Sylvia Sánchez Garza
White Bird Publications
Paperback, ISBN: 978-1633635562; 48 pgs.; $13.99
January 11, 2022
Infused with love and memories, Awaken! uncovers joy in moments of sorrow. The poet Sylvia Sánchez Garza dedicates this collection to her parents; her mother Elida Reyna Sánchez died in 2019 and her father Joe V. Sánchez in 2021. Grief-stricken, the author reveals that words overflow her mind, comparing them to water pouring from a faucet with broken handles. But she remains silent, knowing that eventually her “lost words/Will ignite and explode,” as they do in her poem “Words,” an expression of her emotional pain.
“Clouds” is a metaphor for those she misses. She watches them morph and move across the sky. “They grow, create themselves /and reunite with each other for strength.” Heartbroken, she acknowledges the anniversary of her mother’s death in “September” but feels her presence in the natural world and her grandbaby’s “silky-smooth skin.”
“Understand” is an internal conversation about “sacred shells,” bodies left behind at death. Sánchez Garza doesn’t understand those who look for loved ones in open coffins. She believes lives continue in the depths of souls, “where no one else can go.” She feels their spirits in the natural world, “…in the red, candescent cardinal /Perching on the windowsill.”
Her love for nature also comes through in the couplets of “Anacahuita” when she converses with an olive tree that she hopes will survive a freeze and in “La Flor” when she expresses gratitude for every moment. Her ode to “Mr. Sunshine” is set on a stormy day, but she encourages him to sleep in.
“La Luna,” about the moon, is another of her lyrical poems with s and w alliterations as soothing as lullabies. The first four couplets are lovely, but the rest of the poem detours to focus on a blue heron. In “Haibun: Meditating in the Backyard,” the poet combines a prose poem with a haiku. Sitting on a bench, sipping iced tea, she again reflects on egrets in South Texas:
Pure, angelic, birds,
majestic at water’s edge…
croaking a good night.
The powerful “Delusional Dream” is a sestina about the Covid crisis. Sestinas are a challenging poetic form with six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet. All stanzas have the same six words at the line-ends, but in different sequences. The six are used again in the following, closing three-line envoi:
Oh, trees and flowers and birds take pause.
The sky is a misty daze in your eyes, bones, and cells.
Try to bury the truth? The sun will cry as we peek.
Part of the fun of this form is that homophones can be used, so that “pause” can become “paws” in another stanza. “Peek” can become “peak” or “pique,” “cells” “sells,” and “daze” “days.”
The writer revisits Covid in “Pestilent Pest.” Here she uses second person to address the disease as a female bully.
Sánchez Garza awakens readers to the history and politics of “Life on the Rio Grande.” This poem begins and ends with the word “home.” Sánchez Garza describes it as “an invisible place /where people you love /are forever with you,” not divided into two separate worlds, a familiar longing expressed in her writing.
“Labores” praises migrant workers, thousands of miles from home, “picking all day long /only to be left behind /when trying to get ahead.” She continues to examine their plight in “Please” which expresses her desire for Mexico and the U.S. to live as loving neighbors with blended cultures rather than to create barriers and separate innocent children from their parents.
Told in first person point-of-view, “Spiritless Stone” refers to monuments of heroes, disgraced as historic secrets unfold. A statue encourages others to, “cut me, smash me, destroy me—bloodless and unheroic.” The writer also speaks to George Floyd in “Soar with the Angels,” promising him that people will never forget the knee to his neck.
Sánchez Garza writes more than half of her twenty-five poems in couplets. In the first one, a flamboyant mosquito speaks directly to the humans who swat him. The insect begs for his life in “Dance.” “WAIT! /Can’t you let us be? /If you had /But three weeks, /Wouldn’t you /Dance? /Without worrying about getting smacked /By yesterday’s news.”
“Purple Piñata Pieces” is another fun one. She again uses alliteration and direct address as she describes partygoers, “striking with fierce force” and the hailstorm of sweet morsels that results.
“Raspas” (snow cones), about other treats, suggests her disappointment that none today are as sweet as the ones she remembers from childhood.
Sánchez Garza ends her anthology with “La Chancla,” a surprising poem about someone who wants to deprive her of a dream to “see my world, /to hold it in my arms /as I stare at its eyes /while the world smiles /and kisses my cheek.”
In spite of her naysayer, she has achieved those wishes in Awaken!
Sylvia Sánchez Garza grew up in Weslaco, Texas, and now lives in Edinburg, Texas, with her husband, sons, and dogs. She enjoys the culturally rich and beautiful border community of the Rio Grande Valley. As a former teacher and a current school board member, Sylvia values education and is grateful for her opportunities. She holds a B.A. in English, an M.A. in School Administration, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies. Cascarones, a coming-of-age novel about the cultures and traditions of growing up as a Mexican American in South Texas, was published by Floricanto Press in 2018 and has won three Gold Star Awards. Her short story, "Ojo," was published in an anthology, Living Beyond Borders, by Penguin Teens in 2021. She has also published poetry in various literary magazines and two anthologies, Boundless and What They Leave Behind.