The following post is dedicated to my grandmother Raquel "Quequi" Maldanado Rodriguez (1926-1994). Me haces falta, mami. Te amo.
i) For the past several weeks I have given much thought to the idea of identity crisis in poetics. I've been much beleaguered with conflict: Do I keep my mouth shut? Don't agitate, to I need this discussion in order to sleep soundly, even if this discussion is whispered, a monologue.
ii.) My conscience directs me towards that second choice. Dad: "Don't get on some soapbox!" Me: "I won't!" Mom: "You need to do it! Why not?"
1) There is a silence to my last name, a quietude I've never been able to completely discern. What does it mean? Do I change it? You know, cute high school kids can be quite cruel. Like so many other high school students,I heard the jokes, and I took them, stored them away, festered they did, I'd let them go, eventually. The power of affirmation, reaffirmation, embrace, detachment.
2) What in the hell is poetry? I'm fifteen-years-old, and I'm looking at trochees, stanzas, enjambments, and what I once completely disregarded, dismissed, I decide to touch, devour. In a previous post, I mentioned that cummings' 100 poems was the first volume of poetry I truly read, parsed. I carried it with me at all times: On my way to a friend's, on the N train headed towards Brighton. Why was this text becoming inextricable from my person? A limb. Forgive the mawkishness, it's nostalgia.
3) I remember handing George (Mr. MacLarty at the time) my first attempt. He was so very kind; he was diplomatic, generous. A little too lyrical, but keep trying he said. I was easily discouraged. I decided to sleep for the next two years, but I kept on reading during those moments of wakefulness. I'd scribble something for my la-dy friend, proudly signing it before handing it to her. Silly. Too lyrical, but maybe I'd get it straight. I never did get it straight, and don't plan on getting it straight, but I stay its path. I'm still sleeping, but college in September, time to wake up, just a little.
4) First semester concludes, I decide on my major: Comparative Literature. Fancy, no? Dad: "What the hell are you going to do with that? Maybe advertising." At the time, I wasn't sure, and I'm still not sure, but I was certain that I loved books, text; I liked slamming my body against the shelves of the college library (true story). Chuito Sin Coquis: My first college attempt at writing a one-act play. Good? No. Necessary? Yes. Poorly acted by yours truly on a stage in St. John's University? Of course. Necessary? Yes. Born: 1993. From: Disparaging remarks made by some latina friends at the time. Some of those gems: "Why you dress like that?"; "You smoke Chesterfields?"; "You're like a blancito." Now, mind you, I love, and still love, these friends, but make no mistake, a challenge had been declared by said friends. Why should I write this one-act-er that was best suited for the litter box. Necessary? Yes. Why should I keep writing? Should I? what are 'mi gente' going to think of me. Should I write about the cultura, la famalia? Could I write about other things? Maybe. Not sure. Hand me that riddle.
5) Fast forward: Years later, I continue writing that thing called poetry or poesia; I'm stubborn. Problem: That damn last name. If I only I could change it. No, I'll keep it. Mami would slapped me in the head for even thinking such a thing. I keep it. Now what? What? Yes, Victor Hernández Cruz, William Carlos Williams, Piri Thomas, Miguel Piñero, Julia de Burgos, they'd all been there, done it. Caveat: Not in anyway am I putting my name in that list, just imparting examples.
6) La familia: DeJesús, Rodriguez. Locations: Caguas, Ponce, Brooklyn. Scattered about cool cats. Diaspora with a smile. Grandma (Mami) took care of me, taught me la lengua, made me eat the food, waved the flag, proud to be boricua. Me, proud? Not so much. It took years of thought and therapy before I'd embrace that last name. I suppose my problem with the last name is that it seemed to obstruct, impede my plans. What plans? How? Don't have an answer. Lucky to be bilingual, right Mami, Mom, Dad, Papi? You see, I'm not pontificating, but paying homage to my roots, my foundation, my cement. This for Pepe, John (mi primo, dead at 37 due to alcoholism), Ismael, Abuelo Fingue, Abuelo Luis, Titi Lola, Titi Carmen, Tio Paco ( the gang stories of Red Hook, priceless. Names: The Chaplin Mau-Maus, The Apaches, et al). All them cowboy and indians, my family. Wild cats, Fragmented, but united under one organic, poetic smile. Prosody, unbeknownst to them, was and is in their blood. Whether it manifests itself in form of "Coño" (fuck in our dialect), merengue, salsa, Hector Lavove, Tito, the music, the perpetual dance, tounge and foot. Ray, write about anything you want, it's all there for you to cradle. Use it all. Combine it all. Make it one. Sonrisa. Oh, the physiognomy of it all. The physiology. Orgullo.
Recommendation of the day: Poets off Poetry (POP), which can be found
The Lower East Side of Manhattan
|by Victor Hernández Cruz|
By the East River