Raúl Sánchez: ALL OUR BROWN-SKINNED ANGELS

I first met Raúl Sánchez in 2017 at Book Tree in Kirkland, where I heard him read his poems. He is a gracious presence, the sort of person who makes you feel visible, as though he is graced by your presence, rather than the other way around. He is the poet laureate of Redmond, Washington, and his book, All Our Brown-Skinned Angels (MoonPath Press, 2012) was nominated for the 2013 Washington State Book Award in Poetry. To learn more about him, visit his website or go to Pictures of Poets.

This morning, as I reread his poems, I remembered that brief meeting. I tried to put into words, for myself, why he had made such an impression. Maybe it was only his welcoming manner, maybe only that I went away from that reading feeling encouraged about my own work. In this short poem, for instance, he might be speaking to all the brown-skinned angels, but he is also speaking to other poets:

Breath

At day’s end we try to remain bright
speak colorfully, for words
are like the clothes we wear—
we wear them on our tongues

He is a poet of witness and he invites us to see the world through his eyes, and through the eyes of the people he writes about: minimum wage workers, the brown-skinned boy arrested for looking “like the guy they were after,” the Mestizo, the migrant and Milagro – miracle, the free American.

This is the first poem in the book (following this quote from Blaise Pascal: “The last thing one discovers in composing a work is what to put first”):

Gravity

A woman next to me asks
are you writing a poem?
Scribbles I say
from all the places
I left behind:
family mysteries
incidents come to mind
toilet paper ripping beyond the notches
social arts delivered on snack trays
my father’s business
Uncle Parcel’s tips challenged
revenge’s mastery
philosphers’ teachings
unfamiliar sand tricks
seventy-five degrees longitude
being submerged in holy rivers
anointed paramahamsas
above the self, my self
not for herself, itself
half empty whiskey glasses
translated stories five degrees below
the tropic of cancer
scorching sand illuminated
reflecting sunglasses
empty whiskey glasses
no faith in things unknown
findable frequencies of facts
the world a glass full of rain
the world a plane
landing on a tiny runway
the world at my feet
held down by gravity

—Raúl Sánchez

At the beginning of the second section – dos – of the book, Raúl quotes Gabriel García Márquez: “It’s much more important to write than to be written about.” This strikes me as a key not just to his poetics, but to his way of being. It was a privilege to spend time with him again today.

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