Reading Ariel Francisco’s poetry collection A Sinking Ship Is Still a Ship was an experience—mostly because I can’t remember the last time I read anything that was set in Florida, where I live. While reading Francisco’s poetry there were so many instances in which I found myself relating to the poem or recognizing the experience or emotions he was describing. There are quite a few poems that mention quintessential Floridian events and behavior, like being at a red light in Miami and having a young man standing on the sidewalk next to your car trying to sell you his mixtape or an alligator crossing the street and everyone coming to a quiet standstill. You don’t have to be from Florida to appreciate the poems in Francisco’s second collection, but you do enjoy them in a different way.
One of the things that really stood out to me about this collection is the all too familiar feeling of wanting to leave. Growing up I couldn’t wait to leave the state. I daydreamed about graduation and the day when I would call someplace else home. I love my adoptive state, but even today I still find myself wanting to move away. This feeling of wanting and needing to flee is something that Francisco explores in a few of the poems, the standout being “305 Til I Die.” The poem to me is a feeling of wanting to leave at any cost or have the city be swept away. It’s also a feeling of knowing that no matter where you go in life and no matter how far you go—Florida will always be a part of you, and in this case, Miami.
”I beg the sea to take the city
or take me, either one works, but
please, oh please, make it
one or the other.”
People have a tendency to look upon Florida as a place where outlandish things happen, a place that is out of control and whose only redeeming qualities are the beaches and Disney. This is something that Francisco doesn’t shy away from. He writes about Florida’s idiosyncrasies and its shortcomings. In “Thoughts While Taking Out the Trash,” he writes about the Great Pacific garbage patch, an island in the Pacific that is estimated to be over twice the size of Texas (approximately 1.6 million square kilometres), made entirely of plastic pollution and says that it is the only thing that’s probably worse than Florida. This honestly made me laugh because I’ve heard similar sentiments about Florida. And it made me think: is Francisco trying to compare Florida to an island made up entirely of garbage? Does he see Florida as a trash heap? Even days after reading the poem I still haven’t formed an answer.
While I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of poems, one poem, in particular, stood out to me. I could not stop thinking about “Eating Dinner Alone at the 163rd Street Mall” even days after I had read it. I connected to this poem because of the emotions that it presented.
“I never imagined myself
at twenty-six grabbing a slapdash
dinner after class at the half-
abandoned 163rd street mall,
a break from bargain hunting because
it has both a Ross and a Marshalls
among the bootleg shops,
the vacant spaces, the coming
soons that will never be.”
Francisco writes about the ever-present strip malls that always seem to be deserted. The strip malls that represent lost dreams and empty promises. In Florida, it is common to drive past several strip malls all within a block radius. Unfortunately, it is also common that half of the entire strip mall is vacant. There was a time when they were bustling, full of mom and pop shops. As more and more people started to shop online and big-box stores bought out smaller shops, the storefronts began to empty out. Now driving past the vacant spaces, we’re reminded of the past and all that has been lost. The vacant spaces represent a time long past and all of the dreams that could have been.
This collection of poems is one that I can see myself coming back to. I was able to relate to it which is not something I find is common with other collections of poetry I’ve read in the past. Ariel Francisco shows a side of Florida that not many people see or are aware exists. He humanizes a state that so many reduce to a punchline.
A Sinking Ship is Still a Ship
By Ariel Francisco
160 pages. April 2020.