The speaker in Sarah A. Chavez’s first collection of poetry, All Day, Talking (dancing girl press, 2014), is in mourning. This mourning primarily revolves around the speaker’s friend, Carole, but there’s also a longing for a past life—the life the speaker had when Carole was alive. There’s an identity Chavez’s speaker tries to resurrect for herself throughout the poems, one whose mantra could easily be carpe diem. Identity is an important concept for Chavez—she’s a scholar of Chican@/Latin@ & Native American literature and culture and a self-proclaimed “mestiza.” On her website, she has two bios to choose from (“Keepin’ it Real” and “Longer, More Professional”), indicating her investment in the idea of multiple or mixed identities. The poems in All Day, Talking show a speaker trying to build a new, independent sense of self after the loss of a loved one. These poems are loaded with concrete detail, so as the speaker reminisces about Carole, about her former life, the reader does, too. Chavez doesn’t give us every single detail, but she doesn’t have to. The bond between the speaker and Carole evokes the feelings of friendship and love that, if we’re lucky, we each get to experience in this life.
The poems in All Day, Talking vary in length and form—from prose poem to one-liner. The obvious string that ties these poems together are their titles: they all begin, “Dear Carole.” Much of the time, a title will give a clue as to where the poem is going. “Dear Carole, The dentist is about to pull”, as the title implies, follows the speaker to the dentist. The speaker worries that the dentist will pull out her tongue and hold it “like fucking Indiana Jones finding some third world / country’s indigenous treasure.” The speaker loses teeth, but also has lost the ability, in the physical world, to be comforted by Carole after the ordeal is over.
Other poems serve as sudden punches to the gut. In these, the speaker moves forward in her life, but there’s one foot behind her, in a world with Carole. “Dear Carole, I finally did it” is a particularly haunting example of this type of poem:
I cut it all off in a trendy bob
that fades up the back. You told me
not to, said you loved my hair long.
Well, you’re not here anymore.
Again, a piece of the speaker is taken away, but this cannot happen without a consultation with Carole, even if it’s in the speaker’s mind. Two steps forward, one step back.
It would be easy for this extended eulogy to get corny or lame, but it doesn’t. The fierceness of the speaker’s feelings for Carole are expressed beautifully at the beginning of “Dear Carole, I think I’m going to start publishing these letters”:
I keep having this dream you’re not really dead.
They started three days after the email from your lover,
who I never met, who for all I know wasn’t real,
who if she was, didn’t know who I was or what we
were, but was just some pawn in your fucked up game
invented to hurt me. How self-centered is that?
That I would believe you loved me so much to hate
me so much that you’d fake your own death.
There’s no reason not to mourn with Chavez’s speaker in All Day, Talking. The roller coaster of emotions and memories in these poems is a ride most people would take at the death of a best friend, willing or not. The speaker in All Day, Talking is doing the best she can, and that’s especially hard because Carole is omnipresent; these letters are, after all, about “Nothing. / Anything. Everything really.” All the speaker can do, all anyone can do, is wake up each day and try again.
Nate Logan was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN. “Nice beard” is a phrase strangers often say to him. Some of his recent work appears in BOAAT, Finery, and HOUSEGUEST. He’s chief editor of Spooky Girlfriend Press.