A familial curse: On home, place, poetry, and shadows

Yesterday, I had a reading with Michael McLaughlin with Poetry Flash at Diesel Bookstore in Oakland.  In preparation for the event, Joyce Jenkins requested copies of my book, sombra : (dis)locate for Richard Silberg to read.  He was going to introduce Michael and me and always reads the books in question before doing so.

Side note:  what a beautiful gift that is as an organizer and a great example of community.  It’s a practice I should adopt.  

I sent Joyce the manuscript PDF in question and also a copy of profeta without refuge (2016), the new chapbook from Nomadic Press.

After a brief conversation about the book and the use of the marginalia as resistant and resilient voice throughout sombra : (dis)locate, Richard asked me a question that no one has ever asked me before:  Why are the Leóns being cursed in that first poem?  I answered that the curse is weakening sight in all Leóns and those that marry Leóns.  The story is that one may have perfect eyesight before marriage to one in my family, but afterwards, within the first year, one gets glasses.  Richard asked me why this curse?

In talking to Matteo my husband later, I thought, the reason may be around my imagining of the power of dislocation and this may be why it was pressing to have this poem start the book.  In the few pictures that remain of my family in Puerto Rico, those who never left or persisted in our homeland when my grandparents left, no one wore glasses.  It may have been because of inaccessibility and poverty, but what if the reason was different?  What if the spirits within the land of Puerto Rico, Borikén, claimed those within it, that it blessed those lucky enough to be born on its shores with a vision of an otherworldly paradise just beneath the sheen of what was already divinely beautiful?  What if, those spirits offered this gift to those who were born, and lived and died there on that island earth but ripped that vision away and more of those who leave?  The story is that the coquí cannot sing off the island, though it may live wherever it is taken.  That same coquí, returned to the island, will sing again.  What if, for a family, and those generations apart from the sand, there is, not a song, rather a sight, that is lost?  That’s what I posit in this poem.

most recent vessel       (i never trust)              stilled-pool brujería (what i see in blur)  no future gazing   sino que al punto (i catch myself wearing you)   ahorita in contours   textures in (twining) even (then i cannot depend upon sight)   my disappearance   (the melding)   and returning renewed. i mourn   buried bluster wind  (i do not know which)   la arena empaña este cuerpo  (offering) rough care  (a life of)  i char (deep down) beneath sun massacre  (a wonder)  then drown in blood kelp   (new sea glass glitters)  barracuda teeth (tumble without you)   sharpness (color pulse pinpoints)  acá el espacio me controla (woven greens gather         spread    dissemble-retreat)      bruma-bruja    (murk above)  quieres el mar   toma   (iris the field  clouds tipping scar   this sight)   
 The poem also reveals a relationship between the blind woman and the land.  It comes from a personal story.  

In January 2014, I went to Vieques to do some writing.  I stayed with an old beau, but things got a little too weird and I decided to strike out on my own, stay at a hostel for the last few days, and spend my time writing, breathing, taking in the beach, and talking to as few people as possible.  An introvert’s dream.  

On one of those first independent days, I put on my little bikini and walked down to the beach.  I found a small inlet of sand that could belong totally to me.  I was slightly nervous being all alone on the beach, so found myself reclining on the sand a while, reading a book.  Eventually, though, the perfect turquoise waters in their leisurely lap enchanted me out.  I had taken my regular glasses and sunglasses with me, but left the regular pair on the sand.  I needed my prescription sunglasses more.  I waded out in the warm waters, floated a bit, mostly just to totally wet my hair and heal my body.  The mosquitoes had made my body a field of red hills.  My blood is terribly sweet and its scent seems to attract biters for miles.  Salt water has always been my favorite healing.  I stayed in the water a long while.  

Because I had been mostly writing for two weeks with very little time out in the sun, when I left the hotel, I was still the color of teak or earthy clay.  After just my little time at the beach, my skin seemed more like almond, made more sheen with copper tones.  My bug bites had shrunken a bit, but with the scratchiness of the sand, it was time for me to go back in, take a shower, take a nap, and get ready for an evening of writing.  I gathered my things and headed back to the hotel.  Midway, I realized that I had forgotten my regular glasses, most likely tossed them off when I had shaken out my sarong/beach blanket/dress.  I went back, but by then, the tide had come in just enough to be lapping over where I had lain just a few minutes before.  I scoured the sand and the waters but I never found my glasses.  

At first, it was ok.  I had my prescription sunglasses to wear.  I could still see, though all was tinted in brown.  I made it through the day without any major problems, taking off my glasses to read.  I’m nearsighted after all.  My view of the waters and the clear sunny day was either impressionistic and vibrant or sharp and sepia tones.  I was either present and askew or past and perfect in sight.  
It was at night that it all became dangerous.  I could see well enough in a restaurant or bar with the lights on while wearing my sunglasses, but I couldn’t walk down the road.  There were no streetlights where I stayed and without that light, I couldn’t see at all while wearing the glasses.  I also couldn’t see without them.  I worried that I would be hit by a speeding car, driven by a drunk driver – everyone I met seemed to drive with one hand on the wheel and another on a beer – and no one would know my name.  I would bleed in sand and gravel.  I have an active imagination, but it kept me from going far away.  I didn’t trust my memory to guide me in my blindness.

In thinking about what the maldición was it may be that leaving Puerto Rico my people lost a rippling sight of home and paradise; returning to Isla Nena, Vieques, the little sister of the main island, I was even more deeply gifted with a troubled sight.  What would it be to return to Puerto Rico, the island where my grandfather left and returned only in death?  The island where my grandmother left, returned many times (primarily to witness death), but whose body is buried in Philadelphia, far from her island origin.  The poem says, for me, that one cannot return “home”; rather, that I struggle to carry a home within and find home in place, in memory, and in relationship with various communities.  sombra, the shadow, is not fixed to my body, not fixed by sun; it has its own daring life!

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