Review of MK Chavez’s Dear Animal, (Nomadic Press, 2016)

Review & Writing Prompt for MK Chavez's Dear Animal, 

by José Angel Araguz

 

Reading through MK Chavez’s Dear Animal, one is captivated by the ways the title phrase can be returned to and given new meaning. From direct address to noun, this title does the work not only of complementing the collection as a whole but also serving as a lens through which the poem’s stakes are made clearer. The collection begins with the proem “Artemis,” which evokes the title’s charge of direct address:  

Come ride
my
ovarian horns.
Down
with the captive
Clitori.
Be free
&
speak
my
grizzly
bear
lips.


The direct address here works twofold, invoking not only the goddess of wild animals, wilderness, and the hunt, but also casting her presence as context for the way in which this poem and the poems that follow view the female body. Through the imagery of “ovarian horns,” a complicated gesture is made. The speaker asks the goddess to possess and charge the physical body with meaning, and, thus, let the body be enough. This direct address also subverts the go-to opening of ancient epic poems (“Sing to me, O Muses,…”), only instead of commanding muses to act on their behalf, the speaker here claims both goddess and the female body as being active by being present. This presence-as-action note is further emphasized in the poem’s soundplay of “speak / my / grizzly / bear / lips,” where “bear” evokes its homonym “bare,” adding bravura and vulnerability to an already complexly layered short lyric.

The short lyric as a form itself, an animal dear to poets since the writings of Sappho, can be seen as the subject of another turn on the collection’s title. In “The Affair,” Chavez uses the short lyric as a crucible where her themes of animal and human relationships mix and mesh:

Nocturnal like most vermin,
we feed on remnants
and on the soured breath
of our lives. We loll
suckling on flesh
primitive
and sinewy.
Likeness of one
another
and the world around us.

Here, it is word choice that drives home the emotional tension of the poem. An affair in which the two are akin to “vermin” would seem unflattering except that this conceit allows for the later “loll / suckling” which connotes a tenderness not immediately associated with the word “vermin.” By placing both words as part of the metaphor, this short lyric draws out meanings beyond initial impressions and shows need and want as integral to both animal and human experience.

Another way the title Dear Animal, could be read is as defiance. The undertones of this are implicit in “Not So Ancient Mariner”:

The launch of a ship involves a certain sullying, taking her by the helm and the breaking of a bottle over the breasts of her prow, the spume bubbling in a public spectacle to mark her owned…

In these opening lines, the speaker revisits Coleridge’s poem and mines its materials to create a narrative that challenges sailing tropes, specifically how the ship is seen as female and passive. The poem continues:

Young men are always encouraged to travel, taught they are destined to be gentlemen and explorers…They are told it is their duty to return to land and tell tales, but the rite of passage is hers.

Here, the speaker addresses the other side of the dichotomy, the assumed power of males in the traditional sailor narrative. By stating that “the rite of passage is hers,” however, the speaker takes back agency. The acted upon and passive ship becomes redefined as active via its presence, returning us again to the theme found in the proem. Yet, where in the proem one’s presence as action is an act of boldness, here one is engaged in a mix of pathos and world-weariness. The defiance (against tradition, against gendered tropes) inherent in getting to the wisdom of this ending comes at the cost of disenchantment.

Disenchantment recurs as a theme throughout, but always as fuel for revelation (as in “Not So Ancient Mariner”) rather than resignation. A good example occurs in the aptly titled “The Faculties of Sense,” in which Chavez addresses the controversy around the reading of Michael Brown’s autopsy as conceptual art by Kenneth Goldsmith in 2015. Goldsmith’s “conceptual” act is placed in contrast with the speaker’s own struggle to find “equilibrium” during a “rough year” in which “[in] an effort to explain myself / I sometimes uttered, I am the aftermath / of war.” This effort toward articulation is further conveyed as the speaker meditates:

When the term random acts was first coined
it was not meant to mate with the words gunmetal
and rapid succession. Consider the body
left on the ground for hours. The world allowed to fester.

Word choice again plays a key role in this personal and political reckoning. The phrasing of “not meant to mate” (emphasis added) drives home the nature of words and their power. Throughout, this collection holds that words are human, and “mate” through meaning. With this understanding in mind, when “A solitary man, so used to his podium, / [reads] an autopsy as art,” that act is one of trying to separate language from its ingrained humanity, as if even the words of an autopsy weren’t still about a human being.

When humans—we thinking animals—become the subject of Chavez’s poems, one feels the weight of the word “dear” in the collection’s title. Language in many ways implies distance; our immediate experiences are also at a distance, the distance of memory and understanding. Yet language and memory can serve as a way to cross that distance and connect with our humanity and what, in fact, is dear to us.

*

Writing Prompt: Pick a favorite mythological deity or conduct some research into mythologies that interest you. Collect facts, interpretations, and associated words that you are drawn to. Then create an invocation in the style of “Artemis,” addressing the deity directly in a contemporary way. What would cause you to invoke said deity? What would you talk to them about? What would you ask their help and insight on? Would you gossip with them, or rage? Be sure to braid your own obsessions/fascinations into the narrative.


José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow and the author of seven chapbooks as well as the collections Everything We Think We Hear, Small Fires, and Until We Are Level Again. His poems, prose, and reviews have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Prairie Schooner, The Windward Review, and The Bind. He serves as an editor for the journal Right Hand Pointing and is on the editing staff of Airlie Press. He runs the poetry blog The Friday Influence and teaches English and creative writing at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.

Review of Amber West's Hen & God (The Word Works, 2017)


Review & Writing Prompt for Amber West’s Hen & God

by José Angel Araguz


Reading Amber West’s Hen & God, I found myself becoming more and more engaged with the ways in which West’s poetic sensibility is able to subvert expectation through a singular mix of conceit and voice. Each poem in the collection establishes a narrative and quickly pivots it toward an emotional momentum. In “Misery Index,” for example, the poem begins:

We started measuring misery
in 1963. An economist traced its origins
to 1948. Our misery: 11.49.

A year later, we were far less miserable: 5.10.

This straightforward beginning develops into a narrative about how lives are affected by misery, and vice versa. The turn in the poem comes in the final two stanzas, when West incorporates language from Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of confidence” speech, which was delivered and televised on July 15, 1979:

We won’t forget 1980, our most miserable year.
June, in particular, the cancelled trips, too many
weddings, and Misery’s 32nd birthday—
a crisis of confidence. Suddenly every baby
made her breasts ache, the threat
nearly invisible in ordinary ways.

Since then we’ve done our damnedest
to stay under 10.0 while everyday Jimmy
builds and builds. Each home sweet home
an apology we can’t quite accept: the smell
of 20.76 on his neck, its taste on his lips.

What is remarkable here is the way in which the poem moves misery from an abstract concept to a palpable, human matter. The braiding of words from Carter’s speech helps do some of this work by creating an interesting juxtaposition. The speaker’s voice, which seems to speak matter-of-factly to the reader regarding misery, handles the elevated language of the italicized quotes in a way that feels bittersweet. What does “a crisis of confidence” mean in the face of human misery? What does that phrasing ignore or smooth over? This national moment of private misery being addressed publicly is pushed in a nuanced manner; the result is an ending that brings misery closer than a televised speech could.

In “Happy Hour,” a similar use of voice as fulcrum into pathos occurs. Here, an embalmer unloads his daily woes, stating: It’s not the kindest living. The play of an embalmer saying this line about “living,” his words charged with double meaning, serves as a jumping off point for the speaker and embalmer alike. The speaker goes on to detail the embalmer singing as he drinks; it is a scene out of a poem by the likes of Charles Simic or James Tate. Yet, as is evident in the final stanza below, what makes this poem stand out is the way in which West allows the embalmer to have the last word:

The lights go up at two
I help him to a cab
he whispers Jo
next time I go
I’m coming back a crab
with a shell like bone, but red

a bloody shell as thick
as the skin is thin
on a baby’s chin

a gull would rather eat a brick

Another facet of this collection’s use of conceit and voice can be found in the more personal atmosphere of “He Visits.” This poem presents a scene in which the speaker remembers the childhood visit of an otherwise absent father. Hailed from the bedroom, “where they seem to stay / for days,” the speaker remembers being asked to “Bring some grapes for your daddy.” The narrative develops from there, and memory meets child logic in the form of a question the child-speaker asks: “How come / you never got married?” The father, in the arms of the mother, responds:

You think we should be married?
he answers, gazing at her
smiling as she gulps

He kisses her left hand
holds it in the air
There. We’re married. You happy?

I nod, watching my mother’s eyes
narrow as she swallows
something, I think
the size of an apple

This act on the part of the father to “marry” the mother is an imaginative act, but it is one that mocks the gravity and innocence of the child-speaker’s original question. And while the adult-speaker can unpack this moment for its complexities of intimacy and emotional entanglement, West deftly ends the poem with an image seen through the eyes of the child-speaker. What occurs in this scene can almost be seen as a tug-of-war over narrative. While the father “answers” the question with a gesture toward affection, the child-speaker’s intuition feels something is off; the poem’s closing image becomes a metaphoric tug against accepting the proposed narrative of the father’s gesture and looking for what else there is to see and note in that moment.

Such moments of insistence and exploration drive Hen & God. Whether elegizing public and personal deaths or recalling previous relationships and friendships, West’s ambition to live up to the claim in “Poem as God” that “I am god and my ears / are the wings of the world” makes for compelling poetic moments throughout.

*

Writing Prompt: Along with “Misery Index,” a number of poems in Hen & God make use of found language. The poem below stands out for the ways in which borrowed, factual language is blurred and made intimate as the poem develops.

On your own, pick a local bird whose presence is so abundant you almost neglect to notice it sometimes. Conduct some research on the bird, taking notes on whatever facts appeal to you as language and phrasing. Then, freewrite about a past relationship, love or otherwise, staying close to memory and how things have changed in your life since that relationship. Try braiding in some of the language from your research. Like in West’s poem below, feel free to follow the images and leaps spurred on by this mix of languages.

Artifacts of Our Affection by Amber West 

When I notice mold in my toothbrush mug
I remember the pigeons
roosting in the airshaft:
their toilet, their nest, our bedroom view
dusk and dawn

Monogamous, amorous, pigeons are known for their soft cooing calls

Once I had
three mugs, gold-trimmed
blond carousel ponies
painted on each side. A gift from your parents
our last Christmas. I thanked them
politely, might’ve even cooed

Slaughtered indiscriminately, the passenger pigeon
became extinct in 1914

One shattered in the sink
I sold another on the sidewalk. The last survives
demoted: bathroom workhorse

Servants and slaves often saw no other meat.
Pigeons in your dreams suggest

You left the photo I gave you
in the emptied dresser:
us against the wind on Golden Gate Bridge

you are taking blame for the actions of others, or may express
a desire to return home

but you took the bread maker
the banjo engraved with a golden eagle

Once used for carrying messages, pigeons represent
gossip or news. It is thought they may navigate by the sun

I take down the cloth paintings
we bought in India. Pigeon
this message to the moon:

There is no true scientific difference

in the afterglow shuffle
bedroom to kitchen

between a pigeon and

your Valentine bathrobe remains
useful—

a dove

releasing
each man it embraces.

*

Poem includes found language from the following sources:
“Passenger Pigeon” entry on reference.com
“Pigeon” entries on dreammoods.com and in Encyclopedia section on infoplease.com
“Pigeons and Doves” entry in Rainforest Bird Index on rainforest-australia.com

 


José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow and the author of six chapbooks as well as the collections Everything We Think We Hear(Floricanto Press) and Small Fires (FutureCycle Press). His poems, prose, and reviews have appeared in RHINO Poetry, New South, and Queen Mob’s Tea House. He runs the poetry blog, The Friday Influence, and teaches English and creative writing at Linfield College.

Review of Khaty Xiong's Poor Anima (Apogee, 2015)


Some Notes & a Cento for Khaty Xiong’s Poor Anima

by José Angel Araguz


Je est un autre (I is another). – Arthur Rimbaud

This quote from one of Arthur Rimbaud’s letters kept coming to mind while reading Khaty Xiong’s collection, Poor Anima (Apogee Press, 2015), at first because of the poet’s borrowing of lines and titles from Rimbaud’s work, but later because of its connection to the book’s running theme of the elusive self. Rimbaud’s quote, “I is another,” which can be interpreted to mean that our concept of self or “I” is separate from our inner selves, seems a natural conclusion within the context of the poetic act. This idea walks the fine line between persona and lyric self, and creates a space for emotional authenticity. These words also carry an added charge when considered within the world of Xiong’s poems, a world of bicultural identity, where the “I” is another in not one but two languages.

With these thoughts in mind, it is telling to look at the opening poem, “Refine,” and note how it reads as if fighting against having a first-person speaker. Without an “I,” the reader feels an added insistence to focus on the opening image:

—two bodies tangled in the night
cutting, pleading
her dark wet form against the darker form

This image is followed by a series of questions:

what does love look like now?

why would anyone want to write this?

what is vulnerable?

Again, without an “I,” these questions feel like they are coming out of a void, their need to be asked more urgent than a need for authorial presence. In dealing with the braided narratives of war, exile, and family, the poems of Poor Anima alternate between this “distanced” type of speaker and an “I” that is right in the mix of meaning-making. Note that by “distanced” I don’t mean abstract or objective; rather, Xiong is able to bring herself under as much lyric scrutiny as any family story or linguistic concept. In this way, Rimbaud’s “I is another” becomes a creative act, one that allows a poet to directly trouble and be troubled by various aspects of the lyric self.

In working on this cento, I specifically sought out lines that had an “I” in them. I thought doing so would unravel a hidden theme or argument in the book. The resulting cento gives examples of the linguistic elasticity that Xiong’s work seeks to engage with. The opening couplet consists of lines from the title poem and from “Bad Blood,” the latter’s title taken from Rimbaud:

When I linger awhile longer and I want my mother
I mean language touched by letters, the ones that teach surrender.

While my means of bringing these lines together was intuitive, I feel these two lines on their own speak to the spirit of the book in their respective ways; when brought together, they create a new depth. In “Poor Anima,” the line “When I linger awhile longer and I want my mother,” is one of a list of “when” statements. Each statement feels unfinished, yet they accumulate into narrative and dialogue grounded in the speculation of the word when, which implies a specific time but also the suddenness of transition via cause and effect.

The line from “Bad Blood” above is the last line of Xiong’s poem, and is preceded by a meditation that starts, “The dead return.” This opening phrase is echoed later in the poem by “Exile opens such possibility, and ghosts remind you to care.” Both of these instances point to the last line’s idea of being taught “surrender.” There is tension implied in this poem between the living and the dead, one that points to the creative space of meaning. The dichotomy of the living and the dead also implies transition. Ultimately, to make peace between the self that is “I” and the self one lives in, one must make peace with the changeable nature of meaning. Which brings us back to the questions of the opening poem:

what does love look like now?

why would anyone want to write this?

what is vulnerable?

The book and statement that is Poor Anima stands as an answer to all three.

 

Poor An(i)ma: a cento with lines from Khaty Xiong’s Poor Anima


Je est un autre (I is another). – Arthur Rimbaud

When I linger awhile longer and I want my mother
I mean language touched by letters, the ones that teach surrender.

Often, I call to lure myself—
I am American and it means something: My family,

the others I can’t quite trace out
though I harrow,

this time a depression, etc.     I hand over my species,
what a fucking mess. I guess we earned it—

seasons in words. I am your keeper.
I can’t hold this form, can barely remember how

I abuse the season for dialogue.
I mourn the living;

that gives river a new delta. I wait—go on—the same way.
I have been writing other things: other things have been writing me.


José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow and the author of seven chapbooks as well as the collections Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press) and Small Fires (FutureCycle Press). His poems, prose, and reviews have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Prairie Schooner, The Windward Review, and The Bind. He runs the poetry blog The Friday Influence and teaches English and creative writing at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.

Review of Donika Kelly's Bestiary (Graywolf, 2016)

 Bestiary by Donika Kelly

review & writing prompt by José Angel Araguz


One of the compelling aspects of Donika Kelly’s Bestiary (Graywolf Press) is the way the poems catalogue experiences that society in general refuses to name much less dwell upon. From child abuse to conflicted ideas of self rooted in race and oppression, Kelly’s book takes on its title’s premise of presenting a compendium of beasts and subverts it into a metaphor for documenting inner struggles and transformations. This work, however, is done indirectly through evocation and metaphor, making the arguments that much more engaging and engrossing.

There is a sequence of love poems, for example, that interpolate the language and lore around various mythological creatures and braids it with lyric meditations on the heart. In “Love Poem: Mermaid,” we encounter the lines:

Love, I am made

for calling: bare breast, smooth tail,
the perfect balance of scales.

I have claimed this rock,
which is also your heart,

which is also a shell I hold
to my ear to hear what is right

in front of me.

This mixing of the personal and mythological worlds moves beyond metaphor via direct address. Subverting the intimacy expected of love poems, the speaker evokes the distance and separation of mermaids and places it between herself and the addressed beloved. A sense of human helplessness is felt as the conceit is pushed to its conclusion:

                        I am a witness
to the sea and the sun, to your body

lashed to the mast. O that my voice
were a knife, that a knife could change

anything, that there was nothing
between us but salt and breath.

There is an emotional honesty in these lines that springs from both mermaid metaphor and human voice. The mermaid metaphor invites “the sea and the sun” and the “body / lashed to the mast” imagery into the poem. Yet, it is the human voice of the speaker that brings home the logic and hurt behind the last three lines. Wishing that “there was nothing / between us but salt and breath,” suggests, without naming, the worlds (mythological, emotional) between the speaker and the beloved.

This work of suggestion continues throughout the book’s other themes. In “Balloon,” we find a speaker contemplating:

What kind of bird is she? Foul.
What kind of woman is she?

In “Love Poem: Griffon,” another speaker:

What
kind of bird am I?

These moments are rendered in their respective poems in ways that allow the questions to suggest themselves. In “Balloon,” wordplay presents a moment of blurred insight; in the latter poem, a griffon is given voice only to question itself, a move that seems playful except when lingered upon. What is being given voice in a poem like this is both a griffon and a self; these questions, then, point to spaces where words are left unspoken.

The gesture is nuanced, yet essential. The poems of Bestiary surprise in their ability to acknowledge silences. This is most evident in “Love Poem: Donika,” in which the speaker interrogates that other mythological creature, the poet:

This is a spring of shambles.
Of meadows slow to flower,
of fire sooting the underbrush,
and, love, I am lonely as a bear.

After admitting that “I am no good at bearish things,” the speaker goes on to end the poem stating:

I am tired of mounting
this hill alone.
                        Love, how do I gain
what was lost in winter?

Here, we have a poem that moves from “a spring of shambles” to a looking back at “what was lost in winter.” Through the conceit of a bear emerging out of hibernation, this poem evokes a sense of being acutely aware of change and loss simultaneously. This particular change and loss, however, is less about any beloved and more about a state of being.

To push the conceit further: bears and poets survive, for all intents and purposes, through acts of necessary solitude. But what is there after survival? What is there beyond moving forward? The poems of Bestiary ask us to listen not just for the answers to these questions but for the questions themselves. In this space, silence is seen not as the absence of sound but a lessening of it, a lessening that implies a return.

 

Writing Prompt: Choose a creature (mythological or otherwise) and free-write a list of associations around it. Allow for things you know to mix with pure associations that occur in the moment. Then, think about a memory or time in your life where you conflicted with someone (a partner, a family member, yourself, etc.) and list phrases that you recall from that time. Then braid these two lists into a poem where one side influences the feel and logic of the other.

 


José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow and the author of seven chapbooks as well as the collections Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press) and Small Fires (FutureCycle Press). His poems, prose, and reviews have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Prairie Schooner, The Windward Review, and The Bind. He runs the poetry blog The Friday Influence and teaches English and creative writing at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.

Review of Jordan Rice's Constellarium (Orison Books, April 2016)

Natal Chart for Constellarium by Jordan Rice

review/interpretation by José Angel Araguz
natal chart illustration by Ani Schreiber


A constellarium is a device used in teaching the shapes of several constellations. Constellarium by Jordan Rice is a collection of poems that teaches the shapes and depths of various personal experiences. From the poet’s gender transition to memories of family affected by military service and friends affected by personal trials, Rice has created a book that speaks to what must be faced and overcome in the struggle of staying true to one’s self.

Below is a natal chart of Constellarium, taking its publication date as its birthdate. My interpretation focuses on the aspects of the chart that matter most in a book. In discussing this book as its own separate entity and being astrologically, I explore the reading-as-aesthetic-act process to which poetry uniquely lends itself. To paraphrase Borges, a book is not an aesthetic act; the writing of one, however, is, and so is the reading of one. If astrology is talking about the stars in terms of “influence” on our lives, Constellarium becomes a space where the push and pull of said influences are shown and evoked.

Natal chart by Ani Schreiber

Sun in Aries

With a publication date of April 5, 2016, Constellarium falls under the sign of Aries at the beginning of the astrological year. Along with the implications of new beginnings that are associated with spring, there is also a focus on the ever-evolving present moment. Aries is a fire sign, and fire is constantly in motion, flickering as flame or seething as ember. The poem “My Life” evokes this range between flicker and seething in its opening line, “The physician tells me much I know already,” and follows through in its detailing of what the speaker is told and consequently feels:

Life won’t be simple either way and, it’s an
impossible choice. I take a year. Then advice.
Lose weight now. Grow out your hair. Unlearn
hiding. Mostly fear will pass. Passing’s always
a state of mind, though you may require surgery.

The tone of the first three lines of this stanza feels straightforward; the physician’s “advice” and speaker’s waiting live within reckoning’s flicker in a controlled manner. This control is then pushed against by the turn of the words “pass” and “passing” in the second to last line of this excerpt. “Mostly fear will pass,” reads as the first pat response to fray, the word “mostly” undercutting the certainty of “fear will pass.” From “pass,” the poem immediately moves on to the act of “passing” which for the speaker is defined as a “state of mind” that “may require surgery.” This framing of the speaker’s stakes as mental and physical further undercuts the certainty of the tone at the beginning. This movement from certainty to complexity stays true to the spirit of Aries and its focus on the now; the physician’s advice, said with certainty, is challenged to make space for human frailty. It is important to note that this challenge is not a dismissal; rather, it is a refusal to pretend that fear isn’t present while nevertheless moving forward.

 
Moon in Pisces

While sun in Aries means Constellarium is a book that challenges and charges forward, its moon in Pisces speaks of great intuition. This intuitive aptitude is present in poems like “Epithalamion,” in which the traditional wedding poem is subverted to honestly reflect on the effects the speaker’s transition has on her marriage:

No voice carries. I try every one, even

apology & rhetoric: the apsis of our fall. Listen.

Around us whirs the sex I’m to becomeviolent,
exact. I etch up another voice within your silence.

Say, I’m sorry. Say I am sorry. Say again I had no choice.
I lost one self to this other and killed our child’s father.

The moon in natal charts is tied to emotions; with Pisces in control, this means mutability and depth, both of which are evident in this poem. In going from “voice to voice,” the speaker here shows a great effort to reach an understanding with the wife, and a steady frustration of this effort. Within this idea of “trying” voices, the poem itself acts as another voice, another means for the speaker to work toward understanding. A line like “I lost one self to this other and killed our child’s father,” which sums up the complexity of the speaker’s circumstances while at the same time making space for its effects on her child, has a lyric elasticity that moves narrative into the realm of empathy. This emotional flexibility is the Pisces influence, while the persistence is the charge of Aries.


Mercury in Aries

Mercury in a natal chart controls communication, and here we find Aries again. A brief look at the chart above shows that Constellarium’s overall astrological makeup involves several turns between Aries and Pisces. The tension between the fire of Aries and Pisces, a water sign, presents itself in insightful poems that are active while dwelling on emotional stakes. This capability regarding communication is evident in the poems dealing with family, like “Tresses” which ends:

My father will still limp from living room
to kitchen, kitchen to front door, stooping the gravel

drive to welcome me beyond his own startle and
amazement, whomever steps from my familiar car,

softer now, with rounded face, hips wide as
my mother’s, who cannot look at me so very long.

Or “Passover,” one of Constellarium’s longer poems, which is addressed to the speaker’s brother who is following an uncle’s footsteps into the military. The poem ends with the speaker remembering a visit to the ruins of a prison camp:

And maybe I meant it as a reminder

or a warning to not sign yourself off overseas, ship out, get lost,
but you ignored me and walked out to the ledge by the water,

where the granite rose in an easy slope from the current
to submerge into woodline and the current of roots and all else

behind us, and pointed to a wide, crystalline streak in the stone
and said to me, This is a fault. This is a fault of the earth.

Whether it is the father in “Tresses” seeing the speaker and welcoming her “beyond his own startle and / amazement” or the speaker in “Passover” admitting the possible intentions behind the visit to the prison camp, Constellarium is full of moments of crucial clarity. Even in “Tresses,” when the mother “cannot look at me so very long,” the poem acknowledges the looking that is done. Acknowledging the human effort behind such looking is difficult yet necessary work. Aries is famed for being the god of war in mythology; when considered through the lens of astrology, this war becomes an inner one. Constellarium, with its mix of Aries and Pisces influence, embodies the reconciliation of war and empathy; to survive one’s inner war, one must empathize with themselves. These poems impress upon the reader poetry’s ability to say, like the brother in “Passover,” “This is a fault. This is a fault of the earth”: One sentence acknowledges the fault, while the following one notes its place in the world.


José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow and the author of seven chapbooks as well as the collections Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press) and Small Fires (FutureCycle Press). His poems, prose, and reviews have appeared in Crab Creek Review, Prairie Schooner, The Windward Review, and The Bind. He runs the poetry blog The Friday Influence and teaches English and creative writing at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.