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Revised schedule of readings and assignments: 4/17-5/22

Here is the revised schedule for the remainder of the semester:

Fri 4/17 Continue with Poema, Kilwein Guevara

Tue 4/21 Finish Poema; begin Odalisque in Pieces, Giménez Smith

Fri 4/24 Skype Visit from Mauricio Kilwein Guevara; continue with Odalisque in Pieces

Tue 4/28 Odalisque in Pieces

Fri 5/1 Finish Odalisque in Pieces

Tue 5/5 Excerpts from Rodrigo Toscano (available on Blackboard)

Fri 5/8 Continue with Toscano (on BB)

Tue 5/12 POEM RECITATION DUE IN CLASS

Fri 5/15 Last Day of Class: KEYWORD AND CLOSE READING POSTS DUE

Fri 5/22 BOOK REVIEW DUE AT 5PM

Sandra Maria Esteves’ Bluestown Mockingbird Mambo

 Bluestown Mockingbird Mambo begins unexpectedly–with a poem written in slang that spills off the tongue and asks to be spoken out loud, not read, while breaking preconceptions that come with collected works of poetry. Affirmations # 1 coincides with the idea of Nuyorican poetry. It is meant to be performed and read aloud. Esteves starts off with this poem to tell the reader exactly what the rest of the poem is going to be about, and what it’s not going to be. The poems focus on the poor of the South Bronx, and Esteves’ continued focus on the power of language, which is being used to bring the invisible to the forefront of the reader’s minds. Esteves excellently paints portraits of certain people, such as in the beautifully written Springfield, following a child’s exploration of her neighborhood,

She’d sneak in through wallboard spaces

large enough for a small child’s crawl.

as well as her search for knowledge in twenty five cent books she couldn’t even read. Another beautiful poem is also a portrait of another woman called, Sistas, and describes the influence of female musicians as she grew up. The poem resonates despite the obvious time period that it depicts through the musicians mentioned–it could speak of any musician and the reader could still connect with the sentiment,

Nina Simone, Celia Cruz, Billie Holiday, and Bessie

were all her sistas growin’ up,

keepin’ her company through only-child-blues.

Each and every one of Esteves’ poems throughout the collection hold this same feeling–that the emotions and rhythms in each of the poems can transcend the time in which they were written. Esteves paints through her words, each image a vivid idea in the reader’s mind’s eye. Father’s Day on Longwood Avenue has the most vivid images of the torn down apartment building where the unnamed female in the poem used to live.

 Nineteen years tumbled into shadows,

dust traces of rubble remain,

names of neighbors, best friends, disappeared.

There is a stark contrast between the still remaining apartment building of her barely known father, and the destroyed tenement where she used to live. It is obvious, but poignant symbolism–the irony that the life she actually lived was nothing but a distant memory, and yet the one she hardly knew was still standing. Every one of the poems in the collection depict some face, whether specific of unnamed. She asks the “young casualties” to “believe in yourself”, in her poem Religious Instructions of Young Casualties, and describes the speaker in the poem Native American as a tree. The latter poem connects to her heritage, Puerto Rican and Dominican, to the Native Americans of the islands, but is only in the spirit of nature in which she makes this connection. Esteves writes primarily about women, bringing their stories and perspectives to the forefront of her poems, and leaving the male perspective behind as it is so often spoken about. For instance, the poem Invisible Inscriptions follows the unfortunate marriage between Maria and Roberto. Their relations described as

Come-in-closer

but-stay-away-politics.

Love-me-but-don’t-get-attached-

I-won’t-be-around-tomorrow-syndrome.

which captures the relationship succinctly. In the second half of the poem it moves away from the “them” of the poem, to Maria and the description of her “death” and rebirth when she finds herself through writing poetry. It is again, the idea, and overall theme of Esteves’ collection, that language, especially poetry, can liberate and recreate the self. It can also shine light on the darkest parts of ourselves, as well as others, which Esteves seems to do in her poem South Bronx Testimonial # 3. She describes the self-destructiveness of the South Bronx and the people who live in it, describing the residents as “drinking a polluted nectar”. This is the picture of both literal and metaphorical poverty–where not only are the people poor in the physical, but they are poor of spirit as well.

She, again, describes this in language as well, particularly in her poem Gringolandia, in which she pokes fun at the pretentiousness of the “north american intellectuals”. In so many words, Esteves is juxtaposing the white majority against the multi-ethnic culture which she sees as “The many prismed expression” of the world. The lives of the invisible, urban poor, of the South Bronx, the slang speech which is used by those who are not considered “well-off”, this is the language which she expresses in her poetry without making it the whole of her work. The opening poem, Affirmations # 1 is Esteves’ own introduction to the poems–her identity as a Hispanic living in the South Bronx, and her identity as a poet, as well as the lives of those she has lived with and seen.

Bluestown Mockingbird Mambo is a beautifully, intensely honest collection of poems which delve into women poetics, the poor and the importance of language as a tool which can elevate and liberate.

Her Beautifully Proud Style

When picking up Sandra Cisneros’s “My Wicked Wicked Ways”, I had very little expectations to what I was getting into. From reading the back to the preface, I knew I wanted to write about this book. The tone from the beginning appeared to be focused and confident. The cover has a rough exterior, which correlates with moments in her writing. The title of the book doesn’t seem to be required (also it is the name of one of the sections), as her name has the biggest text on the front. The work speaks for its self, and after reading the work, the reader would most likely want to remember who wrote it. The front cover has a review that comments on Sandra Cisnero as being essential, which she lives up to.

The Odalisque in the front can be compared to the woman that is imagined within these lines of poetry. She breaks away from the traditional sense of the Odalisque. The girl within these lines is breaking away from her traditional culture. The Odalisque on the cover hardly reveals anything, especially the face, which after searching Odalisque there are hardly any portraits that have the face not being shown. This hidden identity though is not something that can be correlated with the poetry. The poems as a collection seem to be tour of finding an identity, and confirming that this is who she wanted to be.

The preface begins with a statement of independence. This declaration leaves a setting that will make things apparent by the end of the first three sections. The beginning of the first section, gives off the tone of innocence which has been a contradiction to the first acknowledgements of the book. The setting for the first section, “1200 South/2100 West” seems to be dedicated to childhood mementos. Within this section the poem “Twister Hits Houston” can be a way to describe the life of this character and the dysfunction and confusion of the other people’s actions around her. The poems that surround this twister poem included an abusive household, and a circular theme of death. These events have caused the character to want to break away and be alone.

“My Wicked Wicked Ways” section brings back to the expectations of the book. The first poem of this section seems to be a poem about destiny, and the predestined role of being different. Overall this section seems to be an explanation for the “wickedness” that she has grown into. The expectations that were thought of her while she was growing up have caused a way of thinking for this character that had to break away from tradition. Her break isn’t complete with the poem “Josie Bliss,” which is a nostalgic poem about a story from the previous section. The next poem quickly changes that tone by beginning it with, “I.” The tone of fear for a sense of being alone has caused her to want to be different. The tone by the end of this section is a proud sense of identity which leads into a expansion of culture, and her adventures.

The tone from the previous section leaves with a sense of being proud, with a high expectation for what life can bring for her. “The Other Countries” lives up to that expectation by beginning with a poem that gives a feeling, that this character has found joy in being free. Her conquest includes the happiness that she sees in others during her travels, and the act of looking for love. These adventures take place in different countries with different stories for most. Moments including finding someone for the moment, a possible affair, moments where the love/lust was not reciprocated towards her lover. The next poem explains that same situation happening to her; this section appears to leave nothing out and is extremely revealing and uplifting. The possibly embarrassing moments for another on a page could be a way to provide motivation for her readers to go out and experience.

This section all leads to the place of her preface, Hydra, Greece. This detail provides a sense that moments shouldn’t be taken for granted. Her visual poems provide a sense that reaching the final destination, doesn’t mean that anything is finished. That seems to be the case having two dedication poems, and finally a section dedicated to one of the significant others. This final section, “The Rodrigo Poems” appears to be a close relationship that ended with this character gaining insight during and after her affair. Her break from tradition has been broken by this man, giving off a feel of a critical examination of her situation. This insight though seems to be a refocus on the original theme, of a continual pursuit of independence for one’s self and identity.

Gloria Anzaldua’s “Borderlands: La Frontera (The New Mestiza)”

For the book review assignment, I decided to read Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands: La Frontera (The New Mestiza). Unlike some of the other Chican@ works we have studied this semester, Borderlands features a combination of both prose and poetry.

Borderlands_La_Frontera_(Anzaldua_book)

In the prose section, “Crossing Borders,” Anzaldua discusses her experiences growing up as a Chicana along the U.S.- Mexican Border, “where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds” (Anzaldua, 3). She discusses the racism she and her family had faced, as well as the sexism and homophobia she battled against throughout her life.

Whereas some of the other poets we have covered in class had celebrated all aspects of Chican@ culture, Anzaldua rejects the “hypermasculine” aspects. Her direct speech throughout the entire book is, in some ways, a rebellion against those hypermasculine ideas; she refuses to stay silent and submissive, as her parents had tried to teach her to behave. Similarly to Rodolfo Gonzales, author of Yo Soy Joaquin, Anzaldua also discusses Aztec culture at length, and strongly identifies with it, though she chooses to focus largely on the Aztec goddess Coatlicue. The “snake mother,” as Anzaldua calls her, symbolizes both femininity and sexuality, which she claims is looked down upon by the Chican@ community.

 

20041229-Coatlicue_(Museo_Nacional_de_Antropología)_MQ-3

 

The poetry section, titled “Ehecatl, The Wind,” is comprised of poems that capture the lives, as well as the violence committed against, the Chican@ community. Her poetry doesn’t sugarcoat these topics with “poetic” language or rhyme schemes, preferring instead to describe these scenes as they are. Among some of the recurring images are blood, sweat, dirt, fire, death, and bodily harm, including bruises and cuts. Her poems are gritty and haunting, and are all the more powerful for it. She wants readers to focus on the subject matter, and not so much on the words themselves. I felt this was highly effective, and even beautiful in its own way.

 

She also takes unique approaches to her work, which I have not seen in some of the other works we have read. For instance, in her poem “We Call Them Greasers,” she writes from the perspective of a white man who brutally rapes and murders a Mexican woman in front of her husband. The character describes this violence with a casual tone, and attempts to justify his actions by claiming that the ranchers “knew their betters” (134). Anzaldua’s choice to use this horrific murderer as the main character of the poem really highlights the violence in the situation; the character does not even think he has done anything wrong, and as he condemns the Mexican ranchers for sharing land and cooperating with one another, he only shows his own lack of humanity. The poem “horse” is another example of such cruelty, in which white teenagers slaughter a horse belonging to a Mexican ranch. The boy’s rich father attempts to smooth this over by “[fishing] out his wallet,” as if that could make up for the beloved horse’s life (106). The narrator wonders if the horse “[prayed] all night for morning” as it waited for the ranch workers to find it bleeding on the ground. (106) The horse is “humanized,” in a sense, and the fact that the sheriff dismisses this criminal behavior by saying “boys will be boys” shows just how little crime against the Chican@ community was regarded. (106)

 

What I found especially interesting about this book was the way the form mirrored the title. Not only is there a “border” between the prose and poetry sections, but the poetry section is also split up into different categories. The language choices Anzaldua makes are also significant to point out. Though most poems are a mixture of English and Spanish, there are some that are entirely in Spanish. To someone whose knowledge of the Spanish language is limited, this could make Borderlands less accessible–especially since the Spanish poems do not have translations. I understand that Anzaldua’s choice to include Spanish poems without translations is part of her message, and considering how she was taught as a child by her school teachers to never speak Spanish, this could be her way of reclaiming the language as her own. The mixture of English and Spanish also mimics the language that she would have heard growing up along the border. Still, I felt that more translations should have been included (perhaps as a footnote) so that others could fully enjoy and understand Anzaldua’s work.


I feel that Anzaldua’s Borderlands is incredibly important to read, not only to those who are interested in studying Chican@ works, but to everyone in general. Much of the violence Anzaldua describes in her work still occurs today, and racism against Mexican immigrants and the Chican@ community as a whole is still a huge problem. I feel that if more people picked up Borderlands, along with other Chican@ and Latin@ works, there would be less hostility and more understanding.

Slow Lightning

Eduardo C. Corral

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A lulling collection that breaches subjects of intimacy at their outpost, Slow Lightning delves into a realm that oscillates between brusque reality and its dreamlike counterparts. This is a work not concerned with or constrained by an “accurate” recollection of memories; Corral’s poetry is propelled by the somersaulting quality of experience and thought as it changes over time and undulates through language. It is through this multiplicitous, ever-changing, and magically absurd realm that Eduardo Corral navigates the dialectical nature(s) of what it may mean to possess identity as a gay Chicano writer emerging with an echo from the underbelly of his lineage.

Many of his poems are reminiscent of the state one is in upon being briskly awakened from a deep sleep; the aftertaste of the dream lingers with each word  as its recollections are scattered and reality has not yet fully set in. His allegorical poem, “Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome,” conveys this hypnagogic state and addresses AIDS in a viscerally-bound fantasm:

 

in the rain, a scarlet

snake wound

in its dark antlers.

My fingers

curled around a shard

of glass–

       it’s like holding the hand

of a child.

 

The form of his poetry is dominated by line breaks that set a ruminative, almost eerie, pacing as the reader pauses at each graphic in the mind’s eye– stanza by stanza, brushstroke by brushstroke of line. This gradualism also lends itself to the metamorphosis of images and stories as they take on different forms and representations throughout his poems.

In this way Corral’s work is undoubtedly labyrinthine, challenging perception and conceptualization. Elements of magical realism and the incorporation of Spanish between lines are interwoven to depict a stream-of-consciousness flow and dismantle traditional forms of categorization and identification. Corral’s speaker embodies a shapeshifter in the highly sexualized poem “Self-Portrait With Tumbling And Lasso,”accessing the borderlands of his heritage and sexuality with fantastical elements that connote grandeur and elevate the persona in the poem as the speaker takes command of them: “I’m weaving/ the snarls of a wolf/ through my hair/like ribbon…I’m pompadour/and splendid….I’m skinned/and Orphic.” (“Self-Portrait With Tumbling And Lasso”)

The persona as shapeshifter in “Self Portrait” as well as the back-and-forth between Spanish and English creates the momentum that is also reflective of Corral’s vision of art and language.  Artistry is always, inevitably, emulation and infinite mutability. This notion of the mobility of materials and their transiency continues in “Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome” as he recreates an object to his inclination, paying homage to the notion of recyclability in art: “I’ll cut the harp strings/for my mandolin, use the frame as a window/in a chapel/yet to be built. I’ll scrape/off it’s blue/lacquer, melt the flakes/down with/a candle and ladle/and paint the inner curve/of my soup bowl.”

Corral creates a new window of perception for his readers as he emThe Broken Column by Frida Kahlo OSA164blazons this notion of recyclability with a sense of optimism. As Carl Phillips states in the introduction to the book: “Estrangement, Corral suggests, is many-sided. Not to belong anywhere in particular means somehow an ability to go anywhere in general, but always as a tourist, an outsider,” Corral’s “otherness” is a source of illumination and a heightened consciousness. This is particularly evident in his ekphrastic poems, “Poem After Frida Kahlo’s Painting The Broken Column”:

On a bench, beneath a candle-lit window

whose sheer curtains resemble honey

sliding down a jar, Kahlo lifts her skirts.

Kahlo glaring at a self-portrait

as if her gaze were responsible for holding it to the wall.

As well as:

 

again and again he shuffled a deck of cards/a small accordion

in his hands/to be a man/to be a tree/or even something less

 

(“Misael: Oil, Acrylic, Mixed Media On Canvas: Julio Galan: 2001″)

–where his poetry becomes a kind of impressionist fingerprint.

 

Thus Corral’s emphasis upon the cyclical nature of all things reverberates with a kind of hope; the message throughout his poetry is that complexities are merely tied to us as a state of mind, they are not attached to us in any way and neither is any one “identity.” Thinking back to Michael J. Martinez’s work, this stems from the arbitrariness of language and the unreliability of the labels we assign ourselves. In other words, one may look out the window and just as easily change the context—recreate it: “the mirror still reflects a crescent moon…I pull the crescent out a rigid curve that softens into a length of cloth.” (“The Blindfold”)

This idea of give-and-take inherent in the ekphrastic and the recycled is perpetuated through the speaker’s hypersensuality. It jumps of the page; he takes it one step further, wrestling with power dynamics and a master-slave relationship poised alongside the image of his father. His father’s influence becomes a looming presence that represents a hypermasculine Illegal-American adapting to his surroundings, unflinching in stride– biting in the way the speaker depicts his aloofness: “If I ask for a goldfish, he spits a glob of phlegm/into a jar of water.” (“In Colorado My Father Scoured And Stacked Dishes”) There is a longing to liken to the parental figure whose shadow appears to follow into the speaker’s life and become the libidinal force driving the poems centered around eclipsed desire: “I long to return to my master/who knew neither fear nor patience.” (“Monologue Of A Vulture’s Shadow”)

There is so much motion in Corral’s poems yet their musicality is sedative. Perhaps this is why there is so much mention made to musical instruments throughout the work, evident even in the few aforementioned examples. Slow Lightning is the utter paradox; Corral brings together what cannot coexist in reality to create a temporally-defying, subterranean cosmos comfortable in its ambivalence.

 

“Kingdom Animalia” by Aracelis Girmay

The name goes a bit deep, just like a lot of the poetry inside the book. The title “Kingdom Animalia” refers to the lineages rooted far back in the tree that represents the history of life on earth.  It is about the origin of modern animals, and deals with a concept of evolution. The book of poetry moves along with this sense of being, as if there is a change happening. A change of thought that the speaker embodies from poem to poem, or at least this is what I gathered.

Her collection of works starts off with “a book of dirt” which brought me through an array of emotions, mostly melancholy. The speaker focuses greatly on death, loss, and the inevitability of the end. Dirt is where all of humanity will eventually go, and it is what all of humanity eventually becomes. As a starting off point I really enjoyed this section. It brought up emotions and got me invested, which, after all the poetry I have gone through over the years, is not the easiest thing to accomplish.  The jumbled up images convey a sense of confusion and dread and as I attempted to understand what was going on I realized the point was for me to not really fully understand.

With that confusion in mind, this poetry book does not cater to new audiences well. I have read a lot of poetry with a similar style to this book, so it was not as daunting as it might be to newer audiences. This is no way an attempt to toot my own horn, of course. It may even be possible that the confusion that I felt towards the beginning section may only be because of my own reading of the text.

After the first section, which is primarily about death and family, the poetry becomes centered on different images like animals and odd gender roles. It is a bit more difficult to put this section into a category because of how odd it is. It starts off with a poem that has many weather images that are combined with animal movements. A fog moves like a wolf, circling the park. This is one of the images that stood out in the first poem. It provides a sense of suffocation and being cornered. The park is being choked by the mist, and completely cut off from everywhere else. It is lines like this that make this author’s poetry so enticing.

Continuing along the same section, the second poem is about a man who wears a dress. Oh, and he likes it a lot. “A dude rocks a slick green dress once, for kicks, & the whole gender paradigm has to shift? Come on.” These two lines are in italics as well, so it is as if the guy is saying it. This poem takes a funny approach to gender roles. The dude just wants to kick it in his dress without making a big deal about it. He gets jealous of the breeze that women feel in their skirts on a hot summer day, and he is not trying to make a giant gender issue about it. Just let him wear his dress! He probably looks great in green anyway. This poem was very amusing even though it touched a little on an emotional topic. It showed how well the author can convey a feeling that she chooses to convey.

I looked up a few reviews for the book online. The reviews seem to use a mix of words like “nature”, “fortunate”, and “elegiac.” I’m not 100% sure what elegiac even means, but it is safe to assume that this person reads poetry often. This vocabulary seems to align with the thought that this reviewer is an avid poetry reader, and that is more than likely why she enjoyed this poetry book. The negative reviews, which seemed to only go down to 3 stars, stated that this book was not their “style” (whatever that means) but praised the book anyway. Overall, the poetry book captures the reader’s attention. The main issue stems from inexperience, or if a reader is looking for a poem that moves him or her to a certain place. This poetry book seems designed to make a reader feel something, and then bombard the reader with images. There is nothing specifically clear about the poetry, but it sounds so lovely and sad.

el·e·gi·ac

ˌeləˈjīək,eˈlējēˌak/

adjective

1.

(especially of a work of art) having a mournful quality.

Ada Limón’s “Lucky Wreck”

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Ada Limón’s Lucky Wreck is a masterful collection of poetry—one that moves at a wildly energetic pace while managing to catch the smallest and most intimate moments. There’s a temporal sense in Limón’s work as most of her poems mention seasons, numbers, hours. You’ll feel as if you have followed 20 years of someone’s life by the time you reach the last poem. At this, the speaker feels rootless and detached. She’s always moving too fast, always passing through, never still. Limón writes, “She enters the world a ready-set-go girl” as if life is a race to the finish (148). Throughout the collection there is the recurring image of a window. Whether it’s a car window or a window ledge to sit on, it becomes one of the central figures in the text. The speaker sits in her window and watches her neighbors set up a picnic, thinking, “they were only a fleeting thought and me, simply a body on a windowsill passing through” (143). Like the speaker, the windowsill is a very liminal figure—always in between or occupying a threshold. It becomes an object of comfort and familiarity in an otherwise shifting setting.

There is a lack of any real geographical setting as each poem situates you in a different location. Every time there’s a recognizable landmark from the speaker’s childhood or life, she is back in a car, racing down stretches of highway “at 66 miles per hour”. The open road often symbolizes potential, progress and future, but for this speaker it blurs and scatters “like memory”. She presses her face “up against the window /unable to discern whether or not I was as much /of a blur as the things I passed” (257). Without her roots in one location, she begins to feel like she is moving so fast she is disappearing. These elements of liminality and scattered origins are perhaps what situates Limón in contemporary Latin@ poetry. Her work adds an invaluable perspective and breadth to an already extensive field.

Even with the collection’s rapid pacing, you always want to keep up. It’s written in a voice that’s honest, tender, and often brutally self-reflective. She understands and notices the smallest details; feels tenderness for the smallest creatures. There’s a focus on insects and small animals—she writes an entire poetic sequence about a spider and it’s web. She captures a bee in her sixth floor office and carries him all the way down and through the lobby. There are thirteen feral cats living in her backyard that she worries about everyday. She says, “I don’t feed them; /they live off of garbage and luck” (461). She ends up connecting with these wandering cats. She takes great care in the little things, despite feeling like a blur of motion. There are also very short poems interspersed throughout the collection with titles such as “Little Morning”, “Little Day”, and “Little Obsession”. The best by far is “Little Kindness”, a three-line poem that embodies Limón’s poetic voice:

My kindness is wrapped around my ankles

and it is too heavy to fit in this door,

too ugly to wear out. (222)

Like the insects she saves she feels too small, too fragile, and too kind. However, all of these descriptions would be far too simplistic. Her kindness weighs her down, but from this comes something powerful and angry. Despite her outward gentleness and sensitivity, there is a deep sense of rage in this collection. All of this is part of what makes Limón’s work so dynamic and interesting—this rageful, sensitive but unsentimental voice that is so quintessentially human.

[I ended up taking exact page locations from the Kindle version so that’s why it looks like there are so many pages in this book]

Book Review: Kingdom Animalia

Aracelis Girmay’s Kingdom Animalia is an elegiac and self-reflective collection of poems that allows one to see how humanity is part of the spiritual world, that is nature, and through this connection, it is realized that we are never truly departed from our loved ones who have passed on to this other world (returning to nature through death by giving the body back to the earth) for they can be found all around us. Girmay weaves together the interconnection of mortality, beauty, and the environment. One way to honor the dead is to connect with nature because nature is the embodiment of sacredness and otherness, and in order to celebrate the sacredness one must see the beauty in nature.

The poems have a sense of yearning, yearning to speak to her departed loved ones, and yearning for them to come back, and sometimes they return as manifestations in nature. In the poem “I Am Not Ready to Die Yet,” she says, “See now, there go some eyes you knew once riding the legs of another animal.” And in “St. Elizabeth, she says, “& the goat mouths bleating as they greet me on the road. I fall in love. How they wear their strange & double-eyes. How they do not blink or laugh at me or say a thing I understand when I ask them in my English, because they circle around my feet, as if they always knew me, Were you my children once? Did I know your names?” On the contrary, she also seems to be haunted as the universe is also trying to communicate with her. She uses animal metaphors and symbolism as a language to describe her communication with nature. Even things that aren’t part of the animal kingdom are personified, she mentions “soprano airplanes” and “grass-whistle.”

Apart from the mournful tone, Girmay has instances where she emphasizes the celebration of the beauty of life. She reflects to an experience about feeling deaf and referenced her uncle Nino who wore a hearing aide in “Self-portrait as The Airplane (Ode to the Noise in the Ear),” she says, “The ear is not a jukebox, it opens its mouth & swallows jackhammers, coyotes, & the tambourines, god, give me the good & common sense to keep the tongue from cursing at this news.” She becomes aware to not take for granted these sounds around her speaking to her ears, for others have lost the ability to hear, even noise. The poem “For Patrick Rosal Who Wore a Dress and Said,” speaks about a man who wanted to wear a dress one day and didn’t care about how he would be judged. This poem highlights the importance of living and celebrating one’s life the way one wishes because it won’t last forever. It says, “Bless this holy, holy chance to move above the ground like this.” In another poem, “Running Home, I saw The planets,” she says “Hoofing it home, the click & clop of their patent leather hooves—Still, it touches my ear, this sound. I touch my heart. I can’t stop touching my heart & saying, Today is my birthday.” She realizes that she only has so many moments in life to celebrate herself, because the time will inevitably arrive when there would be no more birthdays to celebrate anymore.

My favorite poem is “La Boda del Mar y Arena,” which means the wedding between/of land and sea. I always found places regarded as thresholds so enchanting. Beaches, the mouth of a cave, the edge of a cliff, a trail that leads into the forest, are places that symbolize endings and beginnings, and being between the worlds. In a way, Girmay is trying to play mediator between the world of the living and the unknown and transcendent world of spirit represented by nature. In this poem she says, “the sea & beach move into each other’s mouths particle by particle; each one wanders the big rooms of the other. O, god, let us love like they love.” My favorite quote is from the poem “Praise Song for the Donkey,” and this very sad poem is about an innocent donkey that was killed by a missile, and she says, “Praise the small, black luggage of the donkey’s eye in a field, flung far, filling the ants & birds with what it saw.” From the syntax, to the imagery, the idea was cleverly expressed. Another quote I really like is “Trust we’ll know your shape, whatever species in you answers when we put our faces to the dirt & call you by your old & human name” (Dear Minnie, Dear Ms.). This quote is reaffirming that death is just a transformation, the passing on into a different form.

There’s one phrase that Girmay repeats once in “Elegy” and again in “On Living,” she asks, What to do with this knowledge that our living is not guaranteed?” And I think the intended answer is to celebrate every waking moment because life is indeed not guaranteed (we’re not immortal beings) only a temporary one is. And lastly, there’s only one thing she claims is true in “Elegy,” a very insightful quote, she reveals, “Listen to me. I am telling you a true thing. This is the only kingdom. The kingdom of touching; the touches of the disappearing, things.”

I enjoyed reading this set of poems, especially because of the imaginative, animal, and morbid elements found in each one. Initially, I was attracted to the title and book cover. The book cover reminds me of the god Pan, the god of nature who’s a satyre and is attributed to enchantments, the animal kingdom, and being the horned god, rules over death and rebirth. Overall, the collection of poems is beautiful; a well constructed work of art.