Azorean Immigrant Rites of Passage
for Eugénia Botelho
Some things immigration can’t buy,
and it’s too precious to leave behind;
it’s found in the necessary lapse
between what heritage gives
and what the future mines
farther down the line.
When you leave an Old World
where centuries you were blessed
with ox carts and spewing whale crests,
when you find something so crude
in the New World
it makes you want to explode
like your nakedness unexpectedly exposed-
it’s time to deal with a smuggler’s gem.
The tears that come when leaving family
they have to be balanced by something
as strong as grace and tenderness combined.
And there is something the expectant voyager
wants to take into this unknown land,
but how to conceal it from
the wary customs official’s cold eyes
where transplants are taboo as confessional lies.
Where can you get the courage for the humble sense
of what is truly sacred in culture,
in what’s ordinary in our daily lives;
and where taste buds are always gifted with surprise?
So, in a primitive rural sacrament
the immigrant swallows the passion fruit seeds
to preserve his intimate traditions from dying.
These fruit seeds are his insurance
that his ancient blood can rest in peace.
He engulfs them down his gullet
in a lava-hewed black basalt house
and washes it down with aged adega wine.
Then lets nature takes its course
like the heart doing its duty with a smile.
His wife, Maria, must take them deep
into her gut as well; and during
their sleep on jet flight 1279
with passion fruit seeds now in midair;
and their treasure of way-of-life value
hidden safe from those of the outside world
who are trained never to be blind.
The fine art of duping U.S. Customs
when the passion seeds are colon sealed,
then wrapped time immemorial the old natural way.
José waits for that perfect moment
when things are settled
and the secret has its birth;
and gathering these seeds in solitude’s moment,
this rare São Jorge vintage from the bowels-
oh it waits for fresh garden topsoil
in an America rich in hope
and keen for gifted labor;
and in a fajã man’s hands
it finds its gloriousness true
where deep satisfaction is the clue
in just knowing how the old culture survives;
and its blessing again is renewed in staying alive.
Azorean Immigrant Rites of Passage
I dedicated, Azorean Immigrant Rites of Passage, to Eugénia Botelho because the transmission of a poet’s soul is the common people and their everyday labors. Eugénia told me a simple immigration story and planted the seed that poetry evolves from and grows into when it finds its best possible creative light. First something happens before it becomes art; and for me in my rural work my responsibility begins with these Azorean roots and Azorean traditions, which are for all of us perpetual passion seeds. Fruit from our sweat is given for every talent we possess as a people. And the artist is most worthy of his culture when he has the ability to make cultural heroes out of farmers, fisherman, and women who make history through their brave deeds and not just for baking sweetbread at Festa time. Miranda Pereira, lady of the bulls at the Bay of Salga, you can go ahead of me through the gate of exceptional courage any time.
Reverence for our ancient traditions is the cream of our Azorean soul. And tradition says our future is what we preserve today, not only through the hardships we face, but the extremes we will go through to make the tiniest part of our culture survive tomorrow. We often have to fight to keep our past alive in our new adopted country because our old way of life is insignificant to those in the New World, but our ancient traditions are like sacraments to us and will always be treasured because millenniums have proved the salt in them was worthy of our spirit. Tradition is something in our blood that will never be forgotten; and just as blood is thicker than water, our spirit is a much more individual and the most intimate way of seeing the accumulation of our greatest gifts as a people realized. Tradition reminds us every day when we wake up that no matter how much time passes, the smallest labors for our heritage when lost will be deeply mourned. Too often to count tradition says to us that even something ordinary in our lives is often worthy of history.
That’s why the heart of my poem’s inspiration in, Azorean Immigration Rites of Passage, spills its blood from the inside out of passion’s seeds. It is this act of transplanting our traditions that creates the boldness of our pride’s stride; it also makes up for our Portuguese soul a uniqueness of why we survive; and this struggle not to forget the many ways that surface in the honest pride of our people…call it Azorean! I’ve seen some of our greatest victories perpetuated in our methods of working by hand and that have lasted through time. I’ve seen the centuries of the Luso accomplishments the same way I watch and listen to the mill wheel hauling water up to be put in motion to grind the wheat and separate the chaff. Are not our drops of sweat chaff too, doesn’t the simplicity of our labor make bounty out of our most magnificent gem of all, which is the jewel of our humility.
Yes, labor and vision make heritage; and culture is dead without its humble side. Heritage shows us the necessity of who we are and how we take care of our deepest feelings. They are the milk and honey of what we take with us when we immigrate for a better life. And if we don’t take care of what we leave behind, we will never know how rich we were when we face the future, when we risk going blind by not respecting who we once were. And if all that richness in the New World can somehow blend with what we bring from the old are struggles seem worthy of our risks. But I have seen with my own eyes how a watered-down culture in a new land is losing too much of its soul for any one person to endure without an inward fight. It is not only the betterment of our economic situation that makes us who we are; it is the keeping of our history alive in everyday life and the spirit of its uniqueness when our being Azorean continues to flow into its grand flux.
P.O. Box 249, Big Timber, Montana 59011