I am so pleased to have two poems in the anthology Paws Healing The Earth, alongside such writers as Robert Pinsky, Xánath Caraza, Marian Haddad, Candice Louisa Daquin, Melissa Stoddard, and editor and poet, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis. Many thanks to River Paws Press.
Miriam’s Well published my poem “Little Miracles”
Hoping for succor, promises pinned to purple velvet. Arms, hands,
legs, and backs dangle from ribbon, unblinking eyes tied to statues,
a show and tell for saints and God.
Candles smoulder. Candles turned upside down until what was lost
is found, wagers made with the Paduan, pleas to restore tranquility,
if not possessions mislaid or love stolen.
Faithless wander through shadows as tourists, but see these flagels
studded with cactus spine. Believers crawl here to kiss sainted feet,
leave bits of knees and hands behind.
Blood sacrifice. Prismatic eyes. Body of terra cotta, breath of dust.
Iniquitous night inhabits the sky. Demon mouths filled by succulence
of pearls. An owl signifies either wisdom or death.
A blue glass eye shields from evil intent. They bathe in blessed mud
said to heal the feeble and lame. Crutches at the door, proof of miracles.
Piñon smoke. Scent of juniper, palo…
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Thank you to editor Kalpna Singh-Chitnis.
Thank you, Miriam Sagan, for including my poem in Miriam’s Well. I could not be more pleased.
Suddenly aware of the dark
Blank dark fades my consciousness to empty shadow.
I feel caught in the antics of the Hollywood Squares,
a game show I saw on Grandma’s tv when I was small,
black and white and snowy from the Western Auto store.
A crown of artificial flowers dusty in a green glass swan
nests on a white doily hand-tatted by someone dead.
B list actors playing the fool miraculous as resurrection,
no tv in my parents’ house back in the Twitty flats.
No cable service out there, no money for an antenna,
and anyhow Mama was afraid of attracting storm gods.
So visits to Grandma featured three channels of magic,
handsome cowboys, and Disney’s Wonderful World.
In the kitchen a white formica table below a wall of gifts,
the piece of cedar from the Ozarks with The Last Supper,
the pretty Jesus with compassionate eyes framed in…
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Guest Editor Scott Thomas Outlar included three of my poems in the newest anthology from CultureCult, Hope, an Anthology of Poetry
Order a print copy in the U.S. and worldwide.
I recently learned that Lori Gómez and VEXT Magazine nominated this poem for the Pushcart Prize last year. I appreciate the vote of confidence.
The Revolution Comes to My Front Door: My latest piece in the El Paso News
I’ve been one morose social justice warrior. (Yeah, I know that term is a target for unreasoning derision, but you can kiss my fanny. Say it loud and proud.)
Morose. Despondent. Despairing unto death. I am not indulging in hyperbole All these sins against the earth and all its people will never be righted in my lifetime, I worry. What few helpful things I’ve ever seen accomplished in my life all seem reversed. I spend all together too much time wailing. Because the martyrs are falling, and their numbers are the great shame of all of us, both as individuals and as a society.
But right now I feel something I rarely acknowledge: vivified and cautiously optimistic, as they say. All because the revolution came to my front door.
The revolution came to my front step a few hours ago. Hundreds of kiddos yelling and shaking signs. Constant choppers over…
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Looking Up the Down Spout by Christina Quinn
Poetic Justice Books & Art (Port Saint Lucie, FL)
Christina Quinn is a visual artist and poet, born and reared in England, who has lived many years in the Coachella Valley of California. As a girl, she was the kind of person to travel extensively in Germany and ride a motorcycle around the U.K., Belgium, France, Australia, and New Zealand. As a woman, she designs houses and furniture out of next to nothing, walks her dog in the high desert, and has had solo and group art exhibits in California, Florida, and elsewhere. She is tall, bone thin, and wears her very short hair a natural platinum. I have followed her work on line for several years, admiring her large abstract paintings and distilled, minimalist poetry. A life-long visual artist, Quinn began writing poetry much later in age. She has five published collections of poetry, some of which are not available in the United States.
Looking up the Down Spout, the title of which reflects Quinn’s lifelong curiosity and willingness to take risks, both large and small, is a fine collection of brief poems, most under a page long. The untitled poems lay spare lines on a page, reminding of the delicate bones of a bird that somehow still lifts its own weight off the earth and through the sky. As one would expect of a visual artist, Quinn’s poems are filled with colors and vivid images. One reality is often altered by the play of light and shadow to reveal an alternate reality. Here is a poem in its entirety.
under the pier
hold tight to
softening the split
of treated wood
of dark & light
& the sea makes
of underworld weeds
swaying in time
to the tide
in that lazy way
& the sea tilts
to taste salty skin
your eyes are green
Her dreamy imagery here implies more than mere visual description, suggesting a reference to one of many definitions of quantum entanglement, that something exists only in a dream-like state of unreality unless measured, that is, quantified in some way other than mere observation, as described by Scott Glancy of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in his article, “Local Realism, Bell’s Inequality, and T-Shirts: An Entangled Tale,” found in the NIST blog. According to Glancy, based on extensive experiments throughout the world, quantum particles do not have fixed properties in all circumstances. Quantum entanglement is the concept that stuff, like particles, can affect other things even when separated by even substantial distances. Quinn’s poem quoted above, in a few brief lines, conjures the impact of dark, light, color, the tide, on human observation and consequent relationships. Likewise, her dramatic changes of media and approach to her art reflect the diverse realities in which she has found herself throughout her life. Here is another poem that hints of objects being described in reference to each other, controlling effects even in the absence of proximity.
I have been dying
I feel no pain I dream in color
I hear sharps & flats
& speak chameleon
listen I won’t lie
I have been a polite spectral guest
though not in person
I know the secrets of
I don’t lie
In March of 2015, as a poetry editor for the magazine Return to Mago, I published one of Quinn’s poems. “konigsberg summer” reveals a denser play with language, but also demonstrates a consistent use of color-saturated memories.
the baltic glistens with gold
from the eye of a goddess
calcified in beauteous resin
lovers who stroll the sand
search for amber teardrops
a pledge to those they love
& when it was time she
walked the thousand miles to freedom
took her boy
a sheaf of love letters bound in blue
& a strand of amber tears
the memory of
caught fast in yellow sun
At the time, Quinn said in Return to Mago, “Always a painter, sometimes a poet, I was taught to appreciate language and words by my father…a lover of all things English. I learned to read from the magic found in the complete works of Oscar Wilde, bound in leather by my father’s hand.” Quinn credits her father, who died when she was 12, for instilling a great love and respect for visual and literary arts. He particularly exposed her to the great English artists and writers such as Shelley, Byron, and Blake. He encouraged her painting as a toddler, and inspired her adventures in various media and different parts of the world. As a young bride in New Zealand she diverged from painting and developed a body of work in textile arts, using a neighbor farmer’s sheep as a source of fleece that she then washed, dyed, and wove, developing a reputation for her fine textile artwork. After moving to the United States, she returned to painting, exploring the landscape and human body to create stunning abstractions. Quinn has been quoted as saying, “I like to start with a more realistic approach but quickly move onto an abstract field. I am a colorist so that is a huge part of making art for me. Intuitive color and marks please me to no end….” The Press-Enterprise June 27, 2019.
More painterly details from the natural world, and a subtle mysticism, hint of Blake in the following poem from Looking Up the Down Spout.
from the last step sometimes
I sit & feed the pigeons
they understand this perpetual motion
the four cents in my pocket
& the shoe shocked horses
bolting down cobbled streets
there’s a whirling field of energy
an obsessive compulsion to capture
something tantalizing & out of reach
i feel my dreams have been stolen
others have made silk from my visions
i was born at the stroke of midnight
the cusp of yesterday tomorrrow & today
i can tie three knots in an eyelash
i can make sparks fly
i feed my friends the crumbs of my thoughts
i jangle the cents in my pocket
i watch the horses bolt
& from my frozen finger tips
i touch the stolen dreams & execute the lie
Many of the poems in this book are implicitly about a relationship, perhaps failed, perhaps merely complicated. Here’s one of my favorites.
the smell of insanity
& track of quick eyes
silver bells of madness
disturb the air
this autopsy must end
stop seeing the body
focus on the question
are you mad she asked
with a clay heart
I am reviewing the chapbook edition, which was recently re-released as a perfect bound soft back book in combination with Quinn’s Ricocheted Memories, also published by Poetic Justice Books & Art out of Port St. Lucie, Florida. See more of Christina Quinn’s work at Christina Quinn words and art on Facebook or Christina Quinn on Instagram.
I’m thankful to Setu and to Scott Thomas Outlar, it’s guest editor for the Western Voices issue, for publishing two poems written in collaboration with Lee Ballentine as well as a poem each from us both.
Here is one of the collaborative poems:
but silence is never silent
Collaboration with Lee Ballentine
Like an ultimatum of birds gone to their winter nests,
I refuse to speak in the shadowed echoes of your applause.
Like things you will never hear again, sounds tremble as they fall,
leaving nothing but your voice telling me what I cannot be.
As my honest self fades to gray, I hear its damp echo.
A machine preaches tolerance, but I see only scowls.
The eruption of unbidden tears. Imperfect duplicates.
A divided spirit—sonorous voice, gregarious smile—
belies the familiar fist. The slammed door and bruised spirit.
Heartache demands shame’s silence.
But silence is never silent. Car doors slam. Jets
roar through dirty sky. Distant dogs complain.
Choppers enforce imaginary lines between Us and Them.
Or maybe bear torn flesh, twisted bodies, the comma of death.
Train tracks thunder a despot’s rage that stops for nothing.
A teacup knocked to the floor, a tympani of windows and roof,
a glorious vibration, the sound of fragile metal, a car
dropped to the concrete floor of a garage in the next block.
Pigeons trill sweetly, then scold anyone without seed.
Water flows through pipes like the presence of god.
Breath rattles through tubes of flesh and dying lungs.
Snub nosed dogs snort and snore in irregular rhythms,
like the voice of ghosts from beyond a non-existent wall.
They cannot stop telling stories of all that’s long forgot.
Footfalls from wooden floors where no feet walk.
I breathe poisoned hills and smell toxic water. My life
demolished like a listing shed in the rail yards.
Lost as the travelers who never returned home
bathed in the midwinter scent of a sea’s perfume.
The migratory odor of abandonment lingers,
and I have nothing to say to you.
The waves you would not see
shimmer like a mirror of clouded ice
gone frozen over the falls.
Metztli review published in la bloga
Metztli Edición bilingüe by Xánath Caraza (Capitulo Siete; Coacalco de Berriozábal, Estado de México, 2018)
Translation by Sandra Kingery and Kaitlyn Hipple
Review by Donna Snyder
In Aztec mythology, “Metztli” is a god or goddess of the moon. Gender is fluid. In some traditions, Metztli fears the Sun’s fire, in others, they wed. Today the Nahuatl word is primarily used as a feminine name. Make a crazy leap from Nahuatl, a living language originating with the pre-Columbian Mexica people of Central America, to the Urban Dictionary. Here, Metztli is identified as a moon goddess, but also as an energetic and artistic girl who is romantic and sensuous, yet innocent. Curiously, I did not research the meaning of the word until after I had already read Metztli, Xánath Caraza’s recent bilingual collection of stories. Knowing makes all the difference in seeing.
Caraza wrote Metztli in Spanish then worked with Sandra Kingery and Kaitlyn Hipple to translate each story into English with the support of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and funding from the Lycoming College Student-Faculty Research Program. Kingery has collaborated with Caraza before, and she and Hipple appear to have developed a clear understanding of how Caraza’s poetic mind works.
As noted in my previous review of Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings, an earlier fiction collection, Caraza often appears in her own narratives, as a character with a fictional name or as an unnamed author referenced in stories. In Metztli, one of Caraza’s narrators falls in love with a character in a book being written within the same story. The writer enters the book and interacts with the other characters while the story shifts to the story within the story. As described by a narrator in one of the pieces in Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings, Caraza’s characters possess the power to “dissolve from this dimension to reappear on the printed page.”
In “Thursday,” midway through Metztli, the main character, a writer, could be describing Caraza’s book.
My book is laden with sorrow.
I tried to convince the publishers that it was a book about traveling, a book of metafiction. But I knew it was actually laden with sorrow, with losses I collected over the years, sometimes as their protagonist, others as mere spectator, all of it persisting through time. Sorrow that I safeguarded within the lines, that remained in the design of the letters, that I exorcized as I wrote each of them on paper.
In my review of Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings, I noted that Caraza’s stories are imbued with Federico García Lorca’s aesthetics of duende, “a fascination with both death and great erotic desire…precipitating a momentary experience of the sublime.” García Lorca tells us that the duende is found when “Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents….” As an immigrant and a traveler, Caraza has internalized a multiplicity of identities as well as the constant pulse of loss and departure.
In “Citizenship,” two brothers left behind their widowed mother to attend university, not seeing her for several years until they unexpectedly appear to witness her swearing in as a United States citizen after working as a dishwasher for most of 20 years. The story reveals a kaleidoscope of memories and emotions: the complexity of grief following the death of an abusive husband, the longing for her sons, the struggle with learning a new language and culture, the decision to become a naturalized citizen. The repeated ruptures in connection mirror the lives of real immigrant workers and asylum seekers, already sorrowful to be forced to leave home, only to have their families ripped apart at the U.S. border. Here in the borderlands of Mexico and the U.S.A., these separations are real, wrenching, and daily.
Metztli’s characters parallel the author’s migrations. They leave their homelands only to feel years later an anguished longing for the details of daily life. Originally from Xalapa in the state of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, she has lived many years in the U.S.A., while frequently travelling throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia. In “Lemongrass,” a woman receives a box of gifts from what could be Caraza’s own homeland:
[A] dress with colorful flowers embroidered on the chest, canned mangoes in syrup, epazote for frijoles, acuyo leaves to wrap tamales rancheros, dried beans, and a peasant blouse with embroidery on the cuff. [She finds that her] departure from Mexico has helped her remember. She’s spent her first year far from the smell of fresh tortillas….
The mammoth sense of loss felt when a lover leaves is broached several times in the collection. In “Prelude,” college students revel in an unconsummated desire born of a mutual devotion to Bach, Scarlatti, and Nietzsche. Their world is filled with near magical sensory details such as a room inexplicably filled with green lightning bugs. The girl is devastated when the boy disappears, only to bepied with another girl weeks later. In another story, “Thursday,” the narrator reveals the extent of her pain after being left.
I cried in the car. In the office. At home. Before walking into a meeting. Between classes. I cried while showering, while cooking. I cried until the table where I was writing these lines flooded, and the sound of my tears mingled with the sound of the rain…The night is neon-blue cold. Metallic rain continues to fall….
The growing friendshipetween women who are grieving the loss of their lovers is beautifully described in “Gentle Breeze.” “Without realizing it, without making an effort, little by little, they stopped saying those names.” Caraza’s format reminds us that time is an artificial construct. Perhaps we experience loss in this reality, yet physicists tell us that we may continue to exist in another universe. In the other universe, we may not suffer that grief.
The fire of first love is always unique but can hint of banality when viewed from outside. Consequently, the last story in the book, “Voices in the Sea,” was a small disappointment in an otherwise stimulating and pleasurable collection. Taken as a whole, however, Metztli dazzles the reader with the interconnectivity of its stories and intrigues us when the fiction is juxtaposed with its writer’s own life. In the title story, the narrator is a Mexican who has lived abroad many years.
She had traveled in Morocco for five years, dancing in different cities. . . . Before dancing, she would prepare her iridescent feathers, seashells, jade necklaces, and turquoise rings. She made sure that the pre-Hispanic instruments she used in her show, like the huehuetl drum, were ready to vibrate like a living heart. She carefully inspected the clay pots that she filled with varying amounts of water to turn them into percussion instruments, and she confirmed the depth of sound of the teponaztli drum. As time went by, while she danced, she began to feel Morocco flow through her veins. Two rhythms began to beat within her, perhaps three now, indigenous, Moroccan, and Spanish.
In addition to writing poetry and fiction, Caraza teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and writes for various scholarly publications related to Latinos/Latinas and their shared, yet disparate, cultures. Caraza has won honors in Central America, Europe, and the U.S.A, such as receiving the 2014 Beca Nebrija para Creadores, from the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares in Spain. She has been translated into English, Italian, and Greek; and partially translated into Nahuatl, Portuguese, Hindi, Turkish, and Romanian.
Caraza was a finalist in the Multicultural Fiction category of the 2013 International Book Awards. Also in 2013, her book Conjuro won multiple international awards. Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings won several international awards. Her book of poetry, Sílabas de viento/Syllables of Wind, received the 2015 International Book Award for Poetry, as well as other prizes. In the 2018 International Latino Book Awards, Caraza’s Lagrima roja won First Place for Best Book of Poetry in Spanish by One Author and First Place for Sin preámbulos/Without Preamble for Best Book of Bilingual Poetry by One Author. The book at hand, Metztli, won second place in the 2019 International Latino Book Awards for Best Short Story Collection.
While the names of characters change, the stories in Metztli are interwoven, with repeated motifs such as winged insects, birds of portent, and references to the keen pleasure of drinking a cup of tea and reading. Most importantly, each main character presents another face of the same moon.
“I usually think in colors, feel colors, smell colors, see images. . .” says the narrator in “Thursday.” Both Metztli and Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings describe this anomaly known as synesthesia, the triggering of one sort of sense impression when a different sense is stimulated. Both books are saturated with color and sensuality. In Metztli, Caraza’s subject is sorrow, yet she catches readers in a storm of eroticism, emphasizing that the sadness of life can be redeemed by art and the pleasures of the physical world. The senses counterbalance life’s inherent sorrow, and only through embracing the duende is there hope to encounter the sublime.
Donna Snyder founded the Tumblewords Project in 1995 and continues to organize its free weekly workshop series and other events in the borderlands of El Paso, Texas. Her poetry collections include Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal from Chimbarazu Press, I Am South from Virgogray Press, and The Tongue Has its Secrets from NeoPoiesis Press. She previously practiced law representing indigenous people, people with disabilities, and immigrant worker
page 8 of the newest issue
Patterns of organic energy on a sub-atomic level
not ruled by cause and effect-
by looking we change the outcome.
Change is inherent in observing. The closer
we look the less precise we become.
Light bumps against flesh, moves backward
to mark where flesh was.
I try to define the reality of flesh and chairs,
become distracted by the buzz and bounce.
Newtonian physics. Einstein’s theories on relativity.
The more we try to comprehend the less they have meaning.
The theory of everything implies that we don’t exist.
The chair is new today but the wood is ancient.
Light bounces from tree to retina and I say chair,
but chair is nothing more than an artificial construct,
an approximation of a limited mind’s effort to name a reality
seeming to exist. Our orbits exceed experience of finite flesh.
By merely looking I have changed chair.
A non-existent mover makes me think tree.
I am lost in a forest of holes that leads me nowhere.
Out of nothing, everything.
Out of dying flesh, I find never ending,
the most vast nothing,
free of who I was.
Free of flesh.
Free of table.
Free of chair.
Free of words
Setu is a bilingual Hindi and English monthly journal of of Pittsburgh. This poem and two others were included 8n a special issue called Western Voices, selected by guest editor, Scott Thomas Outlar.
Nothing is never nothing
written for a bottle with no ocean
The body atremble, the mouth a desert
Sirens so far away but still the jaws grind
Not even the dogs know what dogs always know
Hands thrust into what becomes a salivating mouth
Birds fall, frozen, from the sky to unyielding ground
Words without meaning
Ask the women, they all will tell you
An utterance shuts out objective meaning
Oxygen sucks the life out of a lying mouth
Not even the shadow knits truth from facts
The first page missing, the first line begins
. . . but that was long after Night arose from nothing
Dark void of space
counter-intuitively comprising Earth, Wind,
Water, and Fire, the gods both spirit and being,
but their answers illusory, begging the question
Something from nothing, they say
yet nothing was ever made of something
the first something…
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NeoPoiesis Press, 2016
Reviewed by Eric A. Cline
The Tongue Has Its Secrets by Donna Snyder is a poetry volume rife with spirituality, sensuality, mourning, violence, and prayer. The language utilized throughout the books possesses what may be the most important criteria for establishing strong voice in writing: uniqueness glossed in polish. Snyder actualizes her vision for her work through meticulously crafted execution, resulting in the sense that the book’s many words, lines, and stanzas have all been cradled and cared for at length by the artistic mother who birthed them.
During my initial reading of the work, the most consistent theme to catch my attention was Snyder’s frequent evocation of the religious. More specifically, Snyder references a myriad of feminine deities, from the Corn Maiden to Athena to Mother Crow. Even when not referencing a specific deity, Snyder envisions God as a woman. One example of this can be found in the poem “Creation Myth,” excerpted below:
“A fairy whispers in my ear that God
is a woman at all times being pleasured.
Out of her pleasure unfolds the world.”
This union of spirituality and sensuality weaves throughout many of Snyder’s poems. The result is an affirmation of not only the femaleness of God as a concept, but also of the ways human sexual energies can result in something almost like worship. This worship can be of the self, or of others one is attracted to, as in this segment from the poem “Fat beauty:”
you grins like magic potions, charms for your altar,
offerings to the image of la Roseanne.”
Snyder’s examination of femaleness further extends beyond the divine. In “The Muse of Juárez,” Snyder turns her attention toward violence against women. The poem details the sad phenomenon of femicide through gruesome images of the rape and murder of innocent women in Juárez, Mexico. The poem is one of the volume’s darkest in tone, and rather than try to express humanity’s horrified reaction to the subject matter, Snyder ends the poem with the sounds of blackbirds:
“The world silent. A dead stone.
Nothing but the sound of blackbirds cawing,
crying out in grief.”
Snyder’s verse cries not only for human victims, but also for animals that have suffered at mankind’s hands as well. The poem “The Sunday news” describes dolphin mutilations and the resultant tears of God. The grief found within this piece and others sharing its theme provide the book with a theme of sorrow and hurt that make the book’s other themes of divinity and holiness through sexuality all the more important. Snyder is not content to simply write about pain without offering alternatives or remedies, and though her work transports the reader to places of great misery, it also reminds them why she has bothered to write at all. “Invoking the muse,” a short poem about the power of language, closes with the following description of a female wordsmith:
“maker of kings
caster of spells
inciter of riots
she who wields the power of words”
Donna Snyder wields the power of words, and hers is quite the weapon to behold. I would recommend The Tongue Has Its Secrets to anyone interested in female spirituality, sexuality, struggle, or hope. Though dense with references to gods the reader may not possess immediate knowledge of, the book makes all time spent researching its subject matter worth it for the experience of Snyder’s artistic divinations.
Review: New poetry by Donna Snyder
Michael R. Wyatt, Special to the Times
“The Tongue Has Its Secrets” by Donna Snyder
El Paso performance poet and human rights activist Donna Snyder has published a new book of her poetry, “The Tongue Has Its Secrets” (NeoPoiesis Press).
The slender volume holds some very powerful imagery and might be thought of as setting forth Snyder’s ontological theory of poetry. After all, Snyder is a poet, and what is poetry but the deliberate revelation of secrets held by the tongue? And, closer to home, what proof is there that a poet exists, but for this revealed poetry, and what the poetry reveals?
The book contains 57 poems, equally divided between three parts. The first poem, “The tongue has its secrets,” precedes Part 1 and is in the nature of a foreword. In it, Snyder begins to lay the foundation for the universe she later develops.
Her deity is conceptually female: “Praise Her in five songs.” Her creation myth begins with a thought, which requires the tongue to express it; until told, it is just a secret. And her existence of the self is mouthwateringly sexual: “The spurt of the mother / a creamy desecration of the dark.” And, as is true in most maternalistic ontologies, she expressly acknowledges the cycles of life: “Out of devastation new growth green as a jungle / A verdant blanket.”
To set forth such a vibrant and vivid world-view in a mere 30 lines of text on the first page of her new book demonstrates the power of Snyder’s mental and expressive capacity, as well as the tenacity of her work ethic.Snyder, a lawyer by profession, an activist by inclination and a poet by compulsion, has an extensive list of published work to her credit, including “Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal” (2014 Chimbarazu Press), a lamentation in three parts commemorating the lives, and untimely deaths, of three men central to her life. The three parts of her new book are not as clearly delineated, although one can sense a flowing movement from themes of Nature to Voice to Prayer. Throughout each movement, the Tongue, as a necessary component of the voice that guards the Secrets, and as a sexual organ, provides a constant point of reference.
In the first movement, Snyder introduces the Corn Maiden, one of numerous mother-gods she invokes, and draws out for the reader an explicit connection between Nature, sexuality, and the thoughtful, deliberate act of creation. In “Masa on the tongue,” she writes:
I want to feed on Corn Maiden’s flesh
caramelized in the embrace of mother earth
let it melt on the tongue like agave nectar
rain in the mouth of years to come
Other goddesses featured in this work include Dea Tacita, Ixchel, Mother Crow, Epona and Oshun. The reader may be excused for an occasional Wikipedia break.
This also holds true for Snyder’s references to her non-deified muses, which include various fauna of the Southwest (mariposa, colibri, jaguar, eagle, coyote, deer, bear, serpent); a couple literary lights (Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein); and a deep well of half-hidden languages women have invented to share their secrets in plain sight (Lingua Ignota, Nu Shu poets and the so-called “Venus of Willendorf”). In each case, the poet invokes the muse to give voice to the secrets of the tongue, and thereby creates her world.
Snyder’s keen social awareness also requires her to express alarm. Somebody has killed the muse of Juárez, severed the tongues, silenced the girls, left a dead stone: “Nothing but the sound of blackbirds cawing, / crying out in grief.” And her concern reaches beyond the femicides of Juárez to the planet herself. This collection contains a series of contemplations on the environmental degradation man has wrought, which include “Bitter poison of history denied”; “Earth Day”; “The Sunday news”; and “Agua de mi sierra madre(TM).”
But the poet remains sanguine, both in spirit and flesh tone. In “Struggling with fragile” she expresses her conviction, in a most personal fashion, that spilled blood signifies life to come: “bones of the broken moon turn verdant / flesh and sinew become roaming beasts / spilled blood becomes life. …” The moon “quivers / calls forth the waters to flood and surge / makes the blood rush forth between the legs / the fragile moon / her body broken / her bones and body become life.”
And even though life is but a long wait to die (in “Carmine”), the poet concludes with a prayer (“Supplication”) in which she asks that particular “great and beneficient energy flow” to cleanse her soul, heal and protect her, and restore her vitality.
In the morning, feed me honey with fresh yogurt,
and mint or sage tea at noon.
In the evening, stroke me
with the peacock feathers
of your benevolence.
In the afternoon, love evokes remembrance, and in “Minnow slip of the finger” the artist’s sexuality drips from the page: “humidity sudden in the desert heat / monsoon season of the wet country …,” where “a beard of thorns waits to be trimmed / the ruby flash of tuna / anticipation of eager teeth / dripping sweet.”
In the end, she is prepared to ululate! The reader may be forgiven for discerning a secret meaning from the text, and for allowing the Tongue to suss it out.
Michael R. Wyatt is an assistant El Paso County attorney and has practiced law in El Paso for 28 years.
What: Poet Donna Snyder will read from “The Tongue Has Its Secrets” during a BorderSenses-sponsored book release event. The event also will include an all-ages open mic.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Rock House Cafe and Gallery, 400 W. Overland.
How much: No cover charge.
Information: Snyder, 328-5484 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Richie D. Marrufo, facebook.com/BWOMS.
Last November, Lori Gómez, publisher of VEXT Magazine nominated my poem Chrystal Spheres Blown through Emptiness for the Pushcart Prize. My many thanks to Lori for the vote of confidence and for her vision and commitment to the creation and publication of VEXT Magazine.