Poetry Sunday: Miguel Hernandez’s A Man-Eating Knife

A few days ago, self went to downtown Palo Alto, to Landmark Aquarius on Emerson, to watch Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers. Penelope Cruz is excellent as always. A gamine young actress named Milena Smit is a real scene-stealer.

In honor of the film’s subject, she’s quoting from Miguel Hernandez’s A Man-Eating Knife (in a translation by Don Share)

Where can I be
that I will not find loss?
Your destiny is the beach,
my calling is the sea.

Miguel Hernandez died in a Spanish prison at the age of thirty-one. Below, an excerpt from Octavio Paz’s Remember That Voice, written in memory of Hernandez from Mexico City, November 1942. The translation is by Eliot Weinberger.

Miguel Hernandez has died in prison in the village where he was born. He has died alone in a hostile Spain, the enemy of a Spain where he spent his youth, the antagonist of a Spain that rang out with his generosity. Let others curse his torturers, let others study and analyze his poetry. I want to remember him as he was.

I first saw him in 1937, singing Spanish folk songs. He had a deep voice, somewhat ragged, somewhat like an innocent animal: he sounded like the countryside, like a low echo in the valleys, like a stone falling into a ravine.

Instructions to Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, Leader of an Expedition to the Philippines

Preserving Legazpi’s life was a top priority. Yet, as the instructions went on to observe, “all of us are at the mercy of death.” An ironclad procedure was therefore in place for such an eventuality. No second-in-command had been named. Bitter experience had shown that designating a successor could incite rivalries, mutinies, and murder. Instead, Legazpi’s replacement was to remain unknown until the time of his death, when the survivors would be permitted to look in the commander’s cabin for a steel coffer “of about one palm in length and one hand and two fingers in width.” This hidden box, “nailed shut and wrapped in cloth with three royal seals, contained a piece of paper with the name of the substitute commander. Should this person die, too, a second steel coffer, slightly smaller than the first but similarly closed, wrapped, and with three royal seals, bore the name of the third person in the line of command. The identities of the two replacements were wholly unknown to the expeditionaries — including Legazpi and the two chosen successors themselves. Now we know that the first (and surprising) replacement was the once treasonous military commander Mateo del Sauz . . .

Conquering the Pacific, pp. 77 – 78

These names were probably (self assumes) decided by Philip II himself?

It’s a good thing Mateo del Sauz didn’t know he would take over command if something happened to Legazpi!

Stay tuned.

Sentence of the Day: from a Letter by Don Pedro de Acuña, Governor General of the Philippines, Manila, 1608

Apologies, dear blog readers, self’s veering between the Philippines in 1600 and Grimdark must be causing whiplash!

Anyhoo, here is the Sentence of the Day, from Blair & Robertson’s A History of the Philippine Islands, vol. 14:

Letter from Governor General Don Pedro de Acuña to the Viceroy of Nueva España:

  • Since the Spaniards are a sensible and prudent people, we must therefore be grieved for having slain so many people, and repent thereof.

After reading which, self can only say, Hell’s Bells. The “so many people” slain — indios, right?

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Obssessed with Origins

Domingo Salazar, who built the Manila Cathedral, received his assignment (from the Pope Himself) in 1579. He was from Salamanca.

Self has been to Spain only once. She went to Mojacar. Then, Dearest Mum got herself invited to give a concert in Madrid (at the Philippine Embassy), while self was in the middle of an artists residency, and like a dutiful daughter, she left her residency early, took a nine-hour bus trip to Madrid, stayed with Dearest Mum a week, and left Spain, never to return. She remembers the artists in residence with her: there were some amazing painters. She never forgot. They accompanied her to the bus stop. She must have said something about returning to complete the rest of her residency, but she never did. Like an endless foghorn, this pattern repeats. She was supposed to go to Belfast, several years ago, was about 60 miles away, when she got urgently called to Manila, for . . . umm. It’s hard to explain, it seemed like a terribly urgent thing.

Madrid was 1996. You think you have all this time, and then you have no time (Amazingly, it was then that she started being very interested in writing about 16th century Spain!)

What does she remember of that week? The Museo del Prado. El Greco. The broad, leafy avenues. Uh. Dearest Mum’s concert. Of course.

She cannot believe how much time has elapsed, but she feels like exactly the same person. Only, if she were to go back to Spain (like next year, or whenever COVID disappears, maybe never), she would definitely, given what she’s just read, make it a point to go to Salamanca.

Domingo Salazar, First Bishop of Manila.

P.S. One of the painters she met at Mojacar was Eizo Sakata. He gave her two of his sketches (one of the flat-topped mountain across the plains from their artists residence). Had them both framed and they are hanging now in her little house.

Stay tuned.

Work-in-Progress: Blue Water, Distant Shores

In which self’s MC, a feckless guy from Murcia named Matias, confesses to the local Abbott that he has suddenly been struck by “the call.” Year: 1764.

Abbott: You have never evinced interest.

Matias: Can one not be struck by the desire? It came to me suddenly.

Abbott: When?

Matias: After the recent flood.

Abbott: I see.

Matias: I was afraid. I promised Saint Anne I would enter the priesthood if she but stopped the wind from howling.

That is one of the passages self happens to really like, whether or not it is historically accurate.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

A Cousin’s Farm, Oliva Dos, near the town of Murcia in the Central Philippines

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Near Murcia, Negros Occidental, the Philippines

dscn2901

Path cleared for a tractor, Oliva Dos, near Murcia

Self lived the first 20 years of her life without knowing there was another Murcia. In Spain.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

New Books for the Reading List

Stanford professors, the editors of Stanford University Press and Bing Overseas Study Program staff were asked to recommend books for summer reading and they came up with some interesting titles:

Books To Shift Your Perspective

  • An Act of Terror, by André Brink
  • Sometimes a Great Notion, by Ken Kesey
  • The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
  • Hadji Murad, by Leo Tolstoy
  • Stoner, by John Williams
  • The Removes, by Tatjana Soli
  • Teacher: Two Years in the Mississippi Delta, by Michael Copperman
  • Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult, by Bruce Handy

Books on Globality and Migration

  • Brother, I’m Dying, by Edwidge Danticat
  • Signs Preceding the End of the World, by Yuri Herrera

Books for Travelers to:

Australia

  • In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson and Ellen Titlebaum

China

  • Age of Ambitions: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, by Evan Osnos

Germany

  • Memories of a Nation, by Neil MacGregor
  • The Reluctant Meister: How Germany’s Past is Shaping Its European Future, by Stephen Green

Italy

  • The Italians, by John Hooper

Japan

  • A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Animé, Zen and the Tea Ceremony, by Hector Garcia

Cape Town, South Africa

  • Keeper of the Kumm, by Sylvia Vollenhoven

Spain

  • The New Spaniards, by John Hooper

The Priest in Murcia (1730)

Self struggles to give her main character, Matias, a backstory. So that he does not just show up in the Philippines ready with his demon-fighting abilities.

The parts set in Murcia (Why Murcia? Because on self’s island in the Philippines, her family’s land is near the town of Murcia. Someone from Murcia, Spain, obviously, came to the island, felt homesick, started a mission, and gave the adjoining community the name of his hometown in Spain)

So, back to Murcia, Spain. Self begins with the marriage (arranged) between Matias’s parents.

Doña Francisca’s family crest depicts the Cross of Calvary on a checkerboard pattern of yellow, white, and black. Don Rodrigo’s — well, there is no family crest. No matter. He possesses wealth.

Francisca’s dowry includes land on the south bank of the Segura. It is this land, coming into the possession of Matias’s father, that starts him on the path towards social standing and great material wealth. Eventually, he devises his own crest: a golden salamander on a deep red background.

He was in the light, now. Everyone looked at him with something resembling awe.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Opening Sentence, Work-In-Progress: Blue Water, Distant Shores (Working Title)

Backstory: A young Spanish priest makes it to the Philippines. His assigned task: fighting demons. It is 1755.

The old servant woman who greeted Matias at the door led him into a tiled foyer in which were aligned three austere-looking chairs of soot-black wood.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Re-Reading: THE LESSONS, by Joanne Diaz (Silverfish Review Press)

Excerpt from Granada

To be so far from oxtail stew, sardines
in garlic sauce, blood oranges in pails
along the avenida, midday heat
wetting necks and wrists; to be so stuck
in stone-thick ice and clouds and recall
the pomegranate we shared, its hardened peel,
the translucent membrane gently parting
seed from luscious crimson seed, albedo
soft beneath bald rind, acid juice
running down our fingers, knuckles, palms,
the mild chap of our lips from mist and flesh;


  • Joanne Diaz received her MFA from New York University, where she was a New York Times Fellow, and her PhD in English literature from Northwestern University. She is the recipient of writing fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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