Aug 282012

 Two Rigoberto González poems to die for. Nothing else to be said really. I got part way through the first poem and thought, This is the motherlode. Look at this stanza.

where there never was a father
there never was a child. if not
a birth, then not a love. if not
conception, then not a thought.
if not a wish or possibility, if not
a miracle, then not.

The poem is a meditation on the poet’s knowledge that he will never have children even though there is in him the capacity to love a child, the paternal element, as it were. And this is the climactic moment of the poem. Rigoberto runs as series of sentences that are simple parallel constructions, relentlessly repeating “if…if…if…if”/”not…not…not…not…” within which pattern he juxtaposes a set of paired nouns: father/child, birth/love, conception/thought (beautiful pun), wish/possibility and miracle/not where the final “not” breaks the rhythm of the parallels and by the magic of language becomes also a noun, a homonym of nought, nothing, zero. This is gorgeous writing. The effortless play of the poet’s mind keeps the poem from descending into sentimentality. He holds his sorrow in a container of words and prolongs the emotion to a terribly bittersweet breaking point.

Rigoberto González is a friend and colleague at Vermont College of Fine Arts. It’s a deep pleasure to publish his poems on NC.




Bodies of Little Dead Children
…..after a painting by Forrest Bess

inside of me, i who will never be
a father to any he is my son or she
is my daughter or that’s my baby
mirror glaring its crooked teeth back
at me.

…………yet i must know something
about parenting. at night my torso
splits apart, a cradle for my heart
to pound and tantrum to delirium.

dare I wish the little thing had
never been? dare I ignore it,
let its cry shrink to a squeak that i
can place over my tongue?
this squirming pillbug, dare i
ingest it?

………..oh cashew in the sack,
interrupted dream my barren sister
had—the pitter-pat of baby feet
vanishing like sweat on the tile
turned steam. oh vacant nest.

will she resent the way I squander
my fertility? bless the tumbleweed
that chases after rain all summer
yet only flowers in a fire.

……….what am i but an apple tree
indifferent to the fruit that blisters
and spoils, that clings to a dress
like accessories that do not flatter.

oh lover-thief, if you steal my seeds
it doesn’t matter. you’re taking
nothing personal away—i will not
call the removal of my dead
a loss.

………i will not name them, either.

where there never was a father
there never was a child. if not
a birth, then not a love. if not
conception, then not a thought.
if not a wish or possibility, if not
a miracle, then not.

………let my calvary be this:
to fade without a trace like all
that chromosome and protein
laid to waste across the sheets.
let my flesh go just as white
and just as cold without a soul.

let the ghosting haunt me.


Picture Me Awake: The Immortal Ramón Novarro

………  Razor me
a mustache;
……….shape my shrieks
………………..into kisses me.


Young men collect
grains of sand that might turn

into pearls in their trunks.
I dream of such discoveries.

The beach bursts with light.
My housecoat splits

apart like an oyster.
I spill like sludge on the porch.


……….On my knees
a glow prayers me.
……….I soften anything
…………………hard and mean.


Papi, I too used to wear
such confident skin.

My nipple lifted like a finger
and silenced the room.

!Atención!: a duet of blasts
in black on my skull and on

my crotch. You too sing
that naughty tune. I nuzzle

with my old horse nostrils.
My eye is not so dark anymore

but it can still expand
to take you in completely.


………………..Say you see
the youth of me
the truth of me.


Ladies, who do you want me to be?
A Spanish caballero, a sheik?

Fantasies are no disgrace.
Press your hand to my chest,

it Hollywoods a heartbeat. Caress
my mask, it slow-mos to a face.

I know this speed. I too lust for men.
In my greed I can inhale like a whale

and swallow one whole. My final role–
fish that bites two baits–is no pretend.

One winks. His brother leans in.
Come closer, love. My whiskers twitch

when one tongues the other’s lips. This
plunge into a barbed-wire bed I can’t resist.


…………………Picture me
awake.                  …… Picture me
angelic and alive.               Beautiful me,
intact,           winged—
undeathed—                      . me.


I am not a tragedy.
I am not the reel of film

that snaps and leaves
blank the movie screen.

I am not the afterimage
bursting to a blood-blot

then just as quickly draining
back into the puncture.

If I exit from the picture
I sky like a god. My teeth

a dazzling marquee.
Say my name. I glitter

in my gown of stars.
Don’t walk away,

José Ramón, or I’ll be
the comet that careens

around your neck.
You will be the welt

blistering with tears
and muffled scream.

Bésame, lindo–
I will breathe in you

an immortality.
Ay, José Ramón,

quédate bonito, maricón,
or you will die without me.

 —Rigoberto González


Rigoberto González is the author of ten books of poetry and prose, and the editor of Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing. He is the recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, winner of the American Book Award, The Poetry Center Book Award, and The Shelley Memorial Award of The Poetry Society of America, and a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He is contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine, on the executive board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle, and is associate professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey and a member of the MFA in Writing faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts.



  8 Responses to “Picture Me Awake: Poems — Rigoberto González”

  1. Wonderful.

  2. Oh snaps, nice.

  3. Breathtaking. Thank you, Rigoberto!

  4. I took my time with your work, Rigoberto. You have led me to insights. Um . . um . . . um.

  5. Wonderful poems. Love to see the VCFA faculty in conversation.

  6. “Bodies of Little Dead Children” strikes me as a seduction and near inversion of the early Sonnets of Shakespeare, those dealing with the brevity of human life and the possibility that procreation extends one’s virtues (1-14). There speaks an urge towards something lasting, while here exults the poem in transitoriness, in the fading “without a trace.” González’s shifting between iambic and trochaic rhythms intimates, it seems to me, this resonance and torques the poem into its end: the hortatory, the modal, the trochaic. The “ghosting.” The torque, what is more, twists from the hint at a bivalent genitive at the outset (“inside of me”, where both subjective and objective genitives are in play) to the self as object of the closing line (“let the ghosting haunt me”), but as object of a modal expression (“let”, a wish, a possibility, a miracle?). And what of the work of art’s duration? Is this why the torqued relation with Shakespeare persists, because a hope remains to ghost the self through the poem, to scatter and live beyond oneself, as the fruit, blistered and spoiled, from the connotatively rich apple tree? Perhaps torque renders uncertainty: trochee opens long (“let the ghosting haunt me”) but closes short (“me”). Of interest, too, are the clusters the rhythm creates, with strong, stressed syllables grouping “let,” “ghost” (taken verbally here), and “haunt,” on the one hand, and the weak syllables gathering “the,” “-ing,” “me.” The torque here is between motion and stasis, perhaps; verb in the stressed places (action) and article/ending-that-creates-gerund/pronoun (stability). There is more, of course, much more. So the poem opens and closes in the curve of the short syllable, joining place and self-as-object in a palindrome-like stance for beginning. Both beginning and ending are beginnings, cupped palms for gathering?

  7. “If you take my seeds … you’re taking nothing personal away.” True – a complete being does not hinge on having children. Thanks, Rigoberto, for sharing such stunning art.

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