Oil and Candle by Gabriel Ojeda-Sague (2016, Timeless, Infinite Light)

And The Music Flowed Through Her by Arvid Bloom

Gabriel Ojeda-Sague’s Jazzercise Is a Language is forthcoming from The Operating System in 2018.

In his debut collection Oil and Candle, Gabriel Ojeda-Sague writes, “if you must have the blood, you must also take my plantain chips and my unfortunate life.” The vulnerability and rawness the audience demands of the speaker must also be accompanied by wholeness — a self complete with all its various facets: glittering and good, but desperate and frustrated too.

Ojeda-Sague grabs what is unflattering and holds it up to the light for closer examination. In some instances he zooms in on the link between otherness and the body, probing traditions of metaphorical cleansing and actual cleanliness: “I think of the / women dipping themselves into / tubs full of / prescribed cleansing / getting the toxins out of their body /  and into their panties / and putting their panties where they know they won’t see them again …”

He tugs at the tangled threads of the power of ritual and its inevitable commodification in capitalist America. “As I hear about the 17th killing I am very anxious about the ability of a ½ oz bottle to cleanse the network so I think I have really failed this time.” He delves into the inner workings of Santeria: the abrecaminos candles and the prayers, the headless chickens and the sage smudging. He doesn’t simply ask questions but dares to challenge this latticework of beliefs. “I wonder if there is a ritual to stop killing and I think there is not.”

When the speaker of Oil and Candle continually opts in and out of such complex systems, it is for reasons tangible and understandable: “my abuela brought us / up Catholic and I stopped / believing in that when / prayers didn’t turn / my friend gay and / didn’t stop anybody’s / cancer in my family / of which there is a lot.” If an abrecaminos candle seemed to get you “a few gigs,” you may naturally want to continue using it. And when its manufacturers instruct you to just trash it when you were expecting a more dignified disposal, you may have some questions. How big is this faith? Is it not worthy of ceremony? Does it have the capacity to protect? Is this candle even recyclable?

Gabriel Ojeda-Sague’s Oil and Candle reminds us that sometimes we walk with our beliefs on wobbly ground. But we are given permission to set up camp on the fence, to straddle tradition and abandon, to feel satisfied from a ritual but ultimately deem another one “useless.” Oil and Candle is a critical embrace of the poetry scene, inherited traditions, messy identities and the mess of life itself.