Review of Hijito (Carlos Andrés Gómez)

Lyricism strikes first. Clarity follows as a crisp wind. While so much modern poetry flounders in opacity and unapproachability, Carlos Andrés Gómez presents a resounding counterpoint with Hijito, a start to finish masterpiece that aims simultaneously for the head and the heart and never misses either.

Lifeblood

“Blood has its own democracy,” begins his “Poem about Death Ending with Reincarnation.” The grounded, human toughness in such a line propels this all-too-brief collection forward. There could never be enough of this type of poetry because this type of poetry is a lifeblood all its own.

In “Kigali Memorial” Andrés Gómez pauses to wonder at all the humans who never get a memorial when he interrogates himself: “What was I so busied with that incessant April? / How many souls perished each time I blinked?” I have to ask myself in turn. And not just about April. How many months, how many souls? These are the types of questions poetry was birthed to ask of society.

Additional transcendence follows soon after when Andrés Gómez divulges his personal experience in “Pronounced”, which begins “You excavate anything that has tried to lodge itself / in your body without permission” before exploring the way American culture has tried to squeeze out his native language. The poem culminates in a heartbreaking eclipse:

“Your best friend

compliments your clean pronunciation, the way you have

learned to let go of everything you once called home.”

No low moments exist in a collection that breathes with ease such penetrating lines as “We remember the story / we commit to. Then, we tell / ourselves it happened.” And in what amounts to the collection’s most important piece, the poem “Race was not a factor”, the kind of poem that ought to be anthologized for the rest of human history, he holds a mirror to society’s ills in a way where neither he nor I escape the reflection. It is worth quoting at length for a taste of such rare insight:

“The promises made against

that other unspoken promise, grief,

made invisible beneath the shadow

of something too large to see—how all

our children share the same erased

name because of it.”

Conclusion

Andrés Gómez is a special talent for the way he bends lived experiences into sublime poetry. Sometimes poetry features unforgettable lines. Sometimes a collection has an unforgettable poem. But Hijito stands apart because it has both unforgettable lines and one of the best individual poems I’ve ever encountered. Belying any reduction, Hijito stands tall, unmatched, is a shore on which I would crash and crash again. To be devastated only to be reminded how to float in the next breath.


Hijito is published by Platypus Press.

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