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“T o M a k e S h a d o w s B u r n a n d S il e n c e L o u d ”: A l t a r s o f C h a n g e a n d C o n t in u it y in C o n t e m p o r a r y C h ic a n a P o e t r y L a u r i e K u t c h i n s “You come here walking.” The words of Father Rocca, elder and keeper of el Santuario de Chimayo, come back to me as I complete an absorbed reading of four recent books of poetry by Chicana writers Naomi Quinonez, Gloria Velasquez, Demetria Martinez, and Alma Luz Villanueva. As if I’d walked through grounds made sacred from the shedding of blood, tears, skins, I emerge from these poets’ worlds altered in some inexplicable but palpable way. So many have emerged from el Santuario, walking from the chapel’s cool shadows and silences (except for the gurgling of pigeons in the simple towers, the shuffling of feet toward the altar where both busloads of tourists and locals pray— in Spanish, in English, in various languages); so many emerge and wander back into fierce southwestern sunlight. Indeed, the longer I have lived with these books of poems, the more I have begun to feel a sense of pilgrimage, of having walked here, to four respective altars built out of silence, language, and matrilineage. Some poems remove my shoes, some strip me of logic, some make me shiver with grief and shame; others give back pleasure, sustenance of food and drink, spine of laughter and prayer, sinew of mystery and context, anger and tenderness. Quinonez, Velasquez, Martinez, Villanueva: these poets are rever­ ent and brave enough to challenge the irreverent. In their poems, both individual and collective silences sear open and are left behind like dried snake skins. Out of the shrivels of silence, each of these poets begins her song, shapes her offerings. To enter the landscapes of these books is to walk across thresholds and to begin to feel the ero­ sions of multiple boundaries, literal and metaphoric. Race, class, gen­ der, and cultures converge. The mestiza consciousness of these writers gathers momentum and force as each, in her own way, questions and changes linguistic, political, and gendered forms of power. One feels matrilineal survivor/warrior presences at work in their poems, healing past adversities and mutilations, transforming silences into acts of 1 0 6 WAL 3 5 .1 S p r in g 2 0 0 0 love and beauty, transforming shame and discrimination into accomplishment and fierce resilience. Pyramids of institutionalized power, such a dominant shape in North American culture, begin to topple as these poets breathe, sing, dance, stare, and chant them down. The inscription page of Naomi Quinonez’s collection, The Smoking Mirror, is an articulate map into the vast mythic, metaphoric, political, urban, and emotional terrains of all four books of poems. Quinonez’s book is dedicated to her grandmothers, whose “voices guide my heart, my pen.” What follows is a passage that pays tribute to, interrogates, and invokes the Nahuatl trickster, “divine guide” and “keeper of the smoking mirror,” a numinous figure— perhaps ancestor of the poet herself—who possesses the power of judgment as to whether being human means we resign ourselves to masked greed, to living with “obscured hearts and faces,” or whether we may inherit and achieve illumination through “pure hearts.” The deep-rooted jux­ tapositions and tensions in this ambitious book are set in motion here. Will “we adorn our fears” and “hide our greed” (inscription page) like Ms. Dabbles, a Reaganesque, westside gringa who declares East L.A. criminals are “‘just bom that way . . .’” in the satiric poem “Ms. Bel Air Head” (41)? Or will we strip fear, greed, and ignorance away “to plant the seeds of strength” and give “birth / to new consciousness” (21)? “Will we be the inheritors of smoke?” (inscription page), Quinonez asks, or will the “. . . rich mixture of minds” (12), cultures, languages, and...


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pp. 105-111
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