Recently, I was given a copy of Cold Blue Steel, a collection of poems by Sarah Cortez that chronicles life as a street cop in Houston, Texas. This honest account is powerful. It’s full of fear, pride, humor, and truth. And its truthfulness provides for the reader a fly-on-the-wall position, one that is unbiased and vulnerable to everything this book throws at them. What it doesn’t sacrifice for the sake of content is its role as a book of poetry; Cold Blue Steel houses beautiful poems written by a talented poet.
The opening stanza of the first poem in the book, “After the Swearing-In,” sits you down firmly in a chair, points a finger at you, and tells you exactly what you’re in for: not only an account of police life in Houston, but an account of a woman who wears the badge. And these poems deliver exactly that—the reader can tell that Cortez was in the force without reading any bios. They can tell this wasn’t researched, nor was this a few-day attempt to try it out. This was a lived experience. That alone holds power.
In the poem “Phil Says,” the titular Vietnam veteran tells the speaker, “Some things I don’t / want to remember.” Those lines echoed in my head even after I moved on to other pieces in the collection. And the stanza break that follows those lines infers that the speaker relates. The hardships and rawness that we experience through each poem makes those lines that much more understandable.
Some of my favorite pieces besides the two I’ve mentioned are: “Miracle,” “Investigator’s Prayer,” “Headquarters,” “Poem for A Dying Officer,” “Tuesday AM,” “Dog Remembers Night,” and “Prayer of an Arson Investigator.”
I’m so glad I was shown this book. It’s not one I would have picked off a shelf but Cold Blue Steel provides perspective without being preachy, given the combative state of current society. This is good poetry, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys poems or the subject matter. Sarah Cortez’s work speaks for itself, and her acclamations and achievements in poetry shine through each piece.
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