Tuesday, June 07, 2005

My Long Book Meme; Or, My Love Song to All the Books I've Ever Read and Lost

I was passed this baton many flowers, furrows & book revisions ago by "The World's Smartest Woman", Claudia Milian en una hermanastra lejana, a blog I found, kinda like jetsom & flotsam, on a 'recently updated blogs' list on blogger March 1, the day I surfed into Blogville. That day she had just posted her entry on "Vacationland: Revisited" and when I read the first line of the piece:
"Not too long ago, I visited M., my inimitable, gay Mexican divafriend.

At M.'s place, a phone call interrupts.

"Let's drive to Maine," proposes the voice on the speakerphone.

"Now? It's midnight." I say.

"Come on, girls. It'll be fun" is the nudging.

"Okay. But I'm not driving, mijita," the diva bluntly announces, with the quick instruction, "and your ass better not fall asleep behind the wheel."


Camden is . . . white and yuppie. We look for a place to eat. The locals stare, measuring us: two Mexicans and a Salvadoran.

"I feel like I'm a walking sack of beans," I say.

"I feel like I have a nopal on my forehead," M. says.

"Don't be so colonized," says our other friend.

I don't like the vibe of this town. We foolishly paid the hotel for two nights. Such uncouth American provincialism. Brutes with money, I always think.

"I don't want to eat here," I tell them. "I don't want the Latin Special Treatment on my food. Y'know, spit as an extra condiment."

We go back to the car and head to the outlet stores in Freeport because the diva says we need to reward ourselves and feel fab after this experience.

Surely, mass-produced capitalism will embrace us." (....)
I can't resist the lengthy quote, no more than I can resist repeating the following dialogue—no, dis/course:

"I feel like I'm a walking sack of beans," I say.

"I feel like I have a nopal on my forehead," M. says.

"Don't be so colonized," says our other friend.
Blues cue: "If you've ever been mistreated/ You know just what I'm talkin' about." "yes yes" (what's on right now) (really)

This is my moment of the laugh. And love. The re-cognition ignition in some engine of the lone soul and lonelier soles wandering along unwritten streets. The "Me! That's Me!' of the reader's voice as opposed to the "me/not me" of the poet's whimper or wong (as in won(go) ("If you've ever been wongo/ You know just what I'm talkin' about.") You laugh 'cause you know it's true. I read it to my friend/ex-colleague due to unenlightened flu, ethical seizures, institutional paralysis, hypothetical prejudice of the left lumbar, general high staff affluenza, and other maladroits. She laughs. She gets it. When the veil slips from Race, the shadow passes off the inappropriate touch of Power, the salary committee bottoms out on Class along with your Humpty Dumpty pggie bank. Yup. I got friends like that. Loves. I got 'em in my head when I walk the demeaning streets of 'one bigoted town' as an ex-lover, full-blood Chotaw once proclaimed this native land (having grandparents who had slipped off The Trail of Tears to a land of 'Nuthin' but Dirt) when I first arrived at the foot of this flagstone butt. All three. The walking sack of beans whose secret post to postsecret would be "I couldn't walk into a restaurant until I was 24 years old." The surreal cigar of Magritte dangling off my nose like a rooted out carrot. The Dee of my name which stands for Doone which stands for Digression. The upshot of it all. The danzante of the Free Throw, barefooted and pregnant, once again coming of age in an Age of Nopal. The "Don't be so colonized!" voice in my melon head on the shooting range discoursabating away the raw fear in a Fanonian Moment:
"Time freezes. We are motionless. Horrified. We are silently raging and simultaneously wondering what it is they are seeing. The elevator is slow. Too slow. We attempt to exit first. They push their bodies further back. Repulsed. They don't want our clothing, our bodies, our dirty anything, to touch them. The moment is Fanonian: "Look, un Nègre!"
The Other I Am which deems me no sociopath and redeems me in my mind's eye. Lorna, don't be so colonized. Then, I go and look it up. No Love Song to Professor Prufrock. The Irony I Am: Professor Prufrock in a secret lust. (Pistachio pound cake? Lobster Lorraine? Transluscent squab from Jones, The Different Butcher? Sweet Lorraine? 17 ways to eat a peach? 17 ways to say eating crow, Jim?)

Yup. Got 'em all there. And, here. Here:
1. Total number of books I’ve owned:

¡Híjole! Who counts books? I vowed never to think in numbers after I graduated from high school. I know people who know exactly how many books they have in their libraries, but that's because they sell them to special collections in university libraries. Me, I sold my books when I decided I needed to change my dreamscape and escaped the big California earthquakes in the insuant & truant years. When I left my marriage & started living in Santa Cruz "permanently", and, incidently, took up with The Maniacal Choctaw, after my coursework ended & financial support for finishing my dissertation dissolved, I sold my books in an ironic progression. First book to hit the box & the book buyer's counter was the study, The Indian in America, which bore a nearly new price tag. And price. I don't know how many or which books I sold because I mourned every one and I don't like to think about it, kinda like my private version of the indigenous and inculcated taboo against ever speaking the names of the dead out loud. It's the "I've" that stumps me. In a lifetime? Híjole. Quatrozillion? Oh, no. Couldn't be. That must be the price (avoid the typo "prize" as Zeta stands for Zebra and Zoo) I've paid through the years shipping dead trees state to state, country to country, state to State via all the various vias y villas. When I think of books I think of Benjamin's essay on packing the books. And his subsequent suicide, that Angel of History daily defaced by another word for Nazi that resists the easy translation. Packing a book is hard work and a lot of time. And packing a book will get you a lot of time, hard or soft, one way or another. I think of "Pablo's" (as the unsuicided poet is ever in pseudonym in effect if not in fact) precious books trashed out on the floor of his Isla Negra study by the illiterate fascist boot. The shattered shell collection at his feet, the metonymic progression which is, really, what breaks the poet's heart, the endless substitutional long-division of transferred categories of "meaning" and none of them good. Or, very fun. How many shells? How many shards of love? Can one buy that cut at the butcher's on some saturday night? When I get paid it's pig meat all around when it comes to books for me. I once walked into Bread & Roses Books—a book store I loved, partly because the owner, Bob, let a cash-poor poet hang out on his store's sofa reading books all afternoon but only buy a fifty cent Chicano litmag (El Caracol, eg.) or, if I were flush with a dollar, the latest El Corno Emplumado—and bought up all the books I wanted, about $750 worth, 10 percent of my first NEA which I figured the guy deserved. I brought two helpers with me to carry out the boxes. It was a fantasy of a lifetime. Hey, some people buy all-white suit with their first fellowship grant. I chastise my students: If you write poetry and don't buy books you are a hypocrite. I swore to live in a library when I grow up. I'd live in that comic book aroma of vintage literature and gild. Well, kookoo people peruse the stacks in the local and a private library is, in the end, what one can afford not to lose. I buy every book I can. I love the serendipity of a twice read book, the casual color of a bargain bin novel, the pristine elegance of a letterpressed first edition. I used to subscribe to Ed Ochester's partner's business, Spring Church Books (gosh, is it still around? Note to self: next wave of surf) that dealt in all poetry books. Yikes. I go into bookstores making fake blinders out of my hands and say, "I can't look in here." I've bounced lots of checks in my scattered lack of math, but I doubt I've ever bounced one to a publisher or bookstore. My friend tells me she is moving to Poetland (I mean to type "Portland" but I let it stand) and immediately I think of Moes. I once walked all the way to Tattered Cover Books from the downtown bus depot in Denver. (They didn't buy my hand-carried books, the one I wrote, that is, and was selling to pay the price of my relocation hotel, the Miles Standish. Funny to me. ) At 17, I picked a place to live based on the algebraic equation designed to bring me to a hometown with the closest proximity to the greatest amount of best book stores, this place, this boulder of Boulder, in fact, between me and a hard drive. Funny fact, but not a laugh.

12,000? Books I'm in take up 2 5-shelf units in my lving room, but a lot of that's chunky anthologies (closest to the front window for chucking some burglar, or worse, on his unsuspecting head. I have (am left with) 96 cook books not counting issues of Bon Appetit, Fine Cooking, Gourmet, & Cuisine - Bon Appetit being the one I buy in a cash register pinch as it is the most eclectic & the least class-bound. I once donated 3,000-something titles to found a small press room in my old library which had been taken up by the then named San Jose Poetry Center. I got a tax relief that year for it, so I know there were about that many, over 3,000 but most of those saddle-stitched, mimeos, chapbooks, newsprint journals, Chicano & otherwise, several rainbows of the complete El Grito/Quinto Sol/Tonatiuh series of jounals & books. The nearly complete collection of El Corno Emplumado, missing one issue, the original inspiration for the title of my first book, Emplumada, and the origin of my Mango 'split-fountain' technique on my little multilith printing press. I mourn my Third World collection back in the day before we knew we were first world, old world, next world, an Other World, other-worldly and fractured at the literary pawl into all our microscopic and myriad distopic dysentery of divisions. I mourn the books that never make it out of the box. I mourn my poetry books, anthologies, criticism, translations, philosophy and theory locked up in my hop covered office on The Hill. I mourn Paterson on the sabbaticalled shelf. Many ways to mourn. Many stranger friends between the pages. Many, too many books loaned to students under the pedal of pedagogical thrust: "Here. Read this. And it's Gallway opened to "The Bear" because the kid (sorry, I get to say this now that aarp is at my post box - "Oh, look! Dolores Huerta is on the cover!") says that he can't write, spent all weekend in the woods (the only place I am most My Self) and can't write a line about what that's like. "Count the verbs." I tell him. And, I never get it back. But I read him in the poetry publications now, and think of the power of the right book, the right word, at the right time. Stranger Friends I've loaned to students: entire collections of Hass, Olds, Vallejo, Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas, Dorn, Silliman (most chapbooks among those donated) Hugo, Greg Pape, Carolyn Forche except for the most recent which I won't lend out (because it's in the stores), Stafford, Alan Dugan, Rilke, Dante, Ai, Wakowski except for Greed, Parts 8, 7 & 9 (title? I'm away from my mourned shelves at the U) ... Et al. (Note: If you still have my book I loaned to you, please redeem)

2. Last book I bought:

Opal Palmer Adisa, Carribean Passion. Last books I was given (by my publisher) (booty!) Robert A. Fink, Tracking the Morning; Chip Cameron, Tropical Green; James Hoggard, Wearing the River and, a poet I like, Pamela Uschuk, Scattered Risks. I've also been collecting first books by the new guard Xicanerati (copyright LDC), Sherl Luna, Tim Hernández, Anthony Vigil, Deborah Paredes, Rigoberto González (as always) and others. I'm looking to buy Diana Delgado who is supreme, maybe even sublime.

3. Last book I read:

Opal Palmer Adisa, Carribean Passion and Cecile Pineda, Redoubt (I read them together on the same day). I've been reading the complete work of Cecile Pineda. Talk about Xicanerati! This blog is my way of unclogging my lifelong prose block; I was asked to contribute a critical piece on her for an anthology to be edited by Juan-Bruce, and I'm still blogging that clot away, one plunger at a time. At least now it's getting so that the sink is clear every once and a while so that I can wash a dish.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me:

This one's really hard for me. Mean? Meaning? yes yes The long metonymic substitutions of those choices which then grow to define you. The list slips under the weight of age. So that, finally, I was able to change reality to fit a number, but I had to do separate lists, separate questions, separate passions listed in cronological order. Here's a list of books that "rearranged my molecules" as Santana says of good music. (the first 2 on my list are actually four, from childhood, forever fused in muse:

• Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child' Garden of Verse and 100 Poems for Children (ancient when I got it from the Jesus Saves Rescue Mission or was carried in in boxes of Christmas presents & groceries from good ladies wearing hats and sniffing their noses at the television set. The Stevenson was a gift from my father when I was 8, I think.
• anthology of "Negro Poetry" which was rescued from the books discarded by the public library, same library I donated my small press collection to; there was a basement window and a low window well where we'd, my brother & I, go to fish books; and an anthology, I Am the Darker Brother, given to me by a friend in high school and made precious for her poetic thoughts on race & class, poetry & friendship written in her cramped idiosyncratic hand.
• Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan, a Yaqui way of Knowledge.
• Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
• Eduardo Galeano, Memoria de fuego/Memory of Fire, Parts 1-3

Then I decided to drop the juvenilia and answer "most meaningful":

• Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan, a Yaqui way of Knowledge.
• Pablo Neruda, Residencia en la tierra/Residence on Earth
• Alan Ginsberg, Howl (the book not just the poem)
• Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
• Eduardo Galeano, Memoria de fuego/Memory of Fire, Parts 1-3

Then I asked it another way, Which 5 books changed my life? (Don't they all?) This is too hard to keep to 5:

• Pablo Neruda, From the Heights of Macchu Picchu (this one, I realise, closer to truth), 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair, and Residencia en la tierra/Residence on Earth
• Tomás Rivera, Y no se lo traigo la tierra/ And The Earth Did Not Devour Him
• Alan Ginsberg, Howl
• Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
• Eduardo Galeano, Memoria de fuego/Memory of Fire, Parts 1-3

Then I asked it as What authors changed my literary life? (again, hard to limit to 5) A category I subtitle: "Lives" as in, I live these books

• my black muses
• Carlos Castaneda (but then I decided to just call him Jesus, leave it off the list & assume the work as Bible: note: this is tongue in cheek. I met the man, as I knew I would when I first read him at age 15, and I started an early prose piece about that super strange meeting called, "My Dinner with Carlos."
• Pablo Neruda
• all New Directions & Black Swallow books
• Dostoevsky
• Galeano

And, finally, I had to frame the question in terms of love and the single book. Subtitled: "Loves." This, too, I had to do chronologically, like the others, but broken into the three phases of life I've been dealt:
• A Child' Garden of Verse
• I Am the Darker Brother
• From the Heights of Macchu Picchu
• Howl
• The Idiot
• Y no se lo traigo la tierra/ And The Earth Did Not Devour Him
• Anais Nin, A Spy in the House of Love
• Marge Piercy, To Be of Use
• Wakowski, Greed, parts 1-15
• Robert Hass, Field Guide
• Robert Hass, Praise
• Carolyn Forche, Gathering the Tribes
• Carolyn Forche, The Country Between Us
• Residencia en la tierra
• Eduardo Galeano, Century of the Wind, Memoria de fuego/Memory of Fire, Part 3

Interesting, to me, how the last on the list stays the same. I don't think I've read anyone else who has influenced (impacted, but that sounds too much like a bad molar) me the way Galeano has.

5. Which five bloggers am I passing this to?

I'll have to check to see if they've already been tagged (yea! I got to play, afterall!) but, I'd like to hear from Manuel Ramos, Cynthia Huntington in LoveAndSalt, Luís Rodríguez, Luis Urrea and Rosie O'Donnell on this. I'd like to hear from Silliman, "himself" but I doubt he reads my blog. As opposed to Ro, who is more accessible to me than the guard dogs of the post-avant.
Anyway, the five books that are the most meaningful to me right now are the ones my publisher is waiting for, the five books that comprise my new "pentych" collection forthcoming this fall, DRIVE_The First Quartet (books). I've been avoiding the muse and asleep inside an old guitar too long. But, I wanted to play; this, mixed as it in my mixed emotions after reading a blog & feeling incensed & insulted. Comments which feel, to me, like stuffing the same old dead birds, except this time around shooting them out of the sky first. I think of this passaage from another Hermanstra Lejana: ""Good God. They're deaf. What can I say? I'm at a loss of words right now."

"Small town, small minds is what I have to say" M. adds.

"That would take too long to learn how to say in sign language," I remind him. "A 'fuck you' would be much quicker. And multi-purpose."

"Well, here's what I have to say now," M. insists. "You racist, deaf-mute bitches are bunk!"

Why write this down now? Because I refuse to keep American madness to myself." (end)
I've been away from my blog but not Blogville. I've been mourning my father who passed last month (public memorial in SF this Sunday, June 12 at 2pm, I & others will be reading poetry, all are invited to the Precita Community Center event; come and say, hey), mourning the impending loss of my step-mother, Susan Cervantes's home of 35 years, mourning how this might impact the Precita Eyes Muralists & the Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center they founded, mourning my dog who a friend let out of the backyard last week and who is too wiley to be captured: a Mexican indigenous dog, lassooed off a beach in Isla Mujeres, half-wild and, like me, pert'near extinct. A Xoloitzquincli. A cholo. Like me.

I've been too mad at this stupid post to blog, afraid of what I might say to this kid I don't know who is not a very good poet in the first place. So, I borrow words, even if I might not be able to give them back:

"'Well, here's what I have to say now," (...) "You racist, deaf-mute bitches are bunk!'

Why write this down now? Because I refuse to keep American madness to myself."
Thanks, Claudia, for the opportunity to tell you that my guy knows you as "The World's Smartest Woman." He heard it from me. And, that's no trope.

"Dont mourn! Read." ~LDC


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