A neon desert the only sea

A neon desert the only sea
1.
Awareness moves to the right
Electric asters line a green sky
Brake lights baffle the eyes
(Are you paying attention?)
Traffic moves to the right
Think of Louisiana—
Think of Japan—
People disappeared
Structures on stilts still
can’t out walk the waves
Fissured world shifts in its sleep
as sure as the earth beneath your feet
This may be the only world we know
Secrets and lies in camouflage
The stranger’s smile all teeth and eyes
Detainees in your back yard
herded like cattle into the corralón
Downtown old men still hide
numbers tattooed on their wrists
or nopales on the forehead
Catastrophe is our only home now
Dying cougars shot more dead
Unknown bodies beneath the ground
Spying soldiers spread across the sky
A neon desert the only sea
Even metals gone to driest dust
Hear the sound of air through shell
Scent of water glosses the lips of statues
Birds in tree tops sing departure
(There’s about to be an accident)
Our Mama on the wall wears green and blue

She stands on the moon
Blots out the sun
2.
Birds gather in tree tops praying
for all the people dead and gone
Dancers dance with feathers and shells
Mama’s starry cloak shelters her Son
with the nopal tattooed on his forehead
Pray for mercy
Pray for the woman who lives in a car
The detainees in our own back yard
Men with guns at every gate
People disappeared on the river edge
deprived of the solace of rivers and rocks
Our Mama damp with migrant workers’ sweat
Lights wander the other edge of darkness
Nothing sure but this earth beneath our feet
(Are you paying attention?)
Secrets and lies with teeth and eyes
This is your home now
Another day another catastrophe
It’s the only world we’ve ever known
Earthworks break into thunder claps
Random red lights baffle the eyes
Birds falling from the dying blue
Lost fish floating in the dying sea

 

From my book Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal (Chimbarazu Press, New York 2014)

Previously published in I Am Not a Silent Poet

 

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song of a cane flute by Donna Snyder published at I Am Not a Silent Poet

Source: song of a cane flute by Donna Snyder

song of a cane flute

…we are the children of bridges, bridges made from our backs, our tears, our sacrifices, and from all the ones who never made it across with us…. Junot Díaz

low tones solid as her father’s sweet bread
high notes sing the vibrato of son jarocho
of a woman near tears but speaking still
words deep within the memory of cells

the cells are theirs
the lengua is theirs not mine
I can’t presume to speak their truth
yet their indomitable vigor lifts me up
fills with me with a sense of solidarity
a feeling of common purpose
and feelings need not be truth
but are still facts

the strength of la gente bears me up
out of the inundation of hate
their strength through persecution
through the suppression of truth
their unbroken backs carry me
across the chasm seen between us
a bridge between fear and resolution
inspiring me to be a revolution
this bridge called their backs

when I slip and fall I see shoulders and arms
rise up from where knocked to the ground
and those hands reach out to steady me
stand me on my own feet and take my hand
the gift of strength from one heart to another
a kind word from one tongue to another
the gift of memories not mine but shared

like the voice of a cane flute
calling out to the stars

 

My poem “Seeking Oracles” included in Paso del Norte Poets Sing

My poem “Seeking Oracles” included in Paso del Norte Poets Sing at Sasha Pimental’s website

Scroll down through the list, reading all the fantastic poetry as you go.  You’ll find mine around the 18th poem.

SEEKING ORACLES
Donna Snyder

She gazes at the flame between her eyes, holds her breath until she is nothing but heart, the world’s pulse between her ears. She finds black feathers at her doorstep, unsure if the augury is good or ill. Each night she folds her legs and disappears into the sacred fire. She greets the sunrise with a sigh.
Voices echo conversations on eschatology and doom. She hides from them behind guitars’ excruciating sweet. Words repeat themselves perpetually in silence. She sees pictures on the wall where there are none.
She knows little of souls but talks to the dead, visits them in their tombs inside her body. Somewhere outside her head, the smell of palo santo smolders. Somewhere, the sounds of hard wind through metal and water dripping. Floorboards creak and a door closes, of their own accord. She never knows whether her ghosts linger, or if she binds them to her, refusing to let them go.
In her sleep, she wraps herself in sheets like Lazarus. When she wakes, she arises from the grave into a world of dust and blinding sun, the desert heat a shroud. There are no dreams here, just her third eye ablaze. She dresses in the memory of rain. Her hair a burning nimbus, her reflection falls into the caves beneath her eyes.
Everything is bleached as coyote bones in this landscape she wanders, and every living thing has thorns. The path is full of rock, forlorn scat, and sorrow. Everyday she trips and falls.
When the flame fades she returns to now, along with ordinary sight. The flicker of candles glows on the other side of her eyelids. The sound of heartbeat subsides and that of barking dogs and sirens resume. She realizes the music had been inside her head, as had the desert, the thorns, and the talking dead

 

Sasha Pimentel is a Filipina poet and author of For Want of Water (Beacon Press, 2017), selected by Gregory Pardlo as winner of the 2016 National Poetry Series, and Insides She Swallowed (West End Press, 2010), winner of the 2011 American Book Award. A finalist for the 2015 Rome Prize in Literature (American Academy of Arts and Letters).

song of a cane flute by Donna J. Snyder in I Am Not a Silent Poet

Source: song of a cane flute by Donna J. Snyder published at I Am Not a Silent Poet

…we are the children of bridges, bridges made from our backs, our tears, our sacrifices,
and from all the ones who never made it across with us…. Junot Díaz

low tones solid as her father’s sweet bread
high notes sing the vibrato of son jarocho
of a woman near tears but speaking still
words deep within the memory of cells

the cells are theirs
the lengua is theirs not mine
I can’t presume to speak their truth
yet their indomitable vigor lifts me up
fills with me with a sense of solidarity
a feeling of common purpose
and feelings need not be truth
but are still facts

the strength of la gente bears me up
out of the inundation of hate
their strength through persecution
through the suppression of truth
their unbroken backs carry me
across the chasm seen between us
a bridge between fear and resolution
inspiring me to be a revolution
this bridge called their backs

when I slip and fall I see shoulders and arms
rise up from where knocked to the ground
and those hands reach out to steady me
stand me on my own feet and take my hand
the gift of strength from one heart to another
a kind word from one tongue to another
the gift of memories not mine but shared

like the voice of a cane flute
calling out to the stars

 

Read at the Librotraficantes event in El Paso, Texas on June 22, 2017

The back of the book. . . Susan Hawthorne

Susan Hawthorne’s comment on the back of The Tongue Has Its Secrets

“Here is a poet who tongues the language of birds, delves into the minds of sybils, explores connections with animals. She tests the boundaries of nothingness and somethingness. Donna Snyder’s poems are like Nüshu: secrets cast skywards like a cipher for those who know, to read.”

– Susan Hawthorne, poet and author of Lupa and Lamb

 

cover art

Loring Wirbel’s review of The Tongue Has Its Secrets

Red Fez review of The Tongue Has Its Secrets

Perhaps a Southwestern state of mind is a prerequisite for a full appreciation of the Sandia Mountains and Chaco Canyon landscapes that populate Donna Snyder’s latest collection of poems, The Tongue Has Its Secrets. Yet a stranger to these parts can approximate a high-desert way of knowing, in the same way that a male reader may discern, if only as a tourist, the invocation of ghosts from a woman’s way of seeing, the subject at the heart of Snyder’s latest work.

Dea tacita  

Lara’s tongue severed by the sky for indiscretion

Love led her on a spiral path deep into the laurel

She gave birth to little gods but was forever silent

 

She lingers at cross roads

Tends the dead

 

What is evident from the first poems is that Snyder avoids the fear of modern vernacular that seems to occupy many poets who visit natural sites, hoping to evoke ancient gods. We could all be judicious with our language while trying for the perfect Mary Oliver setting, but any ancient god worth a prayer won’t mind the occasional reference to a pop song or video game. Snyder’s language is at once formal and casual, giving works like ‘Prepare to Ululate’ surprising depth.

 

Blue norther’

In the North Texas Panhandle, southbound truckers 

blast down Hwy 83, headed to where the wind’s not

from the north and not called blue.

Winds and storm outside become Valkyries,

the concrete septic tank a magic stone.  Women 

warriors ride like furies across the frozen plain.

An Irish woman outruns a chariot,

gives birth to twins, 

lays a curse.

 

The wind takes my spirit in its arms and flees.

Mama lights the candle, locks the door. 

 

There are plenty of two-lane highway odes in this world paying homage to modern gods of transport, and plenty of chants that attempt to revive Anasazi imagery, but Snyder is rare in being able to meld the two. Poems such as ‘Blue Norther’ and ‘My Heart Makes Chorus with the Coyotes’ successfully bring the two worlds together with an impressive degree of success.

 

Snyder obviously takes the most time with the multi-stanza works spanning two or three pages that attempt to disentangle layers of spirituality. Sometimes, the longer poems are not as effective as the shorter, more direct works. ‘Bear Who Loves a Woman’ is an obvious exception to this rule, a complex and interwoven longer work that is one of the book’s highlights.

 

The collection ends with the tight and disciplined ‘Supplication,’ which seeks to call upon the right panoply of gods without a wasted syllable. Many of Snyder’s fans may find the poem a perfect summation and distillation of the entire collection. But even those of us more secularly grounded in cynicism will find the pair of poems near the book’s end, ‘The Truth of Vikings’ and ‘Aqua de mi sierra madreTM ‘ to provide just the right mix of breathless voice and raised eyebrow. In short, there’s a brand of salvation in The Tongue Has Its Secrets appropriate for just about any seeker.

 

The truth of Vikings

The music in her head makes her scared,

as if Vikings still brandished their blades 

from the decks of ships fierce as dragons.

Afloat in an ageless river, 

the leaves are chill flames.

Cold rains obscure the water’s source,

hiding it away like the secret of a woman’s 

aging body, rain, a woman’s sluggish heat.

She is apples and pears ripened 

in her own sweet skin.

Only the moon can match 

the luster of her opalescent belly.

Her mouth makes shadows. Her hair 

a burning bush. 

Her fingers a doorway,

iconic as a religious artifact.  She is on route

to the end of being on the back of a red swan,

on the way to nothingness made tolerable 

by ritual and fire.

 

Through the wind, she hears the shriek

of disconsolate women who no longer 

believe love will save them from sorrow.

There is no home now, they wail.

There is no safe place.

Death tastes like winter flowers.

She knows this because she knows 

things she is not supposed to know.

She stands so close she can hear 

warriors tell each other secrets.

The truth is that neither love nor death 

diminishes you.  The way to truth 

is a life suffered, a drunken waltz.

She stands so close her howl is lost 

in the roar of music inside her head.

She is wordless before the fact of Vikings,

 

truth found in a harsh yellow light.