Domingos Pereira Coelho – Art Coelho ©
As a poet I sing and honor my own family just like I do everything else when art inspires me directly from life’s experiences. I am always encouraged to follow my Azorean roots. It’s the discovery element in our destiny that spurs us on towards knowing more about where we have come from…because we are always going and being reborn.
One of the reasons I write poetry and short stories, even novels about my ancestors and my immediate family is I know them very well when intimacy’s ambiance comes shining through our blood ties of fifty generations, including my sixteenth grandparents Pedro Correa, Capitão da Ilha Graciosa, and his wife Izeu perestrelo de Mendonça. Through this couple my genealogy links me to Charlmagne, Hugh Carpet, and Ferdinand I of Leon de Castile.
What fleshes out my family is being able to absorb firsthand what makes them saudade tick, and how their personalities have influenced my own by tradition. It is this showering of words and mirror-imaging of who they are that gives me the gifts of their thought, how they feel today and long ago and all of this leads to an immediate and intimate texture of how they evolved as they lived their lives on our island archipelago. I get to gather up in spirit tribute poem-songs of what their work and dreams accomplished as basket maker, whaler, immigrant, farmer, mechanic, folksinger and artist, hairdresser, trucker, young man of sorrows, housewife; and yes of course all of them as my family heroes.
I feel like I’d met before my Great Grandpa Domingos Pereira Coelho from Santa Luzia, Pico Island. I say this because I’ve visited his old earthquake shaken basalt house a short distance behind the Pereira Café in his village. It’s sad because it’ll never be restored and was the only ancestral home sold outside of my four island families.
One of my Grandpa’s brothers stayed behind for some reason. And under mysterious reasons, my Coelho cousins still living there don’t know why their grandfather took the last name of Silva. I joke about it to them, saying you changed your name to Silva so the rabbit in you, the coelho, can hide behind the bush and be safe from any and all harm.
My Great Grandpa Domingos gave me a wonderful unexpected gift when my Grandpa Francisco sent his father to Fresno County for a year. I thought I only had two photographs of Domingos; one of him alone, and another with part of his family in a formal portrait. Formal for Pico Island at the time because they just put up a dark curtain outside between two stick poles as the cameraman’s backdrop. But recently and without me knowing it my first cousin Janice had a lot more of our old family photos taken in San Joaquin Valley of Central California at the time of my great grandfather’s visit. In amongst these I found my third photo of Domingos standing in between two sons; and even my father born in 1912, here at ten years old is present.
Always the little memories we do have of our ancestors are precious and treasured. And of course to be able to have enough material to write about Domingos in a poem is the best way I know how to understand this blood-on-blood kinship, which for me is a real hands-on heritage I love and respect. That’s why I did the painting of my Great Grandpa Domingos. Because to make him a part of my art is to know him more intimately by shaping the features of his face with island colors in the background. I mean to give back my inheritance to him directly for what he did and for what oral history has preserved; there is no deeper satisfaction for a great grandson than this.
The Basket Maker
for Domingos Pereira Coelho
The sea talks to us
in nightly links of sound,
bashing her rude fingers
against the torrents of tide.
We sleep sticky
as two cagarros
dipped in maple syrup.
But there are charities
to living in a fish shack
cottage where solitude
makes history and this
ancient basalt rock-house
of lava offers the ambiance
of the ocean’s girth;
and the plumes in waves rise
to speak and salt spray
a familiar language
of kale patch and almost
forgotten blood-ties lost
in my Grandpa’s immigration.
Here the bold outline
of Pico Mountain teaches us
to add our isolation to the sky;
and a shoreline reappears at
Great Grandfather’s summer house;
this trail leads to old gnarled
limbs and still ripening fig trees;
his grape vineyards and his adega
where he made brandy and wine-
it holds all the secrets of laughter
together for a great-grandson listening,
hearing again the new bottles filling
to the brim out of pride for the past.
And smiles from songs Domingos once sang
in that other time of sailing schooners
now burning up through my pant legs
and down to my sandals the paternal side-
where the heritage of fields were sold
and the whale-hunting stopped at Cais.
The boys of Domingos left,
stealing away with youth and
reaching the span of the Golden Gate;
four except for Manuel-his death
hurled from a Crow’s Nest
when harpoon canoes were at their best.
California remained that strange
place Domingos visited only once,
bored stiff on son Francisco’s dairy farm;
the tule cattail blades that he gathered
at the slough bottom wouldn’t bind together.
There was nothing here for his fingers,
a great sin for a village man who made
his livelihood happen through his hands.
My Grandpa Francisco refused to let
his father return to Santa Luzia.
He’d paid his Atlantic passage
and longing rolled its dice
to spend more time with him.
So Old Domingos was forced
to stay six more terrible months
with saudade thick in his throat-
a lifetime to him away from home.
Domingos hated this foggy plain,
this furnace of summer dust-devils,
this Valley of the San Joaquin;
he told stories about it at Cabrito-
how he was marooned and lonesome
with no dry vines to tie, with no
baskets to weave in the evening sun
and without the shadow of Pico on his back;
without his good fishing buddies
and watching his grandsons swim;
all his companheiros grande
and nips of amora and águardente,
and without boats filled with congrel
coming to shore each morning
everything seemed against him.
Oh Jesus how he thanked God when
his life’s dream was given back;
and his heart soaring to Pico Pequeno
just from knowing he’s home
and his hands so busy with
his working fingers saying Amen;
he found his old glory as a man
witnessing his new wine baskets
selling in Arcos and Madalena again.
Art Coelho poet, novelist, painter, and 7 Buffaloes Press publisher(Rural & Working Class Literature), lives in Big Timber, Montana, but grew up rural on two family farms in Fresno County’s Central California. His grandparents immigrated from The Azores. Art is currently writing two Diaspora novels. 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.
NOTE: Painting of Domingos Coelho by Art Coelho
P.O. Box 249, Big Timber, Montana 59011