All My Heroes Are Broke
by Ariel Francisco
C&R Press, 2017
When thinking of poets of place, I think of Yusef Komunyakaa's Magic City (Wesleyan, 1992)
, James Wright's The Branch Will Not Break
(Wesleyan, 1963), and Mary Oliver's American Primitive
(Little Brown, 1983) — collections containing poems that recall, reflect, and remember the various towns and places considered by the poets to be home. Ariel Francisco's debut collection can be added to this list as a contemporary work that balances places New York City and Miami alongside tributes to poetic heroes and everyday heroes, among other balancing acts. All My Heroes Are Broke
is catapulted from the poems in Francisco's chapbook, Before Snowfall, After Rain
(Glass Poetry Press, 2016) and what results is a collection that is tender through its vulnerability and gentleness, admirable, and enduring.
One of the first poems in the book is "Before Snowfall"
which is an ideation reflecting on strayed love and being lost in translation. The speaker writes, referring to "a girl back home", "She never got the book, which was in French/and we never spoke again in any language" — the lack of dialogue between the speaker and girl leaves the speaker of this poem to consider what could happen like including possibilities such as a homeless man discovering the book. The speaker imagines:
his gaze tracing the skyline until it reaches
the grey horizon, thinking of all the nowhere
to go to lay his head down tonight,
saying out loud:
Not yet my friend. Thank goodness,
Despite the broken nature of the relationship, the poem is nevertheless successful in the connection between words and worlds — it allows for a glimmer of redemption, it allows for a glimmer of hope. These characteristics are of remarkable strength, especially when considering familial poems in the first section like "My Dad's Gun" and "Transients Welcome", the latter being a poem dedicated to his grandfather.
Of these family poems, the one that haunts me still is "Upon Encountering A Street Mural of Super Mario, I Think of my Mother".
The speaker recalls a birthday when he receives an NES, "already outdated by two successors:/the Super Nintendo and the N64." Continuing the speaker remembers "blitzing through homework/and dinner to play every night" and the anxiety of the message "your princess is in another castle
". The poem's close possesses remarkable impact when considering the game's message and considering the speaker's mother playing too. The speaker writes:
She got farther than I ever did
though I never thought much of it,
figured she was just trying to relax
before going to work — it didn't occur
to me that she was try
to save herself.
The speaker of this poem is trying to make sense of, at that time in his life, something nonsensical. Our youths are spent believing our parents are heroes, courageous, invincible, and infallible. This poem reflects on understanding our parents' humanness and limitations which speaks to strength and maturity in Francisco's work. Additionally, the poem is markedly profound when considering the use of white space by Francisco as it invokes a sense of longing both on the part of the poem's speaker and his mother.
The poems of the second section in Francisco's debut detail the speaker's ambivalent relationship with Florida. One of the strongest poems in the book "Driving Past Lake Tohopekaliga" (a word that translates/to something like a promise: we will gather here together
), Francisco considers familial relationships once again and channels childhood, divorce, and karma in the poem.
"Driving Past Lake Tohopekaliga" begins with a reflection on turtles — alligator snappers, map turtles, and red-ear sliders and the speaker writes, "Sometimes we would bring them home/and keep them in the kiddie pool/for a few days, though they always 'escaped'//while I was at school …” which hints at early dealings with separation. This line foreshadows a divorce which the speaker states us this was "before my family/entered the new millennium in splinters". The poem specifically relays that these memories develop when he visits his father "who still lives in the same house/we left. I remember the first time …" The line breaks here reveal the power of memory and the lasting impact of leaving. Once again, Francisco writes a riveting poem trying to understand familial dynamics and what happens when things go awry.
Familial relationships are not the only things that create tension in this collection as natural forces like hurricanes and bar scenes are presented in this section. There is a poem in this section that encapsulates both, "Post Hurricane, Miami" reminds readers "Even dead stars give us their light." This poem, though not a dead star at all, shines light "to see the hurricane somewhere out//in the Atlantic, spinning itself into nothingness, dissipating under its own destructive power." The raw nature revealed in this poem once again embodies longingness; the speaker longs to understand the impact of nature which is revealed in duality at the close: the physical nature of the hurricane and the human nature of understanding. The poem reads:
… I can make out
the silhouette of a woman shuffling tarot cards
on a tabletop …
I wade across the flooded street and knock
against the window, press both palms against the glass:
one to show I have nothing with which to pay,
the other for her to read anyway.
The strength of this poem is the strength of all of Francisco's poems; it is seeking understanding of the raw nature of words and worlds — it is considering the impact of others in our lives, it is considering the impact of our lives as they are happening.
The poems in All My Heroes Are Broke
are about broken heroes, broken natures, and broken homes — but I recall a line from James Wright's "The Accusation": "I loved your face because your face/was broken. When my hands were heavy,/You kissed me only in a darkness/To make me daydream you were lovely." I don’t have to daydream to know this book is lovely because there's love on every page of Ariel Francisco's debut. Embrace the broken to find the love and you will thoroughly enjoy All My Heroes Are Broke.
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