The speaker of the poems in The Life Assignment is reviewing his history. As if combing through a box of photographs, the speaker sorts through relationships, trying to discern what was healthy from what was exploitative. Concepts of love are turned over and over in these poems: romantic love, love of family, love of country, self-love (or lack thereof). Often the speaker finds that what at first appeared to be caring was insincere all along. When tenderness is in short supply, how can one protect oneself? How can one find home? In his debut collection, Ricardo Alberto Maldonado bends poems through bilingual lyrics that present spartan observation as evidence for its exacting verdict, “We never leave when life is elsewhere. The clemency of men disappears / as does the light, tarring the roofs.” An electric debut collection.
from I Give You My Heart Os doy mi corazón
I find myself on my feet with fifteen leaves.
Everything carries its own light on the walls.
I woke up to slaughter, my heart opening
to cemeteries of moon—
the parasites, the drizzle. The mud crowning
the undergrowth with immense sadness.
Me encuentro de pie con quince hojas.
Brilla todo en los muros.
Desperté en su sacrificio: mi corazón se abría
entre cementerios de luna—
los parásitos, la llovizna. El lodo coronando
la maleza con mustios grandes.
[A] collection whose devastating precision is only matched by its capacity to rebuild tenderness from the ashes.
. . . Complex and unblinking, with heaps of sorrow and grace, Maldonado has a knack for the impossible, and for making his readers look headlong into it until we all come out the other side more compassionate and honest.
. . . This bilingual collection asks us to consider how we as readers and citizens reconcile self and state, body and landscape, desire and capital, language and communication . . .
The Life Assignment is, in its own startling terms, an ecology of late capitalist grief. . . . This outstanding first book, merciless in its beauty and wit, is a ‘schema for our lapsed world,’ a way to make sense of our ‘somber city’ and ‘the grief / we happen to be around.’
In this quietly furious bilingual debut, Maldonado challenges the entanglements of power, queer love, money, and language against the backdrop of a post-hurricane Puerto Rico and a life of daily labor in New York City….