Heart like a Window, Mouth like a Cliff: Poems by Sara Borjas / Noemi Press, Inc. / / 978-1-934819-79-1 March 15, 2019 / 95 pages / $15
Sara Borjas’ Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff investigates the stories simmering beneath the truths we tell ourselves. This poetry collection examines the home and familial history while pushing forth a new narrative about domesticity, the home, and femme identity. In an interview with Electric Literature, Sara Borjas defines her poetic landscape as “the house.” Borjas’ writing aims to give voice to the “the kitchen, the linoleum floor, the grout [her] mother can’t get clean.”
What Borjas explores gives voice to the often marginalized experiences that are confined to the home, domestic duties and spaces conventionally taken care of by women. Aside from telling stories about these spaces, Borjas is expanding the landscape of what the home is and can be, along with what the poem can be. In the poem “We are Too Big for this House,” Borjas constructs a poetic experience that pushes the reader to read beyond traditional conventions of the poem. The words within this piece exist in the margins, in the structures of stanzas that sit side by side and in conversations with artists and writers such as Sandhini Poddar, Anish Kapoor, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, and Robert Hass. Borjas writes:
When my mom cooks in my poems, I // hate her for her domesticity. But she’s cooking right now, while I write in the // bedroom. And right now, I love her (Borjas, 20).
Borjas creates a meta experience of the poem as a home in which her mother is cooking, yet also engages in the awareness of the marginalization imposed upon domesticity. In this short phrase she engages in the political act of loving. This politicization is engaged within this entire poem and its ability to conflate the personal and political, all while disrupting our understanding of poetry.
This idea of the conflating of identities exists overall in this collection. Borjas cultivates a collection that examines familial lineage in poems such as “My Father Imagines Winning the Lotto” and “Imagining My Brother’s Return” and presents a deepening of these familial stories with the cultural context that sits at the origin of these stories. Poems like “Mexican Bingo,” “Decolonial Love Poem” and “Pocha Cafe” express nuances of the Chicanx experience that sits urgently as part of the catalyst for this collection. These poems intertwine the many ways cultural identity and the familial experience create tensions in the individual and personal experience.
As we venture further into the collection we start understanding how these shifting tensions unfold in the personal with poems such as “Lies I Tell,” “Study of a Part-Time Pocha” and the series of Narcissus poems. These poems engage with Borjas’ relationship to home and what that means for the individual experience. She states:
When I think about going home in the Business Relationships, or trespassing on my home, or going into my mother’s life or beyond her, it’s a way of showing respect to the struggle…I was going back to see what happened to my mom and dad and what they are capable of confronting right now and moving forward from there. I’ve learned writing the book, and through therapy, that it is not beneficial to call someone out. Because of that, I think the push and pull of the collection is trying to find a way to evolve and be a better family, a better daughter and a better partner” (Electric Literature).
This journey that Borjas takes us on, is also grounded as she uses poetry to parse through her home of Fresno and the changes she sees within that landscape. In one of the “Ars Poetica” poems, Borjas writes:
In my Fresno, there are no prerequisites, // just a frontage road inside the fence flopped // to the west. “Craft” means white aesthetics, // and the canons are obsolete, extinct (Borjas, 72).
Here Borjas is reclaiming the Ars Poetica form, in order to grapple not only with the ongoing gentrification of Fresno but also with a gentrification of poetry in general. She pushes back against a “standardized” white literary canon by speaking the existence of her family, community, and identity into the poetic form and canon as a whole. Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff, is a collection fierce in its assertion of the self. It’s a collection that is unwavering in its ability to speak in, through and against a literary tradition that is often marginalizing. Borjas engages with this act by centering the home and the personal, while also rejecting the stories she’s been told in an effort to examine new and nuanced narratives. She writes:
“I am not an inheritor. I am a chatty tradition pushing from the inside // of its tin. I am the scrape of the lowrider as it exits the driveway, // bothering the neighbors. I am the ambitious orange head // of the kinglet raising questions from ash trees (Borjas, 72).
Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff allows for readers to witness an assertion of the self, while also understanding the nuances within identity. This collection is emphatic in its desire to not only be heard, but to be radical in its desire to love the complexities within families, communities and the self.
About Tatiana M.R. Johnson
Tatiana (she/her/hers) is a writer, artist and educator in the Boston area. She’s an MFA candidate in poetry at Emerson College, works as poetry editor for the literary journal Redivider, and teaches at Emerson College and GrubStreet. Tatiana’s writing is forthcoming in PANK, The BOILER, The Journal, Transition Magazine and others. One of her poetry reviews is forthcoming in The Florida Review. She’s recently been published in Southern Humanities Review as an Honorable Mention selection for the 2019 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize, judged by Vievee Francis and is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee.