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Dean Rader


How to Buy a Gun in Havana

First, never say the word gun.
           Or pistolero or buy.

Talk instead about platanos. And smile.
           You'll know the bodega;

it's the one in Los Sitios with the wooden
           parrot clipped to the wire on

the left side of the door. When the wind
           springs up off the sidewalk,

the parrot bobs slightly, banging its crimson
           head against the building's wooden slats.

Go inside. On the far wall above the shelves
           of candles and tilty stacks of shirts,

you'll see the blackboard. It's the
           same in every store: an inventory

of frijoles negros, arroz, and leche de coco,
           menued in white chalk. You will

scan the inventory for platanos, hoping
           they are in stock. You never know.

You will have brought with you
           a pouch of powdered milk. Inside

will be powdered milk and eight hundred
           fifty Euros. No dollars. No sterling.

The pouch will be glued shut. No tape. No
           staples. You will, as you do with

your wife, your children, your boss, barter.
           There is no baby formula in Cuba;

no cow's milk. You will hand over
           the pouch and ask for platanos.

It is said that at a similar bodega in Vedado,
           you look the man behind the counter

in the eye. But here, you are supposed to settle on
           the framed photo of the Catedral

de San Cristobal nailed to the wall above
           the shirts. The woman will place the

platanos in a plastic bag. You will take them.
           You will not say thank you.

No one knows the precise chain of events,
           not even you, because, as you are told,

you turn away. You will walk over to the shelves
           next to the old Coke cooler and ruffle

through Frisbees, pantyhose, and postcards of
           Che playing golf in Army fatigues.

By the time you are finished, your bag of
           platanos will feel heavy. At that point,

you walk out of the store, and out
           of Los Sitios, and make your way to

the Malecón, and you gaze at the lovers lounging
           on the wall and you stop

for mango ice, and you ask yourself,
           as you have done with everything

meaningful in your life, what happens now?

Reading Yeats's "The Second Coming" On January 1, 2001

To begin, to start out, to turn. To expand: to center and to throb.
To fall apart. To eat in the dark grammar. To spiral and to oh; to if.

To ask of the tantrum wind. To labor, to invoke bone, to anoint. To vex:
to wish, to want and to want. To will. To waste. To plug time's stoma.

To unfasten and to abandon. To erect: to shutter. To bleed. To unbuckle
the sprung sun. To plummet. To thigh. To saddle venom's gleam and to ride.

To limn or fringe. To regret the angel. To rivet. To say riddle, substrate, alter.
To rise the way bodies rise: to succumb: to chisel. To slit or suture; to slash.

To compress the ferric. To loose, to halo, to burn and congeal: to splinter.
To eat syntax in reverse, to limn wind's stoma, to saddle gleam, to ride venom.

To auger. To hear whelp, seraphim, imago. To leaden and live. To shiv, to sin.
To rend-to rip the gyre. To aport, to absess, to abseil. To apprehend.

To write born, Bethlehem, beast. To erase palm, coffin, corpse. To upend, to taper down.
To begin, to start out, to turn. To anoint bone, to rivet dark grammar. To slouch.


Self Portrait: blizzard

Dropping from the sky
like flakes of soap,
big heavy chunks
like frozen leaves
or pieces of poems.
Dropping like wings of small birds
like thick onion skinst
that freeze their own tears,
like bits of alabaster flesh
searching for bone,
like sugar cubes or lily petals,
like clumps of feathers or dandelions:
crumbs of white bread:
the dust of clouds:

Snow falls because it cannot rise,
cannot bend its knees,
spread its wings.
It has no arms and cannot
climb the thin threads
it leaves streaming from the sky.
The more it falls, the more
it remembers its absence of rising.
To descend is not to ascend.
And not to ascend is to fall.
And to fall is to lose.

Snow is tired of losing.
Snow wants to watch TV on Sunday.
It wants to hibernate in the
winter, wear glasses
And put on a tie.
Snow wants to learn to tell time.
Snow wants to eat Bar-B-Q ribs,
and listen to Elgar,
It wants to kiss a man or a woman.
Snow wants to wonder about God.

It so happens that
Snow wants to be rain:
it wants to dance on leaves
in the green of spring.
Snow wants be made love in,
sliding down buildings or bodies.

It wants to plunge on alfalfa and
corn stalks, it wants to sound like a slap.
But snow also wants to feel like the ocean.
Snow is ready for water.
Snow wants to keep flowing.

But April retreats like a distant shorline,
leaving Snow to dream
of Rangoon, San Tropez, Antigua,
where it can take off its fuzzy coat
and return to the source of its making.

But, snow wakes to its work,
diving down on linens
left out on the line,
landing on underwear and tanktops,
where it melts into big
dirty drops salty as tears.

 -from Works & Days

BIO: Dean Rader has published widely in the fields of poetry, American Indian studies, and popular culture. His debut collection of poems, Works & Days, won the 2010 T. S. Eliot Poetry Prize, judged by Claudia Keelan. In 2009, Kelly Cherry selected his poem “Hesiod in Oklahoma, 1934” for the prestigious Sow's Ear Review Prize and in 2008, his poem "Frog Loses Sleep Puzzling Over Parallel Universes" won the Crab Creek Review Poetry Prize. Other poems have appeared or will appear in Cincinnati Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, Quarterly West, Colorado Review, Poet Lore, Salamander, POOL, Connecticut Review and many others. 

He is the author of a best-selling textbook on writing and popular culture, The World is a Text (with Jonathan Silverman), which just went into its fourth edition. With poet Janice Gould, he co-edited Speak To Me Words: Essays on Contemporary American Indian Poetry (University of Arizona Press, 2003), the first collection of essays devoted to Native American poetry.  Most recently, he curated a special issue of Sentence that focused on recent American Indian prose poetry. His newest scholarly book, Engaged Resistance: American Indian Art, Literature, and Film from Alcatraz to the NMAI is forthcoming in 2011 from the University of Texas Press. He holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the State University of New York at Binghamton. 

Rader has served on the editorial board for Studies in American Indian Literatures and is currently on the editorial staff of DMQ Review. A former executive committee member of the Commonwealth Club's Inforum, Rader now serves on the poetry jury of the California Book Awards. He blogs about the intersection of literature, culture, politics and media at The Weekly Rader, and he reviews poetry regularly for The Rumpus and The San Francisco Chronicle, where he also writes a regular column for the City Brights Section. Rader is a professor of English at the University of San Francisco.

A Native of Western Oklahoma, Rader lives in San Francisco with his wife Jill and their son Gavin. 

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