from Medellin

from my balcony at the Gran Hotel, Medellin, Columbia

I returned yesterday from Medellin, and that beautiful land called Columbia in the Spanish language, and so many other names in the many indigenous languages. Though I had only two hours of sleep before boarding a plane early yesterday morning I was so inspired I could not sleep along the journey, a journey that took me through the many principalities of the sky realms, over Columbia, the Caribbean, Jamaica, Cuba to Miami, onto the sprawling and frenetic DFW Airport, then to Albuquerque. I kept feeling the spirits of Fredy, Hugo and his family, Jessie, Fernando, the mountains, the city. I kept hearing the poetry....

It took two-and-a-half hours to make it from the sliding doors of the entrance of the Medellin International Airport. The itinerary was something like this:

1-Find the correct line for American Airlines. Bags taken away for screening, immediately after being asked the security question: have your bags been in your immediate possession since you packed them? They were until now. I watch them being dragged from my sight, without destination tags.
2-Make it to the counter. Sent to another line at another desk for a departing tax assessment
3-Stand in line at the AA counter again. Pay tax.
4-Pick up one of my bags in the sprawl of x-rayed bags and take it to the counter for weighing and check in.
5-Locate my second bag in its own line for an extra security check.
6-Stand in a line for bag picked for extra security.
7-Watch the agent go through every item in my large suitcase and ask me questions about where I have been and what I have been doing. (I have been standing in lines.)
8-Stand in line at the AA counter again. Get my boarding card.
9-Stand in line for Immigration. My passport and boarding card are checked.
10-They are checked again at the end of the line. My passport is stamped. I expect to shop after making it through the security gauntlet. I discover that a) the security gauntlet is not over, and b) the only thing for sale is sexy women's underwear and alcohol. Neither will work for my sister, mother or brothers. Well, actually, my mother would probably secretly delight in the underwear, but none of the underwear would fit anyone over size 12, and my brothers would welcome the alcohol—but because the alcohol is a liquid in bottles of over 4 ounces each, not properly sealed in an official quart-size plastic bag it would not get past the U.S. Miami security. And my brothers don’t need encouragement to drink more alcohol. My passport and boarding card are checked at the end of the line.
11-Wait for the flight.
12-My passport and boarding card are checked before boarding.
13-I hold my breath past yet another set of security precautions: for carry-on bags.
14-I let out my breath as I enter the gateway.
15-Too soon. Security agents approach me on two sides. The woman pats me down. "What's this?" She asks in Spanish as her hand rests on the bump of my left hand jeans pocket. I pull out a small bag I carry with some items in it, including ti-leaf that were part of a blessing in Hawaii. Then I am surrounded by all of the agents. They sniff, pass the bag around while I try to explain in muchacho Spanish and English what it is I'm carrying. They call an English-speaking agent over. He listens to my explanation; he lets me go.
16-I get on the plane. Miraculous.

(Alfred, this list is for you,too.) (Alfred A. Yuson, the Filipino poet and I were in tandem through the airport.) (I've always believed that so-called "magical realism "is the natural literary expression of energetic release from bureaucratic systems crossing with the indigenous heart, and the humped up bully mind of colonial rule. We were in it. The airport and example of the hyper colonial realism, no magic) (I am a mystical realist.)

The last night of the International Poetry Festival of Medellin culminated in a mass performance of all the poets of the festival. It is the largest poetry festival in the world. I counted about 60 to 70 poets, from Nepal, Germany, Argentina, Columbia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland, South Africa, all-over-Africa, Liberia, Venezuela, Paraguay, Uruguay, Spain, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Sweden, Greenland, the U.S., Mexico, and so many others, at a huge amphitheater in Medellin. The audience swelled to more than a few thousand people. Vendors walked back and forth through the crowds selling snacks, toys, and drinks.

This could have been an audience for basketball, football or a rock concert in the states. But for poetry? In the U.S.? Absolutely not, not now, not in the age of the quick fix, quick highs, not when you have to stop the mad circle in order to contemplate the meaning of the circle. Most of the voices in this country who get heard are trussed up and paid for by the multi-corporate entertainment industry. And they aren’t poetry. Bob Dylan would never have made it in the music business in this country, in these times. He was young, but not pretty, slick or flashy.

The audiences in Columbia were todos, everyone. They were the people off the street, from the country, old and young. The audience was all of the people, not just other poets, or university faculty or students. It was todos. Everyone. Even children listened intently and were moved to laughter, silence or tears. They were absolutely present for songs of the soul, respectful of everyone, every voice, from the contemplative, soft voice, to the rowdy, oral performance poet.

The audience that final night stayed for nearly six hours of poetry, through a rainstorm, through lightning, to the very end of poetry.

Muchas gracias, to the spirit of poetry in the South.

That was the gift of Columbia to me, to all of us.

Sherwin Bitsui, Fredy Chicangana and me 07/2007 Medellin

The other gift was the presence of the Indigenous poets of the rest of the Americas, and the poet from Greenland. It is oddly more difficult to speak this part, of how powerful the connection between us. I found relatives who had been missing to me, there. Fredy Chicangana of the Yanacona Nation, Hugo Jamijoy of the Putamayo, his wife, Ate, their daughter Tema, Hugo’s father, Lindantonella Solano of the Wayuu people, Jessie Kleemann, Greenlander Inuit Kalaait, Natalia Toledo, Zapoteca and Gregorio Gomez, Guarani Nation. Sherwin Bitsui and Allison Hedge Coke, Cherokee and Huron were also part of the gift.

Our performance together that last night will be a place I will visit when I need sustenance, when I need to remember the why and how. Within that small moment were all the meals together, the ability to sit and and just be together, the laughter, silence and tears, the poetry of poetry, the poetry of being. We will need all of this as we struggle with the ongoing massacres, extermination politicies...

....more later...

1 comment:

Pat said...

Dear Joy Harjo,

I have been asked by the Librarian of Congress to nominate a poet for the next Poet Laureate. Their letter was dated April 14, I just received it because I was leading a workshop in Sacramento -- and they want an answer by May 1! YIKES! I want to nominate you -- they want a paragraph about you and two of your best poems. I would love help from you in choosing the poems and OK-ing the paragraph -- if you don't want to help I'll send it anyway, and do the best I can. -- Pat Schneider, founder & director emerita, Amherst Writers & Artists; author, Writing Alone & With Others, Oxford University Press, 2003 -- and a bunch of poem books.
Best wishes and thanks for all your brilliant work --