"I am sincerely one of you": translating and re-membering in Norberto P. James rawling's poetry.
During the summer of 2007, Maria del Carmen Prosdocimi de Rivera, a well-known critic in the Dominican Republic, wrote a literary critique on James's new edition of his poetry collection, Urdimbre del silencio [The Intricate Workings of Silence], which was originally published in 2000. Three quotes introduce James's collection, but one in particular stood out to me: Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges writes, "One thing does not exist. It is forgetfulness." Borges asserts that forgetfulness can never be obtained or avoided; thus, memory must be a constant force that hinders our ability to forget. James's poetry validates this quote, illustrating how memories and images once locked in the mind's tunnels--even sensations that have moved us and are part of us--can be repossessed. How? One could argue through writing--or in James's case, poetry--that not only invokes an experience but documents it as well; even further, as the poet revisits an experience through writing, he is re-membering it, redefining it in the form and shape it exists in his mind. James is a poet, someone who wrestles with memory and tries to recreate it through words; this is what initially drew me to his poetry, for in the act of writing, he is essentially repossessing memory.
James was born on the 6th of February, 1945, in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. San Pedro de Macoris takes its names from the Macoris indigenous people who had lived there, linguistically different from the Tainos who came to dominate. After 1852, the town developed into an economic center known for its fishery and sugar production that drew Puerto Rican, cuban, Italian, German, French, Arabian, Liberian, Sirian, Venezuelan, Chinese, Haitian, Dutch, and British immigrants and investors (Walcot 8). Yet, as the demand for production increased, so did the need for workers and the demand for higher wages. Not wanting to increase wages, owners of fishing and sugar companies looked abroad to hire help, specifically from Haiti, and the English colonized islands such as Anguila, St. Kitts, Antigua, Tortola, among others, where laborers were willing to work for much lower wages; this instigated a huge wave of immigration to the Dominican Republic, one that grew from an estimated 500 immigrant workers in 1884 to 7,000 in 1918 (9). Similar to the way local Dominicans once called Haitian immigrants "Mane" or "congo"--perceiving them as third-class blacks who not only took the worst jobs but competed for jobs with locals--these new immigrants were received with hostility and resentment and were called "cocolos"; this hostility was also due to their association with the British and to a perceived attitude of obstinate pride (9). The origins of the word "cocolo" has been disputed, but many argue that this term was born out of a Dominicanization of the word "Tortola" since the largest group came from the West Indian island of Tortola. The term "cocolo," while encompassing the immigrants it was set to define, is also used to refer to blacks and Afro-caribbeans and has multiple connotations. Although it is sometimes used to convey pride, it is most often used as a pejorative, racist word; words such as "nigger" or "redneck" are somewhat similar in tone and purpose. In the historical context of the mid-nineteenth century, the cocolos were seen as a necessary labor force, but they were not wanted or accepted by society.
James's family is from this line of immigrants; his father was a Jamaican immigrant and his mother, a Dominican; he grew up in a Spanish speaking country, and yet he returned home everyday where his family spoke the English from Jamaica and the Spanish from Dominican Republic. (1) Every country, and Latin American countries are no exception, has it own peculiarities, its own inflections and accents, sayings and vocabulary. How does one reconcile these when he or she comes from two or more worlds? How does one come to balance these differing identities, combine, and embody them while still retaining a unique sense of "self," one that is simultaneously exclusive and inclusive of the cultures, people, and languages that have influenced them? Writing can be a mode where one dissects and examines these issues. Through writing, one can deconstruct fixed definitions, especially those pertaining to culture, race, and ethnicity. James exhibits the cultural, linguistic, and identity conflicts that arise when one must embody more than one language or cultural identity, but it is precisely through his writing, in the act of recreating experience, that he defines his own sense of home, self, and identity. James's "Senal de identidad (Sign of Identity)," illustrates this. (2)
Sign of Identity I refuse to live in my name in the name of my father and live in my own spirit that is protected in it. I refuse to deny this face that like a flag I raise this voice I project in the emptiness of my dead, these gestures I embody, immersed in roots that nourish me and I am. I refuse to deny myself, removing myself from this mortal exhibiting his weaknesses. I refuse to turn my back, to destroy my drums, to reject my gods, to ignore my colors. If in my memory some monument is built, let it be a dolmen for the love I professed, not an obelisk dedicated to apathy or to indifference.
"Sign of Identity" begins with the poet asserting, "I refuse to live in my name in the name of my / father / and live in my own spirit that is protected in it." Within this denial the poet proclaims he is affirming his own "self," his own identity, and he only appears to deny his name, the name of his father, and the history and heritage attached to them. Yet, as the poem progresses, it figuratively expresses the poet's desire to not only deny his name and his history in order to affirm his own "self," but also his wish to embrace them. He cannot deny nor reject the fact that they are a part of him. This is reinforced in the second stanza and gains more prominence as the poem progresses. In the second stanza, the poet claims his roots when he states, "I refuse to deny this face that like a flag / I raise." James utilizes "negar" throughout the poem, which means "to deny." In using "negar" rather than "rechazar" ("to reject, refuse"), he is not rejecting his name or heritage completely. As the poem progresses, the repetition of "deny" becomes an affirmation of the poet's re-possession of his name and history, not an absolute rejection of his identity; this is reinforced by the second stanza, where the poet is literally wearing his name or heritage proudly. Although the word "refuse" is not in the literal translation of this poem, I did incorporate it in stanzas 1 through 4.
In the literal translation, the double "deny" in English is grammatically jarring and detracts from the poem. I incorporated "refuse" not only to alleviate this, but also to retain the rhythmic quality of the poem, as well as its meaning. In the body of the second stanza, James states, "this voice I project in the emptiness of my dead," and the voice of the poet's father and his relatives becomes his own. Thus, the poet figuratively becomes his father and his ancestors, embodying their voices, history, and the name he has inherited. Images such as "drums" or "colors" push this further because they associate the poet with the music and blacks from the Dominican Republic and other caribbean islands while reaching as far back to the poet's African ancestry.
The poem encompasses the dynamic between various generations, including those who immigrated before 1918, post-1918 immigrants from the English caribbean colonies, and those who were born in the Dominican Republic; this gives the poem a profound historical weight and gives rise to questions surrounding identity, and more specifically, Dominican identity. The friction that comes with translating Spanish to English is made even more intriguing in light of this theme of identity and ancestry, not only because it is complicated, but because it figuratively invokes the themes of displacement, alienation, and a kind of isolation some experience when they encompass so many different cultures and languages; these are themes that the reader can identify with or at least empathize with. Furthermore, within the historical context of San Pedro de Macoris, the theme of struggle and assimilation to a new culture, way of life, and attitude that the cocolos experienced are also themes with which one can identify.
Little has been written about the cocolos. With the exception of James, most that has been written comes from outside of the Dominican Republic (Walcot 10). James's poem "The Immigrants" particularizes this experience of assimilation, as well as displacement, by illustrating the struggle the cocolos had to endure, which still "has not been written."
The Immigrants Still, it has not been written the history of their anguish. Their old pain united to ours. They did not have time --a childhood-- to seize between their fingers the butterfly's multiple colors, to tie the archipelago landscape to their gaze, to know rivers' humid chant. And they did not have time to claim-- This land is ours. We will gather colors. We will make a flag. We will defend it. There was a time, I never knew, when the cane, the millions, the provinces of indigenous name, full of salt and humid surnames, had their own music and from the most faraway places dancers would arrive. And because of sugar, because of fishery, because of the railway track, undulating and cold, many became trapped. Behind the joyous escape of other's remained the simple sound of adulterated surnames difficult to pronounce, the ancient city, dusty barrios falling without sound, the pitiful laziness of the horse drawn cart, the young man beaten, trying to find the tepidness of his true homeland. These who remain. These. with worn smile, idle tongue tacking the sounds of our language are my clasped root, my lineage, old living rock where growing, burning furiously remains the old hate for the crown, to the sea to the horrible darkness plagued with monsters. Listen to me, Willy, old coachman faithful lover of freemasonry. Listen to me, George Jones tireless cyclist. And you, Preacher John Thomas. And you, Teacher Whinston Broodie. You, Trumpeter Prudy Ferdinand. And Railway worker Cyril Chalanger. And Chemist Aubrey James. And Soprano Violeta Stephen. And even you, Baseball Player Chico Conton. I come with the old drums, I come with the arched arrows, with the swords and wooden hatchets painted every color, sumptuously attired with the Primo's multicolored clothes, the dancer Guloya-Nurse. I come to write your names joined with the simplest, offering this country, mine and yours because you have earned it together with us in daily struggle for bread for peace, for light for love. Because each day that passes each day that falls on your tired salt of laborers we construct the light you desire for us, we secure the possibility of song for all of us.
The poem begins first by establishing the "congoja" or anguish, distress, sorrow, and grief the immigrants suffered. Often in the process of translation one is confronted with Spanish vocabulary terms that suggest two or more English words; "congoja" is an example of this. Translating a word such as "congoja" can be a long process; one has to determine which English word works best in relation to the elements, the tone, and the rhythm of the poem, as well as how that word services the meaning or experience the poet invokes. I would not argue that English is more or less specific than Spanish, but I will assert that a word such as "congoja" holds so much weight in a poem when it expresses and embodies four similar yet distinct emotions; having to choose between them seems to strip some of the emotional grain found in the poem. When selecting between compound ideas or sentiments found within a single Spanish word, the musicality can be sacrificed as well, and this presents another problem, that of having to choose between meaning and rhythm. Meaning will always dominate, but sometimes the musicality of the Spanish language--its rhythm and dance--can be a compelling force that drives the poem; the possible loss of this could take away from the quality of the poem itself. I translated the word "congoja" to "anguish" because as the poem progresses, the reader sees how this history is not only a history of sorrow or distress, but of struggle. James intentionally utilizes "congoja" to encompass the depth and hardship of a particular experience, and "anguish" not only implies suffering, but both physical and mental pain. The immigrants' "history of anguish" is further developed when the poet asserts that these immigrants never possessed a childhood, never had the opportunity "to seize between their fingers / the butterfly's multiple colors," nor did they have time to claim the Dominican Republic as their country; these passages invoke the homelessness or displacement the immigrants suffered not only when they came to the island, but also before their arrival because they never had the chance to experience the innocence, joy, even liberation of childhood. The "history of their anguish" not only foreshadows the struggles the immigrants endured within the Dominican Republic, but it takes into account the circumstances that brought them to the island, which are further developed in the fourth stanza of the poem.
The fourth stanza of "The Immigrants" moves forward to the golden period where San Pedro Macoris flourished because of its fishery and sugarcane, attracting "millions." Yet, this prosperity "traps" the immigrants, and the structure of the lines "Because of sugar. Because of ocean. Because of the railway track" establishes the forces of entrapment. In the literal translation of this poem, James uses "cane" to invoke the sugar industry and "ocean" to illustrate the fishing industry. To an audience that has not been exposed to Dominican history, the significance of "cane" and "ocean" can be somewhat ambiguous. Staying close to the poet's intentions, I aimed for clarity in these images and translated them to "sugar" and "fishery" in order to make them more accessible to the reader. Yet, the translator is confronted with another, minor difficulty in this stanza. In James's poetry, influences from his father's mother-tongue can sometimes be found; the word "rail" is an example of this. The accent mark in "rail" suggests that it is a Spanish term, but it is a transnational word that reaches beyond the Dominican language borders into the English found on the islands, meaning "railway lines." The meaning of "rail" is clear, yet it can be jarring to a translator if he or she does not know about the English influence in James's poetry. A similar issue arises when certain lines written in Spanish seem to follow an English sentence structure. For example, in the poem, the sixth line of the fourth stanza states, "de salobre y humedo apellido"; this translates to "of salty and humid surnames," but as my colleague, Maria del Carmen Prosdocimi de Rivera, advised me, although it is written in Spanish, it does not follow a Spanish sentence structure that would establish it as "Apellidos salobre y humedo [salty and humid surnames]." In other words, the poet seems to have written the line thinking in English. As a translator, one must be able to identify this in order to translate the word or line, sentiment, and imagery correctly and as close as possible to the poet's intentions. Mindful of these intentions, I translated the sixth line of the fourth stanza as "full of salt and humid surnames" to make the line more accessible to an English speaker through a less-translated sound. Essentially, the Cocolos become trapped within the forces that brought them to the Dominican Republic, trapped in a country that in the mid-century did not desire their presence and exploited their labor. However, these forces promised prosperity and a new life for the Cocolos and inspired new hopes and dreams, in spite of their labors, hardships, and disillusionment.
In the second half of the poem, James divides these immigrants into two groups: those who "escaped" and those who "remain" but cannot claim their new homeland and whose names are mispronounced within Dominican society. The struggle of assimilation takes on an even greater depth, and a sense of alienation within Dominican society is illustrated as well. An interesting turn in the poem happens when James claims these immigrants as his own, describing them as "my clasped root, my lineage." James J. Davis's states in "Ritmo poetico, negritud, y Dominicanidad," the poet's claim is figuratively expressing "I am no longer a foreigner, I am one of you" (179). The poet, in claiming his lineage, reinforces the immigrants' integration within the Dominican Republic and invokes the demand that the time has arrived for social equality (179). Furthermore, by claiming these immigrants as his own, the "history of anguish" becomes part of James's history, pushing the idea that this experience, re-membered in this poem, is a collective experience. Stanza 9, where the poem shifts from third-person point-of-view to first, is the stage where the poet's demand is not only heard but answered with full integration of the immigrants into society. The poet enters by repeating "Listen to me" and calls on an array of persons who possess different backgrounds and vocations. The repetitive "Oyeme [Listen to me]" is an invocation, and the poet is appealing or praying to these individuals, asking them to come together. James pushes these differences in the next stanza when he declares, "I come with all of the old drums, [...] arched arrows, [...] swords and wooden hatchets": the drums symbolize an African lineage, arched arrows symbolize an indigenous lineage, and swords and hatchets symbolize not only Spanish colonization but a Spanish lineage. Thus, the immigrants that remain in the Dominican Republic become mixed within this society, but one could also argue that the poet is invoking the past itself and is figuratively constructing a Dominican flag, which he references in the third stanza; this mix of cultures is further reinforced by the Carnival imagery.
The Cocolos not only brought their language and aspirations, but also their culture, and the Carnivals throughout the Dominican Republic are a testament to this. In "The Immigrants," the Carnival is reaffirming their integration within Dominican society. In the penultimate stanza, each object (drums, arched arrows, swords, etc.) the poet bears becomes painted in an array of colors ("a todo color"); these objects introduce the Carnival, for its personae are often adorned in multicolored clothing, jewelry, and gigantic masks as they dance holding painted bamboo sticks, hatchets, swords, and instruments. The personae of El Primo and Guloya-Enfermero, common costumes during Carnival, reestablish the theme of integration. El Primo is a character rooted in the cultural festivities of the Dominican Republic, and the Guloya-Enfermero is a modern persona found within the folkloric dances that were brought to the country by the Cocolos (Walcot 30). In the Carnival ceremonies, there are a number of guloya (personae or dancers) and numerous guloyas or dances/celebrations: David and Goliath, The Bull, Giant Spire, Peacock Fighters, Momis, Wild Indians. Although it is difficult to determine in which dance Guloya-Enfermero appears, by invoking this persona found in Cocolo Carnivals with El Primo, James illustrates these festivities--and the people who participate in them--as co-existing within Dominican society. In essence, the Carnival can be seen as a celebration of this mix of dance, music, identities, and cultures; it is this mix that "constructs the light, secures the possibility of song," and of life (James Rawlings 43). Essentially, the poem is a eulogy to the plight of the immigrants, and it affirms their rightful place within Dominican society. The themes of assimilation and struggle, as well as identity, present us with a unique and multilayered experience; it is an experience James re-possesses by affirming its existence and giving it voice.
In addition, the poem works to redefine Dominican identity, an identity that not only belongs to Dominican-born people, but also to those who came from the English colonized islands and made the Dominican Republic their home. In an interview recorded at Rutgers University, James asserts that the poem "is not only a homage to his ancestors, but a homage to third generation Cocolos, who live in the island and still do not feel they are part of Dominican nationality" (Davis 180). Moreover, there are traces of the English that James inherited from his father, and in the process of translation, these traces reveal an interesting tension not only between Dominican Spanish and its immigrants from the English islands, but between US English and the English of the Cocolos. James revisits the theme of Dominican identity in his poems "I Don't Know Who Could It Be" and "My Own History."
I Don't Know Who It Could Be I don't know who this woman could be. She arrives each night breaking down words, surrendering --by the strength of her ferocious tenderness-- wakening my timidity, asking me to tell her about me about my country. I have no history, so I tell of the April war-- its cruelty. I tell her about my half island not half, if anything whole with a single demarcation: a disappearing order, another emerging lovingly.
James is considered part of the "Generation of Testimonies" from the 1960s. More accurately, he belongs to the group of the poets that published their work after the 1961 assassination of the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo (Flores 38). Although Trujillo was the official president from 1930 to 1938, and 1942 to 1952, his brother, Hector Trujillo, assumed the office from 1952 to 1960. Thus, for over 30 years Rafael Trujillo had absolute power in the Dominican Republic. His death in 1961 marked a time period of intense social, political, cultural, and economic problems for the Dominican Republic, and out of his assassination came the need to confront and break through oppression that had inhibited free expression for three decades. James is part of a generation of poets whose poems testify to the sociopolitical tension of the time (38). "The Immigrants," published in 1969 in Sobre la marcha, is one of these testimonies. James's poem, "I Don't Know Who It Could Be," appears in his collection Vivir, and although it was published in 1981, it too can be considered a testimonial poem, for it invokes the 1965 war in the Dominican Republic between the Constitutionalists and Armed Forces Training Center (CEFA), as well as the US invasion.
After the assassination of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, Juan Bosch, a founder of the anti-Trujilloist Dominican Revolutionary Party, was elected president in 1963. As a result of his left-leaning policies, the CEFA, a right-wing faction of the military originally established by Ramfis Trujillo (the son of the former dictator), executed a military coup seven months later. During the two years following the coup, strikes and conflicts persisted, culminating to a point where pro-Bosch rebels, known as "Constitutionalists," filled the streets, demanding Bosch's return. The United States initially intervened to evacuate civilians out of the capital of Santo Domingo. Yet, President Lyndon B. Johnson, fearing another Cuba, ordered an invasion on April 25, 1965, under the pretext that US forces were entering the island to protect civilians.
James's poem, "I Don't Know Who It Could Be," begins by introducing a woman whose identity the poet does not know; this woman, who "arrives each night / breaking down words," "surrendering" herself to the poet because of a "ferocious tenderness" she possesses. In line 6, it is this immense "tenderness" that breaks the poet's timidity and "revives" it. James utilizes the word "reestrenada" to convey this "revival"; "reestrenada," rooted in the verb "reestrenar," means to wear for the first time or, figuratively, to return to a former state. Literally, the line is translated, "my timidity revealing itself again"; I have translated it to "wakening my timidity," not only to retain musicality, but to reinforce the clarity behind the idea invoked in "reestrenada." In essence, the poet returns to being timid, and in the second stanza, this "revival" gains even more weight. In line 7, which comes after the poet's "revived timidity," the woman asks him to tell her about himself, "about his country"; it is the woman's tenderness that makes the poet talk, and in the second stanza he begins to do so.
In the second stanza, the poet asserts: "I have no history." Here, the "self" begins to disappear, and like the poet's timidity, his identity becomes revived and remembered with the second line of the stanza 2. James writes, "So I tell of the April war-- / its cruelty." Thus, the poet's history becomes established as his country's history. This is a closed poem, closed in the sense that someone unfamiliar with Dominican history would miss the significance of this line that invokes the April war and United States invasion of the country. I have translated the line as, "and tell of the April war--its cruelty," not only to make it more accessible, but because lines 11 through 14 reinforce a division that existed within the country between those who sided with the Constitutionalists and those who belonged to the right-wing. Lines 11 and 14 follow: "I tell her / about my half island / not half, if anything / whole." Simultaneously, James illustrates the Dominican Republic as an island divided in halves, and yet he rebukes this notion and affirms its unity or entirety. However, an interesting turn happens further into the poem when he describes his country; the divisions established within the country by the Constitutionalists and right-wing are re-invoked through the imagery, and one comes to dominate.
The end of stanza 2 is comprised of three lines and follows: "with only a single demarcation: / a disappearing order / another emerging lovingly." The word "order" is significant in the last stanza, and it can be defined not only as an arrangement, system, or a condition that is established to maintain freedom from disorder or disruption, but one that maintains disorder and disruption. After discussing the poem with my colleague, we concluded that "order" is symbolic for a number of things; it not only speaks to left-wing versus right-wings political systems, but also to a broader social sense of the country's circumstances. Moreover, because of the second stanza where James describes his country as divided in order to rebuke this notion, the boundary between the Dominican Republic and Haiti is also invoked; this lends some ambiguity to the poem, but I think the message becomes clearer as the poem progresses. James is a Constitutionalist and the poem is not only a testament to the April 1965 war and invasion, but also a testament to his position at the time and his hope that leftwing policy would return; the description of April as cruel, reinforces this notion. Within the historical context of 1965, the "disappearing order" can be taken as right-wing politics or corruption, as well as the social and political turmoil of the time. In reality, the "disappearing order" establishes that there is no boundary or "demarcation," for it is ceasing to exist, and the dominance of a new kind of order "emerges lovingly"; the emphasis on collective identity rather than individualism that marks left-wing ideology seems to be invoked in the word "lovingly," and the order that dominates in the end is full of the idealism, liberalism, and unity that the Constitutionalist desired. The theme of identity is pushed further for the poet who professed he had no history; he in fact possesses one, that of his own country, the Dominican Republic. The "self" disappears with the first line of the second stanza, but James gains the collective identity of a group of people, and I will venture to argue it encompasses all Dominicans. The theme of collective identity appears in James's "My Own History."
My Own History I have no history of my own. Therefore, I tell of the April war, which may well be the same one. A rust horizon. The carrion river below. The horror orbiting pupils. The verdant fire broken down in the park. The soldier's voice. His weaknesses. His courage. His entirety. The palpitation of the word-- Homeland.
"My Own History," appeared in James's 1999 collection Lecciones para una ausencia. The first three lines of this poem echo the first two lines of stanza 2 of "I Don't Know Who Could It Be" and state: "I have no history of my own. / Therefore I tell of the April war, / which may well be the same one." Similar to "I Don't Know Who Could It Be," the individual "self" is ruled out, and the poet's history is his own country's. The April 1965 war and invasion come to dominate, and the poet's identity becomes comprised of the atrocities that they caused, which are invoked through an array of imagery. "A rust horizon" symbolizes the blood that was shed in the country, saturating to the point that the sky reflects it. In line 5, James pushes this bloodshed further when he describes "The carrion river below," figuratively illustrating the dead bodies of humans and animals filling a river. As if answering the reader's horror, James then describes how "horror" itself "orbit[s the] pupils" of those witnessing April 1965 and those who died because of it. The word "Orbitando" ("Orbiting") was not necessarily difficult to translate, but as my colleague suggests, the word reveals both an inventiveness on the poet's part and the influence of English from his father's island. The use of the verb "orbitar" as a noun exists in Spanish, but the participle "orbitando" does not. Whether or not it was intentional, James reveals an aspect of his identity, the influence of English within his recreation of experience. The decadence attached to the imagery in lines 4 through 6 gains even more severity in the last half of the poem.
In line 7, among the horizon, river, and horror appears "The verdant fire broken down in the park." A park is a place where children play, people stroll; it is a place we often think of filled with calm and life. Here, "verdant fire" figuratively expresses when everything was green, vibrant, and alive. Thus, the past--what happened before April 1965--is found within the poem and also illustrates the poet's and country's history. A body is then singled out in the midst of this turmoil, that of a soldier whose voice is found within the park. James invokes "His weaknesses. His courage. / His entirety" in lines 9 through 10, but it is not until the very end of the poem where the soldier's voice is heard. James writes, "The palpitation of the word-- / Homeland," and the disillusionment that resulted from the April 1965 war and invasion rings aloud. This disillusionment can also be found in the poem "Ozama," where James addresses the Ozama River. Although it is not clear to which historical event Norberto refers in this poem, the same horrors addressed in "My Own History" can be found. Similar to "I Don't Know Who It Could Be," a division is established--the Ozama River divides the capital into halves, east and west. Like the soldier singled out in "My Own History," the river is singled out, its whole existence teetering on the divisions within the country.
Ozama River The city can every day awaken or die. In its horizontal growth the plain and simple government employees of the regime can multiply their mirrors renew their wardrobes, without the liquids of your rage washing the color of blood from their lapels. That is their mark: a sign of compliance. When the tiny popular angels rescue our trampled flags, I ignore hidden deaths, what humid and dark histories will be able to retain your waters. Lilies lose majesty in your mirror. And Ozama, I think you could not have reason to exist, had it not been for the treacherous dryness traveling all around the heart of this island.
Returning to the title of the poem, "My Own History," James appropriates the experiences caused by the April 1965 war, yet in the poem, this history is his country's. The poem is not only a testimony to the history shared between the poet and his country, but also a dissection of the experiences that came about from April 1965, a pivotal event that marks Dominican identity. The poet also claims his country's history in "Repossession."
(Re)Possession Mine are: This flat light of the midday, this tender and playful breeze, the quiet extensive Flamboyan trees. The Guajana's trunk upright and proud, the Guasima, a designer of shadows, the Jabillo's thunder, the impassive hardwood of el Guayacan. One stabbing, the other rubbing, the invisible rim of the day; its impalpable vault its abundant splendor. Mine are these pastures, these lands, those mountains. Their stretched, mute disposition of centuries, brooks and rivers in their flooded dance of bubbles, pebbles polished by the wait. Everything is mine!
"Repossession" is a proclamation, one where the poet, in painting a literal landscape of his country, figuratively repeats "Everything is mine!" In the act of declaring this, he is affirming not necessarily what belongs to him, but where he belongs--his home, his country, and everything in it.
Through his poetry, James re-members history and heritage, and in doing so, he invokes the complexity behind Dominican identity. The poet affirms his sense of self, but he does so by recreating experiences deeply rooted in the history of the Dominican Republic and the Cocolos. We find that he cannot detach himself from a collective or communal history and identity, one that encompasses both the Dominican Republic and the immigrants that came in the mid-nineteenth century. The poem "Who Deflects Our Column of Light," apparently surrealist, is no exception.
Who Deflects Our Column of Light? Mute dogs watching the lightning that houses them. Shells that in the night and ocean salt call the most refined lutes, coats of arms, last names, lineages. Who hangs sheets in the sun tries to remove every impurity, every danger to the stitched purity of these flags. No one descends to the bottom of these cold labyrinths. No one provokes these dogs, unearths these shells. It darkens!
Like the poet in "The Immigrants," who repeats "Hear me," James invokes the shell, an object once utilized by the indigenous people of the island to announce reunions and meeting, in order to call his listeners, encouraging them to unearth their histories ("coats of arms, last names, lineages") so that light and life will return and darkness will cease. Poems such as "Ozama" and "Repossession" also speak not only to this idea of reclaiming one's history, but of empowerment that comes out of this repossession. In the interview James gave at Rutgers University in April 1986, he stated: "I've never thought in terms of my color or my race. I only think like a Dominican who writes" (Davis 180). Poetry seems to be an act that not only allows James to show how different languages, cultures, races, or ethnic groups are unified, but how they co-exist within him, as well as in the Dominican Republic. Each experience James re-members is a testament to this, an affirmation of the poet's assertion: "I am no longer a stranger. / I am sincerely one of you."
Baez Flores, Alberto. "La Generacion de 1960 o del Testimonio." La poesia Dominicana en el siglo XX. Santiago, Republica Dominicana: U Pontifica Catolica Madre y Maestra, 1977.
Davis, James J. "Ritmo poetico, negritud, y Dominicanidad." Revista Iberoamericana: Numero especial sobre la literatura Dominicana en el siglo XX. Madrid: Inst. Intl. de Lit. Iberoamericana, 1988. 171-86.
James Rawlings, Norberto. Obras 1969-2000. Santo Domingo: Fin de Siglo, 2000.
Walcot, Nadal. "Los cocolos de Nadal Walcot." Los cocolos. Santo Domingo: Inst. Dominicano del Folklore, 1998.
INES P RIVERA PROSDOCIMI
(1) Similarly, I grew up in an English speaking country, the United States, but in a Spanish speaking family where my father spoke the Spanish from Dominican Republic and my mother, the Spanish and Lunfardo from Argentina. A simple question such as, "How are you doing?" contrasted with my father's, " Como estas tu?" and my mother's, " Que tal, che?"
(2) All poems are my original, unpublished translations.
(3) This verse comes from the final stanza of "On the March": "I am no longer another stranger. / I am sincerely one of you / with the minimal difference of books / underlined with a smile / briefly traced. / In me / --like in all of you-- / there is no peace / only the insistent, old anguish we inherit, / only the learned fear for words / we break / on the march.
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|Author:||Rivera Prosdocimi, Ines P.|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2010|
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