Her name is Frederica. They call her “Chica Bonita,” “C. B.,” “El Terrible.” Someone also calls her “madre,” someone calls her “hija”—that’s not going to keep her here.
She’s wearing her one good dress, the slit, come-hither dress as scarlet as a tanager, and she has a month of money lumped to about the size of a dinner roll in her bead purse, and she’s standing as still as an icon in a niche, on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande, looking across.
We’ll meet her later, on the other side. She’s going to leave the hunger and indignities behind, she’s going to do whatever it takes, and if she’s caught and gets her ass slapped back to home, she’ll only attempt it again.
For now, she knows two things that sing in her bones, two seemingly opposite things: that everyone’s different across the border, wholly and goldenly, enviably different; and that, if she slips across the river, she can mix there undetectably, she’s so alike.
In the spring 1994 issue of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop Newsletter, poet Donald Revell is interviewed. In part:
Ever since you announced in seminar that similes are false/lies/dead, the workshop has been in a panic. . . . Would you prefer we abandon similes altogether?
I’d like them to be dragged out into the street and shot as an example to the children.
This is one way. [End Page 91]
In Richard Wilbur’s sturdy essay “Poetry and Happiness,” he considers the potlatch wonderment of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “curtal sonnet” “Pied Beauty,” its across-the-spectrum, variegated inclusions, and says: “When a catalogue has a random air, when it seems to have been assembled by chance, it implies a vast reservoir of other things which might just as well have been mentioned.”
And of cataloguist Whitman, too: “He speaks in the same rapt voice of men and women and moss and pokeweed, and it is clear that he might have spoken to the same purpose of ducks or pebbles or angels.”
Things, bespeaking other things. The implicit universe-spill of sheer likeness.
Wilbur praises Marianne Moore, “who once described a butterfly as ‘bobbing away like wreckage on the sea’ ”; and Elizabeth Bishop, for a beach which “hisses like fat.”
The sudden recognition of empathetically bonded understructures. The vast, but bridged, equational cosmos.
And then Wilbur quotes from a letter by Yeats: “We are happy when for everything inside us there is a corresponding something outside us”—making our skin an equals-sign, a dynamic.
This is the happiness, surely, Vasari unknowingly implies streamed whistling and jigging out of Paolo Uccello in his artistic frenzy: “He painted scenes from the lives of the Fathers of the Church, in which he ignored the rules of consistency in colouring, for he made the fields blue, the cities red, and the buildings in various colours as he felt inclined”—as he determined (is how I’d put it) that the blue and the red of his interior life might properly find their fields-and-cities-and-buildings correspondences in the outside world.
Vasari condemns Uccello for this: “He was wrong, because something which is meant to represent stone cannot and should not be coloured with another tint.” And Donald Revell exhibits a similarly strict point of view: “Nothing is ‘like’ anything else. It is impossible to make true poetry out of falsehoods.”
But there are many kinds of truth. I guess I’m just not so strict, or at least I’m not in that Vasarian way. For me, it’s a delight to imagine the fifteenth-century Florentine light, like an ewer of amber oil, anointing Uccello and his happy palette, this man who bears blue wheat inside him, its feathery azure- and parrot-blue undulance stroked by a moving blue finger of wind.
Which is, of course, the other way. [End Page 92]
“She vomited. . . .” I’m lunching at the Wichita Art Museum with poet Madeline DeFrees. The air is filled with the clinking of silverware: as if we’re in an...