The Poem as a Site for Mending

by heidi andrea restrepo rhodes
EcoTheo Collective, $20







by Luis Torres PI Staff

ephemeral by heidi andrea restrepo rhodes, recipient of the Lorca Latinx Poetry Prize, is the result of a careful methodology as much as an understanding of lyric and the image, of the volta and broken line. A methodology because heidi’s always up to something even when it’s not immediately intelligible, nor will the poetry allow for it to be. Contained in the epigraph, an excerpt from José Esteban Muñoz’s, Cruising Utopia: The Then & There of Queer Futurity, a clue: we are introduced to the concept of ephemera, “as a trace, the remains, the things that are left, hanging in the air like a rumor.”

What follows are poems dealing with the formation of an identity. The body figures largely, and in fact is “foremost” in the way constructions of self and other are made:

How you see me is predicated on the body as foremost. Even after
the grave.

That is, how you grave me is predicated on everything after the body,
a foremost conclusion you’ve made.

My Catío grandmother is more than a brown & stolen thing. She
befores the conquistador’s thing-making.

This excerpt is from “wave theories & ante-bodies,” a poem that traces heidi’s history to a Catío grandmother, who in the aftermath of the “conquistador’s thing-making” is a “brown & stolen thing.” The thing-making heidi calls to attention is an exploitative method by which a person is allowed to become an object, brown and stolen. It is with devastating brevity that the logic is parodied: what is physical about a person, heidi explains, is:

Particle & wave: this is what lived before the body & its defense.
Infinite, neverlasting. An obstinate & dissipating rumor.

Here heidi widens the scope of their project, throwing the circumference to where the seeds of a new kind of ontology take root:

More than a brown & stolen thing we is.
Being for & being for & being for, before before before before.

It is not unlike the methodology of deconstruction: a logic, the structure of a particular kind of logic, is being interrogated for being illogical. While the thing-making of the colonial project made the grandmother something less than herself, heidi’s parody of the logic (which pushes the physicality of the human to its limits, to the laws of physics and to the building blocks of life) makes more of the grandmother and of anyone for that matter.

Then there is the flight or the desire for flight from the body, which is susceptible to decay and disease. There is an internal conflict in the speaker that is entirely biological, “the ventricular battle, B leukocytes wielding swords,” as they put it in the poem titled “if I am a keeper of memory, my body a vessel of lingerings.” In light of the body’s less- than- ideal condition, the speaker’s will extends:

I watch the swallows breakfast through the window, wish myself their

I want their—.       Words escape me in the brain’s weather: clouds
roll in to play a restless algebra.

This last image is an instance of heidi’s floating signifiers of consciousness, tethered to and in proximity to the body. They are desires, anticipations, needs, aspirations: “I want I want I want I want,” heidi writes in the same poem, with an echo of the psalmic, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!” There is something like a biological doublecross in the poetry, where what longs to continue being itself is tolled by itself. What makes the poetry possible is this interplay between the physical and the psychic, and it is because of it there is intimacy and friction or else sparks on each page. 

heidi is working at the level of the ontological, and higher still, the level of the poetic. Their careful attention to language services the project:

                                        We drink the land in
& wine, too, the geese defending their eggs.
When we laugh, sunshine finds our
benthic zone, an upwelling of mollusk satiation.
We fly a plethora of pronouns on a string.

Notice the aspects of scale used here: there is an upwelling from “benthic zones” to where pronouns are being flown on a string. What is particularly satisfying about the movement is that it circles neatly to what heidi calls attention to in the epigraph. Ephemera: A trace, a remain—or a kite. heidi’s poems are a powerful reminder of the “things in the air,” of the rumors that are used to construct the “I.” There is also a skilled use of enjambment, as seen in the first line break, where the image of “land” in the first line is in intimate conversation with the image of “wine” in the second. The image of the geese and the eggs in the next breath are representative of an inventiveness of heidi’s that colors the verse, even when it is spun out with a note of improvisation. Indeed, the reader should expect to be taken from here to there in subtle leaps that are one of the privileges of working in the poetic mode.

We are dealing with a special kind of literary effort that translation is in the service of. As part of the Lorca Latinx Poetry Prize, ephemeral has been rendered into Spanish by translators Alexandra Lytton Regalado and Rocío Bolaños, with the original English on the left-hand side pages and the translation on the right-hand side pages. The Latinx experience is a splintered one, and in the US there is something of a push and pull between one’s native tongue and English. That there are poems from different languages positioned like facing mirrors permits a semiotic semblance in the text, one that seems to argue in favor of an internal harmony where otherwise there is a contentious divide. heidi, who conceptualizes identity as a disintegrating fabric, nevertheless mends themself together in the fabric of the poem, and it is this that leaves the reader in the mild onset of optimism even after having been recalled of their own ephemerality and contingency.

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