Nemir Matos-Cintrón’s collection “Aliens in NYC,” has been circulating on line for several years in its PDF form (PDF no longer available now). In fact, some of the poems even appeared on Facebook. Between 2009 and 2010, several events concurred to launch Matos-Cintrón’s work into this just released publication. In the winter of 2009, I published an edition of Nemir’s book: “El libro de la muerte” and “La pequeña muerte” as a chapbook in Puerto Rico. The edition was meant as a Christmas gift to Nemir from me. My motive was dual: to convince this remarkable poet that she still had a place to reclaim in literature and to bring to light, at least among a group of friends, poets and critics, these poems centered on a personal loss for Nemir: friends of hers who had died of AIDS. A few of the poems of “El libro…”had appeared individually but never as a collection. Carlos Rodríguez, that extraordinary poet and friend, had published what is to me the first collection of poems in both English and Spanish on this subject by Latin@as in the USA. Carlos released the anthology, POESIDA, in 1997. Some of the poems of “El libro de la muerte” had appeared there. Rodriguez had also organized a special session on the poetry of Nemir at the Puerto Rican Studies Association meeting in 2008.
Once my chapbook gift was given and copies shared, Yolanda Fundora decided to do a second edition of the ovarian book: “Las mujeres no hablan así,” from 1981. Fundora’s new edition, under the newly revitalized Editorial Atabex that had seen the publication of Nemir’s first two collections, was published just in time for Nemir’s appearance at the Festival de la palabra in 2010. Mayra Santos Febres has always been an admirer of Nemir’s work and had included a quote from one of her collections in her novel “Selena Sirena”.
The first copies of the new edition of “Las mujeres…”were distributed freely to the members of the group Omoerótica at the homage titled: “Labiosas” that they prepared in honor of Nemir and me. At the Festival de la palabra, Matos-Cintrón undoubtedly reclaimed her place once again in island literature. The younger generation of poets had now access to her best known work that had long been out of print.
Fundora’s success with the new edition of “Las mujeres…” led to a new project: an edition of “Aliens in NYC”. For that, both Nemir and Fundora requested that I write an introduction to the collection given that I had published in Wikipedia, with the aid of Larry La Fountain, an essay on Nemir’s biography and contributions to Latin American Literature. The result of this “trifecta” effort has just appeared this month of March, 2011 again in Atabex.
Some years ago, I had written about the theme of the immigrant writer as it dealt with Isabel Allende. At that time, I related how a story of Allende became a tool for my own survival. The poems in this collection, “Aliens in New York City”, written between 1996 and 2000 brought me back to the subject of exile. In the case of this collection, the poems are powerful vignettes crafted with mastery in which Matos Cintrón delves into the daily lives of those who inhabit the city but the city sets them in a double exile: separation from their homelands and alienation.
I had the honor of translating one of the poems from the “A través” collection from 1981, in which Matos, in exile in the city of Syracuse, New York, writes about the Onondagas, six Native American nations gathered in the outskirts of that city. I quote from the poem:
“Chief of Six Indian nations reduced to a dull and wretched dance offering in the epicenter of the city”
That poem, renamed now in translation by me as “Six Nations,” leads the path to this new collection: “Aliens in New York City”. The locus of the poems remains the same—the subject of exile within the nation— but now amplified to include migrants to New York City who also live in reservations of a different kind—small corners of the city where they are reduced to gutters of the soul. Just as the Onondaga in her poem from 1981 offered their dance to the city of Syracuse, the migrants in this collection offer their food, their labor, their music and, yes, their love making in a ritual set to sustain the value of an identity that wants to be crushed by those “mainstreamers” who have a sense of entitlement towards anything that carries a USA tag, be the tag real of metaphoric.
I will give a gist of this collection for the readers. The poem: “Marcelino No Bread No Wine”, poeticizes the true story of a Salvadorian man. A worker dies under the freeway of Glenn Cove in Long Island when no one comes to his rescue. The title of the poem alludes to another famous song from the Spanish film from 1955 by Sorozábal. The poem contrasts the death of the migrant with the opulence of the neighborhood where it takes place: “home of the Morgans, the Woolworth’s and the Pratt’s, / the “true Americans.” There was no bread or wine for the “wailing sound of a man crying like an abandoned baby” while the Salvadorian, Ecuadorian and Nicaraguan domestics, illegal aliens, not only from their homelands but within the affluence in which they toil away, could not “nurse to sleep” this fellow comrade. The poignant lyrics by Sorozábal: “Sueña, sueña, Marcelino, ya llegó tu despertar”, sound as a backdrop to me as a reader since the awakening of Marcelino in the poem and in the real life tragedy is to death on a freeway and an end to his American dream.
Reader comments for this new collection appear from Gay Writers Daniel Torres and Luis (Bronco) Castro. Alma Simounet, a professor at UPR, also endorses the collection with her comments. I do not wish to spill the beans on the poetic gems in this collection but I do urge the readers of Diálogo to place their orders through Editorial Atabex or Lulu.com.
“Aliens in NYC” is a magnificent collection for those of us interested in the subject of exile and it adds a new dimension to the subject, the multilayered lives of body and mind of those who migrate. Matos Cintrón shows in this collection that she is a relevant artist populating the decades of this new Millennium with much to teach and much to offer on migrant history and American literature and culture.
It’s been three days of moon
and the woodland of the reservation blazes,
six nations reduced to the valley of Onondaga.
Three days of moon scorching the forest
even as the tender daughters dance in the city
the ritual song of the Moccasins, an imaginary rest between the battles
against the pale faces.
In the ancient region of the eagle and the tiger
it’s been three days of burning forests in oblivion
while in the city,
where the original fountains of incandescent gold no longer flow,
the chieftain recounts the legend of the vain young woman
whose face was erased one day by the gods.
Chief of Six Indian nations now reduced
to a dull and wretched dance offering in the epicenter of the city
under the reflecting lights, where your triple image soars
to the region where petrified torrents of sun once flowed ,
while the forest seethes in the reservation.
Nemir Matos Cintron (Translated by Luzma Umpierre)
*The author is a Puerto Rican Poet, Scholar, Human Rights Advocate
Nota aclaratoria: Este texto fue editado a petición de la autora el 15 de diciembre de 2011: "Carlos Rodriguez's presentation of Ms.Matos Cintron occurred not at the MLA but at the Puerto Rican Studies Association meeting in 2008. Unfortunately, I had relied on the poet's memory and not done that particular research. I apologize. Carlos Rodriguez and others on the island were always inclusive of Ms. Matos. She certainly does not owe anything to anyone but herself. As I said in a public note "Yo fui solo la nota rota que completo el arpegio de dos grandes poetas": one of the word(Ms.Matos-Cintron) and another one from the poetry of art(Yolanda V. Fundora). My profound gratitude to Dialogo for allowing me to correct accuracy."