The Sealey Challenge: Dela Torre

A white sheet of computer paper with ghostly printing just bleeding through, held in front of the sun and sun-like flowers: DELA TORRE - Dani Putney
Dela Torre

Coloniality is violence, writ large on people and land, living on in blood and DNA and shared histories, whether known or unknown. Dani Putney’s stark Dela Torre, published as an e-chapbook by Sundress Publications, interrogates multiple histories of coloniality and white suppression, looking not only at their parents’ meeting but at their mother’s home island and their own life here in the United States.

Dela Torre is an interrogation and sometimes a threnody. Putney tells their own story, interspersed with the stories of their parents and their family, but it is also a much wider story, one shared, I think, by many others whose lives are drawn from “twice- / colonized island nations.” It’s a powerful image, this phrase from the second-to-last stanza of Putney’s “Halo-halo,” and, I think, a marker for Dela Torre in its entirety: a questioning, a remembering, and a refusal to look away from the ways in which coloniality (and white supremacy) have forever altnered not just Putney themself but their mother’s native Philippines, and so many other nations too. (Let me be clear: the U.S. is no “island nation,” but we’ve also been colonized more than once, by French, Spanish, and English—before we even get to we Americans colonizing the West and other areas of this country.)

There is far less humor in Dela Torre than in Seema Yasmin’s shimmering, elegant If God is a Virus—though, to be fair, Yasmin’s text is significantly longer. That said, “Turning Point” has some moments of hilarity. It’s about an accidental pee stop, one of those sort of embarrassing times when you’re on ye olde family vacation:

(Don’t ask me why we didn’t stop / in town.) Dad swerved onto sand / & we sprang out, van doors left / open, our roles already assigned. / Past a low fence my mom squatted / on the baby gully & pissed, / male bodies a wall around her. / Maybe it was pre-Independence Day / sentiment, but I felt American then. / Every family road trip has its / pee-in-the-water-bottle scare. Yes, / even those with yellow mothers, / yellow children.

Now, if I were to assign parts of this chapbook to a class, I might pair “Miscegenation Blues” with “Turning Point.” They make, I think, a powerful pair—though any of Putney’s poetry, here, could be used to discuss the violence of coloniality and the ways in which white supremacy marks not just the U.S. but the world around us—and people’s individual bodies.

Dela Torre is a questing chapbook, a hunt for belonging, an interrogation of past and present, a refusal to look away from the white supremacy and the colonialities that have forged not only Putney and their family but so much of our world. It’s a difficult, powerful little book, and one very much worth reading.