Monday, December 21, 2009

"A New Ear in Chicana and Latina Poetics"

Standing, waiting for an elevator in San Antonio I hear it: the ease with which a cluster of bystanders move, seamlessly, between the two. I’m speaking, of course, of English and Spanish, Spanish and English. One of the strands of Chicano poetry I’m most enamored with is that work that can successfully recreate that phenomena in a work of literary art. The pinnacle might be “El Louie” by José Montoya. Among the poets of my generation, no one does it better than Brenda Cárdenas. It’s for this reason that one of the volumes of poetry I’ve most enjoyed in 2009 is the recently released Boomerang. I gave the book to Sandra Cisneros for her birthday.


from Boomerang Light

by Juan Felipe Herrera

The beginning is empty; however, the emptiness is plural—there are limitless space quadrants in the vast, open, uncharted field of “lost sounds.” And it is here in the nameless and formless universe where she rises, “braying the silence away.” What brays? you may ask. Listen: a woman half-panther, a storyteller with a snout and “coyote moonshine,” with “belly to earth.” The first pages of this multivoiced collection point to the various elements, figures, and vibratory word scales of Cárdenas’s “boomerang.”

This curved, V-like flying figure is the woman-body in motion for-itself and for-others. Self determined and self-propelled, it can take the shape, vocality, velocity, and temperatures it desires—across time, herstory, and space. And it can also ingest, incubate, pulse, and migrate internally and beyond the parameters of its form. After it has consumed the universe, the boomerang—one-half made of explosion, the other of pronouncement—“leaves a rhythm scattered on the wind.”

This collection is volatile the way a panther or trickster coyote is capable of deft performance at night or at dawn when all is quiet and seems to be in order. As the boomerang rings and rattles across loves, deaths, stories, language(s), growled and lettered utterances, rhythm narratives, and lives it leaps across the last four decades. It demarcates a new ear in Chicana and Latina poetics in the Américas.




Mother, Father / there’s no passing the cup.
I’m going to be a troublemaker / when I grow up.

—Demetria Martínez

Me and my cuz,
the toughest chicks on the south-side strip,
we roar up and down the avenue
in her brother’s midnight-blue Barracuda,
with the tiny paint flecks that flicker in the sun,
chrome sparkling and Santana blaring from the Bose,
Dylan embroidered into the seatbelts
with rainbow floss—Tangled Up in Blue.

Me and my cuz,
we hang in the park all afternoon,
strut past boys with our long manes flowing,
our faded jeans snug and patched
to match our hips’ swing to the right and left.
We dare them to call us over for a little cervecita.

Me and my cuz,
we cruise past Tío’s bar on Saturday afternoons
to perch on the spinning stools
and sip soda while he washes glasses
and mops the sticky floors.

His voice deepens when he begins
Lesson Número Uno:
“Pretty soon you girls will be old enough
to come into taverns like this,
y esúchame bien,
don’t you ever let me catch you
take your change off the bar.
Snap up your dollar bills,
pero dejen las monedas.
We bartenders got to make a living too.”

Then he instructs us on backdoor escapes
from slimy pendejos
and fifty ways to leave los cabrones
“who just sit on these stools every night
guzzling Budweisers and waiting
patiently to pay you pretty little compliments
that turn into babies y chingazos,
pots, pans y muchas lágrimas.”

Me and my cuz
we got it down, Lesson Número Uno:
bars, boys and blue Barracudas
for the rest of our lives.

from BOOMERANG (Bilingual Press, 2009)

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