Renato Rosaldo

Renato Rosaldo is an American award winning poet and anthropologist. He is professor emeritus of Cultural Anthropology and Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and past president of the American Ethnological Society. His books on Anthropology include Anthropology and Globalization (2003), Culture and Truth (1993) and Ilongot Headhunting, 1883–1974: A Study in Society and History (1980).

He is also the author of three poetry collections, Prayer to Spider Woman/Rezo a la Mujer Araña (2003), Diego Luna's Insider Tips (2012), and The Day of Shelley’s Death (2014), in which he recreates the “tracings” of a fatal event that transformed his life many years ago—the tragic death of his then wife Michelle Rosaldo while the couple was doing fieldwork in a remote village in the Philippines, accompanied by their sons, ages 5 and 1. The Day of Shelley’s Death, begun fourteen years after the fact, offers itself up to a blended audience, including at the back both “Notes on Poetry and Ethnography,” a manifesto for antropoesía or "ethnographic poetry," which “situates itself in a social and cultural world,” and the extraordinary essay, “Grief and a Head-hunter’s Rage: On the Cultural Forces of Emotions.”

U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera described the book as “soft-rooted in the human condition.” The author Sandra Cisneros praised Rosaldo for venturing “into new territory with admirable grace and courage.” And the poet Yusef Komunyakaa praised the collection for transporting us “to a landscape of convergences, a place of life and death. . . where an emotional thread connects and binds and past, present, and future, without the hip lingo of avoidance. The Day of Shelley’s Death becomes an inventive, lived trope for our time—not afraid of the human dimension.”

Poetry Center Reading:
Spring 2017

Tongue

In kindergarten I told nobody
I spoke English with Mom,
Español con Papá,
but in first grade my tongue bulged,
blurted that two words in a song
hurt my ears. My teacher made me
stand and repeat mango and tango
until my face burned red.
She phoned my parents and said
two languages would burst my brains,

so I still bite my tongue, let
the Spanish words bleed,
and swallow.

From DIEGO LUNA’S INSIDER TIPS (Many Mountains Moving Press, 2012)

Shoes on my Head

It’s Sunday, October 11, 1981,
the day of Shelly’s death.

Last night she and I talked,
touched fingertips.

This morning Shelly put her nose
in Manny’s tummy, his delight flowed in giggles.

I placed Manny’s shoes on my head,
we rolled on the floor in laughter

Then Shelly walked with Conchita.
I napped with our two sons.

From THE DAY OF SHELLY’S DEATH (Duke University Press, 2014)

How do I, Renato, Know that Manny Knows?

That morning in Mungayang,
Manny shoots vomit in a straight line across the room.

We toss a coin. Tails. I stay. Shelly walks with Conchita.
Day one of our ethnographic survey.

Manny babbles, saying gibble gibble,
happily cooing. Then he abruptly screeches
a piercing sound that ricochets

through the dark wooden hut
penetrating like a mouse that scurries
across smooth brown planks.

Conchita steps in the hut, says, Don’t panic,
takes me to the place where Shelly stumbled
from a precipice to the swollen, brown river.

When I return and hug Manny, my trembling
touch fails to reassure.
Bags packed quickly. Conchita’s cousin lifts Manny
onto her back. He sobs, low and long. She collapses.
I put Sam on my shoulders,
walk the steep hill to Lagawe.

The next ay a priest drives Manny, Sam, and me
down to the Magat Valley     hot     hotter

then up a winding mountain road     cooling     cooler.
Manny grows giddy, giggling insistently.

In Baguio City I carry him into our apartment.
He searches     swivels     nobody here.

He bellows and shatters
the enormous thick silence.

From THE DAY OF SHELLY’S DEATH (Duke University Press, 2014)