- one-bedroom solo
In the Afro Punk film The Triptych, visual artist Barron Claiborne provocatively urges listeners to throw out Richard Wright books because, to paraphrase, no [End Page 173] one's life is that bad. His distaste for Wright was in the utter sadness and depression present in the books, the lack of humor and, so to speak, Good Times. Sheila Maldonado's debut poetry collection, one-bedroom solo, would not disappoint the reader who seeks levity in tales of the New York City working class.
Maldonado's poems are performance pieces; she sees the performance of daily interactions (yes, the world is a stage). Often the poet "maneuver[s]," "tip-toe[s]," "slide[s]" from one encounter to the next, negotiating her self-made world with the commotion around her. Finding a parking spot, for example, is a negotiation and ritual between herself and the "mighty beneficent Parking God," who blesses her with a car in a neighborhood that is "hundreds of thousands strong / each vicious resident with his own car" ("All Hail the Parking God"). Language, itself a performance, comes to humorous life when a Spanish language song plays on the radio, and the chanteur sings one thing and a girl hears another ("Bubbles of Love"):
1990, Juan Luis Guerra puts out his most famous song and it goes like this:
. . . O-o-o-o-oPasar la noche en velaMojado en tiU-u-u-u-un pez
A girl deep in the recesses of Brooklyn, hears this:
. . . O-o-o-o-oTo spend the night Idon'tknowwhatthisphrasemeanswet inside youA-a-a-a-a fish
In conventional written English rules, when a non-English language is written, it's performed in italics. In Maldonado's poems, she ignores those rules, truly blending Spanish language with English language. For example, in "Tube Ties," she writes: "We both correct her / quick, 'Todavía / está, a las dos / de la mañana."' This quiet political statement can be seen elsewhere in Maldonado's poems, a sleight of hand that subtly maximizes the politics in the poems.
The poems are often simultaneously dependent on music, the visual world, and words to transform everyday experiences. "Pool," which begins, "Words have not held me up like the water does. I would like them / to try, acquire a density that changes gravity, changes how I think / of me, if I think of me," stages the tone for solo wanderings. The performance of language, music, and the visual world, a dynamic trio, becomes the locus for the metaphysical eye. Often the wandering philosopher is depicted as a grand sojourner who moves from one part of the country to the next, from one continent to the next, in order to understand human nature and the origins of human behavior. While the narrator [End Page 174] in Maldonado's poems certainly travels across the globe, her main travels are from one New York City borough to the next, and in these travels, she also seeks to understand the ways in which people behave and desire. She is able to locate then the beauty in, say, a park at night (which, in NYC, automatically becomes a battlefield at nightfall), which a potential mugger may see as a space ripe with opportunities. From "At the Meer in Harlem," she writes:
with me in the dark park hoping no one will be stabbing me. No one should be. It feels too cozy mellow for stabbing. If it were to happen it would be aesthetically inappropriate. That criminal would have done a disservice to his/her art. That's what I would tell him/her. It's not a night for that. Make out the ducks in the middle of the ripple, stabber. Avoid the raccoon silhouette on the garbage can. Count the orbs of traffic signal lamppost light, yellow, red, white in the bizarre water. Take in the green smoke.
Cleverly painting a "wavy, impressionistic Monet world," the poem calls to mind W. H. Auden's "The Shield of Achilles" and "Museé des Beaux Arts." Maldonado's...