Online Edition: Fall 2007

 Pepper Spray

 Paul Martínez Pompa

 Momotombo Press


 The Night Tito Trinidad KO’ed
 Ricardo Mayorga

 Kevin A. González

 Momotombo Press

 by Craig Santos Perez

Momotombo Press, which focuses primarily on emerging Latino/a writers, is named after a volcano on the shores of Lago Managua, in Nicaragua. Pepper Spray, by Paul Martínez Pompa, and The Night Tito Trinidad KO’ed Ricardo Mayorga, by Kevin A. González, present Momotombo’s most explosive collections to date.

Pepper Spray captures what it means to be “in skin not safe to be at night.” In “3 Little Pigs,” Pompa describes a violent moment of racial profiling and police brutality:

Me & uncle in a car when a police pulls us over yelling
aiming his gun at uncle’s head when second police comes
........................................................

                                    the first police pulls
uncle out pushes to the street & slugs his head POW!
his back CLUNK! when third police arrives & now 2 police
aiming 1 police spraying & 1 uncle with fire in his eyes
........................................................

                          when at last a police lowers his gun
says wait that’s not the guy sorry amigo & they leave.

The stripped narrative mediates the dramatized scene, while the cartoonish use of “POW!” and “CLUNK!” animates the poem. Pompa embodies violence not only through the poems’ narrative depth, but also through their formal surfaces. “While Late Capitalism” expresses this weaving:

[Crammd-in-&-bangin-against-each-othr-in-a-dark-aluminm-box-
mostly-women-severl-childrn-&-some-infants-fuss-an-assuring-sound-
in-this-lack-of-oxygen-they-say-drops-em-like-fleas-or-like-th-man-
who-died-standin-6-hrs-into-the-trip-a-woman-drapes-her-limp-babys-
serape-over-th-mans-head-which-nods-back-&-frth-with-each-bump-
in-th-road-thank-god-th-corpses-dont-smell-but-th-hot-piss-stink-is-
making-bodies-vomit-on-bodies-stuffd-next-to-them-must-feel-like-
days-since-th-coyote-lockd-th-trailer-door-&-theres-little-struggle-now-
except-a-woman-trying-to-scratch-a-hole-thru-th-rig-wall-as-she-prays-
some-phrase-or-word-some-idea-that-doesnt-translate-well-in-English]

The brackets concretize the sense of confinement and the hyphens further emphasize the “crammed-in-&-bangin” rhythm. Even the truncated words (e.g. “th” and “frth”) show the crowdedness and aural stumbling of the “aluminm box.” These formal elements powerfully contribute to the haunting image of the woman whose scratching prayer eludes translation.

Alongside Pompa’s serious tone, he establishes an ironic self-consciousness in regards to “ethnic” poetry. In “Commercial Break,” he takes on the voice of an organization called “Pretty White Poetry”:

Strategically placed, a Mexican
will fire up your drab, white
poems

.............................

                    Need an authentic-
indigenous tone? Try our mud-

brown, Indian Mexican.
Your audience will taste
the lust in Montezuma’s loins
as they devour your work.

Want some spice
but not too much pepper?
A Spanish concentrated
Mexican is the perfect touch.

As a title, “Pepper Spray” suggests an arm of police authority, the “peppering” of the U.S. with immigrants from “down there,” and the effects of racialized representations. Pompa’s work renders his own experience as a “Meck-suh-kin” from Chicago in contrast to the struggles and untranslatable prayers of a larger, anonymous community of Mexican immigrants. Pepper Spray haunts the senses with its honesty and intensity.

According to Pompa, pretty white poets have “imported salsa-smooth Puerto Rican / vernacular to make your diction dance and your syntax sway.” They don’t worry about mixing Puerto Rican and Mexican imagery because “most readers won’t / know the difference!” Ironically, the diction and syntax of Puerto Rican poet Kevin A. González, in The Night Tito Trinidad KO’ed Ricardo Mayorga, actually do “dance and sway” through “well paced rhythmic lines.” Although Gonzáles and Pompa explore similar themes of personal passage, migration, cultural authenticity, and institutionalized violence, their voices are so different that not even a pretty white reader would mix them up.

González’s title refers to the non-title fight between Puerto Rican boxer Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad and Nicaraguan boxer Ricardo ‘El Matador’ Mayorga in 2004. Mayorga knocked down Trinidad in the third round, but Trinidad came back with a vengeance and knocked down Mayorga three times in the eighth round. Although heralded as a victory for Puerto Rican pride, González perceived the event quite differently, and uses it as an opportunity to question Puerto Rico’s political status. His metaphor for culture suggests that the neo-colonial status of Puerto Rico has transformed culture into capitalist desire:

Our culture is a pair of Adidas
dangling from telephone lines

& a small child reaching up,
fists gripping air,

arms brief & contained
like the two o’s of colony.

Like Pompa, González frames political discussion through personal experience. In “Julio, El Barbero,” he writes about his childhood barber:

He fled Cuba in the Sixties to neighbor isle
Puerto Rico & became an estadista.

You can’t blame him, argued my father,
a Statehooder himself, against my claim:

He should shut up, support the cause
or leave. La estadidad is not an option.

The cause meant independence. I was fifteen,
disciplined by my heart’s blind politics.

As this poem continues, it moves away from the political discussion into a poignant narrative about Julio’s life. In another poem, “Cultural Strumpet,” González articulates the political in a completely unexpected way: “You wore T-shirts / with portraits of patriots on the front / & told girls how Ché Guevara, baby, / was buried beneath the Fountain of Youth .” González’s “cultural meditations” range from humorous to ironic, nostalgic to angry, creating a truly unique narrative voice.

Pepper Spray and The Night Tito Trinidad KO’ed Ricardo Mayordo, both present writers of extraordinary achievement and promise. Pompa and González navigate their marginalized experiences through poetry that peppers and KO’s our imaginations with a range of prosodic accents. In Gonzalez’s “Flat American Waltz,” he writes:

Let’s talk about accents, tongues

curling up as they hit the base of the pot.
The black smoke of the bus assimilates

into the black air. Let’s all believe in the place
these hard plastic seats are taking us.

From Chicago to Puerto Rico, from the violence of boxing to the violence of police authority, from immigration to political issues, Pompa and González guide us across turbulent borders, their curling tongues stamping the “melting pot.”