A queer Chicana poet and activist treasures the life of her ailing mother and Moraga clan matriarch, Elvira. As Moraga writes so eloquently in her prologue, “Few bemoan the memory loss of the unlettered. My mother- and her generation of MexicanAmerican women- was to disappear quietly... But when storytellers go, taking their unrecorded memory with them, we their descendants go too, I fear.” Here is the story of a woman seen and unseen, a mother who accepted her lesbian daughter, and left a legacy for the rest of us to keep alive by reading it.
A poet, Purpura argues in these brief, charged essays that it matters what we call things—ants are “whom—not which, not things,” and as such shouldn’t be treated like things. But many things also deserve better: Purpura, a connoisseur of the singular, resists the single-use consumer culture that discards so much that’s still useful. We’re able to waste so much because we’re taught to “not mind”—we don’t see what we’re missing, and often can’t name it, either. Showing us the ants’ complex cities, the eagle that turns a symbol back into a bird, the timing that makes snowshoe rabbits white, the human-like eyelashes of cow #419, Purpura takes us to the “spots no words touched, where language unhinged.” Prose in appearance only, her accounts of intimating, then seeing, a moose; following the decomposition of a bird into a “house framed out, barrel staves, then…the keel of a skiff”; and of being overwhelmed by a crepe myrtle in full, stunning bloom, not only “make something of the moment,” as she continually urges, but make “each moment of seeing be again its own shining grunt of creation,” in which we are “found and rearranged.” These essays will do that to you.
As a young poet translating work into Spanish, Carolyn Forché couldn’t always understand the conditions from which the Salvadoran poems she translated arose. That changed when human rights activist Leonel Gomez Vides “removed the blindfold, and ordered me to open my eyes.” This searing and unforgettable memoir, whose title comes from Forché’s frequently anthologized poem “The Colonel”, traces her experiences in El Salvador as a poet and human rights activist, through the publication of her collection The Country Between Us and the assassination of Archbishop Monsenor Oscar Romero.