Sundress Publications, 2022
Review by Julian Guy
V. Ruiz’s debut poetry collection, In Stories We Thunder, published by Sundress Publications in 2022, is an exemplary exploration of lineage, growth, survival, and ultimately–a dream of change for the coming generations. Relatable, well-paced, and enticing, Ruiz’s poetry forges a way where previously there was none. Ruiz’s detailed precision of line breaks and their layering of metaphor leaves readers with both an insatiable urgency to devour the book and a nostalgic longing to return again and again to each poem. The book’s introductory poem, “Before Birth,” gives us a taste of the irresistible pull and magic of Ruiz’s writing as we are transported to the very beginning of existence–before time and place. Here we experience the building blocks of life: soil, the stars, God. Ruiz writes, “we burst into new galaxies. / Exist in the silver thread of the night.” In asking us to consider what it means to exist, Ruiz is also preparing us for the journey ahead, asking before we continue, “Are you ready?”
In addition to being an ode to family and an honoring of survival, In Stories We Thunder is a collection of protection spells for a younger self, a younger generation, and for Hija, the speaker’s child. Within each of the collection’s five sections, Ruiz remixes a traditional Aesop fable into a modern and relatable teaching for their hija. In “Aesop Remix for my Hija: The Ant and the Dove,” we see not a conventional tale of predator and prey, but instead a lesson in choice, in agency over our decisions: “there was always going to be a moment / where the paloma either decided to swallow the ant or spare it.” Ruiz teaches their child to center their survival and self-protection while still holding empathy and compassion for others–a lesson echoed throughout the text.
Ruiz’s poems also function as warnings, in particular of patriarchal violence. In Stories We Thunder adds a necessary addition to the archive of survival for thousands of women. The book’s epigraph connects us to this archive: “If I told you the whole story it would never end…What’s happened to me has happened to a thousand women,” (Doña Rosita la Soltera, Federico García Lorca). Ruiz draws together two worlds: a world survived by the older generation, including Ruiz, and a world yet to be lived by the younger generation, including Hija. Ruiz finds themselves divided between a world where their child must be protected and a world where their child can turn to others with openness and trust. In “While Tracing Shapes in the Sky, I Teach My Hija About the World,” Ruiz writes:
Orion’s belt is easily identified
by the equidistant holes in
his stomach. Stars form a man:
primal–a hunter with a legacy.
But Hija, all I see is an arrow aimed
at seven Pleiades sisters forever running
from his lust.
Through In Stories We Thunder, Ruiz asks us to consider whether harm exists inherently in our world or if we can pinpoint and eradicate systems of harm (incarceration, patriarchy, racism) for younger generations.
“Lineage of Eggs” speaks to the book’s larger theme of womanhood, survival, and hope for the next generation. In an extended metaphor of a woman’s eggs as chicken eggs, the poem outlines the price one pays to be a cis-woman–with menstruation comes the ability to become pregnant. Throughout this poem we see Ruiz’s hope for their hija:
Nine years later I see my egg with limbs spreading out of a shell.
See her tumble stumble never crack, think of all the ways
the world could break her, think of her body and the unborn inside.
My hija is allergic to eggs.
She doesn’t understand yet why I slide them along my skin
or why I lean in before splitting and spilling them on a sartén
why I pray to the sizzle and say, I see all that you could be.
Women are powerful figureheads in this book. They are decision makers, holders of the future, and carriers of the next generations. Women are closer to gods than mortals; they have “the power to make for [themselves] / a new fate.” (Why I Show You These Brujerías). As we travel deeper into the text, we encounter many examples of women taking charge of their fate. In “Her Flesh Was a Canvas He Stole,” the speaker and the lineage of women behind her reject patriarchal violence outright, building instead a fate free from this burden:
He will not rob us of this world. We will build houses / in all this mud. We will make homes / in the swamps. We will learn / to find new worlds in the words / we pass on–in the women we become.
In In Stories We Thunder, violence is a necessary means of self protection from the systemic failures of our world.
Ruiz’s poems study these overlaps in transformation, growth, and rage–taking back what’s yours, protecting yourself, and fighting for your family–but Ruiz also admits in “Aesop Remix for my Hija: the Porcupine and the Snakes,” that “being good is full of contradictions.” In “The Little Deer,” Ruiz writes, “I fail at transcendence. I don’t want it.” This rejection of needing a greater purpose to validate one’s struggle is central to the book at large. There is power in telling the stories as they happened, directly, without the concealment of metaphors. There is power and honor in survival, in heritage, in protecting the ones you love from harm, and Ruiz’s writing celebrates this without romanticizing hardship: “we must carry on in the words we speak / in the stories we thunder.”
In our last section, the speaker makes peace with the world around them, saying in “Hija, I Want You to Understand,” that “survival / is living despite.” In this final section, Ruiz communes with their loved ones and with everything that has brought them to where they are today. Despite the realities of suffering or pain, a worthwhile life is possible. This closing section brings us back to the issues we started with: finding meaning in life’s struggles, fearing for the future of your loved ones, and anxiety over fate. This time though–there is no anxiety–no questioning or confusion. Ruiz pays homage to the journey and the struggle while also looking brightly into the future of their child– praising their child’s resilience, wonder, and joy for life: “My Hija embraces the world where love is the only poder / that matters” (A Sonnet of Pasos). In the collection’s last poem, “Umbilical,” Ruiz shows us this book is as much for them as it is for their hija, saying, “I’m trying to understand how to be human / and trying to show you what it means.”
V. Ruiz is a Queer Xicana Bruja, writer, astrologist, and parent. Their poems have been published in Black Warrior Review, Carve, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Tinderbox Poetry, and more. This is their debut poetry collection.
Julian Guy (he/they) is a trans and queer writer and educator born in Reno, NV and currently residing in Syracuse, NY. A 2023 Tin House Scholar, Julian’s poetry can be found published in Catapult, The Adroit Journal, Swamp Pink, the winnow, and more. Julian is a Nonfiction Editor with Variant Literature and runs the newsletter Serotinous Fruit. Find more of Julian’s work online at julianguy.com, or find him at the beach pulling up seashells from the waves.