“We must develop a sense of oneness of 7 billion human beings“, Dalai Lama.
Herrera’s slim volume, smaller than average page sizes as is the wont of the publishers, City Lights Books, takes the quote from the Dalai Lama as its touchstone and heart song to tell us how far from this idea we currently are, especially in his native land of America. This collection proves you can be small and fierce.
This book is described as the fruits of two years travelling back and forth across the States in his role as Poet Laureate, “written in the heat of witness.” There are portrayals of injustice, communities and peoples at the margins in present-day America. It is a chorus of voices, given space and amplification by Herrera. It does eventually find its way to a place from where hope can at least be seen.
As here in Basho & Mandela:
“…these are notes for your nourishment – hold them / as bowls of kindness / from journeys of bravery...”
And as poem #1 in the second section finishes:
“it is more than an arbitrary stop or as it is called the border it is / an arrangement of agreements of always-wars why is that when all / we desire is peace bread water clothes work a thatched roof – & / humanity – most of all“
The simplicity of poems like Touch the Earth (once again) which makes the case for remembering the connection we must have with our planet, and the connection that many of our essential – but under-appreciated – workers do have, that they may work for the benefit of us all, is touching and honest.
“used to think I was not American enuf / not even in the welfare offices where I employed / superb translation skills for my mother“, from Enuf, a poem about being denied identity, agency, feels like it is the heart of the collection.
Interview / w/a Border Machine is difficult and depressing and the opening poem of a short section on encounters with authority. One of these “i am not a paid protestor” essentially about how difficult it is to disprove a nonsensical accusation, is a circular dialogue but again an immensely concerning one. It involves our defendant at the end point of their exasperation, but knowing they have to keep themselves in check, invites the examiner to “take their frog…their meditation frog” as a bribe, or alternatively to push the “mass hypnosis button“.
Of the many fine poems in here, the one that most readily struck a chord with me was the full-on unpunctuated prose blast of You Just Don’t Talk About It. It is one of the year’s essential poems and when you come to read it, read it out loud. A short section:
“…you do not care about those who fight for you
write for you live for you act for you study for you dance for you
parade for you paint and construct for you carry you build you
inform you feed you nanny you clean you vacuum for you swipe
the grease off your clothes chef for you serve you teach you carry
carry you rock you to sleep and console you…“
Full version on the link below: