Se acabaron las promesas, / decían nuestros carteles. [The promises have run out, / our signs said.]
So many perfectly good words have been ruined: Promise. Paradise. Free. Even: Like. Love. Friend. We know that the task of the poet is to renovate ruined words, to make language livable again. To make sure the mouth doesn’t hang off its hinges. To make sure the flame of the tongue stays lit in the storm of speech. But what happens when the poet tires of her labor? In English, this word for work is the same as the word for what a woman must do to push a baby out of her body and into the world. Mara Pastor’s new book of poems, Falsa heladería (False Ice Cream Shop) emerges from a double exhaustion and takes a big breath—then lets loose a current of sound—from the other side.
Natal Promise, Natal Debt: On the Recent Poetry of Mara Pastor
Adál Maldonado’s photographic career is marked by surrealism and politics. And since Adál is Puerto Rican, both things frequently coalesce in images that are dark and humorous, introspective and ferociously critical. After studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, he spent several decades working in close contact with the the Nuyorican scene, creating a conceptual “embassy” and “passport for Puerto Ricans,” U.S. citizens who frequently get treated as foreigners in the United States because of their language, race, and culture. El Puerto Rican Embassy, which today has its own website, was designed to represent: “a new generation of experimental Puerto Rican artists working at the margins of established art movements – who take risks which illuminate contemporary issues, question established cultural aesthetics and challenge dominant political issues.” He has published seven books, the most recent of which are I Love My Selfie, in collaboration with Ilan Stavans, and Los ahogados / Puerto RicansUnderwater, a series first published through social media. In 2016 he relocated from the island of Manhattan to the island of Puerto Rico. (In)visibility and identity are the central concerns of his works, which he has explored extensively through self-portraits, celebrity portraits, and staged photography.
We thought it was just going to be a tour of the defunct coal mine’s aboveground facility, which was already troubling enough. The winding wheels and framework for the conveyor system at the “pit head” were like the superstructure of an abandoned carnival, like the one I’d read about near Chernobyl.
By lunchtime, Beijing had reached 102 degrees and our four-year old twins were hungry. We’d spent the morning exploring the shadeless Yonghegong Lama temple and now sought out the refuge of the simple vegetarian buffet nearby where my vegetarian husband and I had had a transcendent meal on our last trip six years before. To our dismay, it had been, according to a nearby security guard, demolished. One of our twins emitted hangry squeals, the other went boneless. The air was dense with humidity and pollution. On our way to the temple from the subway stop at the top of Yonghegong Street, we’d passed another, fancier-looking, vegetarian restaurant and so we elbowed our way all the way back up the narrow corridor of manic Buddhist commercialism thick with incense and the calls of hawkers selling religious tchotchkes and crowds of midday worshippers and tourists; we drowned in sweat.
It was the summer of 2013, a formidable summer in Egypt. We walked from our villa toward the sea, carrying collapsible aluminum chairs, bags of cucumber-and-cheese sandwiches and pea-sized yellow grapes that are called banaati—literally, “girlish.” This had been our ritual for the past seven Fridays. My grandmother walked ahead with my aunt, and I followed floppily in their morning shadow. We spent every weekend at Qariyet El Muhandiseen, one of many gated compounds that have sprung up in the last four decades, providing summer getaways for the Egyptian elite. Completed in the late eighties, only twenty-six kilometers west of Alexandria, this one in particular is considered démodé.
When people speak of my city’s river, they say: declined. What they mean is: dry. Only modern cities can survive on the promise of water. Early people settled just east of the river, on the then-fertile floodplain that offered easy access to water, mud, fish, grasses, all the necessary components to forge a life in the desert. In the summer, I imagine cool breezes.
Tucson lies in a valley between four mountain ranges, so each range becomes a landmark. A trained eye can decipher a way through the desert using these mountains alone, though this eye will also see the lines of cottonwood trees, will find where water runs silently underground—the Santa Cruz River (translation: “Holy Cross”) long buried under a bed of pummeled stone, sand, bits of mica.
Sixteen years ago, my mother found my father behind the shed on a Saturday morning in June. “Get up off the ground in your good shirt,” she told him, before she understood he was dead. “He looked like he was sleeping,” she told us. “The gun glinted in the grass.”
Seven years after my father’s suicide, I opened the envelope containing police photographs of the scene. He did not look like he was sleeping. Limbs: a swastika. Angles inhuman. Violence and velocity rendered in two hundred pounds of a six-foot man. The gun glinted in the grass—she was right about that.
The room was full, though not as jammed as the time I’d visited the summer before, when the space felt hot with the exhalation of hundreds of miserable souls. It was still full enough that I bumped into people and they bumped into me as we moved around with our heads bent uncomfortably backwards. A couple of women sat on the floor and leaned back to stare at the ceiling more comfortably, but an official, known unofficially as a shusher, indicated that they should rise. He and other shushers moved through the crowd of upturned faces whispering “shush” and “silenzio,” reminding us that the Sistine Chapel is a place of worship and not an art gallery.