Another Challenge to Love

full blomI wrote this poem long after the event described in it actually happened. In 1992, I was working as an environmental reporter completing my doctoral research on how we communicate about environmental issues (which are human rights issues – right?). I was comparing and contrasting the dominant discourses leading up to the United Nations Conference on Environment & Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, and called by activists, The Earth Summit. I was in deep. The focus of my dissertation was to deconstruct the language and images being used and compare the stark differences between first world and third world; and between the dominant culture and indigenous cultures; and why we are often not even talking about the same thing when we try to reach international environmental agreements.

However, I write poetry not to try to understand the world but to understand myself, one livingbeing in this complex world. I write as a spiritual practice. I wrote this poem to try to understand my righteous anger, to understand it as power, and to diminish its hold on me. That subject came up again today, so I am posting this poem to share with you.

Another Challenge to Love, Brazil 1992

 Just outside Santo Antonio da Platina in the southern state of Parana, the grand patron speaks a clipped British in the nasal twang of Brazilian Portuguese.

He boasts, It was much better when we had a dictator! You could get things done in this country!

I am the jornalista norte-americana writing for the imprensa verde. He needs to impress me. Serves warm coca-cola. I would rather have guarani, suco de caju, anything local, but coke is so much more cosmopolitan.

I am polite. I am his guest. I murmur, Obrigado, and he says I talk like an indio implying dumb.

I am doing a story on the floresta policia, former military police re-assigned to protect the forest. In the on-going undeclared war on the poor, the floresta policia shoot anyone they catch poaching palm heart.

PAH! he bursts. We gave the peasants bags of peanuts. And they ate them! They were to plant crop! Stupido!

I say, Perhaps they were hungry.

His two blond sons run into the room looking for snacks. They look like their father, descendents of German immigrants.

Your children like to eat, I smile.

Yes, all day long! He claps for the dark-skinned girl to feed them.

I say, Even the children of the poor get hungry. I guess that’s why they ate the peanuts.

He squints at me afraid he has a Marxist in his house.

On the tour of his property, hectares of sugar cane, a river stocked with jacaré for alligator boots and handbags, he brags he had the oldest daughter of his head fieldhand fixed before sending her to college.

So she would not waste her education making a poor man’s babies, he tells me.

I stare at him.

His wife screams at me, Entendi!

No, I do not understand.

How do you

get to take the womb

of a smart, young, brown woman?

But he had already done

what he had the power to do.

Under my breath, I curse him:

            Your river will grow thick with sludge

            An alligator will bite off your cock

            Your cana will spoil in the field

            Your wife will abscond with your money

            She will flee the country with a servant boy

            Your youngest son will marry

            An Afro-Brazilian Candomblé priestess

         And have brilliant twin mulato daughters

            Who will spit on your polished shoes

            Then the ancestors and the descendants

         Of every man and every woman

            Who ever worked your fields

            Will make filth of your intestines

            While dancing samba at Carnaval

            You will be left begging for your life

            On the streets of the city.

 

The first stars of the Southern Cross

begin to shine in the lavender twilight.

Star light, star bright, I wish I may, I wish I might

I wish I could love my enemies

but my heart goes cold against those

who seek to destroy the liberties I cherish.

cana, sugarcane

Candomble, Afro-Brazilian religion and spiritual cosmology derived from Ife in West Africa.

entendi, understand

floresta policia, ‘forest police’ term for federal armed guards of areas designated ‘natural’ by the Brazilian government in the early 1990s.

guarani, popular drink

imprensa verde, ‘green press’ term for environmental reporting

indio, Indian, indigenous person from any of the hundreds of tribes/nations found originally throughout Brazil

jacaré , alligator

jornalista norte-americana, female journalist from the U.S.

obrigado, thank you

suco de caju, cashew juice

3 thoughts on “Another Challenge to Love

  1. Absolutely love this piece! Talking “love” here! The story-images this conjures up…and based upon a true story, Ann? Wow. Unimaginable.

    Still waiting for that one about the Arizona wild donkeys.

    Like

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