Falling in Love with Fellow Prisoners: Poems
by Gwendolyn Zepeda
Preface by Lucha Corpi
Publication Date: September 30, 2013
Bind: Trade Paperback
“Drive back and forth/A rush-hour tide/I strive to regain that feeling I felt/When I thought that this was worth it./The drive is gray./I cry.” Gwendolyn Zepeda, a Houston native who has struggled to escape the inner-city barrio she grew up in, wonders why she’s crying about her long commute to the suburbs. “I’m driving towards something I sure/Can’t complain about, something my/Parents could never have had.”
Single with three sons, Zepeda made her way in corporate America, “the cold, beige womb of a money-grubbing mother,” in the fight to provide them with better opportunities. Along the way, she has had to come to terms with the guilt of working in physical comfort while others work outside, trapped in dangerous jobs; the realization that the quality of her work doesn’t really matter to anyone; and obnoxious male bosses who need “a wife on the side,” or worse, proudly report their sons’ sexual exploits. She’s afraid, because “My whole life depends/On satisfying this man’s needs … My own son is my everything. He’s the/Only reason I’m here now this/Afternoon listening to this man [pee]/Into my brain.”
She’s an astute observer of people: her elders, full of bitterness; the stranger on the elevator, who exudes the smell of hate; the needy girl who’s broken and screams like a bird in her ear so that “I turn and slip away. I’ve/Had my fill. I’m in the water/Where it’s warm and deep and/She can’t follow./Goodbye. Good luck.” She’s compassionate and considerate, but Zepeda always chooses survival.
She has survived, even prospered, but her innermost fears still haunt her: “I like lying safe with you/Here in the dark, but still/Keep planning in case/I’m left alone.” Whether musing on dysfunctional relationships or parenthood, Gwendolyn Zepeda, the first Poet Laureate of Houston, captures the aching loneliness and vulnerability of contemporary urban life.
“Author most recently of the children’s book Level Up: Paso de Nivel (2012) and the novels Better With You Here (2012) and Lone Star Legend (2010), Zepeda was recently named the first poet laureate of Houston. For her first poetry collection, she takes inspiration from her Texas roots and the streets of Houston to address subject matter as deeply personal as femininity and motherhood, from the hotly provocative (“beige, pink-tipped, poky flesh”) to even the absurdly quotidian (“I Ruined My Work Shirt with Jack in the Box Taco Sauce”). Zepeda’s range and comfort with such diverse topics allow her to lament the devastating effects of miscarriage, fantasize about kinky bedroom role-playing (“let me be your / mommy-wife until I’m bored / again”), and poke fun at ostentatious signs of worship (like the “laminated holographic prayer cards” on every bodega’s shelves). Zepeda seasons each verse with the distinctive flavors of the Bayou City, re-creating the tenor and texture of the cosmopolitan, sun-beaten town, capturing an especially Texan sense of grandeur and the isolating loneliness urban life often engenders.”—Booklist
“With a world-weary yet love-driven voice, the Houston laureate unerringly explores the workplace, relationships, culture and motherhood.”—The McAllen Monitor
“In her new collection of poems, Falling in Love with Fellow Prisoners, Zepeda writes with courage and lyrical wit about faith, hope, love, parking garages, window washers, miscarriages, hot sauce stains, and even a zombie or two. As a collection, the poems succeed in saying something large by saying something small and private. Most of Zepeda’s poems are tethered to such specific moments that the lines resonate with sincerity and urgency…She gathers and repurposes the colloquial to deliver bursts of light and hope in a sometimes gray world.”—Southwest American Literature
“Zepeda’s poetry offers insight into Tex-Mex culture, dysfunctional relationships, work, and parenthood. Her words are honest and a lot of them sting…thought-provoking and heart-wrenching.”—The Journal of South Texas
“Gwendolyn Zepeda poet laureate of Houston, has a complicated relationship with her job. Many of her poems are poems of the air-conditioned cubicle, the reception desk and the morning commute. What makes them interesting is the simmering discontent just below the surface, the uncomfortable gender politics, the quiet desperation…Zepeda adds great poignancy in grinding, dispiriting nine-to-five. Zepeda’s strongest talent [is] condensing a single moment or thought into a simple yet well-crafted line.”—New Poetry Review
“Zepeda’s attention to quotidian captivities rattles the cage.”—The Rocky Mountain Review
GWENDOLYN ZEPEDA is the author of a short-story collection, To the Last Man I Slept with and All the Jerks Just Like Him (Arte Público Press, 2004), and three novels: Houston, We Have a Problem (Grand Central Publishing, 2009), Lone Star Legend (Grand Central Publishing, 2010) and Better with You Here (Grand Central Publishing, 2012). A native of Houston, Texas, she is the Bayou City’s very first Poet Laureate.
Learn more at gwendolynzepeda.com.