If I Go Missing by Octavio Quintanilla
Slough Press, 2014; 84 pp
Reviewed by Sebastian H Paramo
The poems in Octavio Quintanilla's collection, If I Go Missing are large in their scope, with threads of Whitman's plain-spoken language and desire for expressing America threaded throughout. Quintanilla mediates on many subjects in his book; love, labor, loss, immigration, and the ordinary lives of people. He carries their stories via strong metaphors and imagination. The image of “You backpack fear” in “Motorcyclist, No Helmet” resonates when the speaker later puts us in the presence of “Sonnet for Human Smugglers”:
Take care of them. If they want water,
Dump them in the river. If they crave
Freedom, let them loose among rattlesnakes.
If they want to breath, let them breathe dust.
The epigraph from Cesar Vallejo, “I know there is a person/ who looks for me in her hand, day, and night/ finding me, every minute, in her shoes” feels apt as metaphor and analogy for the book as whole. In the first poem, “The Left Hand”, the speaker finds himself in a dream butchering his left hand and “one always goes missing.” But there exists a resilience in the speaker when it refuses to drown; this becomes important as a theme when considering the working hands that come in the form of a father.
The father refuses to stop working in poems like [Those young, handsome faces” or Sleepwalker Never Wakes Up and in this, the speaker finds a sort of beauty and appreciation for living against the backdrop of cartel violence and the constant worry of being taken away or found missing. These poems especially feel poignant considering the current political climate of immigrants and Latinos in America.
It's hard not to think of this collection as giving voice to those across the border and within. The speaker gives shape to these many voices in the form of sympathetic thieves, tough guys, fathers, exiles, human smugglers, lovers, and brothers. And while the dark sides of these voices' experiences are explored, the speaker does manage to find love in the small things. There's a nostalgia for things as mundane as a cold beer, a calf having birth, and sharing a milkshake with a son; all these things add to the larger picture of the whole because in some way, the speaker wouldn't be without the absence or void of something. In the final section this complicated desire is expressed in the poem Tell Them Love is Found:
Tell them that I'll keep returning to this house
And gently take what is no longer theirs.
Tell them I'm afraid
That they'll never miss us.
This final thought is worth mediating on and it's comforting to know there exists such a collection in which poems are ripe with a fear and love for the things that go missing in our lives.