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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

La Resistancia

Along the ground, shadows stretch and crawl;
objects stand in sharp relief. A fevered sun
suffuses the sky with blood. Behind me Ramon,
grey braids grazing his chest, nods.
Sangre. He understands.

He is just in from lecturing at Columbia:
Native American Rites and Rituals.
He performed purifications at ground zero,
once with tobacco from a cigarette
crushed on the walk. Tomorrow
he’s off to a San Antonio freedom march.

But, tonight he is at La Resistancia:
a poetry reading. k introduces him
as owner, and he demurs Just the janitor …
staff … we are all janitors …it is
The People’s bookstore.
Moved, he explains,
from the East Side here, to First Street.
To this small adobe: bookshop in front,
barber shop in rear.

He tells of the injured carpenter who built …
waves an arm toward a wall of bookshelves:
Native American, Mexican/Hispanic,
Feminist/Lesbian, African American.
One entire shelf of Red Salmon Press.
As he speaks the faint, sweet incense
I am unable to identify, changes to sage.

Photographs of the Mexican uprising
line the walls—monumental behind Plexiglas,
captioned in Spanish and English.
Likenesses of Che are everywhere.
In other countries, whole populations
understand. They die for freedom.

People fill the floor: up front, along aisles,
stand in back. Ten poets in from Dallas,
Abilene, Arizona, California. The poetry
is good. Twice the hat returns
spilling paper money.

Afterward, I buy a T-shirt from Rene,
Dias de los Muertes, last one. Animated,
he speaks of the recently dismantled altar:
candles, flowers, offerings of food.
The sugar skulls, he explains, drew ants.
We discuss the photographs, and he mentions
reprints available for purchase.

The one that commands my attention
is a room of yellowed light in which
a woman keeps huddled vigil
before the caskets of three sons. One—
eldest? first to die?—lies
in intricately carved, polished wood.
The others in rough pine boxes.
Foreground, a single mourner blurs
with movement. Haunting, I murmur.
Almost surreal, breathes Rene softly,
his eyes hot coals.

All winter our media filled with talk:
which freedoms will we sacrifice
for security? Politicians were quick
with heavy answers. But, tonight
the question pierces deeply. At last,
perhaps, I begin to understand. Three caskets
will occupy my dreams for weeks.


words: Ann Howells, Texas
original publication:
La Resistancia / Red River Review

image: Swati Nair, India (birdysworld)
original publication:
Painted Paths / just a moment

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