A Hunger Artist
Insides She SwallowedSasha Pimentel Chacón
(West End Press · $13.95)
The center concern of poet Sasha Pimentel Chacón's Insides She Swallowed is one of hunger. The debut collection, released this week by Albuquerque's West End Press, is brimming with want and the sometimes messy consequences of consumption.
Though the Phillipines-born Chacón handles such ponderous issues as race and gender, this is a book that firmly tentacles the physical with a wealth of lush sensory descriptions. The opening poem, "Learning To Eat," sets the tone:
is opened like this:
gutted like a fish,
its entrails glow.
Spill out the millions
of seeds who crouch
and hurt like your mother—
These are the germs from which the book blooms, focusing on the significance of tongues and skin. But in such poems as "Then—Scleroderma," skin isn't about a literal nakedness or sex. It's a layer of identity, one that reduces and constricts the speaker, who, having peeled the skin off of one woman, tries it on herself:
Though the Phillipines-born Chacón handles such ponderous issues as race and gender, this is a book that firmly tentacles the physical with a wealth of lush sensory descriptions.
I shrugged on her skin
like a shrunken sweater,
like a taut blonde exoskeleton,
a starched new self crimping in, and
my wrists curled under—such stiffening.
Many of Chacón's poems puzzle out the history of her Filipino family, as well the tongue's unreliability in communicating between cultures and generations. The attitude is honest, keen to understand and frank about faults. Hunger is echoed again in the language, in the juicy diction of such phrases as "singeing crevices" and "the silver blossom of his body."
If there's a significant flaw in Insides She Swallowed, it's one that's subjective. The second part of the book, "Blood, Sister," consists of six poems that look at a poor, young woman in Manila as a kind of stand-in for Chacón, for the life she might have lived. While the descriptions are typically lyrical, the project verges on the pedantic, the drawing of the equation too simple. Moralistic lines like "Blood Sister, all along the squirming streets / of Manila / your countrymen have forgotten you" are less interesting than ones that do similar work. More effective is "What a wonderful print this chain / of knuckles made on my cab window from the girl / selling bottles, glass bottles clinking / like treble chimes on her arm." The venture, though, is a worthy one which still has the ability to resonate.
Chacón, an instructor at the University of Texas at El Paso, is a perfect fit in West End's stable of poets. By turns delicate and ravenous, Insides She Swallowed is an exciting indicator of what the local publisher might come up with next.