The Most Elderly Woman from San Jorge Passes/by Sergio Espinoza Hernandes/ translated into English

ImageTo honor Rosa Benita Gómez Arcia after her passing, Sergio Espinoza Hernandes wrote a beautiful blog entry in Spanish which moved me to tears. To show my deep condolences to my dear friends Luis and Maria, who lost their grandmother today, I have translated the post into English so that more may know her story:

Rosa Benita Gomez Arcia, at 109 years of age the oldest woman of the Municipality of San Jorge, and perhaps the oldest of the Department of Rivas (Nicaragua), passed away today, November 20th, 2013 from pulmonary illness. Her funeral will be tomorrow.

Rosa Benita Gomez Arcia was born in San Jorge on January 5th, 1904. Her home had always been two blocks south of the park. She spent her last years living in her son Osvaldo’s house located on the east side of the cemetery.

When she was a little girl, her family took her to Granada in Spain, where she attended El Colegio Maria Auxiliadora for primary school. There, she learned to play the piano and the guitar. She was a homemaker.

Doña Rosa lived in the most densely populated urban area of ​​the city of San Jorge. She had a very large family. She refused to succumb to her own mortality, and thus survived a very atypical century.

She was witness to great changes and developments. For example, she was born in a house of wood planks and adobe with earthen floors. Today she lived in a brick house with tiled floors. She used to pump water from wells or gather it from the lake, but today, pipes provided her home with running water.

She was witness to many great technological advancements (a technological boom if you will) such as the television, radio, electric iron, and parabolic antennas for domestic use.

Sergio Espinoza Hernandes was introduced to Doña Rosa by Hernán Morales (a historian and investigator focusing in the history of the “Georgian” culture):

She received them in the living room of her house, freshly bathed and powdered in November of 2010. She was 107. She was nearly deaf, and had to be screamed at into her right ear to be heard at all. At this point, there was already much that she had forgotten.

Doña Rosa was a very hard working woman, collecting containers of milk left to her by the local farmers very early in the morning, which she would then sell. She also owned and ran a bakery and a general supply store.

Her father Alejandro Mariano Gómez Tablada, originated from Chontales, and her mother, Agustina Arcia, from San Jorge. She married Clodualdo Bobadilla Casanova and became his widow.

My condolences to her children:  Salvador, María Auxiliadora, Celia, Aída, Justo y Osvaldo. She leaves behind a legacy of 23 grandchildren, 29 great grandchildren and 2 great great grandchildren.

We have many questions for Doña Rosa, but perhaps the most poignant would be: What was the cause of her great longevity?
Was it the city in which she was born? Perhaps it is simply a matter of it being a feminine trait? Just what was her secret for reaching such old age?

And of course, it almost seems obligatory to ask all of you: Would you want to live that long?


Original Post


Candy Thoughs

I walk up the stairs.

Squished Skittle on the floor.

Then, I am like that hard shelled

Yellow fruit chew elbow to elbow

On the 7.


Onward to Manhattan.

At Hunter’s Point the view of

Tagged-up roof tops vanish.

In a Tunnel.



The woman next to me is seated.

Her bags are nestled beside her.

I cannot sit.

I hate her.

The man across from her seems

Enthralled by his phone screen.


Ladies and Gentlemen we are delayed due to train traffic ahead of us.


If there is one track

And all the trains are going

Along it, then how can there be

Traffic if they just kept moving?

42nd Street, Bryant Park.


There is a florist shop here.

Do people buy flowers often anymore?

Moreover in the subway?

I ponder as I walk up more stairs.


Gum wrapper.

Smushed Starburst on the sidewalk.


Candy thoughts get interrupted by a

Realization that there was blood shed

On the Pond not two days ago.

(briefly) on Oedipus Rex

The-Chorus--(Brid-Ni-Chumhaill--Ann-Marie-Taaffe--Audrey-McCoy--Martin-Burns-and-Liam-Heslin) [The Chorus (Bríd Ní Chumhaill, Ann-Marie Taaffe, Audrey McCoy, Martin Burns and Liam Heslin) in ‘Oedipus the King’. Photo: Marius Tatu]


As we know, Oedipus Rex is perhaps the oldest play that is still being produced today. The above image is taken from the production of this 2,000+ year old play put on by Classic Stage Ireland in July of 2010, directed by Andy Hinds. This production brings the characters into more modern time, setting the play in a post-war era and dressing them in a very contemporary “non specific, peasant-like costumes” with a “dull khaki palette” (Irish Theatre Magazine). I believe I would have enjoyed this production.

Theatrical choices aside, the allure of this play is first and foremost the fact that it bares a message that is still relevant today. Sophocles’ tragic hero, Oedipus’ tragic flaw is his own hubris. A pride so intense that blinds him from seeing the truth, and thereby leading him to such blasphemies as incest and patricide. The Oedipal Complex is another modern-day psychological term that has its roots in Sophocles’ ancient play; it is a complex that causes a son to have sexual desires or thoughts toward his mother and jealous feelings toward his father.

Obviously, this play, though done (and many may argue overdone) many times over, still has a strong and transcendent message, that I believe should be perpetuated. I’m glad that more modern versions of the play are being produced, for as relate-able as the themes of jealousy and the malignancy of hubris are, ancient Greek costuming and language can make an audience feel a strong disconnect to Sophocles’ brilliance.

Guest Blog: Voivode vs. Vampire – Dracula in Modern Literature

I’ve always been fascinated by the mythology of Dracula and Vampyrism. Check this out!!!

Interesting Literature

By Gemma Norman, University of Birmingham

The name ‘Dracula’ is a name synonymous with vampires: the handsome, seductive aristocratic Count of Bram Stoker’s novel is the image that first comes to mind upon hearing the name. Most people have also heard the name Vlad the Impaler, but it’s rare to find someone who knows that they are one and the same person. Known in Romanian as Vlad Ţepeş and in Turkish as Kazıkulu Bey (The Impaler Prince) Vlad III ruled three times as Voivode (from the Slavic for warlord) of Wallachia. A member of the House of Drăculeşti, a branch of the House of Basarab Vlad gained the name ‘Dracula’ from his father, also called Vlad who was known as ‘Dracul’ or ‘The Dragon’ due to his membership in this chivalric order under the patronage of King Sigismund of Hungary. This Order was sworn to fight the Ottoman Turks…

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Inadequate 20’s

Today is one of those days where my circumstances leave me extremely contemplative and introspective. Let us forget about the part where I have relationship issues. That part is never new. I’m always having relationship issues. The issue being, I can’t seem to find the right person to enter into a relationship with. I digress….

Today, I had a conversation with a friend and ex-coworker of mine, Tanaya. She really is a special individual who always has a point of view that I never would have thought of and that is precisely why I adore her. I am 23 years old and two years ago, I “should” have graduated college. Instead, I will probably graduate with my BA in a little over two years. The mere thought of this makes me feel ill to the stomach. What the fuck have I have been doing all this time? So many of my friends have already graduated. My friends Bibi and Rudi graduated from nursing school and are both RN’s. Just a few weeks ago Bibi returned from a trip to Morocco. When she’s not jet-setting, she lives here in NY and drives the cutest and most befitting white BMW that she pays for herself. Rudi recently bought a new car as well. My friend Rudine is currently in Boston at Emerson working on her Masters degree. My friend Livia just got her BA as well. Alicia graduated last year from NYU with a degree in Mathematics and she is currently working in a corporate office doing their finances. Nowadays, a bachelor’s degree isn’t the key to success that it once was. In fact, I know many people who hold master’s degrees are still working retail. I have to clarify, I am not jealous (well, maybe a little). What I feel is this overwhelming sense of inadequacy. It stems from the knowing that there are things that I SHOULD have done, yet for one reason or another, I have not. I too should have graduated from college in 2011. I too should be working some entry level job somewhere. I too should have moved out of my family’s house. I too should be traveling when I have the time/money that I earned for myself. It all makes me feel like I am such a loser. It makes me feel like I am a child living in this man’s body. It makes me feel insecure.

I know that I am definitely not the only 20-something that has this feeling bubbling inside of them. I grew up here in NYC, and I identify myself wholeheartedly as a New Yorker. I grew up in one of the capitals of the world where I have been exposed to cultures from all over the world, to music, to theater, to fashion, to top notch cuisine. Aside from that, I have been lucky enough to have traveled in my lifetime to places like Argentina, Spain, Italy, California, Florida, and many other states. I know that “off paper” I have so much to offer. I acknowledge that I am smart, caring, generous, empathic, nurturing, devoted, and pretty good looking (or so I’m told). It’s the “on paper” portion that leaves me feeling like a worthless piece of crap. I’m 23 and still living at home. I don’t have a degree, and I don’t have a job that would allow me to afford any type of NYC rent. I don’t really know what anyone could possibly see in me.

My college career has been tumultuous, to say the least. In high school, I was definitely known as the smart over-achiever type. I edited the school newspaper, I was on the tennis team, I ran track, I helped start the glee club, and I was always making dean’s list. I always tested in the top percentile on all standardized tests. Right out of high school, I went straight to Hunter College, and all that I just mentioned went out the window. None of it mattered. My high school was miniscule. Hunter College was the biggest culture shock of my life. Not only are there thousands upon thousands of students everywhere, but, much like my high school, none of the administration seems very apt or willing to assist you when it comes to the entire process. My parents, God bless them, really were of no help to me either. Neither one of them ever went to college, and I am first generation American, so to say that they don’t know what it’s like would be an understatement. Still, they do what they can for me and I appreciate it so much. I feel like I have let them down. I know that I have let myself down. Instead of trying to work things out, I flunked out of Hunter College. I was depressed, I was confused, scared, and lazy. I was in complete awe of all my friends who seemed to know exactly what it was that they wanted to do and just how to achieve it.

In present day, I am enrolled in a 2 year degree program, and this is the first time in a number of years since being asked to leave Hunter that I am actually matriculated in a degree program. I don’t know if you can imagine how monumental that is for me. For such a long time, I was so distraught over the fact that I had no idea where I would be able to acquire a degree. I took classes at FIT in fashion design for a while, and I learned a heck of a lot, but I would not be getting a degree from them. Not with my academic history. Then, I stopped going to school completely and decided to work full time instead. According to my tax-return papers, that year I made $35,000. I wonder where that money went, and then I look around my room and see all my clothes and designer sunglasses. Petty, I know. I disappoint myself time and time again it seems. For I know that with 35,000 I could have easily moved out on my own. Instead I decided to be frivolous. No one has ever been able to light a fire under my ass. That is, not until now. The only person that can light a fire under my ass is me. I am finally on a path to a degree, and it is the biggest relief in the world. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I know that I can achieve what I work towards. It’s a very simple lesson, conceptually, but it has been very hard for me to learn. I wish I had someone to teach me right.

The other day, I was talking with my best friend’s coworker, who happens to be a 41 year old single mother. She was speaking to me about her son. I’ve met him, and he is definitely a sweetheart. He is 14 years old and just about to start high school in September. Everything that his mom told me sounded all too familiar to me. He reminds me of myself. She tells me that he is very smart, and all his teachers know it. He only seems to lack with his writing prowess. She asked me if perhaps I could help him. I told her that I would be more than happy to try. It made be feel a sense of pride that she would even consider me for such a task. I vow here in front of the internet, that I will do all I can to help mold this kid’s talent. I want to teach him the tricks of the trade, because I know that if I had someone to show me the ropes when I was his age, it truly would have made all the difference.

I want to put this out there: sometimes there is such a thing as being too smart for your own good. Things may come naturally to you and so you know that you don’t have to work that hard to pass or move forward. Even though this doesn’t seem like an issue, I assure you that it is. If you become comfortable then you never really learn to work hard. There will never be a fire under your ass, and that fire is something that we all need. It is what pushes people to DO. For the parents out there who have intelligent children, or naturally gifted children; children who are well behaved, and sweet, and never really anything wrong, well… BE CAREFUL. They may be the ones that are in most trouble.

Soon, I will be my own success story, but it has been a long time coming. Wish me luck, everyone.

The Dilemma with Blogging

I have had blogs before, but I gave up on them all prematurely. By premature I mean that, they never went anywhere. I was never able to make the blog something cohesive. I was never happy with the theme, or the fonts, or the content. I didn’t know how to get followers. In fact, here I am on wordpress with the highest number of followers I have ever had. Yep, I stand tall with ten whole followers ::pats self on the back::

I guess that brings me to this post. My dilemma with blogging. You see, I don’t want to make this an online journal (although I see absolutely nothing wrong with that) yet I still want my readers (all ten of them) to learn about who I am through what I write. Everything that I post must mean something to me, or it must display some sort of passion, and emotion, some history, maybe it can teach someone something they didn’t already know. Is that pretentious? I suppose the whole idea of blogging is rather pretentious. Here we all are, pouring our hearts and thoughts into these little grouping of pixels on a screen hoping that someone will tumble upon it, and they they will be moved enough to follow us. Some of you will claim that you could care less about who reads your blog, but come one, who are you trying to fool? Why would you write a blog if you weren’t trying to get some attention, some praise, or some sort of… affirmation? If you’re writing for the sole sake of writing then, keep it all in a folder on your desktop for yourself. Am I right?

I suppose you can qualify this post as a rant, perhaps. My issue here is that I don’t know what to write half the time, and every time that I post, I realize that it’s a completely different post from the last. This isn’t a travel blog, or a food blog or a poetry blog. This is just… my blog. Does that make me a blogger? I feel as if I don’t even have the right to call myself that. At least, not yet. I would like to reach people with my writing. I want people to read through my blog and stumble upon something that speaks to them. Maybe they too are going through something similar. Maybe they too have to write a paper on Countee Cullen’s Yet Do I Marvel and they can use me as a source. The mere idea, gives me a sense of pride, that I may appear in someone’s work cited one day.

For all ten of you who decided to follow me, I really want to extend my thanks. It really means a lot. I didn’t know what to expect when I started really. I was speaking to a Doctor of English recently. She works in publishing. She told me that if I like to write, then I should start a blog. That’s not the first time that I’ve been given that advice, and like I already mentioned to you, this is not my first blog. I am determined however to make this one a success. However, I really don’t think that I can do that without any of you. I need your feedback. I need your comments and your ideas, and I would love if some of you posed me questions that I may answer. 

Like I said, I don’t know what kind of blog this is, but as the url certainly suggests, it’s just what I think; what max thinks.

I hope to hear from you.


love and light, 



It’s a quarter to three on a Sunday. It’s the first day of July and among so many things that I am thinking about, I am thinking how fast this year has gone by. Already, we have arrived at the seventh month of the calendar. The weather has only just begun to get hot, and the nights possess that cool balminess that carries with it a scent of earth and metropolitan grit. I’m only twenty-three. He is only half a year older than I am, but when I look at him I see a man; when I look at myself I still see a boy.

A year and a half it’s been since I last laid my eyes on him. Eighteen long months have elapsed since I slept by his side on that cold December night. I awoke before him the following morning; both of us naked, and he lay there asleep facing me. So blissful and calm and dreamy he appeared. Having stirred, I seemed also to have disrupted him from sleep just enough for him to curl up closer to me, onto my chest. I breathed him in and I felt just as happy and serene as he looked in his slumber. My hands found their way to the sandy blonde gold atop his head and pushed it back from his forehead, my fingers entwined in its soft fullness, and I know I must have been smiling rather dopily, but I didn’t care. I stroked his hair because I just wanted to make him feel safe and wanted. I remember thinking that I had succeeded, and then I knew I had because his words affirmed it.  In a groggy-sleepy whisper he told me that it felt so nice and continued to doze.

I was scheduled to work at noon that day. The alarm I set had not gone off yet, so I was savoring these moments before it did and I had to get ready to leave. I didn’t want to go, but I had to. I showered, got dressed and we shared a cigarette together on his stoop before I went on my way. I sat close to him because I am always cold. We spoke about the day ahead. I remember we landed on the subject of my cynicism towards people. It’s easy to develop that sense of aversion, I think – especially in New York. He told me that he once felt the same way, but that there came a point where he made a decision to stop; he would change. He would look at everything day to day with love. He would wish every passerby the best day, and hope that in return his positivity would pay off. He told me that it worked for him. You may be able to imagine how skeptical I was about it all, but something about him made me want to try it too. There was so much that I wanted to try, so much that I wanted to learn from him. Our cigarettes were all but ash at that point, and it was time for me to start my commute. A long embrace later, I turned and walked away. I didn’t know I would not see him again until this past Thursday.

Five hundred and forty-five days after that embrace, I spent carrying around this shot in the heart. I wondered what happened for so long after the fact. I sent him messages. I called him. I cried. He knew how I felt because I kept telling him, but nothing. There was nothing that he gave me. Over time I gave up. I had to. I had to come to the decision that if he could not reciprocate what I was putting out there for him, that if he could so easily just shut the book on me, then I had to do the same. Being sad is not a way to live. Quite frankly it just doesn’t get you shit. More so than that it just takes away. For me it took away my appetite, my will to be awake for longer than I absolutely had to. It took away any shred of hope that there was someone out there for me, who wanted me for me, and every single ounce of neurosis, social-awkwardness, self-consciousness, trivialism, cynicism, and sarcasm that I possess. Hopeless. I felt hopeless.

But life is funny, isn’t it? It is! All this time elapsed, and all hopes of ever seeing him or stroking his hair, or of looking up from my plate and across at him to catch his gaze on me – my breath stolen by it – gone, and yet there we sat, together, him and I under a bridge with the breeze gathering around us. He doesn’t deserve me he said. He doesn’t come from anything good he explained. He ran because he was afraid. I was too much and I scared him. He felt something that he never felt before and it petrified him so much that all he could do was run because running was all he’s ever known how to do. Life has not been kind to him. His family isn’t ideal. He said I deserve a prince, but the he, he was only a mere trailer park kid. He had no right to ask anything of me. He didn’t know how I could ever trust him again after the way he acted. He explained it all, and I finally had the answers to all the questions that had ever swam through my head about him and I. Know that I felt nothing but happiness with you, he told me. Surely he must know that I had felt exactly the same way.


That day under The Hell’s Gate bridge was the last time I ever saw Eric.

All Bodies Rise


          So, I’ve been going to yoga for several years now. I’ve tried a few different types including vinyasa, bikram, kundalini, aerial/anti-gravity, and hatha. My favorite one is vinyasa. Especially when they heat the room to make it a more intense session. I always try to get someone to come along with me. It always astounds me how resistant people are to trying yoga. It seems they have this strange misconception that yoga is nothing but a lot of sitting around on the floor with your legs crossed chanting “ommmmm” over and over. To be honest, yes, yoga is quite meditative, but it’s also one of the best workouts I have ever tried. I wrote a little scenario with the purpose of getting people to see yoga from a different perspective. When you read it, I hope that you feel as if you are in the studio. And so, without further ado….


  “All Bodies Rise” by Max Tamburi

            The second you step inside and set your foot on the wooden floor, the worries you carry begin to melt away. In fact, it’s encouraged. The lights are all off save for a few candles in each corner which cause each lithe body to cast whimsical shadows on the walls and across the floor. Up front, a young woman wearing a sport’s bra and loose pants leads you and your seventy or so peers in the opening sun salutations.

“Breathe in, in, in. Hold your breath, and together exhale. HAAAAA!”

A cacophony of sound reverberates against the brick walls and the first bead of sweat buds and drops to the floor like the first drop of a summer rain.

            There are windows in the front of the room that face the street outside. They are taller than any man, and they are original to the building; they are made of wood with brass fixtures. They are open to keep the room from getting too hot, or too humid, or too smelly even. Pale linen curtains hung from stalwart curtain rods billow softly with the breeze that floats in from outside and then curl back ever so slightly as if punched in their bilious linen stomachs by our collective exhales.


            Some people begin fluttering their lips as the heat within them starts to rise and burn as they hold their arms above their heads, as they press the sole of one foot into the inside of the opposite thigh. They keep the eyes closed and the head tilted up towards the ceiling. Sweat is now cascading freely from every pore. An imaginary string holds you up as you sway ever so slightly as you try to keep balance on one foot. It hurts, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s so good too.


            For all the serenity in this room, one would never be able to guess that beyond the thin three hundred thread count of those pale linens just one story below, lies the gritty colorful madness that is St. Mark’s Place. Hordes of NYU students, homeless, wannabe hipsters, actual hipsters who smell worse than the homeless, punks and wannabe punks, tourists, drunks, fashionistas, smokers, junkies and miscreants or any combination thereof and many others come together to eat pizza at one dollar a slice. In New York, that’s cheap. In the 1830’s, right after the Civil War, St. Mark’s Place was known as the center of Little Germany. Decades later, it was home to secret speakeasies where people went to drink away prohibition. In the 1950’s it was a hotspot for Jazz. In the 80’s it was the place where all the “cool kids” went to hang out. The latter seems to have sort of stuck, and here you are, smack in the middle of all that history squatting down into an invisible chair, feeling fire in your thighs and cursing the instructor with every foul word in your vocabulary.

“Breathe through it,” she says calmly.


Your hands are outstretched in front of you and your feet are planted firmly on the ground. There is a symphony of breath all around like an ocean during a storm, and you are shaking with it.

            Finally, you can let go of this posture and you dive forward, with the crown of your head pointing towards the floor, knees slightly bent and arms dangling loose in front of you. The sweat trickles off your forehead in a stream and splatters on your mat leaving a little sunburst of salty water. Behind you, you can see your fellow yogi experiencing it all for his or her self. Your eyes should be closed, but sometimes it’s more interesting to see who is falling over, or which girl didn’t wear the right bra, or even just to see the rainbow of different colored mats going back row after row.

            Now you’re in your final Asana, or the corpse pose, and as you lay there all splayed out with your eyes closed, chin slightly tucked and your chest rising as you engage your breath rhythmically. In. Out. Up. Down. As you lay there in this odd euphoric state, melting into the floor with your yoga mates, the instructor begins to ring the Tibetan Singing Bowl at the front of the studio. The sound begins small and thin and slow crescendos into a sonorous or penetrating pitch. It hums to you, much like you did throughout the practice, and it engulfs you leaving a tingle on your skin. The class is over; you lay in darkness, save for the romantic flicker of burning wicks.





ps- I usually practice at yoga to the people

“Yet Do I Marvel” by Countee Cullen




I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,

And did He stoop to quibble could tell why

The little buried mole continues blind,   

Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,

Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus

Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare   

If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus

To struggle up a never-ending stair.   

Inscrutable His ways are, and immune   

To catechism by a mind too strewn   

With petty cares to slightly understand   

What awful brain compels His awful hand.   

Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:   

To make a poet black, and bid him sing!



Countee Cullen’s poem “Yet Do I Marvel” is a sonnet written in 1925, right in the middle of an era that was known then as the “New Negro Movement”. Today we call this movement the Harlem Renaissance. During the Harlem Renaissance, many black writers and musicians and activists came into their own and were able to make their way into the mainstream. It was this movement that many associate with the beginnings of the end of segregation. “Yet Do I Marvel” contains many paradoxical lines which allude to seemingly unfair occurrences in nature and mythology. At first read, we may think that Cullen writes about the unfairness of his situation. Keith D. Leonard is a scholar who certainly disagrees that Cullen is complaining, but rather is pointing out another paradox. Leonard would argue that the poem actually has a positive undertone as opposed to its commonly misinterpreted negative perception: “Cullen’s speaker was really marveling at himself… and his individual self-affirmation is the signal gesture of the ethnic poetics of the Harlem Renaissance” (Leonard).

Cullen’s sonnet, as all sonnets, is comprised of fourteen lines. This sonnet, according to Thomas J. Sienkewicz, contains two quatrains and one sextet. The quatrains seem to flow seamlessly into the closing couplet (the last two lines), yet the poem in itself was written in a manner to reflect the speaker’s sense of confusion in regards to the choices made by God. Cullen uses a literary term called enjambment, which is the use of run-on lines in poetry. Instead of stopping or pausing at the end of a line of poetry, we have to carry on reading until we complete the meaning in a later line. This serves the poem and it’s overall tone very well. Although the speaker opens the poem by making it very clear in the first line that he (as it is implied that the speaker is Cullen himself) does “[not doubt] that God is good, well-meaning, kind”, he still questions why certain things were made to be as they are. For example, in line 3 it is asked why the mole “continues blind”. It is also questioned why man, who was made in God’s image “must some day die” (4). This of course is one of the great paradoxes of modern civilization, and also another literary device used by Cullen again to propel this questioning and ponderous voice. Fred M. Fetrow is a critic who disagrees with the immediately conceivable idea that these things are paradoxical at all:

When closely considered, however, these examples are neither unjust nor paradoxical. The “little buried mole continues blind” because he is equipped for survival. Certainly the mole does not perceive or experience his lot as a punishment. Similarly, man, whose “flesh”… mirrors God, will indeed die: but man as a spiritual reflection of his divine maker need die only physically in order to inherit eternal life of the spirit. According to the theology in which Cullen bases his poem, God made man in his image in a spiritual rather than a physical sense; by doing so, God equipped man for survival beyond the grave. Rather than victims of “brute caprice,” mole and man are the recipients of natural and supernatural justice respectively.

In retrospect, it is true, and many would agree that these paradoxes aren’t really paradoxical, even though they were meant to be.

           The use of these questionings of God leads us back to the argument, that Cullen’s poem is not meant to be a lamentation of his position as a black poet at all. Quite the contrary, it is as if Cullen is stating, in a not so blatant manner, that like the mole and man who are well equipped for survival, the black poet too is very well equipped to fulfill God’s bidding and “sing”. After all, in essence, that is what the Harlem Renaissance stood for. To further support this idea that “Yet Do I Marvel” is a proclamation of self-empowerment and justification of race and ethnicity, we can also look at the allusions made by Cullen to Greek Mythology. In lines five through nine Cullen continues his rhetorical interrogation of God by questioning the punishments that were doled out to Tantalus and to Sisyphus. He asks the following: “make plain the reason tortured Tantalus / Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare / If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus / To struggle up a never-ending stair” (5-9). Tantalus was the son of Zeus and the king of Phrygia. His father punished him because he stole nectar and ambrosia from the Gods, and also murdered his own son and fed the body as table food in his court. His sentence was to spend an eternity of starvations with a bounty of food just beyond his reach. Sisyphus’ crime was attempting to cheat death. As a result, he was doomed to walk eternity “up a never-ending stair”, or as many may more commonly recognize the myth, to perpetually push a boulder up a hill. The speaker questions why such castigations were given, but assuming that like all poets, the words and allusions were chosen carefully, then it can also be assumed that we as readers are expected to know the reasons why Tantalus and Sisyphus were punished in order to extract meaning from the poem. As Fetrow states in regard to Tantalus: “[his torture] seems a symmetric example of the punishment fitting the offense.” In regard to Sisyphus he says: “within the context of the myth, his harsh, ‘never-ending’ task is logical and just.” This is why the questioning is rhetorical. We already know the answers, and they are justifiable.

            Because it is now established that the questions that the speaker puts forward already have set and justifiable answers, we can now make the connection to the final couplet where he asks the title question: “Yet do I marvel at this curious thing: to make a poet black, and bid him sing!” (13-14). This is where most readers will automatically overlook the entire context of the poem and come to the conclusion that the speaker is crying out woefully to God, wondering why he would make him a black poet in a world where the black population’s voice was stifled and oppressed by racism, hate and misunderstanding. However, as we mentioned, this poem is in reality a proclamation of faith. The speaker is saying that God made him a black poet because he is perfectly capable of handling the cards that were dealt to him; he is well “equipped”. If you reflect on Countee Cullen’s life, it would make very little sense that he would write a poem condemning himself to the fate set upon him, because considering the times, Cullen was a very successful man, even by today’s standards. He received his BA from New York University and his MA from Harvard. He was a published author by the ripe age of twenty in 1923, and was a rather famous poet and playwright by age 22 when he published “Yet Do I Marvel” as a part of a collection of works titled “Color” (1925). Cullen is considered one of the most influential writers to have swayed the tides during the Harlem Renaissance. He probably would have done a lot more for the movement had his life not been cut short at age 42 due to uremic poisoning and high blood-pressure, which inevitably lead to renal failure. Evidently though, Countee Cullen was not someone who allowed the circumstances of the world around him hold him back, and this is mirrored in the voice of his speaker.

            In an anthology focusing on poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, editor and contributor Cary D. Wintz is in complete opposition to everything discussed above. Instead of taking Cullen’s words and seeing the positive, he writes that this is in fact a lamentation that is full of “hurt” that “emerges forcefully from a context of living images” (360). Wintz seems to completely overlook the already implied answers to the said paradoxes used in the poem and more or less takes each one at face value, which is something that we are taught to avoid when reading poetry as there is always deeper and carefully calculated meaning to every aspect of poetic language. He says that the poem expresses the “dilemma of the black artist in America” (360). Though this may be true in the sense that the dilemma certainly was real and is implied in the poem, it is not what the main focus was intended to be. Still Wintz argues that: “the images of the buried mole and Tantalus and Sisyphus subtly but unmistakably suggest the underground world in which the black reaches for the forbidden fruits of freedom, only to have them sway from his grasp, world in which he is sentenced to absurd labor with no metaphysical meaning” (360).

            “Yet Do I Marvel” is a poem that has been interpreted and reinterpreted many times over. The two main explications have been discussed here. There are those who believe that Countee Cullen was writing a poem for the world that encompassed the voice of his repressed people, and it said, “we are here and we are not going anywhere.” While there are others that believe the opposite, “Woe is I, a poor black man with a gift, but no one who will listen to me.” It is doubtful that Countee Cullen, a strong political figure in his own right, and a very well educated and successful man would have written this poem with any intention of succumbing to the pressure of society. As a man who also wrote for theater, we have to believe that he wrote with a purpose to make a change. Poetry and theater are forms of art that one very powerful thing in common. They are meant to express an opinion that reflects the ideas of the times in which they were written. Often time they are didactic in their themes, and this poem is just that. It was a lesson from a black man to the masses, that he is just as well equipped and worthy to “sing” and anyone else is.     







Works Cited

Cullen, Countee. Black Voices of African-American Literature. Ed. Abraham Chapman, New York City, New American Library. Apr. 2001. 381-386.


Cullen, Countee. “Yet Do I Marvel.” My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen, Voice of the Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Gerald Early. New York: Doubleday, 1991.


Fetrow, Fred M. “Cullen’s ‘Yet Do I Marvel.’ (Countee Cullen’s poem). The Explicator 56.2 (1998): 103+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Apr. 2013


 Leonard, Keith D. “’To Make a Poet Black’: Constructing an Ethnic Poetics in Harlem Renaissance Poetry.” Fettered Genius: The African American Bardic Poet from Slavery to Civil Rights. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006. 81-117. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 218. Detroit: Gale, 2009. Literature Recourse Center. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.


Wilkinson, Philip.  Myths & Legends: An illustrated guide to their origins and meanings. New York, DK Publishing. 2009. P. 69.


Wintz, Cary D. Analysis and Assessment: 1940-1976 Volume 1. Ed. Cary D. Wintz, New York & London, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996. 360-361.


“Mending Wall” by Robert Frost (a short discussion on theme)

“Mending Wall”

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:                        
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,  10 
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.                  15 
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.      20
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across                       25 
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it  
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,             35 
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top 
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.       40
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  45


          In the first line of “Mending Wall” we are told implicitly that there is “something” that doesn’t like walls. As we read further we see that the speaker makes this statement because every year the wall between his and his neighbor’s lands must be mended, and no matter how much mending the wall receives, parts of it still collapse. Every year at spring time, the speaker is the one that makes the appointment with his neighbor to mend the wall, and as they go about “walking the line” the speaker tries to convince his neighbor that they do not need to have a wall. The wall is not being used to wall anything in or out. As the speaker points out, “here there are no cows” (31). The speaker’s land is all apple orchards and his neighbor’s is all pine groves. The speaker astutely points out that neither the apple trees or the pine trees are likely to cross the boundary. Nonetheless, the neighbor simply repeats an old proverb spoken to him by his father: “Good fences make good neighbors” (27, 45). The speaker asks “why” fences make good neighbors, but he gets no concrete answer. This poem by Frost is one of the only poems he has ever written in free verse. There is no structure or separation in this poem. There is no detectable rhyme scheme or rhythm. Robert Frost is known for his use of poetic structure, having written a number of sonnets and villanelles. In contrast, this poem seems to break those boundaries. This creative choice, compliments the theme of the poem perfectly, as we are lead to question the need for boundaries. In some instances, boundaries, or “walls” may actually be superfluous, and they are only maintained out of tradition or old school mindsets without any other plausible reasoning to back them up.