Save the Bathwater by Marina Carreira’s
Get Fresh Books LLC, June 2018
61 pgs / GFB
Marina Carreira’s first full-length book, Save the Bathwater, is like a concrete sidewalk, the plexi-glass storefronts of immigrant neighborhoods and the stained glass of churches, but mostly the rosary that lies above every Avô’s headboard, doubling as a tome of oral history from an older world. Carreira’s Save the Bathwater reads in a Portuguese-American idioma that is only birthed out of Newark, New Jersey’s Ironbound section, an area that is known as a vibrant immigrant neighborhood and home to one of the largest Portuguese populations in the United States.
As most multilingual learners soon understand, language isn’t only a mode of communication, it is a tool for survival. The importance of words could be seen in poems like “After Emigration,” which speak about the immigrant experience while remaining relatively short.
In the distance,
a train kills a lost dog
It happens all the time
in my grandmother’s village:
small things crushed
But who’s ever there
to tell the story?
The pithiness in the work shows the careful attention paid to every word, where each line can be unpacked and alluded to what is not recorded in the poem. Lines like, “but who’s ever there/ to tell the story” highlight the multidimensionality of the smaller details within the immigrant narrative; things that are crushed like geography and speech. Language and location are big themes in migrant literature and is further built upon in Save the Bathwater. For example, I will quickly compare Carreira’s work to Martín Espada, a poet of a preceding generation. In his poem “Jorge The Church Janitor Finally Quits” it opens with the lines, “No one asks/ where I am from,/ I must be/ from the country of janitors,/ I have always mopped this floor./ Honduras, you are a squatter’s camp/ outside the city/ of their understanding.” Even though Carreira identifies as a Portuguese- American queer feminist and Espada identifies as a Puerto Rican cis-male social activist, their writing has a similar outcome. The migrant experiences expressed in both poems explain what it is like to function as “the other” while engage with the phenomenon of navigating America even though they’re invisible to the public. Consequently, this kind of literature exposes likenesses between any individuals who write in this space, despite their other sexual/cultural identifiers.
Carreira, a Newark native herself, starts many of her readings with the story about where the title for Save the Bathwater originated. It always begins where many of our family histories have: in the home created by our grandparents. This is where the beginning poem, “547 Market Street” finds us. Coming from the same city as Carreira, I can easily place myself in the home with the lines, “In your bedroom,/ the huge hand-carved rosary, billowing blue curtains/ between it, shading away the grit and grime/ of Market and East Ferry” Market Street itself holds so much power in this poem as it’s the epicenter of the east ward in Newark, but the address could be a home on another street or avenue depending on the reader. Simply put, 547 Market Street is acting as a triggering subject, a signifier for any old house that is willing to share a memory with the reader.
In this poem, there is also an ethereal nature of the speaker in the way it floats in and out of different moments in time. In a voice that seems to be recalling an old childhood and contrasting it to the present day, you can see that this poem was setting itself up to be an Ars Poetica of sorts. As one can tell from the excerpt of the first stanza above, “547 Market Street” is recalling the speakers memory of her grandparents’ old home. This excerpt both shows the opening and closing lines of the poem.
A different house now, Avo,
since you moved back to Portugal, since they tore down
the Dairy Queen to put up a bank, more condos This house
is now home to azaleas and rubber trees, Mexican children,
tamales, cumbia, and menthol cigarette smoke…
constant: its hallway, a bottom-black well, its windows, golden
fish gills out of water At night, I imagine it sighs
but never says a word
“547 Market Street” also represents how a poem exists in the world. Much like a house, a poem is a monument. It may even offer the reader a sense of security. Reading a poem allows the audience to become familiar to its rhythmic timbre in a similar manner that they would become familiar with the settling sounds of a house or the beginning hisses of steam from an apartment radiator. Reading a poem over and over allows the individual to feel the words similarly to how one can effortlessly navigate their own unlit rooms in the middle of the night. Though this is the allure of poetry, I am truly fascinated with the duration and relevancy of many poems. How like a house, poetry outlives its owners and finds new hosts to fill the house with different memories. The way in which a new owner outfits their home is the way in which poems are then synthesized through subsequent generations.
In the same vein, intergenerational bonding is seemingly unavoidable in a book about movement and emigration. In the process of being uprooted, family becomes one’s teacher, critic, and friend, especially when we take the sharing of a language into consideration. Much of the collection reflects on the relationships between the grandparents and the speaker, but what is very noteworthy is the single poem, “First-Generation,” which makes the reader aware that there is a collective “we.” That the speaker is speaking for a whole group of people rather than the speaker’s immediate circle.
We land on grass-cracked cement, school bus spewing smoke on LA Gears that no longer/ light up Latchkey, wet, and too cool for umbrellas, no one waits in the afternoon to figure/ out math or Mark Twain Our folks work late, come home late We land in bodegas for/ quarter juices and cigarettes,
Like Carreira’s, “After Emigration,” and Espada’s, “Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits,” “First Generation” is the exemplification of navigating a landscape while developing ways to adapt and survive. Alternatively, this poem is also a declaration, a piece that is saying, “Yes, I feel the same way you do, and yes, this is how we are maneuvering and learning in this space. Let’s take up space together.”
Additionally, this book has great glimpses into the feminine with poems like “Tomatoes and Onions” and “A Grand Love.” As a reader, I felt that these internal glimpses into the speaker’s past allowed us a different landscape which gave the Avó/ Avô poems more texture. I look forward to seeing a book highlighting the feminine experience because of Carreira’s particular style. The way in which Carreira’s speaker can recall a moment harkens back to greats like Shange and Lorde, where the queering of a line reveals a subtle sapience and keen perceptivity if the audience can read closely. “Tomatoes and Onions” is a beautiful example where we see some of that beauty, “The clear-sometimes-pink juices streaked/ the parentheses of their cheeks,/ stained the U-shaped collars/ of their tiny dresses” and we also experience that subliminal strafing between a beauty and its descriptive opposite with, “Craving their thin, new-penny shine,/ my doughy fingers scraped/ the bottom of a potato chip bag”.
This collection is a perfect example of what one should expect from a first book; an exploration of who the speaker is becoming. One will get that with Save the Bathwater yet, there is something that feels different about it as a whole. Carreira’s work is virtuosic and handles itself with an attentiveness of a second book where the writer has more control over the reins. It starts to do very articulate digging into a personal history, acting as a reportage for those who grew up as a first-generation American-immigrant. Save the Bathwater reminds us that our family histories are as “permanent as a birthmark” and I’m anticipating Carreira’s continuing exploration of a fully realized speaker in her next collection.
Dimitri Reyes is a Puerto-Vegan poet, educator, organizer, and YouTuber from Newark, New Jersey. He has organized large-scale poetry events such as #PoetsforPuertoRicoNewark. Dimitri’s work is published or forthcoming in Vinyl, Kweli, Entropy, Cosmonauts, Obsidian, Acentos, and others. You can find him documenting the poetry community at: http://www.youtube.com/c/dimitrireyespoet