cover image We Are Pharaoh

We Are Pharaoh

Robert Fernandez. Canarium (SPD, dist.), $14 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-0-9822376-5-6

The prose poems, torqued anecdotes and free verse fragments of Fernandez's first collection emanate from a country based in part on news from the global South, in part on the smoke trails of European surrealism, and in part (the best part) on ancient Egypt, whose iconography and whose doomed empire provide an armature for Fernandez's uneasy scenes: "A nurse raises/ Her beak from my chest/ All my vultures are warm/ And with gold discs for heads,/ All my vultures are form." Sometimes (especially early on) Fernandez juxtaposes his own desires with the needs and events he sees in the developing world: "You open your heart's wings like a bread riot, split the uncooked potatoes on the table with a glance, and eat." The awkwardness of the comparison seems deliberate, the irony wrenching: how can we contemplate our own language, our own longings, when there are such big events going on far away? The emotional and the ethical questions that the starkest moment pursue can get overshadowed by the showiness elsewhere, reminiscent of earlier American poets (Ben Belitt, say) who also took cues from surrealists: "that a honeyed crucifixion has courage/ that the wind commissions horsehair sofas"; "Or if I say damage, but you show that you are April; if I say damage and you are April in the midst of institutions, holographs and the prolonged death of myth." Some first books leave too much out; Fernandez, attentive both to political austerity and to the delights of ornament, tries very hard to get everything in. (Apr.)