My poem, “Viva Fuerte”, and why I wrote it


First some comments followed by the poem:

I have been reading Pablo Neruda for the first time in many years. Bly (who has translated Neruda) describes him as the South American dark version (Chiliean) of Walt Whitman. He has his filters for his images, but his filters are generous filters, like Whitman’s. They allow a lot of  content through that a more focused writer of so-called modern poetry would eliminate as sketchy or out-of-place, without reference. Neruda is his own man. He trusted the imagery to lead the way. He didn’t bend the language to the subject.  An example?

. . .Monday, when it sees me coming / with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline, / and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel, / and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the night.

There is so much that can happen when one throws caution to the wind poetically.  Just going with his description of his “convict face” and following a trail of blood “toward the night” is riveting. It’s a thriller in the form of excellent poetry. The master-poet is allowing language to call the shots and lead the way. Most writers, even when they write creatively, are writing with a domesticated idiom; perhaps there is better poetry in their drafts.

With “Viva Fuerta” I am allowing for some surprises. The language and my intentions are equal partners. If I try to impose my will, that trail of blood dries up. (There is a janitor who is mopping ahead of me; he is just doing his job. He is like one of those “seconds” in a dream or a character in a computer game. He doesn’t think beyond what he is there to do: clean up messes. Spit and polish.)

With this kind of poetry you don’t know where it is leading, but this trail of blood is a trail of life. Or it is a trail toward life, as much as it is toward night? We are already living in a dark time and a time of woundedness. We forget how full of blood we are until we hurt ourselves and then it flows. Sometimes it takes getting hurt or bleeding to remember we are still alive. Or seeing something or someone else get hurt works the same effect. Or maybe we are driving along. It takes seeing a beautiful animal dead in the middle of the road to remember that there are other beings out there to the left and right of the road trying to live their lives just like us. Sometimes I forget, for long periods of time, how much I love squirrels and chipmunks until  one runs under my “wounded wheel”.

Who can begin to measure the suffering in the world? Joanna Macy writes that “there is no such thing as private salvation. . .and . . . there is no healing without connection”. So these poems, where I follow the imagery, are poems where I stay close to Neruda’s trail of blood, toward life, and they almost always lead toward some kind of healing and connection.  Here is Neruda again:

If you ask where I have been / I have to say, “It so happens . . . “/ I have to talk about the earth turned dark with stones, / and the river which ruins itself by keeping alive . . .

Viva Fuerte

I’m standing firm and
you’re a rock.
The plinth is fracturing.
Your filter isn’t filtering
but at least it caught this poem.
My tongue is angry!
I have a snake in my shoe.
I’m in a funk:
Why aren’t we rising up
Like a thunderhead
Like a new brain in a petri dish?
A heart-shaped leaf
is waving in the breeze.
A lavender-tinted cow
stands behind me.
She is my ally.
A bird caught in a spider’s web
who I free just in the nick of time
is announcing an event
to a girls’ soccer team.
And they are listening.
I’m re-schooling myself.
My teachers were all afraid of me.
They were afraid of their own subjects.
The tests were all slanted toward
Submission and prostitution.
My car broke down
and wept.
I ate wild grapes like a bear.
I translated one single tear
Into nine languages.
I saw my face in the Rorschach of a stain
on a subway window.
And what is more, I saw your face.
And yours.
And then the people came.
Up and through and over
and in and with and without,
alone and in droves.
With dreams.
With bitter stories.
Without passports.
Tatooed and branded,
covered and naked.
Some animals came along
As translators.
There was going to be a council,
but where?
This world has no space.
All the land is private
Or slated for upheaval.
We made a clubhouse under a bush.
The bird from the web and the cow came under.
And an old man with a beard with bells
dressed in a filthy sheet
Wearing a sign saying they had impounded his car.
And a million others:
Neruda with his serious eyes,
Gandhi was there and Jesus and Punch and Judy
and even a clown with a big harmless hammer.
And I looked around
for the girls’ soccer team.
And way up I saw the angels glittering,
up about 4000 feet.
All I could see was their glitter
But they didn’t come any lower
but at least they were curious.
And I thought,
This is pretty close
To how I always knew it could be.
You have to begin somewhere.
Under a bush with millions.
We’ve got to start somewhere;
if you make it here, you’re welcome.
Viva fuerte!


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