I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
March 1, 2019: Mario Chard
Thumbing through the special section in Poets & Writers, Jan-Feb 2019, on debut poets and inspiration, I came across Mario Chard. The article said he lived in Atlanta and taught at an independent high school. Well, I grew up in Atlanta and went to an independent high school. And yes, it turned out to be the same one.
Mario is “a poet of borderlands.” In the article, he said he started out wanting to write poems “about migration, war, parenthood and childhood. But without authority beyond attention or observation.” It’s the second clause that makes his work so strong, his reliance on what he can observe as the highest authority.
I once asked Pam Houston what she looked for in a poem, and she replied, “To be unsettled.” Which is exactly how I feel reading his poem “Machismo.” It gives me chills every time.
Refugio from Mexico is not Mexico,
nor is every man who makes other men small
in the convex mirror of his buckle
Refugio, who turned his daughter gold
in the mirror of his own—the last world unknowable
to Refugio—the night he carried her out of Mexico
before the war to give her Mexico
before the war, before a man named refuge
in his native tongue could be hung from an overpass in the sun
for something smaller than his buckle:
the figures of the men unmade inside it,
the thousands vanished in its glass.
Robert Pinsky selected Land of Fire for the Tupolo Press’s 2016 Dorset Prize. The poem that serves as a sort of prologue for the book begins, “We make a thing we marvel / and learn to worry.”
Like “Machismo,” many of these poems tell stories. The following excerpt is from “Mistake.”
The father laughed; the Board followed.
The room of parents broke
I keep that sound like the words I offer
no one; buried stones I find weeding
the garden; the word my young
son speaks who finds me there, points
to sweat on my forehead, says water.
The book unearths a longing for names, and we follow a thread from “Renditions,”
What is your name? they said.
I am nameless I said.
Yes they said.
… to “Coax,” where “it was always language I was after. Names.”
…and then to “Austral,”
Name for what we never name above:
Far south. Farther. Land of light
that goes out slow. Land of
prisons without doors. Land of fire.
Even Mario’s acknowledgments are poetry.
To my family, from this country to el fin del mundo. To those who live in these poems: my parents and my siblings. To my sons–there are clues here if you search for them. And to Wendy, for our life together, and how we once stood like the nameless who first brought her young / to the shore, / looked down into the water, / shapeless: city / without form.
Mario grew up in a northern Utah mountain valley, the son of an Argentine immigrant mother and an American father. When he was young, he had an obsession with ordering maps from all over the country. But these days, he wants us to look for patterns in small things, in the things we pass over, and then open our eyes wider.
Read how MARIO CHARD spends his days.