Sunday, December 2, 2012

Los Rumberos de Massachusetts

Un, dos, tres, cuatro--

The focus was intense and unbroken. The two guitarists stared into the eyes of the boy with the djembe until they all began cleanly at the same time. The three of them pulled us in but we were shy and we formed a wiggly crescent moon around them, leaving a black bulge of space between us and the raised platform that was the stage. The boy in the middle had left the top three buttons of his shirt undone, the one on the right sported striped purple socks, and on the left the colorful djembe was its own fashion statement. They made music that I normally hear coming out of my laptop speakers as I escape my dorm room to dream of Granada. They played music that wafts around me at dinner when I go home for the holidays. They played music that makes me dance at the best parties that are packed with nobody born here.

In between songs they made Mexican jokes with Mexican accents. Three talented Mexicans serenading us in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They made us carefree while they worked hard.

What does it feel like, I wonder, to have "made it" like that? What does it feel like to sell out concerts when you haven't yet graduated from college? To make people jump up and down with the talent you've honed your whole life, given yourself up to?

They tried to get us to dance. Really dance. Veo muchas chicas bailando acá, y muchos chicos bailando solos allá. A ver cómo le arreglamos. Como dice la canción, "vamos juntando los cuerpos...."

It was invitation. To let ourselves go. To let the strums enter our dreams. To fling the door wide open to let Mexico into a glassed-in Harvard building in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Language Magazine Article

Lovely Readers,

For today's post I direct you to my article published in this month's issue of Language Magazine, which can be accessed online here.

I hope you enjoy reading about the importance of falling in love with language.


Friday, July 13, 2012

María Dueñas

Image from
It was fitting that I should be in the middle of reading Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls when I made my way into the auditorium of the Decatur Library yesterday to hear María Dueñas speak about her debut novel and bestseller, El tiempo entre costuras, or The Time in Between. Having spent three months in Spain recently, I have noticed that Franco's specter still hovers over the country, and even the young people who have no living memories of the dictatorship feel its weight like the bruise left by a claw clamped tight on your shoulder. And it all began in those crucial years of the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939, which Hemingway tells of so vividly in For Whom the Bell Tolls. You can learn history from the history books, but where will you learn of how the fascists were killed, one by one, in a small peasant town? Or of the illiterate wisdom of the horse trainers who made a revolution? Or of the soldier's urgency to make love before his probable death? This sort of thing you learn of in a novel, guided by the hand of a peerless storyteller such as Hemingway.

El tiempo entre costuras begins just before the eruption of the civil war and continues into World War II, following a young seamstress as she learns the ways of the world and sheds her naïvité, sewing herself deelpy into the canvas of her society. The novel bridges Spain and Morocco, lower-class humility and upper-class power. María Dueñas spoke romantically of the pre-independence Morocco that the older members of her family still remember vividly. She spoke of her creative process, making it clear that she had deemed this project a necessary step in the consolidation of her family's stories and the stories of a whole generation, which would otherwise be lost. A professor of English language and literature at the University of Murcia, she was trained as an academic and applied these same research methods to her book, consulting histories, memoirs, and old newspapers, in addition to the oral histories of her family. She was a living illustration of the ultimate compatibility of academia and creativity; the divide between the two, which separates scholarly analysis from the creation of fiction and often elevates one above the other within the ivory towers, can be dispelled like a smokescreen, if only we have a little courage.

She was also a living illustration of a successful female author. As a woman, I am grateful to her as a role model. To Isabel Allende also I am grateful. Hemingway told us how Robert Jordan's heart beat against the snow that melted and wet his shirt beneath him as he lay watching Fascist cavalry through the sight of a machine gun. Now Dueñas can tell us how at the same time Sira trudged with the weight of pistols strapped to her body under a burka to smuggle them to a man in a bathroom stall of the train station in Tetuan, Morocco. There are many stories about men, and in the still-patriarchal society of Spain, I am glad that a woman is telling a woman's story.

Dueñas pointed out that Spain and the U.S. have long had a curious and sometimes intimate relationship. She herself as well as Hemingway are examples of this. Her next novel, Misión Olvido, deals directly with this intercontinental relationship. We should pay more attention to what connects us. As one who straddles the two continents out of a visceral necessity to do so, I am more than content that the Georgia Center for the Book has brought an author from Murcia, Spain all the way to Decatur, Georgia.

The following is an image of my mother's 1982 edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls, which she bought in Salamanca, Spain, and which I am currently reading. I love the yellowing paper that is both soft and coarse like the pages of King Arthur and His Kinghts, Little Women, and Treasure Island that I also read as a child from my mother's library of those books that escaped the fire to her Charlottesville apartment years ago. I love especially the pages in the middle where the spine has cracked--the ones that want to turn themselves loose from the brittle glue like golden autumn leaves and that I must hold in place very gingerly as one holds a sleeping baby's head.

Image from

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Homenaje a Carlos Fuentes

By the side of the Río Genil in Granada, Spain, I finished reading El espejo enterrado. I had begun reading my mother's large, color-illustrated version but this one was a more compact paperback that fit better into my backpack to read on the plane from Atlanta to Zurich. It was this little paperback that I carried into the forest of the Alhambra and read as the water skipped forever before me in knowing rivulets.

Carlos Fuentes taught me history and more. He was not afraid to comment, to editorialize, to insert himself into the narrative and enter into a conversation with his reader. With me. So many of us, his readers, feel like we know him personally, that we have at least met him one day in our lives. He understood Hayden White's distinction of "the historical text as literary artefact" and favored humanity over a vain pursuit of objectivity in his narration, so as to reveal truth through imagination. El espejo enterrado is not a history book; it is a conversation with Carlos Fuentes.

The surface of the river was going black as the sun went down. Black like the obsidian surface of Tezcatlipoca's mirror. And in it I saw a vast upside-down world. The blackness of the infinite upside-down sky was frightening; the blue sky above just stayed there but this one was like the open embrace of death--fall in and you will keep falling forever.

El gringo viejo also taught me history and also something deeper: something about the character of Mexico and Mexicans. Harriet Winslow provides a window into a world that is strange and new for her. Her outside perspective highlights the antics of Tomás Arroyo and of the Mexican revolution, which becomes a character in and of itself, donning the laughing, ever-evasive face of Pancho Villa. All the characters are locked in a dance with death, and when Arroyo steps on death's toes, he willingly accepts her embrace. History books that try to be objective can never capture this dance, but in his novel, Fuentes places Harriet in Tomás's arms and pulls the two through the pages in their deadly dance that is more real than fictional.

That is Carlos Fuentes's magic. In his writings a Chac Mool grows fur and dark houses make men question whether the world outside exists anymore. And these not-so-strange occurrences don't just happen on the page; they slither into the "real" world to hiss almost imperceptibly in my ear and make me wonder if one day I might fall through the looking-glass of the Genil and into that upside-down Granada and just... never come back.

Gracias, Don Carlos. Gracias por invitarme a entrar en su sueño, en su sueño de un México y un mundo vueltos deliciosamente al revés.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Voz de Neruda

Good evening readers,

Welcome to my literary blog, which will soon expand and become more defined. If you're wondering why it's called "The Naked Pomegranate," have patience: there is method to my madness. 

For the moment let me share with you some writerly sentiments and experiences of today, as a way of capturing a few moments and perhaps making them larger than they are.

I spent this afternoon listening to Pablo Neruda. I didn't get the sense that he was speaking to me, but we were close, he and I. He spoke and I closed my eyes and let his words enter my consciousness through the headphones that were plugged into the record-player, where the LP spun and spun hypnotically. By his cadence I could tell he loved his poems, perhaps as much or more than he ever loved that "tú" he so glorifies in them. The LP is Los versos del capitán in auditory form. A professor of mine* has suggested that "el capitán" might refer to Antonio Machado's poem "Retrato":

¿Soy clásico o romántico? No sé. Dejar quisiera
mi verso, como deja el capitán su espada:
famosa por la mano viril que la blandiera,
no por el docto oficio del forjador preciada. 

Perhaps it is so. "El capitán" who speaks is a hyper-male, and at the same time hyper-sensitive, figure who possesses rather than pursues his beloved. Certainly he has a "mano viril," and certainly he uses it.

Neruda finished reading "El tigre" and made a slight pause. I picked up the padded needle--vertically--careful not to scratch the record, and place it where I thought the poem began. As I eased back into his voice with the theatrical end of the previous poem, I relished the sheer physicality of the action--the physicality that is threatened by our obsessive translation of our lives into 1's and 0's. What will an archaeologist centuries from now glean from a hard drive buried somewhere under the dirt of unforeseen, and inevitable, catastrophe? I ask myself, and you, these questions, because this class on recuperative poetics heightens my awareness of their importance.

I listened to the poem again:

Soy el tigre.
Te acecho entre las hojas
anchas como lingotes
de mineral mojado.

El río blanco crece
bajo la niebla. Llegas.

Desnuda te sumerges.

Entonces en un salto
de fuego, sangre, dientes,
de un zarpazo derribo
tu pecho, tus caderas.

Bebo tu sangre, rompo
tus miembros uno a uno.

Y me quedo velando
por años en la selva
tus huesos, tu ceniza,
inmóvil, lejos
del odio y de la cólera,
desarmado en tu muerte,
cruzado por las lianas,
inmóvil, lejos
del odio y de la cólera,
desarmado en tu muerte,
cruzado por las lianas,
inmóvil en la lluvia,
centinela implacable
de mi amor asesino. 

And I could not stop thinking of Coyolxauhqui and her dismemberment, of the blood and death and love so potent in ancient Mesoamerica. The fierce woman torn apart by the warrior, el capitán. The woman who lives beyond death, the woman who haunts, an incarnation of La Llorona...

Let us dig into the archive, get our hands on the dusty, musty, graying, decaying notebooks and photographs that stand patiently like statues in a museum, waiting to be put on display.

If you are interested in the archive, you can visit Harvard's Woodberry Poetry Room "Listening Booth" ( and enjoy the voices of Eliot, Pound, Heaney, and many others. You will unfortunately find nothing in Spanish there, although you will find plenty of poetry in the Anglo-Saxon tradition (it is Harvard, after all.) For the rest, you need to take out your archaeologist's spade and go digging.

*José Javier León, professor at the Universidad de Granada