Francesco Levato’s Arsenal/Sin Documentos is, in a single word, timely. Comprised of 15 sections of blackout poetry, it is an inherently political collection in the most important way… it generates anger. Anger at the beast of the border, a beast of policy, bureaucracy, violence, and hatred. Anger at those who stoke hatred and anger at those who blindly carry out evil. In Arsenal/Sin Documentos, Francesco Levato has laid bare the mind of the enemy using their own words. He shines a light through the darkened murk of the government’s pages and makes the monsters clear.
Monstruos. The text of the collection is excised from government documents; a torrent of policy, briefings, procedures, and public relations meant to obscure the truth; a language of monsters. With Arsenal/Sin Documentos, the monstrous diction of the government is instead turned into provocative documentation of human rights abuses, callous disregard for the body of the immigrant, and the stalking of those who somehow slip through the border and try to forge a life. The immigrant, the Other, the alien, is thought of as an invading target. The imagery of gun trauma and invasion is so embedded into official government documentation that all it takes to highlight it is the crossing out of words, putting emphasis on the word choice of the government. Take “Re-identification of an Individual’s Race and Ethnicity,” a pairing of two poems. In the first poem some of the only remaining words of a policy documentation left by Levato’s poetic hand threaten violence and erasure: “Concealed and out of view / a weapon overhead / directed / denied / the details of / the occurrence” is the monster stalking its prey, the Other, suggested, chillingly in the line “Evidence of behavior / that indicates the individual may be / other” (42 – 43). The threat of violence hangs in the air and is just one of many examples of the predatory menace that lurks beneath the surface of the legalistic language of these human rights abuses.
Los fantasmas. In one of the most haunting of the poems, “Tucson Sector,” Levato explores the detritus of the migrant journey by repurposing the clinical, unemotional language of documentation into ghostly afterimages. Descriptions of materials and artifacts of the migrant journeys across the border are rendered hauntingly. Each object pulled from the source report represents strangers seeking better lives. These are not invaders, as the source texts would argue. Levato brilliantly tears at those words and focuses on those humanizing objects; “candles, crosses, and rosary beads, a bible, and prayer cards / to the migrant saints / a pocket mirror, meant to signal for help” (102). These migrants once attempted the journey, and in their wake, they left their hopes and fears behind in the material. Every item left behind is representative of a traumatic choice to make a journey.
Desgarrar. The act of the blackout across the page is the carving of truth from the bureaucratic bullshit. The exposure of the subtext made into text is violent and pages are heavily wounded from the extraction of words from the page. Not every poem in the collection is like this, covered in thick swathes of ink, but it is of no doubt the striking, photocopied pieces are among the rawest and evocative of the collection. They are of the moment, they are the tool of the enemy. The blackout has become a tool of the truth-seeker and each blackout line is a revelation. The aesthetics of the poetic works convey a sense of urgency and a sense that these poems are secretive missives that have uncovered a hidden truth. The look of the photocopied pages either blacked out, or lightened to the point of fading, makes the collection feel quick, dirty, and like something we should not have in our hands as good Americanos. Levato has gotten to an ugly truth, ripped and assembled from the words of power itself and has exposed it to the world. It is ugly. It is chaotic. It is messy. It suits the discourse.
Herir. Levato sinks deep into the pain and hurt inflicted upon migrants on the border. There is, unfortunately, no better time for the arrival of this collection than now. After the mass shooting in El Paso, during the continual lowering of depths the current Administration sinks in order to punish the migrant, Arsenal/Sin Documentos serves not so much a wake-up call to the rampaging monster, but a reminder of what we already know and what we have grown calloused to. The shock of predatory words from the beast’s mouth should pain us.
The words found in Arsenal/Sin Documentos are largely not original, having been committed to text before by our own government, but it is the poetic interpretation of those words that makes them new. The horrifying truth of the government’s callous disregard for the migrant is brought to light by the evocative blackout poetry of Francesco Levato. These poems should inspire anger. It is with such anger that the author confronts la bestia en la frontera armed with the words of the beast and a simple pen. The words of pain, abuse, and Othering in Arsenal/Sin Documentos are the truth of document upon document written about migrant policy at the border, and these words of hate are made their most apparent through the righteous hand of a poet. Arsenal/Sin Documentos is powerful, timely, and illuminating collection.
David Davis earned his M.A. in Literature and Writing Studies at CSUSM in 2018. He current teaches English at local colleges and writes and publishes comics online. He is particularly into horror and writes articles about horror topics quite a bit for various publications. Learn more about him at his website, hpkomics.com.