“Firm and defiant in its claim to the literal and figurative Borderlands, this sumptuous poetry collection welcomes the reader into a world rich with the ways we create meaning from the muddy banks of our lives. A fierce debut. How fortunate we are to experience this new voice in poetry.”
—José Antonio Rodríguez, author of This American Autopsy
César De León’s first collection glows with the immediacy of a cultural pastoral—lush in its ambitions and profuse in its design as it wrestles with South Texas. It both embraces and rejects Mexican-American identity—happily housed there and eager to leave. I marveled at the nimble imagery that challenges machismo, racism, tradition, and violence in these pages: “Every man for his own / myth and monolith anchored /around their collar”. I marveled at the way De León finds poetry in the pork belly of boiled beans and the mariposas of the delta, wearing nature as a fine gown: “the summer of cat’s claw and yucca thickets / diagraming names / of future lovers / threaded / through chain-link fences / each a constellation of open windows”. I marveled at how a lover is described with “the cinnamon birthmark that migrated / north / con las mariposas” and a ghost flower reflects on how “something surviving / in this body yearns for river”. The last poem in the collection asks, “don’t you recognize me, america?” and the answer is clearly no, because a new original voice has arrived, one that demands attention. An impressive debut.
—Rodney Gomez, Poet Laureate of McAllen, Texas and author of Arsenal with Praise Song
César L. de León’s poems are elemental gifts that ground us at once in the beauty of the Rio Grande Valley land and its seemingly steady assurances while also taking flight like kites and kestrels. As the collection progresses, silences mount and unravel in conditions created by toxic masculinities, inequities, and US American empire: “everywhere / the swallowing of huizache / thorns / labeled apple pie.” De León’s poems speak from those silences in powerful poems that celebrate lucecitas and rascuachismo and mourn the lives lost to militarized borderlands, mass shootings, police brutality, and COVID. An admirable debut collection by an outstanding poet.
—Emmy Pérez, Texas Poet Laureate 2020, author of the poetry collections With the River on Our Face
speaking with grackles by soapberry trees is a masterpiece. César Leornardo de Leon’s poetry here is a whole universe lit up by el sol and la luna at the same time. de Leon cuts straight to the bone with such precision, imagery and lyricism one can not bear to put the book down. César takes you to the edge of the river, knotting you up in the throat and the heart and leaves you in new lands you never dreamed of. These poems are lyrical, they are decadent, they are bittersweet, they are real life. de Leon provides you a new landscape honoring all things queer, bordered, forgotten, and desired. César warns and wishes in these poems, he invites you to a remarkable space, where “here a hummingbird can dream of being king.” We dream with him every time we read this work.
—Lupe Mendez, 2022 Texas Poet Laureate, author of Why I Am Like Tequila (Willow Books, 2019)