Sunday, May 14, 2006



OCTOBER LIGHT by Jeff Tagami
(Kearny Street Workshop, San Francisco, 2002)

[Review first appeared in Pacific Reader, Volume 15, No. 1, Summer/Fall 2005. Editor Alan Chong Lau]

At the risk of appearing cliché, the word I keep coming back to is “home.”

Jeff Tagami offers us poems in the voices of those who have experienced loss in his book of poems October Light. To begin with a violence, a loss of life, as in “October 23rd,” we immediately understand the significance of October, and of Autumn -- this is the ending of the cycle of life. Loss happens in industrial accidents, in mental unsoundness, as in “The Horn Blow,” and “Now it is Broccoli.” The rural life to which Tagami has introduced us is far from idyllic; real people lose real pieces of themselves as they work to make this place their home.

Set along the Pajaro River of Central California, Tagami’s poems explore the intimate relationship between the land and those who work it. The Pajaro is the life vein of this community, a ubiquitous and ever-changing force; it is more than mere river. In “Song of Pajaro”:

Pajaro the men thigh deep in mud…

Pajaro the children who clean…

Now Pajaro is tired…

This Pajaro of my mother…

Its waters bring life to fields of cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes; its waters also carry the dead, as in “I Remember Fermin,” where excess potatoes the boss says to dump into the river, are expendable as Filipino workers. Tagami presents in metaphor a scathing critique of American Excess; food and human lives are so easily disposable.

But far from lamentation or dirge, these poems are lovely and tender, hope-insistent, and here is where Tagami’s talent is more than apparent. In these poems so strongly imbued with sentiments of outrage and anger, Autumn’s darkness and its proximity to endings, there is still promise of renewal, for life is cyclical, and in death, one transcends.

In “Tobera,” written in the voice of Fermin Tobera, the Filipino laborer killed in the Watsonville Race Riots of 1930, Tagami asserts what American History omits. Without being forgiving, Tobera, through Tagami, asserts, “I am not bitter, believe me,” for in his death, peace from the brutality of white mobs. Tobera continues to live, in his brothers’ whispers, “Tobera, Tobera, Tobera.”

Home is Here; this rallying cry, deafening in its quiet.


Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Gravities of Center (Arkipelago, 2003) and Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish, 2005), for which she received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets.


At 6:25 PM, Blogger Francisco Aragón said...

So nice to discover this review about a volume that made such an indelible impression on me when I first read it in the mid 80s as an undergraduate at Cal. I had the immense pleasure of hearing him read from it, and he generously contributed work to the Berkeley Poetry Review I co-edited in 1989. I've always wondered what became of him and if he continued to write. I sort of put OCTOBER LIGHT in the same category as Robert Vasquez's (also from the Central Valley) AT THE RAINBOW (University of New Mexico Press, 1995).


Post a Comment

<< Home