There are two types of writers, whether poets or novelists: the kind that has been ruminating his entire life on something that’s been waiting to come out and the kind that has consistently felt the need to unleash his psychological contents out onto the page. One gets the sense that Armando Jaramillo Garcia is the former, a born poet whose natural talents have decided to emerge later on in life, when the wisdom and clarity pertaining to the past has at last sat long enough with him. As his debut collection of poetry from Prelude Books, Jaramillo Garcia seems to be evacuating some longstanding contents of his mind, evidenced by the poem that concludes the first section, “Discharge,” offering as explanation, “After many years it was time/For the smoke rumbling inside his head/To find its way into the lungs and become blood.”
Establishing a certain theme at the outset with a Jorge Luis Borges quote from “El inmortal,” Jaramillo Garcia proffers, too, the notion that at the end of one’s life, there are not images, so much as words. For the writer and/or reader, this is undeniably true. The first poem, “Recollection of the Fall,” continues to solidify a motif of regret that comes with reflection upon one’s past. The line, “If only he could add his own codicil to the will of the past,” is especially resonant.
Even when Jaramillo Garcia isn’t necessarily alluding to the human propensity for ruefulness as the end becomes nigh, there is, somewhere, lying in wait within each of his poems, a certain deathly blackness, as in “The Weight of Color,” wherein a man wishes “To let his animals out of their pens so he could/Watch them disturb the pampas grass beyond/The stubble field brushing the unruly air/With their soft blur of pale pigment rooted/Firmly to the dark below.” “The dark below,” of course, conjures an allusion to the term “six feet under.”
In “The Little Ice Age,” the frailty of the human body is the cause for concern, “Lost as he was in the minor and major disasters/Which occurred daily in the body.” And again, a reference to a sort of burial occurs with the phrase, “Arguments lost in the ground.”
“A Sudden Decorative Rain” can’t help but take this poetical focus on one’s demise to the next level with the addressing of the afterlife as “He stepped out of his shoes quite easily/As a dancer might turn a phrase without meaning/Or the fearless descend to hell with a wink.” Not only does this line highlight the inevitable conclusion that will befall every human being, but also Jaramillo Garcia’s deft penchant for incorporating pointed similes using a parsimonious amount of words.
The second portion of the book commences with “Miniature,” shifting the narrative somewhat toward Jarmillo Garcia’s proclivities for the exotic and imaginative: “In Constantinople you wander the first city steps/In your untouched desert skin/I’m looking at this in a mirror with a chipped frame/Purchasing Persian rugs laden with dust.” The themes of the second portion also address this sense of permanent youth–a sort of “you’re as young as you feel” mantra pervading the likes of “Diary of a Teenage Adult”–in direct contrast to the reaper-tinged umbra of section one.
The surrealistic, futuristic “Predicament” is one of Jaramillo Garcia’s most significant, the poem you should read if you wanted an instant portrait of his entire oeuvre. And it, too, smacks of a desire to depart from this realm as he insists, “But seriously my dream is to be eaten by a purpose/Whose totem animal will dispossess me of this life/With the fierceness I have craved.”
Jaramillo Garcia’s constant sense of impermanence also invades poems like “It’s Good Now,” in which he informs a nameless potential lover, “To put it plainly I want your love for at least one night/In a way you won’t mind giving or miss once it’s gone.” Though there is beauty in this level frankness, there is also sadness, too. This immediate acknowledgement of the ephemerality of most romantic relationships. Then again, the very title of the collection, The Portable Man, speaks to the latent need within us all to remain on the move, never getting too close to anyone except, perhaps, just close enough to extrapolate a story.
There is comfort to be had in other poems, though, as is the case with “Grand Tour,” a nostalgic, wistful ode to the weary traveler, featuring the assuring lines, “Sublet your emotions/To a future without a past/Worth its salt or anything/But a lot of sitting at bars/Exposed to the elements/In your space blanket of desires/You survived.” Indeed, it might seem strange to say that a poem has a protagonist, but this does seem to be the case in each piece of The Portable Man, further bringing out the unconventional and innovative techniques of the poet.
In short, Jaramillo Garcia’s poems are likely to imbue within you a sort of insta-sanity, making you realize the universality of certain feelings in spite of the unique and often hypnagogic landscapes–both physical and emotional–depicted.
Still, Jaramillo Garcia can’t help but revert back to the subject of expiration with the last poem in section two, “Low-Grade Ephemera,” drawing accurate similarities between “The libido and the death drive,” as well as painting the rather memorable image of “Gripping some memento for comfort/Wishing it would come alive/And save your body/If not your mind.”
The pattern in section three shifts to a more conversational structure, with poems like “Bargain” and “Saga” employing more frequently the use of “I” or “we,” connoting the very specific use of language in this segment.
“A Caveat (For A. Cravan)” takes on an especially noticeable whimsicality (not to mention a sense of the tragi-comic) with the line, “And staging your suicide (as a theater piece)/Where you berate the audience (for paying to attend such a thing)”–this is, in many respects, a sort of analogy for the lengths a person will go for fame in the current century. And even the last one. Suicide also finds a place in the lines of section five’s “Some Unfeeling Waves,” with Jaramillo Garcia putting the positive and accurate spin on the act as “…launching those still alive into the life/They were meant to lead.”
Elsewhere, “Economic Priorities” feels particularly salient for this moment in time as Jaramillo Garcia playfully chides a subject who doesn’t “like bananas or courtesies” and who must battle the imperatives of the future–“important for the race if it wants to avoid extinction/A topic that keeps arising with alarming regularity.” And, oh doesn’t it seem to particularly just now?
Section four is decidedly rife with animal imagery, with every creature from the metaphorical luminescent grub of “Not Really A Dream” to the crows of “Renewed by Everything” to the snail, marsupial, dodo, et. al. of “Animalia.” Because animals offer an array of symbols mirroring the good and bad traits in humans, it’s an appropriate and well-used barrage.
The “title track” of the book, if you will, is yet another exploration of a certain kind of woman, she is a recurring Jaramillo Garcia-made archetype throughout. This sort of apparition who, if you stick around to get to know, becomes a bit neurotic and a bit high-strung, but still remains somehow irresistible, “her madness porcupine yet soft,” as it is said in “Baffling But Commonplace Events” (yet another animal metaphor of the section at play).
With section five, Jaramillo Garcia hits his fantastical stride in “Falsehoods of the Bear,” making bestiality as poetic and alluring as it can get: “There have been bears women have taken/As lovers/Their love of sleep and acrobatic tongues/And the weight of their fur bathed in musk…” Then again, you may have to risk that buzzword of The Portable Man, death, for a few moments of pleasure. And yet, that’s what The Portable Man espouses–living one year as a tiger rather than a hundred as a sheep. In fact, all poetry–truly great poetry–should espouse this in some manner.
Getting back to the constant and lurking theme of death, “The Old Substance” puts it best by remarking, “Death is not very interesting/Our heads are each a hole in space.” That being said, it’s rather pleasant to fill the holes (not the Melissa Broder way, mind you) that are our heads with the contents of The Portable Man, a portal to a sort of Eden, where biting the apple instead gives you knowledge of arcane enlightenment.