Something about the new cold taste in the air. My Day of the Dead. And here comes Lila Downs' weeping singing in the lower register about a bolt of lightning that withdraws like a lover's betrayal:
quiero a dios a ti te pagen / con una traicion igual
para cuando t'emborraches / tu sepas lo que's llorar
songs on days like this have taught me / sorrow in revenge is true
love, or maybe it's all the badgood / telenovelas of my childhood.
. . . . . . .
"Who knew chopped bone could sing?"
It's a perfect day to re-read Rigoberto Gonzalez' new book of poems from Four Way Books: Black Blossoms. His interests remain romantic and grotesque, the fable that is not so much elegy as it is the song of the flowering undead visitations of memory, memory that rises "like lavendar, the fierce blossoming of beauty and mortality."
I still have my zombie fetish left-over from October, in case you couldn't tell.
The first thing you'll notice about this book is how carefully crafted it is. Each poem asserts a rhetorical force in its chosen form: poems of strict stanzas in tercets or couplets or quatrains. Also the recurrence of the sonnet. I can't help but remember Frost's complaint that free verse is like playing tennis without a net and Gonzalez' web here is built into the book itself. In four sections and 62 pages it's a focused read that offers the reader space to really appreciate the work. The third section is a single long poem, "Vespertine", and I love the weight of it there on its own, this elegy for a dead friend whose memory returns to the author while he's driving: "simple mercies / love silence though the engine / has its own sordid tale". The "tale" is of utmost importance to this poet, who never misses a chance to remember real experience into a kind of Grimm's fireside fable. But Gonzalez's fables are not tales of morality. They appear and revel in that horizon in which Eternal Enemies, as Adam Zagajewski has called them, get married. Love and Time play dead together.
It's the locomotion of Gonzalez' imagination in these poems that's so attractive, the dead have new lives spilling out of his enjambments, and they come back with all of the gruesome wreckage of their bodies, hopes, demons, their sense of humor, their lusts and dreams. The first section is a gathering of dramatic monologues or ekphrastic poems, the second a sequence of sonnets "Frida's Wound" and the final section a sequence of "Mortician" poems, a character reminiscent of say, Komunyakaa's Thorn Merchant, or Vasko Popa's The Little Box or Zbigniew Herbert's Mr. Cogito. What we find in each poem is the fact of Gonzalez' imagination peeling outward in re-creation. Metaphor in his poems is a doorway to the life of a fable, and the black flower is an inverted meditation on death as life. Death, Gonzalez reminds us, is something the living do.
. . . . . . . .
Flor de Fuego, Flor de Muerte
Cempoalxochitl. Marigold. Flower,
the scent of cold knuckle delights you, as does
the answer to death's riddles:
What's the girth of the hermit tongue once it retreats
into the throat and settles like a teabag?
What complaints do feet make when they tire of pointing
up and fold flat like a fan of poker cards?
Where do the dead hide the humor of the ass crack
when the buttocks unstring their fat?
When you sprung into the earth, all other colors coughed
and gave you the gift of sick-bed
sullenness and the contagious texture of tragedy:
Once there was a widow who exchanged
her heart for your head, but you outgrew her body,
protruding from her chest like an unsightly tumor.
Despite that she carried you, cradling you in her hand
during mass, a solace in the memory
of her husband's scrotum. If she heard a hymn
in your petals it was the sound
of trousers unzipping. If she could name the smell inside
the folds of your corolla,
she kept the word wet against her tongue. The widow
held you tighter then. So you stung her
palm in protest and then crumbled when she flung you
like a shooting star--
all awesome arc and damned glory of evisceration.
To pay her back you pierced the shivering
heart she balanced on your stem. You loved her
all over again because she turned
yellow with death, because she was like you,
something dry to come undone
in pieces in the pitted ground. Flor de muerto, flor de fuego,
you humble down life
to the last ember. Even the phoenix tired of sewing
its bird bones together
and couldn't outlive you, oh mortality muse, oh end.
for Maythee Rojas
. . . . . . . . .
I've got the book under my pillow like ripped starlight under a stone.
Friends and Strangers, steal it if you can.
. . . . . . . . .