Split This Rock Poetry Festival
Sonia Sanchez at Bus Boys and Poets, and Martin Espada, Ethelbert Miller, Naomi Shihab Nye (pictured above) and Alix Olson at Bell Multicultural High School. Quite the lineup. I walked over to the latter w. Steve, who lives in the city. Interestingly he was talking about a poet who's work impressed him and it turned out to be Diane Gilliam. Adrianne Rich could not attend but sent a letter and a poem. Sam Hammill had had a series of minor heart attacks, so likewise.
This one by Naomi Shihab Nye earned a standing ovation:
Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours, I heard the announcement: If
anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic, Please come to the
Well — one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. "Help,"
said the flight service person. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her
the flight was going to be four hours late and she did this."
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly. "Shu dow-a, shu- biduck
habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick, Sho bit se-wee?"
The minute she heard any words she knew — however poorly used – She
She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso
for some major medical treatment the Following day. I said "No, no, we’re fine,
you’ll get there, just late, Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him."
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her — SouthWest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found
out of course they had ten shared friends!
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian Poets I
know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering questions.
Soon after, she pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered
sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — out of her bag and was
offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a Sacrament.
The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California, the lovely woman from
Laredo — we were all covered with the same
powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.
And then the airline broke out the free (non-alcoholic beverages from huge
coolers and the two little girls for our flight--one African
American, one Mexican American — ran around serving us all Apple Juice and
Llemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands – had a
potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry
leaves. Ah, an old country traveling tradition: always carry a plant. Always
stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, "This is the
world I want to live in. The shared world."
Not a single person in this gate — once the crying of confusion stopped – was
apprehensive about any other person.
They took to the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.
And this one by Martín Espada is the title poem from a collection of the same name:
Imagine the Angels of Bread
This is the year that squatters evict landlords,
gazing like admirals from the rail
of the roofdeck
or levitating hands in praise
of steam in the shower;
this is the year
that shawled refugees deport judges
who stare at the floor
and their swollen feet
as files are stamped
with their destination;
this is the year that police revolvers,
stove-hot, blister the fingers
of raging cops,
and nightsticks splinter
in their palms;
this is the year
that darkskinned men
lynched a century ago
return to sip coffee quietly
with the apologizing descendants
of their executioners.
This is the year that those
who swim the border's undertow
and shiver in boxcars
are greeted with trumpets and drums
at the first railroad crossing
on the other side;
this is the year that the hands
pulling tomatoes from the vine
uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts the vine,
the hands canning tomatoes
are named in the will
that owns the bedlam of the cannery;
this is the year that the eyes
stinging from the poison that purifies toilets
awaken at last to the sight
of a rooster-loud hillside,
pilgrimage of immigrant birth;
this is the year that cockroaches
become extinct, that no doctor
finds a roach embedded
in the ear of an infant;
this is the year that the food stamps
of adolescent mothers
are auctioned like gold doubloons,
and no coin is given to buy machetes
for the next bouquet of severed heads
in coffee plantation country.
If the abolition of slave-manacles
began as a vision of hands without manacles,
then this is the year;
if the shutdown of extermination camps
began as imagination of a land
without barbed wire or the crematorium,
then this is the year;
if every rebellion begins with the idea
that conquerors on horseback
are not many-legged gods, that they too drown
if plunged in the river,
then this is the year.
So may every humiliated mouth,
teeth like desecrated headstones,
fill with the angels of bread.