Reading my poem “The Loop.”
“Erika L. Sánchez, 27, of Chicago, reads her poem, “Crossing,” about her parents who entered the United States in the trunk of a Cadillac in 1979. She also talks about what it means to be a hard working poet, and how her definition of success differs from that of her parents. You can also hear Sánchez read her poem, “The Loop,” here. You can also read her blog posts at News Taco, where she goes by Oh Hells Nah — also her Twitter handle.” (1.31.2012. Interviewed by Jeff Severns Guntzel)
The barefoot boys are little men—
sticky children wielding machetes, slicing weeds.
Dogs in gaunt elegance
bow their heads and follow—
scabs and bubble gum on their matted fur.
We say if there were ever animals
to kill themselves, it would be these dogs.
The girls we never see. I imagine
they are grinding corn
or rubbing their hands raw
on soap and slabs of concrete in the morning fog.
In my dream last night,
I was pregnant and didn’t want it,
so I used nails.
That’s all I remember: nails
and a birth not celebrated.
How easily we protest discomfort: the heat making nests
in the thickets of our bodies, the insects
like scissors on our ankles, the shit and static water.
How we learn to praise
a grain of rice
when we hear the slight gurgle
of hunger in the flute of the body.
How we learn to love
We can eat until we are shamefaced and swollen
with happiness and light and the neverending.
What can milk say?
milk like mucous
in your throat— a pearl.
Cruel milk with a hair in it
The kindness of milk.
Granada: a British man with bleached hair
walks barefoot in the street
in his imagined bohemia. Among glass
scattered like confetti.
with sores like tropical flowers,
sores like opal.
A young boy kisses his fingers
and presses them to our cab window.
a rattle of history, a photograph—
Miliciana de Waswalito: Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
A radiant Sandinista breastfeeding,
a rifle on her back.
In the morning my period comes
like a hot and languid Sunday afternoon.
My breasts still remembering
the milk the body can brew.
by Erika L. Sánchez
Woman’s destiny is to be wanton, like the bitch,
the she-wolf; she must belong to all who claim her.
— Marquis de Sade
In Cicero the white prostitutes
in front of the Cove Motel lean into cars—
knotted hair, limp breasts
jiggling underneath tattered t-shirts.
We are seven when we watch from our steps,
sucking on tamarind candy, confused.
Aren’t blonde women supposed to be beautiful?
Then I am 22 in Musee d’Orsay and finally
standing in front of Manet’s Olympia. Her square face
and taut body, stiff hand over her sex. A woman
who can slight the black servant, snub the flowers.
She waits for a milk-faced man who will suck her
open like an oyster, make feverish love to her, crumple
the orchid behind her ear. Next, red light
district, Amsterdam: women in glass boxes:
backs impossibly arched, full breasts
spilling out of shiny lingerie. I wonder
how the old ones with missing teeth
compete with them. Behind
a cracked door, a woman rinses
her mouth and spits into a sink.
On Calle Montera, Madrid, the center of the city
near the exact center of the country—women
from Africa, Latin America, and dissolved
Eastern European countries are in front of McDonald’s,
pulling on sleeves and listing prices. A teenage boy wants
to know if they offer student discounts. A graying man
approaches a black transvestite with golden hair, asks,
how much to have sex with a dog?
In Bilbao I watch a news exposé in a fusty hostel
we’ve named Kafka. A Russian woman
named Katya has been sold in Istanbul for $1,000,
then forced to live in a brothel where men insert
bizarre objects, perform acts from Marquis de Sade
pencil sketches. Katya cries and her tears slice
through thick slabs of orange makeup.
My boyfriend lives next to a motel now,
in the urban blight of a desert city,
and after lunch today, a woman in gray sweats
walks past his house towards a mammoth SUV.
She walks slowly, as if splintered, as if
something is already inside her.
My writing process is a bit like me: irrational. Sometimes images seem to haunt me until I am compelled to write a poem around them; other times I do everything I can to “break my eye open” (this concept comes from my favorite TV series, “Six Feet Under.”) To break your eye open is exactly what it sounds like— to see the world in a new way, to make unusual associations. I do this is by delving into my subconscious—a fecund and frightening place. I love writing exercises for that reason. They help me find startling images and fresh language after I feel I’ve exhausted all of my own. One of my favorites is a dada exercise that I learned from my wonderful poetry instructor in Spain– Jesús Urceloy. What a brilliant man. He had everyone follow the most specific and absurd instructions and the end result was amazing. For example, he made us write the word “lamp” on a sheet of paper and leave it near our bed. Upon waking we were to immediately write every word that came to mind when we thought of “lamp.” Then in class he made us write all of the words we associated with “fish” along with a series of other similar instructions. Towards the end we were to give one of the lines we had written to a partner as a gift. He then instructed us to recite our lines in a specific order, then at random until they began sounding like an incantation. Everyone wrote incredible poems and that class remains as one of my most beloved memories. I miss those people profoundly…
The other night my roommate and her boyfriend came home to find me with one hundred note cards with different words written on them all spread out on the living room floor. I was standing over the cards in unattractive celestial pajamas, drinking beer, and listening to jazz. The three of us laughed. “This is what I do,” I tried to explain, still laughing at myself. These are the kinds of nights when I find most inspiration— solitary, drinking a beer, and listening to beautiful music. Very romantic.
Speaking of romance, I’ve recently been working on my dissertation for my MFA and in the process I’ve come to realize how romantic my notion of poetry is. Though Heidegger was a fascist (which is obviously incredibly problematic), I do agree with his philosophy on poetry. To me, it is the purest form of language and the closest we can get to the “essence” of things. Words inspire me every day and I was not exaggerating when I wrote in a poem that “I scrape words to stay living.” In many ways poetry has saved me time and time again.
Leftist and feminist writers have been especially inspirational to me. Adrienne Rich, for example, was critical in my early development as a writer because her poems were my first encounter with “political poetry.” It was after reading her that I realized that I should not only write about love and beauty, but also about what is happening in the world, sometimes even conflating these private and public spaces. I believe in work that reveals both the wonders and horrors of our humanity.
I am also fascinated by poems centered on the female body because I see it is a “site of cultural inscription,” (from Judith Butler’s book, Gender Trouble, quoting Foucault). So many experiences, from love to violence, are written on our bodies. Much of my work is intentionally corporeal and visceral. I have recently written poems about prostitution and human trafficking, and in the process I’ve realized how much the female body is directly communicating issues like globalization and drug trade. To me, a poem that simply celebrates female sexuality is also political in that it rejects our rigid gender codes.
Because poetry has inspired me to question and challenge injustice and because it’s been so pivotal in revolutionary movements throughout history, I still believe that poetry has the power to inspire revolution and transform the world, as naïve and idealistic as that may be.