I first met Ruben Quesada at a local bar in Chicago called the The Innertown Pub where we were reading for a fundraising event curated by The Poetry Center of Chicago. Not only was I struck by his genuine niceness, I was entranced by his poems—they were quietly compelling, relevant, resonant, and cinematic. The poet Philippe Jaccottet writes “we live in a world of motion and distance” and this line seems to encapsulate Quesada’s concerns as this triptych of poems swirls with characters and colors from “a woman in a green shawl” to neon lights to “silver patches of rain” to “a young girl in a black dress,” while simultaneously underscoring melancholy, loss, and transience. The dissonance that loss can create is emphasized throughout these poems in a variety of unexpected graphic matches: the implied comparison of a metal rosary to a gun barrel or a clarinet’s keys; and the sun’s penetration through glass to “needles at the neck,” foreshadowing the unsettling discovery of a loved one’s hidden syringe and tourniquet.
Biblical iconography also tracks through Quesada’s poems, as is evident in the titles. And though there is a fusion of Catholicism’s ideas of confession and communion, there seems to be less focus on communion with God or Christ and more an interest in establishing communion with the most frail, the most marginalized— the addicts, the suicides, and the Aids victims—as he constructs screens through which we witness grief.
In “Communion (I),” he fluidly shifts between Christ, a fortune teller, the performance artist Guillermo Gomez Peña, and a recently deceased mother. As Quesada moves through this myriad of characters, he is able to generate dramatic pause and coherency without relying on punctuation, which, given the poems’ density, is not an easy feat. But beyond his interesting formal choices, the poems are charged with an emotional heft that frequently leaves me shattered; for example, his decision to juxtapose the announcement of the mother’s death with the deathnote imagery of “a haze of zinnias hushed in the rain.” Similarly, in “Communion (III),” when he writes of Rock Hudson’s death, stating “there was no funeral he simply turned to ash a sacrifice to our entire class.” Ultimately, these poems are lamentations filled with tenderness for their inhabitants—the ordinary, the overlooked, and the disenfranchised.