And now, as another year approaches, I offer a sonnet I wrote for my lovely wife Mary Ann Blue Gotera.
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
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).
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:
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.
. . .that FIRST | MORN- ing | you WOKE
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"
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.