Ali knows everything

It is 12:26 am, 13 July 2012, and I actually had to look at a calendar to figure that out.

CantoMundo at the University of Texas, Austin.

I came here anxious. Would I fit in? I speak Spanish, pretty fluently in fact, but still, I wondered if I would fit in. I am Black and Puerto Rican. What does this mean to others? Would I find myself standing outside of conversations, too much this and not enough that? As the opening circle began, I wondered to myself, “Is the Latinidad force strong with you?” And yes, that is a Star Wars reference. When the Star Wars references come from a Trekkie, one should assume that the world is a bit askew. I tried to explain this to Aracelis, who is on faculty here at CantoMundo this year. She inquired as to what I meant, feeling anxious and trying to figure out how I would fit in this space. I want to spend some real time sitting with her while I am here. I have missed her over the years.

Where have I been? It feels like there is this huge blank space where my relationships in poetry should have been. I was living in Germany, traveling and teaching, teaching and traveling. It was generally a solitary road. There are stories that I should have written, that I only have in my head. I was not good at nurturing my friendships or poetry over the distance.

Where have I been? Where will I go?

Here at CantoMundo I seem to be one of the oldest among the first year participants, and I am only 31. What does this say about the shifts happening/about to happen in Latino poetry? What does this say about my own relevance in time? Am I as much on the way out as I am on the way in?

I want to write a poem about Ali, the taxi driver this morning in Philadelphia. Ali knew everything about poetry. He told me that he had never had a poet in his cab. Artists, sculptors, musicians, they had come and gone, but never a poet, and I wondered aloud where the muse had gone that no poets had come to his cab. In Pakistan, he told me, everyone is a poet. He shared name after name, story after story. He spoke of the differences in language and how language could convey sentiment and respect in even its simplest words. I left the cab eager to know more. I left him with only my first name.

Ali knew everything about poetry and identity, art that blends into the mundane, that is extraordinary within the mundane.

Where have I been? Where will I go?

Today, in the opening circle, there are many who spoke about the power of storytelling, the personal story and the story of witness. This is the first place where I have felt that it would be as applauded to write of crickets on a hot summer’s night as it would be to write a story from my childhood. My identity would not be wrapped up entirely in my latinidad or language(s). I could have more than the familial or the cultural as political.

I find myself often chafing at feeling that there is this expectation from some that I will write about Blackness or being Latina or being a woman. I am more than just this skin, my cultures, my families, my sex. What is this hesitancy that I sometimes feel when I talk about my time in Ireland and my view of the housing crisis there (ghost estate)? Why must I always explain where I am? I find myself continually asking questions.

Where have I been? Physically, I can answer this question. I can rattle off the list of countries, states, cities, streets, neighborhoods. The journeys I have taken in love, in philosophies, in so many other areas are harder to parse out. Where will I go? I am still figuring this out. For now, I am at Canto Mundo, writing, reading, and writing more.


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