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
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