A day and night given to travel in which it’s impossible to know what’s going on down there below the cotton ball layer of sky until at last we cut through on descent to the spectacle of green felted mountains that lie just inland of the Atlantic coast. They seemed as sharp and young as Tucson’s perimeter mountains, but the ferocity of electric green is a jolt for someone like me coming from an arid land. Fortaleza is perched on the easternmost protuberance of Brazil. It would fit into the concavity on the west African coast, if Pangaea ever drifted back together.
I’m here for two weeks with Chris Merrill, who directs the Iowa International Writing Program that has brought us here, Joe Tiefenthaler and Alan Heathcock. Cornelius Eady and Maria Jose Barbosa will join us in a few days. The Battery Dance Company from New York City is touring in Brazil as well, working with kids to choreograph performances, and working with us to collaborate on performances of our work tomorrow night at the Dragão do Mar Cultural Center.
First day impressions: elegant seaside highrises butting right up to the sand beach; wind turbines, oil tankers, the Beach of the Future right around the bend. Bird of paradise flowers in the hotel lobby bigger than my head. Are they real? Learning a drink of rum with lime juice. Very intense lime juice. The street to avoid because of the crack heads. The vendors coming in for the evening market hauling battered steel handcarts. Selling hammocks and lace, flowered dresses and cashews. Honey and carved Jesus. Same as it ever was. Commerce big and small driving the world.
But the faces, I’m so taken with the faces and I can’t help but think how differently the Conquest shaped North and South Americas. Here the mixing is embodied. It seems in the north people are still terrified of the mixing. I won’t idealize either side of the equator, but I will say I see the future in faces that are impossible to identify as any one cultural thing but more genuinely are the product of five-hundred years of intermingling and love embodied.
Alison Hawthorne Deming, Professor of Creative Writing and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair of Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona, is author of four poetry books, including Rope (Penguin 2009), and four books of nonfiction, including Writing the Sacred Into the Real and Zoologies(Milkweed 2014). She’s received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bayer Award in Science Writing and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her poems and prose have been widely anthologized, including in The Norton Book of Nature Writing and Best American Science and Nature Writing.