Friday, June 13, 2014

Poetrypalooza Day 6 - This River Here: Poems of San Antonio

This River Here: Poems of San Antonio, Carmen Tafolla
Wings Press
978-1-60940-399-7
$16.95, 92 pgs

Well. I am stunned. If you've never been to San Antonio then please come on down. But if you can't pay a visit then you should definitely pick up a copy of This River Here: Poems of San Antonio by San Antonio's first Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla. The hot, drowsy afternoons; the cool green river; the melody of Tex-Mex in your ears; the savory fire of Tex-Mex on your tongue; the magic of the curanderos in the very air. It's all here, in this book, this herencia, including an offering of photographs to get lost in. We are rich here in this old river city, busily blurring the lines.

My favorites (I had a wonderfully terrible time trying to choose only two):

"Fragile Flames"

Altares viejos of my path-warmed house
older than our prayers
light as sacred sunrays
rich as scarred and ancient wood
your votive one-day candles last
well beyond twilight, stubborn miracles
on this inherited dark wool sarape
with stained and balding fringe
still tipping stripes of life's
most painful, hopeful colors

tiny lights make loans of faith
to midnight's darkest storms
My people
lean on a chance
live on a hope
pray in a fragile flicker
of stolen candlelight

Holy places around us everywhere
tiny hallway tables with a handtorn branch
of esperanza-yellow bloom and seeds
dressertops with tin milagro wings
backyard carefully historied pile of stones
each one a prayer a bead of sweat
protecting red-dressed, star-cloaked Virgin
a now-unsainted Christopher
nervous on the dashboard
with the cross flying above him,
the doilied corner shelf with pictures
of those lost six months or sixty years ago
still with us

These resilient rocks of lifepath prayers
wet-mortared of the past and present
always bow to possible milagros living in the future
Their flowers - living, dead, or artificial - faithful
testifying silently to our belief
that fragile flames
soft-speak the power
of things too real
too strong too deep
to be simply
seen

"San Anto's Mezcla Mágica"

What it means to co-exist,
to bloom together,
is that the lines grow fuzzy,
optical illusions with two different faces
appearing at different times
there is not a street that marks
a neighborhood others have not
crossed into
eaten, loved, lived in, tasted in a different way

Even in Alamo Heights,
tamales end up on the "Old Texas" families'
Thanksgiving tables, while "Graciela's" sells
designer suits in sarape colors
Even on Nogalitos Street
the Chinese tamarind seed is the top-selling snack
at the Mexican food counter,
Indian curry gets scooped up
in comal-warmed pita bread
Vietnamese eggrolls brim out of
toasty tortillas made from
German-milled white flour

At the corner of French and Fredericksburg Road
Martínez Barbacoa pairs steaming barbacoa
with ice-cold, carbonated Big Red,
imports El Milagro tortillas from Austin
and Virgin of Guadalupe wooden bracelets from Mexico,
stacks avocados just lusciously ripe enough
but not too soft, in front of the lusciously Olympian Aztecs
posed on a calendar that only distantly layers
echoed rhythms of the Aztec Calendar

After barbacoa and corn tortillas for breakfast
we want "something different" for lunch
and pair black-smoked Jamaican Jerk Bar-B-Q
with chile-roasted corn
So nighttime at Sam's Burger Joint we are not surprised
when in the Music Hall out back
a tall, blonde Chicana named Patricia Vonne
(née Rodriguez and freshly back from concert tour of Europe)
rattles the cage of the stage and
sings a blend smooth as honey
to the harmony of a rock electric guitar
country fiddle
and Spanish castanets

Carmen Tafolla is the author of more than 20 books. She has received numerous awards, among them the Art of Peace Award; the Charlotte Zolotow Award; the Americas Award, presented at the Library of Congress; two ALA Notable Books; and two international Latino Book Awards. She is currently Writer-in-Residence for Children's, Youth & Transformative Literature at the University of Texas/San Antonio. In 2012, Ms. Tafolla was named the first Poet Laureate of the City of San Antonio.

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