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Recalling the voice of great poet on the first anniversary of his death: Efrain Jara

I have been writing a column for CuencaHighLife since the third week of my arrival in town. It has defined how I am perceived by others, and in many ways, shapes how I perceive myself; the glow of introspection now dominates much of my time. What began as a momentary distraction quickly emerged as an obsession — I felt compelled to quarry language, to do the yeoman’s work of chiseling away unneeded words exposing the precious jewel of language.

Writing has become central to my day.

I often describe my column as, “A love letter to Cuenca: An Accounting of Enchanting People watched over by Graceful Sentries in a Land that Always Blooms.” Yet even greater awards now come into view: evolving complexity, nuanced deliberation, and of course, the ultimate goal: clarity.

I remain mesmerized by the old-world grace,  grand gestures, and brilliant colors that define Cuenca. It mirrors the complexity of the “tatting” offered by women downtown — the knotting of a single thread into grand designs of elegant beauty.

This defines my vision of Cuenca today.

And all of this. From my first moment in Ecuador to the moment I write these words, there is a single wellspring I return to again and again to quench an undefined thirst and to refresh my spirit.

It is the poetry of Efrain Jara.

To read Jara is to read a new language.

Efrain Jara and his son Johnny.

I am driven to understand the depth of his capacity to awaken ancient wisdom, and his strength to lay bare his rawest emotions while guiding us between the dangerous islands of anger and sadness.

I study Spanish to learn his voice. I learn his voice to more deeply drink from his fountain of wisdom.

Spinoza taught us that, “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.” Efrain Jara taught us that excellence exists everywhere — birds singing — armies of marauding insects — the seductive warmth of sunburn.

He taught us that living an exemplary life is also composed of brushing our teeth in the morning, feeding the cat, and taking out the trash.

He taught that devotion to service, love of country, and exercising intellectual discipline to achieve higher knowledge is elemental.  And then he got down on his knees and bled for us.

He taught us Endurance.

We are not built to outlive our children, many cannot withstand the loss. How heroic Jara was to shed his skin, to strip all protection away, to take our hand and safely guide us through grief so deep it became dry nodes of eternity, and agony so intense that it screeched like a flock of seagulls.

The ode to the death of one of his sons is distilled into a single word, it is a sound often echoed in his poem, an unworldly sound that lives in the darkest bass tones beyond crying and grief.

It is a Sob. Drenching saltwater. Collapse. Despair. It is trembling at the entrance to a cloud so black as to absorb all sunlight, a tunnel so steep light never dares enter, but enter into it you do, wishing that this moment cannot be. But it is.

And enter into the darkness you must, and become darkness you do. And these are times when we fear for you and can barely follow your words, your damp trail of tears. But, you lead us forward. We follow you.  We are guided by your voice calling out in agony, laden deep and guttural.

And sobbing.

Efrain Jara experienced a loss so profound it can become a crushing tsunami that pulverizes and drowns. Yet, he chose to share with us his pain and suffering so that we may learn and gain strength in our own lives.

How heroic.

I am held in awe of his many accomplishments and applaud the many rewards laid before him in appreciation of a lifetime of devotion to his community.  It is satisfying to read that the nation’s highest honors and recognition earned by Senior Efrain Jara are forthcoming, for he is certainly due to stand among the finest celebrated in Ecuador’s long and cherished history.

He spent a lifetime of effort transforming the face of poetry in Ecuador, and the lives of students of poetry worldwide.

I am thankful to be learning Spanish by reading the works of Efrain Jara. He is teaching me more than the language of Ecuador; he is teaching me the meaning of life.