Edmundo Cardenas, now 69 years old, was born in East Los Angeles. He is proud of his Mexican heritage and is very thankful for the gifts this country has offered him. He moved here nine years ago after buying the only ticket he could afford. Wanting to go north, he bought a ticket to Portland with only $36 to his name.
A librarian by training and “social worker by activity/calling,” Edmundo serves as unofficial ambassador in his subsidized downtown apartment building. He is a self-described gregarious loner, inveterate activist and champion of the marginalized. Determined to be “part of the solution, not the problem,” Edmundo strives daily to make our lives better.
Inspired by Asian poetry, “very succinct and Zen,” Edmundo began writing in 1968 at a halfway house in Wilshire, CA and has been writing ever since, filling over 200 spiral bound journals. He participated in our workshop at the Macdonald Center, and now, finally, can call himself a poet thanks to Write Around Portland.
DaVita (Dialysis Center)/
Mom My Socrates
by Edmundo Cardenas
No meanness here
from these gentle
Mom says that
into each life
the little ball
of suffering will fall
© 2011 Edmundo Cardenas & Write Around Portland
from our anthology, Blueprint to My Backbone
Interview with Featured Writer
Interview by Write Around Portland volunteer Kellie Ernst
How did you first hear about Write Around Portland?
It was sheer chance, like everything else. I walked into the Macdonald Center to say “hi” to [Macdonald Outreach Coordinator] Sarah Knuth. She said, “We’re having a meeting of writers here, would you like to come in?” And I said “sure.”
What was your experience like in the workshop?
These different, disparate people in the workshop--all very bright --hadn’t had the chance to really fulfill themselves and yet they had this ability to write either funny, or very tragic or very serious pieces, and then there was me (laughs). I just wrote. I always just picked something that I found interesting and wrote about it. It was really kind of neat. I like to be around people.
It was also fun because our workshop facilitator, Phyllis, would give us a leading thematic sentence and then we would go for it from there. I would always give it a twist and have fun with it. I always give a twist to things to fit my particular mentality, my difference.
How did you feel about being published in the Write Around Portland anthology, Blueprint to My Backbone?
Actually, I was published before while in a mental hospital. It was an upbeat poem entitled East LA, Sunday Morning, and it wasn’t like the other stuff I wrote. I wrote about the sunrise. We were up high and I could describe it.
Though now, after my Write Around Portland experience, I call myself a poet. I didn’t before. It’s a calling. I felt it was too exalted a calling for me to trash it, to pretend. My interior human being is a poet.
Tell us about your poem in the anthology, DaVita (Dialysis Center).
Dialysis is where I go every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I get blood taken out of me and put back in clean. I just sit there and they put needles in me, and I sit there for 4 hours, and it’s difficult. The people at the dialysis center are super. They are gems. I have written poems for each of the people there.
Dialysis is for people with failing kidneys, especially people with diabetes. In my case, my kidneys are malfunctioning after 27 years of medication. It’s not a walk in the park. I make fun of it, but it’s a difficult situation. But the people there keep it so light-hearted.
How did you feel about writing and sharing with other people in the workshop?
Oh. That’s the game. What I did at home and shredded (those 200+ spiral bound notebooks) that was therapy. This stuff is communication. Therapy is a very solitary, maybe selfish thing. It’s just for me and that’s it. When I write a poem and I’ve just read it to one person, I’ve communicated.
How did you feel about hearing other people's stories?
I like the collegial thing. I like to listen to everybody going around the table. Life is an exercise in listening.
It’s like golf. You can play all your life and never really get it down. Listening, you can listen all your life and your brain is like a piano; there’s always another key to play and there may be discordance. So, to listen is the best thing that anybody can give to another person.
Listening would solve so many problems: marital problems, buddy problems, friendship problems, world problems--if we would just listen. That is something that I really strive to do. People are not here on this earth to entertain us, they are here to live their lives and so we should listen to them.
Write Around Portland has made me better at that.
What was your favorite part of the workshop?
Phyllis (the workshop facilitator): her sensitivity, her brains, her inspiration.
Would you recommend Write Around Portland to other people?
Ah sure. I think they will find parts of themselves that they didn’t know existed.
"Listening would solve so many problems...Write Around Portland has made me better at that.”