Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

"Problems with Hurricanes"

Anyone who lives in a hurricane area knows the dangers from wind and rain, but Victor Hernandez Cruz points to the real dangers. The campesino who speaks in his poem says “it’s the mangoes, avocados / Green plaintains and bananas / Flying into town like projectiles” that are the real danger, because there’s more than life at stake when you’re riding out a storm. Family honor is at stake.

How would your family
Feel if they had to tell
The generations that you
Got killed by a flying

It’s going to be hard to get Junior to accept the family name if that’s what it’s famous for, especially if you live in a small, close-knit community, where family name is one of the few treasures a family can hope to have.

It’s easy to snicker at this point of view, if you don’t live in this sort of community, if your name doesn’t carry the weight of generations. I felt this way for a long time, until someone with the same last name got famous. For a while, it was cool–a chance to crack a couple of jokes, a way to get a class’s attention at the beginning of the term, a witty line on my bio for poetry submissions–but lately, it’s gotten old, in part because I feel like the famous holders of a name that was my own have been letting the side down, in a way.

Okay, that’s not really the case. In my direct line, my sister and I are the first generation out of the trailer park. My parents were respectable enough, though for a long time, my dad, being a Junior, would often respond to people on the phone “why do you want to know?” when asked if he was Sam Spears. We have our skeletons, but since most of us are fairly anonymous (our greatest claim to fame being the uncle who has played bass guitar for Willie Nelson for nearly 40 years), our dirty secrets are our own. Any relatives who have suffered the equivalent of a hurricane-flung mango smashing their skull are safely private, the sorts of stories that come out at beer-fueled reunions. Or in poems.

My displeasure at the public trek through the trough the Spears name has taken recently is only a passing one, perhaps because it’s one I’ve been expecting for years, and perhaps because it will soon allow the name to pass back into relative anonymity. In a way, it’s as though the famous Spearses have moved beyond the “ultimate disgrace” of a plantain hitting them in the temple, and have simply been bashed against the rocks by the hurricane of traditional celebrity media coverage, giving their “death” a bit more honor.

I, like the campesino, doff my hat to that power. It’s the beautiful, sweet things that can do the most damage many times, that can make you look stupid in death, when there’s nothing you can do to fix the damage. It’s a power to be wary of, and the people who live in close conjunction with their family honor know that. But while it’s good to beware of those beautiful sweet things, it’s also good to remember that those beautiful sweet things are life-affirming and useful, as long as they’re not flying at your head at 70 miles per hour.


February 27, 2008 - Posted by | Problems with Hurricanes, Victor Hernandez Cruz

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