April 17, 2015
C. D. Wright
Academy of American Poets
Dear C. D. Wright,
When I was in the third grade my grandfather passed away. I wasn’t very close to him, but we would talk a bit. We used to eat cherries and watch the Lakers basketball games together. My parents always sent him my report cards, my tests, and we would visit him a lot. His favorite place to eat was at California Pizza. I remember every time we sat down at the same table, and talked about my tennis and school.
I was not very close with my grandfather because I had only been with him for seven years. But every moment I had seems like it was precious now. He would always give me uncirculated dollar coins (not touched by anyone) with different presidents on them. Right before he died, he mailed out the last coin to me and I keep it in a cigar box he gave me when I was very little. I have so many memories of my grandfather, but I never felt any emotions when my parents told me he had died. During the mourning service, everyone felt sorry for me, and I didn’t even feel sorry for my self. Your poem made me remember all the times I had with my grandfather, and I felt very sad when I read your poem “Like Hearing Your Name Called in a Language You Don’t Understand.” When you said that you talked in front of people who were mourning, I remembered the Rabbi that spoke at my grandfather’s funeral and helped my family get through their loss of my grandfather, and it seemed like the rabbi said a lot of things like you did to help us. Did you lose someone that you loved in your life? And if so, did you write this poem as an ode to that person?
In my house, we bring up the topic of my grandfather very rarely. We have moved on very well and I didn’t think about my grandfather until I read your poem. My parents say that I had a lot in common with him and we would have gotten along well. Although I only got to spend seven short years with him, I remember every single second of the time I spent with him. Your poem was very moving and it reminded me of the times I had with my grandfather.
What a lovely letter you wrote in response to my poem "Like Hearing Your Name Called in a Language You Don't Understand." The context of the poem is somewhat different from what you imagine but that does not mean your view of it is not right. One of my grandfathers died when I was about six and I have only the vaguest memory of him. My other grandfather lived until I was at least twenty and of course I remember him very well and very fondly. Grandparents can be the tenderest of links to your family. They are often relieved of the crummier obligations of parenting—not having to make you clean up a mess or do your homework or even eat something you don't want to eat before leaving the table. Your letter made me miss my Bapo as I called him, but even missing him was sweetened by your letter. It brought him back into my day. He liked to pick other people's flowers. He just could not resist in spite of Mamo's admonishments.
Now I will tell you a little bit about the setting of that poem.The simple story behind my poem was an event in San Luis Potosi Mexico. In the state of San Luis Potosi in northeastern Mexico. It is known as a conservative town near old gold and silver mines.A couple of foreign writers gave a reading that evening in an imposing colonial building on the central plaza. It was early evening and the big wooden doors were kept open; so I could see the shoeshine boys and the man selling balloons and the kids trying to sell gum to people out walking. The hall was very high and cold and dimly lit. It may have been the town cathedral I don't recall now if there was an altar behind us. Professional actors read the Spanish. Those of reading our poems read them in our native language. The front rows were taken up by the upitty-ups of the town. The men wore suits and the women wore beautiful rebozos each with their own way of tying them over their shoulders. The rebozo is an elegant shawl, and you do not see them worn as commonly now except by people in very small hamlets. But the rebozo is still a very important symbol in San Luis Potosi society because a neighboring town, Santa Maria del Rio is where the finest ones in Mexico are made. They are very expensive. I have two. One was given to me and one I bought there. I rarely wear them and I plan to give one of them to someone else some day, as no one should have two of these, except perhaps a Mexican woman from San Luis Potosi. Mexico is one of my favorite places. There are so many contrasts in it, and they are so rich I could go on for days just about that short trip to San Luis Potosi where I had been on several occasions in starkly different circumstances. I felt a little melancholic that evening, a little sad, watching the children outside working until dark to make a few pesos, and people wandering in from outside out of quiet curiosity. And the local dignitaries in front, and the actors coming up from Mexico City to read a few poems of ours in Spanish. The building felt cold and hollow, but also historical and solemn. I also felt grateful that it was poetry that brought me to that place. After this event, another followed and the evening got stranger and stranger and more dreamlike in the way that Mexico always surprises you just as soon as you think you have your bearings, you know you are under a moon that was made for that evening and you got to be under it. The rest is a story for another occasion.
I hope you have many adventures in and out of poetry to come and will get to enjoy loving relationships with your surviving grandparents.
C. D. Wright