Monday, July 04, 2011
Review of Fernando D. Castro’s "Redeemable Air Mileage: A Collection of Poems about Travel and Other Journeys"
Guest review by Marta Lopez-Garza
In his second book of poetry, Redeemable Air Mileage: A Collection of Poems about Travel and Other Journeys, Fernando D. Castro takes us with him on his globetrotting search for … what? The meaning of life, of death? Certainly, in search for inspiration on which to write. Nonetheless, regardless of the country or language, Fernando carries on a love-hate relationship with maps and directions, keeping me chuckling throughout the book. With each location Fernando switches topic, tone and sentido; in France he ruminates upon disappointment; in Amsterdam, Fernando recalls his sojourn twenty-nine years previous in this most liberated of cities; in Vienna, Fernando’s knowledge of architecture, art and world history is revealed, adding an extra dimension to his poetic offerings; in Munich, he weaves in the ever present issues of sexuality and race (his dark skin); in the Nordic spaces, the countries of Aalto and Bergman, Fernando recreates the gingerbread homes and the cold, piercing weather.
So let’s take this journey with Fernando, beginning with his sketches of the beloved but much maligned island of Cuba. Fernando offers up the beauty along with the reality of an island snubbed, assailed by embargos. He takes us to current conditions and the parade of vintage “mid-century” vehicles and “desire flesh along El Malecón” (5). Our poet derides and makes fun of U.S. foreign policy, “North American generosity comes with many conditions,” and I laugh with his references to Pope John Paul the 2nd as the “Polish ham." Classic Fernando.
“But we’ll keep our T-shirts of el Ché, el papacito,
beefcake of lost causes,...” (7)
Fernando is ever so cynical. Fortuitously, his cynicism converts to poetry. While lashing out at politics, politicians, and places, he writes lovingly and respectfully of the people and their mixed identities, “whites, blacks, mulattos, zambos, indios” (11).
“dancing is praying with your feet, …
No horror was ever able to contain the freedom to pray,
Pass from mouth to mouth the language of the drums.” (10)
In Colombia, Fernando returns to his birthplace, to Ibaqué and writes nostalgically and painfully of childhood memories and dysfunctional family relations. His deliberation on Medellin’s predilection for violence is beautifully set and written.
Italy - with less emotional baggage attached to this country, Fernando is left to pine melodically over and through the hills and roads of Italy, of picturque tours and salacious food (“for heaa o too goh?” 29), “a postcard world of antiquity and history” ... reminding me of the trip to this European country I never took.
Visiting Finland leads to pontification on the field of architecture, Fernando’s first love. Here again, perfectly phrased verse:
“Quiet people are invaluable
they prepare a warm room for you with a fine sauna –
a sweat lodge and a warm meal while the talkers are still talking –“ (35)
Throughout his book, I feed on Fernando’s “cerebral prison,” intelligent machinations, and clever, yes, clever play with words, e.g., in Berlin:
“I need to buy a vowel, I need to a buy a vowel –
so many consonants flooding me; barbarians growling under my bed.
My life for a vowel, frog sounds in my throat.” (57)
If there is one criticism I would make is, Fernando drinks too much and writes too much about coffee!
Traveling to Russian cities and provinces that hold secrets and stale memories of times past, Fernando writes of what the Soviet Union and Lenin meant to those of us growing up in the Americas during the 60s-70s; communists’ ideals and socialist principles to read and debate with our classmates over drugs and wine.
In Germany, Fernando includes a “tour” of Dachau Concentration Camp in his book, reminding us that:
“Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo becomes holy ground.
History needs re-enactment,...” (56)
While in India we read melodious rumblings of Vishnu and vise, Brahma and Bollywood, Hindu and humanity, on the Mumbai trails – while Fernando weaves in family dilemmas and internal turmoil:
“...just like my poems are strange, offensive with abusive thorns...” (p78)
What other kinds of thorns are there … a thorn is a thorn is a thorn ... as are Fernando’s poems, they keep coming at us, words filled with pain.
Yet, the ending to this book is beautifully touching, healing.
No more fretting about your loss in architecture, Fernando. You are a poet. You are where you should be.
[Marta Lopez-Garza is a Professor in the Gender & Women's Studies Department and Chicana/o Studies Department at California State University, Northridge. To learn more about Prof. Lopez-Garza, visit her CSUN webpage.]