Last Thursday an email with the subject line "pesame" arrived in my inbox. The word makes you take a deep breath. It translates to "my condolences." Nestled in there is the root of pesado, heavy, a heavy heart, the weight of the news of someone's passing.
The email told of the death of poet Tatiana de la Tierra, a Colombian who'd grown up in Miami and lived in Long Beach for years. I knew of her, I'd seen plenty of flyers announcing her poetry. The San Diego press that published some of my poetry also published hers.
She was a lesbian poet. Actually, more than just a lesbian poet, she was an in your face dyke poet. The dumbass straight Latino man that gets out once in a while probably kept me away from her writing when I first heard about her a decade ago. She described her book, "For the Hard Ones: A Lesbian Phenomenology" as "a lesbian manifesto for hardcore dykes, baby dykes, and wanna-be lesbians."
I read the "Lesbian Smut & Drama" writing on her web site.
At the top of the list is a provocatively titled piece. OK, here I go, a cannonball into the deep end. I soaked in her writing. She described her vagina, her panocha, as a living feeling being, an entity in some ways separate others not, and essential to her being. It reminded me of that Aztec statue in which the liver hangs almost on its own from the ribs because the Aztecs believed the soul lived in the liver.
Life begins through the vagina. Tatiana lived in exploration of the energy of the vagina.
The lurid hooked me but the straightforward narration of her body, her soul, her desire, her thirst, and her hunger for love and life kept me reading. I remembered my own time with the strawberry blonde on Texas Street in college. Remember your own time feeling satisfied, loved, drenched? Even though I didn't know you, thanks Tatiana for your writing.
I caught the tail end of Tatiana's funeral service on Saturday at the 86-year-old chapel at Forest Lawn in North Long Beach. The building's Spanish colonial design makes it look a bit like Hearst Castle and the old Herald Examiner building in downtown L.A.
About 60 people fanned themselves in the pews, surrounded by crypts and bright stained glass windows as Tatiana's mother from Miami, her aunt from Colombia, and L.A.-area friends took turns praising and crying her friendship and her love of life.
"I was an atheist when I met her," Mario Garcia said after the ceremony. Through conversations about spirituality, energy forces and the like, Garcia came to understand the presence of a spirit. Garcia met Tatiana de la Tierra through his sister, the poet Olga Garcia. Other writers, including Gloria Enedina Alvarez, Joe Bravo, Manuel Velez, and Reina Prado where there.
A video of Tatiana a few years ago played toward the end of the ceremony. She talked about reading a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay as a young girl.
The UCLA Lesbian studies scholar Alicia Gaspar de Alba said after the video that unlike the repressed sexuality in Millay's poetry, Tatiana "didn't over-poeticize, she called a cunt a cunt."
At one point in the ceremony Tatiana's Aunt Gladys from Colombia thanked "esta ciudad que la acogio," this city that took her, that embraced her, that had her in its arms. And that's when I counted myself lucky to have experienced some of her love of life through her friends, through her flowers, and through her words even though I was never able to shake her hand.
Here's a nice piece from Tatiana's friend Diane Lefer on her last days.
Poet and KPCC Reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.