The Sunday Poem: Margaret Randall... Nothing was What it Pretended

Albuquerque poet Margaret Randall, whose most recent books include STONES WITNESS, TO CHANGE THE WORLD: MY YEARS IN CUBA and THEIR BACKS TO THE SEA, has a new collection of poetry about what it was like as a young woman to grow up in this city in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s against a backdrop of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the social hypocrisy that engulfed young women at the time. This poem is from that collection.

Nothing was What it Pretended

Words I’d never heard took up residence
in my mouth.
Montaño, even if city signage
refused to put the tilda over the n,

names like De Vargas, Cabeza de Vaca
or Juan Tabó,
shepherds and assassins enshrined on street corners
unquestioned and mispronounced.

Indian words like Acoma, Navajo—now Diné
or place names like Canyon de Chelly
the conquerors left us with
when they couldn’t speak what they couldn’t hear.

Names imposed: Oñate, Coronado, Santa Fe.
Another’s holy faith bringing death
and leaving division, delighting
those who arrive on private planes.

Common words like tijeras and frijoles,
scissors and beans
began to quiver on my tongue,
stood easily in later years.

I too came from somewhere else,
a childhood far away,
with other sounds in my ears,
other familiars in my mouth.

The new words tested teeth, stretched lips
and exercised my landscape
until language caught meaning in its net
and I knew nothing was what it pretended.

--Margaret Randall

Poetry submissions are always welcome. Email

Views: 102

Comment by BARBARA BYERS on August 30, 2009 at 3:42pm
Comment by David Cramer on August 31, 2009 at 5:47am
A beautiful poem that captures a moment in life.
Comment by Richard V on August 31, 2009 at 8:49am
thanks margaret. language is a mysterious and beautiful thing. and when it's manipulated it becomes a powerful tool. your poem skillfully makes that point. lovely...
Comment by Sarahjmd on September 1, 2009 at 11:18am
That was wonderful.
I'm not from 'round here either.
My back east family remind me that I speak differently now, and that my everyday vocabulary has become very Hispanic. I didn't see it happening. But it did. I am glad.
Comment by Merimee Moffitt on September 26, 2009 at 10:27pm
Hi margaret, It was an honor to meet you tonight at Jon's potluck, and Barbara and your son who is very charming and sweet. Your poem stuck with me (strapless prom dress, your mother's rayon patterned dress, the typewriters . . . )--I so wish that the stuff of the millennium could become less toxic, could become a surprise of innocence. Life seemed innocent inthe forties fifties, but it wasn't really--all the seeds of now being sown back then. To set aside war, I think you said that--oh what a goodness that would be. And it makes so much sense to do so. I enjoyed your poem and will seek more of your work--I'm such a late bloomer to awareness of the many achievements around me.


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