paper • 184 pages • 17.95
ISBN: 978-1-954245-90-7
eISBN: 978-1-954245-91-4
March 2024 • Poetry


Monica Rico

Winner of the 2021 Levis Prize in Poetry

Reviewed by The Washington Independent Review of Books

“I / step into the kitchen because I can / no longer smell the lilac / bush my father cut down,” Monica Rico writes in the opening poem of her astonishing debut collection. Deeply invested in unearthing women’s identity from a patriarchal family structure, these pages catalog life beside loss, the truth of cruelty accompanied by a defiant vitality. Here, where the declaration “I can” is modified to “I can / no longer,” Rico untangles the paradox of love, how a persistent absence keeps the missing object present, asserting itself through grief and memory; the scent of lilac lingers precisely because we cannot smell it anymore. The dual meaning of “pinion” scaffolds this collection, which considers Rico’s family and their experiences in the context of her grandparents’ immigration to the USA from México, American racial capitalism, and the mass migration catalyzed and necessitated by Western colonialism. “Pinion” in noun form refers to a bird’s outer flight feathers; in verb form, it means to bind or sever this part of the wing to hinder flight. Bound up in this word, then, is a thing and its destruction – a possibility and a thwarted hope side by side. Rico creates her own motifs to write a representative genealogy, approaching her family as an ornithologist: across poems, her grandfather (who worked at General Motors) appears as an owl, her grandmother figures as a robin, and the American project shows up in the eagle’s warped beak and surveilling eye. A field work of restoration, these poems compose a personal history and a deconstruction of global capitalism as articulated through an encyclopedia of birds. From the chaos of our flawed world, Rico salvages an enduring hope, reminding us that “a broken / song like an ugly duckling isn’t ugly / but unique, and stands out like the flightless / dodo who trusts because it is too awful not to.”

“Birds of a Feather”

As the crow flies, so did my father
before work, after work, between two
houses like a swan bats his wings
over the water and flies as free as
a hawk, dazed from dipping in thermals.
My mother stayed home, eagle-
eyed, counted cans of tomato sauce
and stripped avocados, dropping
their pregnant bellies like a nest.
My father an early bird eager to do
another swan dive from the links
in my mother’s watch, hollow as a
ribcage. Under wing a broken
song like an ugly duckling isn’t ugly
but unique, and stands out like the flightless
dodo who trusts because it is too awful not to.

Praise from Kaveh Akbar

Inside Monica Rico’s Pinion, centuries grind together inside a pinch of yeast, across slain soldiers and a pigeon dusted with coal. It’s such a dazzling braid, illuminating (and complicating) civic histories with familial mythologies, then vice versa. Rico’s prodigious gift for form includes knowing when to rupture it, like a virtuoso punctuating a masterpiece by smashing apart her instrument onstage: “Mi’jo, mi’ja, // mi vida, petunia. / I’m trespassing once // I stop moving.” Pinion introduces us to a major new lyric voice-Rico absolutely soars.

—Kaveh Akbar, Judge of the 2021 Levis Prize in Poetry