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   Jacket 31 — October 2006        link Jacket 31 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

Paul Nelson reviews

Lost in the Chamiso
by Amalio Madueño

112 pages. Wild Embers Press. Paper. $16 USA, $18 Canada. 0-615-13276-6

This review is about 4 printed pages long.

Lost in the Culture

Poets are people who ‘Notice what they notice’ said Allen Ginsberg and politics in the USA are based on the notion that few others will notice anything beyond today’s lurid celebrity headlines. Hence the illegal immigration ‘debate.’ Anyone who looks at it from a deeper level realizes that it is not about putting an end to illegal immigration. That would require the U.S. Federal Government to hold employers of illegal immigrants responsible for at least half the problem, for they benefit from not paying taxes, fair wages, workman’s compensation, etc. It is the latest attempt to derive political benefit from the ‘Us Vs. Them’ delusion.

Amalio Madueño is a remarkable poet of the American Southwest who notices that the real issue behind the ‘other’ (currently labeled as either illegal immigrant, or ‘suspect’) is only the latest manifestation of a so-called ‘dominant culture’ pre-occupied with ‘the velocity of extinction’ as he puts it in a sidebar poem in his first full-length collection of poetry: ‘Lost in the Chamiso.’

Madueño is best known in North American poetry circles as a vital part of the Taos Poetry Circus for over a decade, and specifically Mexican Bob’s Poetry Camp. He’s been published in journals all over the continent and exists at La Frontera, the border. But not simply as most know it, the artificial line, (created through force), between the U.S.A. and Mexico. He exists at the border between cultures, languages and the border between ordinary existence and transcendence. There may be no better use of Spanglish, the mix of American English and Spanish, than in his work, which is infused with the authenticity of a man who understands what is at stake:


They disappear and then we find them
The reason the women of Juarez wear black
The reason for the gritos citations and web links
About 10 years and 400 women
Young sexual bodies autoridades dismiss

They disappear and then we find them
The reason mothers of the dead wear black
The reason for perpetual funeral marches
The reason they walk silent with black crosses

They disappear and then we find them
17 since August their mothers place candles
cards names dates they were killed

They disappear and then we find them
The reason for crucifixes spread before
The Palacio del Gobeirno’s traffic and noise
17 per month in Buendia colonia
24 in Cuidad Centro 97 in four years.

They disappear and then we find them
Their last moments diaphanous facts
Adrift in papers and trash on Avenida Revolucion

                                                   They disappear and then we find them

There is nothing didactic here and a lesser poet would take a jab at the perpetrators, but Madueño lays out the imagery as a witness. He lets the reader be a co-creator of the field of energy at work and he ends the poem, not with a victim consciousness, but with a sense that the power of the people he allows us to picture here will prevail.

It is on the same page as ‘Desaparecidas’ that one finds an installment of the aforementioned sidebar poem that runs throughout ‘Lost in the Chamiso.’ It comes from a previous chap book of Madueño’s entitled: ‘The God of this Vicinity.’ He gives his publisher credit for inserting these poems which act as a running narrative between Madueño’s alter ego named ‘Garcia’ and his great love/lost love ‘Reina Rosa.’ It was a suggestion that works superbly giving the collection an epic sense from the beginning:

            His mother was a green bouquet of kelp. She bore him over a period of three days     down by the shipyard. The harbor was a flotsammed, jagged place for an alien kid to play. He ignored the many just like him trying to find a way to shallows, sandbars, and shoals. On the silver strand, he noticed how the shorebirds skimmed for succulent tips and spears as they cruised the crashing waves, the spreading spume and foam.

The surprise mind evident in the book is sometimes evoked by the sudden appearance of a Spanish word, sometimes it appears as a wild, laugh-out-loud-inspiring line as in a sidebar segment written as a letter from Reina Rosa:

            Dear Curioso, It’s been a while since we shared the good times, the best of our piel, the mystery. I’ve been spending tiempo with another man. I’ve tried to be fiel with him, but, at various times, the least things remind me of you: the wide arroyo, new lettuce in the garden, anyone yodeling. Will we never be comfortable, our bones finally set, positioned, locked tight where we best could be? I love you with my sighs, my nalgas yearn for you. I don’t know what else to say. Love is marvelous but it also brings pain. Like I’m not going to eat chocolate? I’m not going to hear the sunlight at midday with you, juicy man? Favor de sing me a song once in a while, bathe in the acequia madre when you think of me. And encuanto you’re eating your frijoles, please taste me in el humo de la olla.

            O piensas en mi,
            Besos Y Abrazos fuertes, Reina

But there are other one liners that come up so unexpectedly that the timing suggests mastery, such as:

‘The barking Chihuahua of my heart’ and ‘You’re a greasy hairball in orbit.’

But Madueño is more than coyote. The witness consciousness comes back again and again, sometimes as a student of human nature:

‘Binging on sex tantalizes her with a fleeting taste of infinity – assembling a
frame for its emptiness.’

and another time as student of culture, in the poem ‘Coyote Observes Humans’:

            … Paradoxical, hybrid, borderland characters that we are,
            Psychohistorical humans with penetrating eyes.
            We are politicized native coyotes. We understand
            That a thousand years is the only acceptable unit
            Of political time. What is wrong with us
            Is that we are constantly thinking about the wilderness
            While most of you are thinking about hotcold
            Wetdryblackwhitegainloss, indifferent and hostile
            To the long term song of the land…

The sense of place is vibrant. One can smell the tortilla smoke and the sex as you find your way quickly through ‘Lost in the Chamiso.’ Madueño’s use of language and imagery is stellar. If there is a better practitioner of Spanglish, I’ve not seen her work. And, in the words of Michael McClure, there is a ‘hunger for liberation’ in this work that creates a powerful attractor field for anyone open to the possibility that the collision of two vibrant cultures only strengthens them, not the other way around.

My only complaint is regarding layout. The back cover and first few pages are at best busy and at worst ugly. The font chosen for the book makes this a more difficult read than it ought to be. But as Garcia (Madueño) reveals near the end of the book:

            … Can you blame me for revealing my personal alchemical principles? The important thing is transformation. Even without it, I’ll sooner or later have to pay the price.

The borders we’ve created that mark cultures, countries and languages are products of the imagination. Despite the politics that increase the velocity of extinction, we should remember that William Carlos Williams said: ‘only the imagination is real.’ I am grateful there are poets like Madueño who, like all brilliant poets, expand their imagination and ours through the poetic act to make us see much more deeply than the ‘Us and Them’ mode and set the table for the vibrant culture stew that surely lies ahead for Norte Americanos and all other citizens of this small planet.