cover image Lessons on Expulsion: Poems

Lessons on Expulsion: Poems

Erika L. Sánchez. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-55597-778-8

In her hallucinatory debut collection, Sánchez negotiates an imaginative space between oral history and journalistic reportage, overloading the senses as she produces “a body on the verge of fever.” Sex workers, farmers, hormonal adolescents, and churchgoers populate these formally varied lyrics delivered with a whiff of magical realism. Sánchez is as capable of intriguingly surrealist gestures (“the day goes on picking/ the meat from its teeth”) as of photographic depictions. Her narrative voice is perhaps most seductive when most ruthlessly sensory, describing an estranged lover’s angst triggered by the odor of raw ginger, or evoking New York City streets with “the rich smell/ of baked garbage and coconut curry.” Sánchez’s protagonists defy expected cultural roles, braving the disapproval of patriarchs and of “ashen saints with their eyes/ rolled back in blessedness,/ whites the color of old wedding/ dresses.” Ambient unease and confessional impulsivity culminate in the lush shock of “Six Months after Contemplating Suicide,” in which the speaker reckons with wanting “the end// with a serpentine/ greed” and celebrates the hard-won capacity for survival. Throughout, a sense of menace pervades all the joyfully vivid detail, suggesting that only language itself provides a “brief happiness as fierce as the wet muscles of a horse.” Agent: Michelle Brower, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth. (July)