Other Fugitives & Other Strangers
by Rigoberto González
“González’s honesty is itself a kind of poetry: there is an exacting focus here that speaks of hope without using the word. If we can look, we can change. These are poems of transformation.”—Bob Hicok
“While the tension that never leaves these poems is, on the surface, erotic, what lies beneath the sensual energy is an awareness that sex, as the articulation of love, is tainted by our notions of how pure love should be. It’s González’s lyricism that joins the physical and the ideal, and demonstrates that the impulse to speak is a form of the impulse to touch. González’s honesty is itself a kind of poetry: there is an exacting focus here that speaks of hope without using the word. If we can look, we can change. These are poems of transformation.”—Bob Hicok
“Follow Rigoberto González into these poems and you’ll come to a place where a kiss is a fig or a rock, where a fist is a rose, or a finger is a barb on a hook. Inside this dazzling kaleidoscope of words, González whirls us through the delights and terrors of erotic love, and into the forbidden, hidden, dangerous body of desire. He was brave enough to write these unflinching, brilliant poems. Are you brave enough to read them?”—Minnie Bruce Pratt
Winner: 2006 San Francisco State University Poetry Center Book Award
2006 Foreword Magazine Poetry Book of the Year Finalist
2006 Lambda Literary Foundation Gay Poetry Award Finalist
Wasn’t I a good boy once? Wasn’t I
once stripped of body hair and knuckle, a laugh
so clean it stretched like a white sheet on the clothesline?
Wasn’t my voice once
the contagious note of a two-finger bell?
The rust in my throat now coats those high-pitch sounds.
If there is a child in me, he hides
behind the dull flint of my hip. Not alive,
not dead, but lost in the stomach
to dissolve like any other
color. Old photographs don’t persuade me
that I could have grown into a man
who could love other men with self-restraint,
who would not ask a man to sleep
on the sharp blades of the bed
without complaints. Surely my anger had
always been squatting on its claws, eager
to tear its way out of my ten-year-old ribs.
Then how do you explain this
strange ability to inflict pain?
I must have ingested hatred
through the spoons of my childhood.
I must have been the changeling matured
now longing for things that blister
and boil. Whatever you place in my hand
I want to puncture out
of mischief. Or perhaps the intentional act
of uncoiling comfort is to get
at its irritated heart and confirm that
even the purest odor stings.
Lover, when I drive the nails to your chest
your mouth opens, white
and pasty like a moon. Do you
see me waving back twenty years ago
from the distant planets of my eyes?
Thank heavens for victims who find their way
to folly. They walk on the lean streets in your place
and into a world rich with abuses. Their fates would have
no place to shine if not for that journey, the possible
headlines, and sigh pushed out by the odd relief that
it wasn’t you. You are lucky. The man you live with
would never kill you, not in the violent way
other people die, all horror-flick theatrics with costumes
so dirty they could only thrive in other parts of town,
not here in the quiet rooms where your only surprise
is a kiss from behind. If he ever wanted to be rid of you,
your lover would do it kindly: perhaps a poison that falls in love
with your sleep. A compassionate man, he won’t let you die
in public, or alone. He won’t let you suffer
without him. Never worry. He’ll take care of you at home.
The Untimely Return of My Dead
With three loud knocks my dead lover
makes himself known. His first complaints, I suspect:
Why did you change the locks? Why, goddamit,
did you bury me in blue? Makes me look fat, for crissake!
But just as he surprised me with his death,
the dark flower of his hand blooming with the wonder
of its veins exposed-the face in every photograph
stunned by the shout of broken glass-
he surprised me with his untimely return.
More than frightened I feel cheated having
learned to appreciate my skin without
the imposition of his tongue or temper. My touch
now familiar with the act of
touch without reprimand. And lately
even my mouth has begun to overcome its shyness,
welcoming words like a strong flock of swallows
and not like the panic of bats. Three more knocks.
That these walls became my allies in favoring the modesty
of still-life over the conceit of my former lover’s nudes
gave me courage to stay in the white
recliner. He gave up ownership when he died in it
and furniture is fickle: the bed
has forgotten its regular load, adjusted to my body
now divorced from the rigor of pretending rest.
The night sweats soaked into the mattress long
evaporated. Unlike my dead lover, I refuse to
choose the day I shock the world. There’s no
mystery left in suicide. The challenge is, my love,
to keep yourself awake
despite the sleeping pill doses of sickness and
despair. What simple miracle you could have
learned had you used your ears on me and not
your hands. The knocking stops. I’m relieved
and saddened, that even in his death he cannot piece
himself together. And in the streets his wardrobe runs
away from him, divided among different men.
Breaking Down Picasso’s Minotaur
You tell me you’re tired of sex,
that with age your balls grew heavy as paperweights
for the dull pendulum of your cock.
The black hair on your chest disappears
quietly. The urge to surprise my sleep
with your tongue’s heat has cooled off.
Yes, love, you are getting old,
and I’ll remember fondly that taut guitar
in your voice that strummed a thousand
nights. Each song a serenade
to the miracle of my nape’s arch
completing the half-circle of your throat
as we locked together in the pleasure
of my being taken from behind.
Your breath pushed into mine
and we reinvented
the direction of the moan.
Remember it. Rehearse the sounds and
erase Picasso’s bulls.
You lost yourself inside the Minotaur’s
uneven eyes, inside the swollen lip-
rectangular as a trough-
inside the nostrils pressed flat
on the mural of a face.
It will hold its pose until its hide
decays right off the paper.
Death takes no canvas to its
art. How can I still sleep
with you, you ask, when you are
older than my father
and I’m young enough to be
your son? Because, old man,
only you know how to ripen
the night like a pomegranate. The brown
moon of my ass craves your hands.
Hold it firmly like you used to.
Split it open. Grant me
the warm explosion of rubies.
|Dimensions||6 × .5 × 9 in|
Rigoberto González is the author of another book of poetry; So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks, a National Poetry Series selection; two bilingual children’s books, Soledad Sigh-Sighs and Antonio’s Card; the novel Crossing Vines, winner of ForeWord Magazine’s Fiction Book of the Year Award; a memoir, Butterfly Boy; and a biography about the Chicano writer Tomás Rivera forthcoming in 2007.
The recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, and of various international artist residencies, he writes a monthly Latino book column, now entering its fifth year, for the El Paso Times of Texas. He is contributing editor for Poets and Writers Magazine, a member of the National Book Critics Circle, and an Associate Professor of English and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Critcal Mass, the blog of the national book critics circle board of directors, recently announced that Other Fugitives & Other Strangers has won the 2006 San Francisco State University Poetry Center Book Award. In addition, Barbara Jane Reyes calls Rigoberto “one of the highest energy, hardest working, and most prolific activist poets, or poet activists, I know.”
Reviewer Scott Hightower, writing in the on-line magazine Cold Front discusses the poetic roots and achievements of Other Fugitives & Other Strangers finding that, “Such poetic displays are breathtaking. Things split themselves, new architectures are declared, passion snaps around like lovemaking in a lightning storm. González keeps everything artfully contained in images…” The whole review is available on the Cold Front website.
In Volume 12, #1 (Spring 2007) of Rain Taxi, Miguel Murphy writes about Rogiberto González’s Other Fugitives & Other Stranger. Murphy praises González’s clarity and honesty, saying “For González, the idea of romantic love is challenged by the limits of bodily ruin. These poems consider the vulgar animalism of our most human affections. At their best, they bare themselves so perfectly you’ll flinch.”
The Fall 2006 Lambda Book Report has high praise for Other Fugitives & Other Strangers:
While the lyrics that make up Other Fugitives clearly operate in a confessional mode, they’re often alternately as withholding as they are forthcoming about the emotional, psychological or spiritual details informing their respective performances. This opacity mostly heightens the artistry of the poems, and it allows the poet to strike a delicate balance between the most irreducibly idiosyncratic of his experiences and their more generalizable meaning to a reader.
The rest of the review is available here.
The El Paso Times has reviewed Rigoberto González’s Other Fugitives & Other Strangers. In part, it reads:
González writes with economy and music while at the same time liberating revelatory imagery. His poems are rich with narrative meaning and imaginative lyricism. On first read, the aesthetic beauty of these poems intoxicates with its eroticism so that the underlying violence, though directly on the surface, feels submerged in this symmetry.
The full review is available on their website.