A Review of Pablo Miguel Martínez’s
Brazos, Carry Me
Brazos, Carry Me
By Pablo Miguel Martínez
San Francisco: Korima Press, 2013.
104 pages. $15 (paperback)
In Pablo Miguel Martínez’s Brazos, Carry Me, the reader is not brought forward into the collection by a speaker who overtly forces the continuous reading; rather, the forward movement in the collection occurs through the gentleness these poems embody through the presence of the speaker. This is evident from the poem that opens the first section, “Wisp.” We see how Martínez intends to take care of his reader, through the act of going back along a path that has been lost: “you will be safe,” and you “follow” as you are pointed toward your way home (7). Even in having this persuasive effort by the speaker foregrounded so early in the book, the work does not have an outward insistence of making the reader follow along this trail. This offers, instead, a slower pacing of the collection: an unfolding manifest by the turn of the page. The quietness of the words comes to the forefront, particularly in poems such as “Not There” and “Printer’s Devil.”
In “Not There,” consider such moments as the ending couplets:
A reader must meditate on “here,” “there,” and “elsewhere,” not only because they are italicized and end the lines, but because the meaning for those words is stored intrinsically. Presented so simply, a reader might miss these words and their meaning because they are uncomplicated. But, because work has been done to slow down the reader, there is an inclination toward taking the time to unpack the meaning in the small, italicized words. These poems reveal themselves in such a simple way that allows for a deeper understanding of the meaning of each of the words, and leads to trusting the speaker.
Instead of pointing out the absence that is in much of the collection, what the speaker does is draw our attention forward. Do not look at what is missing, look at what is here. In poems such as, “This Valley,” where the speakers talks of ghosts “whose ghost eyes weep for what has been,” one knows instinctively that these ghosts are not ones meant to haunt (41). Rather they are ones that exist so as to not be forgotten: look at me, I am here. So Brazos, Carry Me sets itself apart: what is called forward in this collection is done so delicately that the melancholy of place is a constant presence. At once reminded of Valerie Martínez’s Each and Her, where the speaker urges the reader to “follow me,” Brazos, Carry Me, guides the reader as they step onto this backdrop. Much like the way a child leads a friend to the slide on the playground, Pablo Miguel Martínez asks his reader to trust him through the slow, methodical unfolding of this collection. So much so, that even when one does not know what is at the end of this slide, the presence and assurance of the speaker is never lost, even while the ghosts are called up all around. This is especially important noting the marginalized communities that Martínez speaks to (and from) in this collection.
In the poem, “Tender,” that comes from the first half of the collection, we see many of these communities, namely Latinos, women, and queer, invoked simultaneously. Upon first encounter, the title of the poem is the English word of tender; not until the bottom of the page does a more nuanced reading become possible, as one sees the footnote explaining that the title can be read as tender in English or tender in Spanish. Straddling the duality of the English and the Spanish, the borders that circle these poems become evident — the ghosts calling themselves to be named. This allows for the multiplicities in the content of the poem to mirror the opening entreaty of the title. It is not until after the first read that we engage the homosexuality of the speaker, the domestic scene of the mother, and how and why these two overlap: “Tender/You hang clothes to dry in the warm promise (24).” As we’ve gone through this collection in the careful, deliberate arms of the speaker, we know that this opening line is more than a meditation on clothes hanging. With the duality present in the English and Spanish renditions of the title working in combination with the carefulness that has worked throughout the entirety of the collection, as readers, we are able to see the ghosts present in this “warm promise” (24). Where the speaker wishes “we could grow plates of armor” like those of a stegosaurus, readers see this echoed in the resilience of the mother, as the clothespins hanging off her apron are what calls this image into fruition (24). Were it not for the quiet insistence present in the book as a whole, this deft maneuver would not be possible.
As Brazos, Carry Me moves forward, the poems become longer, more overt in their intentions to build upon each other. Upon reaching the last poem of the book, the reader encounters a litany of yesses, “[…] Is this/how it ends? This is/ how it ends, yes” as the collection closes with “At the Pentecostal Baths” (74). Ending the collection on this cacophony reifies the work that the reader has done to get here. The soft, slow unfolding that has occurred throughout the collection has led to the borders both physical and metaphysical that have been crossed for the speaker; and by virtue of the straightforward guidance that has occurred, the borders those same borders have been crossed by reader as well. The ghosts surround the collection in their echoing yesses, knowing that they have been acknowledged, and “This is/how it ends, yes.”
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