Regular Rumination

Alternative literary realities in The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Posted by in Books, review

You wanna talk about a book that’s hard to summarize?  You got it.  The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde is almost impossible to explain in a few sentences and when you try, it usually ends up making little sense (kind of like trying to explain the last episode of Lost to anyone who has never seen the show).  Basically, all you have to know is that Thursday Next is a literary detective in an alternative reality (circa 1980s) where books are very important and Jane Eyre is seen as a national treasure.  When something terrible happens to Jane Eyre, Thursday must try to solve the crime before it is too late.

Truthfully, I considered abandoning The Eyre Affair about a quarter of the way through because I was very lost and confused.  I also didn’t love Thursday’s voice, it didn’t seem to suit her at all, though I would say she came into it at the end.  But listen to me when I say persevere! because you will be rewarded in the end.  Decoding the mystery of Thursday’s world is all part of the fun in this novel.  The world is strange and wonderful, with every tiny detail planned out perfectly to mirror the world we know, but at the same to completely turn it on its head.  Jasper Fforde is a highly imaginative author and The Eyre Affair is nothing if not original.  It is compared to Harry Potter, but outside of similarly fanatic followers and an alternative England, the comparisons stop there.  Well, they do have one more thing in common — the pure joy of reading them.  The Eyre Affair was so much fun to read, I’m thrilled to continue with this series.

But… yes, there is a but.  You cannot read a book in the Thursday Next series unless you have already read the classic it is based on.  Fortunately I had read Jane Eyre and this book neither ruined the ending for me nor bored me with literary references I did not get.  However, I’ve never read Great Expectations or any of the other books that are featured in the next installment Lost in a Good Book.  I really believe that if you haven’t read the book it is based  on, you will not enjoy the novel as much.  I hope to read Great Expectations soon, so I can continue with Thursday’s world.

If you like books, and you’ve read The  Eyre Affair, and you’re not afraid for stuff to get a little crazy, then I guarantee you this novel is for you.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: English Major Junk Food, Rebecca Reads, Ooh… books!, Trish’s Reading Nook, Jackets & Covers, books i done read.

12

Poetry Wednesday – “Of the Parrat and other birds that can speake” by Nick Lantz

Posted by in Poetry, poetry wednesday

I have a confession to make — I don’t read as much poetry as I should.  Which is why Jason and I started the poetry challenge in the first place, to get everyone reading that poetry that they’ve been neglecting.  It goes as much for me as anyone else participating in the challenge.  With novels, I take a much more active role in finding my next read, whether it be through reading your blog posts, finding recommendations by lists or merely browsing the stacks.  With poetry it’s a more serendipitous thing – all of my favorite poets have found their way to me through moments out of my control.  And while I would like to be more active in my poetry reading, I also love looking back at where all of my poetry-loves have come from.  Today is a very good example of that.  I did not set out to find a poem for Poetry Wednesday today, in fact, I have so many PWs scheduled that I’m way ahead of the game.  But this poem appeared in my life and begged to be written about.

“Of the parrat and other birds that can speake” by Nick Lantz

It is for certain knowne that they have died for very anger and griefe that they could not learn to pronounce some hard words. — Pliny the Elder

When you buy the bird for your mother
you hope it will talk to her.  But weeks pass
before it does anything except pluck the bars
with its beak.  Then one day it says, “infect.”

Your mother tells you this on the phone,
and you drive over, find the frozen meals
you bought for her last week sweating
on the countertop.  “In fact,” she says

in answer to your question, “I have been
eating,” and it’s as you point to the empty
trash can, the spotless dishes, that you
realize the bird is only saying, “in fact,”

that this is now the preamble to all
of your mother’s lies.  “In fact,” she says,
“I have been paying the bills,” and you
believe her until you find a cache

of unopened envelopes in the freezer.
More things are showing up where
they shouldn’t.  Looking out the back
window one evening you see craters

in her yard.  While she’s watching TV,
you go out with a trowel and excavate
picture frames, flatware that looks like
the silver bones of some exquisite

animal.  You worry when you arrive
one day and see the open, empty cage
that you will find the bird dead, stuffed
in an oven mitt and left in a drawer,

but you find it sitting on her shoulder
in the kitchen.  “In fact,” she says,
“he learned to open the cage himself.”
The bird learns new words.  You learn

which lies you can ignore.  The stroke
that kills her gives no warning, not –
the doctor assures you — that anyone
can predict such things.  When you

drive home that night with the cage
belted into the passenger seat, the bird
makes a sound that is not a word
but that you immediately recognize

as  the sound of your mother’s phone
ringing, and you know it is the sound
of you calling her again and again,
the sound of her not answering.

_____________________________________________

The talent that it took to pull this poem off is amazing.  It’s a conceit that seems impossible.  How is he going to relate this bird to the tragedy and grief of his mother’s decline?  His descriptions are so realistic and perfectly portray the frustration and sadness that goes along with this kind of situation. It’s immensely personal, but universal in many ways as well.  It is simple language that tells a complex, looping story about a bird,  but not about a bird.  What do you think of this poem?  What is your favorite line or stanza?

5

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

Posted by in Books, review

What I was expecting with The Year of Magical Thinking was not what I got.  I was expecting a memoir, yes, but one that focused on something, well, magical.   I thought it was along the lines of The Happiness Project or other books.  Well, it isn’t.  Not at all.  Instead, The Year of Magical Thinking is Joan Didion’s memoir of a year in her life when terrible things happen.  First her daughter Quintana Roo Dunne, ill with pneumonia, is admitted into the hospital and goes into septic shock.  The question is not when she will wake up, it is if. One night after visiting their daughter, Joan and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, come home and John suffers from a heart attack and dies instantly at the kitchen table.

The memoir is both an account of what that year was like and also a study of grief.  It is, of course, a reflection of Didion’s personal grief, but she does not leave it at that.  The prose effortlessly weaves in and out of the present, memories and even the scientific.  Most of all, however, it is a tribute to John and their marriage together that never once falls prey to sentimentalism but instead remains heartbreakingly honest and beautiful.

Grief is a fascinating thing — it is something that we will all eventually experience in some capacity and it is one of those things that you simply cannot fathom until you have been there.  What I have thought most about since reading The Year of Magical Thinking is not necessarily anything that was said in the book, but instead the title.  The title confused me at first, but after reflecting on my own experiences with grief and after finishing the memoir, I think I understand a little bit better.   Magical does not necessarily mean wonderful, or fanciful, or perfect.  If anything reading fantasy should have taught me that.  It is “any art that invokes supernatural powers” (Princeton) or, my personal favorite, the “art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural” (thefreedictionary.com).  Magical thinking is an anthropological term that refers to the irrational way people think to stop the inevitable.  Grief is a natural way of thinking, as in it is a natural response  our minds have to tragedy, but it never feels that way.  It feels alien and foreign and, absolutely, supernatural.  It is a way to control ourselves.   Grief feels out of control, yet we have “stages of grief” that most people go through and mostly in order.  It is certainly a magical way of thinking.

Outside of the title, the other thing I have been thinking about, and the thing that touched me most about this book was once again not in the text at all, but rather the cover.  It is so subtle (though it is clearer online) that I didn’t notice it until after I had finished reading.  The letters of the title are black, but the letters J, O, H, & N are blue, spelling out her husbands name.  It’s absolutely beautiful.  I know it’s a small thing, but for me it really summed up this book perfectly.  Yes, this is about what it was like for Joan to grieve for her husband while caring for a sick daughter, but it is also a loving memorial to her husband, whom she clearly loved very much.

Favorite quote:

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.  We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death.  We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks.  We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock.  We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind.  We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss.  We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.  IN the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “healing.”  A certain forward movement will prevail.  The worst days will be the earliest days.  We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place.  When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to “get through it,” to rise to the occasion, exhibit the “strength” that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death.  We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day?  We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue.  We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion.  Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we  imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.” (188)

So go read this!: When you need it.  You might not find comfort in this book, but where I’m at in my life right now was perfect for reading this book.  You’re never beyond grief, but at this point I can look back at that time objectively and say, yes, I experienced that as well.

Also reviewed by: Shelf Love, Sophisticated Dorkiness, Book Awards Reading Challenge Blog, Care’s Online Book Club, Bookfoolery and Babble, Stephanie’s Written Word, The Written World.

10

Anne of Avonlea – LM Montgomery

Posted by in Books, review

You may remember that a few weeks ago, I read the first book in the Anne of Green Gables series and was completely enamored.  The first book was clever, funny, touching and sad all at once and was so readable.  I fell for Anne immediately and even though I didn’t love Anne of Avonlea as much as Anne of Green Gables, I still really enjoyed reading this book.

Anne is sixteen, teaching at the school and unexpectedly helping Marilla raise twins Davey and Dora after their mother, a distant relative of Marilla, dies.  Of course there are some silly moments when Anne, but now also Davy, make a mess of things.  There were more than a few occasions when I shook my head and muttered “Oh, Anne” out loud.

I love how Marilla and Anne have really grown into one another.  They are the perfect foils for each other, with Marilla completely no-nonsense and Anne so imaginative, they are the perfect balance.  With Anne’s help, Marilla has just a little bit more imagination and Anne can be just a little bit more serious.   I wasn’t sure how I felt about the twins at first, but eventually they grew on me (after Davy stopped trying to terrify his sister!).  Finally Anne starts talking to Gilbert… sort of.  So I’m looking forward to their budding relationship.

My roommate, who recommended these books to me and bought me the set for Christmas, made a good point.  She said that one of the reasons she loved  Anne so much was because she got to grow up with Anne.  Her favorite Anne books were always the ones when the characters were the same age as her.  She thinks that I will really like the next installment, where Anne is in her early twenties.  I’m looking forward to it and will be reading it in March!

Favorite quotes:

“Well, one  can’t get over the habit of being a little girl all at once,” said Anne gaily.  “You see, I was little for fourteen years and I’ve only been grown-uppish for scarcely three.  I’m sure I shall always feel like a child in the woods.  These walks home from school are almost the only time I have for dreaming… except the half hour or so before I go to sleep.  I’m so busy with teaching and studying and helping Marilla with the twins that I haven’t anothermoment for imagining things.  You don’t know what splendid adventures I have for a little while after I go to bed in the east gable every night.  I always imagine I’m something very brilliant and triumphant and splendid… a great prima donna or a Red Cross nurse or a queen.  Last night I was a queen.  It’s really splendid to imagine you are a queen.  You have all the fun of it without any of the inconveniences and you can stop being a queen whenever you want to, which you couldn’t in real life.  But here in the woods I like best to imagine quite different things… I’m a dryad living in an old pine, or a little brown wood-elf hiding under a crinkled leaf.  That white birch you caught me kissing is a sister of mine.   The only difference is, she’s a tree and I’m a girl, but that’s no real difference (75).”

“‘Anne,’ said Davy, sitting up in bed and propping his chin on his hands, ‘Anne, where is sleep?  People go to sleep every night, and of course I know it’s the place where I do the things I dream, but I want to know where it is and how I get there and back without knowing anything about it… and in my nighty too.  Where is it?’ (151)

“That is one good thing about this world… there are always sure to be more springs.” (215)

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: Dreadlock Girl, Ramya’s Bookshelf, The Blue Stocking Society, things mean a lot.

15

Girlhood friendship in Woodson’s “After Tupac and D Foster”

Posted by in Books, review

When I read If you come softly by Jacqueline Woodson back in spring, I was completely blown away by the beauty and the tragedy of it.  It’s a simple, lovely novel that has the power to change lives.  So really if you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this review and go read If you come softly. You won’t regret it.   After reading it, I wanted to read every Jacqueline Woodson book I could get my hands on, so when I saw After Tupac and D Foster on my library shelf, I grabbed it right away.

Where If you come softly was a story about romantic love, After Tupac and D Foster is the story of three black girls who are best friends, Neeka, D and our narrator.  D mysteriously enters their lives the summer before they turn twelve and just as quickly leaves right after they turn 13.  Tupac plays an important role in the girls’ lives, with the book beginning when Tupac was shot for the first time and ending with his death.  D looks up to Tupac and she feels as though he is talking directly to her through his music.  They become closer friends through their passion for the musician and it gives the novel the perfect arc.

What I loved best about After Tupac and D Foster was the narrator and her voice.  She’s very mature, but not unbelievable, and she is just looking for a little bit of beauty in the world.  The novel captures an era and a place perfectly.  The love that the three girls share is so perfectly described, but it manages to be about bigger things than that.  It is a short book, but one that encompasses so many parts of life, from the challenges to the perfect moments.   I loved the inclusion of Tupac in this book because it puts it in a precise moment of time, New York in the 90s.  Tupac is a fascinating man and I highly recommend the VH1 documentary about his life.  There are so many things that I didn’t know about him, but having watched the documentary beforehand really gave me a greater sense of the emotional way that the girls reacted to Tupac and just how important he really was (and is).

But Woodson does not stop at the girls’ friendship or their relationship with Tupac.  There is so much more in this book and it’s amazing how much Woodson captures in 150 pages.  One of the most touching scenes is when the narrator and Neeka go visit Neeka’s brother Tash in jail.  He was wrongfully accused of assaulting an old friend, but really it was a crime against Tash, in which he was beaten as well.  Tash, a gay man, must avoid being beaten or worse in prison and he has a conversation with his mother that will absolutely break your heart.

“Why did you roam, though?” I asked.  Whenever D talked about her roaming, I always asked why.  I wanted to understand — deep — what it was like to step outside. [...]

“Uptown they got those fancy buildings.  Out in Brooklyn they got those pretty brownstone houses.  West side got Central Park and people going all over the place in those bright yellow taxicabs.”  D looked at us and I knew a part of her knew how much me and Neeka lived for the rare moments when she showed us where she’d been and, by doing so, we got to go to those places too.

And then it made sense to me — crazy-fast sense in a way it hadn’t before.  D walked out of her own life each time she stepped into one of those other places.  She got off the bus or walked up out of the subway and her life disappeared, got replaced by that new place, those new strangers  – like big pink erasers.  Before me and Neeka started asking D about her life, we were erasers too — she got to step into our world with all the trees and mamas calling from windows and kids playing on the block, and forget (18).

And that is exactly what Woodson does for her readers.  You so perfectly step into this world, onto this  street and you are completely with the three girls that it does not feel like you are reading a story, it’s more real than that.  There are many other passages that I want to quote for you, but I think I’ll let you discover them for yourself.  Jacqueline Woodson has done it again and I plan on reading everything she has ever written, because if all her books are only half as good as If you come softly and After Tupac and D Foster then they will all be  excellent.

So go read  this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: Color Online & The Happy Nappy Bookseller.

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13

Poetry Wednesday – e. e. cummings

Posted by in Poetry, poetry wednesday


They say you always remember your first love and all that comes with it: the passion and the romance and the newness of it all.  Well, as for poetry, that has to be true as well.  My first poet-love was e. e. cummings.  I bought a yellow collection of his poetry, now a worn and abused and earmarked copy, and instantly fell in love with his muddled, confusing verse.  I was enamored with his grasshopper poem and, though I might not have admitted it then, I really had no idea what he was talking about most of the time.  But he said it beautifully and used punctuation ingeniously and, seriously, I was in love.  I even wrote my own version of an e. e. cummings-style poem when I was in high school, probably ninth or tenth grade.  I’m a little embarrassed to share it with you, but in the interest of being completely honest here, I think I will:

Um.  Seriously.  I have no idea what I’m talking about in most of this poem.  I can tell you that lufecargsid is disgraceful backwards, which I thought was immensely cool.  I don’t know why some things are underlined and some things are italicized in disastrous.  I don’t know why the fire engines are yellow.  I seem to be referencing WWII, but I’m not sure why.  I hope you get a good laugh out of this one.  I was trying so hard!  I wrote a lot of poems about snow, which is kind of silly when you think about the fact that I grew up at the beach where it snowed maybe once or twice a year, and barely enough to cover anything.

In any case, I still love e. e. cummings, but mostly when he’s being a little bit more clear.  There is always mystery in a cummings poem, but when it’s not impossible to decipher, when there is just enough for you to guess at it his meaning, that’s when it is truly masterful.

i have found what you are like

i have found what you are like
the rain

(Who feathers frightened fields
with the superior dust-of-sleep.  wields

easily the pale club of the wind
and swirled justly souls of slower strike

the air in utterable coolness

deeds of green thrilling light
with thinned
newfragile yellows

lurch and.press
–in the woods
which
stutter
and
sing
And the coolness of your smile is
stirringofbirds between my arms;but
i should rather than anything
have(almost when hugeness will shut
quietly)almost,
your kiss

____________________________________________________________

Some of my favorite lines in this are the word “newfragile”, because it really makes a lot of sense.  Something can be new, and something can be fragile, but being newfragile creates something else that neither word can describe on its own.  There is the implication of the birth of something.  This poem begs to be read aloud, especially with lines like “lurch and.press”, somehow that period tells you how to read that line.  I also love the line, “And the coolness of your smile is/stirringofbirds between my arms;but”.  That’s another beautiful neologism.  Stirringofbirds as a noun – but what could it mean?  What do you think?  What is your favorite line of this poem?

5

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X Stork

Posted by in Books, review

I read Marcelo and I loved it.  I could end this review there and call it a day, but I figure you’re probably here for more than that.  You’re here for all the pertinent review questions.  Sure, it’s great that I loved it, but why? I’m having difficulty articulating that because I read Marcelo in the Real World so long ago and haven’t had the chance to sit down and review it.  So I’m going to tell you in the simplest words I can:

I loved Marcelo because I loved Marcelo.

I loved Marcelo because I loved every other character, too.  There is not a secondary character in here – they are all beautifully realistic.  Stork, through Marcelo’s voice, breathed life into these people; they felt real in the best way that characters can.

I loved Marcelo because it has some serious cross-over potential.  In fact, I think the publishers might have made a mistake.  Why is Marcelo YA?  Well, because it has a young, teenage protagonist with a voice that sounds younger in some respects, but also much older.  This novel is often compared to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, understandably: but why is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time an adult novel and Marcelo in the Real World a young adult novel?  But where, for me, The Curious Incident lacked feeling and left me cold and unconnected, Marcelo was filled to bursting with emotion and feeling and discovery.  What Marcelo in the Real World can offer an adult is completely different from what it can offer a young reader (as is true of most books, but bear with me).  Marcelo is almost 18, but he has an autism-like condition that makes him very brilliant, but socially and emotionally different.  Marcelo’s dad is convinced that he can make it in the real world, if he just tries.  So he hires him in the mail room at his office.  What Marcelo learns there is a very grown up lesson and it would do any adult some good to look at this conflict with eyes as fresh as Marcelo’s.

So none of that is to say that this book isn’t fit for young adults, because it definitely is.  It’s just to say give me an adult who “doesn’t like YA” and I will give them Marcelo.

I love Marcelo because of this:

Actually, I am asking myself if conversations with friends always feel like this — two minds bound together by their focus on the same subject (89).

And this:

I stay up listening to her fall asleep, feeling how it is not to be alone (261).

And this:

I take as long as I can wiping my hands.  Now it seems funny to me that I got so nervous at the thought of sleeping next to Jasmine.  What is happening?  Yesterday, Jonah asked me if was sexually attracted to Jasmine and that notion seemed shocking to me.  And now there is this.  I touch my abdomen where I feel a tingling.  That’s what “butterflies in the stomach” feel like.  These butterflies were let loose by what?  The first one or two came out when Jasmine talked about the Internal Music and how I could be flesh and blood like her, for instance, and then thousands fluttered when she pointed at the spot where we will sleep together.  They are not unpleasant, these butterflies.  Their tiny wings are pulling me out, tickling me with the anticipation of lying next to Jasmine (257).

So, if I haven’t convinced you yet that I loved this book, I’m not sure what else I could tell you.  Get out there and get reading.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: 1330v, The Compulsive Reader, Book Addiction, Fledgling, The YA YA YAs , bookshelves of doom, TV and Book Addict, stuff as dreams are made on.

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22

TSS – Fire & snow!

Posted by in Books, Life

Well, as most of you know, we’re pretty much completely snowed in around here.  Though the roads are getting clearer, I’m probably not going to go anywhere today.  I’m getting just a little bit of the cabin fever, so we might go back outside later and go sledding or build an igloo or something.  Anything to get out of the house!  Yesterday I cleared off my car and did some shoveling, but mostly I read!  This weekend I read two excellent YA novels: After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson and Fire by Kristin Cashore.  Both were quick reads that really lived up to their hype.  Jacqueline Woodson has a special place in my heart after If you come softly. I also really loved Graceling, so I was looking forward to Fire to return to that world.  It was a little different than I expected, but in an awesome way.  Cashore writes brilliant female characters and Fire is no different.

Today I’ll be reading The Natural History of Unicorns, some poetry by Frederick Siedel and Anne of Avonlea.  What are you reading?

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2

Kage Baker’s unique fantasy “In the Garden of Iden”

Posted by in Books

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, there’s a moment when you’re reading a book and you’re filled with a sudden joy.  That moment came about 40 pages into Into the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.  I was suddenly reminded of what it was like to read Harry Potter for the first time, or Ella Enchanted, or a Wrinkle in Time even.  It’s a childlike happiness that’s hard to describe or pin down.   What those books have in common, above all, is the idea that life is not what we make of it and, in some ways, there is an escape.  There is an escape to the fantastic and to the wonderful to beat out the mundane, even though all of those books eventually show you that there is no escape, not really, that even a magical life is one that we have to fight for.  In the Garden of Iden takes this escape to the next level in a mature, historical context that solidifies it as a science fiction classic.

Mendoza is a young girl during the Spanish Inquisition when she is recruited by the mysterious company Dr. Zeus.  They whisk her away to Australia and begin to operate, giving her the gift of immortality and a job as a botanist, to save all the rare plants that will go extinct in the future.  You see, Dr. Zeus discovered time travel, but only so they could prove that their formula for immortality existed.  Mendoza and her team are sent to England during the reign of Queen Mary to the rare garden of Sir Walter Iden.  While there, Mendoza does the unthinkable: she falls in love with a mortal.

What was most exciting about In the Garden of Iden was the prospect of what is to come.  Iden was not perfect and there were times when the story dragged a little, but if  this first novel is any indication of what the series will be like, it is all I can do to keep myself from running out to the library right now and pick up the second book.  The characters were believable and enjoyable to read about.  Iden manages to not only have a clever science fiction premise, but also seamlessly incorporate historical elements.  To top it all off, it’s a heartbreaking tragedy and a beautiful romance.

I can’t recommend this book enough.  Tragically, Kage Baker passed away on January 31, 2010.  Thank you Kage Baker for such a wonderful story, I’m only sad that we didn’t meet sooner.

So go read  this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Recommended by: bookshelves of doom.

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5

Poetry Wednesday – Gloria Anzaldúa

Posted by in Poetry, poetry wednesday

Gloria Anzaldúa is the author of Borderlands/La Frontera, which was required reading for my Border Studies class, and it is a very interesting read that I highly recommend.  Anzaldúa is a lesbian chicana, born and raised in the United States and of Mexican descent.  Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza is part memoir, part history book and part book of poetry.  I chose this poem because of the way it speaks frankly of a specific female experience.  This poem deals with many tragedies: from an accident that lead to disfigurement to sexual experiences to the births of children to the deaths of family members.  This poem is long, but rightfully so, as it chronicles an entire life through the eyes of a granddaughter.

Immaculate, Inviolate: Como Ella

She never lived with us
we had no bed for her
but she always came to visit.
A gift for m’ijita
two folded dollar bills secretly put in my hand.

I’d sit at her side
away from the bucket of
brasas
enveloped en el olor de vieja
watch her roll her Buglar
yellowed talons plucking tobacco
knotted fingers rolling it thin, thinner,
tongue gumming edge of paper
sealing it pinching the ends
stroking it before striking match on thumbnail
watch smoke escape between chapped lips
curl through her white hair and pink skull.
They said at sixteen it had turned white overnight.

My grandmother could not tolerate heat.
She kept well away from fires.
A long time ago she burned herself.
She’d bent over the belly
of her woodburning stove
had seen no glimmer of a spark
had heaved up a can of kerosene

propping the edge on her hip
and cradling it to her chest
she’d let a few drops fall
on the charred sticks.
An invisible spark ignited
shot up the spout into her windpipe,
boom.
It took my uncle a long time
to carry the buckets of water from the well
soak the blankets
wrap them around her.

Mamá, usted ya no puede quedarse aquí sóla.
They made her give up the ranchouse
photographs, books, letters, yellowing.
Armarios,
pantry closets looted
not growing under the covers.

She’d stay two weeks with one, two with another,
back and forth in her black dress
and with her thick
velices
white sweat streaks across her round back,
under arms.
She never stopped wearing
luto
first for my papagrande
who died before I was born
then for her brother
and, until she died elevel years ago,
she wore black for my father.
I didn’t go to her funeral
that too must have made her suffer.

Platícame del rancho Jesús María,
de los Vergeles, Mamagrande,
where I was reared.
Tell me about the years of drought
the cattle with hoof’n mouth
the rabid coyotes.
And as she talked I saw her breathing in the fire,
coughing up sooty spittle
skin blistering, becoming pus
nerve endings exposed,
sweating, skin pallid, clammy
the nausea, the dizziness,
swelling to twice her size.

I watched the charred scars
on her throat and breasts
turn into parchment splotches
they catch the sheen of the coals
glow pink and lavender over the blue skin.
She’d felt numb, she told me,
her voice hoarse from the fire
or the constant cigarette in her mouth,
as though frostbitten.

Once I looked into her blue eyes,
asked, Have you ever had an orgasm?
She kept quiet for a long time.
Finally she looked into my brown eyes,
told me how Papagrande would flip the skirt
of her nightgown over her head
and in the dark takeout his
palo, his stick,
and do
lo que hacen los hombres
while she laid back and prayed
he would finish quickly.

She didn’t like to talk about such things.
Mujeres no hablan de cosas cochinas.
Her daughters, my
tías, never liked to talk about it –
their father’s other women, their half-brothers.

Sometimes when I get too close to the fire
and my face and chest catch the heat,
I can almost see Mamagrande’s face
watching him leave
taking her two eldest
to play with otherchildren
watching her sons y
los de la otra
grow up together.

I can almost see that look
settle on her face
then hide behind parchment skin
and clouds of smoke.
Pobre doña Locha, so much dignity,
everyone said she had
and pride.

____________________________________________________________

In class, we have often discussed what makes a poem a poem.  How many literary devices must your piece have to be considered a poem?  Do it just have to have lines that are broken in the middle?  While I definitely don’t think that is the case, this poem does read more like prose much of the time.  What I think makes this a poem are, of course, not the linebreaks, but instead the way in which this woman’s life and story are told through figure.  It is not “and then, and then, and then”, but rather a series of images that paint a complete portrait of Mamagrande.   Ipersonally love that this poem is bilingual, because it is an integral part of the speaker’s and the figure’s life.  Do you think this alienates readers? As someone who doesn’t speak Spanish, what did you think of the Spanish parts of the poem?

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