Fron Latin America – Coteau (1982)
In the late 1970s Dennis Gruending traveled alone for nine months in Latin America. Gringo is a journey of discovery, told with the reporter’s careful eye for detail and a poet’s feeling for the nuances of the heart.
Out of print. Available from the author
Gruending’s language is vivid but restrained. The poems are accessible and powerful; the journal entries are self-mocking and informed by an eye for irony.“ Vancouver Province.
Introductory Diary Entry
For years Latin America had beckoned. A teacher from my boarding school went to Brazil as a missionary, and I recall how we clustered around his car, a hundred boys tense with excitement as he left. Later he sent me letters saying that South America might become the next Viet Nam.
While modern colonizers levelled Amazon forests and leaned from airplanes to shoot Indians, I went to university in a prairie city and later made the obligatory trip to Europe. I returned, graduated, took a job, fell in love, took a better job, bought a house. Seldom did I think about the love and torture being committed in the south.
My mother and father began to die. I was filled with grief and became a stranger to everyone I knew. Then suddenly it was over. My parents dead. A near marriage of five years lost. An empty house. A stumbling man being helped by friends he had neglected. I felt compelled to break with the past; to do something dramatic; to place myself at risk.
I had begun to write poetry. I began to read it again: Unborn Things, Patrick Lane’s book about Latin America; Earle Birney’s poems about the “sunflowering women” of Tehuantepec; Eli Mandel’s description of Intihuana, the “hitching post of the sun,” where the Incas tried to stop the sun in its solstice so it would not leave them in darkness.
I found Neruda in translation, his treasurehouse of detail and imagination about Chile and all of Latin America. I became acquainted with Chileans who arrived in Canada after the coup that killed Allende and destroyed the country. I felt close to them in a politically instinctive way, but knew little in detail about the continent which Eduardo Galeano calls the “region of open veins.”
I gave notice at work and packed my bags.
You Send Feathers
You send feathers from Canada
to ride dreams like white-backed gulls
listen to what birds say
read the flowers.
I see high stone walls
topped with hedges of blue bougainvillaea
and chunks of broken glass in concrete
to protect the parrot
complaining in his cage.
My nights are bruised
by the din of dogs fighting over cans
in dark alleys where stones
break the ground like teeth.
There are boys in heavy black boots
who ride the backs of trucks
and point guns at the sky.
I dream blue mountains leaning over us
morning streets, hands patting the corn flour
children snug in rebozos, women braiding hair
and men carrying machetes to a harvest of flowers.