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Apologies in Reverse by Daniel Romo
FutureCycle Press, March 2019. 76 pages.
Reviewed by Donna Vorreyer


What is an apology in reverse? One that is rescinded? Or one that happens long after the fact?

Romo’s taut prose poems in this collection cover both of these possibilities and more, moving from image to image with a magician’s sleight of hand, revealing love, loss, angst, forgiveness, pride, and self-doubt all at once. Most of the poems in the collection are constructed as small squares, snapshots both in shape and function, capturing moments with a wisdom that is both casual and proverbial.

FORGIVE ME reverses to EM EVIGROF which sounds like I’M EFFING OFF.

Several of the poems reveal a nihilistic bent, but one that is tinged with enough humor to keep it from being morose. Romo’s deft use of turns and syntax presents a sort of practical negativity, and many of these lines read more as important lessons learned than defeatist pronouncements.

I’m thinking of a number between 1 and my own mortality. Guess/ when I die and win a prize!...The square root of any man/is always divisible by grief. (“Reckoning”)

Every time a search party is canceled, it’s due to death or self-discovery. (“Passage”)

Every fact was once a facade; every oasis, once a mirage. In the distance, a rescue boat is approaching. Following close behind, a tidal wave. (“Countdown”)

Every infant’s first cry is essentially last rites. (“Diplomacy”)

The moral of the story is Don’t let anyone see you. To be effective but discreet. Like high cholesterol. Like cancer. (“Precipitation”)

APOLOGY reverse to YGOLOPA which sounds like YOU GALLOP ON.

Romo revisits the speaker’s earlier life, full of disappointments and bad decisions, but there is a pervasive sense of hope, a recognition that there is always the opportunity to move forward from the past without forgetting it.

This is high school: everything is a matter of mattering. The class president shakes your hand, welcomes you back to campus, and tells you to vote for him. The quarterback grips a football and asks what you think of his Friday night performance. The prom queen passes by without acknowledging your existence. You are now a poet, and in this poem they’re all fat and bald and ghosts. But it is you who feels invisible and is haunted by their presence. (“Stomping Ground”)

This is not a honeymoon. It is a snowstorm. And you are a sedan,/ sans chains, stuck on the side of the road. (“Omaha”)

But no matter how much positivity one possesses, everyone awaiting a package tracks it several times a day hoping it will arrive on or before the expected delivery date. This I am certain of. (“Positivity”)

Sometimes the worst version of yourself is the man or woman you actually are. (“Topography”)

SORRY reverses to YRROS which sounds like EROS.

There is love here as well in the collection, lest you think all the poems carry heavy loads. These poems carry the tenderness of a love that has been hard won, one that speaker appreciates in a way that may not have been possible in the more youthful part of the narrative. This love is both romantic and familial, the kind one settles into, even if the path has not always been smooth.

I’ve learned how to tell you when I hurt, and you’ve taken it upon/ yourself to listen and take notes. The instructions for re-/assembling a man will be revealed once you pull an arrow from/his heel. (“Splintered”)

You get dizzy and I get worried and we spin like a frantic concerto, swaying side to side like a couple caught in a conundrum we can’t decipher because neither of us is leading. (“Symphonies”)

Dad sits at his table and I sit at mine. He drinks coffee, dark like rotting. I drink tea, more like fading. We wear casual attire in our unofficial office. (“Father and Son at Starbucks”)

How many mothers have ever dreamt of having just a decade to themselves? Sometimes a better life begins with abandonment. (“Delivering”)

These tiny packages of personal reflection are punctuated by poems based on the top MTV videos of 1991. The poems resonate with the thematic and emotional landscapes of the rest of the collection, creating a sort of communal context for the narratives of the speaker. In “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” the author inserts himself into the Boyz II Men homage, stating, Most days Daniel Romo is just a kid at (broken) heart, tearfully waving goodbye to his past. The process of evolving from a boy into a man occurs only after the final farewell.

Reading this collection is like leafing through someone else’s photo album, filling in the holes that are somehow now certainties, the stories of each square unraveling piece by piece.

 

Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress, 2013) as well as eight chapbooks, most recently The Girl (Porkbelly Press). Her reviews have appeared in The Rumpus, Quarterly West, Sugar House Review, Cider Press Review, Tinderbox Poetry, and other journals.