Thursday, August 30, 2007



The Mountain in the Sea by Victor Hernandez Cruz
(Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, MN, 55401)

The poetry of Victor Hernandez Cruz is internationally read, respected, and renowned. His work, like the man himself, is a meld of experiences, races and cultures from North Africa to Spanish Harlem, Spain to Puerto Rico. His poetry is rich with timeless Mediterranean and Caribbean influences. His latest book is the story of life, of many lives that communicate the essence of this poet's history. One brief excerpt from "Fez" stood out as a description of the poet and his work. The light truly shines within him. He is a living museum, sharing the bittersweet taste of his memories:

The candles lit in the
room of the body,
The museum of flesh,
The flavor of memory.

"The Medina Poems" transported me to another place and time. Breathless, I experienced everyday life in the poet's beautiful, exotic Morocco, and to quote him, "It's almost like a word is a place / that you can enter and dwell." Through the words of the poet's journal, I did enter the place to see the streets, courtyards, and people through his eyes:

Listening to the sounds of Arabic
melting in my afternoon ears
walking through the medina's nougat taste,
Amina's hands are my hands
Slowly the awareness of significance
comes, syllables that bring hints,
a flavor in the word, henna kissing
hands waving the new sounds,
a smooth turning opens like petals
in the air of so many people
between me and my ears…

The section, "Portraits," is a poet's eye view of icons who influenced his life and thereby his poetry. He captures the life and genius of their gifts with stunning simplicity, as in this excerpt from "Rafael Hernandez:"

Island beauty inside the resonance
of the guitar
With words he saw the way the
mountains see themselves.
Creator's eyes.

In fond memory, the grand musical frames of "Ricardo Ray y Bobby Cruz" are memorialized. Ricardo Ray:

The Brooklyn Bridge was his
An overpass to protect
from the lava meltdown
Reddish clave below the bongos,
and the vegetative scratch of
the gourd….

Bobby Cruz:

The singer's face receives a splash
of notes from Ricardo's fingers.
His wooden face
a sculpture begun in Ghana
that jumped out of the Orinoco.

"Tricofero" is a long poem dedicated to the poet's father, a man with hard edges who lived a harsh existence. With incredible compassion, the poet considers his father's life, and his death:

I buried his body like a seed into the
sensing his hair will sprout in another dimension
as guayaba fruit,
scent returns to Allah.
Through the opening of caves,
Dios who selects children and parents,
deep inside the sperm dance.

My advice to readers is to savor these poems. Hidden within them are generosity of spirit, compassion, forgiveness, joy, and pride. Highly recommended.


Laurel Johnson is a Retired Registered Nurse and the author of four books. She is Senior Reviewer for Midwest Book Review and Review Editor for New Works Review. Her poetry and prose can be found online in various literary e-zines. She lives in Kansas with her husband of forty-plus years.


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