1045: Sonnet for Ochún

1045: Sonnet for Ochún

1045: Sonnet for Ochún


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Last year, I traveled to multiple book festivals in Portland, Miami, and the Twin Cities to promote Razzle Dazzle. The climate of live music, food trucks, and books is the far side of my solitary life at my desk. Wherever large numbers of readers gather in one place, I feel the exhilaration of being a writer.

Next to independent bookstores (shout out to Open Books in Seattle, Parnassus in Nashville, and Northshire Books in Manchester, VT), festivals are where I make the deep plunge to support poets. I hope you do, too! I typically pack an extra bag for books I’ll purchase and have signed by my favorite authors. And, I’m lucky to get to share the stage with a few of them. Last year, I relished soulful conversations with Ross Gay, Jane Hirshfield, Kerri Miller, Tracy K. Smith, and Matthew Zapruder. In the green room, over cans of sparkling water, we catch up with each other; we applaud each other’s achievements and inquire about family and latest projects.

And, maybe even more importantly, there is that celebratory atmosphere, gaining insights on a range of topics, the exaltation of books and authors. The thoughtful public conversations feel like democracy at its best. I smile, give hugs and daps.

But then, I feel this dissonance between my public self and the “me” on the page. Sometimes, I find it difficult to navigate my persona as a poet and the very real emotional context out of which my poems emerge: a demanding work schedule, the dictates of parenting and being a life partner, my frustration at the headlines, the intensity of war, the impact of conflict on our collective wellbeing, and a rising intolerance for a diversity of public opinions. At the end of a festival day, I am exhausted. I try to take advantage of the relaxing environment such trips occasion. If there is any glamor to finding some success as a writer, it is in a spa-like tub in a hotel, away from the worries of existence.

In today’s poem, I hear a shared melancholy, a world-weariness where the edges of life fail to offer answers. Yet, I detect, too, in the presence of a deity, the transits and rituals of hope and renewal.

Sonnet for Ochún
by Leslie Sainz

After my left arm I washed my right, neck, décolletage,
and navel. I ate ground meat with large crystals of imported salt.
The women and men who would stroke my hair if I asked, 
I thought of them fondly then sadly. At the flea market,
what I touched with a fingernail was a copper lamp, a mundane
painting of mountains, the cashier’s hum. I bought nothing I didn’t 
want. In the cul-de-sac, I found clouds on leashes, loose roosters.
I thought thoughts ugly as clothespins. Reading a used book,
I suspected I knew less about death than the last person who held it.
I spat into a mirrored sink. I lost my slippers and face. To feel more
like water, I drank it. Before bed, I walked my plank of uncertainties
and plunged further into uncertainty. Am I capturing all of history
in this gesture? I shouted into the future. In the wet air of the future,
I could have but never appeared. No one was sorry but me.

"Sonnet for Ochún" by Leslie Sainz from HAVE YOU BEEN LONG ENOUGH AT TABLE, © 2023 Leslie Sainz. Used by permission of Tin House.