Loves You

reviewed by Laura Eve Engel

Thrumming at the center of Sarah Gambito’s third collection is the fierce and constant tension between marginalization and belonging—“We were refugees against the usual things.”—a tension central in particular to the immigrant experience, and to that of anyone whose context exists outside of the American cultural monolith. Meditations on food and its ability to provide and reinforce identity, as well as exacerbate a sense of alienation, vibrate here, raw and alive: “Once, I wrote a play. There was only one scene. / A girl lists the food she wants to eat. / Jasmine rice sauteed in garlic and sesame oil. A fish you caught yourself. [...] I call the play Loves You Long Time.” Gambito resists a certain futility in trying to explain the tension—“I don’t want to speak about race because it makes you so angry.”—but rather embodies the opposing forces of individualism and assimilation, and the battle one wages to maintain a balance: “How did I hold the fruit plant inside of us without crushing it?” These poems offer their reader a vital and distinct poetic imagination, one in which visceral, urgent imagery and multivocality are born not of the traditionally modern subconscious, but of the very real, waking predicament of being so often forced into a state of translation, either to others or to oneself, until “I am a message that I lie against / I touch its soft ears.”


This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Spring-Summer 2019.