Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Required Poet: Lorna Dee Cervantes

Okay, I know last time I said I would start these last three posts off with Gloria Anzaldua, but clearly, as you can probably tell by the title of this blog, I lied. I just didn’t get through all seven of the required chapters of Borderlands/La Frontera in time. Therefore, I am covering the much shorter assignment of the five poems required from Lorna Dee Cervantes. It is easy reading and great stuff. I’m glad I read it.


Cervantes’ writing qualifies as a Chicana-Native American, feminists, and political. All of the above descriptions definitely come through in all five of the required poems. At least one of the issues of race, gender, and politics comes through in some way in each of them.

Uncle’s First Rabbit

I know I have said this at least once for the past two posts, but I have to say it again…this one makes me sad. It starts out so well with “He was a good boy,” but I guess the operative word in the first line is “was.” The poem begins with an innocent boy out to hunt his first rabbit for his grandpa, and then it appears that all hell break’s loose. It fast-forwards 50 years where the main character is remembering the cry of the rabbit and mixing it with the cry of his now deceased little sister. He remembers the abuse of his father on his mother, and then running off to fight in a war, only to end up, 50 years later, also abusing his wife just like the father he now hates did. Mostly he remembers running away from everything, and at the end, he wants to run away again from the wife he constantly abuses. I see it as a commentary and how something like abuse can be generational, even if the one who continues the tradition knows how awful it is. And what makes this really sad is that the poem is titled “Uncle’s First Rabbit,” meaning this could have been someone Cervantes knew, someone in her own family.

Cannery Town in August

This poem illustrates the working women who spent their days in the cannery. The poem describes their “spinach speckled shoes,” and how the women “smell of whiskey and tomatoes,” and of “peach fuzz reddening their lips and eyes,” almost as if their work just permeates their entire being and then goes home with them. I especially enjoy the description of the night bird as it “sing[s] the swing shift home.” And as they leave, they don’t even speak, but just walk almost like mindless zombies, just numb from the long day of work.

Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway

This one reminded me of “Uncle’s First Rabbit” in that it seems to reiterate the idea of generational habits and abuse. The grandmother builds a house after leaving a man that had tried to kill her, despite having been with him for 25 years. And then the granddaughter, who I assume is the speaker, also grows up and ends up in an abusive relationship. Also, just like her grandmother, she starts to plant geraniums, tie her hair up in loose braids, and only trust what she built with her own hands. And to only trust what she has built with her own hands means to not trust that freeway in the front of their house – the one the speaker describes as a “blind worm, wrapping the valley up from Los Altos to Sal Si Puedes.” I especially enjoyed the speaker giving everyone kind of a superhero alter-ego and making her grandmother the Queen, her mother the “Swift Knight, Fearless Warrior,” and herself the “Scribe: Translator of Foreign Mail.” Seriously, who didn’t do this as a kid…to this day I have at least five good superhero names waiting to be used. Heck, I am writing this blog under one of them…

For Virginia Chavez

This is a sort of ode to a great friend, I am guessing. There are some wonderful memories here of going out with boys, and then outsmarting said boys, stealing sips of alcohol from mom’s stash, of reading poetry together, of being pregnant together, and then the less than happy times of men leaving and taking the kids with them. The poem seems to span an entire lifetime of adventures with a great friend, and then it ends as if to say those adventures aren’t over. It is almost as if they have found each other again after a long absence and intend on making up for lost time. I could be wrong about that last part, but that is just how I feel about it.

Poem for the Young White Man Who Asked Me How I, an Intelligent, Well-Read Person Could Believe in the War Between Races

Just have to start by saying that I love the title of this one. It starts out with what I am sure people have said to Cervantes, and even a few things Cervantes herself has probably wished she could say, but to do so would be to ignore the very obvious fact racism and prejudice is real, as the speaker knows by the way people look at her and by the events that happen all around her. The speaker states quite plainly that she believes in a revolution, and the last lines states “I do not believe in the war between races/but in this country/there is war.” For the speaker, there is just too much evidence to believe otherwise. Cervantes wants to “dance on rooftops, /to whisper delicate lines about joy/ and the blessings of human understanding” (now that would be nice), but alas, it just isn’t that way. This poem also makes me sad.


Really just one little tidbit I wish to share: growing up Cervantes was forced to speak only English in the home because her parents wished to avoid the racism that was prevalent in her community at the time. Later in her life her brother got a job at a local library and that introduced her to a lot of her poetic influences such as Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, and Byron. The word “emplumada,” which is the title of the collection of poetry all of these poems appear in, is a combination of both “feathered” and “pen flourish.” Cervantes explores the issue of being “chicana” and being in-between two cultures.

Okay, next time, I will actually do Gloria Anzaldua, I promise…maybe.

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