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Reading List 9a of 2016 ~ Poetry edition

August 11, 2016

Covers the period from 7.23.2016 through 8.9.16

I own 16 of these items. Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 4 of the books and movies; libraries in other parts of Maryland, via Inter-Library Loan, supplied the other 4.



  1. Anything Could Happen by Jana Putrle Srdić, translated by Barbara Jurša [[Slovenian]]
  2. The Bones We Have in Common by Sudasi J. Clement
  3. Centralia by Sarah Gzemski
  4. Dissection by Care Santos, translated by Lawrence Schimel [[Spanish]]
  5. Earth by Cecilia Woloch
  6. Midnight Blue by Vanessa Jiminez Gabb
  7. Night-Sea by Rachel Moritz
  8. One is None by Kätlin Kaldmaa, translated by Miriam McIlfatrick-Ksenofontov [[Estonian]]
  9. Restored Mural for Orlando / Mural Restaurado para Orlando by Roy Guzmán
  10. Rivers I Don’t Live By by Kelly Nelson
  11. Skeleton Keys by Laura Garrison
  12. Spelling the Hours: Poetry Celebrating the Forgotten Others of Science and Technology, edited by Rose Lemberg
  13. The Verbs of Desiring by Renee Ashley


= = =


Written in English:

  1. “After Mecca”: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement by Cheryl Clarke
  2. The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems, 1789–1820, edited by Paul Lewis
  3. Green the Witch-Hazel Wood by Emily Hiestand
  4. These Are My Rivers: New & Selected Poems, 1955–1993, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  5. Time of Useful Consciousness by Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Translated into English from Spanish:

  1. 20th Century Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, edited by Stephen Tapscott [[also includes poems in Portuguese]]
  2. 50 Poems by Juan Ramón Jiménez, translated by J. B. Trend
  3. Against the Current by Tedi López Mills, translated by Wendy Burk
  4. Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral, translated by Doris Dana


Translated into English from various:

  1. Bright Scythe: Poems by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Patty Crane [[Swedish]]
  2. Talking to My Body by Anna Swirszczynska [[Polish]]


Reading List 9b of 2016

August 11, 2016

Covers the period from 7.23.2016 through 8.10.16

I saw 1 movie in the cinema. I own 3 of these items. Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 10 of the books and movies; libraries in other parts of Maryland, via Inter-Library Loan, supplied the other 7.



  1. Boy Meets Girl, dir. Eric Schaeffer
  2. Clouds of Sils Maria, dir. Olivier Assayas
  3. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, dir. Douglas Tirola
  4. Ghostbusters, dir. Paul Feig
  5. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, dir. Alex Gibney
  6. Sunshine Superman, dir. Marah Strauch



  1. Ash by Malinda Lo
  2. Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones
  3. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
  4. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
  5. Mystic Marriage by Heather Rose Jones
  6. Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire


Memoir & Biography:

  1. Alligator Candy: A Memoir by David Kushner
  2. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  3. Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick


Literary Fiction:

  1. Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín
  2. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín {{surprisingly, none of the charm of the movie}}
  3. Reliance, Illinois by Mary Volmer


Power dynamics & Politics:

  1. Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments by Gina Perry
  2. The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power by Joel Kramer



  • The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions by Anna Ivey


potager portrait

July 27, 2016

July, 2016


From the kitchen, I step onto the balcony through a glass door. Directly ahead, beyond and below, is a circle of pavement. Within the circle, a crape myrtle, flowering hot pink with green leaves; at her feet, spiraea bushes, purplish flowers buzzing with bees, yellow-green leaves. At the edges of the circle, benches, more crape myrtles, and some Euonymus bushes, mostly green leaves, starting to go pink at the center.

Back to our balcony.

To my immediate left, a pile of stuff: an empty windowbox; empty flowerpots; what’s left of a bag of potting soil; sticks I’ve picked up at various times.

Walking widdershins, Spouse’s water shoes.

Where the railing begins, our compost bucket, now containing coffee grounds, leaves from a previous storm, and a green walnut.

Beyond the railing, rooted in the ground, Drabhu, a Norway maple, whose green leaves and pinkish fruits often dance in the breeze with me as I spend time on the balcony late at night.

Windowbox #1 (empty)

Windowbox #2, with dead plant structures from previous years. A bottle cap water feature. Transplanted oxalis and white clover, both of which are doing well.

A piece of multicolored slate.

A large craggy rock (approximately a cubic foot), with bands of black, red, and sparkly stone; 5 years ago, I rescued it from a former field that was being converted into a subdivision.

A small terracotta pot with dried flowers. Two terracotta dishes with rocks as perches, refilled with water every day in summer.

A rectangular ceramic tile I made, stamped with birch leaves, and glazed emerald green.

Turning the corner, a small round glazed-ceramic pot with a feathery marigold plant, grown from last year’s seeds.

A dark teal ceramic bowl containing a reddish rock from New Mexico and a golden rock from Maryland, amidst water, replenished frequently.

Windowbox #3, with a ‘hairy’ clump of narrow leaves (dead) from a previous year. Tall stems with round green leaves nodding in the breeze. (Not from seeds or transplants, so I don’t know what it is.)

Turning again, at the other glass doors, I encounter windowbox #4 in the shade of the cerulean-with-white-floral-patterned lawn chair. The moss from last year that died. Various transplants from this year, including creeping jenny, oxalis, some type of grass, and others.

= = =


1 bat, then 2 bats, last night.

A tiger swallowtail comes almost every day, even though there are no flowers blooming.

Various hymenopterans (bees and wasps). There seems to be a wasp bolthole in part of the metal railing. In late spring, we see bumblebees hovering almost every day — it’s probably too hot for them now.

Something that looks like a large bumblebee (black body), but with wings that are black and transparent. It’s friendly, it often buzzes me hello.

A few days ago, a sparrow-like bird perched on the rocks in the teal bowl, drinking the water.

Some time ago, I discovered a bug that fell backwards into one of the water dishes. I fished it out, set it upright on a rock so its wings could dry out.

On the railings, I occasionally see spiderlines, but so far only tiny spiders scurrying across concrete. (No webs.)

Including last night, I occasionally see lightning bugs below Drabhu’s branches.

On the sidewalk, especially at night: human beings walking dogs, ferrying children. Cats. Once, an opossum.

Often, teeny tiny dark brown toads; medium sized tan toads.

Last summer, from the kitchen window I saw a neighborhood cat up to mischief with a wild critter. I rushed downstairs and staved the cat off, saving what turned out to be a garter snake.

Definitely outside the open-ended area I think of as our garden (in the back of the apartment), but for the last 2 days, we’ve had an imperial moth stationed near our front door: large yellow creature, with brown blotches, and dark speckles. Very pretty.

Our fledged barnswallows (from the eaves, where their parents built their second nest of the year) haven’t visited our garden, but sometimes I hear them chirping, and see them amongst lamps under the skylight windows. They’re difficult to catch on film unless they’re perched.

= = =

These past few years (2014–Present), my garden’s been teaching me patience and stillness and looking closely at whatever I can see or photograph, noticing changes over time. No flowers this year, and yet… I spend more time on the balcony, or looking at the balcony, than any place besides the bedroom (where I am, now, writing). (The bedroom receives very pretty afternoon light, without being too bright or too hot.)

= = =

Back in 2014 when I was seeing P, my former therapist, she had me make a list of both “inner resources” and “outer resources” that I could draw upon. I asked for clarification about what divided them: she said it should be fairly obvious: “Inner is inside of you; outside is outside of you”.

I went ahead and made a third list that I called “liminal resources”, for things like my potager. Technically, to some people, I guess a garden is “outer”, but these plants are my friends, and… part of my household. Similar to my studio (which also contains plants). In fact, I thinkfeel of my studio like I’ve read Navajo weavers thinkfeel about their looms: their weavings depict the state of the weaver’s soul. My studio and my potager are part of my identity — how can that be definitively “outer”?

= = =

Last night, I was reading a book of Tomas Tranströmer’s poems, in which (poet) David Wojahn asserted that TT’s great theme is liminality, that everything he wrote was about borders of one sort or another.

As I sat on the balcony in the wee hours of this morning, I mused on lines in Swedish and lines translated into English. Was Tranströmer’s poetry, for those moments, part of my potager? If not, why not?


July 25, 2016

I don’t actually want to complain about not feeling well. I want to feel well. When I was younger, I thought if I found the right person to tell what was hurting me, it could be fixed.

= = =

I was discovered to have scoliosis when I was around 16.

Before and after, my mother would make me “stand up straight” (i.e., improve my posture) by jamming a yardstick to my back and trying to get my back to conform to it. It never worked.

It was really painful to hold the position that she said was normal, and that I should be “naturally” doing all the time.

But… if I couldn’t fake it long enough and often enough for her, she held over my head the prospect of a back brace one of the neighbor girls had to wear all the time. The neighbor girl was pretty and popular, and her status could accommodate even an ugly back brace.

I still have terrible posture. The physical therapist I saw a few years ago for my recurrent shoulder injury tried to help me correct it. It was still really hard to hold my muscles that way. Hunching over may be unsightly, but it hurts less.

Well, relatively. No position doesn’t hurt at all.

= = =

I still have remnants of a migraine I contracted Saturday when I went outside while it was still light out. Too bright, too hot.

Last night, I was rubbing my cheek muscles, which hurt because of the migraine. Spouse gets migraines, too, but he realized his cheek muscles never hurt. Nor does he “feel all the bones in his head”, as I sometimes do.

= = =

I can feel things you’re not supposed to be able to feel.

And they hurt.

Some of them hurt all the time. The pain with others, comes and goes.

= = =

I have TMJ, discovered by an early dentist. My jaw swings to the right, and I can’t open my mouth very widely, or for long periods of time. Some dentists have used rubber-blocky-things to prop my mouth open when work’s being done — very helpful.

When impressions are being made for crowns, I have to think very carefully before placing my teeth together “correctly”, since that’s not what my jaws would do “naturally”. Lots of trial and error before I figure that out, though.

= = =

I don’t respond well to pain relievers — unless I use doses high enough to be dangerous, the few that work, don’t work at all.

(For my agonizing bouts of PMS, I regularly took 800mg doses of ibuprofen; otherwise, I was in too much pain to function.)

I have unusual reactions to Novocaine.

The one time my dentist used laughing gas was terrifying: I wasn’t numbed at all, so I was in excruciating pain but I couldn’t move, at all. I couldn’t talk. All I could do was cry, which I did.

My dentist yelled at me for crying, because it “made him feel bad”. I never went back to him.

(I also had an out of body experience, which was kind of cool, and very unlike the previous one I’d had.)

= = =

{{ 7/28 edit: I’ve never figured out why WordPress occasionally, and apparently randomly, drops items from lists. Items #1 and #6 added back in. }}

Here are some of the types of headaches I get:

  1. Migraines.
  2. Sinus issues.
  3. Seasonal allergies.
  4. Barometric pressure changes.
  5. Tension headaches.
  6. TMJ.
  7. Too hot outside.
  8. Too bright outside (reflections bouncing right into my eyeballs) — there’s a particular type of “brightness” that I can feel through walls and buildings. I wake up in the morning, with the blinds drawn, and I already know it’s a day I’ll be staying inside.
  9. Fluorescent lights flickering.
  10. Strong unpleasant smells.
  11. Strongly clashing colorways (usually built environment, not out in nature).

I’m probably forgetting some.

= = =

I’ve had extreme myopia since I was tiny. Astigmatism too.

Lately, my left eye turns inward; it’s not strabismus yet. The eye doctor called it something else: presbyopia.

= = =

If my feet are “too cold”, I can’t sleep, or concentrate. I like going barefoot, but in air conditioning my feet get too cold. I can’t wear sandals because my feet get too cold. I look at people without socks in the summer, and marvel. I wish I could do that.

Sometimes, outside in the summer, I’ve gotten so hot that I can feel my brain physically overheating. (Much likelier now that I live in a subtropical climate. Global warming too.) Nowadays, I know to stay inside as much as possible during summer’s daylight hours.

If I have to go out, I wear protective clothing, and sunglasses, and a hat. And still, it’s not nearly enough. I still have to minimize the time I’m subject to the sun’s rays. (Shade is cooler, but the sun is still there, radiating at me.)

My body temperature doesn’t regulate properly.

= = =

I have to be careful of how long I’m in a hot shower. If my heart starts racing, I know to cool the water temperature down, and make sure the water hits my skin below my heart.

I love the idea of a sauna, but I can’t tolerate them very long.

I’ve often been in a bathroom when I passed out. Better to be sitting because you don’t hit the floor.

If I stand up “too quickly”, I feel dizzy and shaky. I have fainted.

Before I met Spouse, 2 different times, I fainted while out in public. Woke up in the ambulance, disoriented. No one had seen me fall, so they didn’t know what happened either. Tests at the hospital were inconclusive.

(At the time, I wrote them off to having not been eating regularly.)

= = =

My mother and others have called me lazy all my life. It stung.

When I was a teenager, then a young adult, I forced myself to exercise regularly, generally by taking long walks. I waited for the day that I would no longer need to sit down, or take a break, or be out of breath climbing stairs. Never arrived.

I always felt old before my time.

But I guess that’s because I’m lazy. And stupid. Thanks, Mom!

= = =

I can roll my tongue into a tube. I have cousins who can fold the tip of their tongue back on itself, but I can’t do that.

= = =

My joints crack when I stretch my limbs.

= = =

When I was a kid, I figured out I could use my big toes to slide my socks off, if my feet overheated at night. I continued doing that right up until a year or so ago, when I realized that maybe, just maybe, the pain I now have in my big toes might be arthritis.

= = =

3 different specialists asked me if I had Marfan: I’m tall and (still somewhat) thin; have square shoulders; long skinny “piano” fingers, long narrow feet, flat arches. I have a bony, concave-ish chest.

I looked into getting tested for Marfan 18 months ago. Genetic testing was going to be several thousand dollars, not covered by insurance. I decided not to do it.

= = =

My ribs stick out in a weird way.

= = =

A few years ago, I started getting (what my doctor called) “anxiety attacks”, but when I wasn’t doing anything that could possibly make me anxious.

I’d always gotten panic attacks, in social situations. This stuff was different. This stuff felt like an elephant sitting on my chest. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. The first few times, I thought it was a heart attack. Then I thought maybe I was developing asthma.

My cardio tests came out within normal limits though. So my doctor put me on anxiety meds, which I never felt right about. I didn’t take them very long.

= = =

I’ve had something like tendinitis in my elbows since 2011. It got much worse in my right elbow when I accidentally banged it into a wall on my birthday 2 years ago. When I finally went to the doctor about it (worried it was a stress fracture), she said whatever it was, was inconsistent with a break. She advised me getting x-rays, but I never did. I was sure it was somehow a muscle thing, and why would that show up on an x-ray?

= = =

Sometimes my right ankle rolls, and I fall.

I had a catastrophic fall in 2000 when my right ankle rolled as I was running to cross a city street: I fell forward onto the pavement, breaking my left patella, and breaking one of my little fingers. Luckily, I had instinctively put my arms out — if I’d hit the street face-first, it would’ve been so much worse. My glasses were cracked; there was blood everywhere. I was in shock. Still, I managed to get myself to the train station. Someone nearby asked me if I needed help; when I stammered that I did, they walked away. I gingerly lowered my broken knee and sprained other ankle down 2 flights of stairs. Boarded my train, stayed standing. No one but the conductor helped me. I called Spouse so he’d meet my train.

It’s very hard to walk on crutches when you’re immobilizing one knee, but the ankle on the other leg can’t bear weight either. The ankle injury actually took longer to recover from than the broken bone.

= = =

I injured my right shoulder in 1996, at work. The doctor couldn’t figure out quite what had happened: it wasn’t a separated shoulder; it wasn’t a torn rotator cuff. And yet, I was in agonizing pain. I did physical therapy. Slowly, slowly, it got better.

But I’ve reinjured it several times. After the last time, at yoga in 2010, I realized this is just part of what my life is. Now I’m always very very careful of how much weight I allow my right shoulder to bear.

My doctor here, when I first met her (to see her about the yoga injury), said my right shoulder “hung strangely”, that I’d probably need surgery.

The thing is, I think all my muscles hang oddly. I think I’m the wrong kind of stretchy. Which, naturally, leads to accidents and injuries. And pain.

After noticing a particular condition that a lot of autistic people I know from Twitter have, I’ve been researching it, and I think I, too, have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

considering success

July 22, 2016

For my friend Michelle Marshall

Paths to well-defined “success”, trod by increasing millions of human beings, become superhighways just as they lose all utility.

Every “successful” person I know feels hopelessly behind, stressed out, worried about the future.

What if “well-defined success” itself is part of the problem?

= = =

{Also, Life is Hard. But you knew that.}

= = =

When I attended AROHO in 2013, I had one published article to my (old) name, and it wasn’t in a lit journal. I’d never heard of AWP.

I did not have an MFA or even BA in a creative field. In fact, over the 15 years I was an undergraduate, I’d never taken even one English Lit or Creative Writing or Poetry class.

I got my BA in geography, from a commuter school almost no one has ever heard of. I’d dropped out of grad school, for a technical field still almost no one has ever heard of.

I have never formally taught anything. And I don’t want to.

As of July 2013, I’d written 23 poems… in my life.

For a week, I was immersed within all these accomplished successful women. Women who not only had jobs, but had had careers. Women who were published, many in prestigious lit journals (albeit ones I hadn’t heard of; I was such a newbie). Women who’d published books. Women who were editors; women who ran small presses.

I didn’t fit in. (I never do.)

I’m not wholly a woman, but my majority not-so-womanly parts were not welcome in a Retreat for Women Writers, so I kept them hidden.

I often doubt that I’m… well, a human being, if I’m being honest. I feel more like a tree or a river that just happens to be human-shaped. Some of that is being autistic (which I didn’t know about in 2013); a great deal of it, isn’t. I’ve spent more time, certainly more “quality time”, with trees and rivers than with human beings. I definitely understand the former better than the latter, whom I often don’t understand at all.

I didn’t make any human friends, although during that week I thought I had.

= . =

After I returned home, I asked 14 of the poets and 1 of the non-poet writers to suggest poets I should read, via self-addressed stamped postcards I sent them. Just this week I received #9, but the other 8 responded within a few months. Through these women, I read poets I likely wouldn’t have stumbled across.

I found a great deal more poets I liked through anthologies I picked up blindly. Inter-Library Loan, and the Pratt (Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore City) have supplied me with 100s more.

= . =

I count my week at AROHO as a thundering success.

I wrote two poems there, including one that’s among the truest things I’ve ever written. I painted two watercolor paintings. A door inside of me I didn’t know about, opened up a bit; I glimpsed a poem cycle I may yet write. I made friends with cottonwoods, with lizards, with mountains. I met a dead scorpion. I heard coyotes. I saw meteors and the Milky Way. In the library at 2 a.m., night after night, I read about shamans and mythology and archetypes; I read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Someone much older than me mentioned her kinship with Inanna; I told her of my own relationship with Ereshkigal. I performed a poem in an arroyo; the video was later shown to the whole assemblage. I had an ecstatic experience in the Rio Chama.

For the first time, that week, I inhabited Meander. I grew into myself.

= . =

There’s no way to fit any of the above into a “well-defined successful” narrative.

The thing about “well-defined success”… no individual person defined it. They accepted the narrative(s) they saw around them. They fit themselves into something defined by someone else.

I don’t want that.

What matters to me in my life is… process. Having new and fruitful experiences. Learning about the world, learning about me. Finding what I can do that no one else can do.
I am successful at all of those things, but what matters more to me is… I’m alive. I’m doing stuff. I’m discovering.I’m a verb. No, I’m verbs: I’m verb-ing. I am process.

Reading List 8 of 2016

July 22, 2016

Covers the period from 7.7.2016 through 7.22.16

I own 3 of these items. Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 9 of the books and movies; libraries in other parts of Maryland, via Inter-Library Loan, supplied the other 30.


Social activism / resisting authority:

  1. Conscience: A Very Short Introduction by Paul Strohm
  2. Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do is Wrong by Ira Chaleff
  3. Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, edited by Marc Falkoff
  4. Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, edited & compiled by Philip Cushway and Michael Warr
  5. Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement by Simeon Booker with Carol McCabe Booker
  6. The Suffragette: The History of the [British] Women’s Militant Suffrage Movement, 1905–1910, by E. Sylvia Pankhurst // this book published in 1911; autographed by author (!)
  7. Women’s Suffrage and Prohibition: A Comparative Study of Equality and Social Control by Ross Evans Paulson
  8. [Film] Experimenter: The Stanley Milgram Story, dir. Michael Almereyda
  9. [Film] Labyrinth of Lies, dir. Giulio Ricciarelli
  10. [Film] Suffragette, dir. Sarah Gavron


Poetry (originally written in English):

  1. A Northern Calendar by Ira Sadoff {chb}
  2. And Short the Season by Maxine Kumin
  3. Dead Reckoning by Kenneth Fearing
  4. Engine Empire by Cathy Park Hong
  5. Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans since 1945, edited by Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton
  6. Facts about the Moon: Poems by Dorianne Laux
  7. From the Darkroom by Madeline DeFrees (who was Sr. Mary Gilbert)
  8. The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide, edited by Eric Magrane and Christopher Cokinos
  9. Time and the Tilting Earth by Miller Williams
  10. Women Poets of the Americas: Toward a Pan-American Gathering, edited by Jacqueline Vaught Brogan and Cordelia Chávez Candelaria


Poetry (translated into English from various):

  1. Carrying Over: Poems from the Chinese, Urdu, Macedonian, Yiddish, and French African, by Carolyn Kizer
  2. Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva, A Reading by Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine [[Russian]]
  3. Modern Malay Verse, 1946–1961, selected by Oliver Rice and Abdullah Majid
  4. Muse in Prison: 11 Sketches of Ukrainian Poets Killed by Communists and 22 Translations of their Poems, edited by Yar Slavutych
  5. Poems by Nazim Hikmet, tr. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk [[Turkish]]


Spanish Literature:

  1. Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage, Vol. 3, edited by Ramon A. Gutierrez
  2. The Victorious Expression: A Study of 4 Contemporary Spanish Poets: Unamuno, Machado, Jiménez, and Lorca, by Howard T. Young



  1. A Book About Chapbooks: The People’s Literature of Bygone Times by Harry B. Weiss
  2. Effluences from the Sacred Caves: More Selected Essays and Reviews by Hayden Carruth
  3. Sleeping with One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival, edited by Marilyn Kallet and Judith Ortiz Cofer
  4. A Story Larger than My Own: Women Writers Look Back on their Lives and Careers, edited by Janet Burroway
  5. Two Cities: On Exile, History, and the Imagination by Adam Zagajewski



  1. Bill Cunningham New York, dir. Richard Press
  2. Boy Meets Girl, dir. Eric Schaeffer
  3. Brooklyn, dir. John Crowley
  4. Laggies, dir. Lynn Shelton
  5. Youth, dir. Paolo Sorrentino {{truly terrible; such a disappointment}}



  1. The Nebula Awards Showcase 2011, edited by Kevin J. Anderson
  2. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead



  1. Cracking Up: The Work of Unconscious Experience by Christopher Bollas
  2. Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker
  3. Right by Her Roots: Americana Women and Their Songs by Jewly Hight


vadeando / wading into it

July 15, 2016

I’ve been immersing myself in poetry in Spanish. The volumes I’ve been reading are bilingual, so the English is right beside the other. But I’ve been reading the Spanish first, often aloud.

If I don’t think, I can often feel the sense of some of the words without directly translating them.

This morning I dreamed a Spanish word that doesn’t exist: Americanarse; my scribbled note says  ‘to turn American’, whatever that could mean.

= = =

If Gramma had spoken Lithuanian to me when I was a child, its rhythms could be within me, shaping my perspectives and perceptions.

I wish she had.

I guess r’s are rolled in Lithuanian, as well as Spanish. I can’t figure out how to do it. That makes me immensely self-conscious when I speak Spanish, beyond how slowly and unmelodiously I painstakingly pronounce las palabras.

= = =

Lithuanian was the first language of my heart, but I don’t speak it or read it, nor do I understand it when it is spoken or written.

Spanish was the second language of my heart, which I began learning in school at 11. I took it for 3.5 years in high school. I can read it much better than I can speak it. When I listen to Spanish-language radio, because of the speed at which people speak, I usually only pick out a few words.

= = =

Gramma was born in Chicago but her parents were immigrants from the old country: her first language, spoken at home, was Lithuanian. Maybe she didn’t learn English until she got to school, I don’t know. All her life, she said certain phrases that were awkward in English, but probably they were correct in Lithuanian. Embarrassingly, the one I recall best was “go to toilet” when she meant “go to the bathroom”.

Gramma took Spanish in high school.

I don’t know if she ever used it. But still, it’s a not-English language we would have had in common. (Although I didn’t learn that fact until I interviewed my mother about her family for a term paper I wrote in college. Gramma died the week I turned the paper in.)

= = =

I’ve known for years (ironically, from reading historical romances) that Spanish has been spoken in the United States since the 1500s, long before English, so “English first” or “English only” movements are total bullshit.

In college, I wrote (another) paper on Arabic words that passed into Spanish and then English.

Since I was 18, I’ve wanted to learn Maltese — not just because Malta is super cool, but — because the Maltese language is a child of Arabic and Spanish and Italian, but written in a Latinate alphabet.

= = =

Back to Spanish. As an adult, delving into the language again, I’ve been frustrated and annoyed at how many terms are militaristic, violent, patriarchal, sexist.

And yet, it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to realize that so many of the people who speak Spanish now, speak Spanish for imperialist and colonialist reasons. You know, like why so many people speak English.

Arabic, Russian, French, German, Dutch. Turkish? Persian? Obviously I’m not much of a student of world history because I don’t actually know off the top of my head how many languages with a lot of speakers achieved that through conquest and genocide.

= = =

If my father’s Irish parents had grown up speaking Irish Gaelic, though, they still would’ve had to learn English when they arrived in the US. My mother’s Lithuanian grandparents did have to learn English when they arrived in the US.

I have complicated feelings about languages.

Do I wish I knew Irish Gaelic? Yes. I definitely wish I knew Lithuanian. And yet…

I deliberately chose my first name to be in English. Partly because… I’m a poet who writes in English. The thoughts I have that are in words, are in English words. (Occasionally Spanish words.)

If my head was full of Irish Gaelic and Lithuanian words… I’d have no one to speak them with.

= = =

Trade languages are kind of a motif in my poetry (and my life). I think about them a lot. I wish there were more that were inter-species. But if there were inter-species ‘trade’ languages, they’d probably be human-centric, and would have come into being through conquest and genocide. You know, like we’re doing right now as we exterminate every other organism on the planet. Why would any of them even want to learn what we’re saying when we do it?

There are so many human being people that speak English that are speaking against conquest and genocide right now, and they are being ignored, or persecuted. Killed, certainly.

= = =

What should I be trying to do?

How should I be thinking about which languages I use?

What could I do differently?

I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.



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