Episode Six: (Fiction) It’s Just Dancing by Camila Santos
It’s Just Dancing
You know that. I know that. But they’ll never understand. Ok? So you have to help me. You just have to. They’ll ask a million questions. My mom won’t let me speak, even after I explain that I’m all covered up. That I dance in jeans and a t-shirt. My dad, he’ll be trying to calm my mom down, who by then, will be in tears. Not just regular tears—loud tears, hysterical tears. She’ll be all like: you left your family, you left your school, you left your friends, your country. For what? For this? To dance with strange men? And my dad, he’ll have an arm around her shoulders. He won’t make a peep. He’ll just push his glasses up his nose, pat my mother’s hand. But I know he won’t be able to look at me. Not in the eye. Ever again.
And I can explain that it’s just dancing. Salsa, bachata, forró. In fact, depending on the night, I might dance all of those styles. You know how it is: I go to the club and sit at the bar with the other girls. Then, one of the guys will ask me to dance. And we’ll dance. Just like in any other club. Except that when the song’s over, I get two dollars. I’ll dance an entire set for fifteen. And for fifty dollars, I’ll dance the entire hour. And that’s basically it. Didn’t my parents meet at a party? I mean, I’m sure they danced too. When I lived back in Brazil, I’d go out dancing with my friends all the time, we’d stay out all night long. When it comes down to it, what’s the difference? I know my job bothers you a little, but of course it does ‘cause you’re my boyfriend. But my parents? They wouldn’t ever even try to understand.
So can’t you just back me up on this one, amor? They’ll be here in a week. That’s plenty of time to convince your manager at the restaurant. She only needs to pretend that I work there too. It won’t be that hard. I’m there all the time. The entire staff knows me already. Don’t look so upset, it’s just a little white lie. Because once my parents start with the questions, it’ll never stop. And I’ll just have to tell them everything. That yes, it’s just dancing, but once a month, on theme nights, I gotta wear a stupid costume. How every once in a while, one of the men will drink too much and grab my ass. And some of them don’t pay the two bucks they owe me when the song is over and I gotta call the club’s bouncer. And how some of them smell bad. Or leer. And then, there are the nice ones, the regulars. The ones who blow all their hard-earned money on those dances. They even tip us. And a part of me feels terrible. Just terrible. But I gotta earn my money too, so I smile and thank them and even say that I’ll see them next week.
My parents will be here for ten days, love. That’s it. Then, they go back to Brazil. And I still have two thousand dollars to go. Just another few more months of dancing, and then I’ll be able to quit. And go to beauty school. I’ll get my cosmetology degree. On the first vacation break, we’ll take a trip to visit my family. I’ll show you the house I grew up in, my brothers will take you surfing, we’ll drink beers with our feet in the sand. Believe me, you’ll understand when you meet them. You’ll get why I’m asking you to do this for me. Just picture it: one day, I’ll have my own salon, you’ll have your coffee shop. We’ll look back at our time in the city. And I promise you amor, every time you take me out dancing, we’ll laugh about all of this.
Episode Five: Interview with Nancy Zigler, author of ‘Museums in the Sky.’
Teresa Douglas 00:09
Welcome to Latin x audio. I’m your host, Teresa Douglas. In today’s episode, we’re going to get a behind-the-scenes look at Museums in the Sky by Nancy Ziegler. Nancy was born the Year of the Dragon. [sings] Deep in the heart of Texas.[Stops singing] I just had to say it that way. Her favourite things include her son, Houston skies, glitter, avocado, Pluto, pizza, angora bunnies, and magic. You can find more of her work at ascentosreview.com. Welcome, Nancy.
Nancy Zigler 00:41
Thanks, Teresa. Thanks for having me.
Teresa Douglas 00:44
It’s nice to have you here. And I have to say, Museums in the Sky, I told you this, but the listeners don’t know. I read it and it was so beautiful, it almost just hurt me a little bit. It was just it’s such a lovely piece. So so sad and beautiful. And I feel like one of the best examples of in some ways what it means to be Latinx–we tend to find beauty in the pain, beauty in other things to not just pain. But anyway, I read it and it just it knocked my socks off. So thank you for submitting it. One of the other things I wanted to talk about now that I’ve I’ve said all of that, is to give our listeners a little bit more about you, the person who wrote this lovely piece. Can you tell our listeners just a little bit extra about yourself, for example, how long you’ve been writing?
Nancy Zigler 01:38
Yeah, thank you so much. And I really appreciate your shout-out to my piece. It’s one that I hold very close to my heart. And I do tend to put a lot of myself and my experiences, especially as a Latin American woman in my writing. And so I really appreciate you being able to see me, even though we’re, you know, some distance apart. And so that really meant so much to me. So I appreciate that. And I’m so happy to tell you a little bit more about myself because I’m a little bit of a mover, so I’m all over the place. Yeah, so I am actually originally from North Texas, a small suburb called Dallas. Sorry, I messed that up. I’m from a small suburb of Dallas called McKinney. And I am currently 33 years old. So I like threes right now. I currently live in North Hampton, Massachusetts. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old son. And I’ve been married to my husband Jake for five years. I originally began writing when I was a sophomore in college. And so I had to do the math. So that’s 14 to 15 years to get us to today. And so yeah, that’s a little bit more about me.
Teresa Douglas 02:55
Well, nice. So I know you say you started writing in college, was it? Did you start with fiction? Were you dabbling in poetry? Was it nonfiction? Just what sorts of things do you like to write?
Nancy Zigler 03:08
Yeah, thanks so much for asking. So when I started writing, I actually always loved writing, even when I was in high school, my whole senior year, I had a fantastic teacher that allowed me to only read Sandra Cisneros. So that’s all I did. And it was great. I was definitely always a reader first before I was a writer. And I remember that I started really just getting excited about writing when I was in high school, but I did so much better in my math and science, AP exams and all of that, that I was like, Oh, I guess, you know, I guess my work isn’t meant to be. So I kind of let it go when I started college. But I felt so lost. And I felt so adrift. I was at a big state school called Texas A&M, and it’s a research institution. And it was there that I met Angie Cruz, who’s also a writer whose book Dominicana came out not too long ago. And she literally gave me this magic that I was able to carry throughout college. As you know, I studied chemistry and I also have a degree in finance, which just gave me this little kind of sparkle of hope that one day, I could kind of afford to do the things that I wanted for me and not for everybody else. And so in her class, I mostly focused on fiction. But I was so green–like not a joke, when I applied for my MFA, I don’t even think I knew what nonfiction was. I was like, Oh, I love reading fiction. So that’s what I’m writing. I realized all this journaling I was doing and all of the stories that I wrote really came from a place of nonfiction and so I’ve been trying to lean into that a little bit more. But yeah, it’s funny just to think back. I tend to actually be more prolific in nonfiction though fiction is very, very close to my heart.
Teresa Douglas 04:53
Yeah, it’s funny though, especially when you’re thinking about creative nonfiction which uses a lot of the same sort of techniques. I mean, you’re letting people see the dialogue and descriptions, it can feel like you’re writing fiction, even if the things are true.
Nancy Zigler 05:09
Definitely. And I found that to be so helpful, I actually really appreciate that my thesis, my master’s degree was on the fiction track because I definitely feel that it helped me develop more of those techniques that I apply now towards my nonfiction writing. Overall, I’m a happy customer.
Teresa Douglas 05:27
Yeah, it’s good to have the tools because then you know how to use them. And then you can do what you want. So let’s talk a little bit about Museums in the Sky, you had said that you drafted this quite a bit. Do you normally do that many drafts, you had said something around 40? Is that regular for you? Is that part of your process? Or was this piece a little bit different?
Nancy Zigler 05:55
Yeah, this please, this piece was so so hard. And so I began writing it six years ago when I included it in the collection of stories that I wrote for my master’s thesis on my MFA. I wrote a short story collection and this was a piece that was included in there. I typically do not write that many drafts, I do tend to have more of an elongated process, I’m more of the type of person that I make a big mess and then I clean it up as I go along, I don’t get it right the first time. And this piece just really really mattered to me and it was so hard because I have faced so much rejection in the light of this piece. So I did submit it several times other versions of it, and I would receive really hard feedback mostly from people that weren’t bipoc folks and so it really kind of stung a little bit when I was reading some of their editorial comments. But you know, I don’t tend to have a lot of confidence in general but I really believed in this piece and just something in me something kind of like that I didn’t even know I had just told me to keep writing because this is striking a chord for you so it may for other readers and so I kept going.
Teresa Douglas 07:04
Yeah and I for one I’m glad you did and I know our readers will be. The language in here is beautiful (you’re going to hear some rustling listeners as I move through the 10 pages of the piece that I’m holding.) And there are pieces of it like at–when you’re speaking with the character of the love interest. And there’s this one section where it says “your characters smoke too much and never spoken dialogue. Then the twist when the dusk the velvet curtains painted the tile floors pink and it made you want to cry” and I could feel that. I felt I could see the ostriches on the crackling out of the gray shells of the wallpaper and it was just so lovely. And there’s so much about this piece. I mean Cielo first of all is so ethereal and yet… the pieces so grounded in these textural details of peeling red paint and the–and I’m getting ahead of myself but anyway they’re just some lovely pieces and you keep bringing back this idea of the universe and looking for signs. And there’s the recurrent like black hole that happens where Cielo says she wishes she’d been named black hole and then there’s the black hole of the mother’s death and then there’s again reference to that toward the end “the black hole October when she died blew me right open like a kite” and ended with “a lifetime of me waiting for the train to come.” And I think anybody who has suffered loss even if it isn’t as profound as this character has had can identify with that idea of waiting, of waiting for signs, of waiting for things and it’s just so tightly tied together and anyway so this is lovely just the imagery in it was exactly the sort of thing that it matters every single piece of this piece matters to itself and you couldn’t take it out without really shortchanging the whole thing so yeah it’s an amazing piece just very dreamy and I’m gushing and I just don’t know how to stop myself from gushing right now but it’s gorgeous.
Nancy Zigler 09:21
Thank you for your close read of that and I again I just really appreciate that you got it. Like you said, I tinkered down, you know, to the very sentence and then the word level and then things just kept exiting and then entering the piece again. And yeah, it’s something that just hit really close to home for me because I wanted to write about gray space because so much of our world is in black and white right now. I wanted to write about vulnerability and also about a Latina narrator who was much more than just her ethnic background and that is much more than just her name. So as a kind of personal detail, I used to work for NASA, that was one of my first jobs outside of college. So I have a very soft spot for anything space. So that’s where a lot of those details came from. I was just collecting them, and I wanted to use them one day, so they were just kind of in my back pocket. And I also am a university educator, right now I work and I teach at Smith College. And I’m always stunned by this whole heart that students have. And it’s hard to express, like, in real words, so I’ll try. But oftentimes, when I enter a classroom, I know that there’s, you know, this power dynamic between teacher and student. But I also know that I feel very much the most vulnerable person in the room, especially in a space that feels very white oftentimes. And so that’s something that I wanted to kind of play with in this piece. And as another kind of aside, I love this piece by Vladimir Nabokov, Signs and Symbols. And so that’s something that I was also kind of playing with is like, what does it mean to have these things that don’t necessarily correlate, but you really, really want them to, in the kind of dream space of grief and love, which to me, when it’s tied together, it makes the other so much more profound.
Teresa Douglas 11:18
It is profound, and it’s fraught, I mean, at the ending, when they meet each other, again, this idea that she had nothing to offer, but her sadness at that time. But that now she has this other space, and maybe it’s okay, that they’re, they were just meteors passing by each other. And it’s, truly a vulnerable thing. And as we think right now, about some of the social reckonings that have been going on, and what that power dynamic is, like, in universities in specific, it feels like a very timely piece for right now.
Nancy Zigler 11:54
Yeah, it’s something that I’ve been digging really deeply into lots of narratives, mostly nonfiction, about the university space, and really trying to carve my place out there. But yes, it’s definitely something that feels very omnipresent in the classroom, especially now when all I see are little eyes in the audience, you know, behind, their masks. Just trying to forge those connections really, really matters to me. And so I’m, you know, this is a work of fiction. But I do I really just appreciate this whole-heartedness of people that are younger than I in the classroom because they’ve given me so much hope. And so I definitely wanted to kind of close off the piece with a little bit of a note of hope, as if there’s, there’s something beyond all of this. And now we’re entering the springtime of the narrator’s life, and she’s able to open her eyes and actually notice things that are dislocated if that makes sense.
Teresa Douglas 12:51
Yeah, and I like that not only is she hopeful at the end, but even from the beginning, she’s not sorry, right. And grief, we shouldn’t have to apologize for grief. She had this period. And it was part of her life. And there are other things now that she also sees, so I really did appreciate that. That ending and the question I had is–you talked a little bit about that–but what other feelings, if any, or thoughts do you want the reader to come away with after having listened to this piece?
Nancy Zigler 13:32
I feel as a Mexican American woman, I’m always apologizing, like, I just enter a room and I’m like, sorry, sorry, sorry, I exist. I just don’t want people to apologize anymore. And it’s something that I noticed now that I’m a little older, I’m like, why do I still do that? Is this the child in me? Is this the 11 year old, that still feels very out of place, everywhere I go? And I also, I, I love the Latin American canon. I host a book club in western Massachusetts, and I’m trying to dig a little deeper. Oftentimes, I really do feel like especially when I was younger, and growing up, I didn’t see any narrator’s that had this deep tie to space and astronomy and STEM and all that. And so I I’m really drawn to the poetics and the beauty of science teaching you about poetry, and poetry teaching you about the technicalities of the universe in life. And so I just hate these like harsh divides that we see within the Academy, where it seems unrealistic for a scientist to be a dreamer, or for you know, a poet to have like this razor sharp precision, but they exist and those are the people that are able to change the world. In my opinion, like when I worked at NASA, it was definitely the dreamers that got us into space, and they’re the ones that are going to get us into Mars. And so I really admire that and I just want to show people especially younger writers that are starting out, you know, that also includes myself, because I haven’t been published very often. But I just said that it’s possible. And just like, I think this imagination will create waves and will create social change. And those are the types of ways that we need to be thinking in order to get out of this kind of conundrum that like our life and our environment. And the racial reckoning we’re going through, we’re going to need that imagination to get through all of this. And, it’s a long time coming. So there’s a lot to process. And I just want to encourage other writers that feel kind of othered to find their space, especially you know, so many out there are so intelligent and have so much to give, but just have this fear of holding back. And this is a piece where I didn’t hold back. And I typically do, I tend to write very kind of like on the cusp of something, but here I just kind of like, dove straight in and I don’t regret it. Like, I feel like whenever I introduced this piece I’m always like, like having to defend it. But I really love it. And I was telling my husband, I was like, I just love this piece so much. And he was like, “Can I read it?” and I was like, ooh… my husband’s also a writer and a wonderful supporter. So I’m just excited to get it out there and to have others just kind of be able to find their space as well.
Teresa Douglas 16:24
Well said, and I will say as also a writer, my husband sometimes doesn’t read things until after they’re published, he has to read them with the strangers. Because you know, the piece is vulnerable, where you say, I’m not sure my family should read this.
Nancy Zigler 16:41
Like my therapist wants to read it. There are lots of individuals that are asking a lot of questions, but I’m okay with that. Because, again, this piece, I worked so hard on it, and I’m just so glad to see it. And you know what’s so interesting is that I actually wrote it in a way that, I wanted to read it out loud. And I was always the MFA [student] that refused to read at our readings because I was too shy, but I was like, No, I’m gonna write this in a way that’s meant to have the poetics of needing to be read out loud to access that extra kind of dimension to it. And so I’m just so proud and excited that you found me we found each other and we’re here.
Teresa Douglas 17:20
Well, listeners, you’re in for a treat. If you haven’t listened to the recording of Museums in the Sky yet, you should go do that right now. Because it’s a treat. And thank you. Thank you so much again, Nancy, for stopping by, you know, on the internet, and chatting with us about this piece. Thank you. Oh, and before I forget, how can our listeners find you if they want to see what you’re writing next, or catch up on all the Nancy gossip?
Nancy Zigler 17:55
Yeah, so I’ve got lots of Nancy gossip. So I post on estapluma.com, where I’m working on my current writing project, which is writing a letter to my three and a half year old son every day. And so you’ll see those posts. Yeah, you’ll see those posts on my website. And I also manage a book club called sobremesa, which is a group of powerful Latin American folks that come together to read only Latin American women. And so that’s been really special to me to be a part of that group and shepherd the effort. And so you’ll find that information on my website as well as how to join the book discussions.
Teresa Douglas 18:34
And for those listeners who are not close to a pen, pencil or other writing device, his websites will be listed in the show notes. Once again, thanks for coming, Nancy.
My name is Cielo Salas, and I am writing to say that I am not sorry. You were a twenty-one-year-old philosophy major, and I was a twenty-seven-year-old grad school dropout. The professor had fallen ill, and the English department had let me sub in exchange for $3,333 dollars.
First day of teaching, you jotted down your phone number next to your name on my seating chart. The number also contained a series of threes. The letters were angular, confident. The mark of your pen almost ripped through the thin sheet before you.
I didn’t call right away, but I did begin to take each comma personally. You wrote about a town where it rained each day for six years. You wrote about a couple who existed in different dimensions of outer space. They kept falling in love over and over again until they woke up as each other. You wrote about how the universe was a hologram, and that we were all just shitty reflections of our invisible selves.
In Spanish, the word for deep space is espacio profundo. Isn’t that lovely?
My mom, Alma, named me Cielo so that I could feel limitless. Personally, I would have preferred she named me Black Hole or Aurora Borealis because I’ve always been drawn to the blankness of the night. She’s the one that liked space, not me, but since she’s been gone, all I’ve been looking for are signs and symbols that she did walk this earth alongside me.
It snowed winter to spring. I spent a lot of time not grading. Or not doing much of anything, if I’m being honest. Online, I found recordings of you from high school, back when you were a junior tennis all-star. I tried to decode the interviews, imagine what you ate for lunch that day. Repeating the words in my head: drop shot, tuna sandwich, number two fade. If we had been high school classmates, you would have been the hot guy who didn’t give me a second thought. I had flowered in later adulthood—like the universe had given us a chance to meet in the middle.
Boy, you could write the shit out of a sentence. Many of your pieces took place inside the same Moscow kitchen. Your characters smoked too much and never spoke in dialogue, then, the twist—how in the dusk, the velvet curtains painted the tile floors pink and it made you want to cry. I’d close my eyes to imagine the satiny wallpaper patterned with ostriches cracking out of gray shells.
By the time the snow had melted, I finally dialed your number. We went ice-skating in Schenley Park, and you made lazy figure eights as if you were born to do it.
“My parents were ice skaters,” you explained simply.
My mother is dead, I wanted to say. Instead, I cupped your hand in mine and we listened to the softness of snow falling off of cedars.
By the time the frost had melted off of crocuses, we finally had our movie moment in the laundry room of my apartment. Wedged in between two machines, I felt a darkness in me slowly spreading, rising and falling like a sine wave. A blurry phone number was written on the palm of your hand, the one you used to pull my hair back before it slipped through your fingers.
The dryer beeped. Wrapped in a hot fleece blanket, we exited the laundry room like two children on Christmas Eve. As we made it to the third floor, the lights flickered on: one, two, three, four. My door was unlocked, the windows wide open to let in the mystery and magic of Pittsburgh at midnight.
You took in my studio apartment thoughtfully, green eyes darting corner to corner, where I had color-coded all my things into artful nests on the floor with gaping holes in between.
“What, you moved in like, yesterday?”
“I’m still figuring out the feng shui.”
“It feels so temporary.”
You tilted my chin towards your face and counted my freckles. My curandera told me I got them from staring too hard at the moon after my mother died. Your hands on my face were the most intimate I had ever known. They traced over the grease burns on my wrists, which I got from working the fryer at Taco Bell in high school.
“Hey, have you eaten?” you asked.
“I haven’t gone grocery shopping. Since I moved in.”
You slid next to me on the floor, in a nest where everything was purple. “Well, tonight you are very lucky,” you said. “You’re having one perfect plum.”
You held the invisible fruit up to the naked bulb of my living room. We both admired it and you whispered stories of its deliciousness into my ear. I drifted off to sleep against the black nest, mostly made up of the contents of my heart.
Before you left, you looked out the window and into the empty parking lot across the street. There was a single star in the sky. I remembered that my mom had once said that the space station belonged in a museum of dreams that should not exist. I wondered if you had a beyond place too.
I’m on a train to Pittsburgh. Tree shadows carve rivets in my mother’s face, one with wide and familiar green eyes. An old ache consumes me.
We talk about what heaven looks like. She tells me that she doesn’t know. I’m alarmed until she says that it’s better not to know everything. She sounds wise, and I marvel at what I do not know. We talk about surrealism, space-time, the stargazing gene in corn snakes.
As the sky fades to black I realize that we are the only ones here, the sky a mess of red planets.
This phantasm ages with me. In sleep, it’s the only place I don’t feel suspended in time.
In my class, we repeated the word rhododendron over and over, as if we could glimpse the word before it took off, like a swan in flight. After, we tried a few more: strumpet, sunchoke, synesthesia. I had forty more minutes to fill. So, we took turns reading Andre Breton’s poems out loud.
“Madam.” You paused to look at me hard. “A pair of silk stockings.”
I didn’t hear the tail end of the poem.
Did you know that Venetia Burney, an eleven-year old, gave Pluto its name? After the Roman god of the underworld, with the peculiar talent of making himself invisible.
I ended class early and my students filed out of the classroom. You didn’t wait for them to leave as you stood over me, gripping the sides of my podium in a way that felt familiar. Rogue planets are not attached to any star.
“You teach us about writing,” you said, opening the door as if to leave. “What about living your truth?”
My truth was that I was actually a reluctant astrophysicist moonlighting as a writing teacher. My mother had died the year I was supposed to defend my thesis, so I said no thanks and dropped out of school. Then I crawled into myself and never came out.
You gave me your stories. I gave you your grades. You gave me your coat. I gave you my hand. Gemini. Pisces. Moscow. Texas.
I’ve beat my brains out over it: how did our stars align? What did we have to offer each other other than refuge? We were two meteors shining past each other, lighting the other’s path.
A renowned physicist once told me that most life events are due to chance. People thread the stories of their lives together because life is not nothing.
Once, when I was about your age, I tried to understand string theory by holding my pen up to the light. A dot, a line, a cube. I reached this nirvana—dimensions begged to be understood. I knew the fourth dimension would bite me in the ass one day, the spin that becomes more than a sum of its parts.
My last week of teaching, I got drunk with a saxophone player with kind eyes. After I grasped his collar and told him about your intonations in the words silk stockings, I ended up alone in a jazz club downtown. Gathering my purse, I began to head east, towards a bench that was not a bus stop. Murphy’s law, I stumbled headfirst into you.
You snapped my keys out of my hand and said a quick goodbye to the redhead from our class. After I got into your car, you sped down the icy freeway with animal grace. I could make out your fine lines drawn against the night. We drove through a tunnel carved through a mountain. Your car was littered with gym socks, beef jerky, and R&B cassette tapes. The music blasted through the speakers.
“I’m from Philly,” you said.
“I can tell.”
“Everybody knows about us.”
“Yes.” I said.
“How do you know?”
“Their stories have a lot of May-Decembers.”
“Are we in trouble?”
“I’ll deal with the dean later,” I said, not mentioning that I had put in my notice of resignation that morning. I wouldn’t get the last $333 dollars, we had agreed.
“Did you like my story?” You smiled, the lights of the tunnel whirring past, making your pupils seem deeper.
“I liked the scene with the herring in a fur coat,” I said. “What, in Russia all you ate were little salads?”
“If you live in Russia you better like mayonnaise,” you said. “And never-ending winter.”
“Like Narnia,” I said.
We came out the other end holding our breaths. If you know Pittsburgh, you’ll know the tunnel—when you’re submerged in the belly of the beast and then the skyline knocks you out cold. That night, it was one for the books.
You felt indestructible to me in that moment, among your mess and faded R&B.
Beyond the skyline and city limits was your home. I had imagined you above something ordinary like living in an apartment. I was dying to see your kitchen. Once you unlocked the door and we went inside, I was sobered by the mattress on the floor, a grease-speckled window, peeling red walls.
“You look about 1000 years old,” you said.
You looked so young.
“And you’re a Halley’s comet,” I said, leaning into your chest. You came into my life like a prayer. A blip later, and you’d be gone.
In that dim apartment, it dawned on me that my life was unspectacular. In my museum of dreams, the ghost of my mother followed me close. That black hole October when she died blew me right open like a kite and ended with a lifetime of me waiting for the train to come.
I ran into you many many years later, beneath a bridge with a highway rattling above us. The story that we told ourselves about each other a bold blot on the horizon. What came to me at that moment was the last story of yours that I ever read. You said to the woman with no food at her apartment: “inevitably, your skin was my autobiography.”
You were older now. Perhaps you never knew me, yet you traced the grease mark on my wrist before saying goodbye, and I felt a pang in my heart. The ice had melted, and spring had arrived.
“Godammit,” I said into the wind, thumbing my mittens against the railing. “We never could see each other clearly.”
The train passed overhead, and you were already gone. I have a fourth dimension, I wanted to shout after you. It’s pure as light, as sound, as song. Maybe I’ll write that on my gravestone. Grief, love, relative spacetime—it’s not linear. Back then, I had nothing to offer you except my sadness.
And maybe I am sorry. We write so that we can be seen, and because life is not nothing. That morning, the sun rose before a brilliant purple sky. I noticed when you turned away that your eyes were blue. I went to put flowers on my mother’s grave and buy a couch, a telescope, a tiny salad.
When I finally made it home, I frantically looked for my book on Andre Breton. Page 3.
Behind the Scenes of The Midwife/La Partera, with Julieta Corpus
The full transcript of the interview is below. It has been lightly edited for clarity:
Teresa Douglas (host) 0:07
Welcome to Latin x audio lit mag. I’m your host, Teresa Douglas. In today’s episode, we’re going to take a behind the scenes look at ‘The Midwife’ by Julieta Corpus. Julieta is a bilingual poet from Mexico whose work has been included in The Thing Itself and The Texas Poetry Calendar. Her latest literary contribution is a collection with poet Katie Hoerth and visual artist Corrine McCorkmack Whittmore, Borderland Mujeres published by Texas A&M Press, it will be available in the fall of 2021. Julieta Corpus’ first poetry collection Of Love and Departures/ De Amor Y Despedidas was published in June 2021 by E.M. Editoriales and is now available through Amazon. Of Love and Departures/ De Amor Y Despedidas is a bilingual poetry collection about grief and lamentation, after losing a spouse to cancer. Julieta currently works as a bilingual translator, editor, and a South Texas Community College adjunct with the English department.
Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.
I’m so happy to talk to you. I will just tell our listeners that when I first read this piece that you sent, it just knocked my socks off. I love the language. I love the wider world that is hinted at, in this piece. And it’s a privilege to get a behind-the-scenes look at how that came to be. But before we dive into that, I would love for our listeners to learn just a little bit more about you. For example, just how long have you been writing?
I have been writing since I was 11 years old in my native Spanish.
That’s amazing. And what did you write at that time?
At that time, I was writing silly, short poems to entertain my siblings. I would also illustrate them. And yeah, and that’s how I would spend my time my summers, in fact, just illustrating and writing.
So you’re a born story maker.
I was surrounded by storytellers. So how could I not?
Yeah. And I feel like that’s actually something. And I say this, knowing that everybody’s situation is different. But I feel that especially those of us who have who’ve grown up in the Latinx diaspora–those stories are just such a central piece of growing up.
So it sounds then that poetry is your first love. Is that exclusively what you write do you write other things? Or is this this where you feel your words really come together?
Well, yes, I can say that poetry was my first love. And it’s only of late that I have been delving into writing short stories. Because like I said, I grew up with storytellers. And my mom was a storyteller. What she talked about, it seemed to me at the time, was very fantastical. However, there were a lot of elements of realness in it. And so I’m trying to capture that in my short stories so that I can have that as my next publication, which will be Las Historias De Mi Madre/My Mother’s Stories.
That’s wonderful. And we can’t wait to see that. I know you have a piece that’s already out Of Love and Departures/De Amor Y Despedidas, a bilingual poetry collection. Why did you choose to do it as a bilingual collection?
I was born in Mexico, and I went to school in Mexico. So I came here in 1978, with my family. And since then, I somewhere along the line, I made a conscious decision to cultivate both languages so that I could have those two wells to draw from. I have been blessed in that sense–I have enriched my vocabulary in Spanish and in English, and have a bilingual brain with poetry. Well, sometimes the points come to me in Spanish, and sometimes they come to me in English. And so I just decided, why not have a bilingual poetry book, not to mention that I live in an area, Rio Grande Valley, Texas, South Texas, where the majority of the population is Latinos. And so I wanted, I wanted them to also read my poetry in my native language, which is Spanish.
And it’s beautiful. You sent some information in before and you said that the man and woman who were talking and laughing and loving in these pages shared poetry with each other.
That is probably the most romantic thing I’ve heard of in a very long time.
It’s very real. And it’s very true. This is a story of my love. This is my love story with my husband who passed away in 2011.
Sorry for his loss. It’s beautiful that you can find beauty even in the pain.
That’s something that is also almost, and I’m just gonna say this is inherently Latino, I believe it’s just part of us.
And I think it’s, it almost you’re forced to be that way just by the language. Just Spanish itself is so very poetic, really. And it lends itself to these kinds of things. So I will be looking for that collection. When is Borderland Mujeres out?
Borderland Mujeres has been pushed back because of the pandemic since this spring of 2021. And so right now we are given the October date as the month to see this book, to have this book in our hands. So we’re hoping that this happens.
Well, hopefully our listeners will find it soon. Let’s switch to talking about the piece that you actually sent in. And, and I wanted to just ask, can you walk us through the process that you went through for writing this? Was this something that just sort of showed up? Did you plan it? How did it come to be?
If I remember, or if I recall correctly, I believe my birthday was coming up just like it is now–I’m in my September birthday month. And so I grew up listening to the story about how I came into this world. And it was during the hurricane Beulah so my mom had stories, my dad had stories. And I wanted once again, going back to what I said earlier, I want to preserve these stories because I want to pass them on to my nieces and my nephews. That’s my wish for, you know, for this poetry for the short stories that I write. But yeah, I was just sitting around thinking about my birth and what my mom went through. And, yes, my mom did have a midwife, and her name was Daniela Lupita. I got this name from my dad because I, of course, I don’t think I ever asked my mom. But yeah, I just thought, not a short story, I thought I need to put this in a poem, poetry form. And so I sat down to write it. And it had to be from the midwife’s point of view.
And it’s, it’s funny you say it had to be a poem, because it’s also very much a story. It isn’t only images, although images can be very powerful. It’s, it’s this wider world, it’s this midwife who has things that she does, outside of birthing, babies. A life she is looking to rest from because it’s been hard at the beginning of this poem. She’s assisted in the passing of a life. And it is just so much there in such a short piece of work, that you can almost feel the community that is there, that this midwife is a part of. And I loved the way for example, we talk about traces of dried sage still emanate from skin and clothes. There’s the tequila shot. There, are all these things that happen in the story. But they don’t bog it down at all. We get we get to the birth, we get to this idea that the name of the child is not going to be Beula. And we’re left with hope. Even though the midwife is tired, and she’s weighed down by her responsibilities, this is a very hopeful story.
Yes. And I drew for this story. I drew from my own family’s background and the way I grew up, I grew up surrounded by healers. And so for me, it was a familiar sight, the sage, the candles, the holy water, the images of the saints on the altar. And I wanted to incorporate that into the form. Because this is what I had seen growing up. This is where the hilanderas lived, this is where the midwives lived, this is what they were surrounded by.
And so what, if any impression were you thinking of that you wanted the reader to have when they hear this story–and I keep calling it a story when it’s actually a poem—when they listen to it? What’s the image you want them to take away from it?
I would like for them to think of this as, like a cultural snapshot of what giving birth was like for low income–for the majority of the low-income women living in Mexico in the 1960s. That’s what I want them to, to come away with. Because there is a little bit of history there–Beulah is there. And again, back to the culture, we’re talking about the midwife and everything she was surrounded by. These are women that are not written about, you know, and yet they are such a huge part of a lot of our lives. Those of us who grew in Mexico.
And a silent part, if you look at culture and what’s written about.
it’s wonderful to see the humanity, their community.
You hit it on the nail when you talk to when you mentioned community, because this was one of the many colorful, and very much sought after characters in the barrio. You know, the midwife we knew her by name, her name was passed around to pregnant women, “-and so and so will be your midwife. Whenever you’re ready we’re gonna call so and so.” It was, it was a community. She was part of the family. In essence, she was my godmother.
Yeah, I mean, literally, they’re at the moment of your births.
Well, this is this is amazing. I thank you again for sharing, sharing this work, sharing the culture that is attached to this work. I do want to just ask, because you do have things coming out. Are there ways for people to keep track of your publications? Do you have Twitter or social anything that someone can check to see when your work comes out?
I’m more active in Facebook. They can find me on Facebook. That’s where I talk about my poetry events. That’s where I talk about publications workshops. Yeah, that’s the best place to find me.
Okay, so look up Julieta Corpus on Facebook. And you can see what else she has coming out. So listeners that’s where you go–that’s where I’m going after this episode. Thank you so much for coming and we really appreciated getting a little peek behind the curtain of your piece.
Thank you for the opportunity. It’s been delightful.
Today, September 13th is the official launch of LatinX Audio Lit Mag. If the trailer isn’t displaying for you, you can access it on Anchor and Spotify. Here is the full transcript of the trailer:
I grew up surrounded by stories. In my earliest memories, I’m sharing a chair with my mother at my grandpa’s dinner table, my aunts, uncles, and cousins crowded around, passing food and talking about work and life. My grandpa was a construction foreman during a time when Mexicans were only labourers. And the way he handled neighbours who didn’t want a Mexican family in “their” neighbourhood is the stuff of family legend. Those kitchen table stories were often funny, sometimes instructive, and like many LatinX families, the way we passed life lessons and culture to the next generation.
I’m your host, Teresa Douglas, and this is LatinX Audio Lit Mag. Every week we’ll serve delicious tales from the LatinX diaspora, and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the author behind the work. We saved you a chair at the table. What are you waiting for? Take a seat and let’s begin.