Friday, October 26, 2007

and yet

a black woman smile

This clip was sent to me by my dear friend, Lori. I was quite taken away by the words, the poem. And sometimes it seems that people would rather forget...but if truth could be tangible, it would be equivalent to the aggressive nature of weeds. The video also sparked interest and look back, again, to the women in my family.

Here is a newspaper article printed up (click on the pic to read it) about my great great grandmother, Lavada Toy LaRue Thompson (the 1st generation of our six), who at the time was 105 years old and who also, much of the time refused to smile. She's holding her last birthday cake and looks rather angry, but its mere pride.

Even in a previous photo of her at 97 years old, what appears to be a smile is only effort not to. Her hairstyle for the most part was always the same. This was her only favorite sitting place, even when I was a young girl. The chair evolved, but the curtains...well...they never changed.

Unlike this maternal matriarch, my great grandmother was caught many times smiling, unlike me and my mother, she loved people. My grandmother, who had two gold teeth--one at the top--one at the bottom, smiled often, particularly after a third can of Pearl beer. Later it was Schaffers.

It is difficult to make a black woman smile, but there are so many of us who do so because life is really rather good. Aside.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


At the end of a tutoring session, one of my students and I were talking about her swearing in at the Naturalization office and how excited she is to become a U. S. Citizen.

After our conversation about her, she then asked me with a grave countenance, "So, Renee, how long did it take you to get your papers?"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

the little bit

Living between generations was like living by the moon---only. My great grandmother, Eather Staten was 92 years old when she died in---2003. She had stubbornly waited for me to fly home from California. She lived alone up to the day and kept an immaculate, cozy home. It is a home I was accustomed to as a baby, as a teen, as a mother, as a woman. However, my daughter ruled all when she was born and naturally stole my great grandmother’s heart from the time of conception until her very early death. Here they sit together at my great grand’s home lost in gifts and in an earlier time at my grandmother’s sugar.

Eather Staten, 2nd generation, 1911-2003
My Love, 6th generation, 1982-1996

Monday, October 8, 2007

doing language

I was sitting.

It’s Sunday, 90 degrees, October and a soothing warm rain holds back in the South, threatening to shower my purple heart, rose moss, a wild succulent plant, and variegated Halston. The steel colored elephant ears peak with three healthy leaves and a newer one makes its translucent spine aware. They must have tropic-like weather to survive. The clouds form a limitless smear of gray and blue and hang impossibly low, not as humid, but low like when you see them on a drive through the hills, through Hollister to get to Monterey...Dunes. Clouds always seem so far away in California until you make a drive like that. Here, in Texas, when the climate is moody and erratic, they are always within reach.

But I was contemplating language and the various benefits cultures have, the marvelous innate nature of not code, but upbringing and tradition. I have a fruitful, diverse group of students at the community college where I instruct—in Texas—a place where when I was sprouting like my new elephant ear leaf, I was limited to territory and broken dialect. To me English is not a beautiful language; it has become lost in necessity--it is outdone and all too common and its evolution rather dumb. However, in teaching my ESL students, I have learned another perspective, English is not merely the only verbal means to communicate, to survive, but it is something like an old rough, secret smile, a playful but grave dance.

Take these lines from Light in August: "She aint come from nowhere close ... She’s hitting that lick like she’s been at it for a right smart while and had a right smart piece to go yet.”


“Only a negro can tell when a mule is asleep or awake.”

How in the world could I explain to a Vietnamese, Mexican, Albanian, Hungarian, Portuguese, or African student what “hitting that lick,” or “right smart” or “right smart piece to go yet” means as a strand of English language so personal--so regional--so preserved? Even some native Americans might have a time, initially, translating Faulkner. I would have written "Hit'in".

In my profession, you must find away just as my Halston grows almost between the other flowers. Students drop the “s” and treat “th” as “d”—(which leads to the old reality that our own home grown people tend to “dis” naturally).

My great Auntie recently again reminded me of the sharpness of the English language that yet thrives. She was telling me about a recent trip to Oklahoma. She travels with her usual group of retired ladies—the eldest is 87, the youngest 82. All but one is not sold on technology and continues to use her glasses to see, to play, to read, to dictate her slot machines--instead of undergoing laser surgery. She also drove them to the casino this last time and my Auntie told me she can’t see to “damn good.” I said, "She can't?" She fired back in a voice that's just as boisterous as her color, “Girl, Bennie can’t see two white elephants fucking at midnight.”

My Aunt has never read Hemingway, but she’s probably kin to Faulkner—up the line, and only if the French LaRues had something to say. I could not evade this noticeable image, beyond my Aunt’s comical nature. Could we miss two blond, fleshy elephants gettin it on, at night, midnight? Can't use this as an example of anything...for students of course. English is a clever, pretentious habitual blab. And then a student will draw me back in with an anguish: chicken and kitchen, thought thorough though through throughout taught---these I can manage, these nuances I can explain.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

surrounded by artists

It's no secret my life has been surrounded by artists: a brother, a grandfather, even a father and a step-mom. And yes, my other half, Gerardo, is yet - too - an artist. He created this beautiful piece -- Enrique Inglesias that just pops off one of our walls. When we first moved into our home, intially, I placed it in different spaces but finally settled on an area following our living room. It is incredible to look at up close, stare at. It's also quite the size: measuring about 42"h and 30"w. This was a shot we took of it, wasn't the best set up but it worked at that time. Gera also sketched my best friend, Tracy--from a beautiful black and white photo I took of her years ago.

Sometimes especially, when I am busy, minding my own business, I catch him: lead in hand, accounting my face.