In Your Presence, by Marisela Norte

November 3, 2010

Writer Marisela Norte (she's been called " of the most important literary voices to come out of East Los Angeles") visited LACMA while we were installing Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico; she was awed as she watched the colossal stone pieces enter the museum. We invited Marisela to contribute a poem inspired by the experience as part of ongoing series Artists Respond.

Marisela said this about the project:

I think the first thing that struck me was seeing the colossal head being taken out of its crate by the two cranes, with the Robert Irwin palm trees in the background. That was impressive—to look at the mass and the weight of that piece—and recognize that face as a face I see every day. It could have been the bus driver on the 770, or someone I saw at the library today—someone who has those same features, that same presence. It’s a very familiar face. It ties into all these descendents, here in Los Angeles, who are still kind of invisible.

I felt like I was carrying him on my shoulder almost. I wanted to do him justice, to put into words what it’s like to stand in front of him and have those eyes looking right back at you.

I shared the poem with Gronk and my friend Ramon Garcia, who teaches at Cal State Northridge, and my friend María Elena Gaitán (known as the “Chola con cello”) and they said it was worth waiting for, and told me not to be so stingy with my writing. It’s something you have to do every day.

Listen to a recording of Marisela reading the poem aloud.

In Your Presence
by Marisela Norte

Between rivers
The muddy low lands

A Technicolor jungle
Color formed
Against an obsidian glass sky

Where stars
Once connected
Begin to tell a story

Of the lonely
Impenetrable jungle
And the rains that
Did not stop

The jaguar emerges
The howling babies still cry

The ghosts of fingers
Trace the shape of
Your lips

Eres Mexico
Eres Africa

Those flame eyebrows mine

The memory of you
A bag of bones
The small, polished stones
Laid out like petals

Red mirror sun
El rojo amanecer
Reflects your presence
Casting its light
On what is still here
And what is yet to be seen

Among the transplants
Like Los Angeles palm trees
Wilshire Boulevard commuters
Who will make the pilgrimage to stand before
Your stern gaze
Leave offerings of
Blue green translucent jade hearts

Foot printing
The advance
We take our place
Before the burial
Under a veil of vermillion dust

We disappeared
Between rivers
In your presence
We begin the eternal return home


Amy Heibel