Thursday, September 18, 2014

Image-ing Poetry

Poetry videos have been around for quite some time now; I remember my first experience with them was some years ago at an AWP conference, when some conference organizer had the bright idea to pipe them into the elevators (which, conveniently, had small video screens).  For four days I'd get into an elevator to go somewhere and find myself riding up and down a few extra times just to see the loop of new poetry set to visuals.  I thought of it as "Image-ing" poetry, giving a poem a set of images to accompany the words, and to tell you the truth, I was not all that thrilled about it.

After all, for me, the moment when a poem's image reaches out and runs goosebumps down my arms is a joy, and a sacred one, at that: in part, because the poet's choice of words, syntax, pace, tone, all combine to connect - zap! - with some long-lost, subconscious image of my own.  If I have someone choosing the visual images for me, would that still happen?  Wouldn't that limit my possible responses to a poem, force me to see what someone else has decided I should see?

But years of exploring the connections between old photographs and documents in my poetry have given me another perspective on the inclusion of visuals in a poetic presentation.  Much of what I wrote in Bad Indians has come directly from a photo or the handwriting of a priest or the textures in a tule mat - and, given the historical significance of some of these objects, I do want my readers to see some of them for themselves.  In fact, I chose Heyday as my publisher in large part due to their willingness to work with me on making the book as multi-genre as possible, to give readers access to some of the materials I'd been able to lay my hands on, to tell the story on multiple levels.

So when my university offered a "Digital Storytelling" training session before classes began, I was eager to sign up for it.  Unfortunately other meetings took precedence, but I decided that it was now or never; I signed up one of my Fall courses for a workshop and crafted a vague-but-fun-sounding assignment.  Then I began watching iMovie workshop videos on YouTube and playing with that application in my 'spare' time - hoping to have some level of understanding by the time my students hit that part of the syllabus (nothing like the potential for sheer embarrassment in front of a classroom as a spur to preparation!).  I have a lot of interesting video footage and photographs from my June research trip to California, and some new poems/prose that might lend themselves to that kind of exploration...

Given my time limitations to learn by playing around, I have temporarily put aside doing the video project I had in mind - something that requires a bit more skill than I currently possess - but I have attempted a "poetry video" using still photographs culled from my own collection, and Project Gutenberg.  I figured out how to do a very basic audio recording and attach it to iMovie, and off I went - learning as I tried this and that. 

I'll be showing this to my Memoir writing class today, and my Native Lit course tomorrow.  Baby steps though it may be, I'm excited to give them another way of image-ing texts and creating a kind of snapshot of their own learning.

This video poem is part of a series I've been working on called "Interviews with California Missions."  My working summary goes like this:

"In the summer of 2014 I traveled to eight of the twenty-one California missions established by Franciscan priests from Spain during what is now called the Mission Era, 1769-1823.  My purpose was to interview these venerable establishments in order to listen and scrupulously record for posterity their side of the historical controversy concerning alleged roles in the murder of tens of thousands of California Indians.  Were these missions complicit in war crimes?  Or were they, too, victims of Spanish colonial greed and conquest?  What secrets did they tuck away in those adobe walls?  My extensive research had not prepared me for the raw truth of these mission voices; not only was I fortunate enough to learn each mission’s secret name, never before revealed, but my sources seemed relieved to give their testimonies at last."

Enjoy my first effort!  And forgive my beginner's mistakes.

San Zombie de los Muertos
click on the photo to go to video

Friday, August 29, 2014

Three Ways of Looking Into the Vortex


Like a universe
at the center
of a black, black
hole: like the eye
of a hurricane
swallowing half
the globe: like
the round pupil
in the eye of
a deer: come
get it, your
destiny.  Your

Like a hummingbird in salvia:
green and turquoise
abalone wings,
flashes of ruby.
Beauty is
her work.
passes between
beak and blossom:
all that matters
is here.

Heart bandit.  Blue
tiger of night.
Moon-raider.  All
the papery hearts
of moths flock to you;
let them devour
and be devoured
by your swirling
of light.

Deborah A. Miranda

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Song of a Broken Woman

So many broken things,
I can’t fix them all.

My child is splintered;
I can’t raise him up.

My sister is shattered.
I can’t put her back together.

My heart is cracked;
I can’t mend it.

The earth is diseased;
I can’t heal her.

The law is busted;
I can’t make it work.

My country is falling apart.
I can’t rebuild it.

But I want to live.
(I can’t fix it)

But I want to live
(I can’t change it)

We want to survive
(we can’t do it all)

So many broken things,
how do we begin?

So many damaged souls,
where do we start?

The world burning down,
I can’t fix it, honey,

The city gray with tear-gas,
I can’t wash it away

The forests filled with ash,
I can’t put out the fire

Children thrown out like garbage
I can’t redeem them

Too much broken
for one broken woman to fix it all

So hold my hand, friend,
just hold my hand

and in that space
where our two palms meet

maybe we can find
one tiny peace

one seed, one sprout,
something new

let’s agree to keep it safe
let’s promise each other to nourish

one. tiny. beating. heart.
between us -

let’s try reaching out
with our other hand

to some other poor
broken spirit

make another tiny piece
of peace

a safe place
a holy space

so much broken in the world
but let’s imagine ourselves cracks

between torn pavement
where hope

can be a persistent weed,
dig in,

remember wholeness:
reach up.

Deborah A. Miranda

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Unforgiven, 1817


"These were his last words; for soon after, he expired, and there remained a corpse, truly horrible and revolting to the sight. Consider, what must have been my feelings!" - Father Geronimo Boscana

You are one of the good neofitos. 
As a boy you learned Spanish and Latin,
knew your catechism,
never missed Mass,
always confessed.  You believe
what you are supposed
to believe: in sin, punishment,
Satan, the Padre’s lash
and the authority of the Church
over each inch of your Indian body. 
You are the perfect convert.

But a strange sickness
takes you, convulsions so fierce
three men can’t hold
you down on the bed. 
I come to you then,
with my holy water,
my oil, ready to receive
your final confession,
eager to save your soul.
And you refuse.  Your
mother and father beg,
mi'ijo, take the holy sacrament,
it will strengthen
you against the devil’s
enticements, help you
bear this suffering. 
Your friends, no slouches
at confession themselves,
whisper, it takes away
all your venial sins, even
your mortal sins if
you are truly sorry.  

To no avail - you scream
profanities, curse God,
the Church, all the rituals.
It is the fever talking, I tell
your parents, he is out
of his mind, insane
with pain.  My son,
I urge, will you not
confess your sins?
save your soul from the flames
of Hell?  Satan’s words
pour from your mouth:

I do not want to!  Having lived deceived,
I do not want to die deceived.  

I anoint your burning
forehead and hands with oil
made from olives you
had helped to pick and press,
but I can do no more. 
You weep with fury,
and then you die. 
We cannot know
the will of the Lord.  But

in my cold bed tonight,
I think of martyrs
and saints who would not
recant, though beaten,
savaged, burned alive.
How we admire
their conviction,
scourge ourselves
to emulate their faith.
I think of you, my
perfect convert, aflame
with mysterious fever. 
I wonder:
which one of us
is the true believer?

Deborah A. Miranda

Saturday, August 16, 2014

“When the sun dies we will become one” – Ruth Stone

 “When the sun dies we will become one” – Ruth Stone
(for T.J. and Ben)

but isn’t that a long time to wait for global unity,
for peace?  And who says obliteration is peace, anyway?

Ruth, this metaphysical observation is smooth as snake-oil,
with about as much comfort.  You offer it to us like a big slice

of the Hope Pie, or maybe even as revenge - see, corporate
profiteers, those soul-less mercenaries will end up just another

ingredient in the cosmic soup, lose everything (then) as we
have lost everything (now) – doesn’t that ease our hearts

as we mourn the child gunned down for walking while Black,
doesn’t that soothe the lacerations of legalized rape?  Doesn’t that

take the sting out of "which one of you's the man"?  “Look to the Future”
you sing,  but now I know that you knew faith wasn’t a promise

you could keep, that you understood simplicity better than I:
fucked-up human beings will always fuck over their own.  You end

with the ugly return of crows, those unscrupulous carrion-eaters,
so we will know that winning means waking up each day still alive,

not yet a corpse to be picked, not yet.  And that hope is a pie
thrown in someone’s face to make them laugh at fear.

Deborah A. Miranda

Friday, August 15, 2014

Juliana, Spring 1832

reconstructed monjerio at Mission La Purisimia

The only way out of the monjerio* is marriage.  The big iron lock turns at dusk, our parents on the other side in the mission village, we girls in this small fetid room.  The priest carries the key in his robe, gives it back to the Madre at dawn so we can join him in prayers before receiving our work orders. I’ve hated night for as long as I can remember.  When the padre came to our hut, told my mother I was seven years old now, old enough to require the monjerio, she told me, “Remember the stars.  Remember you’ll see them again someday.”  But I’ve forgotten – are they silver, or gold?  Which direction do they move?  Where is the one my mother warned me was sly and mean-spirited? She told me once that blazing stars with long tails were souls on their way to the afterlife.  I wonder if the sky burns all night now?  Some of the younger girls still miss their mothers, cry half the night, wet themselves.  They keep the rest of us awake.  I don’t feel sorry for them; I hiss the curses I learned from the soldados to frighten them, make them shut up.  The fucking workday is long enough without losing sleep too.  I don’t remember being that weak.  True, I had my two older sisters.  For years they kept me tucked between them all night; if the door opened in the darkness, if soldiers picked the lock or stole the padre’s key, or if the padre himself made one of his ‘inspections,’ Dolores pushed me behind her, Ines covered me with her blanket.  Till they married those brothers and left me here to rot.  Now I lie awake at night, tuck my back into this corner I’ve claimed and defend when I have to.  Smelling some poor woman’s shit as she crouches over the trench in the corner, moaning that the posole this morning must’ve had rotten meat.  My own bowels twist and boil, but please God let me make it till morning, and the privacy of a bush or hillside.  And I think about that soldier, Demetrio, the one who came with the San Blas Infantry from someplace called Mexico.  The Spanish guards laugh at him, call him ‘chulo,’ which means, I think, halfbreed.  They ask him which jail the military pulled him out of, what crime did he commit, has he learned how to shoot an escopeta.  They make him sound like a little boy.  I know he’s not.  Yesterday on the path returning from the lavanderia, I hung back, pretended my basket of wet clothes was too heavy.  He slipped me a string of dark red beads, my favorite, and said he would speak to the Padre soon.  Then he pressed against me, knocked my basket into the dirt, spilled all that hard work. He put his hairy mouth on mine.  I couldn’t move.  Clara called my name, and he pushed me away, ducked back into the trees. Tonight I can still feel his hands clutching my breasts.  I wonder. I wonder what it would be like, to see the stars again. 

"[In California's Franciscan missions] Girls who had passed their eighth year were housed in the monjerio in which they were confined under lock and key at night to protect their virtue. The monjerio also served as a training school in which girls and widows were confined much of the time. This separation of children from families was justified since at a tender age they had not fully developed fixed habits and beliefs and thus were more easily influenced by missionaries."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Saleki Asatsa/Good Morning

Now she sits at a small plain patio just outside her studio, a cool, dark walk from the dorms.  Cement, cracked and damp with yesterday’s rain.  An old wrought iron and table set, black paint peeling but not yet rusting, holds her body as well as her coffee mug.  Her spirit is tugging at the leash, smells earth, grass, thistle, pollen from a dozen sources, hears Blue Jay, warbler, swallow.  She draws on her coffee like a cigarette.  Exhales caffeine. 

The highway in the distance is a dull reminder of rubber on pavement: The World.  The same way her bed, with its smooth clean sheets, the electricity that filled her room with artificial light before dawn, and the gasping Mr. Coffee in the kitchen, reminded her.  She is under no delusions of edenic seclusion or escape. But she doesn’t have to turn on the news.  Doesn’t need to hear stories about savage loss, grief that cannot be captured and subdued, humanity stripped by those who have already given up their own. 

No.  She’d rather focus on the three nearly perfect drops of water, three sisters made of dew, that have collected themselves exactly in the center of the back rod of a wrought iron chair.  Hang there full of light and birdsong.  

She’s found a pocket of green thistles that haven’t hit August heat yet, haven’t burst out in purple finale like the last statement on a fireworks display:

The tin roof of a barn building.  The gray cement blocks of a studio wall.  The flash of all-out-every-single-wing-span white bars on a mockingbird’s feathers, seen from beneath, against a pale turquoise sky scudded with morning clouds. 

She is building beauty here, storing grace.  Hopes to bring some of it back with her across the divide. 

Like those three jewels of water still hanging, she doesn’t know how long she’s got before gravity or evaporation pulls everything in another direction.

Just for this window of grace, catch light.  Hold it, reflect it.  Revel in it. 

How can she look away?  These spheres contain everything she ever hopes to find.  Everything she ever hopes to become.  Suspended, curved perfection.  A sister on either side.  How lucky is that?

The moon continues her descent, rotating out of the scene like a dancer who cherishes her role.  Stars and planets keep the slow waltz across the sky unseen, know that holding their places is crucial to the choreographic whole.  The throaty clutch and croak of crows as they make their slow way across a field, hop from bush to dead tree branch to grassy clearing.  A thin weave of cricket voices rises up, holds this morning together.

A fiery star burns through the greenery, joins the three pearly sisters glowing on iron, and for a moment, the sacred number blesses all with memory of what really is real.  There is North, and South, and West, and East.  What else do I need to know? she asks. 

Morning answers, That one plus one plus one plus one equals, only and always, One.