cover image West: A Translation

West: A Translation

Paisley Rekdal. Copper Canyon, $22 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-55659-656-8

In her commanding latest, Rekdal (Nightingale) incorporates various languages, historical documents, photographs, and other primary source texts. It reevaluates American history, linking the completion of the transcontinental railroad to the establishment of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which remained in effect from 1882 to 1943. Inspired by a poem carved into the Angel Island Immigration Station near San Francisco by an anonymous Chinese detainee, Rekdal “translates” the text character by character into a series of poems that reveal the hypocrisies and contradictions still prevalent in what it means to be “American” today. The collection opens with a poem following Abraham Lincoln’s body on a funeral train in 1865 as it travels across seven states, asking: “Can you still believe in the promise of this union?” A later poem reimagines questions asked by immigration officials, reframing the humanity of Chinese immigrants: “What diseases of the heart/ do you carry? What country do you see/ when you think of your children?” Through these poems, readers are asked to wrestle with the complex, layered histories of race, creed, class, and gender that are all too often overlooked in monolithic presentations of America’s past and present. Elegiac and shot through with righteous anger, this essential collection demands a national reckoning. (May)