Who Are You to Write a Perfect Poem?

Paloma Martinez - Cruz photo credit: Mike Travis

Paloma Martinez – Cruz photo credit: Mike Travis

 

I want to dedicate this La Neta post to the adventure of being a creative.  It was at Proyecto Latina’s open mic Mondays that I first started playing my songs for an audience. Now I am playing out frequently with my band Tijuana Jai Alai.  The ska and punk music scenes are heavily male dominated, and I have to wonder what it would look like if more women had access to a safe space like Proyecto Latina in which to share their creativity?  My work of editing the upcoming volume Rebeldes: A Proyecto Latina Anthology comes from my gratitude at having such a space.  It is a compilation of poetry, art, prose, drama, chismes and reflections from the Proyecto Latina community and beyond, and happily it looks like we’re on track for a late summer release date.

My fear of sharing my art, and my relationship to this fear, is a long one.  When my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in the second semester of my sophomore year, I withdrew from college to help with his care. He smoked two packs a day since he was a teenager, and led a swashbuckling life of non-stop community action and partying. He was now skeletal and bedridden, and relied on me for all his needs, but I still found him intimidating.

My father’s approval had always been elusive, but that summer I enjoyed an exciting victory: he was proud of a 120-page poetry collection that I had authored over the course of my second year at college.  I called it The Chicana Who Built the Earth.  Dad wanted me to read him something from my collection, but I knew that I had already read him the ones that he was most likely to enjoy, so I was challenged at that moment to choose from the ones that didn’t say something explicit about love or sexuality, and didn’t indict the way I was raised.  Flipping through the pages of my book, I knew there were no more poems that fit these criteria, so I did what young and nervous performers do.  I began to apologize for what he was about to hear.

You know what, he said.  Get off it.  Who are you to write a perfect poem?  All that shy crap.  It’s just ego to think anyone cares what you do.

There wasn’t much you could say after that. I read him a poem I had written about Grandma, how she lived her life on her knees in the kitchen, a model for the banality of domestic violence in our universe.  It had images of Mission Indians escaping to “fornicate,” and a repeated refrain of, I feel a fever, I feel a fever.  Dad liked some of it.  Other parts he felt were too preachy.

Who are you to write a perfect poem?

I wanted to edit Rebeldes: A Proyecto Latina Anthology because I believe that the fear and awe and isolation that it takes to write and share our stories are what define perfection. Our rebellion is not in plucking the right verse, but rather in taking the risk to embrace our own danger and strangeness.  The bad art is the sound of us apologizing for who we are.

*This post is part of La Neta: A Latina Guide to Losing it All

La Neta: A Latina Guide to Losing it All — He Doesn’t Love You and Self-Acceptance Is Not an Option

Art credit: Sallie Ann Glassman, The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot : “Erzulie Freda Dahomey”

This La Neta post is my personal Valentine card to all the loveless, and you know who you are.  You check your email and Facebook and inspect your cell phone until you put holes in those things.  You could write the Encyclopedia Britannica of social network stalking, including all the pages and posts of everyone in his retinue, knowing that his best friend or his brother always has that camera ready, and you religiously discover new ways to eat out your own heart as he smiles for the camera, his arm squeezing the waist of his new flame, her eyes shining as she poses in the protective cleft of his embrace where you once stood, or never stood, and her nails are done in his favorite color, and her hip touches his, and you know when they take the photo that she is standing in the halo of the way he smells.

You have the playlist, a sonic altar to the way he made you feel, the beautiful memories that seduce you with their kung fu sorcery, wishing that you could hate him so that you could finally just let it go, and I hope that you never get drunk enough to send it to him, but if you do, there it is, the whisky sob of Ana Gabriel’s, ¿cómo es posible que te quiero, y no me quieras? Or, if you reach back into your grandmother’s record collection, you get Cuco Sánchez’ fat head singing in his unlikely falsetto, y tú que te creías, el rey de todo el mundo…  We pour heartbreak straight from the tap in our neighborhoods.

So, okay, you’re down.  Flattened on the mat of the ring.  And this obsession of yours that’s got you down there, I am on board two hundred percent.  There you are, burning, striking the classic self-immolation sunbather’s pose, smiling big for your close-up.  This is no time to douse the flames.  Listen to me.  You need to turn the heat UP.

You can’t have him in your life, but the madness that your life has become since he left you, now THAT is something to appreciate.

What was it?  What was is about him?  Surely there was something exceptional and amazing if you are reading this from the floor of the ring, bleeding out in such a manner.  And you can, you will, and you must populate your life with the essence of what he put in your path that was remarkable and unique.  Don’t accept yourself the way you are, but rather parlay the energies of defeat into a new incarnation.  Did he compose sonnets?  Did he play the accordion?  Did he climb mountains?  Jump out of planes?  Make award-winning omelettes?  The things that you were convinced were only in your life because he placed them there: if you are capable of admiring these aspects in another, you are capable of creating them in yourself.

Heartbreak tastes like iron pyrite, like the metal and salt of your own blood.  He is not here for you now, and perhaps he never was.  You deserve to be loved by someone who loves you back just as fiercely, and to move past your infatuation with your thankless shadow prince.  But if that is not possible, then you still have more to learn from what he is trying to show you about your life.  May the hours, minutes, and seconds of your existence be devoted to the awakening of your next you.  It is one the gods’ most terrible gifts that our bodies are the containers of immense passion.

Please, sisters.

Please don’t waste a single drop.

 

“My Car Is Lame” – La Neta: A Latina Guide to Losing It All

Paloma Martinez-Cruz y su Perla Negra – Photo by Mike Travis

 

It was Christmas during my son Emiliano’s second year.  I was trying to settle him down and put him to bed after the frenzy of new toys and festivities were finally over.   This was when my son had a great revelation about truth, happiness, life, and everything, which he summed up with the following declaration, pronounced with tremendous gravitas: Quiero todos, todos, todos los regalos.  (I want all, all, all of the presents).  He knew what it took to be happy. Happiness meant todos todos todos los regalos.  Unhappiness meant NOT having todos todos todos los regalos.

Mijo, yo también quiero todos todos todos los regalos.  I don’t have to tell you that the Perla has seen better days.  I bought the Perla Negra, a 2001 Chevrolet Prizm when we left California for Illinois. She has been a real trooper, keeping us rolling through Chicago winters and parking year round on Pilsen’s mean streets.  Her wheel covers never stayed on, thanks to a Prizm design flaw.  Her paint is faded and her hood doesn’t close properly. I often catch people looking at her with that expression on their faces.  You know the expression.  There are cars that say, “You’ve made it,” but my Perla is the car that makes people say, “What happened?”

Vehicle wise, I covet the creamy lines of the Maserati Gran Turismo Sport, or the flirtatious yet artisanal air of the new Fiat 500.  My cravings are not limited to svelt Italian lines.  The inner chola wants to customize a ‘67 Impala Super Sport, or perhaps update my relationship to the GM family in a silver topaz Chevrolet Volt.

Quiero todos todos todos los regalos, but I can’t think about buying a car right now, and to tell you the truth, I am not sure that even if I could, I should.  As a single woman, I love the freedom that owning a car gives me to explore places around town on my own terms.  But in this economy, and with environmental threats being what they are, I need to take the alternatives seriously.  The capitalist overlords are banking on all of us having the same attitude of a two-year-old on Christmas: there are never enough regalos.  Our happiness depends on purchasing more and more, but this “consume, expand, produce” message about what will straighten out the economy is the antithesis to the “reduce, reuse, recycle” message that will straighten out our planet, particularly in the days when war ravaged peoples from fossil fuel production lands plainly tell us that our gasoline cravings are far from bloodless.

There are some exciting options out there that I am looking into with the understanding that Perla can’t keep on rolling forever.  Since I am thinking that the planet, and the people who die in droves when the capitalist overlords want to control their resources, need my loyalty and affection more than the automobile and fuel industry moguls, I am heartened to know that there are businesses and organizations that are adapting to the humanitarian, budgetary, and ecological urgencies of our times, and developing ways to emphasize access to – rather than ownership of – the things that we need.  In Chicago, ride share programs like Pace RideShare Pace helps people carpool together.  Relay Rides helps you rent cars from people in your community. I-Go is a non-profit with cars adjacent to CTA routes and rail stations.

So, my carnalísimas, I think we should have some fun pissing off the capitalist overlords by taking pride in our lame ranflas, and/or our non-ranfla having lifestyles.  Send me a lowrider picture of yourself posing with your ride, or a CTA photo wearing your best chola eyeliner (and lip liner, por supuesto) and send it this way so that we can do our part in creating a media stream in/of/about our own images, using our super powers of Latina glamorousness to rep the reduce, reuse, recycle lifestyle on our own terms, con safos!

La Neta: Is Marriage Normal?

Shi-Li-Bo Nouvavou, a voudoun spirit. “She is the zenith of solar force, assured and possessed of confidence that is tempered by time and knowledge.” The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot. Destiny Books: Rochester, VT, 1992

In A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness (Duke University Press, 2011), Cherríe Moraga writes that the issue of legalizing gay marriage has the potential to detract from a more pressing issue:  why is marriage normalized in our society, while other kinds of unions are denied legitimacy?  Along with Moraga, I maintain that marriage is the right of heterosexual and homosexual unions alike, but I also join her in wondering if it should be idealized as the ultimate expression of love’s maturity.

Divorce is a process in which a legal authority dissolves the bonds of matrimony.  According to Paul R. Amato’s research brief “Interpreting Divorce Rates, Marriage Rates, and Data on the Percentage of Children with Single Parents,” the commonly cited statistic that about 50% of American marriages eventually end in divorce is accurate.  In a Latino cultural environment, the celebration of marriage is the major rite of passage that defines our entry into adulthood and, as women, one of the most crucial measures of our adequacy. According to Catholic belief, marriage is a sacrament.  Once it is consummated, it cannot be dissolved, and if a divorced person remarries, they are living in perpetual adultery – a state of mortal sin.  As a writer, I can appreciate the poetry in this.  It is true that although it has ended, a relationship never remains safely in the past, and it continues to be a part of who we are forever.

However, as a feminist, I need to question this doctrinal attitude. First, it is clear that sexual control of women (“once it is consummated…”) is the objective here, and this control is used to prevent women from making their own choices about who they partner with.  Secondly, divorce is just as valid an expression of love’s maturity as marriage, and it takes a great amount of faith and spiritual resilience (whatever your system of beliefs happens to be) in order to leave a marriage and travel into the unknown.

I really couldn’t point to a body of films or television shows that portray divorce as the successful outcome of a love relationship. In the media, Latinas are only happy when they are wives and mothers, or perhaps celebrating their quinceañera in a stretch Hummer. To go outside of what our culture promotes as normal is a frightening thing.   People want to know what went wrong, and there is something deeply humiliating about breaking the news to friends, family, co-workers, and in-laws. If children are involved, you are shifting their universe irrevocably.  You are in a world of judgment.

Recently, I overheard a conversation that made me think about how we look at divorce.  The conversation was between two long-time students of capoeira, a Brazilian martial art.  A current capoeira player talked with a woman who had trained for many years, but had stopped playing.  The woman who left capoeira said she felt that the martial art could have been better to women. The more aggressive player invariably “won,” while a player exhibiting just as much mastery in their evasive moves was perceived as the lesser player in the bout. I think of our society on whole, and our cultural traditions in particular, like the capoeira player who promotes offensive tactics as intrinsically more valuable than the defensive moves to avert the deathblow.  A divorce takes great love and skill.  It is described as a loss, but it takes enormous courage and emotional mastery to move away from the attacker into a position of greater safety.

As women, we are trained from childhood to cooperate with sexually controlled, officially legitimized unions.  A recent news article about two girls in Iran who assaulted a cleric in a small town says volumes about the pervasiveness of this control.  The older, male authority figure told one of the girls to cover herself more completely. “She responded by telling me to cover my eyes, which was very insulting to me,” explained the cleric. On many parts of this planet, “normal” still means to be controlled by a husband, father, or priest.
Divorce is about believing that love can be better. So plan your anti-bridal shower with your best girlfriends, make that appointment to get that new tattoo – or get that tired “forever yours Enrique” on your neck covered over.  And if a cleric tells you he doesn’t like what he sees, you may cordially invite him to cover his eyes.

(Feel free to share your own thoughts or experiences in the comment section)

Call For Submissions – Proyecto Latina Chapbook

!Felicicadades! Proyecto Latina is soon to be completing its 7th year! To celebrate this milestone, we are creating an anthology of the voices, artwork, and chisme that have made Proyecto Latina thrive as a safe and vibrant space for Latina creativity in Chicago.  We want to include your best work that represents your collaboration with Proyecto Latina’s mission and values in our anthology. We look forward to reading your submission.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

We accept electronic submissions to online submissions manager

Submission fee $15, payable through the online submission manager.  (We know.  We don’t like submission fees either, but all fees go toward the cost of printing so that we can make this happen).

Online deadline: November 15, 2012

Accepting original writing and artwork, all genres.

Include cover page with: brief bio, specific relationship to Proyecto Latina’s activities, and acknowledgments and complete publication information of works that have been previously published.

Your full name is your entry/submission title

Your writing should be a Microsoft Word file; art should be TIFF file

Simultaneous submissions ok provided we are notified immediately of acceptance elsewhere

English, Spanish, and Spanglish are welcome. 

MANUSCRIPT FORMAT

Microsoft Word submissions only; use a 12-point standard typeface (e.g., Courier, Times, or similar font)

Number all pages

Name, mailing address, phone number and e-mail address in the top left corner of the first page

Title and author name at top left of each succeeding page

For fiction and novel excerpts, include word count at the top right corner of the first page

Fiction: 4000 words maximum.  Double-spaced with minimum 1-inch margins all around.

Flash fiction to 750 words. Three stories maximum per submission.

Experimental/hybrid/cross-genre work to 12 pages.

Poetry: No maximum length.  Up to five poems per submission.  Single-spaced okay.

Short Plays: Up to 15 pages

Novel Excerpts: Self-contained or standalone chapters or excerpts of up to 4000 words

We will begin our reviewing  from November to February and will contact you to confirm

if your work has been accepted.

Questions about the process? Contact Paloma Martinez Cruz – pombasapien@gmail.com

Submit your work at the link below:


Submit to Proyecto Latina

Click the Pay Pal button to process your $15 submission fee. Submissions without the submission fee payment will not be considered.