Two poems from Susto, Tommy Archuleta’s debut poetry book.
It is all too tempting to read Tommy Archuleta’s debut poetry book Susto, as I did, in one uninterrupted sitting. These poems of short, unpunctuated lines cascade down the page, like musical phrases, effortlessly guiding the reader through page after page. But the outcome of giving in to such temptation is an emotional gut-punch, followed by an ominous feeling, like an unexplainable ailment that lingers for hours, days, or much longer.
The book’s title was inspired by the term for the cultural condition, found in Latinx communities, born of an experience so shocking or traumatic that the soul departs from the body. Through the sparest language, these poems shake and shock the reader into and out of experiences that are both deeply personal and universal.
There’s a toughness to these poems that speak to the place of “nameless // roadside crosses,” of “pine branches // cut from the gorge,” and to the hard-edged loneliness of the “frozen canyon floor.” There is a softness to these poems carried in the vowels of “the moth you lost / to all those o’s” and in “sobbing / [that maybe] isn’t sobbing.”
A quieter voice delivers an apology and asks forgiveness for harm done to the land, to its people, and to loved ones gone. These prayers of “the weary supplicant” fall upon our ears like whispers that gather in strength, almost without our knowing.
Breaking up the lyric poems are prose poems that shimmer like spells. These imagined remedios offer up directives on how to live, feel, and survive. They seek to answer the book’s central question: How can we go on living when those we love most have passed on? The repetitive questioning creates its own kind of answer, like a melody played over and over, until it becomes a refrain.
When preparing to call the soul back, first ask the Earth for
permission to take from her only what will be needed. Next,
offer a New Fire prior to gathering osha root, mugwort, and
rosemary. Bathe the entire catch in river water. Soak overnight.
The next day, mash then combine all contents in a glass container.
A mason jar will do, but do not cover. Add rubbing alcohol to
the mixture to release all healing properties. Place the jar in a
dry, dark place for three days and three nights.