Though many poems concern politics, Lalo makes political poetry beautiful because he focuses on emotion, not policy.
stupid america, hear that chicanoPolitical poetry is hard. The two parts of the term hardly understand each other. A poet fails when he or she tries to debate, analyze or support an argument. Elizabeth Alexander got it right at Barack Obama's inauguration:
shouting curses on the street
he is a poet
without paper and pencil
and since he cannot write, he will explode
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.But all too often political poems try to argue in verse, or more frequently, argue in prose, and are soon reduced to an editorial. Not Lalo: the fact that his poems have political implications is secondary to the fact that it captures emotion with skillful language:
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
stupid america, remember the chicanitoLalo's style is a wild ride of sound and image, often mixing languages and voices. He uses rhyme in different ways in different poems, even occasionally writing in metric verse. (In case it's not clear, the second stanza is not a translation of the first; Lalo switches languages back and forth throughout this poem.)
flunking math and english
he is the picasso
of your western states
but he will die
with one thousand masterpieces
hanging only from his mind
que te alcancen mi beso y mi abrazoBut even in his free verse, sound and rhyme play an important role. Lalo often likes rhyming couplets at the beginning and end of poems; sometimes he combines English and Spanish to do this. Occasionally a rhyme requires some awkward syntax, but usually the rhymes leap naturally, spontaneously, from the page. Alliteration, too—just the beauty and fun of language—are sometimes an element:
felicitando el hecho que hoy es tu día,
que en la palabra mi corazón pierda un pedazo
al dicirte, feliz cumpleanos, esposa mía.
after all these years together we have learned
to assume, without too much trouble, each other's identity
and in all these years how often i've yearned
not to take for granted the fact that you are an entity.
to scunner and not to hate,Here Lies Lalo is a great collection and tribute. Much of the publicity surrounding Lalo and this book focuses on his activism for social justice. I want to emphasize that his poetry is more than that. “Preguntas Pesadas”, for instance, sets aside ethnicity, nationality and discontent to peer deep into human questions. Here, the motifs of sleep, questions and definitions, and the tender concern for another, remind me of Jorge Luis Borges.
to scupper and keep the taste,
to hide under the thick scurf
of scurrile life that yearning
to scurry itself leaps out
and is able to see its own scut,
obsolete as old scutage.
for some strange reason i cannot explain
i woke from my usual unperturbed sleep...again,
trying to define you...
a bottle...that's it, one with no bottom
so that many can pour themselves into
but none can be contained within.
from which the bottle is made
is very sensitive
and it can accommodate
and all can rub themselves
into the sides
and the sides are warm
made of glass.