Vincent Toro

Winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award in 2017

GUANÍN

This island like a basket
of laundry accidentally
bleached. This island
of moonshine and conch
shells, of open air bars with
signs above the register
that read All discussion
of politics is strictly
forbidden. This island,
a naval outpost, a mouth
of grinding teeth, a daft
protégé, a promenade
princess, a receptacle
for spectacle, a marvel
of glistening skin. This island
like a hen house above
the garage, cocks heckling
the dawn. This island like
a deflated basketball
or a big of yucca falling
off the delivery truck.
This island that eludes
you like your first crush
in a game of freeze tag.
This island is a bridge
between the Orishas
and the astronauts.
This island is a blender,
polychrome vortex stirring
the soot of the empire
with abrazos and batas

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Natalie Diaz on Vincent Toro

Americans like to forget what this country and our lives have been built upon, are standing upon still: the plunder of the native body in every way imaginable—corporeal, linguistic, and earthly. In perhaps one of the strongest acts of resistance to on-going colonization, Vincent Toro's Stereo. Island. Mosaic. is a celebration of Puerto Rico and its passionate people.

Toro is singing a call and response to the rich and deep history of Puerto Rican poetry, and it's one of the most beautiful books I have read in a long time. This book is a stereo belting out Spanish and English, sirening you in its fields of sea and cane. Like both the sea and the cane, the book is at once salt and sweet. In "Sugar Island Fugue, First Voice: 1521" he writes, When smallpox struck down / nearly every native / the encomenderos were left / with no esclavos / to work in the mines. // They turned to sugar / as their mode of plunder, / planting thousands of acres / of cane from the beach / to the mountains. These lines and others reminded me of a powerful lyric from Native poet Joy Harjo: For any spark to make a song it must be transformed by pressure. There must be unspeakable need, muscle of belief, and wild, unknowable elements. I am singing a song that can only be born after losing a country. Toro's song is a song of pressure—of tectonics and merengue, of Borinquen and Areytos, of New York and rum.

These are the new national anthems, of the heroic and the flawed—from Junot Díaz to Pedro Pietri to Freddie Prinze. This book invokes the zemí (which he explains as a memorial to those who have passed or major events in the tribe's history) and becomes one itself, a map and marker of language, time, a beloved island and its beautiful people. 

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