Saudade by Art Coelho ©
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.
Art Coelho poet, novelist, painter, and 7 Buffaloes Press Publisher (Rural & Working Class Literature), lives in Big Timber, Montana. His grandparents emigrated from the Azores. Art Coelho has written three Diaspora novels: The Dream and the Wooden Shoe; The Americanization of Antônio; and Papa’s Dairy. Two of Coelho’s cataloged exhibitions, “To The Azores and Back Again: In Poetry & Painting” and “Twice Removed: An Exhibit of Portuguese-American Artists” (April 11-June 27, 2009), shown at the Boston Public Library, received a NEH grant. Art Coelho’s ten-year gypsy period included a work, “My Own Brand,” in the Macmillan anthology Traveling America with Today’s Poets. A short story, “My First Kill” was selected for Fiction 100, a Prentice-Hall university textbook. Coelho won the Pushcart Prize in 1976 with the poem “Like a Good Unknown Poet.”
(Originally published in RTPComunidades – January 2010)