The title of Che’s debut collection, winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize, suggests the original Greek meaning of the word trauma: wound, that which splits the mind or flesh. “The projector / in my chest / is a home movie,” Che writes, and here, the projected trauma is twofold—of immigrant parents haunted by the legacy of the Vietnam War (a father whose “psyche is shot through,” a mother who “still dreams / of the war”) and of a young woman whose memories of childhood are dominated by sexual abuse. But in Che’s unflinching free-verse poems, these traumas are, like the bedsores she describes on her dying grandmother’s body, “mouths / that refused to close.” As Che “sing[s] into the confessional,” the act of witness becomes an act of defiance, a refusal to accept conquest and victimhood. “I look into [the bathwater] and read my past,” she writes in "Transmutations.” “It is a difficult book. I prop it up.” And though hers is a book suffused with pain—both inherited and lived-through—love is its relentless redemptive force, in all its complex and troubled forms, filial and erotic. In her final lines, she admits: “I want to rewrite everything. / In love, my back arched / like a cat’s.” Thankfully for Che—and her readers—these poems already possess a feline resilience and grace.
This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2014.