Two Books: An Introduction Part III
Friends in/from Unlikely Places
“My name is and isn’t Ricardo De Jesús Blanco-Valdeés—christened for
The sunlit and sea-song past of my parents’ island, carrying with-
ered memories of their homeland like dry rose petals pressed
in a book that someday I’d need to crack open, read into the
middle of a story I’d need to reclaim, finish, and call my own.
My name is and isn’t Richard, a translation I began to call myself
by, yearning to write myself into my other story, my other role,
my other fictional character as a straight white boy of color in
an American drama I didn’t quite understand, either. (35)
What is yours?
Book Two: “The memories I carried from the days I’d had with my parents were kept in cradleboards in my mind, situated in complete safety, even the bad ones. In them, there is always this feeling, an understanding more than an emotion, of protection. It didn’t matter what was happening in the world, my job was to be Francis. That was all. Just remain myself. And now? Well, now I had different family to take care of. My job was to hunt, and scout, and build camp, and break camp, to protect the others. I winced even thinking of it. My failure. I’d failed at protecting, and now, as a result, I failed at remaining myself.” (179-180) For a time, I've been called Frenchie.
Book One: You as well. Where are you from, Francis?
Book Two: “The old people called it the New Road Allowance. . .
‘We walk north,’ Dad had said then. ‘North is where the others will head. We’ll spend a season up by the Bay Zone. We’ll hold up in one of those cabins up there and I’ll try to find others. We’ll find a way, Frenchie. And up north is where we’ll find home.’ (6)
But we never made that move, not together anyway. At what was supposed to be my father’s last Council meeting before he took his family north, it was decided they’d make one last-ditch effort to talk to the Governors in the capital. They never came back.” (7)
Now I was alone, leaving the smaller cities that had winked out long ago like Christmas lights on a faulty wire. The trees here were still tall, so I wasn’t very far north, but they were dense, so I wasn’t too south anymore, either.” (9)
I understand your difficulty with the names. Other people's names, for their ancestors' lines.
“. . .I’ve forgotten the capital of Vermont and Iowa,
but I remember my eyes on a map mesmerized
by faraway cities, towns I couldn’t pronounce,
or believe the vast body of this land belonged
to me, and I to it. . .traced with wonder from
beginning to end, the tiny red dot of my heart
marking where I lived—when what I knew
of country was only what I read from a map. . ." (68)
So I would say I come from
. . . “Main Street with all the rest
of our unrest, arrested in our eyes clashing
against each other’s glare, ready for battle.” (48)
Book Two: Nice to meet you.
Book One: What brings you here?
Book Two: “After the Indians left, the industries and businesses in and around their territories closed up too: small-time fisheries, hunting camps, tourist traps. After that, the big ones started to fall: large-scale resorts, fly-in luxury cottages, and wilderness getaways for stressed businessmen and their foreign investor. In light of the wars and the rush to adapt and survive, no one really gave a shit about tourism, gross domestic profit, or low-level jobs for rurally located folks. Though they cared enough to kick everyone out when the former employees tried to bunk down in the once-plush rooms and make use of the supplies and heat.” (56)
“Forced to leave home, but home
never leaves. . .” (20)
Book Two: “Anishnaabe people, us, lived on these lands for a thousand years. Some of our brothers decided to walk as far east as they could go, and some walked west, and some crossed great stretches of narrow earth until they reached other parts of the glove. Many of us stayed here. We welcomed visitors, who renamed the land Canada. . . We were great fighters—warriors, we called ourselves and each other—and we knew these lands, so we kicked a lot of ass. . .
But, we lost a lot. . . We suffered there. We almost lost our languages. Many lost their innocence, their laughter, their lives." (23-24)
“. . .To believe I didn’t begin with me, nor will end
with me, never been a me, but a soul beyond
clinging to any home or country. . .” (74)
Book Two: But, it was, it is beyond country. “The Earth was broken. Too much taking for too damn long, so she finally broke. But she went out like a wild horse, bucking off as much as she could before lying down. . . People died in the millions when that happened. The ones that were left had to migrate inward. It was like the second coming of the boars, so many sick people and not enough time to organize peacefully.” (87)
Book One: I understand your sadness, but you haven’t yet answered my question. I know what it is to leave. I heard what caused you to leave, but what brings you here?
Book Two: People, I suppose. Family. The family I gained after the family I lost. “They all sat around a roaring fire on blankets and sleeping bags and they seemed to all be Native, like me. . .(16) I didn’t answer. The tears cleared away the dirt from my eyes, stinging as they crossed my split lips. Sobs rocked me, open and closed, until I was fetal. I was embarrassed to be so broken in front of all these new Indians. If they were embarrassed for me, no one made a motion or mouthed a reproach. They just let me be broken, because soon I wouldn’t be anymore. Eventually, I wouldn’t be alone, either. And maybe tomorrow I’d wake up and find myself closer to home.” (17)
“Here, sit at my kitchen table, we need to write this
together. Take a sip of café con leche, breathe in
the steam and our courage to face this page, bare
as our pain. Curl your fingers around mine, curled
around my pen, hold it like a talisman in our hands
shaking, eyes swollen. . .
Begin the next stanza with a constant wind trembling
every palm tree, yet steadying our minds just enough
to write out: bullets, bodies, death—the vocabulary
of violence raging in our minds, but still mute, choked
in our throats. Leave some white space for a moment
of silence, then fill it with lines repeating the rhythms. . . " (61)
Book Two: “They had this crazy notion that there was goodness left, that someone, somewhere, would see just how insane this whole school thing was. That they could dialogue. That they could explain the system had to die and a new one be built in its place. Like that wasn’t scarier to those still in the system than all the dreamlessness and desert wastelands in the world.” (141)
"Write one more stanza—now. Set the page ablaze
with the anger in the hollow ache of our bones—
anger for the new hate, same as the old kind of hate
for the wrong skin color, for the accent in a voice,
for the love of those we’re not supposed to love. . .” (62)
Book Two: You remind me of a teacher, a friend, I had. Named Miig
Book One: And what would he have said? Something like
“. . . We can die valiant as rainbows,
and hold light in our lucid bodies like blood.
We can decide to move boundlessly, without
creed or desire. Until we are clouds meshed
within clouds sharing a kingdom with no kind,
a city with no walls, a country with no name,
a nation without any borders or claim. Until
we abide as one together in one single sky.” (80)
Book Two: Your hearts definitely seem in the same place. A part of you, and yet apart from you. Miig, “He kept a small pouch hung on a shoelace around his neck and tucked into those sweaters. Once, when I’d asked him, he’d told me that was where he kept his heart, because it was too dangerous to keep it in his chest, what with the sharp edges of bones so easily broken. I never asked again. Too many metaphors and stories wrapped in stories. It could be exhausting, talking to Miig.” (20)
Book One: And you are tired? It’s not really a question, I realize after I say it aloud. It is a truth. But sometimes we say truths aloud to see if they are questions or not. I think we have this in common. “To love a country as if you’ve lost one. . . (26)
Book Two: “It hadn’t been this bad even when I was on the move with my parents and brother. Every year the world was making us more aware of change. After the cities crumbled off the coastlines, after the hurricanes and earthquakes made us fear for a solid ground to stand on, even now we were waiting for the planet to settle so we could figure out the ways in which we would be safe. But for now there was just movement, especially for us: the hunted trying to hunt. . .
From where we were now, running, looking at reality from this one point in time, it seemed as though the world had suddenly gone mad. Poisoning your own drinking water, changing the air so much the earth shook and melted and crumbled, harvesting a race for medicine. How? How could this happen? Were they that much different from us? Would we be like them if we’d had a choice? Were they like us enough to let us live?” (46-48)
It isn’t where you’re born that matters, it’s where
you choose to die—that’s your country.” (27)
Book Two: My family was my country. I've lost so many people already, but sometimes it seems the languages are the same and I find memories that become words that build the language I lost in bits and pieces.
Book One: If you don’t mind me asking, what languages do you speak?
Book Two: Like I said, I've lost more language than I speak.
Book One: That can be enough. Tell me.
Book Two: Well, one time I reached out to feel the language on my skin for the first time since Minerva had breathed her words over my forehead when she thought I was sleeping during her nightly check-ins. An arrow, a line, couple of dots.” (155)
Book One: The touching, with your hand, it’s real then. Connections. Directions. It reminds me of, permit me to use someone else's words:
. . .my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life. . . Roque Dalton, Cómo tú
And, I too, I am separated from much of myself by lines that are meant to define myself.
So I write words into my own lines to make my own maps. My own language for the story I tell myself.
“Cómo tú, I question history’s blur in my eyes
each time I face a mirror. Like a mirror, I gaze
into my palm a wrinkled map I still can’t read,
my lifeline an unnamed road I can’t find, can’t
trace back to the fork in my parents’ trek
that cradle me here. Cómo tú, I woke up to this dream of a country I didn’t choose, that
didn’t choose me—trapped in the nightmare
of its hateful glares. Cómo tú, I’m also from
the lakes and farms, waterfalls and prairies
of another country I can’t fully claim either. . . Despite
my tongues, no word defines me. Like words,
I read my footprints like my past, erased by
waves of circumstance, my future uncertain
as wind. Like the wind, cómo tú, I carry songs,
howls, whispers, thunder’s grow. . ." (11-12)
Book Two: You write like you're not from here, but if you hold such dreams, you must be native. The rest have stopped dreaming. They suck us dry to reclaim the dreams, like the taken land.
Book One: Yes, I suppose. Yes, but I’m not sure to which question.
"Like a tourist wanting to be a native, I said yes to all of it. . .
But also—yes—to my duty to contest it, try to shape its story. . ." (41)
Book Two: Miig said, “everyone tells their own coming-to story. That’s the rule. Everyone’s creation story is their own.” (79)
Book One: Blanco, Richard. (2019). How To Love a Country. Beacon Press: Boston.
Book Two: Dimaline, Cheri. (2017). The Marrow Thieves. Cormorant Books: Toronto.