The demise of many long-term relationships are rife with familiar battles: the nostalgia for romantic times gone by, the gratitude for space to breathe and grow, the rage and regret of suffocations and daggered encounters, the ambivalence in moving on, and the combined reticence and joy in new beginnings. In Breaking up with Los Angeles, Raquel Gutiérrez offers us a glimpse into the wounds and triumphs, hopes and disappointments, of her lifetime affair with California’s largest city. Many of us know the sentimentality and pain that come with geographical affinities, the complexities of places we call home, and the often hesitant kinship that bonds us to the places that grew us up, though Breaking Up with Los Angeles is far from sentimental. With an intelligent and critical subtlety, Gutiérrez paints a series of 22 portraits, rendering for us a bilingual telling of the city, the angels and demons that have constituted her life amid the sprawl, her separation from it, and the question of

how
to create the room for mourning
away from the terror of territorialism
for the dejected Angeleno

And indeed, this collection is an effort at carving out a space for mourning after a long survival, as well as a turned head at the leave-taking. Gutiérrez now resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, and, while digging her heels in there with her work at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in this collection, she appears wary of diving into her new locale too quickly, as one might expect from one who is broken hearted and still recovering from what came before. Her mourning is long, and stippled with the bruises of history, of the ever-tenuous sense of belonging as a self-proclaimed Queer Butch/Brown Bulldagger, Salvi-Chican@, and of the love and ache that wraps around us in the company of those we variously call home.

So many shards
a house is a mess
and the cuchillazos
multiply in this place
We call
family

There is death and loss and a certain quiet rage that indicts, while keeping complexity close, refusing a hyper-moral stance, as she writes, for example,

they got the year of your birth wrong
all of them; probably could not find the tilde, and accent mark
if their lives depended on it.
But neither could you

Or,

Te busco en la Cantina
Tattered red leather barstool
Cushion split in the middle
Sizing up the bottles and cans
Mexican bandits lined up
And ready for execution

But the lament is never only about her, and carries out its duel function as commentary and critique of larger questions of the racism, nationalism, sexism, and political self-righteousness that organize different spaces in her life as well as the larger Los Angeles and Bay Area social architecture, as in,

My internalized racism blushes
at the thought of you being told
Don’t wave your flag
Here

And neither is her mourning timid, as Gutiérrez plots out the cartographies of a life framed by the ribboned web of freeways that structure Los Angeles and its civilian movements, the extensive system of capillaries of an obviously sacred body one can move away from, but never leave behind. With both grit and poise, she knits her way forward, and yet, one wonders if, ultimately, the heart of Southern California will beat its rhythm in her til the end, the love of a lifetime, inevitably carrying her back to its motley streets, as she beckons:

scatter me in the mouth of Los Angeles
her stomach the desert
her ass the sea
her shoulders the mountains
and her womb
the east Los Angeles freeway interchange

 

 

Breaking Up with Los Angeles
By Raquel Gutiérrez
Self-published
Paperback, 33 pp.
April 2014 



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  • Ron Fritsch

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