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while they sleep (under the bed is another country)

Raquel Salas Rivera

while they sleep (under the bed is another country) refuses to sweep up the shards of Hurricane María’s aftermath. Written in dialogic fragments and intersped with prose poems reflecting on the lasting impact of colonial trauma, it is arranged around the two different discourses. The bed on which America sleeps, and which America has made, is built on the fear that the nations it has oppressed will rise up against it, a monstrous shadow in a child’s nightmare. Written in English, while they sleep points to a imperialist American identity: the dormant body of the text. Answering in Spanish, under the bed is another country is the footnote, the monster under the bed, the colony: Puerto Rico.

Cover and interior art by Mariana Ramos Ortiz, and cover design by Zoe Norvell.

What People Are Saying

Samuel R. Delany, author of Dhalgren and Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders

“These poems are the best words in the best order. They are about news that stays news. They are at once so honest and skillful that it is an impertinence to introduce or endorse them. On September 20, 2017, a category 5 catastrophic event swept Puerto Rico, resulting in the deaths of between three and seven thousand people.That December, after three months of relief work on this end, Raquel Salas Rivera returned to the island, where family and friends still lived. Flatly, this is among the most moving books of crisis I have read in more than two decades by a frighteningly talented poet. Philadelphia is lucky to have Salas Rivera as its Poet Laureate.”

Frank Báez, autor de Postales​​

“Se ha repetido hasta el hartazgo aquella frase de Adorno que plantea que después de Auschwitz no se pueden escribir poemas. Para Raquel Salas Rivera sí es posible y la muestra es este libro sobre la devastación que el huracán María dejó en Puerto Rico. Las muertes, la impotencia, el dolor, el abandono y el caos de la tragedia se extrapolan en una estética de la devastación: las páginas casi vacías hacen pensar en desapariciones; los tejados de los poemas parecen haber volado; la interrupción de los versos recuerda a los apagones; las notas al pie de página hacen referencia a las cifras de fallecidos. Porque el huracán no solo impactó la isla sino también su lenguaje, y es con esas palabras rotas que Raquel Salas Rivera ha escrito este libro conmovedor y tan urgente.”

Fred Moten, author of B Jenkins and The Feel Trio

“Of an impossible dialogue, bilingual, bilinear, biomythic, the entirely human strain of the inhumane. Impossible because who is this emptiness to which they addresses themself, from which terror flows like blood, but bloodlessly and cold? Comatose empire, sleep stomping all and everywhere while woke to its own danger, which is when we talk to us. Out of the impossible, writing the endless lines of the disaster, Raquel Salas Rivera has been talking to us all along.”

Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, author of Beast Meridian

"A record, a relation, a ruin: these are just some of the ways in which Raquel Salas Rivera uses the footnote, both as form and as metaphor in this shattering new collection. A critique of the failures of empathy and language (I have no words, writes the performative white liberal on Facebook while witnessing in real-time the colonial atrocity of the moment), Salas Rivera, with stunning clarity, juxtaposes the hollow language of witness with the embodied language of survival, drowned out by the colonial grammars of institutional violence, bureaucracy, and performative politics. Put together, the primary text of Good White Liberal rhetoric is illuminated by the survivors of Hurricane Maria in the footnotes, illustrating plainly the brutality of US/Puerto Rico relations—the economies of catastrophe that ultimately feed the American settler state. Language erodes, its emptiness echoes, and the footnotes, like the monster under the bed, in fact, become our clearest mirror. Most of this clarity will be lost on the typical American monolingual reader, a shame given the monstrous revelation of liberal narcissism, the nightmare we need most from which to wake up."

Anne Boyer, author of A Handbook of Disappointed Fate and The Undying

"'no one explains how we can become part of the impossible/ new world that is tomorrow, or how we are supposed to avoid falling into the perfect and/ permanent under eye circle we call facing the day.' This is a book with its form as the heart that is its motor and both its center and its shield."

Inside the Book

Perfect Bound
6 x 9
Publication Date:
June 2019
‎ 978-0991429844

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From the Book

while they sleep (under the bed is another country)


(note for a friend who wants to commit suicide after the hurricane) no one teaches us to accept death because death, that canned death, stays empty inside: the great hole of fuck it that wants to devour us. no one explains how we can become part of the impossible new world that is tomorrow, or how we are supposed to avoid falling into the perfect and permanent under eye circle we call facing the day. mana, how not to understand? that is the question i avoid with the organizational fervor of a rescue team that never arrives, but i’ll tell you this: desire isn’t always followed by death. sometimes i run into you in the street and you shine like an orb or a solar lamp, but you are still worth more than all the generators (in case you haven’t been told a thousand times). y other times, without tilde, i.i.i. other times, your words reach me like a fundraiser that explodes and temporalizes truth, like an espachurrao (squashed? flattened? spread?) aguacate on the sidewalk, green-grey from so much loving. we first have to find better answers than these automatic things. i don’t say this to add responsibilities, but rather so that you know, sister, that the attempted murder comes from within, like the last refuge of a cowardly colonialism. come here and i’ll give you food and shelter while i have it, que te añoño, will (cuddle? spoil? hold and rock and sing?) you, and will duplicate the hugs. i can’t heal the fathomless, but what kind of world would this be without you. what kind of world is this that harrasses you. without rescue, let’s speak of the future. not as realists, not as visionaries, let’s speak of the future because we will find it in a moth-eaten rug, in the tea of the drunken tree, in the buenos días, there is coffee of a confused and sincere embrace. we have a bed and we remember. yours forever, raquel⁴⁸ __________________ ⁴⁸ (nota para una amiga que desea suicidarse después del huracán) nadie nos enseña a aceptar la muerte porque la muerte, esa muerte de latita, queda vacía en nosotros: el gran hueco del carajo que nos quiere devorar. nadie nos dice como podemos integrarnos al nuevo mundo imposible del mañana, como se supone que evitemos caer en el círculo perfecto de una ojera permanente que llamamos darle cara al día. mana, ¿cómo no entenderlo? esa es la pregunta que evito con el fervor organizativo de un equipo de rescate que nunca llega, pero te voy a decir esto: después del deseo, no siempre viene la muerte. a veces te encuentro por la calle y brillas como astro o como lámpara solar, pero igual vales más que todos los generadores (por si no te lo han dicho mil veces). y otras veces, sin tilde, i.i.i. otras veces, me llegan tus palabras como una recaudación de fondos que explota y temporaliza la verdad, como un aguacate espachurrao en la acera, verdegris de tanto amar. nos toca primero encontrar contestaciones mejores que estas mierdas automáticas. no lo digo por añadir responsabilidades, sino para que sepas que, hermana, el intento de matarnos viene desde adentro como último refugio de un colonialismo cobarde. vente pacá, que te doy comida y albergue mientras la tenga, que te añoño y te duplico los abrazos. no podré sanar lo insondable, pero qué mundo sería este sin tí. qué mundo este que te acosa. sin rescate, hablemos del futuro. ni realistas, ni visionarios, hablemos del futuro porque lo encontraremos en la alfombra carcomida, en el té de campanilla, en el buenos días, hay café de un abrazo confuso y sincero. tenemos cama y memoria. tuya para siempre, raquel