Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Poetic Thursday, Bilingual Sestina

I chose Bilingual Sestina by Julia Alvarez, from her book The Other Side/El Otro Lado. Julia Alvarez is truly one of my muses. The first time I read her book Yo!, I felt an electric current of recognition. The question mark I always carried within me, "Can I actually be a writer?" became an affirmation, "I can become a writer." I'd always been hesitant, discounted the experiences which formed me, devalued the sounds and swagger and accents that surrounded me as common, jagged. But her writing showed me that literature could live in the streets I walked everyday; that my life and my parents' lives could smooth into something beautiful.

I love that this poem melds a very traditionally English poetic form with the rhythms and the languages she loves.

(Alas, I don't know how to replicate the accents and the like in Blogger).

Bilingual Sestina

Some things I have to say ain’t getting said
in this snowy, blond, blue-eyed, gum-chewing English
dawn’s early light sifting through persianas closed
the night before by dark-skinned girls whose words
evoke cama, aposento, suenos in nombres
from that first world I can’t translate from Spanish.

Gladys, Rosario, Altagracia—the sounds of Spanish
wash over me like warm island waters as I say
your soothing names: a child again learning the nombres
of things you point to in the world before English
turned sol, tierra, cielo, luna to vocabulary words—
sun, earth, sky, moon. Language closed

like the touch-sensitive morivivi whose leaves closed
when we kids poked them, astonished. Even Spanish
failed us back then when we saw how frail a word is
when faced with the thing it names. How saying
its name won’t always summon up in Spanish or English
the full blown genie from the bottled nombre.

Gladys, I summon you back by saying your nombre.
Open up again the house of slatted windows closed
since childhood, where palabras left behind for English
stand dusty and awkward in neglected Spanish.
Rosario, muse of el patio, sing to me and through me say
that world again, begin first with those first words

you put in my mouth as you pointed to the world—
not Adam, not God, but a country girl numbering
the stars, the blades of grass, warming the sun by saying,
Que calor! As you opened up the morning closed
inside the night until you sang in Spanish,
estas son las mananitas, and listening in bed, no English

yet in my head to confuse me with translations, no English
doubling the world with synonyms, no dizzying array of words
--the world was simple and intact in Spanish—
luna, sol, casa, luz, flor, as if the nombres
were the outer skin of things, as if the words were so close
one left a mist of breath on things by saying

their names, an intimacy I now yearn for in English—
words so close to what I mean that I almost hear my Spanish
heart beating, beating inside what I say en ingles.



Anonymous Jennifer said...

You've probably read Cisneros and The House on Mango Street, but in case you haven't, it's one of my fav. books... I haven't read Alvarez but keep meaning to. Maybe I'll pick one of her books up today. Thank you for the post and poem, by the way.

I remember being drawn to the story about how Cisneros ended up writing The House on Mango Street in the first you know it? It has to do with identity, writing what you know and how you know it...

10:51 AM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger Cate said...

There is no way I can describe to you how grateful I am to you for sharing this! I love Julia Alvarez, esp. the book "Yo!" She is such a gifted writer.

P.S. I thought that I read in Megg's comments that you want to be able to call yourself a writer. Let me just say: you ARE a writer! You entertain us, inspire us, confide in us, and give us glimpses into your world. If that's not a writer (and a damn good one), I don't know what is!

11:22 AM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger liz elayne said...

I have read this poem aloud today with fierce joy in my voice. I love this. I want to read it over and over again.

Thank you for introducing me to Julia Alvarez. I have added her to my list of books to check out at the library.

2:06 PM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger la vie en rose said...

so, so beautiful! i've read how the garica girl lost their accents and loved it. i'm familiar with some of her poetry but this one was new to me. i love it!

4:43 PM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger Letha Sandison said...

Let me gush right back at you....this was amazing!! I have not heard of her before, I am ashamed to admit!! I think i will go to the book store tomorrow and pick up some of her work.

Thanks for always being so inspiring!!

10:40 PM, March 16, 2006  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

I love Alvarez, but had never heard her poetry before. This is gorgeous. And it conjured up for me a twinge of regret that good intentions aside, we never did learn Spanish while living in the Caribbean. But oh how we loved listening to the rhythms of the language on the salsa station in Puerto Rico. Some of my best memories from when I first arrived in the islands are of sitting on a stool at the high kitchen table at our first house...with a sweeping eastern view of other islands in the distance...the sticky breeze blowing through the window...and that beautiful language coming through the transistor radio. I understood almost nothing that was being said...but it spoke to me nonetheless.

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog.

12:01 AM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger Bohemian Girl said...

thank you for introducing me.

this is wonderful, riveting, deep, cultural, rich...

11:06 AM, March 17, 2006  
Blogger Yummyteece said...

This was absolutely written to read aloud, and i loved the way the words dripped off my tongue.

Thank you for sharing.

12:11 PM, March 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you all liked this poem. Thanks so much for your comments--I loved sharing her!

4:01 PM, March 20, 2006  
Anonymous mariana said...

Not to be overly nit-picky, but I think you missed the italics for the word "palabras" in stanza 4. I bring this up because your blog post is one of only two places that I could find this poem on the internet and so its especially important to make sure its presented the way she intended.

7:23 PM, December 15, 2007  
Anonymous mariana said...

And I should say thank you also, for posting, since I probably would not have found it otherwise.

7:24 PM, December 15, 2007  

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