by Gustavo Hernandez
Written as a part of our Tiny Review Series
Alan Chazaro’s Piñata Theory begins with something that can be construed as a confession, an illustration, or simply a fact: “The fault line between me runs north / from south, a zag / splitting my skull and bursting / my edges.” Even though this fault line is visible—traceable—when looking at the landscape of this collection, Piñata Theory’s poems do not focus on division. They bring together communities; sort through the jumbled messages of machismo and the once-rigid concepts of masculinity; and phase in and out of the vibrancy of both Mexico and the United States. The strength and beauty of these poems lie in the opening created by this fault line of which Chazaro writes, by what it lets in: a reverence for positive role models, the feeling of freedom that comes from rejecting stale paradigms, and the joy of finding one’s own way.
“I dig through remixed / crates of myself,” declares the speaker in “A Pocho Boy’s Mixtape.” Like any cassette tape, this poem contains an A-side and a B-side, but its transcendent C-side exemplifies the multidimensional nature of Chazaro’s work and reminds us “there are more than two sides to every story, just / like there are more than two stories inside every mouth.”
Piñata Theory’s poems invite readers to inhabit different realities simultaneously. In “Reading Autobiographies,” the speaker sits on the cobblestone steps of Veracruz’s capital city, listening to Massive Attack on his headphones and thinking about Los Angeles. Cadillacs and Southern California cities weave around Xalapa’s spring flowers and churches. We listen to these elements as a whole—the admonitions and prayers of mothers and grandmothers harmonizing with Elizabeth Frazer’s vocals on “Teardrop.”
Chazaro sequences his poems carefully, but he never claims to know all of the answers. “So much of flying is just getting off the ground / but after you’re up there it’s so easy. I don’t know / if I agree or if I’m becoming a smaller window of myself / I don’t know what chemicals paint this midnight” he writes in “California is Turning Neon.” Despite the inherent ambiguities found in the “polyrhythm” of dueling and melding timelines and national identities, at no moment in the collection do we doubt that Chazaro has opened himself up to the moments of clarity the world has to offer. These moments come from the “deep mouths” of lyrical icons, such as Nas and Lauryn Hill; the smoky haze of the after-hours in the bars of California and relatives’ homes in Mexico; and the quiet moments of reflection overlooking Chazaro’s beloved East Bay.
Piñata Theory has the qualities of a carefully curated, passionate, and communicative mixtape—what all mixtapes strive to be. It expertly connects concepts that sometimes seem irreconcilable and revels in acknowledgment and adoration. It owns its contrasting voices. It says, “love because what wrong could it bring?”
Gustavo Hernandez is a poet from Santa Ana and the author of Flower, Grand, First (Moon Tide Press 2021).