Next Extinct Mammal
by Ruben Quesada
Greenhouse Review Press | August 2011978-0965523998
This new book by Ruben Quesada is one of those books of poetry that is traditionally modern. Is that a such thing? Quesada’s poem tells an important story through very polished free verse poetry, sometimes in a prose poetry format. This important story comes from the voice of a first generation Costa-Rican American who lived first in Los Angeles and then made his pilgrimage to other areas of the States.
The four parts that the book is split into are distinct but also provide essential overlap. The book makes sense as a whole, and for me, with each new slice of story provided by each new poem, each glimpse into Quesada’s life, the more I seemed to enjoy the poems. In other words, I enjoyed this collection as a whole.
The music of Quesada’s family history in the first two sections is key. The first section is more focused on where Quesada grew up, with titles like “Santa Marta Hospital”, “Mornings in Cudahy, California” and “Before School”. It transitions with a poem called “Breeding Imagination” that says,, “As we get older / there is nothing left for me but the fragments / and tag-ends I’ve collected / for thirty years—no traditions, no family / heirlooms”. We move here from the fragments to his memories of those important to him. The second section illuminates the importance of all of the strong women in his life, with poems dedicated to these women, aunts and sisters, for example.
The last two sections show Quesada’s integration into America. Where the first section shows how he, as a first generation Costa Rican-American, is different from others in America, the second presents him as an American, and more importantly, as a human being. And being a human to Quesada is an immensely sad experience, “Now and any other time of day or at any given moment in your life, there is only you and your thoughts.” Quesada has, however, been able to share at least some of these thoughts with his readers. Now, you are alone with his thoughts. He speaks reverently of those who’ve passed in the third section, and more specifically of his life as an adult in the fourth.
As a whole, the collection is a quick read, though melancholy at times. Quesada speaks to his readers in riddles and then provides them with the answers quickly. This is a technique that works to not worry the readers with these complexities. Though Quesada provides a unique voice to add to the harmonies of modern American poetry, he is best when he is both showing us his differences and, at the same time, showing how he is in fact just like us.
Editorial Book Review