Tropical Sacrifice by Lucas de Lima
$18 | Birds, LLC | Winter 2022 |
158 Pages | ISBN: 978-1-7346321-1-8
Counterbalancing elements define Tropical Sacrifice, Lucas de Lima’s second full-length collection of poetry. Powerfully sparse lyrics—punctuated by political and sexual violence—assume numerous font styles, sizes, and colors, accompanied by screenshots, photographs, emojis, and illustrations. Hardly arbitrary or spectacular for its own sake, the visual feast centers around the figure of the chicken, an important component in diasporic African religious traditions in Brazil, and one that proves essential to de Lima’s speaker.
Appending the poems, copious elucidatory endnotes provide cultural and historical context for the many brutalities interrogated by the book, whether they be injustice inflicted on the inhabitants of colonial Brazil by the imperial Portuguese, genocides perpetrated against native populations by the contemporary Brazilian state, or the visceral interpersonal conflicts between de Lima’s speaker and “pinto,” a former lover. In an afterword, de Lima reveals the book’s genesis: “i began writing the book in 2013 during my breakup with pinto.” Two examples from facing pages early in the book illustrate this case in point:
pinto says i am his gringo savior & my jaw cracks
i want to flood his face with my blood
his eye ripped out, the blood of a branch in my throat
lodged precisely where his penis should massage me
in homage to a new earth mother swathed in pelts & pearls
pinto fucked me like a child
i learned to wrap myself round his veins
vines twisting & snapping off any desiccated limbs
so miscegenated chickens could
grow out of his body in disfiguring protrusions
These brash, graphic depictions cradle the speaker’s emotional pain and violent desires, as the lovers’ strife comes to be emblematic of the book’s broader concerns with Brazilian society. Here, the interracial lovers’ vicious intercourse echoes Brazil’s long history of territorial and generational rape and exploitation, which has produced a population of “miscegenated chickens.” And yet, by the book’s closing lines, this relationship has transformed substantially, indicating a potential for reconciliatory growth:
pinto calls me his poet
i call him my vein
we get to the end of the world by transitioning
from factory farm to sky
from sky to flood
from death to love
& back again
Throughout the book, line drawn icons of coconuts direct readers to the appendix and, in this instance, de Lima plants a quote from Paulo Prado, Brazilian businessman, writer, and patron of the arts, who identifies “death & love [as] the two refrains of brazilian poetry.” Truly, Tropical Sacrifice embodies this mantra fully, in all its messy, complicated implications.
For all the collection’s invention, one creative choice especially stands out: de Lima’s generous, ingenious use of colorful fonts. The closest parallel I can draw is to Mark Z. Danielewski, whose novels have employed similar techniques to differing ends. The cult classic, House of Leaves, and its follow-up, Only Revolutions, for example, engage readers with surprising typographies to approach something like ergodic fiction (literature that requires non-trivial effort by the reader to traverse the text). But by the publication of The Fifty Year Sword and, most notably, The Familiar, it’s difficult to see Danielewski’s use of color-coded quotation marks and unique fonts as anything more than gimmicky schtick.
De Lima’s use of color is both simpler and more meaningful, as it alludes to Brazil’s religious syncretism, itself the product of imperial and colonial violence, but also the result of indigenous tenacity and adaptive improvisation:
It’s also downright lovely to look at, the hues shifting mid-sentence, like a chameleon coat of kandy paint mutating in the midday sun. But de Lima anchors this originality in the book’s central figure and, again, the afterword proves instructive: “multi-colored text projects a broken rainbow from below: // the chicken’s kaleidoscopic sense of light.” Chickens are tetrachromats, able to perceive 100 million colors, 10x that of trichromats. De Lima’s rainbow lyrics transport readers into this incredible vision in a way that does justice to the book’s thematic concerns.
Other passages that include coconuts and colorful fonts also incorporate handwritten verses (“chicken scratch”) to memorialize Black victims of police violence in Brazil:
In this brilliantly heartbreaking sequence of pages, de Lima constructs a poetic syncretism that blends elegy, typography, and citation, culminating in an interview with Madame Satã, born João Francisco dos Santos (1900-1976). A drag queen and capoeira performer, the son of former slaves, and a revolutionary symbol for marginalized peoples in Brazil, Satã was convicted of murdering a police officer, a role reversal embraced, if not celebrated, by the oppressed poor.
Taken together, de Lima's unflinching confrontations with disintegrating intimacy, highly intentional experiments with formatting, and deep investment in subverting cultural norms create an unparalleled and meaningfully interactive reading experience.
Diego Báez is a writer, educator, and abolitionist. He is the author of Yaguareté White (UAPress, 2024). Poems and book reviews have appeared online and in print, most recently at Freeman's, The Georgia Review, and Booklist. He lives in Chicago and teaches at the City Colleges.