Writers and Wannabe’s

Birch tree in winter.When I took my first creative writing class, at a community college, back in 1980, the class wasn’t crowded. We were a tiny group, less than a dozen, that returned each semester. But after a couple of years, it got bigger. One semester bam! it was packed.

Since I was kid, I’d written stories and poems, but just for myself. I knew I wasn’t a “real” writer, but I wanted to be. When I saw Jack Kerouac read from On The Road on the Steve Allen Show, I knew I wanted to grow up to be a writer. A writer like that, like him. Awesome.

I didn’t know who Kerouac was. In my home, no one knew much about anything. My mom, like anyone else, knew entertainment celebrities, of course, but she wouldn’t know a literary figure. Or even give a shit. Ever.

Hearing Kerouac read, I was mesmerized. I fell in love. Possibly with Kerouac (I was 9), certainly with the idea of writing like that. I felt he had some grand and deep understanding. I hoped when I grew up, I would too.

I forgot about Kerouac and On The Road. Not about my desire to write, just my seeing and hearing Kerouac read. Until decades later when I see him in a film clip. That jarred my memory. My god! I thought. I remember seeing this! Oh. my. god. It was Kerouac!

Kerouac’s name came up in my creative writing class. My teacher wasn’t impressed with him, but some students were. He was long gone from my memory. At least, on the surface. I wanted to know who this Kerouac was. I bought On The Road at a used book store. I read it and loved it. (I also love Big Sur. In a Kerouac documentary, Ferlinghetti says Big Sur is garbage. I don’t agree. It’s sad, though, because in Big Sur Kerouac is deteriorating physically and mentally. Booze got a grip on him; fame suffocated him.)

At the community college, a lot of folks didn’t think much of creative writing, as if creative writing were inconsequential. But I, and my creative writing classmates, loved it; we loved our class, our instructor, and our time together. For me, it meant everything.

The instructor didn’t expect much of anyone. He thought most people had more enthusiasm and ego than potential or talent. (He told me this.) But he was a good teacher. He didn’t discourage anyone. I learned a lot from him. But I still had a long way to go. (I’m still learning. I always will.)

I met Freddie the Freeloader at Cal. He’d won an Eisner. I asked if he’d give me advice. At first he refused, but he finally acquiesced. I showed him the piece of shit prose I wrote. I knew it wasn’t good, but that’s why I asked him for advice. His attitude was shitty, arrogant, his tone pejorative. “This is passive,” he said, sweeping the back of his hand down the page, glaring at me as if I’d committed some horrific faux pas. He may as well have said, “This is passive, you asshole.” I was embarrassed. I felt humiliated. Geezus, he didn’t have to make me feel like a worthless piece of shit. Notwithstanding that, it was an invaluable clue. Thanks, asshole. I’m truly fucking grateful.

At the community college anyone could take a writing class. But at Cal you had to submit samples of your writing. Not everyone made it in. I was talking to an instructor, and a student who didn’t make the list came in to ask if he’d reconsider. When the instructor refused, the student argued his case. The instructor wouldn’t budge. Finally, the guy drops to his knees and begs, hands clasped in supplication, whimpering. “Please, please, oh, please. I swear, I’ll show you I can write. I can do better. I swear.” The instructor was taken aback. So was I. I was embarrassed for the guy. And amused. I smile to recall it. :D

“All right, all right. Get up.” the instructor finally said. After the guy left, the instructor says to me, “He’s a terrible writer. He’s not going to get any better. I don’t believe that for a minute. But he wasn’t going to let up until I let him in. You saw him.” He shook his head then he slapped the air and goes, “Ah,” thoroughly disgusted.

I wonder if the fool is still writing. I wonder if he got an MFA. I wonder if he’s published. I wonder if he teaches. I hardly remember what he looked like. But I clearly remember his arrogance and his terrible writing. He believed he was a good writer. It isn’t impossible he might’ve improved. With time. With practice. Lots of it. If he were open to criticism. I doubt it. But even a lousy writer can get an MFA.

A professor at Cal told me they didn’t offer an MFA (back then). From her tone and attitude, I could tell MFA’s weren’t thought of as highly as MA’s. Years after I graduated, I learned they now offer an MFA. I know an excellent writer who got his MFA there. (I think he’s brilliant.) I wonder if the English department still considers an MFA inferior to an MA. I’m not in academia, so I wouldn’t know. It wouldn’t surprise me. But MFA’s generate revenue. That’s the bottom line.

As a grad student at San Francisco State, I didn’t take creative writing. I was still writing poetry. But I’d had it with creative writing classes. I hated the last class I took at Cal. It was the ONLY creative writing class I ever hated. The issue was the guest instructor. I’m not going to expound on that. Suffice it to say, I never wanted another creative writing class. Ever.

I’ve read about the proliferation of MFA programs around the country, and an increase in people interested in creative writing. I have noticed that everywhere so many people are interested in writing. There are writing workshops at art centers, cultural centers, health centers, senior centers, youth centers, community centers. There are writers (or wannabe’s) who meet to share, encourage, practice, critique. I’ve heard of a Meet-Up group who play “writing games” for “creative exercise”. (Good lord.) Everyone and their mother wants to write. I’ve read articles arguing for and against MFA’s and creative writing classes. Here’s a quote from one particular article:

The love-hate relationship between creative writing MFA programs and writers has not changed much since Kurt Vonnegut was playfully piqued by the emerging phenomenon of writing programs in the 1960s. He liked the attention and money, but doubted that writing fiction could be taught. 

Last year, N+1 Magazine persuasively schematized the path to publishing a novel as either ‘live in New York’ or ‘get an MFA’ and argued that, despite the cost in tuition and a powerful place in the publishing ecosystem, MFA programs have little effect on the quality of writing a student produces.

I think this increased interest in writing is narcissistic delusion more than anything else. A desire for fame, recognition, attention, applause. That’s my opinion. Literature is art. Talent is innate. Not everyone has it. Not everyone is a Raymond Carver, or a Robert Boswell. Shit. I half regret I didn’t major in creative writing. But I still write. Struggle with it. Alone. For myself first. Art is my pursuit. If I have talent, I’d like to be published. If not, well then, fuck me. Shit, I hope I’m not a wannabe.

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You Make Me Sick – a poem

Graphic of blue sky, yellow sun, pink clouds, and a flying bird.

Graphic by Estela.

You Make Me Sick

Now that you’re gone,
I feel free of fear.

I can relax.

It’s fabulous,
like easing down
into a luxurious
bubble bath.

My shoulders
fall back into place.

This is how it feels
to be safe.

A smile crosses my face.

I feel light as a finch.
The sky is a gorgeous blue.
I love living
without you.

You fucking bully.
You piece of shit.
You didn’t think I’d do it.

I may not know much,
but I truly know you.

Your civil face is bogus,
you vicious brute.
You crave a needy bitch

to feed your famished ego.

Fuck off, jack.
You make me sick.

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Strange Night – a poem

Graphic of yellow stars and a yellow half moon against a violet sky.

Graphic by Estela.

Strange Night

It’s a starry night.
I dream I sleep
on a bed of straw.
Crows fly across a yellow field,
headed toward me.

The chair
in my room
is empty.

I saw you
sit there
in my dream.

Van Gogh's Starry Night

Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

The stars
look distorted,
blurred yellow orbs
vibrating in the violet sky.

I’m so mad,
I could cut off my ear.

I wish you were here.
But you’re a crazy cat.
I can’t have that.

Leaving you feels
like a self-inflicted wound,

like a bullet in my belly.

It’s a strange night.
The brilliant yellow moon
looks beautiful,
but a bit disturbed.

Convergence painting by Pollock.

Pollock’s Convergence.

You were like paint
splattered on canvas:
dynamic, intense,
unique, difficult
to decipher,

but definitely real.

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Christmas is Hell

This year, Christmas went all right. I envy people who get excited, people who say it’s their

Santa Homer Christmas display.

Photo by Estela.

favorite time of year. It isn’t my favorite time at all. It’s the worst. Every year, I brace myself, starting on November 1st. But, all in all, this one was as positive as it could be, given the particular circumstances of my life. But I’m not going to elaborate on that. Suffice it to say, for me, the Christmas season is Hell.

But I had a lovely Christmas morning. I walked into the living room, after I showered and dressed, and I sat down on the couch to change from slippers to shoes. I placed my foot over my knee to tie the shoelace, and I saw something wrapped in a Safeway paper bag next to the tv. I smiled. I said, “Is that a gift for me? You bought me a gift?”

“Yeah,” my son says.

I chuckled and said, “Wrapped in a paper bag?”

“Yeah. I didn’t get a chance to buy gift wrap,” he said, apologetically.

“I know. That’s all right.” I said. “Thank you. That was really nice of you. I’m sorry I didn’t buy any gifts. I’m just not good at that. I wanted to , but I was at a loss.” He nodded, like he understood. I hope he really does understand. But I had made fudge, and I made tamales. I baked a batch of cookies on Christmas Day. That was my way of giving–cooking and baking. I actually enjoy baking. Just simple stuff–like cookies, pies, coffee cake, pumpkin bread, zucchini and other such breads. But I’m not fond of cooking. I once was, but I lost the pleasure. (Post Freddie Freeloader. But that’s a story for another day.)

I told my son that I loved the gift–a book of photographs of Patti Smith, by Judy Linn, and Give My Love to London, a Marianne Faithfull CD, my two female rock and roll idols. He said, “I knew you would.” Then I told him I noticed he was making an effort to be mindful, and that to me that was a gift, and I thanked him for it. He took that in for a couple seconds, then responded with a little curmudgeonly joke. That makes me smile. :)

Christmas is stressful. We’re bombarded through media, advertising, crowds, and a palpable energy, both positive and negative. Some people are excited, some are happy, some are sad, some bitter, some grouchy, some frustrated, some worried, some harried. I feel anxiety. Every year, I dread this time of year, but I try to make the best of it. I meditate and pray, daily. I burn sage, sweetgrass, cedar, or copal. I close my eyes, take deep breaths, calm my grief, my anxieties, my regrets, my sense of helplessness and emotional need. Healing is an ongoing process. But I can’t make other people heal. That’s on them. So I have to be strong, courageous, and resilient. I remind myself to have compassion for us all. This year, it was just me and my son. I communicated with one daughter through text and email, but have no way to contact my youngest and my granddaughter. I don’t keep in contact with siblings or mother (who turned 91 a few days before Christmas and lives with my youngest sister). I regret it took me too long to distance myself from them, and I regret that I have to. I am crushed about my youngest daughter, and that I cannot be in touch with my beloved granddaughter.

In a perfect world, I would have my own house, and my children and my granddaughter would all come over. We would all have gifts under a beautiful Christmas tree. Everyone would cook or bake something. We would eat good food, have wine with our meal (well, not the 16 year old granddaughter, she’d have a Hansen’s natural soda). We’d enjoy Christmas treats, and converse happily, and there’d be laughter, and love, and joy; we’d sit near the tree and exchange gifts, and they would love what I got them (I would know what to get). And, hell, this is my fantasy, so let’s throw in a blazing fire in the fireplace, snow outside, because in this fantasy I live in New Mexico, and my children flew in for a few days, and I have a little terrier named Rosie and everyone is enjoying her.

Well, life is what life is. I can only do my best, and let it be.

Joe Cocker passed away. That was sad to hear. I remember the first time I saw him on tv. I thought it might’ve been on the Tom Jones Show, but maybe it was the Smothers Brothers, or, hell, maybe it was Ed Sullivan . It was in the sixties, anyway. Late sixties. I was like, “Man, he’s a great singer. Poor guy. I wonder what’s wrong with him?” There was nothing wrong with him. I felt so square when I learned it was just his style. His bluesy energy literally contorted his body, his arms, his hands, his face. That’s what I call “organic”. R.I.P, Joe Cocker, great blues rock singer.

Box Tops wrote The Letter, and it was great song, but, man, Joe Cocker made it even better. The great Leon Russell played piano. (Before he ended up on social security and lost to the world. After all that work, all those years, all that talent, possessing such genius? God bless Elton John for bringing him back.) I’m breaking my rule of not inserting vids in my blog. Check this out, man. Joe Cocker and Leon Russell. I love how cooly Russell does his magic.

Early this year, Phil Everly passed away. One of the first songs I remember loving was by the Everly Brothers. I was five years old when this song was a hit, and I sang, flat and out of tune:

♥Dree-ee-ee-ee-eem. Dream, dream, dream. When I want you. In my arms. When I want you. And all your charms. Whenever I want you, all I have to do, is dree-ee-ee-ee-eem. Dream, dream, dream.♥

Of course, I didn’t understand the sexual implications. But I sure got that the song was beautiful, and their voices were beautiful. And, sure, when I eventually saw them on tv, I had an innocent crush on his brother, Don. R.I.P Phil Everly.

Poor Won’t-Name-Him. He passed away on Christmas Day. Too bad the last time I saw him, nearly a year ago, he glared at me in a rage. We were acquainted, not really friends. I used to stop and talk with him, when I saw him on 24th Street, sitting outside a cafe with a cup of coffee, and when he’d see me, he’d call me over and I’d sit and have a chat. He was as cynical as I can be, had a dark sense of humor, and we seemed to have the same taste in poetry. After I wrote my love poem Creature, I showed it to him, and he just busted up, guffawed, in fact. I liked that. He even gave me unsolicited advice. He said, “You should change this to ‘come back’, maybe.”

“No,” I said, “it isn’t ‘come back.'” That would’ve changed the poem. She’s saying, “Don’t leave,” but she’s not going to say, “Come back” afterward. That tells me he didn’t understand who I am. Anyway, eventually, he started crossing the line, and I also began to see him as rather delusional. I could put up with his being delusional, but not his crossing the line. I stopped being friendly, stopped talking with him. He didn’t like that. He didn’t like that at all. Anyway, R.I.P., Won’t-Name-Him.

Rain drops on birch tree.

Rain drops on a birch tree. I thought the rain drops looked like tiny lights, or diamonds.

We are all spirits on an Earth Walk. It isn’t easy being human. It’s so very hard.

Rain. Ah, sweet rain. I have been happy to see the rain. It’s been a long drought.





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Life is a Card You Draw

Sample of a Loteria Playing Card which have twenty images on them.

Loteria Playing Card. Played like blackout Bingo, except images are called out, instead of numbers.

When I was, oh, eight or nine, somewhere around there, I played this Mexican game called Lotería. My aunt had brought the game from New Mexico. (Her husband died of cancer, so she moved to California where we lived, where her parents lived.) It’s a game of Life, from Mexican perspective and culture. I don’t know the history of this game, I only know my personal experience with it.

Lotería is played like Bingo, blackout Bingo. But instead of calling out a number, the caller turns a card over from a deck, and calls out the image. The number on the card doesn’t matter. We placed a bean, a raw Pinto bean, to mark the image that was called on our playing card. When someone had a “man” (a bean) on all their images, they called out, “Lotería!

We lived in a small town, north of Sac-of-tomatoes. My mom was the first to move there, with three little kids and another on the way. My dad had cut out. I was four.

My mom’s sisters, brothers, and parents moved there. All except two brothers. We had big family gatherings. There was laughter, lively conversations, memories shared, stories told, gossip, food, drink. My grandparents didn’t drink alcohol, but my uncles drank beer and sometimes took shots of tequila. My grandfather didn’t smoke, but my uncles did, and so did my grandmother. She smoked Lucky Strike, no filter. My mom and my widowed aunt smoked, but never in front of my grandfather. They smoked Winston, filtered. When we were done eating, the guitars came out, and the adults sang Mariachi songs. I liked it when some would break out with, “Ahh, ha, ha, ha hai!” and “Ah who ah!” Ha, something like that. There was so much joy and excitement. It was great. It was especially exciting when my uncle came up from Juarez, and my other uncle from New Mexico. I’m sure those were the best times for my grandparents, when they had all 9 children, sometimes nieces and nephews, and most their grandchildren gathered under one roof. It was always at our house. I had four uncles and five aunts. My mom spoke Spanish, though she understood and spoke some English, but her children were already losing the language. We spoke more English than Spanish. My cousins from Mexico didn’t speak English, my cousins from New Mexico were bilingual. It was the 1950’s.

Things changed. My sister and I talked about this once. She said it was when Grandma died, because she was the center that held us all together. But I think the changes began a couple years before that. They began when my mother remarried. She had gone to New Mexico, and down to Juarez, leaving us in the care of our aunts and uncles. The four of us kids were placed in different households. We weren’t happy about this. When my mom returned, she was married. Out of the fucking blue, she remarries. He was a boyfriend from her teenage days. In retrospect, I know she planned this trip to get married. But we had been kept in the dark about it. I hated him. My mom loved him. A year later, I had a new baby sister. By then my mom had realized the guy was bad news. She told him to get the hell out when the baby was a few months old. Almost immediately after that, my dad comes back into the picture. He’d been roaming the country, hopping boxcars. He had left when I was four, and I saw him again when I was twelve. Grandma died when I was thirteen. That was in 1963. There was less joy, more sorrow, worry, tension, discontent, competition, jealousy, drama.

Image of Mexican woman in a canoe

La Chalupa (The Boat, or Canoe)

Lotería” means “lottery”, so I suppose this game suggests that life is chance, luck of the draw, maybe even a gamble. I never would’ve heard of this game if my aunt hadn’t brought it with her from New Mexico. In those early years, my mom and her brothers and sisters had fun playing it. They laughed and talked, drank coffee, smoked cigarettes, my widowed aunt and my mom sneaking a puff when grandpa left the room or wasn’t looking. Someone would come up with clever or poetic line, and everyone would laugh. Then someone else tried to top it. We kids had fun playing Lotería too. We had our favorite images and got excited when they came up. I liked the game because it was Mexican, and that was kind of a familiar yet “foreign” culture to me. It felt like a cousin. I loved learning about Mexican culture, being reminded of words I still knew, and learning new words. I knew what a mermaid was, but had never known it was una sirena in Spanish. I had never heard the word “chalupa”, which means boat or canoe, or seen anything like this woman in a canoe carting flowers and fruit, dressed in an embroidered “peasant blouse”. I found it, well, exotic.

Loteria card with image of a mermaid.

La Sirena (The Mermaid, or literally, The Siren)

Loteria card with image of El Boracho, or The Drunk.

El Boracho (The Drunk)

I’ve heard that the card El Borracho has been eliminated from newer editions of the game. That’s too bad. I have a dark sense of humor. I love this card because it cracks me up.

As a kid, I stared at this card with morbid fascination and fear. “El Borracho”, the drunk. I knew there were men like this in life. They said my daddy was a borracho.

Indeed, my dad was an alcoholic, but he was more than that. I saw this when he came back into our lives. He was cool, charming, funny, smart, and a work-a-holic when he was sober. He told me stories. I loved hearing stories. I always asked my mom and my widowed aunt to tell me stories. My grandma told me stories about my mom. I asked my dad to tell me stories of his boxcar travels. He loved the song King of the Road (by Roger Miller), he said it was his song. (If you don’t know it, it’s on YouTube. Check it out.) I smile to hear it. That was my dad once. He loved New York, New Orleans, Denver. He saw a lot of cities on his “travels” around the country. In my opinion, he should’ve stayed away from my mom; he might’ve had a chance. But he never figured this out. I only just figured it out myself a few years ago. A whole lot that didn’t make sense then, makes sense to me now. I know more about life, how hard it can be to be human, and I know about narcissistic personality disorder. My dad tried. But he never stood a chance. He was never going to please her. Like I never will. But, unlike my dad, I figured it out. Finally. A lot of years of therapy, psychology books, introspection, and putting pieces together. My troubled and cool dad, with his self-destructive tendencies; my mother, the arrogant, trickster, self-preserving destroyer. What a pair.

Chapbook of poetry titled "For the Hell of it".

My self-published chapbook.

The next time I came across Loteria was in the early 90’s. I hadn’t seen it or heard of it since those days in the 50’s. I lived in Berkeley. My son lived in San Francisco, had moved there when he was a

Game card number fourteen called La Muete.

La Muerte (Death)

student at San Francisco State. One day he came to visit me in Berkeley, and he said, “I have something for you.” It was a T-shirt with an image of a Loteria card–La Muerte. I had never told him about this game. He had no idea that I knew what this image was. I had no idea that he knew about Loteria. Living in the Mission District, he had learned about it.

I painted an image of a woman with La Muerte on her shirt. I used myself as the model, but the painting isn’t me. The painting is meant as a poetic expression, an emotion, and an allusion to indigenous history and connection. But I didn’t make that obvious. Intentionally. It also has an element of dark humor, but I’ve only heard one person make mention of it. She said, “I don’t know what to say about that neck. It’s so…” She seemed unable to find the right words, just went silent. She looked up at me. I nodded. I said, “I know.” We burst out laughing. Then I said, “I wanted to

Loteria card called La Luna.

La Luna (The Moon)

make her look ghoulish.” She said, “Yeah, I can see that. She has a green tinge.” But no one else has ever said anything like that. I used this painting for the cover of my self-published chapbook. Some people have asked me, “What’s the 14 stand for?” It doesn’t mean

Loteria card number thirty-eight called El Apache.

El Apache (An Apache)

anything; it just happens to be the number on that

La Estrella, Loteria game card number 35.

La Estrella (A Star)

card from the game Lotería. The numbers on the Loteria cards have no particular significance, as far as I know. But I’m not an expert on the subject. I simply have my own personal experience with the game. My favorite cards were (well, still are) El Borracho, La Muerte, La Luna, La Estrella, and El Apache (The Drunk, Death, The Moon, A Star, An Apache). The image of the Apache man is actually the artist’s interpretive image of an Apache. My name is Estela, which is a form of Estrella (pronounced ehs-treh-ya in Spanish), so, naturally, this was/is my most favorite card of all.

Life is a card you draw. Some cards you draw at random, some you deliberately choose, some just fall in our path. And, really, every choice you make is a gamble.  Así es la vida.

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Confused Old Bag

Pink forget-me-not flower.Damn, my recall is crap. In my last post I said Violeta Parra was Peruvian. But she wasn’t. She was Chilean. I’m sitting here listening to her singing her remarkable songs, and then like a slap upside my head, BAM! it occurs to me that I made that mistake. I’m like, Oh, man, no I didn’t! How embarrassing!

Violeta Parra was born in Chile, according to Wiki: “San Fabián de Alico… a small town in southern Chile.” It also says she was born “on 4 October 1917″. I went back to my post and changed “Peruvian” to “Chilean”. I wonder if anyone caught the error? Maybe one one cares, anyway. But I do. I care. If I’m going to talk about something, I should know what I’m talking about.

Geezus, what a dork. What I goon I am. Damnit. What a…

Depiction of cute donkey with two thumbs up.

Yup, that’s right!

Wait. There I go. No, I can’t do that. I don’t like to make mistakes, but I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. It makes me feel so stupid when I make mistakes. I wish I was perfect, and I’m so far from it. :(

I want to refrain from self-flagellation. It was an absentminded moment. Damn, but it makes me feel like a jackass.

My recall is bad. I’m getting to be such a confused old bag. I used to have an amazing memory. But, now, I have to work really hard to remember things, and that includes my address, my phone number, where the heck I’m headed when I’m on BART, or walking up the street. It unnerves me. :(

I don’t mind getting old(er). I’m glad to be alive. The life experience amazes me. It sometimes unnerves me. There are things I can’t change that I wish I could. And maybe I’m thinking and fearing what been thought and feared forever, but I think humans will destroy the planet. I wonder: is this a scenario that keeps repeating?

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The Beat Goes On (and a poem)

SkeletonSummer is on its last legs. I hate to see it end. It’s been a long summer. It’s been a short summer. It was great. It was horrible. It started out good, really good. Then I ran into disappointment, then anger, and finally grief. But, hell, I guess that’s the story of life. Stuff happens. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not.

At the beginning of summer, I went to a party, a “Hamfest”. Not ham as in “to eat”. In fact, it was a vegetarian spread. (I, myself, am not a vegetarian. I agree that the meat industry is vile, but some people are starting to get a clue, and there are farmers raising free-range and organic fed livestock and poultry. I can’t afford that meat, but I  purchase organic fruits, veggies, and eggs from free-range chickens, at least. If I had my own home, I’d grow some veggies, like I used to. At any rate, I’m not going to stop eating meat. These incisors are not for tearing into my salads, my veggies and fruit. Or even my bread. Mmm, I love bread. I am sorry for the brutality of the psychopathic corp meat industry. The old Native way was always “in a good way”, a sacred way, with ceremony, with respect, reverence, and gratitude. I’ll bet this is taught still, outside the Mainstream.) The “Hamfest” referred to performance, an opportunity to “ham it up”.  Anyone, who wanted to, could get on the list to perform. There was a list for 8:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m., and 12:00 a.m. Initially, I thought, Oh, man, I’ll be long gone before midnight. But I not only enjoyed reading my work, I also enjoyed hearing other people’s poetry, singing, and/or playing an instrument (piano, violin, guitars, and even an accordion). 12:00 a.m. came up fast, I was wide awake, and I wanted to hear people perform, so I was still there at midnight. It was great. Maybe I’m nerdy, but it’s the best party I’ve ever been to. Generally, I’m not the party type, but this was different.

A lovely, Argentinean woman told me of a famous Chilean singer/songwriter by the name of Violeta Parra.  Her most famous song is called Gracias a la Vida. There is a movie about her. She told me my poetry reminded her of Violeta. After I read the first time, this woman burst into tears. She was up next to perform, to play her accordion, but she couldn’t. I’m glad she did play later on in the evening. I loved it. She told me my poetry “stunned”.

I’ve been researching this Chilean artist, who committed suicide in 1967.  The movie is called Violeta Went to Heaven, and was a Sundance winner in 2012. I found it on Netflix. The movie tells her story, more or less. I’ve found some information about her online, and I can see how the movie wasn’t quite accurate, but it was an approximation. I still think it’s a wonderful movie. I had to read the subtitles, because I hardly speak Spanish anymore, barely understand it, sometimes not at all.

In my research, I discovered that Joan Baez recorded this song. Joan Baez fans, I suppose, already know this. I found a YouTube vid of her singing Gracias a la Vida, but it’s inaccurate. I guess she forgot the lyrics, since it wasn’t a young Baez. She seems to have it right on another vid, her 1974 recording. Apparently, in 1974, she recorded an  album called Gracias a la Vida; all the songs are in Spanish. But I don’t like her rendition of this beautiful song. I know people love Joan Baez, but I never could take her voice: there’s too much vibrato, too high-pitched; it hurts my ears, makes me cringe; it feels like fingernails scratching a slate blackboard. Ugh! :/ Linda Ronstadt she ain’t. And, most certainly, she’s no Violeta Parra. I have fallen in love with this artist.

I found some translations online of Gracias a la Vida, but they are terrible. Some downright wrong.  Most say, “Thanks to life”, which is a literal translation. “Here’s to life” is close, but I prefer “I’m grateful to life.” That’s more the meaning–grateful to experience life, to live, be alive, grateful for the Earth walk. I translated the song, my way. I had to look up some of the words, of course. But as I looked them up, some began to return to my memory. The more I listen to Parra, the more I understand what I hear. I can feel the beauty, as well as the meaning of her songs, even if I don’t catch all the words right off. The more I understand the Spanish words, the more beautiful the experience of listening to them.

The song says, “…me dio dos luceros…” Luceros are bright stars, but it’s also a poetic way of referring to eyes. One really bad translation said, “it’s given me two stars”. That’s just silly. The song says “life gave me two eyes”, but it says it beautifully, poetically, using “luceros” instead of “ojos”. Initially, I translated that as “bright eyes”, but changed it to “brilliant eyes”. Translations have to convey meaning, not the literal words. Sometimes the words have to be changed to arrive at the intended meaning, so translating poetry is no easy task. It takes Ezra Pound capacity to achieve the accuracy of beauty. I don’t know how I did, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the horrible ones I’ve seen online. Some fool translated ladridos into “bricks”, which are ladrillos. Ladrido is a bark, a scream, or howl. The song expresses gratitude for being able to hear. We don’t hear bricks, for Pete’s sake. Well, yeah, if they’re tapped, flung and land on a hard surface, dropped, but, come on, when you think of hearing, you don’t think “bricks”.  :D

I was on a roll, doing this research, listening to the songs, working on translations, when stuff began to happen, and it broke my concentration, and I got into a funk. I couldn’t write. I wanted to write, and I couldn’t, except in my personal journal. But grief, once it goes deep, which it finally did, stirs my creativity. Writing this poem has released me from the funk, and I can now return to my Violeta Parra project.

I have other projects I want to get to also. I promised myself on my birthday that I’d get

Painting in progress of a garden in a park.

Acrylic painting in progress of a garden in a park.

back to painting. I want to start by finishing this one, which I started before moving to San Francisco. Damnit, it’s been too many years. What, like seven? Geezus. Painting makes me happy. Not finding time for it, makes me very unhappy.

I’m happy to end summer with a new poem.

Blue Moon

A big blue moon
hung low
the night I was born.

A million stars
in the raven sky
blinked yellow,
white, red, blue.

I think of you,
I think of death.

Game card number fourteen called La Muete.

Card from Mexican game called Loteria.I think of you.

You’re not worth it.

Humans are insane.
No one is immune.

You and I,
no less the same.

If I keep you near,
you make me mad.

You’re my death.

I have to leave.
I want to live
another day.

You need,
you take,
don’t give back,
like a sociopath.

You laugh
at my pain,
like a sadist.

My love
can’t cure you;

you’re too far gone.
I leave you to God.

I see the full moon
hang high, hang low.
It is white, yellow,

orange, red, blue.

The stars blink
different hues.
The sky has colors too:
black, grey,
blue, violet, pink, red.

The sun hangs there
every day,
like a cyclops eye.

I think of you and weep.
You make my heart hurt.

There is Beauty in life.
It’s healing.
I’m sorry
you can’t see it.
♥  ♠  ♠  ♥

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