Saturday, September 13, 2003

Orlando Ricardo Menes - South Bend, IN

Orlando's beautiful wife Ibis is 8 months, 3 weeks pregnant when I arrive in South Bend. This has been on my mind for the days that have led up to this part of the trip. I'm very grateful for the chance to meet and interview Orlando, but do not want my hurried and cacophonic visit to initiate childbirth during the interview. Should my beaming bald head and affable presence start proceedings later on, while I'm safely on the Interstate, then so be it. You had to know this was going to happen sometime!

The house is bustling with their daughter, with Ibis's mother, and yet another sweet dog. I'm sure this dog has a name, but my ability to recall events, places, names, etc. has completely lost me as I enter the final 24 hours of this trip. So, sweet dog in the Menes home, I'm afraid you will not get your due in this forum, but your kindness is noted all the same.

We visit over rich, dark coffee, cookies and cakes, then go down to the basement to Orlando's study. Books line both long walls on black bookshelves. Two lamps and a tiny ceiling height window provide the lighting. His laptop sits on a wide desk, and it's blinking throughout the conversation...what's happening, I keep thinking...information coming in or going out? It's a metaphor for my visits to all these poets. I come in, I download a lot of info, and I race out again, already trying to work the info into something else again to go on these pages.

While we talk, Orlando points out paintings by the Cuban born 19th century painter Valentin Sanz Carta, and a book of photos called Havana 1933 by photograph Walker Evans (famous for his depression-era photos of American farm workers). These are among some of the sources of inspiration that have fueled poems in the past. But nothing has fed Orlando's work more than what he calls the "mythic" Cuba of his youth, not a place where he lived, but the home of his family. Born in Peru, then relocated to a rich and lively Cuban neighborhood in Miami, Orlando learned to love Cuba through the refractive filters of his family. When he writes about this place, it's a sort of Cuba twice removed, a place that comes to be the poetic Cuba, a Cuba formed by those who know it and love it a variety of ways.

To add another filter to the work, Orlando first started to really write about his "homeland" while peering out a window in Chicago, Illinois, while working toward his Ph.D. And now, in Indiana, his work has continued to plumb places from his past, including Peru, where he was born and where he lived until he was ten years old.

As always, the visit is over before it gets started. I have other questions, other lines of thought, but Orlando has given me much to think about, and much to add to the growing repository of information about poets and their places.

We go to the backyard, squeezing past a porch full of toys that his daughter will have to share with the soon-arriving son. We shoot a few photos, and he walks me out to the truck. I think to myself, the baby can come now.