Someone Else’s Poem

As published in the fall issue of the online literary journal, Sky Island Journal

Someone Else’s Poem

by Sandra Shaw Homer

 

You are proud

to show me your poem

about a feather-touch

some long ago,

and I am pleased to see

it speaks to me

of you

and love

and what is here.

 

Some other one

inspired your art,

but I know

the feelings are for me

now.  (Who was she?

A solitary feather

on a page.)

 

Perhaps you are ashamed

(I think)

and wish the poem

had been for me.

It is.

A gift of you,

something more of you

to know, touch, smell,

hear, kiss, taste, see.

 

Besides,

had I been she

I would not have flown,

I would certainly have known

to stay, and now –

I would be more than

just a poem.

 

Letters from the Pacific Earns Another Great Review

By Amy R Brookson, October 10, 2017

I was stuck in my house during a recent hurricane and the only truly transportive distraction I indulged in was Homer’s “Letters from the Pacific.” I read by candlelight (no power) and forgot about the pounding rain and angry winds outside my hillside home. Her imagery is crisp and clear. The details both poetic and informative. I’m now fascinated by the idea of international travel via cargo ship. When can I go, too? This is an easy book to recommend; to either those interested in an exterior or interior exploration. Keep exploring, Shaw, and then tell us all about it!

Photo by SSH

 

Translating an Obsession

I was beginning to feel I would never get control of the Spanish subjunctive.  It is an evil thing, ubiquitous and complex; not even one Costa Rican friend I knew used it consistently, which added to my confusion.  I decided I needed to visit my old Spanish teacher Enrique in Barranquilla, Colombia, so I wrote and asked if I could come for a week of intensive work.  He was delighted and offered me his guest room and bath, classes every morning and a few excursions in the afternoons.

Barranquilla was home for a time to Gabriel García Márquez , so I felt I would be treading on hallowed ground.  In fact, Enrique took me to an architectural wonder of a municipal museum with an exhibit of García memorabilia.  In awe, I touched the battered leather suitcase he had used when he was an itinerant bookseller, receiving rum as payment more often than not.  His typewriter was there, along with poster-sized photos of other great authors he had known, and there was a multi-media show featuring well-known quotations from his books.  One evening, after several obligatory visits with Enrique’s family, we went to La Cueva, the former hangout of “Gabo” and other writers, journalists and artists.  There was a life-sized cardboard cutout of him standing at the entrance to the dining room, and the coasters on the bar sported lively Gabo aphorisms.  Enrique snapped my picture standing next to Gabo’s ghost.

But what entranced me more than anything was Enrique’s sending me, in advance of my visit, three short stories to “contrast and compare” on the theme of love, one of which was Gabo’s Nos vemos en agosto, an unpublished story transcribed from a live reading the author had given years ago in Madrid.  Gabo had intended it as part of a longer work, which he never lived to finish, and so crudely typed transcriptions circulated among the literati, until finally the Spanish magazine La Vanguardia published it at the time of Gabo’s death.

I loved this story.  The minute details all led inexorably to a wildly ambiguous ending that Enrique and I puzzled over for days, without ever coming to a conclusion.  I read it again and again, always finding something new – always with just a touch of the magical – and I was dying to try my hand at a good literary translation.  I wrote La Vanguardia to ask how they had gotten permission to publish it post-mortem and to point me in the same direction so I could request permission to publish a translation.

It isn’t difficult to fall in love with a writer as funny and precise about the human condition and incisive in his descriptions as García Márquez.  And his story Nos vemos en agosto both captivated and challenged me.  There were several ways one could translate the title, for example.  We meet in August?  We’ll meet in August?  I’ll see you in August?  We’ll see each other in August?  Same Time Next Year?  Does it suggest a future meeting?  Or simply an event in the near past?  Or something that happens every year?  If only the author were alive to enlighten me!  This is one person I would love to sit down with and converse at length about his work.

I’m afraid this story took up more of my class-time than the subjunctive, which I had been avid to conquer.  Enrique had given me lessons and homework, and I studiously spent my afternoons going over the exercises, but Nos vemos en agosto simply wiped the subjunctive out of my head.  (There is nothing subjunctive about the title . . . or is there?).  The subjunctive is all about things that haven’t happened.  “If I were only capable of understanding it,” is a good example in English.  Could the story be a fantasy?  The protagonist was certainly preparing herself for one.  And could the lover have been a ghost (with his Musketeer mustache and white linen suit, smelling faintly of lavender water)?  Ah, Gabo, I stood next to you, I drank at your bar, ate at one of your tables, read your story over and over, and still I don’t know!

© Sandra Shaw Homer, 2017

The author with the ghost of Gabriel García Márquez in Barranquilla, Colombia. Photo by Enrique Venegas

Things Fall Apart, The Center Cannot Hold, Mere Anarchy is Loosed Upon the World

I wish I could express in poetry what William Butler Yeats did so perfectly in “The Second Coming.”  But even though I don’t consider myself in any way a poet, sometimes poetry is the only way I can deal with what life hands me.  I think of the Yeats poem especially these days, and the recent presidential election affected me particularly, as I have been struggling with the dilemma of whether to return to the States or not.

You can find my poem, “Post November, 2016” in the online journal, “I Am Not A Silent Poet”:  https://iamnotasilentpoet.wordpress.com/2017/09/21/post-november-2016-by-sandra-shaw-homer/

Photo by Marten Jager

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Writers Are Vain . . .

“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality.”  – George Orwell, “Why I Write”

Photo by SSH

 

The Challenge of Describing Incredible Things

In one case technical — and I am NOT a techie — but the engine room tour on my first freighter voyage begged to be described.  It was sensory overload — far too many details — and without creating endless lists of things, the challenge was to make it interesting, speed it up and come to a crashing finish.  Tell me if you think it works:

The Grand Event yesterday was our engine room tour, guided by the voluble Chief Engineer, Karlo.  It was one of the most impressive sights any of us had ever seen (although hot and noisy, even with earmuffs).  From the keel to the topmost access hatch, it rises 10 stories high, and aft-to-forward takes up 30% of the entire hull – add in the fuel storage tanks along either bulkhead, and it uses up more space than the cargo hold.

Lila had the good sense to bring along a notebook, and her jottings added to my memory and a further interview with the Chief, produced some remarkable statistics.  The eight-cylinder twin-turbo-charged main engine produces 35,000 horsepower at 91 rpm, and Karlo assured us that newer ships (this one is only nine years old) can produce up to 105,000.  To convey the scale of this monster, we saw two new replacement pistons hanging aft of the engine, still wrapped in plastic, each measuring five meters high, and we were told that the 7.5 meter diameter propeller weighs 45 metric tons.

At full speed, the Louise burns 110 tons of fuel a day, on “economy speed” 70, at $350 to $400 U.S. per ton.  Depending on conditions – currents, depth, wind and weather – it takes an hour and a half to move this fully-loaded ship up to her maximum speed of 23.5 knots per hour.  That’s a lot of inertia.  I didn’t ask how long it takes to come to a full stop.

Because bunker fuel is as thick as asphalt, it needs to be purified by means of an on-board centrifuge and then heated at 145C. to the correct viscosity before it can be burned.  The sludge that remains after purification is pumped into tanker trucks in port.  No unprocessed fuel, oil, or bilge contents go into the ocean.  (Neither does sewage.)  Because of European and West Coast U.S. environmental regulations, in addition to the 3,500 tons of bunker the ship has to carry low-sulphur fuel for use in those ports, as well as gasoline to use dockside.  With her tanks topped up, the Louise has a range of 15,000 nautical miles.

In addition to the main engine, there are four diesel-run generators, producing 440 volts at 60 cycles for a total potential of six megawatts (newer ships can produce up to 6,600 volts) and a desalinization plant that produces 25 tons of water a day.  This multi-staged water-maker, which includes mineralizing and treatment with ultraviolet light, produces all the water used on board for cooling, hydraulics, plumbing and human consumption.  The Louise takes on no fresh water in port.

Impressive also was the workshop and spare parts storage, including every kind of machine tool, a huge lathe, untold numbers of hand-tools – each in its numbered slot on the walls – shelf after shelf of steel boxes filled with every kind of fitting the ship’s engineers could possibly need, paints, chemicals, and numberless drums of oil.  As Karlo pointed out, there’s no handy machine shop out here in the middle of the Pacific.  He described for us, too, all the backed-up back-up systems for running the show, all computerized and far too complicated to recount.

In that vast space amid the hellish din of so many thousands of mechanical parts moving simultaneously at high speeds, surrounded by a labyrinthine complexity of ladders and hatches, kilometers of insulated wires and pipes snaking in every direction, valves, blowers, boilers, turbines, turbo-chargers, condensers, a steering gear the size of two small farm tractors, air compressors, a seawater central cooling system, block-and-tackle for moving heavy equipment around, and a 3,300 volt bow-thruster – with that enormous, panting, thrumming monster-engine at its heart – the steel planks vibrating beneath our feet with the eternal beat of the ship, the three of us stood open-mouthed in awe.

 

Anyone who writes faces a particular challenge with sunrises and sunsets, because it is so easy to fall into the cliche trap.  How to be original?  How to make the reader share in the wonder?  Here’s an attempt:

I woke early and pulled the curtain back from the porthole in time to see the sky just pearling up before sunrise.  I quickly dressed and climbed to my usual perch on the top step to F Deck, facing aft, a little northeasterly.  It was slow in coming.  First a faint pink lined the clouds, then a golden light gradually deepened along the horizon, and puffs of cloud over the indigo water turned from mauve, to rose, to bright pink.  The horizon clouds opened to form a rose-tinged bowl, scalloped like a seashell, and suddenly the sunlight poured into this bowl like molten gold, too brilliant to look at.  I watched for half an hour, at the end of which I fully felt the blessing of this diurnal gift to the planet.

Both these pieces are excerpted from Letters from the Pacific, my first travel memoir.

© Sandra Shaw Homer, 2017

Photo by SSH

From a Child’s Point of View

I was intrigued, during Allyson Latta’s last Costa Rican workshop, that a number of writers chose to respond to her writing prompts from a child’s point of view.  I had never done that before, so for one of her next “challenges” I decided to write the story “Grandma’s Cabin on the Lake,” which was just published in Junto Magazine.  See below for the link.

“As we drive away this morning, Grandma asks me if I understand that my baby brother is dead.  I say, “I don’t know,” and turn to look out the window at all the big buildings holding each other up.  I have been waiting for a baby brother for a long time, but now he’s not coming.  Instead, Daddy took me to Missus Wiley’s to stay because Mommy was sick.  That’s where Grandma came to pick me up.  I’m sad that my baby brother isn’t coming, so I decide to sing some songs as we ride along.  I sing every song I know, some of them twice. ”  Read more . . .

© Sandra Shaw Homer, 2017

 

New Nonfiction Piece in Cleaver Magazine

In the hall, all is pandemonium. Even the ambulatory patients are incapable of making it to the fire exit on their own. The staff is operating on adrenaline and rote training. At the exit, I hold the door open for the wheelchairs and aides guiding the patients on foot. One grand dame holds up traffic by asking me what I’m laughing about. There is a twinkle in her beautiful gray eyes. Perhaps she sees a joke and wants to share it. Perhaps there really is a smile on my face. Someone from behind gently pushes her forward. Feeling a little useless where I am, I ask one of the aides what I can do to help.

“Check the bathrooms!” she gasps.

Read more . . .

© Sandra Shaw Homer 2017

Photo by SSH

Writer’s Block Isn’t Everything

Occasionally, I go through periods of writer’s block, where my “idea well” seems utterly dry and tumbleweeds blow by the desolate terrain of my creative imagination. In these periods, sitting down to write feels like the hardest thing in the world.

Even when my writing is going well, it can still be scary—first drafts seem like dog-paddling in the middle of an immense body of water, slogging towards a hazy shoreline. Sitting at my computer and taking a few strokes forward on my novel-in-progress is much harder than pretty much anything else I could spend my time doing: cleaning my kitchen or reading a book or brainstorming a quick blog post.

Writing is difficult. Revising is difficult. Querying agents and editors is difficult. Putting yourself out there is difficult. Rejection is difficult; criticism is difficult; rewriting again and again is difficult. And yet, it is helpful to remember that none of these things are as difficult as so many challenges that people go through every day. Things like cancer. Divorce. Job loss. Car accidents. Hunger. Poverty. Domestic violence. Homelessness. Grief.

Writing is not truly difficult, not in that sense. Writing is an incredible gift—the opportunity to sit down with ourselves in the quiet of our own minds; to escape into new worlds of our own creation; and to perhaps share the magic of our invented worlds with others.
–Dallas Woodburn, “What My Premature Birth Taught Me  About Writing,” Compose Journal, Spring 2016

Photo by Rodolfo Bohnenberger

Through My Window

This is my first published work of fiction, and it appears in the latest issue of The Quotable (December, 2016).  It’s a “flash” piece, and it was inspired by a writing prompt given by Allyson Latta in her last Costa Rican workshop.  It seems my persistence is paying off, because another short nonfiction piece has been picked up by Junto Magazine (forthcoming issue), and a brief memoir piece made it into Oasis Journal 2016.  I hope you enjoy “Through My Window,” which begins below.

Through my window I watch robins feed their young in the nest they have built under the eaves of the verandah.  The window faces the forest, and is low and wide enough to give me an ample view from my bed.

The robins are industrious.  Every three minutes (I have timed this) one of them lands on the verandah rail with a bug in its beak and, checking to be sure neither of the cats is lounging on the deck, glides quickly up to the nest to feed one of the three nestlings.  I can’t see the nestlings – it’s too dark up there in the corner – but Rosa has assured me there are three.

Lying here, I have become more attuned to the subtleties of the changing Costa Rican seasons.    Read More

Copyright © Sandra Shaw Homer, 2016

Photo by SSH

Photo by SSH