José Antonio Mazzotti
Ugly Duckling Presse
Reviewed by Keegan Lester
“One must arrive there with the dexterity of the wounded pilot/ Navigating labyrinths like the palm of his hand (“3”, lines 2-3)”.
Much of the beauty in Sakra Bocccata is derived from the world José Antonio Mazzotti establishes with grace and gut, slipping between the familiar and the foreign, the magical and the physical: “Looking at each other, as lastingly as comets/ I dreamed about you for more than 300 years, I counted/rosary beads until falling asleep (1, lines 10-12)”. As a reader, the beauty further grows with the realization that it’s our world he’s writing.
The most crippling part of this collection is its brevity. It is comprised of only twenty-eight poems, their original Spanish version next to the English version, documenting the lunar cycle, its power on our bodies both mystical and physical. And reading onward, we must with the knowledge that we are surely headed back toward the same darkness where we began.
And yet, through all this, Mazzotti avoids moon trope. He’s does not leave this collection up to our ability to infer based on the common place beauty of the moon, as one would ask another to derive from a photograph, but expresses the beauty in the tension of the moon’s pull on all things human; of the moon’s pull on the Earth itself: “Each tree of flesh is a stretched shellfish (2, 11)”. We are not looking into or onto a place where he’s been, but the place where each of us exists.
The elegant forward, written by Raúl Zutrita, ends: “but, beyond anything that can be said it is a triumph for our bodies. For our South American bodies so often devoured by everything and anyone, except by love.” There’s an element of self awareness evident in language borrowed from the grips of the political and religious domains dominating the landscape of these poems, that addresses the physical as well as metaphysical body:
And in the Forum they question the Majesty of your forehead
These fools forget that You reign with the same freedom
That you gave to them to exist and to move through the metropolis
To dream of meadows and lakes their feet have never tread
To touch with their eyes the stars that mark the path
And now they want you as a prisoner
Mazzotti, a poet proud with Peruvian identity, makes pleas using political and religious language, in which said pleas are often not political in nature. In reappropriating these particular genres of language, the language itself carries a different kind of weight. One that displays just how inescapable that language is from the everyday mundane. The pleas are not to change an unchangeable landscape, but more the acknowledgment of the existence of those who live within that landscape.
It would be lazy to describe the relationship between the moon and these poems as one purely of deity or muse. I tend to think of these poems and the moon as existing in communion with each other, the same way the moon and tides are related and thus we have an insight as when to fish. As the moon grows in the collection, it appears that the ferrel nature of these poems does as well. As it wanes, the poems also seem to wane in space on the page and seem to brace themselves for the imminent leaving: “Torn by window glass/ But the lines stay and suavity of the world is hardly pressured/ By the vague light of dead stars (25 lines 17-19).
Often with the private evocations that we connect with a poetry that meditates on the moon, we the reader are left with the feeling of being on the outside, as if we have to take for granted the beauty of the moon to infer the right for a certain pathos to exist. It’s not unlike when a person hands you a photograph of the grand canyon, meaning: look, feel something; but all you see is a deep, red hole in that ground, some mules, your acquaintance and a handful of badly sunburned strangers. There is nothing to connect the observer of that photograph to the emotions one feels when they are there, looking into it. When their toes are feet away from what feels like the edge of the world, when with all the clay around you, the world is a giant sunset.
This is a collection that does not asks please, look at me and feel this, as much as it is an active performance upon you. Jeff Tweedy once said, that the community and emotions one should feel at church actually happens at shows because no one is being forced into it. In the same way, Sakra Bocccata will sneak up on you, subtly like a stranger and after performing on your body, leave you also like a stranger that you will contemplate the next morning. A stranger that you will find yourself over and over bumping into in the supermarket, on your street corner and in bars you frequent. It will become something that you look over your shoulder at, never really able to shake.
Go out and get this collection. It is one that will be nearly impossible to shake from your consciousness after reading.