UNITED STATES—A striking invitation was sent out by Miriam, the girlfriend of Dave America who engineered the trip to Madrid to present our bilingual anthology, “80 mph.” When we arrived at the literary bar in the Malasana neighborhood Thursday night, we were greeted by a mood different from that which met us at Tuesday night’s story reading. The place was humming with warm energy. Miriam’s impressive invitation had brought out a crowd.
Voices surged, bottled clinked, and the tables had clusters of people sitting around. Lucilla, girlfriend of the poet Oscar Noviembre, was there with Miriam. At another table were some cousins who were scrutinizing, by the light of table candles Patricio’s first poetry collection, also named 80 mph, like our literary anthology. I met a high school Spanish teacher, also an author, and his wife. Both were keenly interested in 80 mph.
We began technically late, but at the right time. People were good and ready from chatting and drinking beer and wine. It was a formidable group seated befor the mikes: Juan David, the Colombian filmmaker from New York, who brought the perspective of translating a group of very idiomatic American stories to Spanish. Poet and and editor in chief of 80 mph, Patricio Maya Solis.
I was nervous for Oscar Noviembre, the poet whose friends know him only as a friend. Tonight would be the debut of his poetry, and even more dangerous still, it would be the first time he would ever speak in public.
I got to speak about the process of translating Oscar’s poems to English and got to thank the poet for finding words, images and feelings that flowed easily into English.
A sidelight: eight months earlier I had bundled up a copy of my first novel, which bore the same title as Oscar’s poem, “Invierno en el infierno.” What a coincidence that Oscar wrote a poem with the same title as my first novel. The copy of the book made the long postal journey from Hollywood to Madrid and back because it was addressed incorrectly. In a way, this mishap opened me to travel and gave me fuel to complete this unfinished mission of delivery.
Oscar read with youth and passion–they are carnal poems. The right words were already in poems such as “Opportunity Number Three Hundred” and “Winter in Hell,” and he found the right words to speak about himself. I was proud and relieved. Oscar was as well. (He later confided that he practiced reading for two weeks before the event).
Patricio spoke of the inception of the anthology one night in Pasadena and dawned the idea that we are still very much in the Old West and also in the heart of the long lost Spanish provinces.
At the end of our presentation, there was a tidal wave of the sound that comes from many hands being spanked together. Dave America rushed up and said to me, “You made them laugh.” That meant a lot–that we threw off the mantle of seriousness. Everyone rushed up.
I was drunk on the wave of applause and the sprinklings of laughter. We did it. In that warm intense afterglow I was presented to the publisher of a magazine, and a quiet young woman was next to him. I turned to her and asked her name.
She was aghast: I could see how her face crumbled. I made the mistake of asking her name–she thought I was on drugs. In a way I was, the drug of meeting a million people and feeling their love. But I had forgotten about her. She sat beside me during a drive to downtown Madrid, she had opened the upstairs guest quarters my first night in Madrid, and created the flier for our publishing event.
The look on Miriam’s face after I asked her name is a souvenir I shall always carry from Madrid. It shall ever serve as a corrective to the excesses of fame.
To be continued…