By Joseph Ross
My friend, Naomi Ayala is a magnificent poet and writer. She continues our series of reflections on hope with this beautiful essay and poem. Naomi is the author or Wild Animals on The Moon and This Side of Early. I hope her words embrace you and embrace me.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with
your one wild and precious life?
The Texture of Hope
In my world, some days, hope means what my dad says when faced with adversity, “It’s gonna take a helluva lot more than that to kill this Puerto Rican.” Others, the way his voice wavers and trails off on the phone after a bad morning of chemo and he’s weak and lost and, like a child, he gives in and just lets himself be loved. Or the way, when faced with any semblance of complaint or self-pity, my brother Reynaldo’s perfectly-timed “Things could always be harder…” jolts me.
Some days, it’s the cliché poem my mother would quote about how “success” may be around the corner, streaming through my resistant mind’s ear, and how quitting would turn you into the fool who never found out.
I come from a land where parents still name their daughters hope, Esperanza. As if this were the ultimate way to give hope form, to be reminded forever of what you want the lighthouse of your attention to be focused upon.
Hope is often thought of as mere wishful thinking, a desire based on fantasy. But this is only hope’s playful form, whose evil side is like the use of a drug to bolt us out of the present in denial of it, and whom insanity (doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result) can court.
In French, hope is espérance. Do the French or francophone name their children hope? The Latin roots of espérance (derived from espérer) are sperare (hope for; trust; look forward to) and spes (hope, anticipation, expectation; object, embodiment of hope). Hope embodies all of these and more. Hope is a spiritual grace.
For those of us who choose to live deliberately hope is an act of political resistance. It is that which opens the door. It is the birthplace of innovation and solutions-minded thinking. If every change must first be imagined, hope is the spark that sends the imagination off with the best of our experience, skills, abilities, gifts, and collaborative powers in a search for what will embody our desire.
What do I hope for? For years I found myself hoping to have the lives of others enrich mine always, to make me so human that I couldn’t contain any more and I’d be bits of star whose light burned long after I’d stopped burning. And so, still, I always hope to be able to “see” and to have poetry as my life-time companion in my seeing.
Recently, I was asked to write a poem for a spring 2011 exhibit in the District called Call and Response. Writers working in various genres are asked to write a piece in response to a theme, to which a visual artist will in turn respond in their medium. This year’s theme was texture.
They flit about
Over the empty shadowlands.
We concern ourselves with how we look.
But how are we looking?
Are our eyes the eyes of mindful intention?
Do they look
through anguish, greed?
I lie over my blanket
for our pelvic bowl pose,
remember the blue shawl
I wrapped myself in
for a sweat one winter
when my eyes craved
everything dark beneath the earth
and I kissed the ground
inside the lodge so I could breathe.
I remember the abuelitos
of my life,
how I could lose
myself inside their eyes,
how places in them
gave my soul refuge
and so my eyes grew
to look differently.
I remember the eyes of all the brown
people I bury mine in
on the bus to work
in the streets of my tiny
barrio turned development
host—the picking hands lifting pails,
the sight of cane and cotton in their eyes,
the stockrooms and factories,
the fortune-talking lottery lunch
over our barters of survival.
I pray for these eyes
that give my own
their way of looking,
that give my soul a window
for the air to come in.
©Naomi Ayala, 2010