• Mariano Zaro and Kathabela Wilson.

      Mariano Zaro and Kathabela Wilson.

      An interview with Mariano Zaro, an entrancing unique storyteller poet, in love with observing the “unnecessary details” of life.

      Mariano’s powerful “urban” lyrical poetry in Spanish and English has deep roots in the nature of his earliest days.

      By Kathabela Wilson

      Pulse of the poet

      When you read, I feel the rush of voices around us stilled and we enter into your poetic narrative instantly. You seem immersed in an ongoing story share a glimpse of it in each poem, how did this happen to be your way?

      I grew up surrounded by storytelling. Immersed in oral traditions. My home was always buzzing with people, people talking: My parents, my sisters, my aunts, neighbors, all kinds of visitors. And there I was, the youngest, in the middle of that talking, inundated by words. Mariano Zaro by Kathabela at Bolton Museum.Both my mother and my father were very good storytellers. My father was very good with the “building” of the story. He constructed the story sentence by sentence. Giving information without revealing too much. My mother had a great ability to present “connotative details”. She just “interrupted” my father’s narrative to add details. My parents told stories of their own lives, stories of the town’s people, stories of my childhood, of my sisters’ childhood. But they also tell stories just to talk about the “irrelevant” events of the moment; our everyday life..I did not know at the time that my childhood, that house full of talking people was my first (probably best) writing school.

      A telescope on the poet

      I imagine your childhood in eastern Spain, in the 15th century town of Borja, surrounded by nature, how did you come to be an “urban poet,” as you call yourself, in Los Angeles?

      My father was a farmer. For him nature was always a source or worry: the drought, the flooding, the scorching heat, the frost. My father schooled me in details. The almond trees blooming too early, the risk of losing the crop. Nature and its strange, sometimes devastating balance​. ​Mariano Zaro with Mariana Dietl at Beyond Baroque.That’s the reason my father needed to look at nature, all the time, intensely. He needed to “decode” nature: the orientation of winds, the shape of clouds, the color of sunrise, the way trees sounded under the rain. He looked at nature in a way that was close to meditation. One of the tools that my father (unknowingly?) gave for my career as a writer was his example as an active observer, his passion to “decode” (or at least trying to decode) the universe. When I look at myself here, writing in this urban environment, suddenly the image of my father looking, listening in the middle of the fields becomes vivid, and for moment, I understand him, myself and the forces around us.

      A compass on the poet

      I know you studied all the great Spanish poets, and have your degree in Linguistics from the University of Granada in Spain. With your strong Spanish roots, how did poetry in English and other languages become attractive and a powerful tool for expansion?

      The first USA poet I ever “encountered” was Walt Whitman. I discovered Whitman in a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca called “Ode to Walt Whitman”. I was 19 when I read this poem. I did not know who Walt Whitman was. However, I knew that I had to read “Leaves of Grass”.I went to a bookstore in Zaragoza (my university town) and there it was: a copy of “Hojas de hierba”, the Spanish translation of Whitman´s work (I did not read English at the time). Mariano Zaro in Zaragoza (Spain)Librería Cálamo.I opened the book right there, in the bookstore, and Whitman’s words started to fly around, like the biggest solar system, like the biggest storm. Whitman radiated light. Then, when I first came to California, in 1991, I wanted to know more about “gay poets”. That’s when I discovered Frank O’Hara, a liberating poet. He is able to write about anything, and, without trying to be “poetic”, he writes extraordinary poetry. Then my mind flies back to Latin classes in high school where we translated poems by Catullus. Catullus’ poems were irreverent, mischievous, some of them erotic, some of them sarcastic, many of them full of humor. I felt connected to this Catullus that wrote in another language, in another country, centuries ago. I don’t know if I was aware at that time (I was seventeen) of the transgressive powers of poetry; that humor was a key ingredient. Recently, I am trying to incorporate humor in my poems; to let it happen. I think the old, always young Catullus is helping.

      A microscope on the poet

      A highlight of your writing for me is a fascination with what some might call “unnecessary details”. I think you have said it all came to you from a childhood story about a donkey! Can you tell us how?

      When I was ten my sisters gave me the book Platero y yo (“Platero and I”). “Platero” is the name of a donkey, a small “pet donkey”, the main character in this book. Mariano ZaroFor some reason it was very common at the time (my childhood, the 60’s) to give this book as a present for children (the book was first published in 1914). The author is Juan Ramón Jiménez (Noble Prize 1956). “Platero y yo” is written in a style that we could call lyric prose. In one of the vignettes/chapters the author describes a fountain. He says (this is not a literal quote) “a trembling glass palace”. When I read that description I felt that it was “unnecessary”. I already knew what a fountain was, how a fountain looked like. However, the image of the “trembling glass palace” produced a special effect on me. It was something “unnecessary” that I did not want to remove, that was actually “making the story”.

      My mother wakes up late
      By Mariano Zaro

      My mother wakes up late these days.
      I help her to get up. I put on her glasses.

      We walk to the bathroom. 25 steps, slowly.
      I hold both her hands as if we were dancing.
      She brushes her feet against the floor.
      I walk backwards.

      It is kind of cloudy today. She says that every morning
      since her sight started to fail.

      She sits on the toilet, rubs her eyes,
      runs her fingers through her hair as if she could remove
      the remains of last night’s medication.

      I am about to prepare the bath. What is that? she says.
      There is a dead moth in the bathtub.

      How is she able to see it?
      She cannot read anymore,
      she cannot sew-she loved sewing,
      cannot watch TV-it bothers her eyes.
      She still has good peripheral vision.
      The doctor has told me.

      The moth has left a trail behind-golden, glittery,
      calligraphy written by a drunken hand.
      A trail of dance and death.

      It’s just a moth, mother. They come in at night. I tell her.
      I clean the bathtub with toilet paper. I let the water run.

      I start to remove my mother’s night gown.
      Five buttons on her chest.
      This must be the end of summer, she says.

      Mi madre se despierta tarde

      Mi madre se despierta tarde.
      La ayudo a levantarse. Le pongo las gafas.

      Caminamos al baño; 25 pasos, despacio.
      La llevo de las dos manos, como si bailáramos.
      Ella arrastra los pies sobre la tarima.
      Yo camino hacia atrás.

      Hoy ha salido nublado. Eso dice cada mañana
      desde que empezó a perder la vista.

      La siento en el váter, se frota los ojos,
      se peina hacia atrás con los dedos,
      como si pudiera sacarse el resto espeso de los somníferos.

      Le preparo el baño. ¿Qué es eso? Me pregunta.
      Hay una polilla muerta en la bañera.

      ¿Cómo ha podido verla?
      Está medio ciega, no puede leer,
      no puede coser, con lo que le gustaba coser,
      no puede ver la tele, le molesta el resplandor.
      Todavía tiene buena visión periférica,
      nos ha dicho el médico.

      La polilla ha dejado un rastro errático,
      una mancha dorada.
      Caligrafía de mano borracha, danza macabra.

      Es una polilla, madre. Entran por la noche. Le digo.
      Limpio la bañera con un clínex. Dejo correr el agua.

      Empiezo a quitarle el camisón.
      Le desabrocho los cinco botones del pecho.
      Debe ser el final del verano, dice mi madre.


      Links to books, bio, new work and events are here on Mariano Zaro’s website.

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        • Kathabela Wilson

          Kathabela Wilson is a local poet/writer/artist and musician. Her Poets Salon has become an international respected must read in the poetry world. She's the creator and host of the Pasadena-based group, “Poets on Site.”

          Colorado Boulevard is your place for enlightening events, informative news and social living for the greater Pasadena area.
          We strive to inform, educate, and work together to make a better world for all of us, locally and globally.

        • Latest posts by Kathabela Wilson

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      1. Alex Frankel says:

        I enjoyed this! Read Platero y Yo a few years ago but had almost forgotten it. I believe the donkey dies at the end, of old age, and his owner is stoical about it.

      2. Maja Trochimczyk says:

        Thank you for the beautiful story about story-tellers of your childhood, and poetry exploding all around you, and…. An insightful, touching and fascinating conversation, a great portrait of a poet.

      3. Joyce f. says:

        A lovely interview, beautiful poems, and I must say, a very handsome poet! The mother poem is especially moving – I know that experience well with my own mother, but Mariano’s compassion and understanding made me go deeper into that memory. I look forward to reading more.

      4. susandiri says:

        A great introduction to your life & work, Mariano!! thanks to you & to Kathabela!!

      5. Toti O'Brien says:

        There are so many things precious and rare, in this interview.
        – Remembering that farmers – like peasants – were among the wisest human beings – you could learn so much at their side. Who knows about it, today?
        – Catullo, and his love of nature. The pristine quality of his verse came directly for that source.
        – The pace nature teaches us: I remember that from the reading of Mariano I attended.
        He keeps that pace, even in English, a language always rushing beyond itself…

        Thank you, Mariano and Kathabela

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