“Black Blossoms,” Rigoberto Gonzalez
Four Way Press, 2011, 978-1-935536-15-4, $15.95
It is always a pleasure to read poetry that throws one back to other poems. Recently, reading many of the poems in Black Blossom, Rigoberto González’s newest work about Death—and what goes on before and after, I had such an experience. There is, after all, a whole tradition of the modern poet serving as metaphysical or gothic anatomist to melancholy; for what is Life if not catastrophic and grimly humerous? Consider Baudelaire with Edgar Allan Poe as a precursor, T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915) comparing the evening to “a patient etherized upon a table,” or Djuna Barnes, who in “Suicide” (1915) described a destroyed woman: “She lay out listlessly like some small mug / Of beer gone flat.”
To open Black Blossom is to drop down the rabbit hole of Rigoberto González. Warning: Even as a metaphor, the last rabbit in a González poem did not fare so well:
He grabbed you
by the wrists and severed your hands
to wear on his key chain like a pair
of lucky rabbit’s feet. What’s so
fortunate about a rabbit hopping
about the prairie with a missing limb?
What if all four of its legs had been clipped?
It eats only as far as it can stretch
its neck, and then rolls itself on its back
to perforate its starved belly with the blades
of its ribs. When the hunter returns,
the rabbit will have its revenge, looking like
the amputated foot of his diabetic mother
wearing that familiar bunny slipper.
(“The Girl With No Hands”)
Black Blossom is González’s third book of poetry. It is divided into either three or four sections, depending on how one reads the four designated parts.
The first section is the widest in material: subjects of paintings by Otto Dix and Goya, Lizzie Borden; a girl at a gas station window in Phoenix; a woman in New York City back from Cuernavaca buying jewelry at an estate sale. Each poem blossoms out into a flore de muerto.
The second section of the collection is like getting to that final movement of the sonnet. González’s theme of Grief, alluded to in the first section, becomes elegant, even refined in a series of ten poems or “floreos,” blank verse poems lined out to appear as written in couplets. The stakes get higher; the voice grows both vaster and more diminutive. Pain and Loss swirl—howl—down the drain of grief.
But that’s existence: the opposite of coma.
Even the hornet aims to release its single drop of fire
before getting crushed
into the window sill. Small legacy of the senses.
Everything wants to leave
its mark in the world.
In the final section, six “Mortician” poems—portraits of women perhaps connected by a mortician—comprise a sort of Mexican “Our Town.”
Without the moon to out-shout her,
[Cassiopeia] can call to the pretty girls below. Without
the pretty girls
the country thickens like the gulfweed
over the Sargasso Sea.
González honors the submission extracted by damage and loss; he infatuates with natural wonder the little romantic joys encountered—be they profound Love or the grace of whimsy.
This is how you heard about
the clever rabbit, from the hunter’s son
who made love to you pressing his fists
to the small of his back.
(“The Girl With No Hands”)
González is an able and, at the same time, ruthless guide in such terrains—blend of sympathetic and fearless, the poet sings of lives like “plumes of blood, swirl of fluids in a clear syringe.”