A young woman looks back on the past and finds her place within the future in Celeste Guzmán's autobiographical book of poems, Cande, Te Estoy Llamando. Guzmán's 16 manic and delicate poems are centered about family and circle around problems of marriage, parenthood, gender roles, and the vulnerable relationships that form amongst family.
But the respected poet, the assumed lead character in this family, is still very young. A recent graduate of Barnard College in New York and recipient of the 1995 National Hispanic Scholarship, Guzmán is also a playwright and actress whose first play, Burnt Sierra, won the American College Theater Festival's Ten Minute Play Award in 1996.
As a young Chicana writer, Guzmán presents her ethnicity through the lenses of a strong woman who is eager to re-enter the world of her childhood in order to voice her fresh understanding of her present life. She does not wish to exclude or speak only to young Chicana women, but the title does give warning that this 41-page encounter offers only a selective journey with a useful amount of Spanish needed.
Chicana women will find an appreciated connection to this poetry due to Guzmán's recognition of her ethnic upbringing. But because Guzmán decides to focus greatly on general issues of family, childhood, and childbirth, anyone who has had the experience of looking back on a life will understand Guzmán's voice. This voice is warm with the language of children, though focused through the experience of an adult wishing to understand.
Her language is fearless and sharp with a mature control. But while her words are vicious they are somehow playful: "when the machete fell/ and cut our pigtails off/ so they waggle in the dust like the/ cut tail of a lizard. " Her voice is at times carefree and in other moments deadly serious. But her language also produces a fresh lucidity in her floating poetic style with images of fruit and sexuality.
While she presents these universal joys, she also expresses a world sprinkled with ethnicity from her upbringing in New Mexico to the old Mexico of her grandfather. She asks softly, "Ay, grandpa, will I ever know your homeland[?]"
This book acts as a force directed by the poet. These poems consciously dive into the wreck of Guzmán's young life, and in the end she wakes up relieved, confident, and thankful. The first poem tells of her purpose as she looks at herself in "The Liberty Bar Window," preparing to enter the world of her poems. "We're looking at each other, girl,/ and we're learnin'/ what we're seein'/ and stirrin'. " Thus, we are stirred into this mix.
But the power of these poems is the characters. She has her father with his "ten-minute Vietnam," and her mother whose "'chandelier' surrounds her like a dim halo/ as she writes out cheques/ for the pendejos at Sears. " Also included are portraits of Guzmán's sister, grandfather, and grandmother, as well as brief moments with distant characters, mysteriously memorable like Guzmán's tía Alma.
One intimate character is the "woman next door" whose "cotton house dress/ as the air/ fills a dropping parachute,/ till I can't tell if she is falling or floating/ with the cancin de amor. " Although these poems look back upon Guzmán's childhood, they are not nostalgic. They present a struggle for understanding along with a beautiful reconciliation.
This book is about Guzmán's discovery of how her childhood and family have given her a sharper vision of her present and future. She finds her family and presses generations upon herself, arguing with them then embracing them. Although some moments are unresolved, Guzmán ultimately finds herself ready to begin another generation. In the closing poem she speaks to her unborn daughter who awaits birth; it is a timeless moment of pure understanding; "and for that one moment/ we will know each other. " Somehow we already do.