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Reviewed by James Tipton

Good Reading

Migration (an anthology of poems)
By Bill Frayer
Margarita Publishing, 2011
Available from Available from Amazon Books: Kindle edition

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Bill Frayer just can’t stop cranking out poems based on his two favorite themes: his new life in Mexico and his old life — particularly family memories — in the States. Migration is his third book in a little over three years. His first book was Sacred Lake (2009), followed by Agave Blood (2010). Frayer fans will find Migration as delightful as his first two collections.

The author’s note tells us that “After a career teaching humanities courses at the college level and dabbling in poetry, Bill Frayer and his wife, Pixie, gave away most of their belongings, packed their car, and relocated to the mountains south of Guadalajara, by Lake Chapala, in Jalisco, Mexico.”

Now collecting belongings has been replaced by collecting experiences, and collecting memories of past experiences. I am reminded a bit of one of my dad’s favorite tee-shirts, which reads: “The less you own, the more you have.”

In “Seeking Color,” the poet wonders what all these expatriates are seeking as they “flock south.” He observes one wealthy woman wrapped in “thick Mexican colors,” surrounded with mestizo objects, “thinking/they will bring her/to this place.

But she’s looking
and not finding.
She needs to stop looking
beyond the moment,
and stay, simply, breathing
in the color, for no one
can take it away.

Like in his other books, Frayer creates intriguing titles… “Louis Armstrong and the Mexican Goats,” “I Miss You Sister,” “Mother Mexico,” “The Humble Tortilla,” and “Raspberry Boy.”

He loves his new country but he sometimes worries about its people, particularly the children. In “Raspberry Boy,” he watches a ten-year-old peddling raspberries “in gringo restaurants/by the liter, plastic cups,/brimming red, ripe.” By the end of the poem the poet ponders:

Does he sell
so he can eat?
So he can survive?
He has old eyes.
I buy his berries,
but I want to know
his story.

A recurring them in Frayer’s poetry is the simple joy so many Mexicans seem to experience in whatever they do. In “The Singing Señoras of Guayabitos,” old sisters come again “to the same old beach hotel,” where they sit in white plastic chairs and sip piña coladas.

Some cannot hear;
some cannot walk along,
but they return to love
and fetch food for one another….


They know all the words
to the Mexican songs
national songs
tragic songs
childhood songs.

And they enchant us all
as they sing and they cry
as they sip
their piña coladas
and hold one another
in their hearts
for one more night.

I also enjoy the poems that are memories of his family and his childhood, and how he tries to model himself after his grandfather, “scattering small pieces of love.” Or the six-year-old child he once was, worried about many things. In “Polio, Hell and Nuclear War,” that child worries that his “father was unwilling to build a fallout shelter in our backyard.”

“What would we do?” I worried.
“Well,” he said, “we’d use the basement.”
And he put some Campbell’s soup
Down there, to appease me.

And thus I learned
to live with my incautious parents
and risk annihilation.

For expatriates here in Mexico, those memories of this particular poet might well stir up interesting memories of their own.

Love, through thousands of years, is, of course, the most enduring theme of poetry. One of my favorites in “Migration” is “An Unlikely Love.” I think I’ll end this review, which has turned into a Bill Frayer sampler, with these lines:

And it wasn’t easy or smooth,
but we loved and nurtured
our family and our love.

And now, as your silver locks flow
around your face
and onto your shoulders,
you are even more astonishing
than you were in the beginning.
You have shown me how to love,
how to cry, and how to rage
against the injustice and convenience
which passes for acceptability.

You have loved hard
and led me through fire,
and we have emerged
to love again, in this place.

I think these lines will resonate with many readers of MexConnect, particularly those who have made the move to Mexico, where in this place we have come to love, we have somehow “emerged to love again.”

Available in paperback at Diane Pearl’s Colecciones in Ajijic, Jalisco, or from the author

Published or Updated on: March 27, 2012 by James Tipton © 2012
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