Diaspora

diaspora

 

Sometimes just a word triggers it. Mostly, it’s the longing and the aching that have become part of who she is. Then the urge, the surge, the desire to plunge into the universe of words. Trying to discover the best combination, the structure that will translate the multitude of what she is. Diaspora is a good one. It shows the movement, a dislocation, the displacement. But as it frequently happens in the world of words, it is not their literal sense, as it were, but the translation that they can undergo. That vague thing called metaphor which is a word being explored in other cluster of  associative worlds without losing its initial meaning. Nothing is lost in a metaphor. The elasticity of words stretching towards possibilities. Towards something else. This is what fascinates her. To depart from its entry in the dictionary and from there, to explore its potentialities. Some words invite this movement, some of them in fact require it. This is the case of diaspora. First its applicability, the precision.

Break down diaspora and this is what you have: DIA [across] + SPORA [scatter]

  • the dispersion of any people from their original homeland.
    “The diaspora of people from Brazil”
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Arizona happened.

Arizona happened.
Like life happens.

It popped up as a possibility
Just a concept, Arizona was a reckless adventure
One unlikely spot in the map

As a reality,
Arizona was radical, raw
And painful.
Arizona was a mirror

Arizona was a punch in the face,
a desert begging for life
an empty space waiting to be filled
by my crisp Brazilian soul

It took such a long time
So many days
-and nights-
for me to call you home, Arizona.

Finally to find myself in the middle
of your aridness.

Who am I to tell you about the languages of the desert?

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[Scottsdale, Arizona]

Who am I to tell you, indeed,
about the languages of the desert.
I am not a native
who holds the secrets of the land in his heart;
Nor a geologist or a geographer
who can teach you the history of the desert’s sedimentary rocks
Not even a poet am I
able to translate the desert with the unexpected metaphor.

I am a mere foreigner,
a transplanted heart
accustomed to wet lands
to lush biospheres of greens
and predictable rainy days

The aridness of the desert
has however penetrated my foreign soul
The shapeless rolling oceans of sand
now house my broken heart
shattered in thousand tiny pieces
that, much like the desert itself,
will no longer be able to find its original shape

(“In the desert, you can’t remember your name”, the song warns you)

It is from this void,
From this shapeless
dark, somber,
bottomless, solemn, even,
hole
That I tell you this:
The beautiful waves of browns, oranges and reds
that color the ancient body of the desert,
The stunning blues from the sheltering sky
that hovers above the desert colors
punctuated by the unbidden white cloud,
The wildflowers that courageously paint the desert hues with yellows or purples
for a few days on a given lucky Spring
are but facades.
The desert, my friend, hides all sort of mirages and fictions

Make no mistake about it:
The desert is a place of
blacks and whites
It is a point of extremes:
Cold or hot
Good or evil.
In its essence the desert is a zone of ultimate tensions
And struggles
It is a battlefield
where rawness is a rule
and cruelty is the law of the land.
It is where death confronts life face to face.
(And we know who wins)

Beware of the desert.

No more roses in the desert.

On a torrid August day I moved and left my roses behind. I stopped trying to grow roses in the desert.

I now admit that roses were a sign of my rebellion. An obstinate challenge to the forces of the desert, if you want. Don’t take me wrong: roses do grow in the desert. But they are not “naturals”. You have to keep fighting against the high temperatures to keep them alive. Water them everyday and they will survive. It is in the nature of roses to be resilient and withstand a lot. During the scorching summer months some will even venture to open their flimsy petals for a forgiving early morning but the unbending sun will burn their petals in minutes and destroy their beauty.

It is not worth growing roses in the desert. Even with a lot of TLC they struggle and suffer too much. It is a sad business to grow roses in the desert, believe me.

I moved a month ago (yes, I still live in the Sonoran desert) and I have not planted a single rosebush in my garden. I now grow flowers that are “naturals”. One of them is the colorful and hearty bougainvillea which grows abundantly locally. Bougainvillea are not fussy in the desert: they don’t need a lot of water, they grow joyfully and plentifully in the desert sun. Contrary to roses, bougainvillea don’t require much TLC. Even in the middle of the summer, their branches will produce leaves that mutate into exuberant pinks, deep reds, bright whites and magenta.

I left my roses behind. This does not mean I love roses any less. It just means that I no longer want to fight the fury of the desert.

I need to learn the lessons taught by the indigenous people of the Sonoran desert. For them, this desert I now call home was vibrantly alive. They had a profound respect to this place. They respected its elements, climate, energies and whims. For them, the desert was a sacred land.

I can’t continue to struggle against the desert. The desert is stronger than me. I surrender.

The Seed and the Desert

a seed

 

A seed,
blown away by an unsuspecting wind,
finds its way
to the desert

The Desert
–unaware of itself–
shelters the Seed

The Seed is desperate
And angry at the Desert
–And at itself–

“I am an outsider here”, the Seed thinks
“I am hungry and thirsty”
“I am drying out, dying out”

The Desert had been there for thousands of years.
And following the destiny of deserts,
It waits, unperturbed.
It knows that magic can come
–in a single drop of rain–

That night, after a long scorching day,
Rain fell on the desert.

Lock, stock and barrel.

She called it the adventure of her life. With a glint in her. Little did she know that it would be nothing short of a revolution. How it would unscrupulously penetrate her pores, melt the walls of her entrails, corrode the established life.

No leaf would be left unturned.

He knew it and he was afraid for her. She was so fragile. Brave, granted. But emotionally flimsy, like the wing of a butterfly. Maybe her intelligence would compensate. Fill the void.

What he didn’t know is how much her sadness would sadden him.

You know we are doing it lock, stock and barrel, right? She smiled her disarming smile, waved her hand and dismissed the question, transfixed by the attraction.

Rerouting Arizona

Let me do a bit of rerouting for the sake of this blog: It hasn’t all been sour lemons in Arizona. It is true that Arizona has represented a revolution in my life. But my story in Arizona should not be reduced to “the sadness of geography“, that unavoidable feeling of loss that marks the immigrant experience. I am now aware that Arizona has brought back traumas and memories that had been unattended to for too long. It made me look inside and confront my demons. This is not easy but the proverbial “make lemonade when life gives you lemons” withstands.

Arizona is a mirror. It is difficult to face the mirror.

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The truth is I had been negating certain things in my life for too long. I had been telling myself that the easier route was to lead life as if certain moments had not meant much.  Maybe, if I avoided those moments long enough, they would cease to exist? There were too many decades of overlooking, of bypassing, of taking detours. As a natural defense mechanism, I chose to forget and foolishly persuaded myself that a black hole would magically suck up all the bad. Of course it did not.

I struggled to adjust and for years I could not find my bearings.  Arizona painfully and relentlessly pushed me into recognizing my shortcomings. It required not only an interiority but also a sobriety that was not available to me then. I became too self conscious of my insignificance in the United States. More than ever, I was yet another number. A mere immigrant statistic.

Arizona made me more alone. Arizona made me more aware.

My life in Arizona is very quiet. I have made very few friends. It is true that Phoenix is not the friendliest of cities and many people complain about feeling lonely. The vastness of the city makes it challenging to make friends and people hide too many hours in their cars. The long lasting summer heat can also become truly oppressive. People tend to spend their times in air-conditioned spaces and skip their outdoor walks. Yet, to be fair and honest (remember I am talking about mirrors), it’s not alone the vastness nor the heat of Phoenix that are to blame:  I am not the easiest person to make friends with. I am incurably shy and self conscious. On a lighter note, even though loneliness has the power to kill you, it can also make you stronger. You have to look for resources other than people. So there is a silver lining to my loneliness: I feel compelled to go out of my shell and seek solace and company in things and activities. Yoga has been one my best “friends” here in Arizona. It has given me sobriety in the midst of my turmoils. It has showed me that I still have what it takes to face the game. That I can pick up the pieces and move on. It has also taught me that I am responsible for all of my choices, therefore I’d better make good ones. And…let’s face it: Arizona has been my choice. I’d better own it.

Arizona is a metaphor. It is a state of mind.

Sky Harbor Airport

They arrive and fill the house with
familiar voices and sounds
The sense of foreignness dissipates
They are memories of me – incarnate.
my language and gestures
good night kisses and
lingering morning hugs

They bring bags of black beans and cassava flour,
Feijoada, feijão, farofa.
The smells and tastes of home.

I am back from the joys and sadnesses of the Sky Harbor Airport
The runways of arrivals and departures
that mark my life in Arizona. 

Their  laughter is now gone
And here am I again in my empty house in the desert
That uncomfortable familiar feeling of being out-of-place
The aridness of making sense of who I am
and what part of home is left in this desert
when they go.