grief-with-thanks-to-denise-levertov-09-13-2016

Grief (with thanks to Denise Levertov), conte crayon on paper, 11 x 12 inches

Levertov’s poem “Talking to Grief” gave me this image that helps me to acknowledge and honor such sorrows; I’m so grateful. And grateful also to my spiritual director, the Rev. Sandee Yarlott, for the language of “acknowledging” and “honoring.”

While I was working on the drawing, I returned to the poem and decided to try to translate it into Spanish. Robert Frost said that poetry is what gets lost in translation, and it’s probably more than I can do to get a literal translation right, much less evoke the poetry of the original. I have a lot of questions for my Spanish teachers when we meet next week, such as “what’s the nearest Spanish equivalent to ‘grief’?” and which of the various terms for “mat” evokes the kind you’d be likely to give to a stray dog, and whether the tone is at all like Levertov’s. But here’s my first pass at it. Friends who are fluent in Spanish, I’d love your input on the translation, if you’re so inclined. The English original is here.

Hablando a Dolor
por Denise Levertov

Ah, Dolor, yo no debería tratarte
como un perro sin hogar
que venga a la puerta trasera
por una corteza, por un hueso sin carne.
Yo debería confiar en ti.

Yo debería engatusarte
para entrar la casa y darte
tu proprio rincón,
Una estera gastada para acostarte,
tu proprio plato de agua.

Tu piensas que yo no sé que hayas estado viviendo
debajo de mi porche.
Tu añoras que tu verdadero lugar esté preparado
antes de que el invierno venga. Necesitas
tu nombre,
tu collar y chapa. Necesitas
el derecho de ahuyentar intrusos,
considerar
mi casa la tuya
y yo tu persona
y tú mismo
mi proprio perro.

Today we went to a huge buffet with accompanying children’s activities: jungle gym, swings, slides, air hockey, and–the highlight for the Munchkin–a real, working, child-powered four-horse merry-go-round. The buffet features over 100 dishes, and three different musical groups take turns entertaining the crowd or serenading a table:  a guitar duo, a mariachi band, and a pop band up on stage.

The decor reflected the imminence of September 16, Mexico’s Día de la Independencia. So did the food: note the green, white and red spaghettis.

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Even the dessert got in on the act. Gelatina is a favorite snack in Oaxaca. I wasn’t tempted, but it went fast.

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There were plenty of desserts to tempt us, though. All three of us had delicious chocolate cake. I was curious what was in this dessert to make the bees love it so much, but didn’t try a slice to find out. Honey, presumably.

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Naturally, people can celebrate their own culture in ways that would be frankly racist if an outsider did it. This leads to some jarring moments, such as seeing this decoration:

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People were also having their pictures taken inside an enormous frame that put a Pancho Villa mustache on them and a black sombrero on their heads. And there was this . . .

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“Cabrones” shows up in my dictionary as “not a nice thing to call someone,” but it’s true that one meaning is “guys.”

So, we tried this and that dish and seconds on the best ones, until I felt like this little guy.

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When it was time to stretch, we walked out on the grounds. Munchkin, of course, had been doing plenty of running and climbing in the indoor playground; now we all needed a break. The grounds are enormous, clearly designed to host weddings and other such events, and also have another playground and a boat for kids to climb on, which Munchkin promptly did. They also had a fountain that reminded me of our trip to Teotihuacan in 2010. The munchkin, then three, had wanted to climb the Pyramid of the Sun. I told her we’d come back when she was older for another chance. Maybe today was it.

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She identified this plant immediately, having learned about it in her summer camp last month. Its name is as lovely as its flowers: Lluvia de estrellas, rain of stars.

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And we went back inside for hours more of sitting (the adults), climbing (Munchkin), and feasting (all of us). We decided to skip dinner tonight.

A couple of weeks ago, Joy went to explore the big Chadraui, one of a supermarket chain around here. A smaller (though by no means small) one is a few blocks from us; the big one is on the other side of town. She came back with marvelous treats, such as real maple syrup and plain Cheerios–we’d only been able to find sweetened ones. The plain ones contain plenty of sugar, too, but something in my parenting sensibilities draws the line at the Honey-Nut variety, and faints dead away at Chocolate Cheerios. Munchkin has been missing her favorite cereal.

Joy described the store to us: “It’s the size of a small moon.” watermelondeathstar3

“That’s no moon,” I quipped nerdily, and so we have called the store the Death Star Chadraui ever since. Today, all three of us went there for the first time. Munchkin was excited. “Are we going to see the Death Star?” she said. At that point I thought we might have gone too far. At this rate, we were going to be in for some serious disappointment when we got there. I was hoping TIE fighters would come spinning out to meet us. “Yeah,” Munchkin said. “All the checkout people ought to be stormtroopers . . . ”

As it turned out, we didn’t see any TIE fighters or stormtroopers, nor was Darth Vader stalking through the dairy section, but we did enjoy ourselves, especially on the moving ramp, a kind of cross between a moving sidewalk and an escalator. The Empire ought to consider installing one of its own. And the store is the size of a small moon. Later, not really thinking about my choice of words, I told Joy that the store was “impressive.” She said, “Most impressive.”

 

(Death Star watermelon by SilverisDead, (c) 2009)

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Pencil & ink, 9.5 x 12.5 inches, July-August 2016

Yesterday, after considerately waiting until 9 or 10 a.m., people in our neighborhood began setting off firecrackers. “Cracker” is not the right word. FireBOOMS. All morning, we had this series of sounds:

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee BOOM AAAAAAH!

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee BOOM AAAAAAH!

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee BOOM AAAAAAH!

Eeeeee as a bomb rose, BOOM as it went off, and then the Munchkin’s scream.

I said, “Is August 28 some kind of holiday we don’t know about?” and Joy said, realistically, “Probably.” There are a lot of holidays here. I’ve speculated many times that I could learn comprehensive Mexican history just by looking up the dates after which streets are named. What did happen on February 6, January 20, etc., that they should be honored in this way?

I haven’t seen a Calle 28 de agosto, so maybe it was a saint’s day? It’s always someone’s saint’s day, in fact many someones’. And sure enough, on the walk home from dinner out with a friend, we saw a parade coming our way. It was clearly religious, so at first we thought, “Funeral,” but at night? It seemed unlikely. The people were singing and carrying cross-topped banners, and one bier of flowers. The holy person portrayed in the banner on the bier looked like any old white European man with a beard, so we wouldn’t have been any wiser, except that another banner read “San Augustin vive para siempre (Saint Augustine lives forever). It turns out that August 28 is the saint day of Augustine of Hippo, a very important person in the history of the church. It’s interesting to note that he was neither white nor European, but a Berber, which means he probably looked a lot like the people who were marching and singing in the parade.

Moving along finishing some pieces. These two little critters have been almost-done for several weeks. The cat is 5″ long, the armadillo 4″, not counting their tails.IMG_7236IMG_7237

Heaven knows we aren’t going to have room in our suitcases even for the things we’ve made and bought, but I think we need to buy more unpainted alebrijes to bring home. We’re already thinking, “Alebrijes-painting party!”–for the munchkin’s next birthday if she wants, sure, but also for grownup friends.

Some art works start with an image that comes to my mind, some with an idea I want to express, some with something I see that begs to be re-created on paper. And then there are some that begin with a powerful desire for an excuse to buy more fine-tipped markers.

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I think I’ll be doing more in this vein, but I’ve promised myself: no new pieces until I’ve finished most of the ones that are half-done.

 

With a printmaking class coming up starting September 3, I thought it would be a good deadline for finishing the various half-done pieces I have in process. It’s been luxurious to start any piece that comes to mind, knowing I have lots of time to cycle through them, but when I counted I thought of eight pieces currently in process, not including a couple of designs that will probably be turned into prints. I often find it difficult to call a piece complete, and I wanted to nudge myself to just do it.

Well, today’s Tuesday, I thought. We’ll be going to the studio where we do ceramics, and our pieces will be out of the kiln, so I’ll glaze my two–a great start toward my goal for September 3. However, when we got there, the pieces had not returned from the kiln. So I . . . . started on a new piece, a linocut. Which, of course, is now unfinished piece number nine. Oh well! At least I can finish it at home, having splurged on a set of tools yesterday.

During one of our weekly staff meetings several months before my sabbatical began, our Minister of Religious Education, Dan Harper, said, “Well, not that you’re looking for another sabbatical project, but if you were . . . ” It turns out that he sees a real need for a book of stories from the Bible for Unitarian Universalist kids around nine or ten years old. There are UU curricula introducing kids to this heritage (e.g., Timeless Themes), but he would love to have a volume to give each of our Religious Education students at that age. We could publish it ourselves, as he has done with his early history of Unitarians in Palo Alto and the Yuletide Song and Carol Book. In fact, we have funding for such a project thanks to a memorial book fund generously created by the family and friends of Sherwood Sullivan, a former president of our congregation who died late last year.

I wasn’t particularly in search of a project. Living in another country, learning Spanish, making lots of art, meeting regularly with my spiritual director, and expanding a program to teach Unitarian Universalists about modern slavery seemed like enough to grow on for six months. However, this idea sparked my imagination. The book Bible Stories retold by David Kossoff was a staple of my childhood, with its beautiful painted illustrations by Gino d’Achille and the writer’s vivid, down-to-earth voice. For example, when I think of the story of Absalom, who was killed as a traitor in the civil war he’d launched against his father King David, I always, always hear how Kossoff prefaced the famous passage:

The news was brought to David, and the people saw no triumph, no elation. Just a heartbroken man who’d lost a son. “O, Absalom,” they heard him say. “Would to God I had died instead of you. O, Absalom, my son, my son.”

(You can actually hear Kossoff himself, who was an actor as well, reading some of these stories on YouTube–see link below.)

As a religious educator, Unitarian Universalist, minister, parent, and lover of literature, I also have a voice to bring to these ancient, abiding, disturbing, inspiring, confusing tales. When Dan mentioned the idea, I immediately thought of some of the religious questions and ideas I’d developed around the age of nine or ten, and the stories that inspired them. I’d have to tell the story of Jonah, who is one of the most humanly flawed, and thus one of my favorite, characters in the Bible: a prophet, called to summon people to repentance, who is angry and disappointed when they actually do repent and gain forgiveness. And the story of Abraham bargaining with God to gain mercy for the people of Gomorrah and Sodom, which our Hebrew School teachers taught us as evidence that Jews’ God does not desire unthinking obedience, but respects a principled argument–in other words, that we are meant to use our reason and conscience to challenge even the God who gave them to us.

The fact that the same God, four chapters later, told the same man to sacrifice his beloved son like a sheep, and honored him for being willing to do it, raised so many painful questions. Were we supposed to be obedient after all? What the hell kind of God would ask such a thing? How did Isaac feel about it?

How will I introduce “texts of terror” like this? . . . that’s one of the many questions before me. But however I manage it, encouraging children’s questions and independent thinking is one of my goals for this book. Whether they’re UUs or just curious, engaged thinkers, they should wrestle with the text and the tradition, just as the Biblical Jacob wrestled with his brother, God, and himself–another story that will probably need to be included.

And I’ve got a reader on hand to raise questions and give me feedback from the target readership: a bright, questioning Unitarian Universalist nine-year-old. She’s also interested in creating illustrations, which I have promised she may do. I might do a few of my own as well, if the spirit so moves.

What stories would you include?

Bible Stories: the story of David, part 1, as read by the reteller

Last Saturday we went to a workshop on barro negro (black clay) with an artist from San Bartolo de Coyotepec. Incredibly, the method is pure pinch pot: building it up with one’s hands, without coils (for the most part), slabs, or pottery wheel. I really liked the vase I made, but the bottom is much too thick and has developed cracks that would break it right apart in the firing. So I am going to dissolve it back into clay and start over–now that I’ve documented what it looks like.

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Then, yesterday, we went to Burro Press and got a lesson in linocuts, called suelografía in Spanish, to my amusement–suelo means floor. Here’s the first proof of my first linocut, and the placa (what’s it called in English? plate?) below.

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There are two changes I’ll make now that I can see how it’s come out, and one change I wish I could make but can’t. I will make the sky and the area around the door more purely white, and I wish I could change the cross-hatching on the left-hand building (left-hand in the print, that is, not the plate). I wanted it to look lighter in color than the building to its right, but I think it is too busy. If I had it to do over again, I would use the same technique of vertical white lines, but make them denser.

And I will have it to do over again, because I’m taking a class in woodcut and linocut at the Casa de la Cultura Oaxaqueña starting in two weeks. (I won’t really re-do this piece, though. I have other plans.)

Joy & Munchkin made beautiful pieces in both media, and we’ll be picking up their fired barro negro later today.

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