Ramón García is the author of The Chronicles (Red Hen Press, 2015), Other Countries (What Books Press, 2010) and Ricardo Valverde (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), He has published poetry in a variety of journals and anthologies including Best American Poetry 1996, Ambit, The Floating Borderlands: Twenty-Five Years of US-Hispanic Literature, Crab Orchard Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, Los Angeles Review, and Mandorla: New Writing from the Americas. He’s a Professor at California State University, Northridge and lives in Los Angeles.
News from Stockholm
The Poet at 16
On the Train
News from StockholmIn another world Tranströmer has died. It snows in other countries, in other lives. When a poet dies he doesn’t miss The world much, or only misses a few things: Making love, the smiles of children, the ocean, The moon, Haydn, the taste of mangos. Still, he’ll find their equivalent experiences Where he’s gone, far from us, in the presence of all we lack. Tranströmer has died. It is raining in Sweden. Here in the tropics of Central America, the Pacific is colder than usual As if the surf delivered waters originating in the North Sea.
The Poet at 16The televisions hum in all the rooms, Sitcom soundtrack laughter regulates the hours. Relatives come and go, ritual appearances. The rites of prayers and padre nuestros thread The Sundays of the years. Mexico, the family’s Arcadia, is a tended nostalgia A burdensome garden of memories. From my window, I see Mr. Thomas, the Vietnam veteran Washing and waxing his Ford pick-up truck several times a day. The car hood is a modernist sculpture reflecting the day’s glaring light. Suburban lawns, repeated green rectangles of flatness repeating flatness. The water sprinklers own the afternoon, rattling an unnoticed monotonous music. In the uneasy company of crucifixes and the images of the virgen de Guadalupe On walls that cannot be anything other than home Family life is the All, the Supreme Mexicaness. At school I do my algebra and read Julius Caesar Inside of classrooms whose desks are occupied by wealthy Mormons And the great grandchildren of the Okies. I go to football games I have no interest in, Hollywood movies and backyard parties with smuggled kegs of beer. In the pages of the high school yearbook I am smiling in the company of friends. Secretly, I’m a sleepwalker, groping for something that will wake me up But all I’ve found are imported records of The Smiths, Yesterday’s Bookstore And back issues of the Advocate at the Stanislaus County Library. My best friend Richie Likeke finds us girls, They let us finger them in condominiums absented of parents. In the dark of my room at night, I hoped that I would go to sleep and never wake up. The cities are remote, like dreams that have not happened. Emily Dickinson’s blurry blank face, like the Puritan snow of the East Coast Is alien, but her words are a remote wonder. Shakespeare’s sonnets, a music that beckons and recedes. Sylvia Plath’s surrealist rage, Anne Sexton’s Brothers Grimm, Pasolini’s Rome… I make my way there, A wary caller where perhaps I don’t belong. Some day those words will be my home.
UndocumentedThe children called “illegal” “alien” They too are Whitman’s children His descendants and claimants Their brown, elegantly awake eyes Have already forgotten the pueblos they came from The remote afternoon timelessness of a land they will Never again be part of In the midst of deprivation and banality Imposed wars, they will root old world flowers Name and rename them, recreate leaves With the transformed suns of loss Their hands reach toward themselves and others Joined in love and courted by death In the country of night with its flag of stars Their children will play on lawns, school yards and baseball fields Not knowing that the grass was ever foreign
LessonsLike money underneath a mattress The professor finishes another book, Places it back on the bookcase. Times of distrust and secret hoardings. Affection, tenderness—scarce currencies. All the young men he comes across, Lonely, restless, unfulfilled, Are his ghosts, Unconsciously enslaved to pleasure, or incurably isolated. Out in the city is the future, the dislocation of what will happen. Inside are the words and the music of apartness—the past. Memory is spending itself.
Buenos AiresAt the zoo Borges’ tiger skulks behind bars Bored and enraged At the Evita museum Evita’s Dior dresses and picaninny dolls wait for her return Psychoanalysis The demons of fashion Promise lands with hourly prices Some dreamed this Southern American land as Paris As an extension of Europe Dreams most successfully realized at the Recoleta cemetery Plastic surgery dreams They do come true One can believe in anything Even falling in love or the glamour of poets committing suicide Even in the ghost of Che haunting The soccer crotches of neurotic boys City of immigrants City of monuments Rooted to the elsewhere of the world
On the TrainAfter Wasco, a young man just let out of one of the jails In the depressed towns between Barkersfield and Fresno Asks to borrow my cell phone. A white carton box in the seat next to his holds all that is his. He’s a character out of a fairy tale in which the forest has been replaced By the depths of some ghetto in the Southland. He has the eyes of a scared child In which innocence is running amok. Three days later I get a call from an unrecognized number. It’s his brother, who didn’t pick up his call. The man’s name, I find out, was Joe.
Premature EpitaphA corrupt world can keep its ambition. For others glory, admiring attention, The adoration of strangers. I practiced the art of friendship, And a few decent people cared deeply for me. Say I knew love, for a very short time, But I pity those who knew less For much longer, for their whole lives. I went here and there, without guide or destination, Because I had to escape The sirens of a loving home The soothing ones, whose song was comforting, But murderously stifling. Say I was not just Odysseus, but also Penelope, And that while I was searching I was also waiting. That exile became my condition That there was no other way to live In an Ithaca destroyed before I was born.