Rumpus Exclusive: Para las duras/For the Hard Ones
Para las duras: Una fenomonologia lesbiana / For the Hard Ones: A Lesbian Phenomenology by tatiana de la tierra is the forthcoming sixth title in the Sapphic Classics Series. Sapphic Classics are reprint editions of iconic works of lesbian poetry. Inaugurated in 2013 with Crime Against Nature by Minnie Bruce Pratt, Sapphic Classics are published annually through a partnership between A Midsummer Night’s Press and Sinister Wisdom. A Midsummer Night’s Press is an independent poetry publisher, founded by Lawrence Schimel in 1991. A Midsummer Night’s Press publishes books, primarily under two imprints: 1) Fabula Rasa: devoted to works inspired by mythology, folklore, and fairy tales, and 2) Body Language: devoted to texts exploring questions of gender and sexual identity. Sinister Wisdom is a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal that publishes three issues each year. Publishing since 1976, Sinister Wisdom works to create a multicultural, multi-class lesbian space. Sinister Wisdom seeks to open, consider, and advance the exploration of community issues. Sinister Wisdom recognizes the power of language to reflect our diverse experiences and to enhance our ability to develop critical judgment, as lesbians evaluating our community and our world. Julie R. Enszer is the editor and publisher of Sinister Wisdom.
We’re excited share the forward to the new reprint, written by Myriam Gurba, and an original poem from the collection by tatiana de la tierra, alongside its translation.
I had the lesbian pleasure of being bullied by tatiana de la tierra.
This happened at a queer archive at the University of California, Los Angeles. I was celebrating the release of my first book, and I trembled at the podium while I read to a small audience about Chicana goths dyking out in the 90s. I had never met tatiana and did not know what she looked like.
I knew of her but didn’t realize it was she who sat in the front row, staring at me. She wore a tye-dye t-shirt, a goddess necklace, and a facial expression that lacked amusement. Her stare made me feel targeted. Its gaze was unapologetic, impolite, and tightly pointed. These qualities concerned me. They also titillated me.
tatiana occupied a significant amount of space, she spilled off her folding chair and into the air, but it was her body language that communicated intent. Before me sat a stranger with premeditated purpose.
When my reading concluded, tatiana sprang from her chair. She bypassed my friends and acquaintances and made a beeline that brought us face to face. She stuck out her hand and held it inches from my hip.
“I am tatiana de la tierra,” she announced haughtily.
I nodded and shook her hand, waiting for her to declare her mission.
“Um,” she muttered. This tic showed a crack in her aggressive armor. “I wrote the book For the Hard Ones. You reviewed it for Girlfriends Magazine.”
Ah! I thought to myself. We are here for a reckoning! “Yes!” I agreed. I had written a critical review. tatiana straightened her spine. “You gave the book… a B,” she said. “I want to know… why a B?” She waited with a stern expression.
I smiled inwardly. “I only wrote the copy for the reviews. My editor assigned the letter grades. She chose the B.”
tatiana relaxed into forgiveness. “Will you sign my book?” she asked and thrust my book at me.
“Sure,” I answered, glancing up at her as I inscribed it.
As I handed back the book, I understood where I stood: in the presence of a perfectionist with huge balls.
Gradually, tatiana and I developed a friendship. I learned to associate courage with her. This virtue fueled tatiana’s craft as well as many of her day-to-day choices. tatiana found writing For the Hard Ones challenging and the book, therefore, may be regarded as an epistemic experiment in queer courage.
As a lesbian phenomenologist, tatiana requires a tailored method of interpretation, a lesbian HERmeneutics. The following questions, to which I’ve proposed my own answers, might guide such an exegesis:
Q) Who is the lesbian author?
As she was known to bark in Spanish during roll calls: “¡tatiana de la tierra… presente!”
Q) What is the lesbian subject matter of the text?
First-lesbian (as opposed to first-person) consciousness.
Q) Why did a lesbian write this text?
Curiosity, courage, and Sapphic eros inspired its authorship.
Q) How did a lesbian compose this text?
By using her tongue as her pen.
Q) When did a lesbian compose this text?
All lesbian events occur according to lesbian time.
Q) In what lesbian place was this text written?
Q) By what lesbian means was this text published?
Lesbian scheming brought this text into the light.
tatiana’s canon inspires a yonic, not phallic, reading. In her hands, language became hard, wet, soft and cleft. Sentences became surprise-filled cunts. To experience their surprises, one must be willing to treat cunts as mouths, interlocutors, and oracles.
The tongue occupies an equally important place in tatiana’s canon, it exists as the cunt’s complement, and it holds an almost deified status as exemplified by the poem Lengua Alabanza: “All praise be to tongue…”
For the Hard Ones is structured according to tongue. tatiana translated each phenomenology from English to Spanish and this bilingual format mirrors the lesbian gender switching exhibited within the phenomenologies. The female abstractions that populate For the Hard Ones translate their lesbianism into femme or butch existences and this duality suggests the existence of two mother tongues that form, and propagate, a lesbian language family.
The accumulated effect of tongue references throughout tatiana’s canon further underscores the primacy of bilingual experience. In some poems, tongues are forked. In other writings, Spanglish doubles the tongue by tripling it. tatiana dubbed the tongue “the lesbian mascot,” and she packed her odes to it with sensual onomateopoeia that required those who read it aloud to perform oral gymnastics. tatiana’s fertile treatment of the tongue insinuates infinity: we may fork the tongue over and over forever and still not run out of morphemes. Linguistic pleasure and challenge remain eternally ripe.
– Myriam Gurba
Soñando en lesbiano
puedo entrar a la mañana con los rasgos del sueño eterno: vivir
en un planeta de mujeres. es puro canto y caricias sobre lomas
lilas y bosques fértiles. nos bañamos bajo cascadas de aguas
claras, y así, desnudas y mojadas, nos montamos las unas a las
otras. nuestro deseo en una ballena que encuentra la calma en
lo profundo del mar.
huelo sexo en mi pelo al amanecer.
el olor del sueño me perfuma todos los días. voy al correo a
buscar estampillas con dibujos de flores o frutas para enviar
cartas a las mujeres que caminaron conmigo sobre suelos de
estamos en un mundo que no es nuestro. ¿qué hacemos con los
sueños que juegan en la subconciencia cada noche?
puede ser que nuestro planeta de mujeres sea no más que un
sueño. ¿pero quién dice que las imágenes de las noches no
son tan reales como las de que los días? nadie sabe cuántas
nos bañamos en los bosques ni quiénes volamos con el cuerpo
abierto. y no es para que lo sepan. afortunadamente, el paraíso
siempre lo soñamos, lo hacemos nuestro. ahí nos encontramos
y vivimos un recuerdo colectivo.
entonces, huele a sexo mi pelo al amanecer.
Dreaming of Lesbos
I can enter the morning with traces of an eternal dream: to live
on a planet of women. we sing in the fertile forest, caress on
lavender hills, bathe beneath cascades of clear waters. and just
like that, nude and wet, we mount each other’s bodies. our
desire is a whale that searches for calm in the depth of the sea.
I smell sex in my hair when I awaken.
the dream perfumes all of my days. I go to the post office and
look for stamps with etchings of flowers and fruits so that I can
send letters to the women who loved me in my sleep.
we are in a world that is not ours. what do we do with the
dreams that touch our consciousness in the nude each night?
our planet of women is nothing more than a dream. who knows
how many of us bathe in the woods or which ones of us have
wings that let us fly with our flesh? it’s not for anyone to know.
fortunately, we always dream paradise, we make it ours. there,
we find each other and live in our collective memory.
and so, I smell sex in my hair when I awaken.
Myriam Gurba is a teacher and the author of MEAN, a nonfiction novel and memoir. She lives in Long Beach, California.
tatiana de la tierra was born in Villacicencio, Colombia and raised in Miami, Florida. tatiana was a bicultural writer, academic, and publisher whose work focused on identity, sexuality, and South American memory and reality. She completed an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso and a Masters of Library Science from University at Buffalo. tatiana was a founder, editor, and contributor to the Latina lesbian publications esto no tiene nombre and conmoción, in addition to authoring For the Hard Ones / Para las duras, academic articles, and a variety of chapbooks through her personal press. She passed away in California in 2012.
“Soñando en lesbiano / Dreaming of Lesbos” copyright © 2018 by the literary estate of tatiana de la tierra. All rights reserved. Foreword copyright © 2018 by Myriam Gurba. All rights reserved.