Red Canyon Falling on Churches, poetry, reviewed by Rebecca Snow

Red Canyon Falling on Churches, Juliana Aragón Fatula’s second collection of poetry, reviewed by Rebecca Snow

 

Conundrum Press, paper, 58 pp, $14.99

 

Laughing at Coyote, the Chicano/Chicana Trickster

 

In the preface to her second collection, Canyon City poet Juliana Aragón Fatula notes that “Náhuatl, language of the Aztecs, and Spanglish, language of the Chicano, flows like a river through the poems.” Just as English melds with the tongues of her heritage, Fatula’s poems weave together her experience as a contemporary American and the myths of her ancestors, in a voice meant to be heard out loud. As she also notes, “Creation stories reveal myths woven from feminism and rock’n’roll lava.”

 

She transforms, for example, the creation myth of Coyote, a creature that appears in indigenous stories throughout North America. In “Desert Creatures with Insomnia Waited for the Night,”

 

The trickster falls asleep,

the crazy creatures

tiptoe into the coyote’s den

and steal all of his stash:

his Snickers, Cheetos,

Bengay, Prozac,

Ambien, and TV remote.

 

This is why

the coyote howls

at the moon at night.

 

Coyote is outwitted, again, but this time he has morphed into a junk-food and pill-stashing American, howling for a new reason now. The poem plays with the controversy over immigration but also, perhaps, with Chicana feminism. Parallel to how Mexicans are too often seen from the U.S. citizen point of view as “crazy creatures,” waiting for their chance to cross the desert and steal the U.S.-American lifestyle, the poem may also be portraying the stealth of Chicana women, sleepless and frustrated, sneaking into the Chicano Coyote’s den to grab their share. Are they tired, maybe, of allowing the Chicano men to hog the “stolen” American treasures, leaving the women unfulfilled? But what treasures are they, really? Comfort food, pills for insomnia and depression, mindless TV entertainment—is this what the “crazy creatures” really want?

 

A more positive interpretation would be that they are taking the stash away—not using it themselves but freeing the American dream of so much nonsense. Coyote howls in withdrawal.

 

In “Parable,” Fatula goes further with her recreation:

 

El coyote dreamt

of Hollywood hot tubs,

woke from his stoned tupor,

grabbed the bloody moon.

He kneaded the tortilla into a woman

with olive-colored eyes

and lugged

her off to his cave. The desertó creaturas

laughed at the fool with his masa wife,

heard el cabrón howl all night.

 

Here we have clear feminism—Chicana women laughing at how their men, stoned with the American dream, think they can knead their delusion into a subservient wife.

 

Whatever the gender, however, Fatula gives the characters in her poems both strength and serious flaws, especially when it comes to her own mother. Fatula has called herself a confessional poet, and in “The River,” she portrays her mother as a much-beloved but harsh role model:

 

Mom dressed in stilettos,

her black leather jacket

with the big belt. . . .

 

I was never as afraid

of the cocoman

as I was of Mom’s wrath,

the crosses on the back of my thighs,

the belt buckle marks on my legs . . . still.

 

In her recent interview with Ryan Warner on Colorado Public Radio, Fatula discusses the alcoholism in her family, describing her mother as “a wonderful woman when she was sober.”

 

The first poem above, where the “crazy creatures” are sneaking into coyote’s den, begins with a humorous stanza, where the creatures

 

. . . can see in the dark,

don’t need night vision goggles;

they like to wear them anyway,

because they look so cool.

 

They are dressed “cool American,” much like Fatula’s mother would dress, and in her poem “The Shit You Pulled After You Were Dead,” Fatula addresses her dead mother:

 

When I threw the first shovel

of dirt on your coffin,

I leaned over and my sunglasses

slid down the six-foot hole.

I crawled in the grave with you

and fished them out.

You playing tricks . . .

 

Her mother is now Coyote, playing tricks from beyond the grave. Maybe she is goading her daughter to take off her sunglasses and see reality: look where being “cool” gets you.

 

Fatula, proud of her heritage, writes of it most often in a comedic voice mixed with heartache. She is passionate, for example, about her family’s artistry in cooking. In “My Homegirl Don’t Eat Pork,” “‘Orgánico’ tamales/taste like caca.” But she is also honest about the substance abuse, the violence, the patterns repeated in her own life, and her sobriety of over 26 years. Her sacred place is in the title poem, “Red Canyon Falling on Churches,” where

 

The butterfly’s wing

bitch-slaps my face,

with just a trace

of stardust.

 

Her father journeyed at the age of ten from New Mexico to southern Colorado, holding a lantern to light the way for his family’s Model T Ford. While “Hanging from the Hood,” he was

 

. . . searching for generosity

hoping for prosperity

longing for equality

finding only

stars bouncing up above.

 

Starting with the first poem of the collection, “Pobrecita,” when her sister has died, Fatula carries her family’s journey forward, both stardust and pain:

 

someone has to water

the heirloom philodendron,

pack the apron stained with love.

 

When her mother “drums at pow-wow” in “You Just Had To Be An Indian, Didn’t You?”—

 

it’s like a bomb

dropped on your head—

. . .
It’s great-giant

Indian love.

 

Rebecca Snow’s debut novel was shortlisted for the 2015 International Rubery Book Award. Glassmusic, set in Norway in the early twentieth century, was released from Conundrum Press in November 2014. Snow’s poetry is included on the Denver Poetry Map and was an Editor’s Pick in the 2013 Northern Colorado Writers Contest. She was awarded a Robert and Daryl Davis Fellowship in Poetry for the 2015 Seaside Writers Conference and won first place for narrative nonfiction in the Writers Studio Contest from Arapahoe Community College. Her piece was featured in the 2007 Progenitor, a Pacemaker finalist. With an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana, Snow teaches English at the Community College of Aurora. She is originally from Seattle and enjoys hiking around the great Rocky Mountains with her son. Visit her website at http://rebeccasnow.co/

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About Annie Dawid

Annie Dawid teaches creative writing at the University College, University of Denver. She was professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR, 1990-2006. Annie won the 2016 International Rubery Award in fiction for her first book and the Music Prize from Knuthouse Press in Fiction. Other awards include the Dana Award in the Essay, the Orlando Flash Fiction Award, The New Rocky Mountain Voices Award (drama) and the Northern Colorado Award in Creative Non-Fiction. Most recent publications: Tikkun, Litro, Fictive Dream. Multiple websites feature her short works, including TubeFlash, Spelk, Octavius, Nowhere, WeSaidGoTravel, Structo, Fiction Attic Press and others. Her three published volumes of fiction are: York Ferry: A Novel, Cane Hill Press, 1993, second printing Lily in the Desert: Stories, Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 2001 And Darkness Was Under His Feet: Stories of a Family, Litchfield Review Press, 2009
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2 Responses to Red Canyon Falling on Churches, poetry, reviewed by Rebecca Snow

  1. Rebecca Snow says:

    Reblogged this on Rebecca Snow and commented:
    Loved reading Fatula’s poetry and enjoyed writing this review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Juliana Aragón Fatula says:

    Rebecca Snow, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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