SONJA SWIFT Reviews
Presentimiento: a life in dreams by Harrison Candelaria Fletcher
(Autumn House Press, 2016)
[First published in eleveneleven: A Journal of Literature & Art, Issue 21, California College of the Arts, 2016]
Presentimiento is an exploration of place, home, and heritage. Alternating between prose poems and longer essays, weaving in fictionalized vignettes and even incorporating moments of magical realism, Fletcher writes with a mesmerizing love of and attention to the New Mexican landscape.
The writing itself is enchanting with a kind of rugged grace. Paced slowly at first it then lunges, unexpectedly, into intensity. Death. Pneumonia. Giving birth. Rattle-snake eyed wayward. Murder. New Mexico trail of tears. The complex histories of New Mexico woven into the narrative of one family and that family’s own unique history: Catholic Spanish immigrant perspective. Catholic Spanish immigrants who bonded to and were changed by the New Mexico landscape, because landscape comes with its own spirituality.
The consistent thread throughout is Fletcher’s own mother: her own particular attention to details, love of plants and terrain, stalwart in her respect for miracles and a higher power. Fletcher visited her in writing this book and writes of their time time together spent pruning weeds in her garden, touring old haunting grounds, graveyards and memory places. This narrative keeps the older histories, ancestors, and more distant memories grounded in the present time.
Fletcher’s depictions are especially poetic and evocative:
When my mother was a girl on the ranch in Corrales, whatever blew in from the llano stopped at their door. Beggars. Wanderers. Outlaws. Poisonous things.” (16)
With her thumb and forefinger she rubs olive wood beads, which drink in her sweat and oil and hope and fear, deep as memory, thirsty as bone. (100)
Returning home from the badlands after my father died, she stopped at Jemez Pueblo to rest. My mother met an old man who sat apart from the other villagers with his work displayed before him on a blanket—rattles of squash and pumpkin shaped into the animals of his dreams…she chose a teardrop gourd with moon eyes at one end and a fishhook tail at the other, painted with black and white and rust-red feathers…the flying serpent. Symbol of water, wind, rebirth. (201)
Homing, rescue, root, trespass, imprint, shrine, and nostalgia are all chapter headings. Each one is also a definition, an exploration into the varied meaning of words. There is a similar kind of appreciation for how much meaning can be instilled in the small things, mementos, found objects weathered and rusted, which carries on as a theme throughout.
Beginning poems with the title “Dreams of…” Fletcher weaves in his relatives’ names as he channels these characters in visceral ways. Their personalities and unique life experiences are each a window into a different time and era. Often these poems are glimpses into the same patch of ground across generations. In this way readers see how things change, are neglected, forsaken or forgotten. What survives and what doesn’t. Like the manzano de San Juan, a neglected apple tree on what used to be family land where Fletcher trespasses under a barbed wire fence to pick his mother one so she can remember the sweet taste.
Fletcher, in concluding, writes:
Home is a feeling. A faith. A way of seeing. A choice to belong. The land reminds us of that. It invites us to see what is—not what was—or what we want it to be. Maybe that’s what Carlos tried to tell my mother in her kitchen all those years ago. The road back lies within. Each artifact is a compass of the heart. The loving wind is a warm current connecting us all to that place, no matter how far away we might travel. To find that vision, that presentimiento, I need only close my eyes. (241)
Colt 45. Black leather. Badlands. Skulls. A spur mark sunken into pine. Thunderheads. Bruised sky. Manzanilla tea. Saints. Juniper. Gravestones smashed and shot with bullets. Buckskin plains. Piñon. Hibernating rattlers. Turquoise bolo. Navajo blankets. Rosewater. Artifacts wanted because they were forgotten. Places where it won’t rain anymore. Until a prayer is made. And the skies darken. Miracles and ranch life. Such are further examples of Presentimento’s detail, redolent of the world you are lured into in this book.
Sonja Swift has publications in Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, Chrysalis Journal and Langscape Magazine.