THE SOMNAMBULIST
Lara Mimosa Montes

Horse Less Press, 2016

In her genre-defying debut collection The Somnambulist, Lara Mimosa Montes weaves minimalist lyrics, artefactual fragments, and sustained meditations on language, familial history, and lineage, resulting in a kind of marriage between crime and dream narratives, a complex investigation into language as the unavoidable voyeur of our everyday lives. Separated into sections by maps of City Island, New York, The Somnambulist is also interspersed with police and criminal history reports, a Polaroid photo, a brief monologue by a character named Cegeste. The formal and substantive fragmentation suggests the muddled, non-linear way we often come into knowledge, acknowledge guilt and innocence (our own and others’), and process our witnessing.

At the center of the collection is the speaker’s father and her late uncle, who had been in prison for robbery. Somnambulism “runs in the family,” and is further characterized as “Walking oddly. Like the dead. In reverse. Back.” This kind of sleepwalking allows the speaker to explore her ambiguous and complex relationships with the two men, their substance abuse and her own, as well as her act of documenting her development as a poet: “In death I cherish not your innocence but / the leftover language of the court reports— / fragments of black magic in an ash storm.”

“Fragments of black magic in an ash storm” captures the essence of Montes’s lyric endeavor in The Somnambulist. But the collection is simultaneously self-conscious, even self-referential:

I ask myself
at what point could I come out
and call myself out/ call myself
a poet/ when I could say
something about death/ when
I could/ like Orpheus/ walk
backwards and forget

Images of Orpheus, dreams, and death penetrate the collection, as does penetrative language: “one is never safe / so it is better to be ready / to ride one’s legends bareback.” When Montes writes: “I gargle language / grief’s backwash,” language is the device and the deception, both the “incident,” and “the pain that pitches a tent inside.” “Circum,” the speaker asserts, “means to go around roundly. Perhaps blindly. As in melancholia, it may go on for some time.” The Somnambulist is an experiment in transcribing the path of language and understanding, as well an act of attempted rescue of the self from trauma. “Can’t we get back to the body?” the speaker asks. “Can’t if it’s crumpling. No incendiary bombs / going off without an ‘I.’”