A Book Review

This American Autopsy: Poems.  By José Antonio Rodríguez.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019.  Volume 23 in the Chicana & Chicano Visions of the Americas Series, 76 pp. $14.95, ISBN 978-0-8061-6396-3.

Reviewed by Teresa Carrasco, Washington State University

In This American Autopsy: Poems, José Antonio Rodríguez presents readers with a poetry collection of intimate memories and moments of violence, death, dreams, and family.  Readers are confronted with imagery and contemporary issues regarding immigration, state violence, murder, and capitalism.  Rodríguez references events and tragedies such as the Challenger explosion, Bonnie and Clyde, Lincoln’s assassination, caged children in McAllen, TX, Gone With the Wind, Ferguson, and the police murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, thus constructing a tangible American autopsy.  Reading through this collection of poems, this reader began to question if they were reading an autopsy, or perhaps a vivisection, with the corpse still clinging to life. There is no easy way around hard histories and painful realities of the nation-state.  Yet, although the subjects Rodríguez engages and vividly portrays are intense and complex, there exists a tenderness in the delicate ways he crafts the intricate realities within each poem. 

The book is divided into two sections: “morphology” and “etiology” with poems flowing from one part to the next.  Written in Spanish, English translations can be found in the conclusion of the book.  The poems of part two are significantly longer in verse and more intense than those in the opening pages.  Here the reader encounters wet sheets, white sofas, and chrome rails as they flicker before you in the dreams Rodríguez describes.  The imagery lingers long after setting the volume down.  One poem in particular lingered with this reader and, not ironically, stands as representative of the larger work: “Cuando Me Besan/When They Kiss Me.” Here Rodríguez writes,  “El frio que…/Se cola por entre los olanes/De las cortinas floreada/Sin orugas ni mariposas,” “The cold…/Sifts through the curtains’/Floral folds absent of/Catepillars and butterflies.”  Rodríguez’s sharp images will draw you in and hold you in their gaze, as you feel the cool air wafting from this American Autopsy.

Spring 2020 – Vol. 45 No. 1

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