Guest Poet Sylvia Antonia Brandon

An ad for the personals

One slightly used -- scrap that 
one well-used carbon-based unit, 
female, eyes two, nose one, 
one mouth with teeth, organic smile, 
slight yellow hue, hair, once dark, 
sprinkled with white, with gray, 
with wisps and flying strands, 
flying parts and thoughts, 
could we rewind, start over, 
buy some new tape, edit the gray, 
the wrinkles, the hard-earned 
bitterness, the leathery feet. 
Send me a picture. Ah, well. 

I sometimes live here, in my skin, 
well-worn, some extra poundage to attest 
to myriad children and some self 
abuse, sometimes live elsewhere, 
far away from self, another planet 
almost, tango, anyone? 
On good days sometimes 
I'll smile and light the room, 
they say, though maybe 
with a lesser wattage than before. 
On far too many days, of late, 
I live in partial darkness that persists 
despite persistent fighting of the demons. 

It's been a weekend and one day 
since last I smiled or laughed 
or slept much; add to the picture 
dark circles taking up 
the surface area of the face, 
below the eyes, engulfing eyes 
and face and days. Darkness abounds. 

Somewhere there is a moral to all this 
which I have lost, somewhere if not a rainbow 
there is light or reason, or at least 
e equals mc squared; somewhere 
one and one equals joy, 
a glass of friendship shared, 
a Bach cantata, notes 
embracing in the myst. 

Forget this ad and let me live 
another day in darkness 
or in light, let me again 
smile at a piano tripping 
lightly over emotion held 
in la sol do or si bemol. 
Somewhere as Albert 
has so lucidly explained, 
time is a fiction, 
well-played out 
for our amusement. 
I'll take the check, 
tip the mozo, 
appreciate your patience. 
Lights out.

March, 2000

Sylvia A. Brandon's Questions:

1.  Is it too dark?  This also began as a science lesson-type poem, and then took off for the river Lethe and therein hangs a tale.

2.  Is the tone too confessional?

3.  Again, how does the science help/hinder the telling of the story?


Duérmete mi niña,
duérmete mi amor
the voice of abuelita Adela
asking me the flavor 
of my thumb at night
abuelo cheating at Scrabble
played in four languages
while I learned the rudiments
of ajedrez, knights, rooks
and obispos. 

The house and its large gardens
a strange menagerie of cats and dogs
and once a goat, several hens for eggs,
ducks in the pond, and parrots,
discussing politics and the news
in raucous orange cries. My tata
Eugenia braiding my hair in pretty
yellowgreen lazos and telling me
about el coco who would kidnap
any niña foolish enough 
to misbehave. Abuela Inés always
the perfect beautiful señora 
rocking back and forth in her sillón
while she played old habaneras 
on her guitar. The world tasted 
of sweet fried plaintain, arroz con leche
with canela, warm hugs and toothless
smiles while I combed abuelita's 
hair, a long cascade of silver.

Mother's divorce was swift and hidden,
sundered my world of chickens
and abuelos, left me with shortened
weekend visitation, long enough
for Sunday trips to the Larousse,
el Diccionario de la Real Academia
Española, and Oxford's for good measure.
It was impossible to win at Scrabble.

Memories of mi padre then are dim,
he was a background picture lit by
linternas. She married self-made
money, righteous with the arrogance
of the new rich. My new abuela
told me early on that I should be
grateful for his generosity, 
but should not look to her for much
of love, affection or regard. 
We did go weekends to Santa María;
he owned a house there for a while,
and to the Yatch Club and el Club Médico
where blacks were not allowed. Minerva
who was then mi tata was refused admittance
because she was mulata and had worn no uniform
to designate subservience; Minerva 
who played games with me and sang to me
while mami sometimes had me brought to her
on her way out to some affair or other.

March, 2000

Sylvia A. Brandon's Questions:

Note an habanera is an old form of Cuban music; la Habana was a busy port where ships stopped on their way to other countries, to refuel, etc. Many times people who stopped fell in love with the island and jumped ship. They eventually returned to their countries, such as Spain, and brought back learned 'habaneras,' which have thus become part of the folklore in lands far away from La Habana.

1.  Is the reader confused by all the characters (abuelita Adela, abuela Inés, mi padre, mother, mi tata, abuelo) and what can be done to soften the confusion?

2.  Should the footnote about habaneras be included as a part of the poem?

3.  Line breaks!!!  !?@#

A science lesson

The square root of fifteen
is five, he said, and the answer
to the endless questions of the
here and now IS  then.   Democritus
contrived a theory that space,
the Void, had equal dibs with Being,
or reality, the Void a vaccuum
filled with particles eternal and
invisible.  From there to bombs
and mushroom clouds winging
their way across the unreality
of time and space to death. 

When I was younger and myopic
I looked at lights and saw the fusion
of the shapes and colors 
and thought them beautiful.  Then
glasses were prescribed; the fuzziness
resolved into the streets, dirty
with garbage everywhere.
Ultimate good, which D
described as cheerfulness,
a state in which the soul
lives tranquilly, no fear
or superstition, now eludes me. 

The naked city, she that never sleeps,
is now a place of terror for those
who do not fit the picture.  The volume of 
a cone's one third that of a cylinder
with the same base and equal height;
the volume of a pyramid's one third 
that of a prism with the same base 
and equal height.  Poetry's atoms 
have been split by hatred.  The total mass
of the reactants in any chemical reaction
is equal to the total mass of its products.
Darkness abounds.  The total mass of fear
and prejudice and anxious nightmares
is bullets nightsticks hate and death,
Dalton and Lavoisier redeemed.
God weeps.

March, 2000

Sylvia A. Brandon's Questions:

1.  When I first wrote it, after the Diallo verdict, at 3 in the AM or thereabouts, I did not notice the glaring mistake in the first stanza about square roots; most of the rest of the poem is good math/science.  I was preparing a Chemistry lesson at the time this poem was regurgitated against my will.  However, I actually like the error in the first stanza, but wonder if the reader will think the rest of the scientific/mathematical allusion is incorrect.

2.  Does the analogy between the scientific/mathematical and the state of our streets work?

The Albany Poetry Workshop