The Memory's Lost Colony
Review of Correspondence Between the Stonehaulers, poems by Jack Aqueros, published by Hanging Loose Press, $9.00, 1991.
Puerto Rico is a place out of mind for the Anglo-American. Few Anglos are aware of the U.S. colonization of Puerto Rico, the role the island has played as staging arena for imperialism, nor do many seem to care about this lack. If ignorance of history was a kind of mental hole, there wouldn’t be enough material left in the Anglo psyche to make up a decent fishing net by which to grab up a meal from Lethe’s waters of forgetfullness. The oppressor sees no need to remember anything except where he keeps the keys to the gun cabinet. Jack Aqueros is different.
Aqueros writes as a man of knowledge, believing (and in this perhaps he is also a fool) that knowledge is power. He assumes that we know, that allusions to our history are possible, that we know what happened in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, that we know why recalling the Algiers Motel is an occasion for feeling the fear and the sadness of Detroit, that mentioning the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory provokes images of the slaughter of innocents and the resulting indignation of the people leading to reform and enforcement of labor laws. Aqueros believes in history, believes in the art of allusion, believes in the power of naming. He asks us if we believe. Do we know the names of the champions of Puerto Rican independence? Do we know the names of those jailed fighting for it?
Do you know the names of the ones in jail, or why?
He asks us, the readers, in “Sonnet After Columbus, II”. No we don’t know them. We are not even aware that most of the political prisoners in United States’ prisons are imprisoned because of their fight for independence for Puerto Rico. We don’t know that some have been imprisoned for years without having even gone to trial. Knowledge of them and the cause for which they have fought has been buried midst the trivia of our days. Aqueros rescues them, rescues us.
He dares write with not only the knowledge of history but the knowledge of form. He writes sonnets. He writes psalms. He makes the forgotten ones memorable. He illustrates the essential dignity of those pushed out of memory, the homeless, helpless, resisters. He continually makes us face up to the courage and the craziness of what knowledge leads to: “The deranged doctors declared/ Eloy Blanco hostile. Reasoning that anyone who / resists / America / Is clearly insane, they recommend immediate electrocution.”
Aqueros writes with knowing the details of writing, how, for instance, to use such a thing as a semicolon: “Long lines of men waiting in anticipation of interviews. Long lines of men; waiting; in anticipation; waiting.”
He writes from knowledge because he is a rare animal in these domesticated days. He is a man who knows, and he knows that poetry that is based on knowing is powerful. He knows Puerto Rico, the streets of Manhattan, his family and its history, the stories of the lives of people whose names where once papered over, how writing can be used to liberate lives from the tyranny of writing in the service of imperialism:
...put paper feet on our throats,
Paper hands in our pockets, papered the trees and land
Papered our eyes, and we still wait wondering when.
Aqueros’ series of sonnets and psalms are a valuable addition to the serial poem. He sustains the series with irony, wit, acute observation, and a humor too long absent in our poetry. In “Psalm For A New Painting” the most commercialized painting of the most commercialized season (“It was Christmas, Lord,/ But I saw no Angels”) is renamed:
Lord, unless you send me
A celestial fax to the contrary
I’m going to call it
The Adoration Of The Merchandise.
His “Psalm For Conservation” should be required reading for anyone in the least concerned about how the environmental movement has shifted emphasis from corporate profits to individual guilt.
Lord, the Angel of conservation
Has me putting bricks in my toilet tank
And sorting garbage
Like a street person.
Lord, is he sure—
Are you sure—
That segregating garbage
Is the answer to the
Lawn-mowing of the Amazon Basin
And the excavation of the ozone hole?
Check it out.
Check out this man’s poetry. He has won numerous writing awards, but this is his first book. Read it and you will join me in hoping that it is not his last.