Last night I went to a Writing Show sponsored by James River Writers here in Richmond. In honor of poetry month, we feasted on the work and wisdom of Daniel Custódio, a slam artist from the Bronx; Luisa Igloria, a contemporary poet from the Virginia Beach area (also the head of the MFA writing program at Old Dominion University); and Susan Greenbaum, our local singer/songwriter and all-around darling person. Nathan Richardson hosted.
I don’t consider myself a poet…for reasons that may become self evident in a second. But, so what? I’m not an Olympic swimmer either. That doesn’t keep me from enjoying my own sad paddle across the pool — or from getting the benefits. What I learned from the panelists is that what matters more is the daily exercise (Luisa called it a devotional) of writing in a form that connects image and personal meaning so tightly.
So on this, the very last day of poetry month, I’m sharing a very early piece. The backstory is this: My father-in-law’s first love was a girl named Bella Lechuga, which translates roughly to “beautiful lettuce” in English.
“What happened to her?” I asked him once.
He didn’t know. After they left Cuba, everyone scattered to the winds.
Señora Bella Lechuga
Leans over the sewing machine
Puts one good eye close
To be sure her stitches are still straight.
Knuckles lumped hard and red
Claw her fingers around the lace.
In the hot metal and threads
She finds her white wrist gloves
and Pedrito’s cafe,
In the hammer of the needle
Machine guns on the streets of Havana.