A Creative Review by José Angel Araguz
Unsettled Crown (a golden shovel)
only the page on which to place your crown – Laurie Ann Guerrero
When I write about mis muertos, my loved ones, only
silence sits with me. Yet in this silence (the
silence of ink and warm hand, of breath and page)
the unsayable also goes on
walking in and out of the room, a habit which
I know it cannot break. Were I to
call it unsettled, there would have to be a place
for the unsayable to go. Escuchanme, mis muertos: your
absence is unsayable. My beating heart is its unsettled crown.
"Guerrero recalls the practice of 'descansos,' makeshift crosses and memorials placed at the site where someone has died"
The above is a golden shovel-style poem incorporating the last line of Laurie Ann Guerrero’s A Crown for Gumecindo (Aztlan Libre Press, 2015). This collection presents a crown of sonnets with journal entries and meditations interspersed, which, along with paintings by Maceo Montoya, come together as a powerful elegy and tribute to the poet’s grandfather, Gumecindo Martínez Guerrero. This mix of painting and text makes for a reading experience that is thoroughly engrossing: poems are fleshed out over pages, with paintings juxtaposed for effect. Guerrero’s meditation becomes the reader’s as time is spent physically taking in and moving through the collection. The use of journal entries (which are also interpolated into the poems) furthers this effect. The variation in tone and voice compels the reader to listen closely; what is glimpsed on one page is reflected and brighter in another. Subverting the traditional crown of sonnets to fit the needs of this elegy, Guerrero recalls the practice of “descansos,” makeshift crosses and memorials placed at the site where someone has died. Guided by a strong lyric sensibility, Guerrero fashions a crown that honors the life lived as much as the death.
The decision to respond to the collection with my poem above reflects the spirit of fashioning and creating from the elements left behind. In an elegy, the poet is addressing another, reaching out to them from one side. Yet, absence is its own kind of presence, and in acknowledging absence and speaking the names of our dead, we make that presence stronger. In his introduction to this book, Tim Z. Hernández notes: “In Latin America, there is a call-and-response tradition that when the name of a fallen comrade is invoked in a public space, the entire community hollers back ¡Presente! Which is to say, he or she is with us now!” A Crown for Gumecindo stands as a testament to the power of what one can do with “only the page.”
José Angel Araguz is a CantoMundo fellow and the author of six chapbooks as well as the collection Everything We Think We Hear (Floricanto Press). His poems, prose, and reviews have appeared in RHINO Poetry, New South, and The Volta Blog. He runs the poetry blog, The Friday Influence. A second collection, Small Fires, is forthcoming from FutureCycle Press.