The Costa Rican–American poet Jacob Shores-Argüello is another fabular shape-shifter, whose forays into cross-cultural spaces, fluid identities, and what he calls “magic rationalism” mark him as Simic’s kindred spirit. Paraíso, his second collection — selected by Aracelis Girmay for the inaugural CantoMundo Poetry Prize celebrating Latinx writing and published by the University of Arkansas Press in 2017 — follows In the Absence of Clocks, winner of the Open Competition Award of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry and published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2012. Written in part as a response to a Fulbright year in Ukraine, the first book has as a narrative subtext the Orange Revolution of 2004–2005, during which political corruption surrounding a Ukrainian presidential election inspired a series of ultimately successful protests from the people. But as the book’s title suggests, its story is not bound by a single set of circumstances or chronology. Any one unsettling tale of injustice, violence, and usurpation touches all others; time, place, and people change and blend as Shores-Argüello’s pilgrim narrator journeys from Eden to Chernobyl, from the Missouri River to “the Dnieper’s delicate music,” exploring the toxicity of cruelty and the vicissitudes of love, family, and history.
In Paraíso (which is both the Spanish word for “paradise” and a town in Costa Rica), Shores-Argüello brings his pilgrim’s gift closer to home, specifically to his mother’s country, Costa Rica. Memories of spending time there as a child float under and over the details of a journey the adult narrator makes by bus and on foot to the “unholy altitudes” of mountainous cloud country, to a farm he has inherited from his mother after her death. The mythic sensibilities that darken and enchant the Ukrainian turf of the first book also ripple through Paraíso, intensified by the urgency of a profound, seemingly untouchable personal grief.