Poetry Rx: The Dream of Every Cell
("... is to become more cells" - Guerrero/Myers)
I’ve had a stack of books on my desk all semester that I’ve been eager to devour, or, in some cases, to re-read, and even though I don’t truly have the time now— it’s the final week of the semester, here— I realized my heart couldn’t wait any longer. Sometimes (for instance, when something extremely shitty happens), I find myself in need of a poetry prescription. Good poetry doesn’t dull, it doesn’t numb, and if it doesn’t clarify anything, at least it doesn’t pretend to. Rx: Find a small moment of linguistic joy pushing up against the story of a great forest’s felling. Rx: Follow syntactic somersaults over a black hole of grief.
I enjoy the happenstance of my desk pile of poetry. How the volumes of poetry and essays seem to be in conversation with each other while they wait for my attention. The End of the Sentimental Journey, by Sarah Vap, rests upon the voyaging cover of The Age of Discovery, by Alan Michael Parker. Vap says, “there are some things we are willing to hear, and some things we are unwilling to hear. And we have very complicated strategies, even (or especially) in poetry, for not hearing what we don’t want to hear.” Parker says, “Step through a window/ that wasn’t there before.”
Rachel Galvin’s Uterotopia is knocking boots with Maricela Guerrero’s Dream of Every Cell (translated beautifully by Robin Myers). “The dream of every cell/ is to become more cells,” Guerrero writes. Galvin titles a ballad, “You Can Always Freeze Your Eggs.”
The Heart of American Poetry rests on Rosa Alcalá’s MyOther Tongue. Hirsch says, “Ralph Waldo Emerson keyed American literature to what he called ‘the optative mood,’ but that hopefulness had always already been shadowed by a deeper protest and lament, something older and darker, a legacy of trauma, a steeper and more sorrowful song.” Alcalá notes, “English is dirty. Polyamorous. English/ wants me… English makes me want it.” She writes, “I believe in poems/ as I do haunted houses.”
Do you read poems when you want to be haunted? I think I do. Here’s one that haunted me today from Dream of Every Cell:
I love this poem. I appreciate the simplicity of language in Myers’ translation: “She posed a problem and solved it with a research method.” I feel taken care of by that declarative; I feel as if the poet knows I want to be taken care of. I also deeply appreciate Guerrero’s metaphor in the third stanza/paragraph, which likens the building blocks of meaning (language — words) to the building blocks of life ( organism — atoms, molecules, bonds). The connection feels intuitive and yet surprising: “… although they can transmit mistaken information, that’s chance and possibility; cells are what we don’t know; that’s why we should keep the windows open.” What I like most is the entrance of chance on the stage. Chance isn’t random. At least, I trust that Myers’ choice of chance for the Spanish azar isn’t random— she did choose it over random and luck, after all.
It’s a dizzying distinction, so let me try to be more specific. Let’s assume this blogger’s description of azar: “The origin of the word azar is in the Arabic az-zahar or flor (flower) in Spanish…someone who tiene una flor en el culo is a very lucky person, who always achieves his goals in an unlikely way.” A leaf, a blossom— both are incredible shows of chance cell division. So are we, pulling each day out of our asses! And what do we remember, how do those memories hold us together? Do they? It’s the lingering question of the poem, “The Birch and The Fir?”
If you enjoyed Guerrero’s poem, check out this excerpt from Dream of Every Cell up at Tupelo Quarterly; you might also buy or read the book at the UA Poetry Center.
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