Oscar Bermeo

May 29, 2009

from Anything to Declare?

How streets came to be.

They found a path and called it the Way, and in past times called it the One Way, but now we know it as the Broad Way. But before it was Broad, someone had the idea that the Way, like el Barrio, must have family out there and it was only right to have family united.
Each day a Viejo would take their turn, go as far down the Way as possible, and scatter birdseed to the wind. The pigeons then came to peck the seed from the ground, tear a piece of grass down, invite a woodpecker to find more seed in a tree, tell a raven to come back from the land of the dead, all to help point the Way. This is how the path, became a road, became a trail, and instead of reaching out to meet unknown relatives, the Way circled back into itself (since birds are creatures ruled by cycles). The Way became many but led nowhere really and so there was nothing left to do but assign them names and functions. These are the streets we walk through today, meant to extend a Viejo’s reach but serving only as a place to gather and chat like birds.

This was all scribbled on a wall and I only copied down the parts that could fit on the piece of paper I carry with me, so many details have been left, but I’m sure the story is right since no one contradicts this version.

How streets came to be.

There was a Viejo called Burb,
Who lives between borders so
He has no name, only what he’s called.
His son was Suburb, which means
Son of Burb or South of Burb.

Suburb wanted to kill his father.
For this, he was sent away for many months.
When he returned, his father killed him
And placed his bones in a pinecone
Which he placed in a tree
Where it stayed for a good long time.

Lonely for his boy, Burb called out,
“I wish to see you, Suburb.”
And the tree heard his call,
Dipped its branch down
Extending a pinecone to Burb,
Who shook it till out came seeds.

Believing his son’s bones had withered down,
Burb collected the seeds in his hands
And ate every last one to keep his
Son close to his heart for all days.

Full in his belly, Burb slept under the tree.
Four birds came down on him,
Pecked at his round belly
Which grew bigger as they gnawed.
On and on they kept hollowing on Burb
Until a trail formed from the open pit
Of his stomach to the tree in four directions,
Which are the names of the birds,
And the name we know for seed is street.

How they make and keep their statues.

Barrio Viejo makes wooden statues in this way: If a Viejo sees a tree walking through el Barrio, he walks up to it and asks who it is. The tree responds, “Find a sabido, and he will tell you.” Then that Viejo searches for a sabido to help him discover the identity of the tree. The sabido will walk up to the tree, sit on the roots, and hangs a pinecone on the tree’s branches (like in the story of the four directions who took the form of birds). After that, the sabido rises and bestows on the tree all the names of the masters of the land, and then says: “Speak you true name and why you walk el Barrio Viejo. Tell me why we have come to meet in this way, both of us who live in the fresh dirt and in the open day. Tell me if you want me to return you to the wet and dark places. Tell me if you want to give up your connection to the earth, and be a child of sun or bastard of moon. Tell me if I should split and timber you into many shapes. Tell me how you wish to live out your days.” The tree then chooses its path. One path is to be stripped of leaves, branches and bark, whittled down to near pulp, and enjoy worship and song, but lose all memory of the land.

How they make and keep their statues.

Los Modernistas make their statues from stone. They know a good statue will collect wealth, stand sentry, insure victory, and speak legend if properly made. This is done by collecting the bones of useless men who will not work and placing them in a jar guarded by a trusted Modernista. The bones are watched over to make sure no birds feed on them and that they are not hung on a tree. Once the bones become bored of their confinement, they will speak to the Modernista and ask for a new purpose. The Modernista will then go over a series of options and contracts for use. Most bones pick the first option since there are few obligations that go with this choice. They will choose to coalesce into mineral, take the shape of a living thing or a dream form, and walk to the head Modernista to offer their services. If the head Modernista is fooled into having a long conversation with the bones, they will then be offered the position of statue and legend holder. If the head Modernista knows the bones cannot speak for themselves, he may send them back to the jar or give the statue a weak legend to guard. Either way, these stone statues are favorites of birds who still pick at them as if they were seed.


Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is the author of Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest and Heaven Below.

His poems appear in Achiote Seeds, BorderSenses, CrossBRONX, Ozone Park, and Spindle, among others. Oscar has been a featured writer at a variety of institutions including the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Intersection for the Arts, Kearny Street Workshop, Bronx Academy of Letters, Rikers Island Penitentiary, San Quentin Prison, the Loft Literary Center, Sacramento Poetry Center, UC Berkeley, UNC-Chapel Hill, NYU and many others.

He now makes his home in Oakland, with his wife, poeta Barbara Jane Reyes.

For more information on Oscar and his poetics, please visit his website, http://oscarbermeo.com, or his blog, http://geminipoet.blogspot.com.

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