One thing I Admire about Mary Margaret Alvarado’s “First Hector, Then Achilles, Then Troy”

A poem with identifiably large ambitions does not often realize those ambitions quietly. From its title, calling in nothing less than the most storied military conflict on the western cultural record, to its 1st-section capitalized attribute-identifier names and children called “Not My People,” this poem opens up widescreen. The speaker is dismayed to find herself at the drive-thru liquor mart when her own country bombs another – how American. The sad music plays and the timbre of the image is ironic, satisfyingly so. It looks like a poem that will engage its political situation with barbs, with spurs.

The motion of the poem, however, is away from such loud and widely identifiable exterior states. It moves very literally towards silence, the inability to speak, the stitched-shut mouths of detainees that calmly implicate the speaker even through – even because of – the ironic distance she maintains, at the liquor mart and in the airport security line, from the official actions of her country. It’s easy to imagine the self-stitched mouths of detainees back through the millennia to Troy, and the many self-satisfying nations responsible for those gestures of injury – but in spite of its opening ambitions, the poem does not force  such conclusions upon itself or upon us.

The mouths of the detainees are a powerful resting point because, in its middle sections, the poem has moved from blockbuster to film decay, from exterior  to interior conditions, from the declared to the meant-to-say. It’s this poem-sized motion, amplifying as it goes the local precisions of image and register (“Somewhere in America the airbrushed moons are glittering”), that I most admire, and which leaves me disconcerted and quiet. Political poetry is so often notable more for its noise than its impact. Here though, I exit the poem unfurling into layers of silence, implication, and identification that I can’t move past merely by speaking.


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