Poets are fickle creatures. We fall in love over and over again.We can never remain faithful to only one poet. I began to understand this the day I forsook Wordsworth in my college Spanish class. My poetic guide. My first love. How could I?
What was I doing in a Spanish class anyway? Hadn’t my father instructed me to take either French or German, the latter being his grandmother’s native tongue?
He would have found it silly, the way my infatuation began, with a 75 rpm record bought during my senior year in high school. The Music of Spain. I listened at night after lights out to “Granada” and “Malaguena.” The hair on the nape of my neck trembled. The dark outside my windows beckoned.
And so, on the first day of classes in a small woman’s college in Georgia, I sat down to learn Spanish from a short rotund woman who demanded we call her La Senora, although she had never married. I read the classics of Spanish literature, moving inexorably toward the 20th century where in the anthology’s last section, I found Romance Sonambula and, and in the burst of a verde viento, the English Romantic poets became as dust to me. I fell in love with Federico Garcia Lorca. In Spanish. No matter how many translations of his work I’ve read over the years, the original Spanish has never lost its seductiveness, whether I read it silently or, better, aloud.
Verde que te quiero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar
y el caballo en la montaña.
Con la sombra en la cintura
ella sueña en su baranda,
verde carne, pelo verde,
con ojos de fría plata.
Verde que te quiero verde.
Not that I agreed with La Senora that everything sounded better in Spanish. Shakespeare? Wordsworth? Keats? No, I already knew that the language of poets is beautiful, no matter what it is. Hungarian, Romanian, Polish, French, English....Cherokee.
Garcia Lorca’s poetry spun me around, gave me a new way of experiencing language, my own language, which was now infused with the cante jondo of Andalusia.
Even now, years later, I recite those lines as a kind of mantra, Verde, que te quiero verde... and I still love the feel of them in my mouth. I love the deep song of them in my viscera. I have dreamed of trying to save Lorca in the olive grove, with only my child’s fingers pointed like guns at his assassins.
Verde, que te quiero verde.
Not even these lines can stop bullets. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. I know that.
But they live on in our daily lives, these words we love. They wait patiently for us. I had to reach middle age before Garcia Lorca’s duende found its way into my own poems.
Long before I could read Lorca
I wanted to give myself over to green
as he had and be lost like a sleepwalker
in it. I wanted to hide in the honeysuckle
and never come home if it meant I must stay
by the telephone, waiting for someone
to call with the doctor’s pronouncement,
my mother then turning to us saying
over and over again in my memory, Gone.
Such a word I would never repeat
to the oaks that held sway round my favorite pasture,
or blackberry bushes I dreamed would stay
unscythed by road crews sent forth to claim
right of way. Verde, que te quiero verde,
I’d gladly have cried if I could,
but where are such beautiful words
when we need them? And what if that’s all
this poem means now I’m middle-aged: words
as a way to want green back again
and myself in the throes of it,
even though I’ve learned enough about Lorca
at last to be quite sure that no verde
anywhere spending its June on this earth
could have outstayed for one blessed
second what waits at the end
of the line, always some bloodless voice
trying hard to sound human across so much
distance, its words still escaping me.
(from The Store of Joys, NC Museum of Art)
W.H. Auden said that art is a way of breaking bread with the dead. Each time a poet begins to write, or to read a poem, she takes the bread of those gone before and places it in her mouth. She does this over and over again. With one poet. Another, and yet another, living or dead. She loves the taste of the bread they share. So many poets. So many poems. By the end of her life she will contain, like Whitman, multitudes, and will never again try to answer the question, “What is your favorite poem?”