Although drive-ins never gained much popularity here, Mexico always had its own version of cinemas-on-wheels, what could be called drive-outs. With more screens than all the multiplex cinemas together, and with a captive audience of millions of viewers per month, movies screened on buses were an important point of distribution for low-budget Mexican movies for decades. In the early 90s, on a bus ride from Mexico City to Tlaxcala, I saw the curvaceous Rosa Gloria Chagoyán kick butt in Lola la trailera (Lola the Truck Driver), one of the highest grossing films of the era and classic cine de carretera. On a trip down to Oaxaca, I got to see La India María, Mexico’s indigenous Charlie Chaplin, in Ni de aquí ni de allá (Not From Here, Not From There), the misadventures of a campesina traveling by bus to the US border.
It made perfect sense that Mexican buses, the most popular means of transport in the country, showed working-class, regionally produced movies on-board. Not only did these movies represent the lifestyle of the largest segment of the population, the ones who most traveled by mass transportation, but these movie often had scenes shot in buses or on highways, a perfect way to promote this form of transport to a huge captive audience.
Death really is the manifestation of the ordinary to everyone except the griever. Barthes’s experience of looking at the Winter Garden image cannot be reproduced because his loss cannot be reproduced. If by merely looking at Henriette as a child we could feel what Barthes feels, grief would be translatable in a way that anyone who has grieved knows it is certainly not. Barthes describes looking through the many photographs of his mother as a “Sisyphean labour” whereby he finds himself “straining toward the essence” of her. He draws an analogy between this straining and having dreams of his mother— she is always there, but never quite. He dreams of her, but he does not dream her. The distinction might seem arbitrary, but it is not. He always falls short with this straining until he comes upon the Winter Garden image. The labour of mourning is much like this way of looking. We push the heft of our grief interminably upward and just when we think there might be some respite, or a pause in our loss, it rolls all the way back down and our mourning becomes as fresh as ever.
Having said all this about short stories and novels, we must recognize that poetry also requires revision. And there is no end to how often a poem must be revised. Meter, rhyme, rhythm, diction, alliteration, assonance, consonance, parallels and opposites, meaning and cartoons, caesurae, formal and free verse, past, present, future, the speaker and the poet (who may be one or two), the universal “we,” the particular “I,” even the aggressive “you,” line breaks, stanza breaks . . . for a longer list, check out Aristotle’s. Each line must be knitted with patience and with the broader subject in mind. Each line must be unified by technique. Yet technique is not the whole of what is wanted. You want the poem to dance, sing, praise, acknowledge, grieve, sigh, console, express alarm, express surprise, express peace, enlighten, disturb, recall, and, well, just and. A short poem can contain the world. A long poem can inspect the world. Poems have to be written with love. Otherwise, they may turn slightly stale or even rotten. The poem must not preach. Silly poems are good only if they are really, really good, and some are. Poems, in general, are about — dare I say it? I do — freedom. All the restrictions, all the knitting and sewing, all the punctuation is about making a thing that flies freely into the sky and the canon.
The more I worked on listening and looking at Walcott’s poetry, the more love I found for a poet I once resented. His lack of humility, something I’d originally misinterpreted as arrogance, became a form of resistance. I found his language choices unexpected and the images he presented familiar, but made new through his language.