Tomás Rivera always wrote his fiction in Spanish, but he wrote poetry in both English and Spanish. Always, and Other Poems is completely in English. In addition, although his fiction was written for public reading, his poetry seems to have been a more private kind of writing. He wrote in both English and Spanish, but he did not provide English translations of his Spanish poems. However, he sometimes wrote about the same experience in both languages, perhaps basing the later poem on the earlier, other-language version. Such paired poems include “We Didn’t Bury Him”/“Me lo enterraron”; “Seeds in the Hour of Seeds”/“En la hora de las semillas”; “Las voces del olvido”/“Do Not Forget Me”; “La vida por fin empezó”/“Finally Life Began”; and “La voz”/“Love Seeds.” He wrote mostly short poems composed of sparse, tight lines. The themes of his poetry are the same as those of his fiction: searching, memory, social justice, and the struggle of the farmworker.
Always, and Other Poems
This volume of twelve poems is the only collection of poems published while Rivera was alive. He did publish fourteen other poems in various journals and literary magazines.
A particularly strong poem in the collection is “The Overalls,” which Rivera wrote several years after the death of his father. The speaker in the poem expresses fear at seeing a pair of overalls hanging empty in the garage after his father’s death, finding them as frightening as the black opening leading into the attic. He recalls the sound of the dirt being shoveled onto the coffin and the tears of those around him at the funeral. He understands that his father will never return and realizes that, through this experience, he himself has changed. This poem consists of one stanza with lines that vary in length from a single word to five or six words. The reader moves from line to line quickly, just as the voice in the poem seems to have experienced a flood of emotions, a kind of flashback to the funeral, when he came upon the empty overalls. The poetic language is simple and direct, befitting someone who wore overalls. The empty overalls, the hole of the attic, and the intangible vapor of the train are all images that suggest the father’s absence. Through his memory of the event, the poet senses that he has somehow been transformed.
Rivera reveals his ability to create strong images with just a few words in “Past Possessions.” Here, the adult poet reflects on items from his childhood—a piece of string, a wooden gun, a...
(The entire section is 1052 words.)