Academic journal article Chasqui

Garcia, Ramon. Other Countries: Poems

Academic journal article Chasqui

Garcia, Ramon. Other Countries: Poems

Article excerpt

Garcia, Ramon. Other Countries: Poems. Los Angeles: Glass Table Collective-What Books, 2010. 82 pp. ISBN: 9780-9823-5426-1.

Our guide to the landscape surveyed in this volume of poems is, from the epigraph's quotation of Ruben Dario, a "caminante" through "ese pais incognito que suenas." We're motored into the human crossroads of the San Joaquin Valley, defined by the menacing combination of subtopia, racism, and big agriculture. Then we're ushered into the visual pleasures of queer Los Angeles, with its "ashes of architecture and lust." Postmodern fairytales lure us into the "realismo sucio" of borderlands, whose poet-narrator is a fusion of modern Arthur Rimbaud, a shyer John Rechy and the wordlessly smiling outsider artist, Martin Ramirez. He'll linger wherever he finds comfortable companions, observing the ratlike "masters of survival" in downtown Los Angeles, or watching from the sidelines in "El Jalisco," a bar plastered with posters of Marilyn and Liz, where immigrant men buy each other beers, while the winners, blessed with mobility, easy jobs, a great place to live and a "happy, mischievous boy's smile," know that money and sex reasonably substitute for camaraderie.

The cartography of the three sections of Other Countries moves, roughly, through the San Joaquin Valley ("The Son"), hunkers into downtown Los Angeles ("Prodigal Cities") and engage fantasies of leaving ("The Other"). Unsentimental examinations of childhood's end produce several of the volume's best poems, in dialogue with one another. "Generations" pays homage to Oscar Zeta Acosta as a local boy who made good on the promise to leave, while the sad, compassionate and hilarious "Holiday Inn" develops that ever-useful dramatic situation, "my least favorite job." The poet's busboy work in the summer after high school graduation presents a Darwinian cast of characters and world divided into those who will stay in Modesto and those who will leave. The former do well, jockeying to make a buck from passing motorists, while the poet in his black and white polyester uniform, "skinny, brown and shy," hovers near the pecking order's lowest rungs. Elderly wealthy white guests proposition him. Long-time workers like the Chinese Ida and more recent arrivals like "Cindy, the new hostess ... from a cold state with lots of snow" succeed in stealing his tips. Cindy, over thirty and unmarried, turns tricks in the parking lot. "She pretends not to see me as I step inside my car."

Surveying the tenuous territory of late childhood and adolescence enables the "good son," the promising child of Mexican immigrants the landscape for representing the dimwits whose malevolence and white privilege heap further barricades against him in a land of orchards, grapevines, fruit fields and factories that roll past on Highway 99, where tract houses are sandwiched between "ranches that don't look like ranches" and "pastured assembly line corrals/crowded together, heavy with the patient/storing of slaughter" ("Golden Highway").

School, the striver's zone por excelencia, seems the place where the immigrant child's "idylls come to an end." Such is confirmed in the boy's unironic purchase of a poster "from catalogues the teacher gave us." Affixed between posters of "KISS" and "Blondie" to the walls of the bedroom shared by two brothers, the school-sanctioned image depicts a scene known as "the End of the Trail:" "a dead Indian collapsed upon/a horse's back, an arrow piercing/his spine ... a sunset/blazed as if pumped with blood." The ideologies that accompany this silent testimony to "Kill the Indian, Save the Man" are more openly articulated in "Horses," where a xenophobic and racist teacher carps on Communist Cubans flooding into Miarei. She reserves her sole show of affection for the framed photographs of her three horses, perched on her desk, which the speaker rightly rejects, not least for their "weird white girl names."

Inviting us into "this melancholy tableau/of the West," the poet develops (human) comic relief in scenarios that detail yet distance us from the disciplinary apparatus of the school. …

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