ANYWHERE AVENUE by OSCAR BERMEOCRAIG SANTOS PEREZ Reviews
Anywhere Avenue by Oscar Bermeo
(self-published chapbook, 2007)
Anywhere Avenue, by Oscar “de la Palabra” Bermeo (a.k.a. Oscar “The Jícama Blowdart of Multiculturalism” Bermeo), roots itself in three locations: Ecuador, The Bronx, and The Bay Area. At the same time, this collection routes the “anywhere-ness” of migration through the “everywhere-ness” of poetry.
Bermeo reflects this movement in the form itself: the poems range from narrative / disjunctive prose to free verse, from spoken-word litanies to a carefully crafted, bilingual pantoum, from minimalist statements to a sonnet. The opening poem, “viewing the world from the back of a turtle” creates a mythic space from which the speaker begins his migrations:
I was born in the breath of the Pacific Ocean, child of shore and nets […] Without warning, I grew wings and was pulled from the Pacific and Andes and the word abandon became a cut in the roof of my mouth that has followed me since. (2)
Bermeo manages lyric nostalgia without flailing into sentiment. Every time I read this passage, I am floored by the moment when it seems that the “and” after Andes will suggest another location, yet its gives us the word “abandon”. Not only that, we are not actually pulled from the word, but the word becomes, cuts, and haunts the speaker. Anywhere Avenue emerges from this cut, charting foreign shores and the “ripening hues” (5) of diasporic experience (“where the cord was first cut”).
Perhaps we can even theorize “cut-and-abandon” as the technique used in the poem “an atlas of nationalism”:
scrolls revealed deeply problematic new areas marked as unknown find symbols where to look blue areas unknown no data available to assign a probability ferocious blank face animals exotic creatures filled early maps of region most of the interior of America remains incognita if it didn’t exist i would have to invent place seeking mythological lands location nebulous areas (4)
The abandoning of narrative threads accents the collage / cut up feel of this poem. In addition, the necessary theme of mapping highlights Bermeo’s desire to re-invent the singular place as a nebulous area. In “The Truth (and some lies) about the Bronx”, Bermeo represents the Bronx through a fractured mirror:
The South Bronx is not a place; it’s a ghost story.
You better get yours now in the Bronx.
Don’t worry if you are lost in the Bronx
Who would want to visit the South Bronx.
The South Bronx is best viewed through a mirror.
The Bronx always takes care of its own.
Watch your back in the Bronx.
The South Bronx is “worse than London after the Blitz.”
Planned shrinkage is the most efficient way to deal with the Bronx.
When in doubt: Blame the Bronx.
The Bronx would benefit from a period of sweet recklessness.
In the South Bronx, it’s best to sleep with your shoes on.
Does any one know where the South Bronx starts or ends? (11)
In Bermeo’s aesthetic cartography, the South Bronx becomes an unlocatable place—that is, a site of contesting representations. If no one knows where the South Bronx begins or ends, then its borders becomes determined by the “sweet recklessness” of our own individual mirrors.
Not only does Bermeo re-invent place, he also re-invents the self. The poem, “Dedication”, is one of the most powerful meditations on the potential, limit, and function of the “I” I’ve ever read:
The devotion makes you, the I, write in English forges what has been wished. Fact: you do not belong in English. The I, it belongs nowhere; but English, it cannot explain here.
You don a declaration, which the I will carry. Devotion inside the great production of isles which (in the forge of the writing) has already faded. Fact: When this I is here, it still does not explain what is inside the great isles, yet it goes out and does not belong. Just inside the English I, in the place where it can spread, there is where it belongs.
Make the delivery, the statement deep inside your English other, forcing discoloration. Fact: This other does not explain your English, it exits but does not belong to the I, the place which disseminates it.
Listen to the declaration, within the scarred you, that already has written to ingles. Fact: When these internal parts of English stand unexplained, they will finish not in himself but in the place which spreads himself in her, relative places where English belongs to all.
Bristle at the instruction, this explanation, within your sacred I as your other is cutting through ingles. Fact: With this internal part still unexplored, with its touch terminated not in English but in the visible, which makes it other, in places where word ties everything. (14)
Since the “I” belongs nowhere, then it has the potential to belong anywhere. Bermeo roots the “I” in various (dis)locations and “relative places where English belongs to all”. In a place where memory, experience, and perception are separated by great distances, Anywhere Avenue (which, in my imagination, intersects Borderless Boulevard, Liminal Lane, and Subaltern Street) becomes the nebulous area where “word ties everything”. Palabra.
Craig Santos Perez's reviews have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Pleiades, The Denver Quarterly, First Intensity, Rain Taxi, Jacket, Rattle, How2, and Traffic, among others. He blogs at blindelephant.blogspot.com.