Quechua, Fredy and Me. Robert Roth

Kay semanamantapacha pananam brother Robertwan sapan simana cafeychata waqtaspaq tutuky imaman rimasunkunachu. May ladu Nuyur pampapiraq sumaqta rimayasaqku. Este es un frangmento de “Muyurina y el presente profundo: poeticas andinas y amazonicas” editado por Juan Guillermo Sanchez. Va con todos los mejores deseos de pronta recuperacion a nuestros hermanos de Puerto Rico, una de cuyas poetas es parte de esta entrega. Imagen tomada por el super Armando Mejia.

Quechua, Fredy and Me

Robert Roth

Eight years ago a young fashion designer from Zimbabwe, with flair and charisma and a powerful poetic sensibility–stayed with me for a number of months. We would go places together. No one could figure out our relationship. I was a pretty scruffy Jewish man in my 60s. And she was an elegant total knockout in her late 20s. A sizzling energy always passed between us. Waiters would get tongue tied and drop dishes. People seeing us in the street would stumble over themselves. Aziza– who could stop traffic when she walked down the street–said the attention we got was different than what even she was used to.

Like Aziza, Fredy Roncalla is stunning looking with an intensity similar to hers. He projects a magnetism, warmth and a profound sense of engagement. Fredy, a poet in three languages (Quechua, Spanish and English), is also a musician, a singer, God what a singer, and maker of funky jewelry. We meet every Sunday before the opening of the flea market in Chelsea where Fredy has a booth. Each time we meet we cover the whole gamut of existence. Fredy always making sure we never get too full of ourselves.

People pass by. Occasionally Fredy might speak to someone in English or Spanish. I might say hello. Mostly though we just wave. Still our meetings seem to have become part of the landscape. One Sunday I couldn’t make it. People kept asking Fredy where I was. Another time a woman I only waved to, came over to tell us that she was going away for a few months and we shouldn’t worry.

What role does Quechua play in our friendship? In one way it exists in something like the third sphere of contact, in another it is smack front and center. We speak only in English. I don’t speak Quechua and I barely speak Spanish. But I’ve gone to events where Fredy will sing or read poems in Quechua. When he sings or recites a piece in Quechua–sometimes mournful, sometimes joyous–you feel the full weight of history in his voice. It is also very clear that even the simple affirmation of one’s language can be an act of resistance.

What happens when the language you speak is your first language and it is the other person’s second or third language. A certain imbalance is simply built into the exchange. And when in addition the language you speak has a gruesome murderous history, a language linked into major historical crimes, it just lays there, no matter how invisible it might feel. And this is true no matter how much you share in common or how special and profound your contact is.

I once walked into a reading where one of my closest friends, the great poet Myna Nieves, who

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was born in Puerto Rico, was listening to a poem read in Spanish. Her body shook with laughter. Her face was glowing with delight. My friend who understands my work as deeply as any person on the planet never ever could laugh so fully in response to anything I wrote. I felt a real and immediate divide.

A couple of years later a book of another close friend, a poet from Ecuador, came out. It was 399 written in Spanish. In a whiny, pained voice I said to her over the phone, “I wish I knew Spanish
so that I could understand your book.” “Why don’t you get a fucking dictionary,” she replied. It
was the first and only time she was ever so cutting in her response to anything I did or said.

Fredy has published pieces of mine on his magnificent blog Hawansuyo. It is one of the places I most cherish appearing in. His blog has international reach. A warm extraordinary humanism as well as a profound radicalism permeates throughout. My pieces are written in English. But Fredy takes a special pleasure in writing the intros in Quechua.

There are times I ask a friend to join us. Usually someone visiting me from out of town.

A poet from Puerto Rico, a filmmaker from Peru, an artist from Venezuela, a postal worker from Phoenix, a school teacher from NJ, a labor organizer from Boston.

Sometimes a visitor makes a special request to meet him.

And so there we are on a early Sunday morning engaged in the most spectacular and interesting conversation imaginable. Sometimes Fredy and the other person speak in Spanish. If so, I just sit back and listen. Other times the conversations are in English.

I think I will conclude with this poem we wrote one Sunday morning.

Two Guys Talking Shit at Chelsea [Market]

to the smell of Mexican music
exploring the endless bullshit and emptiness of power and hierarchy: the worst jail there is
(with all due respect)
Now Four Guys Talk Shit at Chelsea [Market]
Two siblings join the day
Brother from Phoenix

Sister from New Jersey
Postal worker and teacher
Unexpected bonus
New angles of understanding
All throwing it around with the best of them

Chayllam chay

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