Rigoberto González is the author of 15 books of poetry and prose, and the editor of Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing. Last month his latest collection of poetry, Unpeopled Eden, won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Poetry, adding to his already long list of accolades, including the American Book Award, the Poetry Center Book Award, the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, and a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Gonzáles is the recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, a contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine, a member of the executive board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle, and professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey.
After winning this latest honor bestowed by the authors and editors who make up Lambda Literary's voting members, González agreed to provide The Advocate with an exclusive excerpt from Unpeopled Eden. Read it below.
Mortui Vivos Docent
In the trunk, a blouse with breasts, a skirt
stretched open by hips that have shaken off
the last whiff of talcum powder at the pothole.
Clumsy dancer, dropping her shoe somewhere between
Mexicali and Calexico. If she were breathing
she’d let the whiskey tell the tale,
sultry syllable after sultry syllable—sí, mi amor.
Mummies are this century’s mermaids,
rattling songs that will stop a heart. If we let them,
says the whale-eyed sailor, hands cuffed
to the steering wheel, mumbling the madness
of a man who found a woman whistling
beneath a Mexican moon—music so pretty
he just had to keep it from ruining the terrorist world.
This is how you ruin the terrorist world:
cut out the yellow heart of heaven,
drop the bloodless stars into the sea,
blind the women who sit to wonder on the shore.
I knew such a woman. I’ve kept her comb in my purse
after all these years, since the night my father found her
walking home from the Cachanilla hills.
You know the names, El Abanico, El Dollar, La Puta Eva
y El Pinche Adán, places so plump with pleasure
even the air turns to stupor, drunk with a sensory coma.
Clarification: she was not the body in the ruby corset,
not behind the pair of tassels, not inside the scent
of tangerines. My mother was the mop and the bucket
wiping off the fingerprints on the promiscuous wall.
This is how you press against the promiscuous wall:
drill the pair of diamonds on your back and moan;
hold your breath, float face-down on the vertical pool;
sway with the shadows set in motion by a swinging
chandelier—an angry father come to claim his child.
He did not catch me then, but he caught me
walking home, my knees still numb from dancing
with the men who love their mamacitas pink
and puckered as if they’re sipping wine transparent
as the cloth across their thighs. What could I do
with lips like mine but kiss or whistle loud enough
to be the visible woman my overworked mother
never was? So, papi, keep your only son holy as you stuff
me in the trunk: I’m wearing mother’s blouse, my mother’s skirt.
Excerpted from Unpeopled Eden by Rigoberto González with permission of the author and publisher. Copyright 2013. Published by Four Way Books.