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By Dionisio D. Martínez

For Ana Menendez

It only takes one night with the wind on its knees

to imagine Carl Sandburg unfolding

a map of Chicago, puzzled, then walking the wrong way.


The lines on his face are hard to read. I alternate

between the tv, where a plastic surgeon is claiming

that every facial expression causes wrinkles, and


the newspaper. I picture the surgeon reading the lines

on Sandburg’s face, lines that would’ve made more sense

if the poet had been, say, a tree growing


in a wind orchard. Maybe he simply smiled too much.

I’m reading about the All-Star game, thinking

that maybe Sandburg saw the White Sox of 1919.

 


. . .


I love American newspapers, the way each section

is folded independently and believes it owns

the world. There’s this brief item in the inter-


national pages: the Chinese government has posted

signs in Tiananmen Square, forbidding laughter.

I’m sure the plastic surgeon would approve, he’d say


the Chinese will look young much longer, their faces

unnaturally smooth, but what I see (although

no photograph accompanies the story) is laughter


bursting inside them. I go back to the sports section

and a closeup of a rookie in mid-swing, his face

keeping all the wrong emotions in check.

 

. . .


When I read I bite my lower lip, a habit

the plastic surgeon would probably call

cosmetic heresy because it accelerates the aging


process. I think of Carl Sandburg and the White Sox;

I think of wind in Tiananmen Square, how a country

deprived of laughter ages invisibly; I think


of the Great Walls of North America, each of them

a grip on some outfield like a rookie’s hands

around a bat when the wind is against him; I bite


my lower lip again; I want to learn

to think in American, to believe that a headline

is a fact and all stories are suspect.


Notes:

The epigraph of this poem was originally omitted in the changeover to the new website. Because of this, reciting the epigraph is optional for the 2019-2020 Poetry Out Loud season.

Dionisio D. Martínez, “Hysteria” from Bad Alchemy. Copyright © 1995 by Dionisio D. Martinez. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Bad Alchemy (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1995)

  • Activities
  • Arts & Sciences
  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Dionisio D. Martínez
Dionisio D. Martínez was born in Havana, Cuba and now makes his home in Tampa, Florida. Although Martinez never received a formal college education, his poetry has been hailed as original and contemporary, and he has been called a “formidable talent.” He has been awarded fellowships by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Whiting Foundation.

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