Re- by Andrea Blancas Beltran / Redbird Chapbooks / 2018
Andrea Blancas Beltran’s chapbook, Re-, is a beautiful, textured collection of poems centered around her grandmother’s memory loss, and her own grief. “Re-”, the simple prefix meaning “back” or “again,” serves well as a title with which to gather these poems, for without an attachment it has a blank emptiness to it, evoking loss and an attempt to capture. Yet in the title poem of this collection, Beltran also employs the prefix as a thing of its own. I was reminded at times of the sound an engine makes as it fails to catch, the infinite letting go of expectation, abandonment of attachment. The syllable is also the center of Beltran’s own first name, And-RE-a: evoking this core sound, we’re made aware of how deeply felt is this loss for the poet, how she finds herself lost at the center.
Re-, the repeating of an action. re re re re re re re re re re re re &
Every time I visit my Grandma, I hope she remembers me. This last time she remembers me. re re re re re re re until she doesn’t know the word, can’t mouth my name.
(Later in this poem, Beltran will murmur that she thinks it was the poet Aracela Girmay “who said that the & reminds her of a heart”; the ampersand is used here with great effect.)
The poem “Before she talks to me about not having children” is comprised both of a list (“all/the people that I love”) with text bolded to emphasize elements to create a stunning second poem within. The next page contains another of her grandmother’s lists, this one for herself, a list written towards the beginning of her more serious forgetting, an attempt to write what she wants to remember, what she wants not to unremember: Things to do; Things EH said I forgot (“STUDY”); an apple pie (“How many c flour” “How many apples” “What degree to bake”) with note to the side—“Ask Andrea OK”—almost plaintive in its relief.
Much of this collection reminds me of Mary Ruefle’s poetry in its simplicity, tenderness, and an openness that never takes away from its feeling of intimacy. It is too easy to say that Re- is about Beltran’s grandmother’s dementia, for it’s also about her grandmother’s grieving her late husband’s death, her strength, her love of her grandaughter (and equally about her ambiguous feelings towards her family). It’s about the unsentimental death at the center of our own being; what we draw to ourselves in order to understand our own lives, and who we are when we lose those markers of identity. Re- is a lovely slip of a book, and I look forward to reading more.