There is a reason I have a whole shelf in my personal library dedicated to the works of Luis Alberto Urrea. The man is a alchemist of words. In each new book, I uncover new facets, new mastery of language and fall down that reading rabbit hole of wonder one only finds with true masters of the written word.
The Water Museum, a collection of short stories recently released almost simultaneously as his book of poetry on immigration, The Tijuana Book of the Dead. In The Water Museum, Urrea captures from the first story, Mountains Without Number. The reader is sucked into this this woman’s life. We want to know why she blocks out the view of the cliffs. What’s going on? Who is she? He makes us care in the first paragraph. He owns us now. We can’t help but follow his magical path of words into the unknown. One story, two, then next thing one knows is that hours have passed, twilight is seeping through the windows and nothing you’d planned is done. The book, the stories, the man himself has stolen you away.
Reluctantly, (because you want to re-read, find things you missed in that first desperation to find out, to know, to finish the stories) you place the book to the side and away, though not far because you are coming back. Oh yes, you are coming back to this one.
You reach for the book of poetry thinking how disparate they are. But they are not so different. The first poem punches you in the gut and leaves you gasping for air. He owns you again. He owns your tears, your outrage or love for these poems. You realize in retrospect that The Water Museum was just as much poetry as The Tijuana Book of the Dead. Luis Alberto Urrea is a poet, a bard for the ages. He is telling our stories, honest and true; dark and scary, yet filled with promise and love. Into his words he’s woven hope and dreams for something magical. He’s distilled the divine and sprinkled it quite liberally onto his pages.
In his poem Listen, you can feel that cry from the gut. “carnales listen/to the hymn of it, the lie of it, the/prayer of it, the voices/singing our names: listen/it’s our story, it’s our song,/you’ve got to hear it – /listen” When I read it, I cried. It moved me. It pulled some deep seated need to be heard out front and center. This is Urrea’s strength. He makes you FEEL. You can’t help it. There is such grit and truth in his words that you can’t help but get sucked in, be a part of it, learn something. You become part of his world and are forever changed by his words.
The Chicano bard has done it again. Twice. Who says that lightening doesn’t strike twice?