Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Images of Transformation:Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s “ To the Desert”

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Images of Transformation

Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s “ To the Desert”

Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s poem, “To the Desert” uses the image of the desert to represent God and his personal journey of surrender. The opening line “I came to you one rainless August night” captures the desolate stillness, darkness, openness to the universe and loneliness that is required for this journey inward to find God. “To the Desert” personifies the sacrifice needed to obtain the ultimate surrender, which requires a personal journey through the dark night of the soul. “You taught me how to live without the rain.” is a symbolic description of how the author needs to give up his personnel needs in order to reach divinity. He acknowledges his unification with this divine force in the third line, “You are thirst and thirst is all I know.” He becomes enmeshed using this symbolic term.

The forth line, “You are sand, wind, sun and burning sky, the hottest blue” expresses the harshness of the elements and are symbols of purification. Images of pain and suffering depicted in this line, “the hottest blue”, represent purification through fire, a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s baptism through fire. Saenz understands his purification requires that he suffers willingly in order to become resurrected in his faith. The imagery describes the symbolic journey of having to face our fears through pain in order to renew.

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Saenz realizes the mercy of God through his statement of “You blow a breeze and brand your breath into my mouth”. There he surrenders the necessities and accepts the pain needed to create this transformation through the next statement, “You reach � then bend your force to break blow, burn and make me new”. Like a black smith that molds his work, he describes God as bending him with all his force, breaking him, striking blows and burning him to make him anew.

The images of birth from line eight, “You wrap your name tight around my ribs And keep me warm. I was born for you” describes the birthing of his soul. The tightness around his ribs relates to a child being released from the womb.

“Above, below, by you surrounded, I wake to you at dawn” he finds himself surrounded by the spirit of God that embraced him in the cold desert night. To find himself awakened by God symbolizes the awakening of his consciousness and intimacy of his love of God. “Never break your knot” he asks never to be abandoned or let go. “Reach, rise, blow, Sálveme, mi dios, Tragáme, mi tierra.” Salvá, Traga, break me, I am bread.” describes his total surrender and willingness to accept all pain and suffering that is necessary not to be abandoned by God. His use of Spanish amplifies his desire to be saved. He cries out in his native language and surrendering his vulnerabilities in the purist essence. His willingness to even die suggests the supreme sacrifice of his love for God not to be separated from him. “I am bread and I will be the water for your thirst” describes his union with God, like Christ in the Eucharist and his ultimate surrender.

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