Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Love Poem for a New Year

And now, as another year approaches, I offer a sonnet I wrote for my lovely wife Mary Ann Blue Gotera.

First Mango

Remember that June before our wedding we spent
in San Francisco? That first morning you woke
to my brother in silver sequins singing like
Diana Ross? What must have gone through your mind?
What kind of people were you marrying into?
My father who laughed a lot but was schizophrenic.
My stepmom who'd tried, they say, to stab him in the back
with scissors. Love may be blind, but not stone blind.

Then, one Sunday we bought at the corner market
one perfectly ripened red-gold mango.
How carefully I slit the skin with my penknife
. . . rivers of yellow juice, the furry seed . . .
then sliced the golden half-moons into quadrangles,
open petals. Your first bite of our sweet life.
for Mary Ann

— Vince Gotera, from Returning a Borrowed Tongue (1995).
Some of the family history behind this poem has been covered already in the blog. My half-brother Pepito's story: the whole Diana Ross and sequins thing really happened. My father's mental illness is touched on here and there in the blog, particularly in the write-up on the poem "Newly Released, Papa Tells What It's Like Inside." The story that Carolina, Papa's first wife, had tried to kill him was, it turned out, a fabrication he made up for his second wife, Candida . . . Mama. To justify in her eyes why he had left Carolina. I found that out when Papa remarried Carolina some years after Mama died. I said, "Why are you remarrying her? She tried to kill you!" And he said, "I made that up for your mom." When the events in this poem took place, during the summer of 1984, Papa and Carolina were married again.

The poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, rhymed abbaabba cdecde. Of course, in my customary manner, I mix half rhyme and full rhyme. For example, the a rhyme revolves around the consonant combination /n/+/t/ or the related /n/+/d/: spent, mind, into, blind. My favorite rhyme pair in the poem is mango / quadrangles, which illustrates what a polyglot language English is. The word "mango" comes from Malayam through Portuguese, and "quadrangles" from Latin through French. So on a superficial level, both words could be considered Latinate because they both come into English from a Romance language, but at a deeper level of analysis, they are as distantly unrelated as two etymologies can be.

With regard to meter, these lines are roughly pentameter with many varieties of poetic feet mixed in. Without scanning (we don't always have to scan) we can find "effective" spondees, i.e., pairs of syllables that behave like spondees (stress stress) even though scansion might reveal them to be actually stresses belonging to different feet. Well, maybe a little scanning will be helpful; look at the second half of line 2, after the caesura/question mark:
. . . that FIRST | MORN- ing | you WOKE
The phrase "first morn-" effectively forms a spondee even if it's not structurally so. I suppose there is also an effective pyrrhic foot (unstress unstress) in the adjacent syllables "-ing you" to match and offset the preceding effective spondee.

There are also "performative" spondees: maybe someone reading the poem out loud might choose to make a pair of syllables into a spondee. For example, "half-moons" is naturally a trochee but could be spoken as a spondee; the phrase "first bite" in everyday speech is probably an iamb but could be performed as a spondee for dramatic or rhetorical effect. And with the phrase "RED-GOLD MAN- go" we have potentially a performative molossus (stress stress stress), though I gotta tell ya: the molossus is a pretty rare creature in English poetics. Besides, I can't think of the molossus with a straight face; I start flashing to some clumsy dinosaur lumbering through a swamp with mangrove trees. Hmm, "mangrove" . . . "mango"? No, don't go there.

To end, I just want to point out there is a real spondee here of which I am proud: the closing phrase "sweet life." This sonnet is, after all, a love poem, a tribute to my wife Mary Ann and to our beautiful life together. Amen. (Say it like a spondee.) AMEN.


bjanepr said...

Ah, V.Go, this is beautiful. And of course, you know I am loving reading all of this family lore/story as it's helping me in a few ways, esp. since I've been a little apprehensive about writing so much about family as if I'd be betraying a confidence even as I am determined to "preserve" our own family lore/story. Salamats. bjr

Vince Gotera said...

Hey, BJR ... you read it before it was done. Come back, okay? It was originally going to be just about family, and then I started riffing on craft and technique.

I really appreciate your comments, Barbara Jane, since I am definitely a fan of your poetry. --V.Go

Vince Gotera said...

B.Jane: on writing about family, it's been fairly easy because the family members I'm writing about have passed away. So I don't feel that I'm betraying confidences, as you say. Hmm, not all of the people I've written about in the blog are dead, now that I think about it. I guess you just have to be gentle and balance hurtfulness vs. accuracy. Not being hurtful is the way to go, obviously.

aaronjmagnan said...

Something about this isn't enough, and something about it is perfect.

Polly Forns said...

All I can say is Mary Ann is a lucky woman to be so adored!

Robert Aquino Dollesin said...

Slowly sifting through your work, Vince. And quickly becoming a fan. What a great piece. Thanks for sharing it.

Vince Gotera said...

Robert: Thanks for the good words. Sorry to take so long to reply. Have a great weekend. --V.

Spataru said...

Interesting post... I can see that you put a lot of hard work on your blog. I'm sure I'd visit here more often. George from love poem.

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