I admired Erika L. Sánchez’s debut collection, Lessons on Expulsion*, for its unflinching determination to illuminate hidden worlds, to explore difficult emotions—bewilderment, sorrow, lust, rage.
In Lessons on Expulsion you’ll find a lifetime’s worth of poems: poems about what it’s like to be a girl or woman of color objectified by men (“Hija de la Chingada,” “A Woman Runs on the First Day of Spring”), poems about difficult ends to love affairs, about missing someone in a city that’s not your own, poems about immigrants and the terrors and hardships they face, poems about the murdered and missing in Mexico (“Las Pulgas” is absolutely chilling; “Forty-three” aches: “In this land / of child-brides and teenage assassins, / a bus fill of students dissolves / into the mountain mist.”).
I especially appreciated “Crossing,” a poem that begins with the speaker’s parents crossing the border in the “the trunk of a Cadillac” belonging to men “who study my mother’s wet-startled body” and moves through the family settling in Chicago (“The roaches makes nests in our toys”), the parents working “in factory heat,” vowing that their children won’t. As a teenager the speaker rebels, self-harms, eventually travels to Spain (“I cross the Atlantic / like no one in my family ever has”), visiting the Prado while her father “is rising before the sun / to assemble air filters.” It’s a beautiful, moving poem.
Some other lines I loved in this collection:
“The glittering women swing / their hips like eternal bells” (from “La Cueva”)
“Amá, I leave because / I feel like an unfinished / poem, because I’m always trying / to bridge the difference.” (from “Amá”)
“The body as eruption. / The body as contraband.” (from “Juárez”)
“Even the killers / cross themselves // in the vespers’ milky hush.” (from “Capital”)
Lessons on Expulsion is a startling and bold book that doesn’t shy away from the painful, generous impulse to deliver to readers a vision of the messy, beautiful, hard world as it is.
[YA Readers: Be on the lookout for Erika Sánchez’s novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter in October.]
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.