Esteban Rodríguez Reviews FRUIT by Bruce Snider

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Esteban Rodríguez

by Bruce Snider

University of Wisconsin Press, 96 pages

In John 15:5, Jesus, in his description of himself, says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” But what happens when you begin to question not only what a higher power has destined for you, but the status quo that seeks to shape your understanding of the world? If you don’t readily accept the systems and institutions you’ve come to know at face value, you arrive at such thoughtful interpretations like those in Bruce Snider’s third collection Fruit, whose poems ponder and rebel against traditional and outdated notions of sexuality, love, and how one is expected to live.

Snider’s poems have the ability to capture the totality of past moments, and nowhere is this most clearly on display than in the title poem “Fruit.” The speaker remembers his art class (either in middle school or high school) and the true meaning behind a rather violent moment:

            Starkey pushed me, scrawled dick on
            the back of my chair, his broad

            shoulders growing broader
            by the second. I watched the flies,
            how they crawled on
            the flushed skin of the peaches.
            I drew them, too—were there six
            or seven?—dragging my eraser

            down my arm as if I could be erased,
            as if I might disappear into Starkey’s broad
            shoulders, his hard mouth. Sex,
            I figured, was as tragic as flies
            Stalled on a bowl’s lip near peaches.

            (p. 11, ll. 5-17)

The speaker can’t help but relate the sexual undertones of Starkey’s force upon his body to the flies on the peaches, which he knows are losing their purity as they are being touched. The speaker is losing his when he realized the attraction to Starkey. If it ever came to sex, however, and this shove was what led to it, then there is a violence that is inexcusable and so utterly “tragic,” as the speaker so aptly puts it.

While a concern of Fruit centers on the body and desire, another focuses on its survival. In the 1976 book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins proposes that replicating the gene is the main purpose of selection (passing our genes leads to a greater fitness). But despite how selfish our genes may appear to be, Snider examines how others look at their own bodies and what it means across generations. In “Childless,” one of many poems with the same title, the speaker reflects on his friend and his ideas on offspring:

            My friend Mike thinks having kids is vanity, the desire to have one’s genetic
            material—to borrow the evolutionary term—selected. When I think of
            vanity, I think of my father trimming his dark beard. You get your brains from
            the Snider side, he’d say, sitting in his room, oiling his Colts, Winchesters,
            Enfields. He taught me how to load each one. When I was nine, he gave me
            my own knife to gut the rabbits. When I was ten, he pushed me into the
            lake to teach me to swim: For your son, you’ll do the same.

            (p. 19, ll. 1-7)

Although not directly implied, the speaker can’t help but think that there is some truth to what his friend Mike is saying about children, in part because he believes that his father is teaching him how to hunt and swim out of a sense that he wants himself to survive through his son, and in part because he doesn’t know if he will do the same for his son or children. In another “Childless” poem, Snider dives beyond vanity and ponders how the body must be sacrificed for a child:

            My friend now calls the fetus inside her the parasite. She retches over the
            toilet all night, suffers weeklong migraines. Hospitalized, she tells me
            she’s read about a kind of spider who gives birth, then surrenders her
            body, allowing the hatchlings to swarm her and feed.

            (p. 56, ll. 1-4)

The body here is rendered as nothing more than a host, and although a part of it will live genetically through the child, as well as mimetically, it is not an exact replication and therefore it won’t live in its entirety forever, which is perhaps the antithesis of the only thing the body wants.

While Snider can at times leave us with rather jarring scenes, such as the one above, there are others that showcase moments that invert traditional gender roles and how one need not follow what society deems they must based on their sex:

            A boy can love his sister’s doll,
            touch its swiveling
            legs, knots of acrylic hair, and imagine
            this is the child he’s given
            birth to in his closet
            while his parents are asleep. He can nurse
            and soothe it; and it will say: mother,
            teaching him its dead eyes
            and its plastic body
            as he puts on
            its stillness without fear or grief.

            (“Toy Box,” p. 50, ll. 1-11)

The boy is not concerned with playing with the doll, but rather with caring for it, ensuring that like any child, it knows it is loved and will be loved in the future.

There is violence that the speaker in many poems must confront, and yet he never responds with anger or violence, but instead with an understanding that will ultimately lead to reconciliation, even if past actions can’t be entirely wiped clean from one’s memory. In “Cleaning My Father’s Rifle,” the speaker has the chore of cleaning his father’s gun after a hunt:

                                                  I wipe
            away thorn-gash
                   and the wild
            cherry’s deep sweetness, the cold

            body as it stiffens, summer
            collapsing into
                   teeth and hooves, ripeness
            and ease—pine
                   over his unlaced work
            boot, sparrows, smashed
            beer can’s rusty
                                 lip. I wipe away
            it all, even the entrails
            he burns
                   in the fire

            pit, even their climb toward
            the unreachable
                   heavens, curling
            upward, whitening
            to ash.

            (p. 23, ll. 47-67)

Although not closure, there is something ceremonial about the speaker cleaning the remnants of violence off the rifle and seeing the remains of the animals “climb toward / the unreachable / heavens” (ll. 63-67), which hopefully provides peace the speaker has been seeking.

Fruit is a collection full of mourning as much as it is of celebration, of knowing the tragedies and contradictions in the world and attempting to find what solace can be offered. Snider’s work is nothing short of an offering, one that is sure to make a believer out of anyone.

Esteban Rodríguez  is the author of  Dusk & Dust  (Hub City Press 2019),  Crash Course  (Saddle Road Press 2019),  (Dis)placement  (Skull Wind Press 2020), and the micro-chapbook  Soledad  (Ghost City Press 2019). His poetry has appeared in  The Gettysburg ReviewNew England ReviewTriQuarterly, and elsewhere. He lives with his family and teaches in Austin, Texas.