EILEEN TABIOS Engages
THE CONQUERED SITS AT THE BUS STOP, WAITING by Veronica Montes
(Black Lawrence Press, 2020)
When I think of Veronica Montes’ writings, I think of many things. [PAUSE FOR A SLY MOMENT]. I phrased it slyly—“many things”—because I can think of slyness as among the elements which infuse her written works. Anyway, I’m digressing ... because digressing is also something she does effectively in the stories of her THE CONQUERED SITS AT THE BUS STOP, WAITING, such as the meditations in “Lint Trap” that don’t prepare for its ending. So, when I think of her writings, I think of many things and one of them is how her talent implies she’s a natural poet and yet she utilizes her gift for fiction.
For instance, the first story in her chapbook and title story is a single paragraph that easily can be considered a poem or prose poem. The protagonist of that story remains a mystery as regards fleshed-out specifics of her life. Though she’s presented as someone who, when younger, was sexually targeted by men, that tendency could fit many women. The power of the writing relies more on the language itself—its evocativeness—including an ending made lovely by words despite its trauma—here’s its last sentence:
“When you call out, she will cover her eyes as if you are made of sunlight.”
But what I also love about THE CONQUERED SITS AT THE BUS STOP, WAITING is that there’s sufficient scale there for me to dwell in the writer’s expansive voice—the collection presents an expansive variety despite being made up of only eight stories. As well, while the title story is one paragraph long, and others may be considered flash fiction, “Interlude: An Ocean of Tears” possesses the narrative heft of a non-flash short story. Her deft eye and excellent craft also make her stellar at developing characters: for example, I know I'll find unforgettable how she developed the fertility of children—specifically boys—in her story "Interlude: The Ocean of Tears." What all of the stories share in common is a twist, something unexpected that makes the story memorable, and which is what I had in mind when I thought of the notion of slyness. Indeed, this result is even more accomplished given the discernible grief threading itself through her words. Here’s an example:
“…she places her cheek over her husband’s heart to indicate that she’d welcome some intimacy. She’s surprised to find that his heartbeat feels like a punch, punch, punch…”
—from “The Sound of Her Voice”
I had the joy and privilege of watching Veronica launch her chapbook during a virtual bookfest hosted by Aileen Cassinetto for the Daly City Public Library (with readings by other authors Alan Chazaro, Ricco Siasoco, and Elsa Valmidiano). There, it was interesting how Veronica shared her thought that she has been wondering whether the protagonist in all of the eight stories was the same woman at different points of her life, versus that each story present a different protagonist (which I assume is how she’d initially considered the stories). It’s an interesting layer and only serves to make the character (if single) more intriguing. These stories, in fact, could be sketches leading to a novel.
But back to poetry—what I love most about these stories is their language. Whatever the ultimate (behind-the-scenes) character is or characters are, she/they are more moving and sympathetic because of how they are presented. However, if you consider how the last story, “Ruby” might present the same character at her youngest and the first and title story at her oldest, then Veronica has created a profile of trauma no poetry can remediate. In this sense, too, Veronica shows herself a fiction writer at its purest and if that’s poetry’s loss, that’s also poetry’s reality—sometimes, poetry with its elisions and/or minimalism does not suffice. Sometimes, the story itself must be told.
Eileen R. Tabios has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 11 countries and cyberspace. Her 2020 books include a short story collection, PAGPAG: The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora; a poetry collection, The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019; and her third bilingual edition (English/Thai), INCULPATORY EVIDENCE: Covid-19 Poems. In 2021, she releases her first long-form novel: DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times. Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form, and the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity. Translated into 11 languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. More information is at http://eileenrtabios.com