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In this lush collection of poems, Jacinto evokes a landscape of loss and melancholia. Jacinto’s lyric speaker observes the quiet catastrophes of life: a bum outside a hotel door coughing, a funeral procession, a father facing his impending death, a stripper dancing for GIs, among other such circumstances. His work shuttles back and forth between the Philippines and the United States and in those cross and criss-crossings asks us continually to consider how histories of colonialism and violence intrude into the everyday. In “Tongue-Tied,” the speaker describes his experience being beaten by priests when he is unable to pronounce English perfectly. In “Apparition,” families wait for fathers who have presumably gone to the United States in search of fortune and economic success, only to be left with a haunting presence that never takes shape. The title poem “Heaven is Just Another Country” places into context the inability for the immigrant to ever establish the oft-desired, but rarely attained American Dream. Like Kimiko Hahn’s Unbearable Heart, one of the first poems, “Another Monsoon Rain,” immediately sets the tone for the vast majority of poems that will follow. The speaker of the poem, addressing a dead girl, her body borne up in a funeral procession states:

“As the old Spanish priest anoints you,
blessing your lips and feet with oil,
your mother wonders if
there was ever enough to eat,
or if she had only given in
to the landlord’s whispers,
that extra fistful of rice might
have fattened the hollow
in your cheeks” (16).

The operative word in this stanza being “might,” the mother’s dilemma is situated in her inability to truly know. Ambiguity infuses this stanza as the mother “wonders” or hears “whispers,” her laments are structured in “ifs.” The death of her child is one of many breaks, departures, and ruptures that fill the collection and make it cohere in a strangely paradoxical aesthetic. Poems call out to each other as the dead girl in “Another Monsoon Rain” echoes the dead child in the poem, “Campo Santo, All Soul’s Day.” The speaker of this poem travels with the father to his child’s grave, where he meditates on the father’s imaginations of what this child’s life might have been like had he lived:

“And if you had lived
imagine then that first you became
a shoe-shine boy, chasing the
rolling coins of tourists,
then later, a street orphan
peddling cigarettes in the
oily snarl of traffic
until one day when hunger
loosened your belt, and you stepped
naked into the dark
towards a stranger who paid
for your body” (39-40).

This poem elucidates how “Another Monsoon Rain” is not merely about sentimentality. Indeed, survival doesn’t ensure some sort of transcendental success or upward mobility; instead, the poems leave quite the opposite impression. This economic trajectory is sobering, perhaps the smallest comfort to the father who has lost his child. Strangely, this boy seems to enfigure Jessica Hagedorn's Joey Sands, a prominent character in her novel Dogeaters.

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A Veritable Literary Feast

July 2017

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