by Nina Boutsikaris
I’m a fan of the tight, the gritty, the visceral. I fall to my knees for the kinds of juicy shocks to the heart that work quickly and quietly and leave me breathless. The winter issue of Puerto Del Sol had me on my knees. Jennifer Buxton, Myronn Hardy, Steven Ramirez (on genocides against the Mexican people—women, immigrants, and otherwise), Shome Dasgupta, Sonya Huber, Lisa Estus (with a haunting look at childhood cruelties), Robin Lee Jordan, and several more, contribute lyric muscle to this 48th volume, which sings, spits, and stuns with brief and powerful work, testing our squeamish limits—as in Brenda Rankin’s “The Parameters of Flinching: A Tonometric Study”—and exploring themes of intimacy, regret, identity, and the things we hide or share in the dark of night.
In Matt Bell’s opening excerpt, “We Had Never Before Eaten Meat,” a man prepares for his wife’s pregnancy, “this best last chance of a child,” after a slew of tragic “lake-bound” losses. As he sinks into a deep and strange resentment for his wife and her unprecedented hunger for cooked flesh, Bell uses poetry to conjure the woods, the lake, and the moon to life, creating a shadowy, nightmarish world that is as familiar as it is utterly surreal.
Birth reappears, tragic again, in “House Call: 1936,” Dani Sandall’s heartbreaking prose poem. Sandall paints a doctor’s duty, the death he’s just left behind: “He has soaked the woman’s sorrow with ether-drenched rags now burning in fires of cedar bough as smoke slinks from the stone flue like drunken angels towards heaven’s floor.”
The late and wee hours are major players in this collection—as cloak, as fantasy, as sin in T Kira Madden’s tormented confessional “All the Parts You Shouldn’t Know,” and in Shome Dasgupta’s new raw anti-love story, “Went the Bite.” With scary skillful syntax Dasgupta sits in our ears. “Droop, droop, droop went the stars,” goes Dasgupta. “Bird, bird, bird, went the chop. Bottle, bottle, bottle went the pieces, and smoke, smoke, smoke went the ash. Pepper, Pepper, Pepper, went the red. Air, air, air went the quiet. Gums, gums, gums, went the teeth. … Heart, went the pound.” And we know precisely what he means.
Now in its 47th year, New Mexico State University’s “journal of new literature” continues to publish stellar, fresh voices. The collections editor-in-chief Carmen Giménez Smith and prose editor Lily Hoang curate are worth picking up, worth holding on to, worth sitting down for, preferably on your knees.
Nina Boutsikaris is a candidate in nonfiction writing at the University of Arizona. She serves on the nonfiction editorial board for Sonora Review. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Phoebe, Booth, and elsewhere.