Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Review: Poetry

I recently had the pleasure of reading Platos De Sal, by Matthew Hittinger. It is number two in the Editor’s series of poetry chapbooks published by Seven Kitchens Press. The poem beautifully explores the occurrence of same-sex love and longing in two generations of a Hispanic family against a backdrop of sun, desert, and beach.

We are introduced to David, a student whose lover Juan, is off to war in Iraq. Their union is unknown to his (conservative) family, though his grandmother, Rut, shares his secret. During conversations with David she quietly reveals that the union of David and Juan mirrors her own long-ago love for another woman, Mara. As Rut sits knitting, David, perhaps inspired, describes his relationship with Juan as two quilts together, the squares face to face, what David calls Juntar (as in to join): ..knit together alma to alma…not knit on one edge, but all four corners sewn up—two sides hidden, dos exposed…The hidden sides of the quilt facing one another, closed to the outside world, mirror the hidden selves, the secret love of David and Juan.

The love between the two young men is potent force that effects Rut deeply. She carries an old shell in her apron, a cherished relic of her past with Mara. It is a past haunted by tragedy, but her memories are tempered by time, wisdom, and the union of David and Juan. Touching it, she thinks of Mara and regards David’s apt description of his relationship with Juan in terms she understands well, her mind awash with memories. She shows the shell to David, the two young men fixed in her mind as ideal lovers in the same setting where she came to love Mara: the seashore.

Platos de Sal was in part inspired by two episodes from the Christian bible, the book of Ruth, with its themes of sacrifice, familial duty and steadfast love, and in part by the book of Samuel, with its story of the deep, abiding bond between Jonathan and David…the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David…(Book of Samuel, 18.1).
Hittinger’s beautifully clear style of writing suits the way in which the story of David/Juan and Mara/Rut unfolds in a bright but uncertain present full of longing, interspersed with the unclouded memories of the long-ago and more recent past.

Platos de Sal is a beautiful piece. It was a pleasure to read over and again, each time Hittinger’s writing revealing more subtleties, more depth. Mention must be made of the craftsmanship of this chapbook, put together by hand, the binding sewn, the cover image striking. I love small press editions and artist’s books, and I am delighted to have experienced this one.