Brazilian Notebook: Incomprehensible Ocean
May 16, 2012
After Michaux (Ecuador: A Travel Journal): What is this name of this tree lining the beach, waxy open fists of leaves and briquets of green fruit. What is the name of that boat? Single sail, boxy hull, huge wooden rudder where the stern man navigates in the calm space separating the sand beach from the marine thoroughfare where the queue of behemoth cargo ships and tankers head for the loading booms and siphons in the city’s port, lined up like milk cows waiting to come into the barn. The small boat — not a panga, dhou, pirogue. I’m looking for what Michaux called “the faithful gong of the word,” one of the simple hungers of travel that accompany me.
Today we met with students and teachers at Universidade Federal do Ceará, this northeastern state in Brazil which was described to us as the poorest region in the nation. Federal and state public universities here are free. It’s not easy to get in. But it can be a ticket out of a neighborhood so dangerous a college student will not go outside after dark. They stayed in the auditorium for over two hours, asking questions about writing and racism and violence and The Hunger Games. They were eager for the conversation about contemporary literature and so were we, feeling that joy, as one young man described to me, that although we came for such differing circumstances we could feel alike for certain things in the world. He’d lost a friend, an old woman who had loved butterflies. He missed her but had found in one of my poems that connection, sweet and sad, come close into memory. They asked about influences and I mentioned Elizabeth Bishop and her many years of living in Brazil. The professors said she was in the Brazilian canon, which was thrilling to hear.