The Lesser Tragedy of Death. Cristina Garcia. Black Goat/Akashic Books. Brooklyn, N.Y. 2010.
This is family history writ large. A brother - sister duet high on drama. The Lesser Tragedy of Death is that slow motion accident unfolding in front of your ever widening eyes.
Cristina Garcia builds her brothers' character out a myriad of construction materials only to watch them cascade down around her family like sad building blocks.
We shamed you into leaving,
said you stank up the bathroom,
sprayed you with air freshener
until you choked.
You'd sneak off to E.J. Korvette's
to shit or wait till morning recess
at Catholic school where nobody
could blame just you.
Years later I learned this word
from a shrink: encopretic.
It means holding things in to bursting.
It means carrying the rage within.
The stacked deck of fate conspired against our handsome protagonist or the devil sought him out to dance for his own devilish amusement, Either way his difficult journey from adored and beautiful child to outrigger, outlaw and out of family is perhaps a story we all know different versions of.
We here at Today's book of poetry like the honesty that Cristina Garcia brings to The Lesser Tragedy of Death. This isn't journalism, there is no fact checking. These poems feel real, true, tragic.
I'm not depressed like I hear you get,
wanting to blow your brains out, but a more-
of-the-same lifelessness that's getting me down.
Maybe I shouldn't be mucking through the past
like some sick archaeologist holding up
broken forks and making deductions. This
is our history we're talking about here, not
some ancient civilization we can opt out of.
Our parents are still alive and they're coming
to stay with me soon, and I want to be nice but
a part of me wants to read them these poems
and have them say, We were wrong, or
the thing they'll never say: We're sorry.
Well, I'm sorry, really sorry for hiding
out in these words instead of calling you and telling
you that I do remember and that it's much much
harder than forgetting.
The story arc of these poems wouldn't matter at all if the poems themselves weren't continuously compelling. Garcia keeps it taut. She gives us enough line to know there is something biting on the end, but she never leaves us stranded.
What You Believe
That you can speak to dogs.
That they don't listen to you.
That women are impenetrable,
except for the obvious.
That children should like you.
That it's possible to be a hero.
That the good things in life are bad for
you: mothers, malted milk balls, cocaine.
That there's a God but He's ignored you.
That a family awaits you.
That you suffer for cheapness.
(Are you listening, Dad?)
That one morning you'll wake up dead.
And that will be without pain.
The Lesser Tragedy of Death just resonated so true. As the poems build from the cherubic infant Elvis to an inevitable end of dismay Cristina Garcia laments her brothers sad life, both the life they share and the life she can't share. It is all sad terrain.
But very worthwhile poetry.
This is Garcia's first book of poetry. Excellent start.
ABOUT THE AUTHORCRISTINA GARCÍA is the author of several novels including Dreaming in Cuban and A Handbook to Luck, anthologies, and books for young readers. The Lesser Tragedy of Death is her first collection of poetry. García’s work has been nominated for a National Book Award and translated into a dozen languages. She is a Visiting Professor and Black Mountain Institute Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
BLURBS“The Lesser Tragedy of Death is a brave and moving tribute to a brother gone astray. With skill, unflinching honesty, and redemptive compassion, Cristina García tracks his marvelous, complex, and errant life . . . These poems are the beautiful, painful, astonishing result of a journey to hell and back in search of the brother she loves. With this first book of poems, Cristina García, one of our best novelists and storytellers, proves herself to be a talented poet as well.”
—Julia Alvarez, author of Saving the World
“Cristina García has the courage to look tragedy in the eye without flinching . . . In spare, luminous brushstrokes of language, García paints a series of portraits, from the boy who fell off a bicycle to the desperate mugger wrestling with an old woman over her purse. The cumulative effect is haunting, yet ultimately redemptive. There is power in García’s insistence that we see her brother as a human being, in all his complexity and mystery. You won’t forget these poems, or the story they tell.”
—Martin Espada, author of The Republic of Poetry
Story Hour in The Library
video courtesy of: University of California Television (UCTV)
Cristina Garcia is the author of five novels, a collection of poetry, and three works for young readers including her newest release "Dreams of Significant Girls" about three wealthy and adventurous ninth-grade girls from different worlds who converge upon a Swiss boarding school for a summer of discovery. Series: "Story Hour in the Library" [4/2012]
(Today's book of poetry couldn't find a video of Cristina Garcia reading poetry, sorry.)
Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher. They are shown here for publicity and review purposes. For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.