by Olga García Echeverría
In Posada: Offerings of Refuge and Witness, author Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo takes us on a journey that begins with the story of her grandmother’s stolen “black lava” metate. The narrator in the poem is stitching together a past full of gaps. Like many of us, Bermejo is hungry for knowing the stories of those who came before her.
“Who carried the metate and molcajete from Teocaltiche?” the poet asks her father who migrated to the United States from Mexico with his family when he was a boy. “I don’t remember,” he answers. But the poet deciphers that it must have been him, her father, the eldest son, who carried her grandmother’s only valuables from Mexico. She writes, “Maybe remembering hurts dusty shoulders, maybe they miss the weight of home too much.”
This opening piece sets the tone for a collection of poems and lyrical snapshots where the author is both witness and weaver, a woman traversing family history, past/present displacements, and changing landscapes. Wherever the author goes (be it the East LA hills, Chavez Ravine, Ghost Ranch, the Arizona desert, Texas, Gaza, or into the magical realm of a painting, an old photograph, or a mural of Anthony Quinn in downtown LA), she is gathering pieces. Sometimes she gathers as if collecting colorful confetti from a broken cascaron and others as if picking up the “shards of ancient pottery.” Always the author seems to be re-membering/reconstructing and honoring that which has been dispersed, broken, silenced, forgotten, and buried. In “My Mother’s History, or Pieces I’ve Gathered So Far,” she tenderly bears witness to her mother’s past:
I see now, she was never gifted the story of her birth,
never wished happy birthday at a specific time of day,
never doted over with funny stories of a father
who splurged on three tiny purses the day she was born.
History is haunted by two ugly and unspoken words:
illegitimate and illegal…
In “Upon Celebrating America’s Birthday,” Bermejo gives us poetic fragments of Uncle Manny, who recalls his aunt Susana and an LA before “hair products” and “Ford cars.” The poem juxtaposes the celebration of 4th of July with the historical displacement of familias in Chavez Ravine. The poet writes about her uncle:
By dark, tears dig into the creases of his face
like a stone creek. He hushes only to watch my cousins
launch bottle rockets from the street. Smoke tails up
and sparks shoot out over our heads. Colors flash bright
and disappear into the air like my uncle’s sobriety,
like Tia Susana, like the houses of Chavez Ravine.
In this 118 page collection, we venture with Bermejo from the highly personal and intimate to the communal and political. From Teocaltiche to Solano Canyon, where the memories are paper birds migrating through time and space. We zigzag from LA in the late 1940’s to contemporary border zones, where the deaths of immigrants too often go unnoticed and forgotten. Read Rest of Review Here