100 Refutations: Bottled Splendor

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Forty-five minutes, then the ringing of a bell and off they went. Sixteen college freshmen from their compulsory composition class into the hallways of the English-Philosophy Building in Iowa City. Sixteen still-teens, stumbling out of my classroom, one by one—everyone but one, who heard the bell like a starting pistol and walked straight up to me to tell me that I was wrong.

*

In Richmond, Virginia, I stare at the images of a woman in a Nicaraguan newspaper article. I think of my former student, and “We forget,” I scribble on the margin of a book, “but poetry reminds us.”1

*

“Love,” he told me, “is in the brain.” Speaking slowly and emphatically while the word METAPHYSICAL glared at him from the whiteboard. “It’s not like…It’s not…” A recently shaved head on a recent convert to disillusionment, whom—I gathered from comments and assignments—had recently had his heart broken. “It’s not like angels,” he said. “It’s not made up—it’s not magic.”

*

In the images, the woman has light skin, white hair, a black dress with flowers or a red dress with lace. She is a woman you’d think you’ve seen a thousand times before—crossing the street, holding her purse, feeding birds. But you’ve never seen her before, even if you have seen her before. Because Mariana Sansón Argüello, the surrealist poet of Nicaragua, “saw reality as an inexpressible cosmic whole […] that allowed everyday life to peak out only briefly from behind the corners of a universe in a fit of laughter.” So I try to glimpse traces of the blue fields of miraculous confusion and herds of unhinged metaphors galloping behind her stare. I read, “We forget,” and then scribble it on the margin of a book, “but poetry reminds us that the best way to understand reality is through splendor.”

*

Chemical codes and electric echoes. “That’s all it is.” String light neurons hung across walls of skull while artists and poets imagine constellations of intention in the Morse code of their lightning-bug blinks. “It’s not that,” he said pointing up at the board. “It’s all in the brain, and the brain is not intangible.”

*

I lose sleep in Richmond. I write on the margins of poetry books and I correspond with poets who’ve survived exiles, revolutions, wars, and tortures. I hold words that can’t be held in the palm of my hand, I carry works that can’t be carried in the base of my skull, while in my mouth poems become “bloody [gobs] of spit / riddled with the tuberculosis of history.”2 And I hold up splendor to the light like a kaleidoscope and wonder Why? and What for? Most of all, I wonder How? So that is what I write. “How,” on my screen and in an email, “do you keep writing through all that? All this? All that you already know is already coming?” Delete. “How,” I type again, “can there be poetry after all this?” Delete. Repeat. Because, We could give up, I think. It makes no difference, as long as “the drums / of vengeance / echo from afar.”3

But they don’t stop; they don’t give up; they just keep writing. So I write back. “Thank you,” on the screen, in an email. And “We forget,” on the margin of a book, “but…”

*

“Thing is,” my student pressed his hands on the table and leaned forward, “we know the name of the chemical.” As if he were laying out photographs in a sequence, retracing steps and drawing curtains. “We could,” he said, seeming to me to be trying to look older than he was, “bottle that chemical if we wanted to.” To be beyond disappointment and regret, to be above risk and over words, “It’s not a metaphor.” I imagined his pockets filled with glass vials full of brain full of miraculous confusion and lightning-bug constellations. “There is nothing real,” he said, “that can’t be touched.” We could give up, it makes no difference. “Those are just words.” And words are only that.

*

Yet, “Behind my voice,” wrote Circe Maia—after years in an Uruguayan dictatorship, after years raising children on her own while her husband was held as a political prisoner—“another voice sings. / […] It comes […] from the buried / mouths and it sings.”4

And, “I am a woman in rebellion / Standing before the cold and calculated / Correction of the state employee,” wrote Julia Esquivel in an exile resulting from 35 years of incessant political violence in Guatemala, “I am an ember / lit by the flame / of a great love.”5

“What good are words,” wrote Mariana Sansón Argüello in Nicaragua, in a black dress with flowers, or in a red one with lace, beneath the blinking light of her own defiance, “when not echoed by the echo?”

Because we forget, but we also remember, that sometimes the only way to curve reality “is through splendor.”

And, “Brother / Do you know the tale? / of the burning bush / that remained unburnt?”6

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Notes

  1. Zalaquett, Mónica, “Mariana Sansón Argüello: Una corona de luces…” El Nuevo Diario, 8 December 2007.
  2. Muñoz, Eliana Díaz, “The Beautiful Text.”
  3. Visbal, Carmen Peña, “Defeated.”
  4. Maia, Circe, “Behind My Voice.
  5. Esquivel, Julia, “I Am Not a Woman Possessed.”
  6. Ibid.

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

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To help more directly, please visit:

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Salvadoran American Humanitarian Foundation: https://www.sahf.org

Bios

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

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Lina M. Ferreira C.-V.

Lina M. Ferreira C.-V. (100 Refutations translator and editor) earned MFAs in creative nonfiction writing and literary translation from The University of Iowa. She is the author of Drown Sever Sing from Anomalous Press and Don’t Come Back from Mad River Books, as well as editor, with Sarah Viren, of the forthcoming anthology Essaying the Americas. Her fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and translation work has been featured in journals including Bellingham ReviewChicago ReviewFourth GenreBrevityPoets & Writers, and The Sunday Rumpus, among others. She won Best of the Net and Iron Horse Review’s Discovered Voices Award, has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and is a Rona Jaffe fellow. She moved from Colombia to China to Columbus, Ohio to Richmond, Virginia, where she works as an assistant professor for Virginia Commonwealth University. Visit www.linawritesessays.com. ******************************************************************** Amanda Dambrink (100 Refutations co-editor) works as an editor for the University of Wisconsin's Continuing Education, Outreach & E-Learning program in Madison, Wisconsin. She also holds an MA in creative nonfiction from Ohio University, and her previous work has appeared in Prairie Margins and The Normal School, among others.

Copyright (c) Lina M. Ferreira C.-V., 2018.