1048: You & the Donkey Cart

20240124 SD

1048: You & the Donkey Cart


MAJOR: This fall, I spoke with listeners at the Twin Cities Book Festival about the place of poetry in their lives. This week, we’re sharing their stories.

MARGARET: My name's Margaret Hasse, uh, rhymes with Lassie, and I live right here in St. Paul, Minnesota.

MAJOR: So you like puns?

MARGARET: Well, I like things that rhyme sometimes, even though, that helps with memory. We all are bustling around and our minds jumbled and going into so many different directions that I think you only find peace and depth in a life when you do slow down. And as many people have said, including Mary Oliver, to pay attention. We're born to pay attention to the world. I'm a, I'm a writer and I taught for many years at the Loft Literary Center and then I taught in prisons and now I have an online freelance group that registers and I, I teach by Zoom. Zoom is my room now. My mother liked poetry very much and read to me when I'm, when I was young. So I, I feel I was destined to love poetry. I loved her voice. I loved her. And the choices that she made to read aloud were really extraordinary, a great variety. So, I was an English major then, of course, and went on for my master's degree in English. So that's how I came to write, was when I was very young. I started writing poetry in high school and college. And I guess a lot of people write when they're young and they, they stop. But I never stopped. Everybody has a voice and that we, we, we deserve, each human being deserves to, have explored that voice and bring it, bring it to themselves first of all, and then to others if they want to form a small, a supportive community.

MYKA: This is Slowdown producer Myka Kielbon.

I think that poems carry us. But we all carry so much. I mean, I’ve moved thousands of miles all around the country and I’m somehow still dragging around a two dollar kitchen knife I bought at Daiso five years ago. To quell my complaining about having only that knife (or, to clean out the basement), my mother just gave me a knife set that belonged to her grandmother. And now, I carry that too.

We carry stories, also, across our individual realities. And, like our listener, Margaret said, we carry our family stories, our habits and practices. They live across generations, across borders and across seas. What we carry is often what brings us to poetry, what makes up our poems.

Today’s poem understands the weight of the burden, but knows, too, that it’s the source of our stories.

You & the Donkey Cart
by Rosa Alcalá

You had  in your cart  a disease  that needed  pulling.  You had a  musical of 
drunk uncles  that  slept  piled  on  each other  all morning.  In  your  cart,  a 
crate  of  Dollar Store  epiphanies that  kept slipping  through  the slats.   A
few did  and  set up  shop.  You had  a work ethic and  an  American  Dream, 
because  someone said they were yours and you could keep them.  Buried 
beneath were seaweed and sand from the shores of an arrival. Also, a torn 
sail  and oranges, por si  las moscas.  You had  girlhood,  its  peel-off polish. 
And your  tiny mother,  recovered  from the  railroad tracks  where  she was 
miming  a  silent  movie  among the  dope addicts.  But  with  no  donkey  to
beat forward  with  a stick,  you pulled  the cart  to gatherings  found in  the 
calendar  of events  and did  a  little jig,  which they  took for  flamenco.  You 
found yourself  a poet,  a painter,  who flexed  their concepts  but were too 
lazy  to carry  the load.  Never did  they offer  so much as an  ode or portrait
as compensation  for  the ride.  Though  you got to  the next town  and the 
next,  you never thought to dump  the cart’s contents and walk,  your body 
the only burden.

“You & the Donkey Cart” by Rosa Alcalá from YOU © 2024 Rosa Alcalá. Used by permission of Coffee House Press.