Every year we gather, poets and writers, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to take classes, workshop our poems and greet each other like the long-lost friends we have become. We spend this first week of January with literature, coffee, great conversation, hiking, swimming, nightly readings, long meals, enacting a sacred, precious tradition.
The poet Mark Doty, who frequently teaches here, likened the San Miguel Poetry Week to Brigadoon, a magical community that springs up once a year, lives intensely, then disappears, to repeat the next year. Some of us are old-timers—repeat participants—and some are brand new. Ages range from 17 to 80. This has been a good year for many of us—books, published work, grants. writing prizes, scholarships. San Miguel has sprinkled its fairy dust.
This year, for the first time, I am not participating in the poetry workshops. LeRoy is enrolled while I work on the first draft of my second novel. But I’m here for the meals, the long talks, the joys and sorrows we share.
Because we are mortals and things happen. Cancer. Heart Disease. Ataxia.
In October, 2011, we lost the vibrant Juanita Garciagodoy—months after she appeared here, her bald head defiantly tattooed with Mexican indigenous symbols. I met her here, even though we had both lived in the Twin Cities for years. We became amigas del alma, soulmates, until she left us.
Ann-Marie and Francis are survivors, of cancer and heart disease respectively. Seeing them is that much sweeter because of the knowledge of their and our fragility.
Tonight, the last night of the Poetry Week, I will read for Erica from her book Dancing with Ataxia. Although the disease has altered her voice, it will never silence her shimmering words. Which I will have the privilege of speaking, here in this cobblestoned city of vendors of balloons, a rooster that crows long before the break of dawn, a life-size crèche in the main square and azure sky spread over the surrounding mountains.