I am angry because this is considered prize winning poetry and because writing even a polite review of it takes the kind of effort grading a really bad paper does.
These autobiographical poems are stories of the joys and sorrows of women in families – wives, mothers, grandmothers, aunts – on both sides of the border between Texas and Mexico, and of relationships between women as well as with husbands and sons. In the title poem “Lavando la Dirty Laundry,” for instance, the young speaker’s grandmother tells her that her grandfather had girlfriends. He once mistook a man who comes to tell her this for someone come courting, and threw her pile of clean laundry out into a muddy street. He muddied her, that is to say, and the laundry had to soak for days because rain prevented her from washing soon again. The incident is narrated years later as she prepares to bake a cake, pressing dough into a form, “a metal heart yielding below your fingers” (34), the grandmother loving still, the form responding now to her love. “Well, God” (21-23), the most interesting poem in the book in terms of anecdote, tells of how this grandmother, after one of her sons died in babyhood, adopted a girl from a beggar woman who was giving her children away:
I will take your girl, you said.
And Raque was yours, Raquenel.
A girl you named after yourself.
This grandmother is perhaps the best drawn character in the book. The speaker, or author’s much more modern loves are implicitly contrasted with hers, and the grandmother’s homely wisdom often applies to her as well. The volume takes us from a first marriage to a divorce, to a remarriage, the birth of a child and a husband’s cancer treatment, often illustrated with references to Greek mythology, the New Testament, or the folktales gathered by the brothers Grimm. There will be readers who see themselves in these poems, or find company in them.