Argentine Journal: Coming of Age as a Poet

front cover150I received the opportunity to live for four months in Buenos Aires, Argentina and later to travel this fantastic country. I set myself the task of writing a poem a day and keeping a daily journal. What I learned is that work-on-a schedule can be as excellent as any you do—and your schedule enhances greatly the amount of work you can turn out. At some point, we are all beginners. The real artist feeds her soul AND feeds her need for work.

Order Argentine Journal directly from:

Las Cataras del Iguazú (The Waterfalls of Iguazu)

The Argentine man throws three gold
coins, bright into tumbling green
devil’s Throat that spews behind us;
the grand spectacle of rainbow,
mist, rock and swallows whose
dark flame-wings sing silent secrets:
owl-eyes, head twisted from
sheer rock they clutch with toes
and wings long beside them
I yearn to soar through this
canyon of two rivers and three
countries: Iguazú, Paraná;
Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina
names lovely as jungle and
butterflies I shower in, finding
their sails by the hundreds
folded on a calm and red shore –
the falls a roar behind me,
sun hot, flutter and flutter, I in
their midst: a waterfall here for
everyone, grand or small to a
trickle. My self, starving for beauty,
will stay near water as I depart.

Argentine Journal July 

One month from today we leave for Buenos Aires. Time for me to fall into my survival technique. Lop off everything nonessential. Nonessential to me as a poet, those priorities being time and space to write. My priorities for living being—what?

Can’t write poems this morning. Nothing working. Got to sit back and let the poems write themselves.

Want to do a poem about leaving. One leaves long before they leave. Or perhaps even before they know they are leaving. My dream last night of my daughter’s unborn baby, that was going to die. My new marriage I want so badly—going to die?

 Argentine Journal August 

Our second day and already we are Argentineans! Dinner at eleven last night. Met more Fulbright people (have to pinch myself to remember this is work: my husband, Craig is a Fulbright lecturer here for three months). Saw a film of Argentina’s last 50 years. Really something, with plazas full of people and soldiers, many shooting each other. Speeches, cheering and more shooting. I have an odd idea of Argentina from the film. So many revolutions, such an interference from the armed forces, indeed, it seemed, a history of their right to do.

We have an apartment, very small, little storage, tiny kitchen, really a bed-sitting room but most pleasant on the 10th floor. And maid service. The best is a balcony overlooking the mile wide 9th of July Avenue lined with palo borrachos, drunken trees (to translate). Stark in winter they have fat swollen trunks, learn oddly and are covered with triangular spikes. Their black l imbs dangle round balls now bursting like cotton fluff dancing down the street. We’ve puzzled long over why they’re called drunken tree. No one we ask knows and are surprised when we ask. Our current theory: they’re drunken because they don’t follow rules. Not all are swollen, lean or spiked.

I continue feeling great. But about Craig and me: what jerks we are. “Only man is vile,” sure applies to us. Fighting again. Ambitions now are simple: Craig’s and my relationship made  real for the long term, and some work done. What spoils our being lovers—which we surely are when we are?

Oatmeal for Breakfast

A cold and duty day.
No escape.

Only a plodding return
to the harness of obligation

however manufactured.
A wild horse

gone back to stable.
Do this before that.
Think: in three months
what will you have?

In a year, ten?
“I could not love thee

dear, loved I not...”
It is a cold and duty day.

My first poem in Argentina. Without realizing it, I talk to
myself. If I’m to accomplish anything during this three months,
and especially a new collection of poetry, I must get back on my
I’m having a hard time, feeling jumbled. Not doing
poetry or keeping a routine. I clearly see the space poetry
comes from: order, quiet, aloneness, reading and study, acute
observation and feeling. And oddly, a rested and undissipated
body and mind.
Life’s smorgasbord is before us. That same
smorgasbord is always before us. But when one travels to new
places, it takes on heroic possibilities. How spend your time?
How work out the disturbances of relationship? How much, in fact,
of our substance will we sell for porridge: quarreling, wasting
time, indecision, second-guessing, finding fault, indulging in
anger?
The problem I deal with in Craig is old: it is my father. It
is my mother. It is my first husband. It is my daughter. It is
myself. My aggravation with Craig is over specifics: him
removing my clothes from the bathroom because they made it
messy, but leaving his own. That was unfair. I’ve seen him be
unfair before; he isn’t a fair person. Why do I get angry when he
isn’t? Am I being fair to Craig” “...whoever walks a furlong
without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud.”
Whitman, and maybe I should study this!
Slowly it dawns on me that Sartre in No Exit is wrong.
Hell is not other people. Hell is ourselves who eternally refuse to
learn the self control of ordering our lives.
I must cut my world smaller. Define tasks, both in
writing and living, that I can accomplish. Divine acceptable ways
of keeping myself sane and alive—not easy tasks.

My first poem in Argentina. Without realizing it, I talk to myself. If I’m to accomplish anything during this three months, and especially a new collection of poetry, I must get back on my schedule.

I’m having a hard time, feeling jumbled. Not doing poetry or keeping a routine. I clearly see the space poetry comes from: order, quiet, aloneness, reading and study, acute observation and feeling. And oddly, a rested and undissipated body and mind.

Life’s smorgasbord is before us. That same smorgasbord is always before us. But when one travels to new places, it takes on heroic possibilities. How spend your time? How work out the disturbances of relationship? How much, in fact, of our substance will we sell for porridge: quarreling, wasting time, indecision, second-guessing, finding fault, indulging in anger?

The problem I deal with in Craig is old: it is my father. It is my mother. It is my first husband. It is my daughter. It is myself. My aggravation with Craig is over specifics: him removing my clothes from the bathroom because they made it messy, but leaving his own. That was unfair. I’ve seen him be unfair before; he isn’t a fair person. Why do I get angry when he isn’t? Am I being fair to Craig” “…whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud.” Whitman, and maybe I should study this!

Slowly it dawns on me that Sartre in No Exit is wrong. Hell is not other people. Hell is ourselves who eternally refuse to learn the self control of ordering our lives.

I must cut my world smaller. Define tasks, both in writing and living, that I can accomplish. Divine acceptable ways of keeping myself sane and alive—not easy tasks.

A Red and Golden Ship

Words of Marcus Aurelius
cry to me from a sailing ship
I can never catch:
“To live happily is an
inward power of the soul.”
Beautiful in the wind,
Vanishing as promises in moonlight,
Soft as Lorelei,
Faint as time that does not dim
one special path of childhood,
One green and tender time, one kiss.

Alone I stand on a rocky shore
that knows not soul.
The language here is guttural.
At my feet sand castles
vie for material power.
I step on turrets, but still,
in mushroom clouds, they grow, they grow.

Far out at sea
red and golden colors touch my ship.
My ship that will never sail.

Some days I marvel at the products that come from my pen—a strange and stunning process I do not understand and have learned only not to try. A Red and Golden Ship flowed just now, not needing work and surely unexpected. I’ve been frantically looking for topics and somehow, the Marcus Aurelius quote stayed in my mind. Some wondrous part was writing all unknown to me. The uncarved block of the Taoist? Or what’s left when I get out to the way of myself—ego vanished? Or vanquished.

For a tender moment I have everything I need.

Tears for No Reason

I cry for women’s lives
for the unreachable

distance between dreams
and the possible.
I cry for getting old
for unlived life.

I cry for a mother
I have not known
and a daughter
I have not known.
I cry for my life,
and for all lives,
ended and not ended.

There are times when one is completely and totally
ashamed of themselves. I am now. Been reading Ladies of the 
Club. Don’t know why it fascinates me so, or really why I cry
over it. The heroine died, was buried, had her life summarized.
No different from what will happen to each of us—nothing here
calls for tears.
But when the maids came to do their bright swishing of
this place, I was weeping and writing. They don’t speak English
and my Spanish will fit in an espresso cup. It’s got to be hard for
them to see how I could be unhappy—I’m a millionaire here on
these cheap dollars. I suddenly felt ashamed to have other
women doing my housework. Since I couldn’t talk to them I
smiled and went out on the cold balcony out of their way (it’s
August and summer in Florida, but winter here). I bought back part
of my conscience, having somebody else do my work, by leaving
them an extra thousand a week; one dollar, mas o menos, to us.
What is my gift today? I’ve started an experiment of
doing one loving action every day toward Craig. I don’t know if
he senses differences, but I feel better lighting candles rather
than just cursing the darkness.
I am grateful in my bones and lucky to have the poems
come: A voice however frail, unlearned and untalented. And
I’ve got almost enough self-discipline to use it! It’s the getting up
and getting up that makes a writer. That and one or two right
choices every once in a while. And that heartbeat of
unexplainable luck that lets one get noticed. So I keep telling.

My first poem in Argentina. Without realizing it, I talk to myself. If I’m to accomplish anything during this three months, and especially a new collection of poetry, I must get back on my schedule.

I’m having a hard time, feeling jumbled. Not doing poetry or keeping a routine. I clearly see the space poetry comes from: order, quiet, aloneness, reading and study, acute observation and feeling. And oddly, a rested and undissipated body and mind.

Life’s smorgasbord is before us. That same smorgasbord is always before us. But when one travels to new places, it takes on heroic possibilities. How spend your time? How work out the disturbances of relationship? How much, in fact, of our substance will we sell for porridge: quarreling, wasting time, indecision, second-guessing, finding fault, indulging in anger?

The problem I deal with in Craig is old: it is my father. It is my mother. It is my first husband. It is my daughter. It is myself. My aggravation with Craig is over specifics: him removing my clothes from the bathroom because they made it messy, but leaving his own. That was unfair. I’ve seen him be unfair before; he isn’t a fair person. Why do I get angry when he isn’t? Am I being fair to Craig” “…whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud.” Whitman, and maybe I should study this!

Slowly it dawns on me that Sartre in No Exit is wrong. Hell is not other people. Hell is ourselves who eternally refuse to learn the self control of ordering our lives.

I must cut my world smaller. Define tasks, both in writing and living, that I can accomplish. Divine acceptable ways of keeping myself sane. There are times when one is completely and totally ashamed of themselves. I am now. Been reading Ladies of the Club. Don’t know why it fascinates me so, or really why I cry over it. The heroine died, was buried, had her life summarized. No different from what will happen to each of us—nothing here calls for tears.

But when the maids came to do their bright swishing of this place, I was weeping and writing. They don’t speak English and my Spanish will fit in an espresso cup. It’s got to be hard for them to see how I could be unhappy—I’m a millionaire here on these cheap dollars. I suddenly felt ashamed to have other women doing my housework. Since I couldn’t talk to them I smiled and went out on the cold balcony out of their way (it’s August and summer in Florida, but winter here). I bought back part of my conscience, having somebody else do my work, by leaving them an extra thousand a week; one dollar, mas o menos, to us.

What is my gift today? I’ve started an experiment of doing one loving action every day toward Craig. I don’t know if he senses differences, but I feel better lighting candles rather than just cursing the darkness.

I am grateful in my bones and lucky to have the poems come: A voice however frail, unlearned and untalented. And I’ve got almost enough self-discipline to use it! It’s the getting up and getting up that makes a writer. That and one or two right choices every once in a while. And that heartbeat of unexplainable luck that lets one get noticed. So I keep telling myself. and alive—not easy tasks.

Wish you hadn’t given me Argentine Journal! I stayed up last night and read it, then read it again (blearily!) this morning. Too much wine, too little sleep, too much to understand. How brave you are to be willing to show so much of yourself. and how hard you are struggling – with the things all of us contend with: balancing, choosing, accepting. What a curse the inquiring mind is – it would be so much easier to have a single digit IQ! But – as Freud said – what else is there but work and love? That’s more than enough, as far as I’m concerned! Jean