Joseph Somoza, Sojourner, So to Speak 1997, La Alameda Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico $12.00 ISBN 1-888809-05-1
In many of the poems in his new collection, Joseph Somoza takes up the theme of the outsider. He is the European (the Asturiano) transplanted to America (to Elizabeth, New Jersey), and yet again to the Southwest, where he makes a home. There is a house, a yard. There are Blanco, the cat, and Jill, the wife. There are excursions (Chicago, Ohio, New Jersey, New York), but mostly there's home--the books and the typewriter in the study, the house plants, the coffee mug. The empty and foreign spaces beyond the window.
Try the pierogies. Save the sweet ones
for last, if you want to
maintain a perspective.
Such as the one from my window,
that looks down on a backyard
not my own.
- "Strange Music"
In "Gringo," the outsider isn't quite sure what to make of the behavior of others: "As I'm walking back / from the car the old / man on the stoop / spits / and I wonder if it's / habit or comment." He passes "three male subjects / wearing straw cowboy hats" who "glance up, then continue / their stances."
In "A Foreign Game," the outsider imagines himself being "one of the guys," playing basketball with Ezra ("who can palm the ball / for such a little guy"), with T.S. ("who learned to play at prep school"), and Bill ("just normal Bill, / and nice," who "chooses / me for his team each time, / though I'm an immigrant"). And the game goes well, but
" . . . during the Coke break,
that's when I'm thrown back
on my foreign origins.
I feel like I must
be from some
private island. Just my
grandfather and me among the chestnuts
and the fig trees. Picking fruit
all day without a word.
Not imagining that words are needed."
And the outsider is estranged not merely from those around him, even the writers in his books, but from much of the language world in which he lives and works:
"I don't know, I must be
estranged or something. "Hispanics"
is fairly vague
whereas the cold great lake
to where you're sitting.
Where you really live.
Are you familiar with Cleveland,
- "Estranged or Something"
All in all? Sharp, elegant, witty poems--from a regular player on William Carlos Williams's team.
- Halvard Johnson