A Poem After Tomás Q. Morín’s “Saudades”

April 7, 2014

Contributor’s Marginalia: Wesley Rothman on “Saudades” 
by Tomás Q. Morín

Bassline Saudade

Though we slow down, time’s wheel still rolls.
—Natasha Trethewey

Tracks fade and drop. And albums loop
or end in a garage sale box. Artists breathe
their last note, and greatest hits, collectors’
editions, biopic films inject us with nostalgia.

That Billie track of my first slow dance. Elvis
blues his croon of always. From track to track,
album to album, music slows to a quiet roll
the bassline droops and drawls. Another day

another track. A rhythm and tempo racked
by the jukebox, stacked with time’s bellow—
the deep echo of memories, hurled whole
like blue boomerangs making their way back.

“How glorious / it is to make the past present.” The front wheel drive of Morín’s poem, for me, was the necessity of the word’s sound—“saudades”—and the sheer cliff climb of trying to corral a translation or definition. I had heard the word before but its context was elusive like its meaning. I looked into it, and the near (or not-so-near) miss approximations of translation helped me teeter on the fence between adrenal hope and plunging hopelessness brought on by memory. And in this bath of difficult-to-translate, I couldn’t help but think of “duende” and “blues,” not just blues music but the notion or emotion driving it, not just deep sadness but something more complex, since blues music can be bright and the feeling sometimes leads us to laugh.

I’ve been thinking and writing a great deal about music, specifically basslines, lately, and Morín’s poem, the ideas of saudade, duende, and the blues, brought me to feel a nostalgia or hope/less longing for what seems to have ended—songs, musical artists’ lives/careers, a time when, for me, there seemed to be an ever-growing soundtrack to fit my life’s experiences and moods. And I was brought back to a favorite poem of mine by our Poet Laureate—“Graveyard Blues.” Natasha Trethewey’s poem recalls a burial and the relentlessness of time and life, and I think this applies to the bassline, any bassline. It is relentless and keeps rolling. And with that rolling often comes saudade. Will the wheel of time bring the past back around? Maybe in shimmering, quick glimpses of memory. Maybe with a song, an impressionistic déjà vu. But these are momentary. Will we see lost loved ones again? Will we have electric moments like our first middle school dance again? Is looping an album all we’ll ever be able to do to hold onto an artist’s neon presence? There is genuine, if foolish, hope in these questions. Also, genuine doubt.

Wesley Rothman

Wesley Rothman’s poems and criticism have appeared in Crab Orchard ReviewDrunken BoatThe RumpusFour Way ReviewSoutheast ReviewThe White Review, and elsewhere. He edits Toe Good Poetry and teaches at Emerson College and Suffolk University. His work has received a Pushcart Prize nomination and a grant from the Vermont Studio Center.

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