Where is the duende? Through the empty arch comes a windblowing relentlessly over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents; a wind that smells of baby’s spittle, crushed grass, and jellyfish veil, announcing the constant baptism of newly created things. Federica Garcia Lorca
It is just over a year ago since Dan and I were in Andalusia (Southern Spain)--a trip we’d planned for many years. It was a pilgrimage for both of us. Dan’s Sephardic Jewish ancestors called us. My dark eyed, dark haired grandmother, who left me her Spanish shawl, called us. The Golden Age of Spain, when Jews, Muslims, Christians lived together--mostly in harmony--influencing each other’s cultures, poetry and music--called us. The restless dead--those who suffered terrible deaths in the Auto da Fe of the Inquisition, or in the Spanish Civil War--called us. The ghost of Federico Garcia Lorca, the great Spanish poet who was murdered by the fascists in Granada, whose work has spoken to me as long as I’ve been writing poetry, called us.
Today the mail brought me a small poetry magazine, Visions International, which has published four of my poems from that trip to Spain. This is what calls me to write about Lorca, who sprang to life as my muse in Spain. I was reading Leslie Stainton’s fine biography, Lorca: A Dream of Life, all over Southern Spain; it helped me understand Lorca’s power over me. Stainton writes: “The poet’s mission, according to Lorca is ‘to animate...to give life’” Yes! “Metaphor, Lorca insisted, must give way to the hecho poético--the 'poetic event' a phenomenon at once illogical and incomprehensible, as miraculous as 'rain from the stars.'” Yes!
Lorca cuts through to the essence of image, to the immediacy of experience. He works to achieve those moments when something from the depths leaps to mind, breaking the rules of rationality, yet making a deeper kind of sense. In Lorca’s poetry, the conscious and the unconscious meet. This is what I’m after in my own poetry, but it is not easy. Lorca gives me courage and inspiration. The distinction he makes between metaphor and “poetic event” strikes to the heart of what I’m after both as a poet and a Jungian--felt experience that brings together body, soul and spirit, inner and outer, dream and waking life.
I remember standing in his bedroom in the lovely Lorca home outside of Granada--the Huerta de San Vicente. There were red, blue and yellow Moorish tiles on the floor, a tall palm outside his peaceful window. It was there--at his small wooden desk--that he sat and wrote. Over his bed hung a shrieking image of the Mater Dolorosa. Lorca carried within him that paradox--deep peace and great agony.
I saw the grand piano, and the Victrola on which Lorca is said to have played a recording of a Bach cantata over and over while working on “Blood Wedding.” Again, the tension of peace and agony. I remember white lilies on the table, and a portrait of his little sister Isabel playing the piano.
I mused over the distinction Lorca makes between the Muse and duende. “All that has black sounds has duende,” Lorca said. “These black sounds are the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that we all know and ignore, the mire that gives us the very substance of art.” For Lorca, the duende has everything to do with death. Spain is a country haunted by restless ghosts and their terrible deaths. But Lorca doesn’t think much of the muse. For him she is distant and tired; she doesn’t deal directly with the dead.
Not my muse! My inner landscape is haunted by restless ghosts and their terrible deaths, and the Sister from Below speaks directly from their realm. In my memoir, The Sister from Below, she appears as a ghastly Eurydice, a “ghostly wraith, a dark specter....Her dark eyes are black eye sockets." She describes herself as “the black hole, the void...the place of rot...the black earth of the soil being turned.” So you see, she is the mire of which Lorca spoke, the duende which blows “over the heads of the dead...smells of baby spittle, crushed grass...,” becomes the rich soil of poetry and deep song in which new life can grow.
Turning over the mire and the soil of my experiences in Spain when we were in Granada, I worked on a poem that had begun in Madrid. I hoped to evoke Lorca. It was difficult. I kept sliding into story when I wanted deep image--bitter root from Africa, incantatory Arab magic, duende. So I sat with my notebook, looking out a window at the luminous Alhambra, and called on Lorca to help me with the poem.
He turned out to be a charming ghost--said he loves visitors. He was also a very generous ghost. He lent me his tools: his gypsy knife (the courage to slash away at what is not essential), his Harlem feet (those jazz rhythms he heard in New York that break through expected beats) and his abracadabra tongue (the incantatory use of language--just this side of magic which casts spells, invokes gods or moods, calls up a dead poet).
Here is the poem my Lorca Muse helped me write:
FOR LORCA, ON THE BROKEN BACK OF HIS STORY
Always, always: garden of my agony… The blood of your veins in my mouth
Federico Garcia Lorca
Time has not washed you away, nor have the rains
In the Puerta del Sol, or sorrow’s brown river
They still dream you in Madrid, they feed you
apples and honey, but what of
The hungry mouth of your grave, what of
The silver coins that never found your eyes?
Eyes of the Guernica bull. Burning eyes
Of my ancestors in the Auto de Fe…
Feed me on pomegranate seeds. Long ago
You promised me, what Grandfather Goethe
Promised us both. Show me
The face of your death. Hand me
A basket of bone to gather the parts
I need— your gypsy knife, your Harlem feet
Your abracadabra tongue. Your blood sings
In my veins. Your roots grow in my belly. Time crushes
Your harvest, with purple feet. Time has not
Washed you away, nor have the rains
In the Puerta del Sol, nor sorrow’s brown river
(published in Visions International #85)