black Dove, published in May 2016, will find a welcoming readership.

One need not be familiar with Castillo’s oeuvre to appreciate her story. Baby boomers—people who came of age during the 1960s and 1970s--will find in Castillo’s Black Dove ample experiences that resonate with familiarity and importance.

Loosely chronological—the memoir traces two generations back because her mother was raised by her own grandparents in Mexico—Black Dove operates as a series of essays on such themes as parenting, identity, motherhood, sex and rape, imprisoned children, with overarching themes of feminism and patriarchy.

A major fiction emerges out of the memoir: “Ana Castillo” is a nom de plume. Her name is not an issue to her readers, but to some the question might lead to speculation. What is her name, if it’s not “Ana Castillo?” Castillo’s son--like his mother he’s a writer--raises the fact in discussing how he adopted his own pen name as “Marcelo Castillo”:

She wasn’t always Ana Castillo. My mother came from
very humble origins to create a name for her self. On her
driver’s license, there is a name equally as beautiful but
not as straightforward as Ana Castillo. When Ana first
chose her pen name, her mother complained that it was
too simple. My mother said that was who she was, simply
a person. Sencilla. What I came to learn was that this name
also protected our privacy—Ana Castillo was a ceremonial
headdress, to be taken off at home with me.

Names remain one of the unanswered questions throughout the memoir. We do learn that her father was Doña Jovita’s teenage son, that her mother married him in Chicago, and that her mother’s name is Raquel Rocha Rocha. Castillo was married, but never cites the man’s name. Likewise, the writer’s major love affair and heartbreak, took place during her initial separation from the father of her son. The lover’s name might be researched; she is described as a co-author of two anthologies.

Castillo’s “real” name is ultimately irrelevant—the world knows her by her work. She is Carmen la Coja, the one-legged flamenco dancer. She is Palma, the pansexual protagonist of Give It To Me. Not that there aren’t lingering hard emotions about that nameless husband. As she notes, “My toddler spent the weekends with his father. Funny, it took a separation to get my husband to spend time with either of us.”

Writers will appreciate Black Dove’s interesting technique with time. A superb fiction writer, memoirist Ana Castillo can’t help but heighten the drama of quotidian events by beginning a narrative sequentially only to compress time, backtracking to an earlier day then skipping ahead, sometimes decades, before returning to the chronology as events express and discover themes in parallel experiences.

One of the most arresting examples of the technique is found in the harrowing chapter, Peel Me A Girl. The chapter captures a lifetime revolving around the subjects of identity, womanhood, sexuality, and abuse.

In 1969, she is a thirteen year old graduating eighth grade. Within a few paragraphs the narrative has wound back the clock to fourth grade, she is nine and bullied. Then she is ten, then between fifteen and eighteen, differentiating her Latinidad from the surrounding white and black cultures, and starting a writing career.

As the chapter develops, ideas and memories connect, lead into others back and forth.

The college writer ventures a feminist story that falls flat. This leads the memoir to recall a physically developed fifteen year old with a sense of Selena-like style.

A man twice her age gropes her in a college stairwell attempting to rape her. She doesn’t report the assault to the police—they wouldn’t be on her side. Likewise when a professor abuses her trust and rapes her on her twenty-first birthday, the betrayal informs her worldview. That memory takes her back to being thirteen, alone with a family member identified only as “X.” He carries the child to her bedroom where she pounds him on the head with a telephone, and escapes. She sees him daily, he lives there.

The chapter weaves in an incident when she is eighteen, arrested as a typical act of police harassment. She is raped by a police woman, in the form of a strip-search while male police officers watch.

The chapter ends with conflicted emotions. Men, she realizes, viewed her as a sex object. Objectification adds to her loneliness, exacerbated by her mother’s distance.

She is eighteen now. A suicide attempt brings mother to daughter, but the longed for intimacy is so foreign in her experience that the memoirist has little memory of substance, only that her mother sat quietly with her, feeding her peeled grapes.

The most difficult chapters—for the woman—are those dealing with her son’s imprisonment. The mother confesses a sense of failure that she could not protect her son from the entrapments of his surroundings. Despite being a good student, a cellist, he develops a drug habit and commits a senseless robbery.

Prison, ironically, opens opportunities to get straight, to develop writing skills, to become a responsible father and a forgiven son. The mother-son experience raises the memoir’s largest unanswered question. What is patriarchy, what are alternatives to patriarchy?

That a feminist cannot define nor answer the questions isn’t frustrating, neither to the writer nor the reader.These are questions for a lifetime, for men and women, for the culture.

Black Dove reflects a point in time for one woman. The memoir doesn’t constitute a definitive lifetime, only these moments, connections, and reflections. There is food for thought, and the soul, and a not-quite answer to the memoir’s title epigraph: Ya no sé si maldecirte o por ti rezar.

A Granddaughter's Floricanto

Every grandfather beams with joy at spending time with one's progeny. I have special reason for joy, a granddaughter who loves science and poetry.

My granddaughter, Charlotte, loves reptiles, insects, and plants, as well as sports, dancing, cooking, and friendship. As a member of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles'  Citizen Scientist group, Charlotte and her mother conduct regular surveys of their biome, land adjacent to the Angeles National Forest.

One foray, they uncovered a pink, scaly insect that local entomologists had read about but not seen, a California  glowworm. It is an exciting find and at the recent NHM bug fair, the Citizen Science entomology team asked Charlotte to compose a limerick to read publicly.

Charlotte's glowworm
It's a pleasure to share the poem she read in her first public reading. I add two additional drafts that reflect Charlotte's delight in nature.

In addition, grampa shares two poems composed in a third-grade poetry composition class.

My mom and I went on a scientific walk
We found a surprise under a rock
We called some scientists to come and confirm
That’s why today I’m here to talk

Two drafts on the same theme:

My mom and I went on a walk
I asked her to turn over a rock
We found a worm that was bright pink
We really didn’t know what to think
The scientists were all in shock

I was on a backyard walk and found a pink bug
It was under a rock growing safe and snug
The bug was Pink, black and scaley.
We search under the rock daily
The scientists came and identified the bug.

From Charlotte's Third grade poetry workshop:

I Am
By Charlotte McDonald

I am an epiphyllum blooming beautiful and big
I am a butterfly flying high in the sky
I am nine getting older and wiser
I am the arboretum adventurous and daring
I am energetic and ready for everything
I am ice cream sweet and bold
I am fourth of July exciting and unique
I am an Idea outstanding and new.

I Am Not
By Charlotte McDonald

I am not a leaf withered dry and dull
I am not a fox sly and greedy
I am not a wasteland trashed and hurtful
I am not a video game addictive and useless
I am not a bully destructive and mean
I am not wheat plain and boring
I am not a car wasteful and colorless
I am not a blank canvas to be ignored or treated badly.

June's First On-line Floricanto
César L. de León, Israel Francisco Haros Lopez, Oralia Rodríguez, Francisco J. Bustos,Brandon Romero

It's a special pleasure to celebrate poetry twice this month. The Moderators of the Facebook community Poets Responding to SB 1070: Poetry of Resistance select five poets for the first-of-the-month La Bloga On-line Floricanto, and for the upcoming Fathers Day, a special collection with be forthcoming.

Today, the Moderators, organized this month by Edward Vidaurre, select work from César L. de León, Israel Francisco Haros Lopez, Oralia Rodríguez, Francisco J. Bustos, Brandon Romero, whose bios and fotos, except for Romero, follow the floricanto.

“To the Man Sitting across from Us at the Hospital in Harlingen, Texas,” By César L. de León
“#mexicanjazz,” By Israel Francisco Haros Lopez
“Tejer la tarde,” Por Oralia Rodríguez
“Así no: not like this,” By Francisco J. Bustos
“Contemplating My People’s Past, Present, & Future Living in Sur Califas,” By Brandon Romero

To the Man Sitting across from Us at the Hospital in Harlingen, Texas
By César L. de León

I know that look I know
that look
on your face
that glare
from across
the waiting room
I know it isn’t
My torn jeans
or my mother’s red skirt
you scowl at
with impunity

I know it’s our voices
our words
our lengua
your teeth-grinding
your jaw-locking so
I enunciate more carefully
I set each syllable on fire

your eyes narrow
your mouth fills up
I see
your body shifts
in the chair
I know
what you want to say you want to tell us

“in America you speak
English, not Mexican”

I’ve heard it before but today
you simply spit in
our direction
I’ve seen it before

Did you expect me to turn my eyes down?
Were you surprised when I didn’t flinch?

By Israel Francisco Haros Lopez

part 31

we are the stone song singing in the middle of the night
despite the howling coyotes trying to eat our tongues
somos el espejo que nos trata de manipular en la media noche
mientras los coyotes nos tratan de cortar todas nuestras lenguas
we are the ones that come back after being deported to many times to call documented
we are the ones that ride the mirror inside a river of stars we call home
somos la llama que sigue quemando despues que nos queman
somos el humo de nuestros ancestros abrigado por el rio de estrellas de donde somos
we are the ones calling ourselves back home we are the ones singing over and over
we don’t need to overcome because we win because we are esperanza despite
todo lo que nos dicen. somos algo mas. toda la dignidad que viene desde nuestras
manos. nuestros cantos. nuestras abuelas. nuestra cancion de migracion
we are the stone song turning over and over. migrating back and forth between
here and the sun and anahuak and the father sky waiting and walking and hoping
somos toda la esperanza que nos trataron de quitar. somos el canto que nunca
nos pueden robar. somos la agua del cielo y el fuego del corazon de la tierra
siempre somos otra esperanza


Tejer la tarde
Por Oralia Rodríguez

Montar la cadena,
de los primeros días
pespuntes a las paredes,
encontrarme en la risa
en la incertidumbre
de los hilos rojizos
para bordar la tarde,
un derecho, un revés.

Buscar lo que no soy,
historias remendadas,
voces en la sangre,
una vuelta,
sobrehilar los pasos
de pájaros ciegos,
cuando la metáfora
es pecado,
y el dolor es sólo
un derecho o un revés.

Los demonios deshilan
punto,tras punto los miedos,
recodifican la identidad,
punzan el subconsciente
me anudan a la soledad,
y no encontrar
la geometría de un cuerpo,
un derecho, un revés.

Inocencia de palabras,
un punto al aire,
palabras que danzan silentes,
un derecho, un revés.

Adolecer apegos,
noches fragmentadas,
que alfileres no sostienen,
códigos y puntos
para remachar
los días sin esquina
y remendar la casa de la infancia,
volver a ser niña
y no ser nombrada,
un derecho, un revés.

Fronteras trazadas al vuelo,
fragmentos de intimidad,
mariposas de caleidoscopio
anillan los instantes en tu sexo
al naufragio de tus muslos,
que florecen en lluvia roja,
un derecho, un revés.

Trozos de tarde
para anudarlos,
a la mirada,
volver, recorrer los rincones,
atar lo que me fue negado,
menguar y
gritar lo que no soy,
las palabras, los días,
el abandono.

Punto, tras punto,
un derecho,
un revés,
un derecho,
un revés

Así no: not like this
By Francisco J. Bustos

--Deported on December 24, 2014

Así no
not like this,
don’t want to go home this way.
They put cuffs on my wrists, a la fuerza
they put me in a van, they put me in a room
They shut me down and I cried like a baby, alone, in the dark.
I lost sight of the birds and I lost sight of the sky.
I lost my dreams, all of them.

Así no,
not like this,
don’t want to go home this way.
I came to work, to eat, and to survive.
I came to work, to eat, and to survive.
I’m a good man, you know.

Nada now
that they kick me out,
Nada now, that they stop my dreams and stop our food.

Nada now
that they kick me out, nada nada nada nada now,
I’m a good man, you know.

I’m just going to have to find a way to get back.
Find a way to plant my dreams again, aquí.

Sin duda,
and-be-lieve-me-when- I-say: sin duda

así no,
not like this,
don’t want to go home this way.

So I’m just going to have to find a way to get back.

You’ll see. You’ll see.

Contemplating My People’s Past, Present, & Future Living in Sur Califas
By Brandon Romero

Since the years of conquest
And definitely not of discovery
Our words have been taken in with no voice
We, the ones with no voice but who speak
The “immigrants, the impoverished”
The “exploited, the degraded”
The “colored ones, the victims of phobias”
The “savages, the uncivilized”
We are the same as mountains, allowing water to enter in, growing prosperity
Or keeping it away where it’s needed
We are mountains, letting the sun give
Or blocking it, growing conditions that isn’t for stability
We are a part of her, through life and death
Duality, giving and taking
My brothers and sisters, as one we have the power to create
Solidarity to the ears who receive my voice blowing in the hollow wind.

Meet the Poets
César L. de León, Israel Francisco Haros Lopez, Oralia Rodríguez, Francisco J. Bustos

César L. de León is a lifelong resident of the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas. His poetry is included in the anthologies Along the River 2: More Voices From the Rio Grande, Juventud!: Growing up on the Border, Twenty: Poems in Memoriam, and The Border Crossed Us: An Anthology to End Apartheid among other anthologies and journals. In 2014, César was awarded 2nd place for Literary Magazine Poem from the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association, and in 2012 he was awarded 3rd place in the Golden Circle Awards from The Columbia Scholastic Press Association. Currently, he is an MFA candidate in creative writing with a certificate in Mexican American studies at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Israel Haros is currently working on 1000 border sketch poems as part of an artist residency. He has been accepted into the Immigration/Migration themed residency at Santa Fe Art Institute.
He is a published author and has 6 published Adult Chicano Coloring Books. He is also currently working on 1000 sketches in a month as part of an inner artistic movement.
He can be found using facebook as his office and also on his wordpress, "waterhummingbirdhouse."
Chicano from Boyle Heights with an B.A. in English from UC Berkeley and an MFA from California College of The Arts.

Originaria de Jerez Zacatecas, radica en Tijuana B.C.
Estudió la Licenciatura en Informática en el Instituto Tecnológico de Tijuana, y la Licenciatura en Educación Primaria en la Normal Fronteriza Tijuana. Se desempeña como docente. Ha sido antologada en México y Argentina. Publicó dos cuentos infantiles ¨Lobo, Lobito¨ y ¨Murmullos en el bosque¨. El poemario ¨Habitada de nostalgia¨ para el 5º Encuentro Latinoamericano de escritores Hidalgo 2013.
Ha tomado talleres de pintura en la Casa de Cultura Altamira, así como diversos cursos y talleres literarios en CECUT y CEART.  Estudia la maestría en Cultura Escrita en el Centro de Posgrado y Estudios Sor Juana, cursó los siguientes Diplomados Creación Literaria en CPESJ. Estándares y Herramientas Lectoras para un Aprendizaje Efectivo y Transversa  del TEC de Monterrey  Reforma Educativa certificado por la UNAM.

Francisco J. Bustos. Bilingual poet and musician, grew up in Tijuana and San Ysidro and now lives in San Diego, is professor of English Composition at Southwestern Community College (Chula Vista, CA, ) where he is a coordinator for the literary series "SWC Guest Writer Series". Forms part of the poetry/music group Frontera Drum Fusion where he plays guitar, bass, indigenous percussions, digital music and performs bilingual poetry in English and Spanish, with some Spanglish, and Ingleñol.


Odilia Galván Rodríguez said...

Thanks Em, the Floricanto is smokin' and I just loved the poems by your granddaughter Charlotte, really great! <3

msedano said...

Thank you, Odilia. Charlotte loves to write and will appreciate hearing you loved her first public efforts.