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Moorefield House Publishing



Review of Patient Zero by Tomas Q. Morin, Reviewed by Santino DallaVecchia

Posted on November 23, 2017 at 12:25 AM

Patient Zero. Tomás Q. Morín. Copper Canyon Press, April 2017.

ISBN: 978-1556594939. Print. 96 pages. $16.00.

Review by Santino DallaVecchia.

“I used to walk like a sloth,” writes Tomás Q. Morín, “eyes on the slow ground, memorizing

every pair of shoes in the seventh grade.” That this poem, from his sophomore collection Patient

Zero, is called ‘Stargazing’ may begin to give you a sense of how this book values gradual

revelation over any shock or gimmick or surprise. Morín’s poems are patient; they don’t rush to

make a point and they don’t grab your attention by image alone. Instead, they luxuriate in the

words they’re made of– you can hear as you read the gentle insistence of sounds and cadences.

And they draw connections through space and time that become dramatic not through absurd

logical gaps but through a recognized connection. In this, Patient Zero gives us a world brought

down a notch from the often hectic pace of contemporary poetry. The collection’s contents by

and large match this tone– the voice here is gentle and insistent, more likely to suggest a train of

thought that subtly realigns your worldview than to directly command you to change.

In one early poem, ‘At the Supermarket,’ Morín writes,

Salt for blood—A fresh loaf

for sleep. Outside, Sunday morning

has expired. The line is long

for this hour. When the doors open

the squawks of gulls blown too far inland

announce nothing is impossible. The cashier

vanishes again for the cigarette key

and the moment slows the way moments do

when the eye is fixed for too long—:

This poem, as many in the collection do, reveals where the lived instant transforms into the

reflected on moment. The lines break where a new action occurs, leading us to notice the minute

gaps between events and their consequences. ‘Sunday morning / has expired,’ and ‘The line is

long / for this hour,’ and ‘When the doors open / the squawks of gulls blown too far inland /

announce nothing is impossible,’ in all these observations, the result of the thing observed carries

forward, rather than remaining with its catalyst. Everything gently pulls apart in this observation,

‘when the eye is fixed for too long,' and in doing so, prompts us to question how the world we

inhabit fits together. Crucially, Morín doesn’t pretend to know the answer. The poem opens with

the ambiguous but evocative ‘Salt for blood—A fresh loaf / for sleep,’ and who can say precisely

what this means? But in context of the poem, it casts into relief the indeterminacy of both the

lives we lead and of the moments and objects that make them up.

As suggested by the evocative start of ‘At the Supermarket,’ the restraint throughout

Patient Zero doesn’t inhibit its lyricism or imaginative leaps– instead, it enhances both, in

allowing them the space to breathe. Within a poem, each line isn’t specifically vying for your

attention; they’re all working in tandem to craft an impression. If one line stands out, it makes a

strong rather than distracting impression, and if a poem goes further out on an imaginative limb,

we’re inclined to trust, not skepticism. So, when ‘The Food Critic’ reveals itself as a dystopia

poem, we accept it without the resistance that often accompanies poetry readers when we suspect

a genre piece might be sneaking into our literary diet. And when we encounter ‘Sing Sing,’ we’re

ready to be moved by whatever it is that Morín– gracious, patient, and tender throughout– is so

moved and intrigued by that he dedicates seventeen pages to it. I hesitate to give any of this

poem away, but it’s a sort of rumination and narrative on the idea of the Muse, and it’s at the

collection’s heart because the rest of the collection seems to emanate from it– what came before

we reconsider in light of it, and what follows is read in the light of its shadow. But these few

lines are an excellent measure of both its and the book’s quiet, patient brilliance:

What struck her

always about that night



was how far from the boat

the black crest of beech

and maples joined the

dark flat of the river

to make a green yawn

each second made

yawn even wider.


She could never forget

this coupling of solid

and liquid darks so

unbroken and total except

where the buildings sat

locked arm in arm

along the shore.


In a year of brilliant debuts and sophomore collections, Tomás Q. Morín’s Patient Zero

distinguishes itself through its graceful, tender, and evocative unfolding. He teaches us, in its

pages, how to let ourselves see the world, and gives us his vision of the world, in all its patience

and depth.

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