My Words

Understanding the World through words

Tag: history

Poetic Jousting

Francisco De Quevedo and Luis De Gongora had a tumultuous poetic relationship. Quevedo was a viejo Christiano and Gongora a Christiano Nuevo. During the height of the Inquisition, both poets jousted with each other as was the literary custom of the time. True to form, poetic jousting was practiced throughout the medieval period in Iberia–there are fascinating examples of Umayyad poetry, where poets spar each other in court settings.

During an epoch where sharp wits and even sharper quills ruled; this type of contentious poetry was a way to gather followers, set oneself apart from the competition and possibly bid for patronage. What is different in the Quevedo versus Gongora case, and of interest to Sephardim is the vicious condescending religious vitriol Quevedo uses against Gongora by associating him with questionable Jewish past. Quevedo’s poetic wit pigeonholes Gongora within the religious landscape of Judaism and sharply marks him as the “other” time-and-time again.

In the satirical poem, La Nariz, referring to Gongora’s nose Quevedo writes:

érase una pirámide de Egipto,
las doce Tribus de narices era.

yours is an Egyptian pyramid
the twelve Tribes of noses were you.

Here Quevedo’s allusion to the Biblical narrative of the Exodus by means of the Pyramid landscape and association with the twelve Tribes is meant strictly as a religious jab. A type of, “I know your background and I won’t let you live it down” statement. Quevedo, derides Gongora as an unmistakable Jew because of his unquestionable Jewish nose.

In his “Contra el mismo (Góngora)”, Quevedo writes of Gongora:

No altar, garito sí;
poco cristiano, / mucho tahúr,
no clérigo, sí arpía.

No altar, gambling-house yes
less of a Christian, / more a Gambler,
not a cleric, but a harpy yes.

Quevedo’s word associations in this stanza is remarkable, in that—”less of a Christian”, has perpetually been the mark by which Converso’s are known. Converso’s were nominal Christians at best. What is brilliant is the second line; Tahúr and Tahor are similar sounding words and poetically interchangeable–using the Hebrew and Spanish Tahor sí, literally means “Pure, yes”. Sephardi Tahor was the way Maimonides signed his work–Pure Sephardi. If that isn’t convincing then the second line brings it home. “You’re not a cleric but rather a harpy”, a mythological creature with the face of a human but the body of a bird. In mythology the harpy stole food from its victims, were cruel, and malicious. So, what Quevedo is saying to Gongora is–you’re no cleric but rather you disguise yourself as one (a Jew disguised as a Christian), yet steal our food, our spirituality, our Christian way of life.

Oddly enough, Gongora was a canon, a cleric who traveled from place to place with ecclesiastical power. So the sting of these words are loaded with innuendo and strong blunt/hidden accusations. What is troubling and something I haven’t figured out; is how did Francisco De Quevedo become privy to this information? Ironically, and something I suspect is that Quevedo himself is a hidden Converso—the classic kettle calling the pot black.

Used Bookstore-Poem 

I walk into my favorite bookstore,

It’s slightly dark inside;

I take a big breath and inhale.

The scent of used books,

It takes me back to my

university days–

inside the hollowed halls

of the humanities department,

the graduate philosophy club

on the second floor

always smelled like

old books and

countless arguments.

 

I’m searching for a book

that will tickle my fancy,

one that will be hard to put down.

I want to be seduced by the Intro, the cover art–

I want to learn something new.

Will it be philosophy, poetics, or history?

At this point I don’t really care. I’m just grateful to be

here, browsing, picking up books by the half-dozen

and sitting down to read.

 

I weigh each one in my hand,

I read the prologue, a couple of pages into the book,

I want to be mentally teased.

I finally make up my mind after

a couple of hours of contemplating my thoughts.

I speak to my new book, “I’ve selected you out of

all your peers, I found you worthy to be read. Teach me

something new, help me to understand the world I live in,

if you dare, and I love you for it I swear.”

 

I pay the cashier, she hands me a bookmark

I say thank you and I walk out.

I head to a local coffee shop,

I have to spend some important time with my worded gift.

Because—

coffee and a new used book—

this is what life’s all about.

ON THE VOICE OF HUMANITY | THE VOICE OF MANY

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Sometimes in life,
you run into some extraordinarily meaningful gems.

Tidbits of information, knowledge that transforms our way of thinking.

It encourages us because, it affirms that which we are doing, is important.

In other words, it brings value to our lives.

If we are fortunate and keep our eyes open, we can catch these voices and apply them to our personal repository of important information.

To be used when the time is right.

We rely on certain voices to help us transition from one place to another.

In the most simplistic form, when we are children, the voices of our parents helps guide our path.

These are loving voices expressed in the familial narrative. They are the voices that shape our future, more or less.

Orally transmitted and written words, which I refer to as “voices”, come in many forms;

Parents, literature, conversations, poems, religious dogma, all these bundled up into a practical package help define who we are.

That is—these external voices helps to define, what we believe to be true—or not, even if that “truth” is temporary.

The sublime beauty in what I am describing is that simple conversations, quips, the interaction between two friends, two lovers, or the conversation between teacher and student, can bring about remarkable insights which we can apply to our lives.

They are the voices that we allow to influence our thoughts and perhaps our future.

How many times have we’ve been touched by a sentence in a book?

Certain words arranged in such a way that when put together, speaks volumes to our soul?

Like a symphony whose composition correctly orchestrated, brings audible pleasure.

Mere notes arranged in creative and inspired ways, that magically touch our hearts?

These are the voices, the laughter, tears and drama of humanity.

Neatly arranged for our pleasure, our fulfillment, our knowledge.

Perhaps these prearranged sentences, paintings, songs —these voices, will help define our future or strengthen our resolve.

The voices which we allow to shape our lives are manifold.

They come in many forms which we sift through mentally.

Which we judge and accept into our mental vault, if its worthy enough.

History records these voices: the voice of humanity.

In essence, the historian becomes that epochs voice, disingenuously.

I say that with all due respect to the learned.

However, how can one mere person become the voice of a generation?

So many voices speaking, living, singing, and crying?

How can one poet define our humanity and our lives—with the multitude of voices, conversations and thoughts?

We’ve been conditioned to think that way.

That Herodotus speaks for that distant Greek generation.

Or that, Plutarch is the harbinger of our Western grand narrative.

The narrator, that codifies the many voices into one.

The narrator, that overlooks the many “other” voices, selecting whose voice will be heard.

When the other contributing voices are so nonchalantly unaccounted for?

Its as if they didn’t exist.

Yet we, the many, the individual, now inescapably understanding that others have a voice.

Made painfully noticeable because of our modern technology.

Unfettered and undeterred, how can we exclude those other voices?

The ones which have been purposely left out by the historian, by the poet, by modern progress?

History is selfish, it distorts the voices and it clamors for singularity in a sea of many.

History is ugly, it champions the voice of the strong.

Strength measured by that cultures idiosyncrasies while trying to mold it, like a renaissance sculptor does with the marble of Europe, while calling it universal beauty?

How egotistical and self-serving, the historian, the chronicler of humanity truly is.

Not even the revelation at Sinai, that powerful and mighty voice that gave autonomy to the children of Israel, is universal.

It’s a voice, a voice in the sea of voices that we must filter through.

Every voice is necessary.

Every voice has a purpose to fulfill.

Every voice needs to be acknowledged as the voice of humanity.

On The Voice of Humanity: The Voice Of The Many

Image

Sometimes in life, you run into some extraordinarily meaningful gems. Tidbits of information, knowledge that transforms our way of thinking or it encourages us, because it affirms that which we are doing, is important. In other words, it brings value to our lives. If we are fortunate and keep our eyes open, we can catch these voices and apply them to our personal repository of important information, to be used when the time is right.

We rely on certain voices to help us transition from one place to another. In the most simplistic form, when we are children, the voices of our parents guide our path. These are loving voices expressed in the familial narrative. They are the voices that shape our future, more or less.

Orally transmitted and written words, which I refer to voices, come in many forms; Parents, literature, conversations, poems, religious dogma, all these bundled up into a practical package help define who we are. That is-it helps to define what we believe to be true, is in fact true or not, even if that “truth” is temporary.

The sublime beauty in what I am describing is that simple conversations, quips, the interaction between two friends, two lovers, or the conversation between teacher and student, can bring about remarkable insights which we can apply to our lives. They are the voices that we allow to influence our thoughts and perhaps our future.

How many times have we’ve been touched by a sentence in a book? Certain words arranged in such a way that when put together, speaks volumes to our soul? Like a symphony whose composition correctly orchestrated, brings audible pleasure, mere notes arranged in creative and inspired ways, that magically touch our hearts. These are the voices, the laughter, tears, drama of humanity. Neatly arranged for our pleasure, our fulfillment, our knowledge. Perhaps these prearranged sentences, paintings, songs, i.e., these voices, will help define our future or strengthen our resolve.

The voices which we allow to shape our lives are manifold. They come in many forms which we sift through mentally, which we judge and accept into our mental vault, if its worthy enough.

History records these voices, the voice of humanity. In essence, the historian becomes that epochs voice, disingenuously. I say that with all due respect to the learned. However, how can one mere person become the voice of a generation? So many voices speaking, living, singing, and crying? How can one poet define our humanity and our lives-the multitude of voices, conversations and thoughts?

We’ve been conditioned to think that way. That Herodotus speaks for that distant Greek generation. Or that, Plutarch is the harbinger of our Western grand narrative. The narrative that codifies the many voices into one. The narrative that overlooks the many “other” voices, selecting whose voice will be heard. The  other contributing voices so nonchalantly unaccounted for, its as if they didn’t exist.

Yet we, the many, the individual, now inescapably understanding that others have a voice, made painfully noticeable because of our modern technology. Unfettered and undeterred, how can we exclude those other voices? The ones which have been purposely left out by the historian, by the poet, by modern progress?

History is selfish, it distorts the voices and it clamors for singularity in a sea of many. History is ugly, it champions the voice of the strong. Strength measured by that cultures idiosyncrasies while trying to mold it, like a renaissance sculptor does with the marble of Europe, and calling it universal beauty? How egotistical and self-serving, the historian, the chronicler of humanity truly is.

Not even the revelation at Sinai, that powerful and mighty voice that gave autonomy to the children of Israel, is universal.
It’s a voice, a voice in the sea of voices that we must filter through. Every voice is necessary. Every voice has a purpose to fulfill. Every voice needs to be acknowledged as the voice of humanity.

Guadalcanal

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I remember one day
I was called to
patch a garage.

With charm
I introduced my self,
“How do you do mam?”
as I shook her hand.

After the greetings
were said and done,
I was escorted through
her house.

On my way
to the garage
I saw an old photo
of a Marine on top
of her TV.

I mentioned that I’d
been a Marine too.
She told me her husband
had been in the War.
And, that he had passed
on.

“I’m sorry to hear
that” then I proceeded
to asked her,
“which campaign
did he fight in?”

she replied that
he fought on
Guadalcanal.

“I still have
some letters and
a chest he brought
home”

“Would you like
to see them?”
she said.

“Please” was
my reply.

I was
unbelievably
ecstatic to
touch them.

Letters from
the war.
Written by
a Marine
who had
fought on

the first
of many
Islands.

It was on
Guadalcanal
that
Marines had
turned back
the tide.

“This is the chest
he brought home”
she said.

It was a typical
Marine footlocker
painted in olive
green, with the
markings of the
Division he
fought with.

“You can have it
if you’d like”

“It’s just taking
up space”
she said.

“I’d love to have
It” and
“Thank you”
was my reply.

It means a
lot to me,
to own a
a piece of
American
history.

A Marine
footlocker
that’s been
on that bloody
Pacific island
in the sea.

For María Rosa Menoçal

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Teacher you
Spent a lifetime
devoted to learning
Separating yourself
From the rest;

Poems,
Languages and
History, the
Lyrical things
of life you knew best…

Binding humanity
cohesively together-like a
puzzle,
It now makes
sense:

Sparring with academics
who ride a different stride
Your sagacious words shown
Your approach was a quest!

History will
include ideas you
left behind. Your words
are a legacy of a culture
left unnoticed-until you
Picked up the pieces
overlooked by many.
And, magically
in the intellectual world
you’re noticed!?

Though I never
sat in your classroom…

In my heart your wisdom
will never die.

Thank you for your devotion
Thank you for your perseverance
Thank you for persistence
Thank you for sticking around.
Thank you for making your presence known.
And, thank you for making your words
unconfined.