cover image Documents


Jan-Henry Gray. BOA, $17 (96p) ISBN 978-1-942683-74-2

Moving from the Philippines to San Francisco and Chicago, Gray’s debut is a short, form-shifting effort to find continuity in a life lived as an undocumented resident of the U.S. “The only way to know a song is to sing it,” Gray writes, an apt piece of wisdom for a coming-of-age story in poems that twists through states and decades, immigration processes, choruslike poems exploring bodies of water, and extended family drama. An erotic love lyric appears next to a brief meditation on translation and airports. In a series of “Maid Poems,” Gray considers his family’s maids in Quezon City, imagining their daily lives and labor, and offering a glimpse of narrative in a book focused on struggles and privilege, as suggested in the “The Dream Act”: “THE FAMILY moves into THE GARAGE./ THE FAMILY lives there for THE YEAR./ THE GARAGE is underneath THE HOUSE.” But perhaps the most impressive piece in this book is the expansive, oceanic long poem “Exacua,” in which Gray writes about the struggle to write: “I used to think that poetry = freedom... I’m trying to write this thing from inside the ocean.” It’s here that Gray allows his thinking to become fully lost in a dreamlike prose structure that contracts and expands, almost borderless. [em](Apr.) [/em]