AUTOPSY OF A FALL
by Eric Morales-Franceschini
Newfound Press, 48 pages
reviewed by Juniper Jordan Cruz
Autopsy of a Fall by Eric Morales-Franceschini is many things at once: nostalgic and bitter, analytical and volatile, epic and intimate. It is a masterful reckoning of Puerto Rico’s present, both as, “this little isla and its debts,” the magical, eden-like place that Morales-Franceshini mythologies in his early recollections of his home island, and the utopian island that it could be should it gain independence. The form this book takes is that of a personal history that is intertwined with the legacy of western (specifically American) colonization of Puerto Rico and, inversely, the legacy of resistance and decolonization movements of Puerto Rico.
Because this book is entrenched in the relationship between nostalgia and colonialism, it is filled with cultural iconographies of Puerto Rican life, often dissecting them and showing how the nuances of their meanings speak to colonization of Puerto Rico and the effect it has on the author. For example, the book begins with the poem titled, “The Flamboyán,” the name of a species of trees in Puerto Rico, known for its clusters of red and gold blooms, so vibrant that the tree looks like it is on fire. Hence, the English name, “The Flame Tree.” Here, Morales-Franceschini reimagines the imagery of the tree, changing its red from symbolizing fire to blood. Opening the readers up to the idea of seeing this tree as the open wounds in an autopsy, calling us back to the way the audience is being asked to read this text.
Eric Morales-Franceshini utilizes this concept of dissection most notably in his poem titled, “circa 1898 (with apologies to Kipling)” which is an erasure poem of Rudyard Kipling’s infamous poem, “The White Man’s Burden.” Unlike the author’s other poems that often blend somber language with a tongue-in-cheek tone, the language here is foreboding, abstract, and haunting. The poem ends, “the White / comes now / thankless / cold-edged / dear-bought.” Though such an introduction to an erasure poem would be distractingly jarring in another book, the author leans into that jarring quality to direct our attention to the unsettling way colonialism wedges into his life. It is not his voice, but the voice of a colonizer that shaped Puerto Rico’s identity. A voice he must retrieve to complete this story, though “not a story but an autopsy,” (The Flamboyán) as he would put it.
While not as tongue-in-cheek as, “circa 1898 (with apologies to Kipling)” is with its use of an autopsy, every other poem is an autopsy in its own way. While the poem is an autopsy of another writer’s work, others are an autopsy of language itself, such as in the poem, “Necrophilia”. Such a dissection not only balances the personal with the academic rhetoric utilized as a tool for these dissections but puts them into direct conversation with each other. For example, in the poem titled, “Necrophilia,” Morales-Franceshini directly confronts the meaning of the word, “Black” within the context of Puerto Rican culture. At one point in the poem, he cites, Fanon, “Like it meant evil, since, wretchedness, death, war, and famine” and then, in the next stanza, her retorts,
And I don’t know anything about necromancy, the dead brought back to life, except that the reverend said, “Aqui to be called negrito/means to be called LOVE,” and that’s how my abuela said it to my abuelo,
There is a necessary chaos that comes with the author comparing the relationship between anti-colonial, academic rhetoric to his own narrative. By taking apart prior order, undoing borders between these, often separate ways of reading the world, Morales-Franceschini gives us a new way to engage with our history that legitimizes our own personal narrative against the academic.
However, the book isn’t solely about pain in its reconciliation of these two ways of reading life under white imperialism. As seen in the above quote, there is joy within the experience of being Puerto Rican. It is not joy coexisting with imperialism, but a joy that rises up in its direct contrast. The rhetorical flip of take the etymological conception of Black/Negrito from its negative colonial conceptions to that a term of endearment as seen in his relationship between his grandmother and grandfather, is an act of resistance against the hold that white imperialism / anti-blackness has in shaping language. It is in this conception that Morales-Franceshini’s acts of resistance are love letters, moments of intimacy of joy captured in obsessive detail. While a first read can see the moments of Puerto Rican life as tone-deaf or even a “fetishism of the tropics,” the writer writes beauty and utopia as an act of resistance, of a Puerto Rico that is and could be.
One of the final poems of the Autopsy of a Fall, is titled “Jurakán” after the taino zemi (deity) of chaos and disorder. The poem title feels fitting in the chaos that this book holds, but the poem itself feels like a sigh, a letting go of all these emotions and laying them on the table. The poem itself lays out options for writing with imperialism, some already done in this book, some done by other authors. Returning to the autopsy metaphor, this is the point in which we’ve discovered the cause of death and we figure out what to do next. What closure will be had? The writer concedes in the final stanza of Jurakan,
having learned that jubilees don’t abide by hope, they abide by bodies assembled– overjoyed and spellbound, like oracles writhing in the temple, upending, at last, the mythology of our mortality, the lie of their promises
It is here where it is most important to harken back to the title of the book, Autopsy of a Fall, with the fall not being that of Puerto Rico as a whole but Puerto Rico as a colonized nation of America. This entire book examines the fall of imperialism, how we wrap our entire identities around it, and how we live our lives to overthrow it. This is a book entrenched in a brutal and bloody hope, like examining the body of a tyrant, like looking at an island cut out a pound of cancer, and seeing it, Puerto Rico as, “not yet an abyss” (Isla: an anti-epic).
Juniper Jordan Cruz is a writer and body artist from Hartford, Connecticut. She is a 2019 graduate from Kenyon College, where she studied creative writing. Her work has been published in Poets.org, Lambda Literary, and the Atlantic. Her works have also been recognized by Gigantic Sequins and the Academy of American Poetry Prize at Kenyon College. Email to query Juniper about poetry book reviews.