Review: When Kerosene’s Involved, Daniel Romo. Black Coffee Press; 2012.
The paragraph structure of a prose poem gives the semblance of narrative, whether narrative is intended or not; the reader’s expectations can direct the tides of creation. When Kerosene’s Involved, a collection of prose poems, seeks to subvert that—Daniel Romo’s poetics are ones of difference, of variation, of multiplicity.
Here is where I reveal my flaw as a reviewer. I don’t much read the works of any cultural diasporas. I read what’s on my bookshelves, what my friends recommend, whatever on my list I can get at my local indie book store or—in a pinch—Barnes & Noble. I am a white girl considering the book of a Latino man. From it, I can tease out some markers of Latino culture—Grandpa Manuel, Pancho, “…Chivas (which means goats in English)”, “…Baby Joker, just released from jail, thought I looked like a rival who hit on his heina.” Throughout the collection, however, the reader encounters the Spice Girls, The Young and the Restless, Cliff’s Notes, the Millennium Falcon, Rice Krispie Treats, and Hoarders. There is so much variety in the book’s tropes and figures that I do not read When Kerosene’s Involved and think, Latino poems! Done!
In Kerosene, I read Daniel Romo on every page. The narrative underpinning this collection is one of loyalty and honesty to the varied worlds from which the self originates and the multitudinous experiences that comprise and distinguish the self. The imaginative work in each poem shows a willingness to extend the boundaries of that self to explore other experiences and lives, or simply to create them for fun; Daniel Romo inhabits them all well and completely.
In the poem “Word Problem #37”, there is Daniel-Romo-the-high-school-teacher:
Train A departs Duluth at 7 a.m. traveling 20 miles per hour faster than train B, which departs from Sheboygan at 6 a.m. The conductor of train A is drunk. The conductor of train B is asleep. … There will be an explosion. Everyone will catch on fire and die. How far will the charred limbs fly when the trains collide head-on and create algebraic wreckage? Show your work.
The teacher appears also, enmeshed with the Latino, in the “Pancho” poems; these pieces are imbued with the sadness of the marginalized status of most Latino-Americans, a situation to which most American citizens would not admit. Consider “Pancho As Show Not Tell Mini-Lesson In The High School Creative Writing Textbook”:
He is dirty.
Pancho’s pores hold filth hostage. His skin is a grimy husk.…The ringworm on his back keeps growing and laughs at this attempt.
His clothes are ugly.
Pancho’s wardrobe consists of holes that house bits of fabric. His shirts were too small two years ago. His pair of pants can also function as shorts. His sandals are held together by masking tape and a miracle.
Pathetic Pancho stands in for the plight of many poor Latino-Americans, and the precision in Romo’s detail makes many of the poems vivid, poignant, and sad.
Elsewhere, there is Romo-the-satiric-philanthropist (“Donation”: “My almost dollar a day saves a starving Somalian. The pocket change jingles in Samboobwa’s bloated belly. Sam for short.”), Romo-the-Dodgers-fan and Romo-the-high-school-student (“Direction”: “I had no sense of patriotism but I was loyal to my Dodgers, and lab partner, Debbie. Even though she scribbled she loved someone not me all over her Pee Chee.”), and Romo-the-academe (“Thesis”: “She wrote comments on my eyelids in red ink. Ultimately I failed, but appreciated the feedback. Sometimes when I’m reading Cummings in the library, I drub my fingertips against my lips feeding myself the commas on the page…”).
Even when the poems do not speak in the voice of Daniel Romo, they are informed by his identity and his experiences, and When Kerosene’s Involved is all the stronger for it.