By Greg Bem
stories and forms of classification we didn’t yet realize how urgently we’d need to recover and weave new webs to protect us from subtraction. – (from “Olmedo,” page 19)
In the opening of Maricela Guerrero’s The Dream of Every Cell, before it even really opens, the poet writes: “For the people and communities who care for and defend the forests, jungles, mountains, rivers, glaciers, and oceans subjected to the extractions of empire, with admiration and profound respect” (page 6). This statement profoundly summarizes what is a collection of ecopoetic meditations and love poems to and for the preservation of the environment, our world, our future.
Guerrero’s collection, originally from 1977 in Mexico City, and first published in the Spanish language in 2018, and now here this year, in English, thanks to Robin Myers, feels as much a collection of poetry as it does a document of rebellion, a manifesto, a toolkit on how to think about connectedness and ecology. It is a book about individuals as much as it is about systems. It is a book about personal commitment as much as it is a book about relationships. As Myers concisely describes in the afterword, it is “a compendium of protest and praise” (page 133).
The poet is concerned with the world and anchors this book in a key figure of the poet’s world: a science teacher named Ms. Olmedo, whose teachings are profoundly Zenlike in their simplicity and provocation. Strewn through most of the poems are koan-like insights into how to approach the world, think about the cells of the world, and relate to them. There are poems on trees, on wolves, on biological principles, and investigations into truth.
Counter to preservation is destruction, and counter to the preservationists of this book is empire, is imperialism, is the destroyer. The first quote from Olmedo paints this picture and sets this stage: “All organisms are made of cells, except for viruses” (page 13), and from that flip of the page this book is a scythe cutting open and exposing the raw reality beneath the surface. It is a book that describes movement of life and death, of action and inaction, and of protection.
The language of empire doesn’t care about recognizing that a cell comes from another cell; it only wants to know which cell came first.
(from “The Language of Empire,” page 83)
How empire is found and described ecologically varies from poem to poem. In the prose poem “It’s Raining,” the reader stands face to face with all of Monsanto, greedy with the control of seeds (page 61). In “Data,” precursors to what is widely known as data capitalism is described: “The imperial language of our present day is encoded in statistics, in rivers of data flowing through webs of energy and silicone and salt” proclaims the poet (page 75). Again, this courageous book concerns the specific and the vague, the succinct and the massive.
The Dream of Every Cell is a cunning array of poetic explorations, and it is a book of dreams. It is a book of longing and the imagination. Guerrero writes in a prehistoric passion, thinking of the abstract boundaries that divide utopian paradise, the wastes of today, and somewhere urgently existing in between. I appreciate the poet’s bluntness despite of the poetic imagining. In “Rivers,” Guerrero asks: “Can we imagine a river of wolves lacing through the mesetas and sheltering streams and creeks and communities of life communicating in a language that isn’t the language of empire?” Later, more matter-of-factly, we are graced with a question on healing and treatment: “Are spearmint leaves in tea for stomach pain a form of love?” (from “Mentha Spicata,” page 51). Guerrero isn’t shy to ask us how we reach resolution in our grim world, filled with dynamics of contradiction, where the wisdom and its solutions stare as right in the face.
The book is a stunning 140 pages, and most of it is in prose, and yet it is a bilingual release that pairs the original Spanish next to the emerged English exquisitely. There is something to be said about a movement of language that goes beyond Guerrero’s Mexico into new corners of our webbed, shared existence.
shared breath resounding: breath
a respite millions of light years away:
just imagine that, Ms. Olmedo would say
(from “Introductions,” page 23)
The Dream of Every Cell is a dense collection, filled with questions seeking responses, seeking empathetic connection. It offers to find meaning between the poet and the audience in a way most poetry books avoid; it finds heights that most poetry books never reach. Guerrero’s audience includes you, and her book is one that, with its wolves and streams and breathing, will offer you visions into a more respectful, supportive future.
You can find the book here: https://cardboardhousepress.org/the-dream-of-every-cell-maricela-guerrero
Greg Bem is a poet and librarian living on unceded Duwamish territory, specifically Seattle, Washington. He writes book reviews for Rain Taxi, Yellow Rabbits, and more. His current literary efforts mostly concern water and often include elements of video. Learn more at www.gregbem.com