cover image English as a Second Language

English as a Second Language

Jaswinder Bolina. Copper Canyon, $17 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-55659-657-5

“I’m trying to say something that feels like hearing/ your voice for the first time,” writes Bolina (The 44th of July) in this elegiac collection. “It isn’t working,” he declares, though the effort allows for strange and delightful observations about fatherhood, Chicago’s dive bars, and the persistence of joy, even as “Bad News hotwires the buzzer,/ invites itself up with its bouquet of wild/ aneurysms and drooping embolisms.” A majority of these poems are elegies, yet while Bolina mourns, he is distracted by the beauty of each moment and the fun of language. In one poem, he reflects on a first love that blooms at Super Dawg, an iconic Chicago hot dog joint: “Endorphin, milkshake, endorphin,/ cheese fry.” In another, a nightmare becomes a trotting night mare, “her clackety wagon filled with snakes/ and shame.” “Second City Autumnal” flips the traumatic, tragedy-filled immigrant story into one that narrates the bustling normalcy of prepping food for a family visit, an act steeped in feelings of comfort: “And now who will tell her the city belongs to anyone else?/ And now who will say go back where you came from?” Bolina has gathered the mundane moments that make up a life and turned them into sparkling gems. (Oct.)