“In the house of my childhood, / My mother brought me water. / Between one drink and another, / I looked at her over the jar. / My head I raised higher and higher / The jar sank lower and lower. / And still I keep the valley / I keep my thirst and her look. / This shall be eternity / For we are still as we were.” —Gabriela Mistral
“I / encounter the infinite as the will / to survive.” —Vanessa Angélica Villarreal
Poetry We Admire can never act as a truly representative selection of Latinx voices. Nor should any one selection, however comprehensive, be viewed as an endpoint for readers seeking / sought by the words of Latinx writers.
Anthologies are as good a place as any to continue. For more (still un)comprehensive collections of Latinx poets and essayists, see: The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext, Poetry Foundation’s U.S. Latinx Voices in Poetry, Latinx Poetics: Essays on the Art of Poetry, The Latinx Poetry Project, and The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry.
I hope you enjoy the poems collected here as much as I continue to.
I did not come to solitude
she packed my suitcase and said go.
by Xavier Valcárcel (trans. Roque Raquel Salas Rivera) in Poets
This poem has been haunting me all week. It’s the kind of poem that makes me want to rethink my relationship to writing, to disrupt work meetings with its cadence, to print it out and hide it in the various nooks and crannies of my friends’ temporary homes. There is a stray cat who gave birth to a kitten in our yard I’ve been watching grow all month: The city of Oakland’s free spaying service for strays has recently run into funding trouble just as the city’s police has been promised an additional six million dollars in its annual budget. So each morning I scatter at my feet in the yard for the mother more feed than she can eat, and in the afternoons I watch her teach her overeager child, step by clumsy step, to walk more carefully, and when night falls they come to rest in a chair at the back of the garden and hold each other close and the child mewls while the same old family of raccoons crosses the yard and their young, whose outlines I must strain to see in the dark, nibble at the uneaten kibble left on the concrete, mulch, and turf, hungry for this life. So read this poem. Remember it.
life in the sway / of the void / made stones
from "Topography of the Desert"
by fernando xáuregui in Guesthouse
There’s a gorgeous confluence between sparse form and verse taking place in this poem; what I’m stopped short by here is the craft involved in a piece like this, how challenging it is to create a form that feels this light, that doesn’t tie itself to image or adjective and yet creates something so concrete. This is a poem that not only asks but encourages a reader to take their time, that is as much of the idea of water falling on the desert as it is of the desert itself, as much the idea of stones as of life between them, life that depends upon them. This is a poem so gloriously, acutely aware of mutual dependences, perhaps none more so than that between speech and silence, words and the space between them, what we might call breath.
When I worked
at the aviary, I would walk past your
window, lean into the sunlight
speckled onto your body.
from "Ode to Kody"
by M. Soledad Caballero in Poetry Northwest
“I imagined you / exhausted, lonely, even with a mate. / I imagined how you wanted to stretch / out the fifteen-foot width / of your wings, catch air, catch light and sky / grab the heat of the sun, glide along drafts / looking for fish, not something mashed, / or frozen, with no life to gut out,” and I could go on, for a long time, happy rewriting Caballero’s words for want of the pleasure of reading them again. In the kinship that Caballero captures between herself and Kody, this stellar eagle, a window is created through which we may recognize this kinship between ourselves and the bird, as well, and question anew the validity of all the structures that stand between us and our own freedom.
April, in spite of my forgetfulness.
by Melissa Bernal Austin in The Boiler
Reading Rasmussen’s Black Aperture this month, couplets are on the mind, and Austin’s wonderful Spring, more than the other work I’ve sat with, rejects imagination; or, better put, refrains from asking one thing to stand in for another. On a first reading I thought these lines were asking me to be content with things as they are, but through this lens the poem harangued me after like a turn I’d missed. I came back, read it again and again. Austin’s mesmerizing lines weren’t asking me to accept the world as it is, but something much more vital; to see the world as it is. And therein, brilliant, red, “The rose I thought was dead, but isn’t.“
The faces on the pages crowded around to watch him as I once did,
cultivating light and darkness in every face, the veins in his hands like vines.
from "My Father's Practice Book"
by Martín Espada in Michigan Quarterly Review
I regret to say on good days I strain even to move language from my head to the page, and the words to capture my thoughts and feelings about this poem have not yet left my heart. I can offer a suggestion, though — wait until you have the time, and then read this gorgeous, epic poem, from start to finish, and spend a little time here, with the photography of F. Espada.