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The Price of Doing Business in Mexico

Eileen Myles
"It's casually heroic, this poet's mode. In The Price of Doing Business in Mexico, Bobby Byrd freely occupies space with Elvis, John Lennon, Esequiel Hernandez and Monette from Quality Foods—not in a "pop" way, but more "virtual." In fact, they're all neighbors along some holographic stretch of that word.

Byrd writes poems like a novelist. Epic ones. His lines are full of fiction, bullshit and beauty. He's an emotional writer. He is often haunted by personal tragedy, his own and anyone else's. Bad things happen in this book. Existence verges on becoming a joke, if not for a sweetness that suffuses Bobby Byrd's poems and says that a life lived, part by part, is holy."
Stephen Ausherman, Ken Hunt
Despite what the title may lead you to believe, this is not a book about NAFTA. It's a volume of poems which comprehend the Southwest, Latin America and humanity's relation to nature and culture in keenly observant and utterly haunting ways.

Like Walt Whitman (although without the verbosity), author Bobby Byrd uses himself and his life experiences as vehicles for the expression of the transcendent. He relates tales of his drunkenness, episodes of misery and his reaction to being a famous poet in El Paso. Surreal characters drift in and out of most of the poems, such as a woman whose bug-encrusted legs make her a fashion icon, Dante and his buddy Virgil, and a man named Art in America. God and Jesus drop in as often as best friends; in "Poets Have Few Things To Say," God is a woman married to a black trucker from Milwaukee. Byrd has a knack for dramatic monologue as well; the title poem is an abrupt and startling detective story, while "Tury the Fag was Here" ranks up there with the work of Ai.

The death of his mother in 1997 casts a long shadow over the book. The first poem to address the subject is "The phone rings in 6 a.m. darkness," which blends a glancing acceptance of her imminent death with a strange dream about a man eating a bad hamburger, and progresses towards the trio of poems concluding the book, which are as short as they are deeply heartbreaking. Death and illness inform many of the poems in between—a sister diagnosed with an ovarian "tumor the size of a grapefruit, and in the surrounding flesh a garden of cancerous cells," a son so badly burned he requires a skin graft, a brother dead for mysterious reasons. He casts an eye toward the suffering endured by Mexican immigrants and border residents, such as Adolfo Rodriguez in "The United States of America," and Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., the teenage shepherd killed by U.S. Marines outside of Redford, Texas, in "The Rules of Engagement, 1997." The horrors of Central American civil wars factor in as well. "Guatemala 1991" is a gruesome laundry list of crimes committed against campesinos, while "U.S. Dollars in El Salvador" is a much more ethereal account of a war widow who joins the resistance.

With this, his ninth book of poems, Byrd has managed a rare feat—to capture in words the mystery and elusiveness of his adopted land and its inhabitants.

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