My Name is Olijandro by Poetry Lab

Or: Oli-JAN-dro, Oli-HAN-dro, Oli-HAND-dro, Oli-Oxen-Free, Olly olly oxen free, All ye, all ye 'outs' in free, alle alle auch sind frei

Dear Poetry Lab,

"I saw a Mexicanno offensefixing my friend’s dad's car" my neighbor said to me, despite my white skin. I don’t entirely remember her, but I remember it was often overcast. A gray tint to everything. She had blonde wavy hair and I remember the garage across the street was closed. All of the garages were always closed, except for ours. I started going by Alex in my second year of third grade. I would say "Aye dios mio" when I passed Santiago, the towering Mexican, because I wanted him to like me and know that I could speak Spanish too. Rumors were that he had been a child-soldier in El Salvador. At the time I didn't know that El Salvador had nothing to do with Mexico. Standing at the nickel-op pencil dispenser outside of the Kaiser School library, I got a black sparkle-covered pencil with orange stars that read "Alexander Was Great". That's how I remember it. I took the pencil to the librarian and told her I wanted to be called Alex. All of the adults in my school immediately embraced my transformation. Trans-racial. Overnight. Quick & easy. After that, Santiago scared me. 

Different forms of memory, from quora.com

Different forms of memory, from quora.com

"The parts of the nervous system involved in the processing of information in declarative memory (hippocampal formation and diencephalon) are different from those involved in non-declarative memory (striatum, cerebellum, and amygdala)."  – Mike Staks (1)

As Alex, my family and I became Mormons. My mom had been Mormon in Uruguay, but stopped following for her own reasons. It had something to do with the black shoeshine boy not being able to hold the priesthood. I guess that changed in 1978. We participated for 6 years, from when I was 9 years old to 15, because she felt we needed strong moral men in our lives. There are 3 things I can tell you about Mormonsthey really, really don't want you to masturbate; they believe that men and woman should exist in separate societies, though under a single roof; and they really don't think it’s wise for their young white men (with missionarying potential) to be raised by a single Hispanic Latina woman with a thick accent, despite her fair skin.

I dropped out of school in 9th grade, not because I am a loser, but because I wanted to go to Uruguay to finish my schooling, but I couldn't keep up. In Uruguay, they expected me to work hard for my grades. I wasn't interested in that. After two years, I came home, too old to finish high school. In fact, Mr. Manders, an administrator for a Newport-Mesa Unified School District satellite office said to me, "People like you go to Santa Ana College, not Orange Coast. You wouldn't do well there." We believed him. We assumed that SAC was better a set up for dropouts.

Information flows through the Hippocampal formation, from quora.com

Information flows through the Hippocampal formation, from quora.com

"The hippocampus is a crucial structure within the hippocampal formation consisting of dentate gyrus, hippocampus, and subiculum. This folded cortical structure is a threelayered region of cortex in the medial temporal lobes. All new sensory information destined for storage in memory is processed through the hippocampal formation."  –Mike Staks (1)

I became a dad at 19 to an amazing son, who today is 23. His mother made it clear that his middle name must be Alexander, not Alejandro. Because she didn't want him to have "issues." Ok. That's cool. I didn't really have issues with my name. 

"If nature can be regarded as indifferent, careless, and unconscionable, then human consciousness creates the possibility of questioning nature's ways. The emergence of human consciousness is associated with evolutionary developments in brain, behavior, and mind that ultimately lead to the creation of culture, radical novelty in the sweep of natural history.
How did the independent and rebellious mind develop? One can only speculate … the rebel [organic form] began to take human existence in new directions, some defiant, some accommodating, but all based on thinking through knowledge, mythical knowledge at first, scientific knowledge later, but knowledge nonetheless."   –Antonio Damasio, Self Comes To Mind 

"Thank god, a white guy."

"Your name is Alejandro?"

"Go back to your fucking country."

"Fucking beaner."

Uruguay isn't known for beans but meat and leather. I didn't really become aware of racism aimed at me until my mid 30s when I started driving a taxi in Orange County. How does identity work? Where is it stored in the brain? Of course memory contributes to identity. What affect do social subtleties have in how we see ourselves? How we react to further subtitles. How long do these subtle affects last? 

 

Love,

Alejandro


(1) www.quora.com/Human-Memory/How-are-memories-stored-and-retrieved-in-the-human-brain


Alejandro Duarte is a devoted father to four. He works with developmentally disabled adults through the Goodwill of Orange County. In the past, Alejandro has been a cab driver, a furniture designer, and a production manager in the fashion industry. Originally from Costa Mesa, CA, Alex lived sometime in Montevideo, Uruguay. Today, he is an active member of the Poetry Lab in Long Beach, CA, and the Poetry Salon, in Culver City, CA. His poems have appeared in TAYO Literary Magazine, Gutters & Alleyways, and theUnrorean, among others. Currently, he is working on a collection of poems called TaxiFly.

Poetry & Sketching in the Shadow of the Giant Trees by Poetry Lab

DEAR POETRY LAB,

July has been incredible. I had lunch with Sequoias for five days. The giant trees don't talk, but if you listen, you can hear the Douglass squirrels eat the meat from the cones. I didn't listen. Instead, I sat with my wife and daughters. We wrote poems. They made art with watercolor. And we discussed the park's natural history.

Q: What is it to suffer?

A: Vipariṇāmadukkha is to suffer.

Pāli was developed at a time before the people of the Ganges valley invented spaces. For this reason they ran their words together. Or perhaps they were hesitant to let go of their endings. Which is what this word for suffering means after all and I suppose that means the girls will soon not be girls. But women. Perhaps in their own homes.

Each morning at Poetry & Sketching in the Shadow of the Giant Trees began with a walk and informative talk on animal life, geology, and this area in history. We saw a mother bear and two cubs make their way through Big Tree Meadow where the Kaweah sought to chop the trees down in order to build their own utopian society. General Sherman is the largest known living single stem tree on Earth. Though the Kaweah had named it Karl Marx. Where are the Kaweah today? Perhaps it was too soon for them.

Vipariṇāmadukkha is the suffering you create for yourself when you don't want things to change. When you want five days under the Sierra-Nevadan night to continue showing its Milky Way. We sat on Beetle Rock, seemingly a million miles from home, two million from Fresno’s farms where attached to the sky a lovely agrochemical assault. It was Thursday. We were asked to stay another night. Though exhausting, it was a beautiful invitation. We stayed two. We spent our last day at the stream below Wolverton Service Camp. The clouds covered with a mix of blue and gray. The girls played in the cooling water. Marika sunburned. I read. We came back home through thunder and lightning. Then rain.

In the end I finally understood what John Brantingham meant by The Green of Sunset, and I thanked him for organizing such an incredible experience.

Q: What is it to suffer?

A: Saṃkhāradukkha is to suffer.

Saṃkhāradukkha is the discussion about gender pronouns I had once I returned from the Sequoias with the teens at the LGBTQ Center. In late July I began teaching a poetry class as a volunteer in the Center’s youth program. The gender pronouns discussion was a pre-class introduction between the youths and I that was supposed to engage them for the class. I thought it was a great discussion. The kids schooled me. I was as ready and willing to learn from them as I hoped they were from me, but it turns out that our discussion lead to a struggle among the teens, and 19 out 22 students didn't return.

On the day of my poetry class 6 out of the 9 teens that showed up left before the session ended. Turns out that saṃkhāradukkha is to suffer when one's expectations are missed. I missed mine. But, they do want me to go back.

Q: What is it to suffer?

A: Dukkhadukkha is to suffer.

Dukkhadukkha is the buddhist word for the pain we create for ourselves when we are hurting. Dukkha- is the first arrow; -dukkha is the second. Dukkha- is the fire scourge that climbs ankles to calves on a steep mountain incline at approximately 7,634 feet of elevation. -dukkha is the imbalanced wheel that turns the mind against itself. -dukkha is the question of survival and failure asked on the incline before you have even finished. -dukkha is the craving to quit. To hide. To forever turn back because you are hurting right now. Dukkha- is watching the teens leave before you finish. -dukkha is damning myself for their leaving.

I can't do anything about Dukkha-, but for -dukkha, there can be the non-attachment to my expectations.

With every form of -dukkha there is the opportunity to make changes and alter your approach. For me, at the end of August, I will change how I work with the teens. Instead of trying to teach them poetry, which I don’t think is what they want at the moment, I will simply try to share my love of poetry with them. Meanwhile, I will listen to them. If they are willing to put what they say on paper, I’ll discuss it with them.

In July, my family and I wrote together about the Sun's rise and fall and Fresno's beautiful chemical glow. We earned our junior ranger park badges and the girls are junior cave scientists now. We connected. We fell apart. We connected. I look forward to the next adventure.

Love,

Alejandro


Alejandro Duarte is a devoted father to four. He works with developmentally disabled adults through the Goodwill of Orange County. In the past, Alejandro has been a cab driver, a furniture designer, and a production manager in the fashion industry. Originally from Costa Mesa, CA, Alex lived sometime in Montevideo, Uruguay. Today, he is an active member of the Poetry Lab in Long Beach, CA, and the Poetry Salon, in Culver City, CA. His poems have appeared in TAYO Literary Magazine, Gutters & Alleyways, and the Unrorean, among others. Currently, he is working on a collection of poems called TaxiFly.


 
 

Open Letter on My Blogging Goals by Poetry Lab

Dear Poetry Lab, 

In the past few years of playing with words, I have learned so much and still know so little. I began with screenplays and fiction, but when I was ready for a different sort of beautiful, you introduced me to a spectrum of colors, shapes, and sizes that I never before imagined could exist. I showed you love poems as personal expression and you showed me the scope and complexity of our alphabet. 

You asked me, "why limit yourself?" 
I responded with the ever juvenile "I don't know."

I have heard the exquisitely inaudible call of so many, but not enough voices. As Brendan Constantine once said, "Language infests your brain like a viral infection that has no cure." This infection has run deep through my own limbic system. I have invited it into my hypothalamus, my hippocampus, my amygdala, and throughout my autonomic nervous system. Where I most deeply feel. And I will continue cutting away until the immunity is completely gone:

after Brendan

Alejandro Duarte

He drew fingers like claws across his own scalp 
from brow to back, eyes damned in hue 
Language is a virus of the mind he said 
When it takes 
                         it takes everything.

Poetry Lab, you have gifted me with so many beautiful scars, I have given each a different name. Here are a few :

Carolyn Forché
Rigoberto González
Tyehimba Jess
Danielle Mitchell
Danez Smith

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to place some of my own thoughts among yours. Consider each post a love letter between poetry and the neurology of why, as I explore the 7 Emotional Systems of the Human Brain: 

SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, LUST, CARE, GRIEF, and PLAY

Between poetry and the astrophysics of when the 4 Fundamental Forces made us who we are: 

GRAVITATION, ELECTROMAGNETISM, THE WEAK, and THE STRONG

Between poetry and the 4 Natural Truths of secular Buddhism that describe how we can develop our minds and come to understand the beauty and intricacies of the human condition: 

to understand WHAT SUFFERING is
to understand HOW WE CAUSE OUR OWN SUFFERING
to understand that to ELIMINATE THE CAUSE OF SUFFERING is to eliminate the suffering
to understand how to SUSTAIN MINDFUL EQUANIMITY

...Poetry Lab, this is how we will eliminate that which causes us to suffer.

Love,
Alejandro


Alejandro Duarte is a devoted father to four. He works with developmentally disabled adults through the Goodwill of Orange County. In the past, Alejandro has been a cab driver, a furniture designer, and a production manager in the fashion industry. Originally from Costa Mesa, CA, Alex lived sometime in Montevideo, Uruguay. Today, he is an active member of the Poetry Lab in Long Beach, CA, and the Poetry Salon, in Culver City, CA. His poems have appeared in TAYO Literary Magazine, Gutters & Alleyways, and the Unrorean, among others. Currently, he is working on a collection of poems called TaxiFly.