Entering a Life by Ernest Trejo


Entering a Life
Ernesto Trejo
Arte Público Press

Originally from the Mexican province of Zacatecas, Trejo wrote and published books in both Spanish and English. Entering a Life, published a year before the poet died of cancer in 1991 (at the age of 40), is Trejo’s only full-length collection in English.

Trejo’s poetry deals directly with the world and its commonplace occurrences, and does so by grappling with the invisible, magic thread shared between people, objects, and places. As the title suggests, Trejo enters the stuff of life rather than dancing around it. Here’s the opening poem:


Against the elm
that spun its rumor
up and down the block
one afternoon
your bike leaned
like a drunk
among others
a pearl of sweat
on the handlebar

Your hero that summer?
The kid who climbed
the streetlights
and shattered them
one by one
with his baseball bat

Hair in the armpits
like weeds
in a vacant lot
Tyranny of tight shoes
your bones
stretching like a cat
at dawn

You bowed
to the crown of blood
your foot
by a rusty nail

you bowed to the stars
that came out
like shy students
and took their places

You bowed
to the warm shoulders
of desire
nudging you
like a brother
in the dark


“One Summer” creates a mystically gritty tone for the book, and Trejo continues this throughout the collection with poems that draw meaning from the tension that exists between the down-and-dirty and the ineffable. Here are two more poems, each of which show a different facet of Trejo’s range:


This morning, for no reason at all,
I thought of you.
There’s no mystery here.
You’ve been a tiny lump in my throat
all these years,
making house in the dark.

I imagine you in your other house,
posted behind the kitchen window,
waiting for your children
to step off the bus
and come to you, hungry.
A minute ago
you stumbled in and out of rooms,
looking for a way out.
But it was raining outside
and you too were hungry.



An arrowhead of birds heading South.
On a Greyhound bus, field workers
huddle at the rear and lip-synch
to their shiny radios.


At the bottom of a dry canal,
among tires, beer cans, a shopping cart,
a child’s lost ball, shoes, lamps,
what-nots, I saw the body of a woman,
impatient, like a Buick stuck in traffic.

Trejo has a suite of “E.” poems that could be the Mexican cousin to Zbigniew Herbert’s “Mr. Cogito” poems, that is to say, E. and Cogito are both ironical alter-egos that play the simultaneous roles of boogieman, hero, and anti-hero. Like Herbert, Trejo captures several moods and creates a ground for imaginative leaping, which can be felt just from reading a few of his E. titles: “E. at the Zocalo,” “E. Gives a Name,” “E. is in Love,” “E. Curses the Rich.”

It may be of little surprise that Trejo was a friend and student of Philip Levine in Fresno. Both Trejo and Levine reject the marble pillar and favor the street corner, and both create a felt landscape of magic imagery that comes straight from the gut. Trejo and Levine co-translated a selection of the late Mexican poet Jaime Sabines’s poetry under the title Tarumba. Published in 1979 by Twin Peaks Press (San Francisco), Tarumba became an obscure title the moment it was released. The publishers of Twin Peaks–whose entire catalog consists of two excellent books–left the US for Holland immediately after Tarumba’s release. “What became of those copies,” Levine has written, “no one seems to know.” For years this title has been virtually impossible to locate. Luckily, the folks at Sarabande Books reprinted Tarumba in 2007. This reprint edition contains several new translations as well as an afterward written by Levine called “Ernesto Trejo and the Making of Tarumba.” For further reading, we suggest three Fresno poetry anthologies: Down at the Santa Fe Depot: 20 Fresno Poets, edited by David Kherdian (Giligia Press, 1970); Piecework: 19 Fresno Poets, edited by Ernesto Trejo (Silver Skates Publishing, 1987); How Much Earth: The Fresno Poets, edited by Christopher Buckley, David Oliveira, and M.L. Williams (Roundhouse Press, 2001). There are numerous copies of Entering a Life to be found both through our Bookseller Hall of Fame and through the database at abebooks. This title is still in print from Arte Público, and can be ordered for a mere 7 dollars from your local independent bookseller.


The Olives of Oblivion was  an anonymous site dedicated to contemporary poetry that ran during 2008. The critics have permitted The Owls to revisit the essays.


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