Chicanismo and Longing: Claudia Delfina Cardona’s What Remains

San Antonio poet Claudia Delfina Cardona paints a picture of her city interspersed with longing, nostalgia, Mexican culture, and astrology in her debut collection, What Remains. The speaker of these poems is unafraid to share her heart through intense imagery and exciting metaphor.

In “What It’s Like (Being a Brown Girl),” Cardona writes about “words too hard to pull from your throat,” yet she pulls the words out over and over again in this astounding collection of poems. Active in uplifting voices of the Latinx community, Cardona paves the way for Latinx writers with What Remains.

Accompanying this book is a thoughtfully composed playlist curated by Cardona. Entitled “pinwheel of light,” this playlist recalls the final line of Cardona’s beautifully nostalgic poem “The Summer After”: “Every moment, / a pinwheel of light.” The speaker’s voice consistently comes through in poems such as this one. “Everything feels urgent,” they write, “and I am not sure why.” Cardona invites the reader into the space of the poem with the anaphora of the word “Here” at the beginning of lines.

Two epigraphs, one from Sandra Cisneros and the other from Dorothea Lasky, mark the beginning of the collection. The quotes from these two writers about the hearts of Mexicanas and writing poems, respectively, prime the rest of the collection.

What Remains opens with the vivid poem “My Heart is a Tourist Trap.” This poem ends with the line, “Lay your head / on my chest and listen,” which serves as an invitation  into the poems that follow. Beginning with this poem and continuing on throughout the rest of the collection, Cardona shows masterful control of metaphor and simile, transporting the reader to San Antonio and beyond. Cardona describes “Second generation kids whose Spanish / slithers around like a stubborn / hair in the mouth” in the poem named for her city, “San Antonio.” Perhaps the most compelling metaphor comes in the later poem “To Be Seen,” one of the most powerful poems in the collection. Cardona writes, “We were mostly angry that our anger / was the coin that activated / the stereotype machine.” This image evokes feelings that are all too familiar for myself and other marginalized Latinx readers while allowing that same community to feel seen.

In “Parachute,” Cardona invokes Chicana writers Sandra Cisneros and Gloria Anzaldúa, echoing the epigraph of Cisneros’ words, writing, “I know / exactly what they meant.” With this poem and the honest, unapologetic nature of the collection as a whole, Cardona solidifies her place among the ranks of Mexican-American writers.

Cardona consistently ends her poems on powerful images and meditations. “I Want to Go Back” ends on the line, “I wish I could remember–”, the em-dash a sudden halt in the nostalgia and remembrances of the poem. 

One of the most compelling parts of this collection is the incorporation of astrology into the poems, allowing astrologically-inclined readers to grow increasingly invested and involved with the speaker. “Pisces Heart” centers on the speaker’s heart, Cardona again showing their talent for simile and metaphor in lines such as “mouths greedy / like slot machines. Each moment is / melted chocolate,” and “my heart is constantly at H-E-B.” The poem, “Moon in Leo,” is a wonderful celebration of being alive (and perhaps my affinity for this particular poem shows my bias as a Leo moon). Cardona ends the poem with, “I want to celebrate / that all of these days are mine.”

Finally, the collection ends on the titular poem, “What Remains.” This poem encapsulates the feelings of nostalgia and longing present throughout the entirety of the collection, with a family history of San Antonio, and through-lines such as “the echo of my / grandfather’s guitar and my grandmother’s polyester pants / always finds its way back to me.”

As a Texan Chicanx poet myself, What Remains is the poetry collection and representation I have always wanted to read. Cardona has displayed San Antonio and Mexican-Texan culture with such care, grace, longing, and honesty in this wonderful debut.