Book Review: Helium by Rudy Francisco (2017)

December 12th, 2017 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Reflections on race, gender, mental illness — and love, naturally!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads.)

Your God stole my God’s identity.
So next time you bend your knees,
next time you bow your head
I want you to tell your God
that my God is looking for him.
(“To the Man Standing on the Corner Holding the Sign That Said ‘God Hates Gays'”)

Once, a friend of a friend asked me
why there aren’t more black people in the X Games
and I said, “You don’t get it.”
Being black is one of the most extreme sports in America.
(“Adrenaline Rush”)

Some days I forget that my skin
is not a panic room.
(“My Honest Poem”)

###

The first poem in Helium, “Water,” took my breath away – and more or less set the tone for the entire volume.

I have a terrible time reviewing poetry; I can’t tell you whether a poem is “good,” technically speaking, only if I liked it. Even then I fear I’m a poor barometer, since I’m as likely to understand it as not.

But Rudy Francisco’s poetry is accessible AF. Also daring, insightful, passionate, and unfiltered. I especially adore the poems that tackle mental illness – which is no surprise, as I struggle with anxiety and depression myself, and thus find this genre incredibly relatable and applicable to my own life.

Many of these pieces appear in Parts I and II; but it’s those poems centered on social justice issues (Part III) that really stunned me speechless. “Adrenaline Rush,” “Rifle II,” “To the Man Standing on the Corner Holding the Sign That Said ‘God Hates Gays'” — these poems will stick with me long after Helium claims its permanent home on my bookshelves. Not that it will stay there indefinitely: this is a book I’m likely to revisit again in the future.

Though Francisco is at his best when writing about social justice issues – toxic masculinity, misogyny, religious intolerance, art as resistance, police brutality, etc. – I cared less for his love poems. Though I suppose it could just be the jaded, 39-year-old widow in me silently screaming, “Please don’t be a love poet!”

I also actively disliked “Complainers” (to paraphrase: if you’ve never had to saw your own arm off with a rusty butterknife, stfu!), which is kind of a bummer: the second-to-last poem in the book, it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I rarely read physical books anymore – I’m more an ebook kind of gal – but I found the font a little on the small side, and unnecessarily so, since many of the pages are dominated by white space. Borderline hard-to-read for my nearly middle-aged eyes.

These are all fairly minor complaints, though, given the sheer genius and raw emotion embodied in Helium.

 

Contents

I
Water
Good Morning
Ouch
Page
Drive
Horizon
Instructions
My Honest Poem
Machine
Correctly
12 am
Sip
Petal
To the Girl Who Works at Starbucks…
Alternatives to “Bae”
If I Was a Love Poet
Again

II
Sinking
When People Ask How I’m Doing
Mess
Vanish
Why Did You Leave?
Scars
Museum
To the Random Dude…
Haunted
How Did You Lose Her?
Chameleon
Windows and Mirrors
Lopsided
To You
To Him
And Then After

III
Waves
Skin II
Adrenaline Rush
Accent
98
Meal
Margin
Liberty
To the Man Standing on the Corner Holding the Sign That Said “God Hates Gays”
Brother
Sister
Rifle II
Simeona
In the Voice of Hip Hop
I Bet the Trees Are Thinking
Roulette
Mercy

IV
Forgiveness
Capacity
Strength
Cookout
Welcome
Silence
Complainers
Yes

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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