Poems of change
The Bridge Is Gone, ©2008, 113-page perfectbound (ISBN 1-929184-15-8), by poet Monolin “Manny” Moreno, from the Central Valley town of Livingston, California. Monolin Moreno is of Yaqui descent--his grandparents narrowly escaped Pancho Villa’s wrath during the years of the Mexican Revolution by fleeing over the border and re-settling in California’s Great Central Valley in the early 1900s. This familial uprooting and forced relocation at the dawn of the last century--accompanied by the racial stereotypes and tragedies encountered in their adopted homeland--has left an indelible mark on this Valley poet. In turn, what he has poured onto the pages will transform readers in the telling.
Some stunning work can be found in this debut collection of 59 poems. A powerful voice of reminiscence and awakening is revealed by Central Valley native son and poet “Manny” Moreno as he plumbs the depths of roots and soul; wrestling with the incongruities of the white man’s world to reclaim his place in the natural world amid the chaos and confusion. Manny’s poems gaze starkly into what America in the 21st Century has--but should not have--become. We’ve come so far yet lost so much in this procession disguised as progress. His lament is deep, heartfelt--and enlightening.
Several of Moreno’s poems have appeared previously in Song of the San Joaquin, a quarterly poetry journal from Modesto, California. This is his first published collection of work in book form and includes several illustrations by the author, along with historical and contemporary photographs from his family album in this paperback edition. [Monolin is second from the left on the book’s cover.] Available NOW at this site.
Rivers of Birds, Forests of Tules:
Central Valley Nature & Culture in Season
By Lillian Vallee
47. Sweetgrass Summer
A small group of poetry lovers (and friends of poetry lovers) is sitting in a stable at the Lazy S Ranch in Oakdale listening to poet and artist Manny Moreno read his poetry and tell his stories. The smoke of white sage lingers among the listeners the space has been purified, made sacred by this plant
--and our hearts are still beating to the rhythm set by the drummers who came all the way from Fresno to drum and to sing old California Indian songs for the poet. A full moon is on the rise and as Moreno speaks, an all white Kentucky mountain horse named Appalachia, her mane braided like sweet grass, glides back and forth like a twilight apparition in the corral visible through the open doors. The other horses in the stalls are quiet and calm, undisturbed by the drumming or singing.
Jim Chlebda is also in the audience. He is the indefatigable owner/editor of Back 40 Publishing which has produced many volumes of Central Valley writing, perhaps most notably eleven volumes of Wilma Elizabeth McDaniels poetry and prose. He has just published Morenos first book of poems, The Bridge is Gone, with photos and reproductions of some of Moreno intricate art work, and the mood is celebratory. Cultural Commissioner Cleo Griffith, who has been animating Modestos poetry scene with tremendous gusto and finesse lately, had been seeking a venue for the reading when sculptor Betty Saletta graciously offered the ranch stage (often used for live music and dancing). The Salettas are also present. As are Cleos husband, daughter, and other members of the cultural commission who organized the publicity and helped set up a refreshment table. The front row is filled with lovely women the poets relations.
I have written elsewhere that with the publication of The Bridge is Gone, the Central Valley acquires another authentic voice. Until recently Morenos work was in storage, and this first volume lets the reader in on a hard life examined without sentimentality. The cover photo with its elongated image of a two-year-old Moreno set apart from his playmates by a worried mien”hints from the start that this will be a voice well acquainted with the sorrows of the world, with its beautiful gravity.
Livingston is Morenos home ground, the place in which his dead and his heart are buried, and he has described the Merced River as his place of refuge. Of Yaqui/Tarascan descent, Morenos people fled the near genocide of Yaqui Indians in Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century and settled in Livingston. The poet is an observer and champion of the working people who put food on our table: Onions topped/on hot windy/afternoon/ pennies for each full sack/I observe others/families/race to get/as many as humanly possible/dinner depends on this/rent gas clothes/depend on this
When Moreno describes his mothers efforts to raise her children after the accidental death of their father, or describes a dog saving a drowning chick, Moreno reminds the reader of McDaniel, another Central Valley recorder of valiant daily lives: Who will ever know/we patched our soles/with cardboard/until summer was over/and school began again?
The vision of Central Valley cities in his poems is sometimes so bleak as to be unbearable, whether it is street life in Stockton or the homogenization/overdevelopment of rural Livingston. Morenos urban underworld often resembles hell: ¦where pitiful ol bagladies try to snooze/curled up on metro bus benches bundled in ragged/tattered quilts/gotta be somebodys grandmas where cold-blooded/cowardly slimy/degenerates jack roll/don't-bug-nobody/ol drunks/rip their flesh/rob them clean.
Moreno contrasts the harshness of this world with poems about his grandmother handing out sandwiches to hobos during the sixties and with memories of inexhaustible family love. And it is in poems like Cressey Bridge and The Rebound that Morenos lyric power expresses the delicate compassion and understanding that are hallmarks of the poets work: And here I go/on the rebound/in a town that/was what it was/and now is/what it is: streets of ghosts/new buildings/new people/starting all over.
The humanity, present even in Morenos starkest poems, was even more evident at the reading when the poet spoke of losing his job, his place to live, and suddenly finding himself with nothing, nothing, he said, except his capacity to be thankful. He spoke honestly of addiction to alcohol and drugs and other problems within his community and about how he found a way out.
He talked about why he has participated in the Sundance in South Dakota for four years straight to make good on a vow. When you are out in the sun and have had nothing to eat or drink for four days and are in agony, you look around and you see that others are suffering, too. And you realize that you are not alone in that circle of suffering. And you realize that this is how you join the circle of people suffering everywhere, in the whole world, that you cannot be apart from them. He writes in his poem on the Sundance that the offering of self-mortification makes even the grass come alive.
Back in Modesto after the reading, a group of us sat on my patio, sipping coffee and listening to the first liquid trills of a screech owl that arrives like clockwork to exchange calls at nightfall. We sat in a soft, syncopated shower of jumping ball galls dropping by the millions to the Valley floor. It felt and sounded like an unearthly, beneficent rain.
Every once in a while a person is given the gift of a summer brimming with healing sounds and scents and voices, and the summer of 2008 will forever fix itself in my memory for the generosity and tenderness of Valley artists and poets reaching out to one another, without drama or fanfare, to create a warm and thriving human community.
Source: Manny Moreno (Monolin), The Bridge is Gone, Back40 Publishing.
The Bridge Is Gone
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