Paul Hlava Ceballos’s banana [ ] (University of Pittsburgh Press), born of Banana [ ______ ] / we pilot the blood, his collaboration with poet Quenton Baker and creative scholar Christina Sharpe, emerges from its tête-bêche origin to untangle questions of exploitation, multinational capital, and commodity fetishism. The formal heart of Ceballos’s book, a sequence titled “Banana [ ]: A History of the Americas,” is an exquisite feat of documentary poetics. Comprising hundreds of quotes pulled from government paperwork, newspaper articles, corporate statements, and other sources, the quoted material repeats the word “banana” until it transforms the thing itself into a symbol for the brutal injustice and colonial violence suffered by laborers on banana farms, everyday people affected by the fickle machinations of fruit export economies or, indeed, entire nation states in Latin America.
As the text blurs the line between reportage, personal narrative, and evidence of state-sponsored and corporate greed, it urges readers to reconsider their own relationships to the banana, and to the otherwise hidden relations between commodity producers and consumers, the histories of exploitation in the Americas, and the legitimizing functions of officially recognized archives and records. Ceballos’s extensive attempts to exhaust the archives yield a text that resists closure and instead gestures toward the complexity of imperial and colonial plunder.
Ceballos bookends “Banana [ ]: A History of the Americas” with elegidos for victims of US Border Patrol and sonnets written from the perspectives of the Incan empire’s last rulers, such as Túpac Huallpa, Atahualpa, and Rahua Ocllo. Together with a final section entitled “Irma,” which adds an intimate, familial dimension (complete with a black-and-white portrait of its subject, which contrasts against other selectively redacted images in the book), these movements elevate the collection into a challenging, cohesive whole.