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  • Diego Báez

vanishing point. by Kimberly Reyes





















Omnidawn | 80 pp. | April 2023

ISBN: 978-1632431196


 

The title of Kimberly Reyes’ second full-length collection, vanishing point. (Omnidawn, 2023), carries at least two distinct meanings, according to Merriam-Webster:


1. a point at which receding parallel lines seem to meet

2. a point at which something disappears or ceases to exist


Through a range of styles and source material, Reyes conjoins and conflates these definitions through an interrogation of her Afro-Latine lineage, pulling into focus every angle of these dual and dueling identities, even as they threaten to erase each other. 


In many poems, Reyes sets this examination amidst the stark cliffs and contradictory experiences a Black Latina in Ireland. In the book’s opening poem, “Sonnets,” the speaker recalls two blatantly racist incidents: Scots exclaiming disgust at dining in a restaurant with “a monkey,” and an Irish child who points and shouts, “Blackie!” Reyes contrasts these encounters against those of abolitionist statesman and writer Frederick Douglass, who speaks of an enthusiastic reception in a letter from Belfast addressed to William Lloyd Garrison: “I find myself regarded and treated at every turn with the kindness and deference paid to white people.” This striking juxtaposition suggests—but never states outright—the prescient question of how race relations deteriorated so terribly over the course of 175 years. This suggestion allows readers to conjure the line of questioning for themselves, and requires us to realize that we cannot answer it easily. Neither do Reyes poems oversimplify this problematic dynamic, one that is so thoroughly entrenched in transatlantic history.


In other poems, Reyes digs into these identities by employing strategies of superficial differentiation, so often used to pit Black and Latinx peoples against one another. In “Ascension,” the poet uses typography to partition racialized terms into categories incorrectly—but frequently—regarded as mutually exclusive:


|    Latino (not Black)|

|Black (not Hispanic)|


Another poem, “Upon the realization that I don’t have a natural habitat,” further unpacks the linguistic borderlands many Black Latines must cross, even by their very existence:


I  know I’m hard to translate

Why it’s harder to 

imitate. Reproduce. Anyway


… me gustaría to pass on la historia


as a Latinx?*

   sin having to restate in the language

we can understand me, inside of


The asterisk points to a footnote in which Reyes clarifies: “I don’t like the word Hispanic but the term pre-Hispanic makes sense to me.” The speakers in the book are clear-eyed and confrontational in their considerations of multiracial heritage, and the most potent poems in vanishing point. address race and racism head-on, whether in compact bursts of revelatory wit (“Five black males talk, / they call it a murder”) or precise deliberations on generational loss: “of course, I’ve / the hunger in me // generations of premature / goodbyes, calamity.” “Presentiment” showcases Reyes’ gift for arranging sound clusters and shifting lyrical pace to arrive at a surprising slowdown:


Munster’s winter reveals 

stillborn untruths


in pillows of saline

pre-sun.


      A hailstorm of ice roe &

     unpromise

flouting in spawn


    a satin breach of birds,

    a book, a psalm.


A uniquely defining feature of vanishing point. is the use of muted fonts throughout the book for lines that interject themselves into stanzas to add commentary, context, or asides. These lines appear in gray and gesture toward paratext, as in “We are all drowned out,” which opens with an epigraph and irrupting ghost text:


If you respect the dead

and recall where they died


In 1711 New York, nearly 1,000

out of about 6,400 New Yorkers

were Black, and at least 40 percent

of the white households

included a slave.*


by this time tomorrow

there will be nowhere to walk.

—Katie Ford


Reyes carves space from the epigraph, but the faded text’s placement off to one side creates a disarming columnar effect, as if the poet seeks to slot details into their rightful categories, while seeking to acknowledge their inseparability. In an endnote, Reyes describes this “ghost text” as comprising “mystical parentheticals…voices of those that have passed, those that have never had the chance to live, & those currently battling against their own disappearing,” as in the example above.


In its use of ghost lines, vanishing point. is a lyrical successor to Laurie Ann Guerrero’s A Crown for Gumecindo (Aztlan Libre Press, 2015). Guerrero’s collection—also her second—is an elegy for her grandfather, Gumecindo Martínez Guerrero, composed as a crown of sonnets. For Guerrero, the ghost lines “intrude…upon the body of the poem” and function as “a fractured second-guessing of the death itself,” as I wrote for The Rumpus what feels like a lifetime ago. Indeed, “Séance at the Beauty Parlor” even employs language that could allude to Guerro:



We will us away we cannot stay we worn our crowns our crowns

we will us away we incarnate our crowns our crowns our crowns


[...]


We will us away we cannot stay we mourn our crowns our crowns

we will us away we incinerate our crowns our crowns our crowns


For Reyes, this device is as much a continuation of a stylistic lineage as it is a departure from formal constraints. The resulting verses are compelling in their own right, nodding to an antecedent while blazing forward on a new path. Surely, Reyes’ own poetic trajectory is bright, as she has two more poetry collections already slated for publication: Bloodletting (2025) and Nebraska (2028). Both titles are forthcoming from Omnidawn—where Reyes serves as poetry editor—so readers won’t need to wait long to see how this alchemic poet continues to transmute the past into a poetic future that no doubt extends well beyond the horizon.


 

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.


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