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Through a Grainy Landscape by Millicent Borges Accardi (New Meridian)

Through a Grainy Landscape by Millicent Borges Accardi (New Meridian)

Millicent Borges Accardi’s Through a Grainy Landscape is part of a subgenre written by immigrants and their descendants from Portugal in the United States. This poetry and prose includes the work of Frank X. Gaspar (who wrote the foreword to Accardi’s book), Brian Sousa, Sam Periera and many others. Accardi’s work is filled with a beautiful longing for what she has lost in her family’s transition to the United States. Those who have immigrated have gained a level of financial security but Accardi shows how some long for the culture and world they have lost and left behind.

     Part of what the narrator faces as an immigrant is scarcity of resources or a built in support system, so she and her family are forced to make do and figure out a new cultural landscape that is often hostile. In “The Graphics of Home,” she describes how far the family stretches every resource, even clothing, eventually after passing it around from friends to family, tearing it apart and selling or reusing all of it.

            Whatever was left, was sold

            by the pound, wrapped and rolled into

            giant cloth balls, sold to the rag man

            who made his rounds in the neighborhood

            all oily and urgent and smiling as if

            his soul were a miracle of naturalized

            birth. (48)

Those around her family seem to be blessed with not only a social safety net but with the confidence that goes with feeling that they are a part of the larger culture. Their poverty is present and difficult, but the status of being an outsider is what matters. Even simple tasks are tests of their lives. 

            You hummed the slow fado 

            music under your breath

            and considered a time where 

walking home was not a test

of fixing life. (39)

Every moment can be difficult in a new and complex landscape. Even walking here tests them.

     But it is not just being an outsider that tests and harms those who have immigrated to the new country; Accardi also explores the idea of loss of the individual self as they become more acculturated.

            We were in disguise, afraid of the

            serenity we might never feel, the horror

            of telling the truth. Existing in a variety

            of lost stages of fitting in and awkward 

            strength. We knew vices, deception

            and the way our imaginations were

            helpless to fight against the

            anonymity of what is called America. (28)

She is getting at an essential truth of the country. America often prides itself in being “a melting pot” of cultures, but the truth is that the dominant culture often strives consciously and unconsciously to make the new citizens change who they are and how they act to fit in and disappear. Her collection is often an exposition of how that happens and the anxiety and even terror of losing one’s identity. She describes cultural touchstones and a way of life for people who had been fishers.

     Millicent Borges Accardi’s Through a Grainy Landscape captures a mood and a feeling brilliantly. I am not an immigrant myself, so I doubt I can fully grasp the complexity of what she is doing, but this is a nuanced look at humanity, and it is exceptionally well done.

John Brantingham 8th April 2022

Only More So by Millicent Borges Accardi (Salmon Poetry)

Only More So by Millicent Borges Accardi (Salmon Poetry)

Portuguese American, Borges Accardi’s fourth collection broadly centres on the female experience of war atrocities, ethnic cleansing, rape, imprisonment and other instances of degradation inflicted by men on women. The book’s verve stems from its narrative angles, imagery and memorable lines that produce a beguiling reading experience. Suggestive poems insinuate themselves through unusual angles, associative interruptions and by avoiding the obvious, and so allow access to a wider perspective.

Female identities are marked and located by pain, rage, trouble and war. Poems explore the condition of female experience, concluding in the final poem that nuns require a leap of faith to believe that they are female. They travel historically and culturally from instructions on how to avoid being arrested in ‘How to Shake off the Políciade Segurança Pública Circa 1970’, to the wise woman, ‘a bride of dried veil blossoms’, who could ‘poison or heal’ to how a woman carries the ache of a man inside her and falls back on nurturing instincts at times of crisis. In the case of the hooker, ‘who looked like Lena Horner’ and ‘suffered herself as a gift to men, though, consolation is found in beer alone. Men also feature as victims, such as, the Vietnam veteran always close to trauma and unlocatable pain, or through their gaze, as in the film actor who ‘looks at his women as if they / were a platter at a banquet, or ice / at an oasis’. Mostly they are moody, possessive, man spreading, close to death or dying.

Her best poems evoke an elusive quality and suggest an invisible world, as in the growth of a tumour, the attraction of lures or the function of ritual. One of the most tender moments starts with the line: “Wanna buy some sleep?” where the poet-narrator’s brother ‘gathers up a cocoon of sleep’ and ‘zips it up tightly under my chin / almost as if he loved me.’ The ‘almost’ here echoes a fear of the Father and of male dominance that is set against silence and survival throughout the collection.

In the thick of the worst of war, ‘In Prague’ where:

A skull, embedded in a dirt wall seems, for a moment,
as white and round as bread. Jaws, on metal stands,
tagged with numbers, wait for a turn to be whole again.

Here, dates are rounded to the nearest hundred.

Tarsals, femurs, ulna, open-pored
bones like coral, legs bowed, dried marrow
dark as tunnels, joint like fists, teeth.

The poet-narrator wants to move to where memory is kinetic action, where language is recorded in the natural world and where atrocities are named:

Take me where memory makes my legs move.
Take me where moss holds language.
Take me where we have a name for the things we do.

The battle of the sexes surfaces in ‘What The Water Gives Me’, based on a Frida Kahlo painting, where the painter-narrator reflects on her turbulent marriage to Diego Rivera. Here ‘Motion, not heart, undertakes every marriage’ and attracts mold, thus ages or fades, and ends somewhat hauntingly with Frida seeing children with ‘soft, miscarried faces.’

This thoughtful collection is a joy to read, evoking elusive states, and coming at the reader from all angles. It is thoroughly recommended.

David Caddy 2nd February 2017

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