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