Tejana Poet Carmen Tafolla: This River Here
There are so many Latina writers to read in the short time we have on this earth. This is just part of my literary bucket list: Sandra Cisneros, Isabel Allende, Judith Ortiz Coffer, Julia Alvarez, Denise Chavez, Ana Castillo, and definitely Carmen Tafolla.
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to interview Carmen Tafolla for an article on Qué Rica Vida about her amazing children’s book What Can You Do With A Paleta?
In the simple but lyrical children’s book, she painted a vibrant picture of the paleta man pushing his refrigerated cart down the streets of San Antonio, a welcome sight to neighborhood kids on scorching hot summer days. The tinkling little bell on the cart, the awe and indecision that the rainbow of paleta colors inspire, and that gusto with which the children slurped their treats – you can see it all.
It was the first work of hers I had ever read, but the beauty and heart that she poured onto the page, not to mention her loving approach to telling stories of San Antonio, won me over. Soon, I would rush to find her works – both those for children and those for adults – only to devour them the minute I got my hands on them.
San Antonio’s poet laureate has a definitive love for the city, it’s history, how its mixed bags of cultures and languages shapes locals’ identities. It’s the focus of her book of poetry This River Here: Poems of San Antonio. With the dedication page reading “para mi pueblo” it’s as much a love letter to her San Antonio, as it is a testament to the spirit of its people and this local culture.
Each poem paints a picture of old homes, Spanglish street signs, and of what it means to “co-exist, to bloom together,” as she writes in “San Anto’s Mezcla Magic”. Another beautiful poem is “Fragile Flames”.
Altares viejos of my path-warmed house
older than our prayers
light as sacred sunrays
rich as scarred and ancient wood
your votive one-day candles last
well-beyond twilight, stubborn miracles
on this inherited dark wool sarape
with stained and balding fringe
still tipping stripes of life’s
most painful, hopeful colors
Select poems are punctuated with historic photographs representing the time and place of which she writes. But Tafolla doesn’t bother with dates and figures in her poems instead she focuses on the emotional history of this place.
It’s a gorgeous book of poetry. Reading it on it’s own, readers might not be able to help falling in love with the city a little. But, when you hear the words as imagined by Carmen herself, you can’t help but become completely enamored by the poet herself.
Top image: screenshot via YouTube.