Oliver de la Paz’s collection, Requiem for the Orchard, relies on two organizing threads throughout. Those are the “Requiem” poems, which originally appeared as one extended poem in Guernica Magazine, and the “Self-Portrait” poems which appeared in various places. De la Paz confronts the construction and obfuscation of identity and self through these two threads of interrogation, and it is important that the collection resolves with the two threads together. The poet made two critical decisions in organizing Requiem for the Orchard: the decision to break up the longer work “Requiem for the Orchard” into smaller poems, and the decision to create parallel introspective poems in the “Self-Portrait” poems. Where the “Requiem” poems meditate on the experience of childhood, the “Self-Portrait” poems clearly reflect on that meditation from an adult perspective, asking, as in “Self-Portrait as the Burning Plains of Eastern Oregon”, “how everything settles down // after a fire,” and “to remember / the nonchalance of a boy used to such things” (9). The obsession with memory in the self-portraits becomes realized within the “Requiem” sequence, and the two threads dance through the entire collection creating a backbone of inquiry and actualization. The play between these two sequences also create an emergence into the present, as the final two poems of the collection present.
The final “Requiem” (84) asks the question “What of our youth? What, then, of our youth?” while “Self-Portrait with What Remains” (85-6) comes to the conclusion that “what remains are my son’s outstretched arms / wanting nothing more than to be held aloft” (86), bringing the meditation full-circle. Not only do the threads of the weave get tied off with these two poems, but they also bring the meditation to the present, and the ongoing persistence of the cycle of life and birth. The parallel between once being a “youth… doing nothing but being boys” (84) and becoming “thirty-six… // …a father” (86), and the continuous interrogation of what it meant to be a young boy serve to highlight the concerns a father has, of reawakening memories which have been buried. The speaker must come to understand himself better in the quest to understand his child, he must remember even those memories which now make him cringe as when “we backed over a box of chicks / and what remained was a single wing” (85). This archeological unearthing unveils even the dark actions of the boy the man grew out of, and offers them up for incorporation into the person the man has become, and thus incorporation into who his son will become.
De la Paz made the choice to break up the original “Requiem for the Orchard” into several “Requiem” poems interspersed throughout the collection. By doing so, the poet spaces out the meditation on memory and action into digestible chunks, but also provides a way to lean into the “Self-Portrait” poems which reflect on and integrate the meditation. The process is a gradual one, the integration and acceptance of the past a long-term affair, and spacing the poems throughout Requiem for the Orchard allows the reader to follow the process much more than if all of these were placed immediately next to each other. As an organizing principle for the book, it is quite successful, especially as the reader reaches the final two poems which emphatically link the past, present, and future.
de la Paz, Oliver. Requiem for the Orchard. Akron, OH: Akron UP, 2010. Print.