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Millicent Borges Accardi: California Poets Part 5, Five Poems

Millicent Borges Accardi

December 22nd, 2022

California Poets: Part V

Millicent Borges Accardi

Five Poems

Why do the Heathens Rage

That time not so close ago when I was nearly invited, cast into a bit of an acceptance by kings of the earth, with half-dropped papers scattered around them. I asked a man who was famous or nearly on his way to being so, if I could enter the outdoor room with its ever-present dash of a valley in pieces, visible from the framed area near a rock, settling around those of us who were kneeling in the grassy depth of urgent thought as the speaker readied himself and prepared for the community in time for the paralyzed moments, we were gathered together like trembling rejoicers, those of us who were present. And, I was nearly there, once, in this place, were it not for the half, then later the third part of the whole, an idea that I could not come up with, nor beg for, to see how such a thing like prayer might be possible, as a shifting miracle, which is to say I was to dream about the making of an experience newly come back to me in a hushed dialect. My father was trying to translate to me, that wild summer when we put together bookcases from a flat box of my life, stapled shut that we pried apart, surrounded by borrowed books and fancy catalogues. It was as if the new life had never come back to me and was left sitting outside the apartment in a moving truck, piloted by two college students I could not pay for. I was neither there nor here, not even understanding the whiff or the trail of the broad belief in the hunt that was yet to come. My father and I were juggling words, throwing them at each other across the room never catching on that we could break our hands apart in an instant, if we wanted to, casting the cords of family straight back to heaven with its laughter of derision, now, sloping down upon us like an avalanche whenever we were excluded. So, ask of me, break me away, first with a rod of iron when wrath is kindled and torched, but, break me away just a little because blessed are all who own the trust it takes to place the truth inside the heart’s clay vessel during the brief time in life when it is capable of holding water.

Laughter I Can’t Put Away

Dispels the sharpness Of the gated city, drenched In iron, the gated line Of filigree where there is An outline of a girl Clutching her concern. She cannot believe in Moonlight nor can she Fill her life with a mere Smile. There is a man Reading a newspaper, And his life is filled with Noise and sorrow. Believe This now, I say, they were Distant and alone together In a gated city, a city with A gate surrounding the center Of where the heart knows It runs out. When the heart Understands its own importance And mortality. Bring the girl To the gate, the man says There is a purge and the Notation of evil, whimsy Dissipating like cheap perfume Into a cloud of what was Here just a moment ago. Who is a virgin, the man Asks. And there is another Man who lies with her, He repeats. And then pretty Much everyone joins into A large circle, Who lies with Her? they chant. Even in The what is now daylight, there is red Red lipstick goes with everything. When in doubt, make everything red.

And His Melancholy

Exists outside himself, A tawdry drop cloth To the rest of him, Drawn about, spotted With paint, drawn close Like a cape, like gravity, Mixed with sadness, empty With regret, like oil and solution. It is but a part of who he is, Not a badge but a sorrow, A part of him that comes Along for the ride, a backdrop A cloak, a piece of dense dark Cloth that you throw down For protection against the elements. Away from the deluge to come.

In the Morning I’ll See

If the yard has light, and the multi-colored Lights wrapped around the deck are dimmed with the day’s sun, I’ll see how to wade and forage through the want of the yet and the if of the why of another paper calendar, between what I know in dreams and what has been presented upon awakening. Either by patience or arrogance, the want will seem as if sky and earth has been passed by, like cities fed water through A pinwheel. My desire is in front of a side window on a train traveling cross-country and biding time between stops. My heart is playing Old Maid and circling words in on a paper puzzle. The newness of the hour, whether Noon or 2pm seems like an effigy To depression. Oh, what will I give up next? There are not enough vices left for me to take on and cast off In a dim-witted way as if they mattered. Nothing sticks, not love or time or money, as if I could fly perhaps. No, wanting is not like that, but similar in the sense that moods are cast on and off, as if I were half inside a sleepwalk, too far gone in a hallway of fog to be woken with a shaking or alarm. Not even a cup of water thrown at my face will dispel me from this ugly need.

More Than us, but Less than Wind

from a line by——Carmen Giménez Smith

The times when I cannot meet you halfway, we struggle you know how to say this word, migration, immigration, destiny. The scattering of people, traveling away from where they were born, from war, violence, famine, poverty, disease. The diaspora stretches out like a fishing net, across the Mexico Border and California, Texas, Arizona. Dragging culture across grassy fields, dragging language around like a knapsack, emptying familiar phrases as if they were bread crumbs along the way. How much can we carry? What do we leave or stay. How much of ourselves do we remain within our leaving hearts, the gateway to our lives, our rabbit’s foot, the pelt worn down to bone and dried blood under the rabbit’s clear nail that we finger in our nearly closed fist when we are scared and press down so it cuts us wide open.


February 15th, 2024

California Poets Interview Series:

Millicent Borges Accardi, Poet, Journalist

interviewed by David Garyan

DG: Your latest collection, Quarantine Highway, written during the early days of pandemic and published in 2022, is so much more than a work about one topic alone. We find childhood hope, isolation, along with your Portuguese background intertwining into one, cohesive whole. Can you talk about the writing process and to what extent the whole endeavor changed you?

MBA: As a way to deal with isolation in the early days of Covid, I found myself reading Portuguese authors, as well as the poetry from CantoMundo fellows. When you are confined to your house, community has to manifest in new and different ways, and that meant Zoom readings and meetings. The poetry series I curate, called Kale Soup for the Soul (Portuguese writers reading work about family, food and Luso culture) and Loose Lips, had to move into the virtual realm. I was also able to connect with classrooms in Lisbon. And since a graduate class was translating the Gavea Brown Portuguese anthology from English to Portuguese, my dear friend Carlo Matos and I were able to share poems and answer questions from Portuguese students living in the city, a feat that may not have been possible before the pandemic normalized virtual exchanges on Zoom.


I was feeling trapped and isolated. I was already pretty housebound since I am the care giver for my husband who is a heart transplant patient, so Covid hit us especially hard. Everything came to a halt. We were terrified. I turned to poetry for guidance and a hand to hold; this turned into a 30 by 30 daily writing practice, organized by Juan Morales, a fellow CantoMundo fellow.


We had maybe 15 poets from CantoMundo posting poetry daily via Google docs. I enmeshed myself in reading the poetry being written, and, likewise, being inspired throughout the daily give and take of an unseen virus. During the quarantine, I also moved the reading series Loose Lips (that I had co-curated) from the Los Angeles County library to Zoom; in this sense, I tried to keep things in life as normal as possible. During all that time, my mother-in-law took ill and passed away—we could not see her or even plan a funeral. Days felt heavy and unmanageable. Timing was off. We slept in and stayed up all night.

Here are two companion poems from the collection:

Green was the Silence

From a line by Pablo Neruda


It changes meaning like water,

as a living being, like unfettered civility,

a sunny breezeful summer ahead.

The start of June, it is altogether

Stifling, and as if things would never be straight

again we feel as if we had promised to be

dark and mortal, soon, like strangers

from the past we promised to be each other’s

solid memory. We have shortness of breath

and a pounding inside the lungs.

We cannot remember a time when we were able

to sleep before when we were former and usual

vivid beings who existed in the city of Los Angeles,

drifting through rivers of errands and emeralds,

as if nothing had happened. We are

lost now. As if we had been careless. Dropped out.

like music not written down but whistled and hummed

and played under strange circumstances.

Like a stranger with a guitar at a party.

It is nearly June, near the longest day of the year,

as Jordan comments in The Great Gatsby, a seasonal marker

complete with a sign that says, “We’re done now.”

And we are together and alone and about to

get reckless and cruel, but yet this time it will

be different. This year, belonging to the entangled

world that has been ripped apart.

We are limited by so many things since

the quarantine, absolute touch and hunger

and it all goes to show us that nothing

is visible or at hand any more.

We are a perfect example of ration

and virtue, essentially savage and, yet--in a new sense--

we are blindly controllable. We feel alternately

safe and in danger, every moment altered,

with no telling which statement above is truer.

We are reckless-absolute and sexual-reasonable

full of home-shocked martyrdom and wary of being

present for what is about to come. We pretend

to be on holiday and take

out the board games, self-full of pride and fear,

notching achievements with false pride:

your charm, my conflict—our 24 hour conversations

lack a richness of reality,

embodied with a generous sadness.

Wet was the Light

Wet was the light as we saw it

through a threadbare lens

of what we call time or that period

of waiting between what will happen

next and what we regret having happened,

the hard-bad opposite of a world hunch or an omen,

the silent-low sense of doom to come,

a spirit arising in the country we

call home, the desire for isolation,

desperately to be different, the

unexplored nonsense of late.

This is the air in the pastel room when we

are enclosed and locked up by

an intense wondering and fear

of comfort fear of letting our guard

down and forgetting to protect ourselves

from nearly everything we can imagine,

even the scrape of skin upon

our hands, the whispered hello

of a neighbor or a child playing in the creek

below the yard where there are dirt

banks instead of lawn. We are who

we choose to become, are becoming

or perhaps we mean we are who we

are sentenced to be, a corona crown

of in the if and now and meant for always

that time is a path to follow, as we near the

day of the year when June rises

her longest glance of a day and tells us

it is all right to enter.


Covid was a global trauma we all shared. It dented and transformed my writing, messing with not only how I approached my work, but also what elements of it I found important—I am still struggling to process the impact.

The early days of the quarantine were also a time of talking about such things as the past and childhood; for one reason or another, those years suddenly felt quaint and safe. Being isolated together, my husband and I found ourselves getting to know each other all over again, comparing notes about 3rd grade teachers and childhood friends. The past was like sunshine going around the room as we felt cemented to the past. I did free writes to prep for the daily prompts; these were filled with nostalgia and weird memories that popped up from out of nowhere—like how I packed cold pancakes in a paper towel and headed out on my Schwinn banana seat bike with the neighbor Ronny. Memories of us exploring Bixby Park and Cherry Beach to shoot endless games of H-O-R-S-E hoops came to mind. I also remembered grabbing Red Hots and Near Beer at the liquor store under the Tahiti Hut. In short, memories became the focal point of the present.


DG: Along with poetry, your forte is interviewing writers, but not only writers. When did you start doing this and how does engaging both poets and non-poets influence your creativity?

MBA: I started doing interviews for Poets Quarterly and that segued into theater reviews for a local arts newspaper, The Messenger, for about 6 years. Afterwards, I discovered The Portuguese American Journal, and that’s when I decided to try my hand at interviewing Portuguese and Portuguese-American figures: writers, visual artists, restaurant owners, teachers, musicians—all sorts of creative types. My goal was to get to know the Luso community and to highlight writers and artists who may not well-represented.

Since 2011 I have interviewed over 50 people. Other places my interviews have appeared are Another Chicago Magazine, The Writers Chronicle,  Smoke-Long Quarterly. A few of my interview subjects have been: Carlo Matos, Nuno Júdice, Anthony de Sa, Brian Sousa, Frank Gaspar, Stephen Rebello, José Luís Peixoto, Amy Sayre Baptista, paulA neves, Darrell Kastin, Alberto Pimenta, Irene Marques, Katherine Vaz, George Monteiro, David Oliveira, and Esmeralda Cabral.

DG: There are written and verbal interviews—each with their pros and cons. Which one do you prefer as a journalist and which as a writer?

MBA: Mostly I do written interviews, but some are verbal. I am more confident when the interview subjects put their responses in writing. In this way, I can be assured of getting the words accurately placed.

I hate to misquote people or get the details wrong! Typically I read the books or poems and study the bios. Then I make a lists of potential questions which I send out, along with follow-ups. It’s a process. Honestly, I am more of a facilitator than writer (for these interviews)—in the sense that I throw out ideas and then gently encourage those being interviewed to respond.


DG: Let’s return to your Portuguese heritage. The language is fascinating and Pessoa’s work alone would probably be enough to give it cultural relevance. But there’s also Camões and the brilliant Carlos Drummond de Andrade in Brazil. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Can you talk about the influence Portuguese has had on your writing? Do you find yourself thinking in the language sometimes?

A beautiful contemporary poet is Rosa Alice Branco. Her book Cattle of the Lord is breathtaking in scope and technique. Historically, two Portuguese poets to read are Fernand Pessoa and Emma Lazarus, who penned “The New Colossus” (the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty).


Another favorite contemporary writer is Nuno Júdice: His work is magical. I got to hear him read in Lisbon and then interviewed him after that. And of course, Pessoa is such a presence in Portuguese literature—with the sly remarks, the sense of humor, the different personalities (called heteronyms). In a lot of ways, he gave me permission to say it like it is, in words. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some stupidity is mixed in with it ― Fernando Pessoa


Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life. ― Fernando PessoaThe Book of Disquiet


I am nothing. I'll never be anything. I couldn't want to be something. Apart from that, I have in me all the dreams in the world. ― Fernando Pessoa


DG: Can you talk about the influence Portuguese has had on your writing? Do you find yourself thinking in the language sometimes?

MBA: I grew up around Azorean Portuguese (to some degree). My dad always said it was a dialect, not a language, and was generally embarrassed, ashamed of it. Of course all this only made me more interested and curious. Ultimately, I was raised “American.” Discouraged from getting to know the heritage, I wish I had been sent to Portuguese school like some of my friends. I felt caught in the middle. This is a handicap I’ve tried to remedy through the years—taking Portuguese classes in Porto and studying the language on Duolingo. It would be a dream to have the ability to think in such a beautiful language such as the one I didn’t have a chance to grow up with.

As far as influences—Portuguese poets have greatly inspired my creative efforts, along with the direction I want my work to take. My book, Through a Grainy Landscape, is inspired by these Luso poets: João Miguel Fernandes Jorge, Armando Silva Carvalho, Rui Pires Cabral, Tiago Araújo, Renata Correia Botelho, Luis Quintais, Isabel Aguiar, Rosa Alice Branca , Sam Pereira, Gastão Cruz, Sérgio Godinho, Frank Gaspar, Katherine Vaz, Manuel de Freitas, Bénédicte Houart, João Luís Barreto Guimarães, and Alberto Pimenta.

DG: Do you translate your own poems into Portuguese? Have you considered doing full-length translations of another poet?

MBA: One summer in the 90s, I was in grad school and together with my father we worked on translating Portuguese poetry—in a way it was frustrating and glorious: Not only the lines but also the words were open to interpretation. We had lovely talks over the language. I wish I had kept copies. In recent times, I have had my own poetry translated a few times working closely with translators. Diniz Borges’ bilingual anthology Into the Azorean Sea (2023) features a few of my poems, and the upcoming Portuguese version of the 2012 Gávea-Brown Book of Portuguese-American Poetry, translated by Margarida vale de Gato, includes my work. Last year, I also read in the Alfred Lewis Bilingual Reading Series (Fresno State University), where a few of my poems were translated by Carolina Matos.

DG: There are Portuguese words like saudade that have no English equivalents. In the West, the aforementioned term is often wildly misunderstood. Can you shed some light on how it’s used, and whether there’s any difference between old world and new world considerations?

MBA: My friend Luis Gonçalves talks about “Saudade” in a 1991 documentary by Bela Feldman-Bianco where Portuguese immigrants are interviewed about their lives. He states: “for many, life in New England was not any easier than life in Portugal. The adjustment to industrial jobs geared toward manufacturing and mass production was hard for these immigrants, who were accustomed to other rhythms and more organic kinds of work like farming and fishing.”

That definition of a longing for what was left behind—perhaps for a memory or a way of life—is the crux of what saudade means. In fact, some surmise that saudade is actually a longing for a way of life that never was, a longing for a dream, what was hoped for, or the idyllic fantasy of what could have been.

In this way, many Portuguese-Americans have come to be a time capsule of past festas and religious celebrations. To see the upcoming Holy Ghost festas in San Jose California, for example, is to see festas as they were once conducted in The Azores at the time of the last major Portuguese migration. Recent visitors from Portugal often remark that the festas in New Jersey and California are the celebrations described by their grandparents and great grandparents—not contemporary festas.

Our cultural celebrations and rituals haven’t “aged” the way they have on the Portuguese islands and mainland; instead they are frozen in time. The longing that many of us continue to hold for the old country is a longing for what used to be—a saudade for the country that existed when migrants left, or when their parents fled. Whole generations like my grandparents, relocated to America, never to return to Portugal, but they kept their cherished memories alive in their new chosen land.

The standard definition of saudade—mainly the one which ascribes to it feelings of melancholy or nostalgia embodying the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament—does not tell the complete story. More often than not saudade is a sad longing for a memory, an image, or a time that never existed to begin with. 

DG: You grew up in Long Beach and your upbringing had its fair share of adversity. Did you start writing as a way to cope or did the impetus come from somewhere else?

MBA: I grew up in a rough area of Long Beach. When my grandparents bought our house, it was a lower-middle class neighborhood. Still, businesses had sprouted (liquor stress, bars, a bean bag factory), and apartments rapidly replaced single family dwelling. Gangs, drugs, and guns began creeping in, perhaps the opposite of gentrification. There were shootings and graffiti. I remember late one night the doorbell rang and there was a naked girl at the front door who had been raped. My dad let her in, got a blanket, and called the police. Another time, my mom was watering the lawn and a group of gang members walked by. The water sprayed over onto the sidewalk and a guy pulled a gun and threatened her life—it was a very bad time.

You have to know also that I was an only child, so I already spent a lot of time on my own, which meant the Los Alamitos Library (a few blocks away); that was my afterschool babysitter. Mrs. Mosher and Mrs. Ferguson happily supplied me with armfuls of books and a safe haven to read them. I coped by reading. That’s also when I started making notebooks (out of paper and ribbons) and keeping  journals—I was one of the first to contribute to the library’s kids magazine called Contact, started by librarian Mrs. Posner. At the age of 12, I was on the editorial board and we met weekly to review submissions and design the layout. In addition, Mrs. Posner, at her own expense, also took us to Los Angeles to see live theater. We saw plays like The Crucible and Peter and the Wolf. She was wonderful. We had a writers’ circle on Saturdays and Ray Bradbury was a guest speaker! Can you even imagine that?

DG: For over ten years, you’ve organized the “Kale Soup for the Soul” reading series which has now taken place in many illustrious cities. What are some of your favorite events?

After gathering at Disquiet (a writing program held in Lisbon) in early 2012, the reading series Kale Soup for the Soul premiered at the Chicago Cultural Center in downtown Chicago as an offsite event during the Associated Writing Programs conference. A lively, diverse audience of 100 came out to hear nationally-known Portuguese-American. They read poems, stories, and memoirs about various topics: family, food, and Portuguese culture in general. The event was also live-streamed to 500 viewers around the world.

This was the first reading, as far as we knew at the time, to feature a group of Portuguese-American writers. In March of 2013, the second installment of Kale Soup for the Soul was held in Boston at the Portuguese Consulate.

Ojournal stated the following about the event: “This reading series deals with the significance of place, immigration, Portuguese heritage and family as well as food, as an entry point into Portuguese culture.”

Some forty events have followed since then, including panels, readings, and workshops in places such as consulates and universities all over the US and Lisbon. The most recent reading was October 2023, via Zoom (kindly sponsored by the Portuguese Beyond Borders Institute at Cal State Fresno, hosted by Diniz Borges).

Although I’m in charge of the logistics, KSFS has grown into a bold cooperative, with core members Carlo Matos, Amy Sayre Baptista, and paulA neves, and has featured some 35 different writers.

Another highlight was a mini-tour of New England where we read at Brown University, UMass, Dartmouth, and Rhode Island College. We taught “Poetry of Place” workshops with students in Portuguese Studies programs. More highlights happened at the Portuguese embassies in San Francisco and Boston, where they served wine and (surprise) kale soup! Here are some comments from people:

I have attended a few literary readings in the past but cannot say that I ever enjoyed it as much as Kale Soup. What better way could there be than through literature? What better way to ensure a legacy than to encourage and support both young and established writers—members of mainstream society who may no longer even add a hyphen to what they call themselves, yet, there they were speaking to me—my American family. —Goretti Silveira

KSFS brings together geographically diverse Portuguese-American writers telling stories about who they are and not what they are. The questions may have started at "Where You're From,” but the art that answers the questions is an entirely new landscape. I am honored to get to live in that space each time we gather and make it anew.” —Amy Sayre Baptista

DG: Let’s return to Pessoa. In the end, we can debate whether he was even one poet since he wrote from so many “personalities.” Do you see your dual identity in such fluid terms, or is it more along an Anzalduan “borderland”—that’s to say neither fully Portuguese nor fully American, to borrow her expression?

MBA: I am the epitome of the “borderland,” never feeling quite American or quite Portuguese. Wherever I am, I am not enough of whatever the category is. I was thinking the other day that no matter what subject or theme, I find myself in the grey area.

DG: What are you reading or working on these days?

I am finishing up a poetry manuscript loosely based on the psalms, entitled, In Things Evil, taken from a Shakespearian quote and a Portuguese saying:

There is some soul of goodness in things evil,

Would men observingly distil it out.  Henry V

Não ha bem que sempre dure nem há mal que nunca acabe.

There is no good that always lasts and there is no evil that never ends.

INFO AND links

Quarantine Highway

Through a Grainy Landscape

Injuring Eternity 

Author Bio:

Millicent Borges Accardi, a Portuguese-American writer, is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Through Grainy Landscape (2021) and Only More So (Salmon Poetry, Ireland). Her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright, CantoMundo, Creative Capacity, the California Arts Council, Foundation for Contemporary Arts (Covid grant). The Corporation of Yaddo, Fundação Luso-Americana (Portugal), and the Barbara Deming Foundation, “Money for Women.” She received degrees in literature and writing from CSULB and USC and calls the hippie enclave of Topanga her home.


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