one scrap found stuffed in the mouth
of a mummified cat.
Let’s say we know this
as we know the cat
light-footed through a garden
of hyacinth and violets,
inking between the legs of guests,
dressed dancers, lute players.
In one jump the cat lands on a whitewashed wall
between shards of broken glass
on a cliff giving way to the sea.
Its silver-rimmed eyes
reflect the tincture of moonlight off water,
that also falls through the branches of a fig tree
into the room of two women.
The older one
mouths something to herself over the young one’s
something like let me see this forever,
before she cries for the simple way the breasts darken
as the shadow shift.
The young lover, who will leave by morning,
the wall, offers only her hair,
a dark, tangled nest
the aging woman will remember
and later call, despite the absence of light,
the evening star.
What kind of creature does this?
Reinvents the body despite the body’s rejection?
Imagines dust and debris
of love’s collapse to be great arms in the bed of the sky?
Who gathers from hair
to the hungry strays that call through the night air?
Using both lyrical and narrative forms, these concise verses explore a family history set against the larger backdrop of Mexican history, immigration, and landscapes of the Southwest. The poet’s delicate touch lends these poems an organic quality that allows her to address both the personal and the political with equal grace. Straightforward without being simplistic or reductive, these poems manage to be intimate without seeming self-important.
This distinctive collection ranges from the frighteningly whimsical image of Cortés dancing gleefully around a cannon to the haunting and poignant discovery of a dead refugee boy seemingly buried within the poet herself. The blending of styles works to blur the lines between subjects, creating a textured narrative full of both imagination and nuance.
Ultimately, Empire situates individual experience in the wider social context, highlighting the power of poetry as song, performance, testimony, and witness. Addressing themes such as war, family, poverty, gender, race, and migration, Candelaria gives us a dialogue between historical and personal narratives, as well as discreet “conversations” between content and form.
From the FishousePoems.org Web site:
Xochiqueztal Candelaria is the author of the poetry collection Empire (University of Arizona Press, 2011). She was raised in San Juan Bautista, California, and holds degrees from UC Berkeley and New York University. Her work has appeared in The Nation, New England Review, Gulf Coast, Seneca Review, and other magazines. She has also written articles for the online journal Solo Ella. Xochiqueztal received fellowships from UC Berkeley, New York University, Vermont Studio Center, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference (2005, 2006), Hall Farm Center for the Arts, The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the LEF Foundation. She was the winner of the 2006 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, the Louisiana Literature Prize for Poetry, and the Gulf Coast Poetry Prize. She currently lives in San Francisco.