By Patricia Carragon
We travel by train, boat, plane, car, or on foot. In Poems from Argentina, David Francis shows us another way—by poetry, in four segments—Tucumán, Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata and Honeymoon Hitchhike. But this is not an ordinary travelogue that details superficial expectations and experiences of tourists from the United States. This is an independent traveler’s journal; a modern-day troubadour traveling deeper into the daily throes of a country at war with the United Kingdom back in the early 80’s. Mr. Francis, a poet and singer-songwriter, writes about the tensions he saw and sensed in the Argentinean people, even while doing the most mundane tasks. Being a poet, he has empathy. His poems are conduits for a nation’s sorrow. Yet at the same time, his personal life experiences discord, making it difficult to balance the pressure, giving credence and flavor to his work.
In his first poem “A Window in front of the Mountain,” Mr. Francis picks up on foreboding karma in the atmosphere.
A window in front of the mountain
but from that window you cannot see
the mountain . . . Clouds themselves like
towels fray and mildew, are impure
because the air is not a vacuum.
Even the cypresses will not last but
turn to sticks, a slight discolored
stain on the grass.
He sets the metaphoric tone for his stories to unravel. War is waging, and Argentina is dealing with a military dictatorship. You can’t see the mountain in front of you. Clouds aren’t pure, and the cypresses will die. Nature in pain like its inhabitants.
In “A Rainy Night,” fear is everywhere and grips the people of Tucumán.
but the wires are black
but then forms start to emerge
sharing no umbrella they hurry across
the street to one of their houses
leaving behind a house with no lights
then – the shadow of the inside of a kitchen
on a neighboring house – a face in silhouette –
in the darkness a horrible white face –
then nothing – back to bed
We move on to the section called Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires, famous for the tango and its European architecture and culture, has its dark side. In “Apology for the Seamen,” we read about how sailors react to the city.
There is a logical reason
seamen are so gray and bored and
redundant and their endless card
games have the insensitive traveler’s
There are certain calls they won’t
answer and ports they wouldn’t
go to if you gave them a million
dollars. They are tired of
meeting begging children on the
first land they see.
And in “Drops Falling after a Downpour,” the author is miserable in his hotel room. He writes:
Stick my head
out the window
from our hotel room
into the alley
with a bad smell
the drops falling
in my hand
The author, like the sailors, impoverished children, and nature itself, lives in the ever-present gloom encompassing the city and nation. As you read on, the balconies get darker, rain becomes incessant currents, and the author goes deeper into battle with himself. An old man nods to something Mr. Francis fears.
Mr. Francis takes us to Mar del Plata, a section where he writes his truth behind a pretty postcard seaside resort. He is lonely and sees that he is not alone as we learn in “Mirror of Loneliness.”
The loneliest rooms facing the sea
the opposite of what people say
the sea is a mirror of loneliness . . .
. . . and an old man walks his dog
runs him across the street
then takes off the leash
and sets him free
on the beach
and the man picks up the bread
for the birds and throws it
and the little dog ignores him
for a sand castle
The ocean in “The Sea Is Peaceful” tends to be calming but to the author, its rhythmic tides synchronize with the flow of soldiers marching off to the Falklands War.
oh we say the sea
but it’s just an expression
the sea is peaceful
but always, always
old waves rolling
young men marching,
Lastly, in Honeymoon Hitchhike, Mr. Francis and his bride travel through a myriad of landscapes, ranging from hills, pampas, deserts, to the southernmost tip of Argentina. This final chapter does end on a more hopeful note.
We feel the iciness of “A Wall in Río Gallegos.”
Woman in black walking along the white wall,
holding her purse tightly as though in a stall,
ignoring the signs advertising the city
as though they were so much graffiti,
huddling in the chill of the South . . .
. . . I had seen her before proudly enter the café
as the men froze their dice and glowered her way:
what made her move to this cold town
like a black rose by a sudden snow weighed down?
And his final poem “Ushuaia” almost sums up Mr. Francis’ Argentinean adventure.
the shadow of the stovepipe
on the snow is like a toadstool
but neither the frozen wires
nor the frozen antenna
that balances like a cat
have shadows or reflections
and the reason is
buried things have no reflection
and the snow buries
even the clouds
sometimes even the stars
However, there are reasons for hope, since the chill and bleakness of snow and sorrow are temporary in the last stanza.
A twisted tree
on the side of a hill
and behind a yellow falling torrent
and bushes with orange thorns
stranded on streaked snow
sea gulls congregate on an isthmus
and cows listen
strange buds start reddening
one ahead of the others
in the distance
To summarize, Poems from Argentina is a traveler’s journal set to poetry. With his troubadour poet wisdom and vision, David Francis delves into the depths of situations, going beyond his world to understand nature and the Argentinean people, while watching history take another ugly step into the future.
Patricia Carragon’s debut novel, Angel Fire, is from Alien Buddha Press and her latest book from Poets Wear Prada is Meowku. Patricia hosts Brownstone Poets and is the editor-in-chief of its annual anthology. She is an executive editor for Home Planet News Online. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. For more information about Ms. Carragon and her reading series, www.brownstonepoets.blogspot.com and at patriciacarragon8.wordpress.com