In good writing, author and reader are witnesses

The pleasure of reading includes experiencing what the narrator observes

The core role of the writer is witness.

A position that places the writer as seer, processer and responder. A cumulative action that is far from passive. In fact, the documenting, the response, is the very action many moments need to come alive. Like a tree that goes down in the woods to only make an unappreciated sound, moments that are not witnessed are only partially alive. To write, to create, is to be the vessel that celebrates and reveres the existence of that or those being observed. Whether it’s reality or fiction or the liminal space between, the writer, the social observer, plays an active role in creating and establishing reality.

Allyson Jeffredo is a poet, writer and educator from the Coachella Valley. (Photo courtesy of Allyson Jeffredo) Part of the pleasure of reading is the voyeuristic nature of the reader. The reader experiences what the narrator witnesses. In some transcendent process of the mind, the reader also becomes witness. In Yesika Salgado’s poem, “Las Locas,” the reader experiences the intimate descriptions, more aptly “las locuras,” of the speaker’s tia and prima drama. At the end of the poem, the reader arrives at the identity of “the chismosa no one tells scandals to / because she writes everything down.”

The chismosa — the witness of the office, the barrio, the family gatherings and really any social setting — is an active member of the family and larger community. They are the keeper that homes the stories of others. They are the ones who listen, and sometimes transcribe, like the speaker in “Las Locas,” the family into reality and the larger social blanket (which is why diversity and inclusion are critical in the publishing machine, but that’s another essay). The chismosa here in Salgado’s poem is synonymous with the writer and is someone to be wary of, which speaks to the power and weight of the role.

At the other end of this chismorreo also lies “the chismosa,” or the writer. The second, but not in second, power of this role is to offer the deep joy of listening to people’s stories. If you ever want to make someone come to life, ask them how their “crazy” tia or their oldest daughter or their adorable dog are doing. A small yet powerful invitation like this invites a person to reveal and become who they truly are in your presence. The act of witnessing becomes a catalyst for transformation from simple existence to joyous acknowledgment. In “Las Locas,” the speaker continues,

“tell me about the time again

where you were free,

when you made a mess,

and were forgiven …”

The witness is not only someone who merely observes, but they also provide the space for others to be fully seen. An impactful gesture that brings above all else community and love. The witness provides space for emergence, for life.

Collectively, the powerful act of witnessing as writers simultaneously documents and unpacks reality. And though every action or event witnessed cannot and should not be written down, the act of witnessing is an integral part of the writing process. The more of the world we notice, the richer our writing becomes. Placing ourselves as witnesses places us in the present. By being present, we directly connect with reality and to who and which is around us. As a writer, to truly see and to provide others with the respect to be truly seen may be the greatest of privileges.