Poetry Briefs
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Published in: September-October 2023 issue.


Poems Selected and New
by Rigoberto González
Four Way Books. 262 pages, $17.95


Rigoberto González’s latest book (he’s published twenty) is a new and selected volume of his poetry. These are brooding reflections on suffering, sickness, shame, loneliness, and grief; on sexual and romantic frustration, family violence, and poverty; on the aches of childhood and “the sad architecture of abandonment.” González, who was born in California but grew up in Mexico, writes about hunger—the hunger for food, for justice, for dignity, for a voice—and the longing for tenderness in a world where tenderness seems absent. In a poem like “In the Village of Missing Fathers,” he depicts a desolate Mexican landscape where the women “have traded their silks for meats, their kisses/ for bolts on the doors, the curves/ of their hips for a place to carve out/ the names of the dead.”

            González, a professor of English at Rutgers, is candid about the psychic damage done to a child who had to maintain a secret, who knew that male-male affection “wasn’t make-believe” even as he had to hide it from the gaze of others. While he still lives with the deep emotional wounds of his earlier closeted life—the “frock of scars and bruises”—he resolutely declares his resilience and endurance: “You are/ solid rock,” he proclaims. And he is not immune to moments of beauty in the world: the beautiful monarch butterflies in his native Michoacán or the “magic of a child/ who can bite into a cherry and roll the world inside his mouth.” There are poems about the beauty of the body (“my left nipple like a rose”), about the taste of a tangerine, about “the palm of a man’s hand wiping juice / off another man’s chin.”

Philip Gambone

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