No Longer Ode
para mi abuela en la isla
A hurricane destroyed your sense of home
and all you wanted was to pack your bags
in dead of night, still waving mental flags,
forgetting the nation is a syndrome.
All that’s left of the sea in you is foam,
the coastline's broken voice and all its crags.
You hear the governor admit some snags
were hit, nada, mere blips in the biome,
nothing that private equity can’t fix
once speculators pour into San Juan
to harvest the bad seed of an idea.
She tells you Santa Clara in ’56
had nothing on the brutal San Ciprián,
and yes, your abuela’s named María.
Thoughts of Katrina and the Superdome,
el Caribe mapped with blood and sandbags,
displaced, diasporic, Spanglish hashtags,
a phantom tab you keep on Google Chrome,
days of hunger and dreams of honeycomb.
Are souls reborn or worn thin like old rags?
The locust tree still stands although it sags,
austere sharks sequence the island’s genome
and parrots squawk survival politics
whose only power grid is the damp dawn.
There is no other way, no panacea.
Throw stuff at empire’s walls and see what sticks
or tear down the walls you were standing on?
Why don’t you run that question by María?
Beyond the indigenous chromosome,
your gut genealogy’s in chains and gags,
paraded through the colonies’ main drags
and left to die. So when you write your tome
please note: each word must be a catacomb,
must be a sepulcher and must be a
cradle in some sort of aporía
where bodies draw on song as guns are drawn,
resilient, silent h in huracán.
Your ache-song booms ashore. Ashé, María.
Copyright © 2018 by Urayoán Noel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“Last fall, Hurricane María devastated Puerto Rico, where I was born and raised. As I worried about friends and family and struggled to make sense of this disaster and the colonial violence it unleashed, poetry failed me. I could not write about it; I could not find an entry point, so I went back to the solace of form and settled on the Keatsian ode. I had always loved Keats’s clarity of vision, and I was hungry for that kind of clarity, so I followed his three-stanza structure while using Petrarchan sonnets for the first two stanzas (abba abba cde cde). At the same time, I wanted to give a shout-out to Puerto Rico and its beautiful resilience, and not just reproduce Anglo-colonial poetics, so I included words in Spanish with no italics, as well as references to the U.S-imposed neoliberal austerity/extractionist politics that serve as a backdrop to the hurricane. I wrote the third and final stanza in the form of a décima (abba acc ddc), a ten-line Spanish stanza widely used in Puerto Rican popular poetry, often irreverently. A part of me thinks the last stanza is too short and leaves the poem unresolved. But maybe the bluntness and the noise of it undoes a little of the lyric respectability of the Keatsian ode, in solidarity with ongoing political struggles in and beyond Puerto Rico.”
Date Published: 2018-08-13
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/no-longer-ode