Bruce Dean Willis

is Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at The University of Tulsa. His research and publications focus on diverse aspects of poetry and performance, and expressions of Indigenous and African cultures, in Latin American literature, particularly Brazil, Chile, and Mexico.

TIME FOR CHOCOLATE is available for purchase through One Act Play Depot! A brief description:

An intoxicating evening of music, poetry, and chocolate... in pre-conquest Mexico!
Based on a fifteenth-century dialogue among nobles schooled in rhetoric and philosophy, the play pits father against son in a war of words over the power and beauty of artistic expression.

Monday, May 11, 2020


(poema pro Jorge Bandeira no aniversário 52 dele, 23/ABR/2020)

Jotabê, Jotabê, quem é Jotabê?
É um homem que veio do igarapé.
E é para lá que deseja voltar?
Tanto faz – ele mora no mesmo lugar.

Jotabê, Jotabê, como é Jotabê?
É um homem nuinho da cabeça ao pé.
E o que ele põe quando se tem que tapar?
Se veste de versos, de sol e de ar.

Jotabê, Jotabê, o que faz Jotabê?
Ele faz é desenhos e livros e play.
Não é no teatro que vai ensaiar?
No palco ele brinca e ensina sonhar.

Jotabê, Jotabê, o que diz Jotabê?
Ele diz que o mundo é nem que você.
E isso, o que pode significar?
Sei lá. Quer saber? Vá com ele falar!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Calavera Bolsonaro

Mucho cobarde se esconde
vilmente tras el gatillo,
pues busca algo en el bolsillo…
que agarrar no tiene dónde.

Un tal cretino que incita
a su gente a la violencia -
sin importar consecuencia
al ruin racismo la invita -
se llama Jair Bolsonaro.
Este bruto brasileño
pone desigual empeño
en promover el descaro.

Su seña reconocida -
con los dedos apuntando
cual pistolas disparando –
lo delata fratricida,
aun cuando sus comentarios
homofóbicos, racistas,
misóginos y fascistas
estimulan partidarios.

Pues hay quien lo apoya, ciego,
como rechazo al partido
que percibe corrompido,
sin ver corrupto el propio ego:
el voto por el malvado
es un voto por la saña
que al público tonto engaña
al sentirse muy halagado,
pero aunque se haga jurar,
promesa hecha por culebra,
por mucho que se celebra,
es imposible confiar.

Así pintaba el ambiente
cuando llegó la Catrina,
vestida de gente fina,
de la situación consciente.
Se acerca al exmilitar,
saboreando el disgusto,
y al malhechor le da un susto
que no logra disfrazar.
Sai de mim, Morte, depressa!
Aprecio seus favores,
mas não aturo seus pavores.
Seu voto em mim não interessa.
Le responde la Difunta,
“Como apuñalado fuiste,
pero con vida seguiste,
mi dedo-rifle te apunta.”

Y ahí petateó el capitán
por la Muerte señalado,
el ademán coreado
por los que despertarán,
los que dejarán atrás
a una calavera tiesa
por un Brasil que progresa
como tú, lector, harás.

PORT: Uma “calavera” é um poema satírico da tradição mexicana, próprio da temporada do Día de los Muertos. A calavera retrata o falecimento imaginado de alguma figura pública, de maneira inspirada pelo caráter ou os excessos dessa figura.

ENGL: A “calavera” is a satirical poem, traditional in Mexico during the season of Día de los Muertos. The calavera portrays the imagined passing of some public figure, in a way that is inspired by the personality or excesses of that person.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ixta y Goyo

Duermen edades ciegas
       pero a veces son activos

Dominan el paisaje
       de la mes(et)a

Una es como de color blanco
       y el otro humeado

Protagonizan leyendas
       contadas entre familia

Majestuosos, representan
       la sabiduría impávida de la naturaleza

Y se siente el retumbar
       cuando ronronean

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Corn Husk Chat

Last Friday, as part of a program called "The Art and Science of Food" hosted by the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities for the students of San Miguel Middle School, I got to share an hour or so with 6th, 7th, and 8th-graders in turn, discussing corn in the Mayan worldview. After talking about topics like the cities of Mayapán, hybridization of maize from teocintle (and its archaeological remains in nearby Oaxaca), and cultivation in la milpa with beans and squash to see how the plants help each other grow, we went over a quick version of the Popol Vuh creation story and the three tries to create humankind: mud, wood, and corn.

The students each got to husk an ear of corn, but before they started pulling off leaves we talked about how the pollen-catching silk strands connect to the kernels, one each, which explains why one ear can have more than one color of kernels ... and about how the Mayan elite would sometimes shape their newborns' heads to resemble an ear of corn. After the husking, we listed the many scrumptious foods made from corn, and we talked about what you can make from the other parts, too - the silk (tea), the husks (wrappings for tamales, among many other uses), and the cobs (fuel, etc.). We talked about metates, comales, and nixtamalization, and we all learned a lot, including me - I had never heard of corn silk tea.

This was a fun and productive bilingual presentation and conversation that engaged a group of junior high students, a majority of whom are the children of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, with the marvelous and delicious traditions of their ancestors.

Kitchen Cosmos

The following post was published last month as my contribution to the blog for the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities, where I am a fellow this year for the seminar on food.
Pots and pans, mortars and pestles, pitchers, whisks, knives: the implements for processing, cooking, and storing food represent some of the most elemental and yet creative of human inventions. Because of their familiarity through daily use, these utensils sometimes even become characters in legends, or the focus of certain traditions, of the kind my students and I examine and analyze in the Latin American Cultures course.
In Popol Vuh, the cosmology of the Quiché Maya, cooking tools famously rebel against their masters. The creation story relates that the gods needed three tries to create humankind. In the first attempt, the mud-sculpted proto-humans fell apart. In the second attempt, the mannequin-like figures made of wood could walk and talk, but they had neither heart nor mind, and could not recognize kindness and respect. They were punished by the gods, by their own dogs and turkeys (animals that were eaten), and even by their cooking utensils:
Then the grinding stones said this to them: “We were ground upon by you. Every day, every day, in the evening and at dawn, always you did holi, holi, huki, huki on our faces. This was our service for you who were the first people. But this day you shall feel our strength. We shall grind you like maize. We shall grind up your flesh,” said their grinding stones to them.
Then spoke also their griddles and their pots to them: “Pain you have caused us. Our mouths and our faces are sooty. You were forever throwing us upon the fire and burning us. Although we felt no pain, you now shall try it. We shall burn you,” said all of their pots. Thus their faces were all crushed. (76-77, trans. Christenson)
The mannequins were eventually drowned, and those few who survived became the monkeys.
The third try was the charm: humans were successfully amassed out of different colors of corn dough. In general terms, Mesoamerican belief systems hold that people are made of corn, and corn is kin. Even today there are those who believe that to sell corn is to sell one’s cousin, sibling, or parent–the same failure to recognize kindness and respect that doomed the wooden people.

El diluvio y la destrucción de los hombres de palo. Diego Rivera
Caribbean and Amazonian cosmologies tend to feature gourds as womb-like containers of treasured abundance. In Taino myth, for example, the ocean and all its fish are born from a dropped calabash when Deminán and his brothers try to return the gourd to its safe perch in the clouds. Cuban writer Antonio José Ponte, in his essay collection Las comidas profundas, writes of a tradition in eastern Cuba in which a gourd or a jug is kept in a secure spot out of the sun and away from animals, to be gradually filled with fruits as they come into season over the nine months of a mother’s pregnancy:
Poco a poco, entre el espíritu de la botella, figuración de Las Mil y Una Noches, y el espíritu del niño esperado, empieza a establecerse una relación muy estrecha. Todo lo dulce a la redonda, toda carne de fruta entra a la matriz de vidrio para componer un doble, un niño de tierra. La barriga de la madre y la del botellón se vuelven fermentaciones gemelas (48).
[Little by little, between the spirit of the bottle, allegory of A Thousand and One Nights, and the spirit of the expected child, a very close relationship begins to be established. All that is sweet from the surrounding area, all flesh of fruit enters into the womb of glass to create a double, a child of the earth. The belly of the mother and the belly of the jug become twin fermentations.] (my trans.)
The resulting mixture, a sangría-like drink called aliñado, is imbibed to celebrate the baby’s birth, or even stored much longer and fermented further as the child grows.
These mythological and ritual examples from the Americas blur the lines among humans, food, and food preparation utensils, as co-actors in one environment, to demonstrate an ancient truth: we are not only what we eat or drink, but also the embodied practice of how we prepare and consume it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Coloquio que sostuvieron el rincón y la esquina

Don Marcos del Rincón dijo,
"Si me acerco a la ventana,
a Tránsito de la Esquina
veré, ella que siempre pasa
husmeando y rezongando
por la puerta de mi casa
a esta hora, cuando amanece,
porque le comen las ansias
de saber mis novedades. 
Por eso, mejor me alcanza
la cortina, aquí adentro,
que, de tela oscura, tapa
mi cuerpo pero no mi oído. 
Ella quiere vistas anchas; 
yo, prefiero lo cuadrado.
Anhelo las cosas cerradas. 
Cada cosa su función,
cada cosa en su lugar. 
Aquí esperaré escondido
a escuchar su lengua mala."
Dijo doña Tránsito de la Esquina al
pasar por la ventana del Sr. Rincón,
"Ay, cómo me fastidia el ruco chismoso
que aquí vive. Nunca sale, apenas asoma
la nariz, y más bien se hace el desaparecido
detrás de su cortina. Se imagina que vengo con escándalos a contar,
cuando tan sólo me hago llegar a ver si está bien,
como quien
se cuida de un amigo, pues. Así que, 
don Marcos, hágase ver, que le traje noticias del mundo de afuera." 

"Aléjese, señora,
porque de sus malas mañas
no quiero yo ni saber.
Desvíe su caminata
a pasar por otras calles
y dejar de molestar."
Mientras lo dijo don Marcos,
no pudo dejar de espiarla.

"Ni que lo estuviera importunando,
don Marcos, no sea Ud. tan pesado. Mire que
está Ud. pálido. La brisa fresca del mar
le hace falta, y el buen beso
de los rayos del sol."

"¡Tengo la salud de un oso!
¡Qué de rayos ni qué nada!
Más bien Ud., doña Tránsito,
luce bastante quemada.
¿No será que tanto sol
le quita todas las ganas
de pensar con su sano juicio?
Su mente ya no está clara."

"¡Uf! Cuide lo que dice, don Marcos, no vaya
a ser que Ud. sea el más indicado para
señalar con dedo ajeno." Doña Tránsito le guiñó el ojo y prosiguió, "Le haré saber que por lo mismo de que yo sí
salgo y veo las gentes pasar y las nubes pasar y los naves
pasar, yo sí veo bien, todo iluminado por el astro rey, y mi salud es la de
la yegua fuerte que sube y baja por los vericuetos de la ciudad."

"Entonces, ¿por qué delira?
Le escucho pero no me habla
como debe ser, en verso,
con rima y ritmo que entablan.
Si no puede mostrar forma
de romance ni cantata,
sus opiniones e ideas
¿cómo voy yo a respetarlas?"

"¿Forma? También la tiene la ardiente luz del sol cuando se filtra por
el verdor de las hojas del bosque, y toda la escena queda ilustrada, como que de oro impregnada. Forma difícil de asir pero fácil de apreciar. ¿O no lo has visto nunca, don Marcos?"

"En mis libros veo todo.
¿Qué no pueden ilustrar
el arte de los dibujos,
la ciencia de las palabras?
Si se trata de un concepto
que merece muchas páginas,
seré el primero en leerlas.
Así, qué el mundo se me abra."

"Yo creo, señor, que eso que Ud. dice de que quiere que el mundo se le abra, es
realmente lo que Ud. añora. Pero Ud, sólo por empecinado,
por terco, porfiado, testarudo, obstinado e intransigente,
se niega a ver que el mundo se abre al umbral de su
puerta." Doña Tránsito se ajustó la blusa y la canasta que llevaba, y agregó, "Que pase un buen día, y hasta mañana."

Quedó perplejo don Marcos.
Le respondió, "Hasta mañana,"
refunfuñando entre dientes.
Se puso a pelar naranjas;
pensando en soles y mundos
dejaba caer las cáscaras.
Después volvió a sus romances
de maneras anticuadas
que escribía en puño y letra:
metáforas delicadas
de amores por doña Tránsito.
De repente entró una ráfaga
por la ventana y todo se hizo un caos
de cáscaras y metáforas y hojas sueltas que a don Marcos le costó unas horas
para arreglar, pero se fastidió y salió al muelle
para ver llegar y salir los naves y las nubes y fue entonces que
supo que
un romance es bonito pero que no siempre
lo romántico se confina en su forma.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Writers' Stabbing

            If you know what kind of a thing is a knife, you’re not going to grab it by the wrong end. How will you slice an onion with the handle? More to the point, —ouch—, how will you avoid slicing open your own palm with the blade? Which kind of tears do you want, if any? Knowing how to use a knife means knowing where and when and how to slice.

            Like a knife to an onion, an apostrophe slices a word wide open. The word didn’t, for example, precisely indicates where the o from not was cut, or elided, when the contraction was produced. The scarred misspelling “did’nt,” in contrast, shows a sloppy sliver where none was needed.

            Sometimes we see an apostrophe that reveals who holds the dagger, who possesses what: the student’s sins, the writers’ stabbing. We can even tell how many do the possessing; in these examples, there is one student, and there are more than one writers. To the ear, the student’s sins and the students’ sins and maybe even the student sins all sound the same. If we hear the cut at all, it is only the faint whisper between one s and another as the knife comes unsheathed. But we can see the cut, and a writer who desires clarity of meaning should carve with the precision of the surgeon’s scalpel.

            And yet ignorance of technique leads us to a strange reversal in contemporary English, in which people are given to using the handle for the blade and the blade for the handle, a mangled language of bludgeoned jack-o’-lanterns and punctured doorbells. It seems more common to see, lately, bloody botched procedures such as “Davids Pizzas” where “We have dipping sauce’s.” Plurals don’t need an apostrophe operation any more than pizzas need plastic surgery. And as for David, well, maybe someone is trying to suggest that he dispossess his pizzas. Is this just outright confusion, comparable to a misspelling? Is it the result of dependence on, or ignorance of, software such as Microsoft Word? Does it all stem from the anxiety of that persistent Sword of Damocles, the conundrum of “is it it’s or is it its?” My fearful suspicion is that all of this random slashing replicates the unfocused thrashing-about of a seething, unsettled society whose members do not know where or when or how to show, or to use, their weapons.

            Because an apostrophe is most certainly a weapon, and of the most vastly insidious kind of violence visited upon speakers and readers of the English language. You, writer—you!—you are complicit in Kennedy’s assassination when you give it to him like that, for him to possess, as if anyone wants to possess her or his own murder. This is a fundamentally unethical form of grammatical viciousness that, for as banal and accepted as it is, does not stop being a form of violence that affects the way we think about perpetrators and victims, about crimes and consequences. It is the lazy ease of slurred syllables—the unburdening of not bothering to locate a recycling receptacle; the casual, hurtful chuckle at someone else’s misfortune—that compounds wound over wound and adds up to the death by a thousand cuts. There is always an alternative way to recast the sentence, to subvert the strictures of column width or character count, to slice, if at all, elsewhere: the traitor's crime against the nation, the assassin’s murder of the millionaire, the bombs’ destruction upon the city.

            The writers’ stabbing is the apostrophe’s purpose. At its best, it’s the mark of a clear incision, a graceful stroke, a clever slash’s eye-catching curve. Can you cut it?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Manaus entre Emblemas e Espetáculos

A cidade de Manaus cresce além das expectativas. Definitivamente os limites da cidade na imaginação do mundo transbordam o que seria só o turismo da selva. Sem dúvida os turistas da Copa percebem que é uma cidade grande--grande mesmo--e não o que talvez pensavam: "uma aldéia no meio da Amazônia." Os governos municipal e do estado agendaram um número récorde de eventos culturais durante a Copa, e a segurança e receptividade da cidade têm sido louvadas. Tanto foi assim que, após serem realizados apenas dois dos quatro jogos programados, a cidade de Manaus ganhou o título de "melhor cidade sede da Copa."
O desenho da Arena da Amazônia faz notícia pelos toques de cultura local e de sustentabilidade: a forma de cesto de palha, a função da armazenagem da chuva, o uso da energia solar, o reaproveitamento de materiais do antigo estádio, etc. Contudo fica claro que o preço enorme da construção e o trânsito piorado causaram polêmica, entanto os três operários que morreram por acidentes durante a construção foram lamentados e martirizados.
O que acho também relevante da Arena da Amazônia é a relação que ela tem com outra construção emblemática de Manaus: o Teatro Amazonas. Estes dois prédios, construidos para a promoção de espetáculos e para a recepção de visitantes estrangeiros (e brasileiros), agora servem como ícones da cidade. O primeiro do século XIX e o segundo do século XXI; o primeiro com capacidade de 685 pessoas e o segundo de 42.000; o primeiro com palco e o segundo com grama. O primeiro foi levantado como um monumento ao Velho Continente no coração no Novo Mundo; o segundo foi desenhado para refletir formas e valores autóctones (o cesto de palha, a preservação ambiental). O Teatro Amazonas até funcionou como cortina de fundo para a apresentação do cartaz oficial de Manaus como cidade sede, fazendo desse jeito um elo entre passado e futuro.
Apoio e concordo com os desejos da grande e perseverante população manauara: que a nova Arena sirva para muitos eventos além da Copa--concertos, jogos, espetáculos--ultrapassando o objetivo literal do "para inglês (vs. italiano!) ver" para ser uma jóia sustentável mesmo.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


There's a lot of me wrapped up in that headline, in many ways! What a great game it was today, one of the most exciting draws you could imagine in what was seen nonetheless as a victory for Mexico. Professionally, I've published more about Brazil than about Mexico. But I've taught more Spanish in my Mexican accent than Portuguese in my Brazilian one. If I were for some reason confined to either of those countries for the rest of my life, I would not care - I would be pleased, and I would feel at home. Such rich cultures, such variety. They are the two poles of what it means for me to be a Latin Americanist.

Because of their sizes, populations, and economies, Brazil and Mexico are the Latin American giants. But more than this, they are the giants of the soccer world. How can this be, if Brazil has won five World Cup championships (the record) while Mexico--though almost always a strong team and one of only a few nations to have hosted the World Cup itself twice--has not yet made it to the Round of Eight? It is because they have the largest populations in the world of soccer fandom. To start with the obvious, we can eliminate the global demographic colossi China, India, and Indonesia, which don't have World Cup-qualifying teams, nor do they seem to have the fan base for them. But what about Argentina? It's also an incredibly soccer-crazed nation with a large territory, yet its population is only slightly more than a third of Mexico's. In the Spanish-speaking world, Colombia and Spain have larger populations than Argentina's, but the two populations together are still shy of Mexico's.

Among the teams at this year's World Cup, it's true that the US, Russia, Nigeria and Japan all have populations greater than Mexico's (but--except the US-- lesser than Brazil's). Still, I would contend that the uniformity of soccer passion across practically all sectors of Mexican society (and including millions of Mexicans in the US) means that the nation as a whole is much more invested in its team than are the Americans, the Russians, the Nigerians, or the Japanese.

What this means is that the particular match BRAZIL vs. MEXICO holds the greatest possible combined national interest among the citizens of the countries whose teams are playing. No wonder it was an exciting game. It probably attracted the largest TV audience of the Group phase matches. Perhaps the teams will meet yet again before this World Cup is over!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Flee, thought, across the distance.
I will catch you.
And the catching of you will be the knowing, the naming of you.

Because a name you must have.
name thing name signifier name word name name
The speed of the whirling dust in your wake as you pursue the horizon,
cloud of plumes scooting at an attainable height,
I will match with my gallop.

Let your name be... ñandú.
ñandú ñandú ñandú rhea
And mine will be gaucho.
And with my shoulder I raise my arm, I swing that with which
I will apprehend you:
three weighted ropes of different lengths, joined at one end.
ora bolas bolas bolas
With these I will capture you.
I will attain and retain and ascertain you,
thought with the heft and hurl of a

Even as you flee I have cast my stones:
ora bolas bolas bolas
one to circumscribe you quickly
your legs
step no more
while the second wraps further round to categorize you
and the third, the longest, encircles you repeatedly to characterize and contextualize you,
thought brought down for analysis,
quick squeeze succulent
for dissection
and digestion.

But sometimes you thoughts are best, and most enticing,
when unfettered, scattered
clouds of plumes plumes clouds plumes clouds of plumes
across the pampas
and I
can only perceive you
with longing for your form.

Yes, that's often best.
Knowing you are out there in space
potential not kinetic
is another way of naming,
of imagining.

Flocks of thoughts roam free
and live and die unknown
until the hunt.

Saturday, December 28, 2013


Nevados paisajes septentrionales:
longitudes descienden ríos helados,
lagos por canoas atravesados,
pueblos con bienes, redes transversales. 

Cordilleras que acaban tropicales:
cabos, islas, volcanes emplumados,
terrenos por manos pardas sembrados,
abundantes lluvias ecuatoriales. 

El águila y el cóndor, por los vientos,
espían picos blancos, playas mansas,
selvas talladas pero renacidas. 

Sobrevuelan el cono estrecho cientos 
de aves que ejecutan aéreas danzas.
Hasta el finisterra son detenidas. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Calavera tardía del tiempo libre

Yo traigo el reloj encima.
Tengo las manos atadas,
y al asiento de trabajo,
las posaderas pegadas.
Pues mi amado tiempo libre
se fue, junto a la ventana. 
Las cuatro paredes reinan,
soberbias como murallas
impenetrables. La luz
crea, cuando no se apaga,
una iluminación 
tenue, mas, mejor que nada. 
Pero con los quehaceres
esa luz viene menguada;
y la luz es el tiempo, pues
crece del sol y del agua
todo en este lindo mundo. 
El tiempo de uno no basta. 
Si resto mi tiempo libre
de las horas ocupadas,
tan poco me queda hoy
que se suma al de mañana. 
¡Ay! Se me terminó el ocio,
del poema el manantial.
Quizá al tiempo libre, ¡no haya
modo de resucitar!