I, too, Am America

Langston Hughes poetry writing

“Langston Hughes, although only twenty-four years old, is already conspicuous in the group of Negro intellectuals who are dignifying Harlem with a genuine art life. . . .”wrote author Du Bose Heyward in the New York Herald Tribune in 1926. Despite such praise, Hughes was derided by his fellow black writers of the time for allowing race to be a main character in many of his works.

The Poetry Foundation’s site has a terrific summary of Hughes’s historical relevance. In closing, the article quotes from Donald B. Gibson’ s book, Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essay“During the twenties when most American poets were turning inward, writing obscure and esoteric poetry to an ever decreasing audience of readers, Hughes was turning outward, using language and themes, attitudes and ideas familiar to anyone who had the ability simply to read.”

It seems, then, that anyone writing poetry today has much to learn from Langston Hughes.

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.

 

This post was originally published in Zeteo Journal’s Zeteo is Reading section.

Transgender in the Air

gender sex transgender

 

A few weeks ago, I finished Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “Middlesex.” For those who haven’t read it, it’s about a hermaphrodite named Calliope, then Cal.

The book’s merits have been sung far and wide, so I won’t repeat them here. I did want to share a passage from the novel that I loved though.

 

Facticity

Two sections are highlighted above. The first stuck me because of the phrase “the facticity of my body.” Granted the speaker is a hermaphrodite, so facticity here matters a lot. But, each of us has a certain facticity to our bodies that nevertheless determines a great deal about who we are.

My husband insists that had he been born taller, with a better nose and a better name he would not have done as well in life. Without the challenge of his height, his nose and his name, he wouldn’t have cultured the tenacity that today gets him what he wants.

Plus, “facticity” is just a great word to have around.

 

From Brain to Mind

The second section that is marked does a great job of summarizing the nature vs. nurture debate. Since science proved that we humans are not as genetically fabulous as we had once thought, the notion of self-determination is “making a come-back,” as Eugenides puts it. Something must account for our apparent superiority within the animal kingdom. So if genetics can’t explain it, then what?

That question is a very personal one. One that is linked to heavy words such as “god,” “history,” “evolution.”

But, on a daily basis, the question of who we are is also linked to gender. By no means does gender make humans remarkable, but it plays a role in how we go about being remarkable in our individual ways.

 

Middlesex Eugenides Book

Gender on the Mind

Gender has been popping up in my reading lately, unintentionally so. A philosophy course I took recently addressed the question of gender as an opportunity for self-expression. The piece I wrote about it lives here.

Then I came across this video about an amazing woman who accepted her six-year-old boy as the girl her son insisted she was. And this article about a highly trained woman in the Army who allowed herself to be mistaken for the man she felt she was. As a result, the Army kicked this woman out.

Finally, I finished Eugenides’ book, which I’d been reading slowly over several months.

After all this reading, there is no question in my mind that gender is imposed. Normally, girls identify with being girls, and boys with boys. But this is not always the case and it isn’t always absolutely true.

 

Tomgirl

For example, there are “girlish” practices I’ve incorporated into my routine because I was born a girl. High heels, for one. I can recognize the fun in make-up, but unless I am confronted with it, the thought never crosses my mind. I have to make a conscious and constant effort to sit with my knees together. Nothing I envy more than the emotional practicality linked to many a guy.

Nevertheless, I am fully a woman. Maternal in a universal sense, but not in a feel-happiest-when-I-am-pregnant one.

What’s more is that many people feel this way about one thing or another linked to their gender. They are absolutely girl or boy, but certain things supposedly linked to being girl or boy remain foreign. So why is accepting and respecting some people’s choice to switch genders such a big deal?

If a man wants to walk around in heels, he should be able to. Yes, as uncomfortable as they are, they can also be damn pretty.

Recital

Recital

I can’t get over the week I spent in a tiny Colombian town for the 30th Annual Encounter of Women Poets. It was a week of many firsts for me. But, the biggest one was reciting my poems for the first time.

I could not have asked for a better place to do so. The encounter is different from most poetry and literature festivals in that absolutely any woman can get up on stage and recite her poems.  You don’t have to be published. You don’t need a degree in literature. You don’t have to be pre-approved by a stern committee. No. Any woman who writes any type of poetry can share her work on stage.

Of course, this means all sorts of poems are read. Many to the moon. But seeing an eighty year old woman recite a poem about desire made all of it worth it.

Above is a picture of me reciting for the first time. I was terribly nervous. But when it was done, I learned a very important thing: nothing shattering happened. There is no before or after. There is just another moment to remember. One I plan on repeating.

It Existed


mark strandThis post was written from Roldanillo, Colombia, a tiny town toward the west of the country.  I was there all week attending the Colombian Women Poets Festival for the first time ever.

So I had time for a quick post featuring U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand, taken a few months ago in a páramo, a cloud forest located at more than 3,000 meters above sea level. Few nations in the world possess these natural wonders, which are rich sources of water, so Colombia is lucky to be among the countries on the planet with the most páramos.

 

Once Upon a Cold November Morning

 

I left the sunlit fields of my daily life and went down in the

hollow mountain, and I discovered, in all its chilly glory,

the glass castle of my other life. I could see right through it,

and beyond, but what could I do with it? It was perfect, irre-

ducible, and worthless except for the fact that it existed.

“The Napkin Trick” in Dagda Publishing

 

It’s been done before:

The inten­tion of con­ver­sa­tion
starts and ends with a slow walk
around a famil­iar, short block –
the light purse or empty pocket.

(Tonight
after all
should only call for some cash.)

A set of doors is cho­sen
but not broached,

and reluc­tance comes as a reminder

of iso­lated drinks
where music from cars
(cir­cling the block in search of a park­ing spot)
is for­got­ten
on the front and back
of a red paper napkin.

 

 

This poem was originally published in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, but I am reposting it as Uk-based Dagda Publishing published it yesterday. Thanks, Dagda!

A Week with Colombia’s Women Poets

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I am in the small Colombian town of Roldanillo for the 30th Annual Meeting of Colombian Women Poets, held at The Rayo Museum (above).

I will be here all week, the longest I spend alone in such a small town.

Below is my official badge, which features an emblematic work by Omar Rayo, one of Colombia’s most important artists and the founder of the museum.

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Apart from hosting over 100 poets, The Rayo Museum is also presenting two exhibits by two of Colombia’s foremost women artists: Deborah Arango and Beatriz Gonzalez. Below is a work by Gonzalez I loved.

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And, finally, below are two photos from the streets that corner my small, tidy hotel.

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