Adrian Ernesto Cepeda’s Speaking con su Sombra (Alegria Publishing, 2021) is an intimate look at a son processing grief after the loss of his mother. Without his mother, he must navigate the world; holding the cherished memories and past regrets in one hand, and reaching out to the elusive presence of her spirit with the other. We can feel the deep mourning captured in each poem as the collection takes form.
Cepeda’s elegies are filled with small details that we can become accustomed to, and habits that we take for granted when our loved ones are alive and well. These emotional trinkets become the void where sadness echoes. For example, in Una Última vez Cepeda’s speaker laments: “how I miss her cielo voice/raising in the clouds.” His longing to hear his mother’s voice once more, becomes a desire that can be seen throughout the collection. It perfectly encapsulates the hole left by a loved one who is gone.
A bittersweet yet mundane memory becomes something precious to cling to. Sometimes grief tastes like Azúcar. Here, our speaker is surrounded by his memory: “reminding me of el arroz/con leche you would simmer/on the stove, some days/even in my Angeles apartamento/un millón de millas from our/casa on Burlington Ave.” The imagery is potent as the reader is a witness to the ritual of a mother cooking—one that lives on in her son’s mind while in his own kitchen.
In the poem Mami, Cepeda expertly captures the hopes of being able to call a lost loved one, and have “this time” be different; “Often, I try/te llamo, reaching out to call/you but as I summon/my voice, two years,/I realize it’s been almost/dos años, you can never/ reply, but I am hoping/one day you will answer.”These lines are capable of piercing the reader so we too are filled with a yearning; we wallow with the speaker as he aches for his mother’s presence.
The collection continues with I Still Can’t Say Those Words, opening with the powerful lines “Every morning when I awaken/she’s always disappearing, no/ different, somehow today/is worse.” This poem embodies one of the main themes of this collection: grief is repetitive, and acceptance is just beyond our grasp. Throughout this body of work glimpses of the speaker’s mother are given freely, but she remains elusive to both us and Cepeda’s speaker.
Ultimately Speaking con su Sombra reminds us, regardless of how much time has passed, the absence of a loved one is what really haunts the living. Reading this collection is cathartic and relatable, as Cepeda’s words perfectly capture how the living are plagued by memories: longing to reach beyond the veil to the loved ones we miss most.