TEETH NEVER SLEEP

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TEETH NEVER SLEEP BY ÁNGEL GARCIA

The poems in Ángel García’s Teeth Never Sleep often action from bodies deeply troubled by their own masculinity but do not meditate on violence. They commit it. “This is the poem I’ve always wanted to write about a dog, a puppy really,” begins the seemingly innocuous “A Dog Poem.” By the poem’s midpoint, the puppy is struck by a van, dying viscerally while readers watch through the eyes of a small boy, who, horrified and guilt-ridden, returns home and says “nothing about the dog I got killed.” Of course, readers understand that the boy carries no blame for the puppy’s death, but this logic—that to love something is to lead it to a painful end—permeates the entire book, forcing us examine the distance between male tenderness and male violence.

Through the ruptured torsos of animals, the bleeding mouths of speakers, and the chewed-up throats of lovers, García’s poems struggle with gender and intimacy. They take a hard look at complicity: “my fingerprints etched purple into her thin wrists; her cheek bruised in blues,” he writes in “Giving It.” García does not ask the reader to excuse the behavior on the page, nor, despite the leveled discipline of his voice, does he completely dissociate self from speaker. Teeth Never Sleep imitates the speaker in “Exuviae” here: it “hangs [itself] from a door hook,” opening itself to scrutiny, no matter how raw and ragged the exposed parts may be. This book is not easy—not on its subjects, not on its readers, and least of all on itself—but it doesn’t give up. Despite the pain, Garcia “[returns] to do the work that must/be done,” and by making so naked the violence proximal to and perpetuated by the men in (and outside) his book, García models a critique of toxic masculinity that demands more than confession and forgiveness.

University of Arkansas Press.

—Review by J. Bailey Hutchinson