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Archive for December, 2011

To star photographer and my food blog partner
Roberto Koltun, for failing to keep his promise to come  
and help me remember what happened on
that fateful day, this poem that includes
the updated version of my poem on New York’s
Brevoort Hotel published in Spanish in 1960.

I
The Brevoort: surrealist nostalgia

Once pride of Manhattan’s high society,
at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 8th Street,
by the 1940’s the Brevoort had declined
to genteel  squalor remindful of an aging roué.
On the plus side, however, it did offer cheap
inner rooms for cub reporters like me.

And its Bar and Grill on the street level
had kept its former allure, still favored
by bohemian artists from Greenwich Village
and Wall Street brokers on slumming tours,
The place was draped in Victorian curtains,
gossamer, meringue, somber, devious in tone,
mirrors peeked giving birth to more mirrors,
titillating chandeliers in tune
with the latest swing hits  played
by a  duo of  black pianists,
the bar drunker and drunker
on the scents of blue crab and pheasant,
the barman of Arab origin who speaks
twelve strange languages –
some dead to boot –
and is inoculated against
anxiety endemic in Manhattan,
opaque gentlemen enveloped in tweeds,
ladies girdled in ivy-like fabrics,
tweeting, chirping  mumbling,
reluctantly shed a tear or two

The twins now playing Gershwin,
three obese bond salesman
fighting  a one-side duel against
lobster Thermidor and crepes a la mode.
Mirrors about to give birth
to endless new reflections

II.
Remember Pearl Harbor

On the morning
of Sunday
December 7, 1941,
I awoke hung-over
from a long night
in the Brevoort Bar
with its oceanic scents
and congealed anguish.
Hungry and thirsty,
I dragged myself
to a coffee shop on 8th Street.
My breakfast menu?
Scrambled eggs with grilled ham,
whole wheat toast, black  coffee
and lots of orange juice,
Why do I recall such details
after 70 years?

The coffee shop radio
suddenly blared out the news:
The Japanese have attacked
by surprise the U.S, Naval
Base in Peark Harbor,
“on a day that will always live in infamy,”
So said President Roosevelt
in his declaration of war
against Japan and other Axis powers:
what a horrific awakening from
the Brevoort’s hovel of dubious joys
into a long and bloody war,

III.

Personal Post Script

Under the stirring battle cry
“Remember Pearl Harbor”,
the U.S, fought back relentlessly
around the world for four years
until its enemies surrendered.
The case of Japan was especially
poignant resented for the devious
way it used military action
while peace negotiations
were still in progress –
a feeling I shared for years.
Yet God Time has mysterious
ways and 40 years later
I visited Japan and fell in love
with its people and culture,
a love that’s still growing
through admiration and respect,
the surest way for this poet
to forgive past and passing sins
whether they are made
by individuals or nations.

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Ya el invierno parece
posar sus alas,
unas cristalinas,
otras opacas,
y clavar férreas
garras
en la urbe  
que madruga
al diario trajinar.
Aún medio
dormida
reposando al alba,
al ponerme en pie
le digo al perro
echado a mis pies –
como si él lo necesitara –
que se aliste
a cumplir
el mismo horario
de los últimos días,  
y me sorbo
la última gota
de mi brebaje
matutino:
café bien tinto
con crema fresca,
un toque
de cardamomo
y una cucharada
de miel de abeja,
lo que en Portland
mi hijo llama
“luz solar
bien licuada”.

Trastabillando,
salimos a la calle
yo sombrero en mano,
él con su correa
entre los dientes.
Nos apeamos
del pórtico
casi bailoteando,
yo con pasos firmes,
él con cierta cautela
porque parece
que los cuervos vecinos
conocen de memoria
nuestro canto mañanero
y se asoman
en las ramas de los robles
para acompañarlo
con salvas de graznidos.

Edgar Allen Poe
me amonestaría
por no haberles
asignado
un lugar más digno
en el vaivén
de mis rimas,
mas como amante
de los pájaros
no admiro mucho
a estos carroñeros
que tanto merodean
llegado el invierno…
excepto que tienen
el coraje de no
huir  volando
hacía tierras más
cálidas
aun de esos sitios
más blanqueados,
más norteños,
más lejanos
y más desolados:
allí siguen plantados
sobre los techos
burlándose
de los pocos
peatonos
Y como uno
de esos pajarracos
me quedo plantada
y espero lo peor:
los días
cortos y húmedos
que la gente
por aquí
denomina
“esos meses”,
temerosa de chistar
la palabra invierno,
ese frío extremo,
de lluvia cargado,
que de semana en semana
nos hace añorar
el sol dorado,
flamígero
e incesante
para secarte el alma
y te caliente
el corazón,
ambos derretidos
lentamente
y formar
la masa viscosa
de una babosa
o de un hongo
purulento.

El  y yo
cumplimos
ciertas rutinas:
visitar el
parque de los perros
a saludar
amigos caninos
de nariz a  cola,
cortesías
fáciles y breves,
envidables
por ser mudas
e ir al grano:
¡Ay! Si sólo
pudiéramos
los seres humanos
seguir ese ejemplo…
pero en cambio
parloteamos,
pensamos,
juzgamos,
y analizamos …
que al final de cuentas
la palabrerí
sale traicionándonos
porque rara vez llegamos
al meollo de las cosas
perdiendo tanta saliva
y tejiendo telarañas
a fin de abrigar mera ilusión
de algo significativo \y
y amén la audacia
de pensar que nos estamos
“comunicando”.
Basta con recordar
esas reuniones de famita
en temporadas festivas
para cerciorarnos
de la burla
que representamos.

Todo esto me importa poco:
no tengo con quién dialogar
al tanto que el perro,
una vez cumplidos
sus deberes sociales,
se echa a descansar
sobre la húmeda tierra
para señalarme
que ha llegado la hora
de ponerle la correa
y proseguir el paseo.  

Con el  cielo
aún despejado,
nos aventuramos
hacia las lomas
del Monte Tabor,
donde se divisan
los límites
del centro urbano,
y lo más importante,
las montañas distantes,
donde en la mañana límpida,
la luna llena,
aun titilando,
se eleva sobre el horizonte,

Aquí, a la vera
de los pinares,
se aspiran los olores ácidos
de sus hojas y agujas
que forman montículos
donde ardillas precavidas
atesoran su botín  
de comida para el invierno,
que luego transportan
a las copas de los árboles.
El perro conoce todo esto
y deja de trotar
para husmear y escuchar
la cháchara de  una ardilla
en un pino cercano,
y tira de la correa
y me deja rezagada
con correa y collar
en las manos:
todo el mundo acepta
que un perro salga
a cazar a su antojo
un día antes
de que llegue la lluvia
y nos envuelva a ambos
en un capullo
con ventanillas,
allí sentados por fuerza mayor
viendo cómo el agua se desliza
por los techos a lo largo
de la calle desierta
hasta formar riachuelos
que auspician
la primavera:
el retorno de aves que trinan,
los cornejos en flor
y un sol que todo lo cura…

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            It seems that winter
            has settled its wings
            crystal
            opaque
            steely firm
            over the city’s busy morn –
            I zip my sleepy self
            into the plush of down
            and motion the dog:
            as if he needed it –
            he’s been on the same
            schedule for days now,
            sitting by my feet as I
            slurp the last drop
            of my sweet concoction –
            bitter expresso and
            fresh cream,
            with a hint of cardamon
            and spoonful of honey:
            my son calls it Portland
            liquid sunshine…
            Out we squirm –
            me,
            hat in hand,
            he,
            leash in mouth –
            dancing down the steep
            steps from the porch,
            and stepping hard- me
            skipping light – he…
            I think the ravens
            know our morning song
            by heart,
            as they appear
            in the oaks’ branches
            daily to grace us
            with their accompanying
            shrill calls –
            Edgar Allen Poe would
            berate me for not
            giving them a stately place
            in my rhyme,
            but as a bird lover,
            I find little endearing
            in these loud
            winter scavengers….
            except that they stick it out,
            and don’t take flight
            for warmer lands….
            even in the whitest
            northern most,
            furthest,
            eeriest lands –
            they sit atop rooftops
            and cajole the rare
            passerby –
            and like them,
            I remain – waiting for the
            worst…
            the wet short days
            that people here
            describe as “those months”
            as if afraid to utter
            winter –
            the damp bitter cold
            rain
            infested
            weeks
            that make you long
            for golden
            burning
            incessant
            sun…..
            to dry your soul
            and warm your heart
            which have slowly
            melted into the
            dreary consistency
            of a slug or
            festered fungi….

            We have our routine,
            he and I –
            down to the dog park
            to greet other canines,
            nose to tail,
            snout to snout –
            easy
            and quick  niceties –
            enviable –
            no words needed
            and to the point….oh
            if only:
            but no, we humans
            have so much to say –
            to think,
            to judge,
            to analyze ….and in the end,
            words tend to betray us:
            they rarely get to the meat
            of the matter:
            they dribble,
            and spurt,
            spinning their webs
            and we have the illusion
            of meaning
            yes,
            the audacity to think
            we “communicate”
            You have only to
            sit with family at
            any given “holi “- day
            to see the joke is on us.

            But no matter,
            I have no one to speak
            with – the dog lays in the
            moist ground
            once his social needs
            have been met,
            and this is my sign
            to lead him on
            to the rest of our
            jaunt….

            As the sky is still clear,
            we venture toward
            the hills of Mt. Tabor:
            from there we can see
            the edges of downtown
            and more importantly
            the mountains
            far in the distance
            and on this clear day:
            high above the horizon
            the full moon
            lingers still.
            Here, on the edge
            of pine trees
            we smell the acrid
            leaves and needles
            that form small mounds
            where the squirrels
            hide their finds,
            as they gather
            and forge
            hastily:
            later,
            they will collect
            their winter fodder
            and laboriously
            carry it high
into the tree tops.

            The dog knows this,
            and refuses to leave
            the fresh scent,
            until he hears
            a squirrel
            chattering in a nearby tree –
            then he pulls
            and leaves me behind
            holding both collar and leash:
            all is right with the world
            when a dog can chase
            free
            in the bright light
            for one more day
            before
            the rain wraps
            us both
            in a windowed caccoon
            and we sit watching
            the water drop off
            roofs
            down the empty street
            forming little rivers
            that carry our hope
            for spring
            and the return
            of song birds,
            the blooming dogwood
            and the healing sun…..

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Down in the “writing bunker”,
where I spend hours
isolated from the world,
atop a display of mementoes
is the sole enduring
heirloom of the Zalamea clan’s
fall from wealth and power
in  19h Century Colombia:
it is the only platter left from
my mother Margarita’s
large banquet table set,
made of fine Limoges porcelain,
ten inches in diameter,
sharp edges of burnt gold,
an elegant monogram
embracing the M of her name
with the Z of father’s lineage,
to anchor a chain
of luminescent pink, white,
and purple wild flowers:
a vision of placid nostalgia.

Time being
an unforgiving and relentless god,
this immovable object
has witnessed the gripping
saga of  Zalameas
as three generations journeyed
from poverty to opulence
and back to indigence.
Their story begins in Bogotá
in mid-l9th Century,
when my paternal grandfather
Angel Maria and his childhood
sweetheart and future wife Nieves,
both born to poor but honest folk,
started saving pennies under
a brick in her hovel of a home,
a stake that over the next
three decades,
driven by  his born business sense
(probably from distant Arab blood)
and her tenacity and discipline
of a woman raised in adversity,
had grown into an emporium
of hardware stores, dairy
and cattle farms,
even a steam-run printing press,
all under the respected
aegis of Zalamea Hermanos.

A kind-hearted, God-fearing man,
Angel Maria applied his fortune
to give his children the education
he had lacked due to hardship:
on reaching puberty,
he shipped each one abroad
to learn a language and a profession
and thus assure on their return
continued growth
for such vast family holdings.
And off they all went –
five sons and even one daughter
to New York, London, Paris, Rome
Madrid, Berlin and Zurich.

My well-meaning,
albeit provincial grandfather,
didn’t heed the old refrain:
“the path to hell is paved
with good intentions”.
His plans were doomed
to boomerang
with tragic results
for the entire clan:
upon returning home
from years in such
progressive, cultured
and sophisticated cities,
his heirs were shocked
by the backward, depressing
atmosphere of  a Bogotá
isolated from the world
perched on its Andean hovel,
and became victims
of what Freud called
“environmental castration.”

One by one, the sons turned
into misfits, rebels, outcasts,
each embracing a favorite vice –
alcohol, gambling, loose women –
and my father Benito,
adding bad politics
to his penchant for la dolce vita,
while daughter Carmen
escaped reality opening the first
Montessori School in town,

Upon demise of the family patriarch,
followed soon by the matriarch,
their heirs were crazy enough
to liquidate all assets
of Zalamea Hermanos
and divide the loot among them.
Thereafter the roller coaster
took a steep, unending dive:
three of them declined into
abject poverty,
one shot his brains out
due to gambling debts,
only Carmen kept her share
hidden in her trail school.
My father survived thanks
to his knowledge of finance
and political connections
as a senior officer
at the Government Central Bank,
and our home enjoyed
the relative security
of what could be called
“genteel upper middle class”.

From my childhood
I clearly remember
two mementoes
of the family’s opulence:
Mother’s Sevres banquet set,
and its only remaining piece
that inspired this poem,
and a pair of sewing scissors
engraved
“A gift from Zalamea Hermanos”
that somehow ended up
among minor mementoes.

To close on a festive note
fifty years later
in Miami, I told this story on
a panel TV interview about
“From richness to rags.”
When a jerk from the audience
asked what I had done
with the scissors
I quipped with a typical
Bogotano one-liner:
“I hocked them.”

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Being both poet and novelist, I’ve used opportunities to combine the two genres and sustain valid reasons for doing so. While critics generally praise novelists for using poetic prose and images in creating mood and describing scenery, purists are not as lenient when it comes to poets who dovetail verse with prose. Among them happens to be Pilar, who has frequently blown the whistle when I tend to do so. Not to mention Argentine poet Juan Gelman when he strongly warns that a poet should avoid narrating.  Opposing this position, Chile’s Nicanor Parra espouses anti-poetry with its high content of prosaic and narrative facets.

To get away from these current controversies, I suggest we look at the big picture. Ever since 100 years ago Rimbaud liberated poetry from its millenary canons, the genre has become freer and freer, less constrained by meter, rhythm and rhyme.  Just take a look at  an anthology of contemporary 21st  Century poes and you’ll know what I mean.

This leads me back to a quotation by the late Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro I used recently in this blog: “The poet is a minor god.” So let’s act like gods and keep un-chaining from any restraints. It is in this spirit I have written “An Enduring Heirloom”
with no apologies for its share of prosaic narration.

Luis Zalamea
(From the series Poems after 90)
An Enduring Heirloom

Down in the “writing bunker”,
where I spend hours
isolated from the world,
atop a display of mementoes
is the sole enduring
heirloom of the Zalamea clan’s
fall from wealth and power
in  19h Century Colombia:
it is the only platter left from
my mother Margarita’s
large banquet table set,
made of fine Limoges porcelain,
ten inches in diameter,
sharp edges of burnt gold,
an elegant monogram
embracing the M of her name
with the Z of father’s lineage,
to anchor a chain
of luminescent pink, white,
and purple wild flowers:
a vision of\placid nostalgia.

Time being
an unforgiving and relentless god,
this immovable object
has witnessed the gripping
saga of  Zalameas
as three generations journeyed
from poverty to opulence
and back to indigence.
Their story begins in Bogotá
in mid-l9th Century,
when my paternal grandfather
Angel Maria and his childhood
sweetheart and future wife Nieves,
both born to poor but honest folk,
started saving pennies under
a brick in her hovel of a home,
a stake that over the next
three decades,
driven by  his born business sense
(probably from distant Arab blood)
and her tenacity and discipline
of a woman raised in adversity,
had grown into an emporium
of hardware stores, dairy
and cattle farms,
even a steam-run printing press,
all under the respected
aegis of Zalamea Hermanos.

A kind-hearted, God-fearing man,
Angel Maria applied his fortune
to give his children the education
he had lacked due to hardship:
on reaching puberty,
he shipped each one abroad
to learn a language and a profession
and thus assure on their return
continued growth
for such vast family holdings.
And off they all went –
five sons and even one daughter –

to New York, London, Paris, Rome
Madrid, Berlin and Zurich.

My well-meaning,
albeit provincial grandfather,
didn’t heed the old refrain:
“the path to hell is paved
with good intentions”.
His plans were doomed
to boomerang
with tragic results
for the entire clan:
uon returning home
from years in such
progressive, cultured
and sophisticated cities,
his heirs were shocked
by the backward, depressing
atmosphere of  a Bogotá
isolated from the world
perched on its Andean hovel,
and became victims
of what Freud called
“environmental castration.”

One by one, the sons turned
into misfits, rebels, outcasts,
each embracing a favorite vice –
alcohol, gambling, loose women –
and my father Benito,
adding bad politics
to his penchant for la dolce vita,
while daughter Cermen
escaped reality opening the first
Montessori School in town,

Upon demise of the family patriarch,
followed soon by the matriarch,
their heirs were crazy enough
to liquidate all assets
of Zalamea Hermanos
and divide the loot among them.
Thereafter the roller coaster
took a steep, unending dive:
three of them declined into
abject poverty,
one shot his brains out
due to gambling debts,
only Carmen kept her share
hidden in her trail school.
My father survived thanks
to his knowledge of finance
and political connections
as a senior officer
at the Government Central Bank,
and our home enjoyed
the relative security
of what could be called
“genteel upper middle class”.

From my childhood
I clearly remember
two mementoes
of the family’s opulence:
Mother’s Sevres banquet set,
and its only remaining piece
that inspired this poem,
and a pair of sewing scissors
engraved
“A gift from Zalamea Hermanos”
that somehow ended up
among minor mementoes.

To close on a festive note
fifty years later
in Miami, I told this story on
a panel TV interview about
“From richness to rags.”
When a jerk from the audience
asked what I had done
with the scissors
I quipped with a typical
Bogotano one-liner:
“I hocked them.”

December 13, 2011

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Leave it to my dad to find wonderful insights to great poets!  Thank goodness that he is doing some serious work, as I seem lost in adjusting to my new environs and not actively writing as of yet!  It is timely that dad mention the great poet, Pablo Neruda – who I just heard on PBS will have his untimely death investigated by the Chilean govt. – so many years after the fact – it has long been speculated that he was murdered by the Chilean military – interesting…….more to follow!

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A principios de diciembre, España otorgó el Premio Cervantes dotado con 25.000 Euros a Nicanor Parra, que hoy tiene 97 años y sigue siendo un modelo para los jóvenes con la iconoclasta poética que ha creado en los últimos 60 años Nacido en una aldea del sur de Chile, de padres campesinos y una tribu de hermanos, su prodigioso talento natural le ganó becas para estudios de post-grado de matemáticas y física, campos en que luego se destacó profesionalmente, y disciplinas que, según él, desembocaron en su antipoesía sui generis. Dice: “Siempre fui competitivo. Me estimulaban los desafíos” Así pasó y sigue pasando con su antipoesía. Su  obra es extensa y difundida en el mundo entero, y el Cervantes no es el primer premio importante que le otorgan. Actualmente vive en Las Cruces, a 200 kilómetros  de Santiago,  en una casa sencilla colmada de libros, así como de dibujos y otros objetos de arte hechos por él. Y además tiene un ventanal que enmarca la vista del ilimite Pacífico. A propósito del Cervantes, en Twitter miles de de lectores, admiradores y amigos lo felicitaron por su triunfo, entre ellos el presidente de Chile Sebastián Piñera. Y en la Feria del Libro en Guadalajara (México) un nutrido grupo de escritores brindaron por Nicanor con tequila de abolengo.

Permítanme una breve disquisición acerca de tres  países latinoamericanos que han generado grandes poetas: Nicaragua, Colombia y desde luego Chile.¿Será debido a misteriosas energías telúricas de sus montañas agrestes coronadas de volcanes activos? Chile es el ejemplo más  dramático: produjo a Pablo Neruda, poeta de dimensiones cósmicas y una una pléyade de poetas mayores, entre ellos Gabriela Mistral, Vicente Huidobro, Gonzalo Rojas y Pablo de Rokha. Y  como caso sin precedente, a Nicanor Parra. padre de la antipoesía.

Para cerrar, parafraseando a Shakespeare, interpreto la atipoesia de Nicanor Parra  como una rítmica fábula cantada por un juglar, llena de música e ironia, y que significa que los poetas vivimos para escribir y no escribir para vivir’.

Dos joyitas de Nicanor Parra

EPITAFIO

De estatura mediana,
Con una voz ni delgada ni gruesa,
Hijo primario de un profesor primario
Y una modista de trastienda,
Flaco de nacimiento,
Aunque devoto de la buena mesa,
De mejillas escuálidas,
Y de más bien abundantes orejas,
Con un rostro cuadrado
En que los ojos se abren apenas
Y una nariz de boxeador mulato
Baja a la boca de ídolo azteca
— Todo esto bañado
Por una luz entre irónica y pérfida –
Ni muy listo ni tonto de remate
Fui lo que fui: una mezcla’
De vinagre  y aceite de comer,
¡Un embutido de ángel y bestia!

(De “Poemas y antipoemas” , 1954)

LA MONTAñA RUSA

Durante medio siglo la poesía fue
El refugio del tonto solemne
Hasta que vine yo
Y me instalé con mi montaña rusa.
Suban si les parece.
Claro que no respondo si bajan
echando sangre por boca y narices.

(De “Versos de salón” (1962)

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