Friday, January 21, 2005

RAW MANGO: This poem was inspired by several visits to Paraguayan prisons, brothels, and a mental institution. It is best if read while listening to Paraguayan "guaranies" -- folkloric music played by men aggressively pounding out rhythms on giant harps.

Play the Podcast.

It's night.
Do you hear the rustling of the mango trees?

They say they are a nuisance - with hard fruit
like me, falling down, yet
the tree still grows in spite of broken limbs,
of a core that is too tender to bear its weight.

Overnight, the breeze turned Antarctic --
we watch shooting stars under the Southern Cross;
Chill greeting for my tour of life behind bars,
thick bolted chain and the rust
of a Paraguayan mental hospital,

women I visit
mirrors or memory?
I feel most welcome here,
speaking a Guaraní-tinged language of dreams;

my destiny to see Self reflected in a woman
electroconvulsive therapy

not a cure but at least a way to forget

life means a long, extended negotiation
with oblivion;
beautiful young autistic boy
sitting cross-legged on the cement courtyard
staring straight ahead, body caught rhythmic & repetitive
like post-traumatic stress, like post-sexual assault, like
life in an incomprehensible world; waking up under a mango tree,

fruit falling like sorrow
softening up before spoiling

the morning's stroll
into another new day we only think is new...

the young man dying of AIDS in the prison told me
"I'm between life and death" tattoos stretched out over bones

needles are not good here, w/sharp sweet stench
at least he had a mattress & a wooden cot

how much better than sleeping under a bridge
in a crate, on a cold July night near the Río Paraguay
smelling the caldo de pescado of the Lido Bar w/
Mercedes parked on the calle, young girls leaning over old men;

doesn't it seem justified to steal from the rich?
I run shakily, high-heeled,

carrying my contraband of dreams, does that make me unique?
we've got big dreams.

we've all got big dreams.
what does it matter.

Let them move to the city, you say.
But at least in the country, they had free air & pecans falling
about in November, the bright orange of persimmons draping creeks
those dear, sweet nights of looking up at a full moon
putting up preserves, feigning self-sufficiency
where race, tribe, language, origin no longer matter,
you're not having to be a parasite to survive;

Castiglione's Art of the Courtier now in Governor's palace;
play god or play capricious Puck
mask over mask over mask so they know you by your roles
& not by the sad, bright pressure of oblivion

turning wood into bowls
bowls into a sad, young Paraguayan boy
living surrounded by women
gentle in theory not predatory
like dreams instilled in you
devouring you alive;

someone else's dreams
define slavery:

nother's values articulated w/electricity
strapped to the head, held down body by women
a kind of body you will soon forget
boy in the body of every bowl

turning turning turning turning

transformation is finite
that is the true nightmare

& you fill the hollow bowl
like body w/bright foil-wrapped distractions
sweet like what you're now denying yourself;
pecans fall from your trees like joy
crunching underfoot money
directed into the cycles
of/on dreams.

Those pecans are not pecans at all.
They're mangos, and they're raw.
Very very raw.

Susan Smith Nash
September 2000
Asuncion, Paraguay