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About this poet

Rigoberto González was born in Bakersfield, California, on July 18, 1970, but lived in Michoacán, Mexico, until the age of ten. The son of migrant farm workers, González traveled between the United States and Mexico for much of his childhood. He earned a degree in Humanities and Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of California, Riverside, and an MFA from Arizona State University in Tempe.

González is the author of four poetry collections, including Unpeopled Eden (Four Way Books, 2013), winner of the Lambda Literary Award and the 2014 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, given for the most outstanding book of poetry published in the United States each year; Other Fugitives and Other Strangers (Tupelo Press, 2006); and So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until It Breaks (University of Illinois Press, 1999), which was chosen by the poet Ai for the National Poetry Series.

About Unpeopled Eden, judge Kwame Dawes said: “When a single title is a complex and evocative poem, and when such titles recur throughout a collection of poems, we know we are experiencing a work of signature authority, beauty, urgency and necessity. This is what we experience in the book Unpeopled Eden by Rigoberto González —a work of profound lament and excruciating beauty… Rigoberto González is an important American poet, and Unpeopled Eden is a very, very important book.”

Of his debut, Ray Gonzalez wrote: “Rigoberto González returns poetry to the natural river of language. His work makes us cross to the other side of experience. He opens a fresh chapter in the changing book of American poetry in a way few young writers are able to do.”

González is also the author of numerous books of prose, including two bilingual children’s books: Antonio’s Card/La Tarjeta de Antonio (Children’s Book Press, 2005) and Soledad Sigh-Sighs/Soledad Suspiros (Children’s Book Press, 2003). He is the editor of Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing (University of Arizona Press, 2010).

González’s honors include the American Book Award, the Poetry Center Book Award, the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, and a University and College Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

He is contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine, serves on the executive board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle, and is professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey. He lives in New York.


Bibliography

Poetry

Unpeopled Eden (Four Way Books, 2013)
Black Blossoms (Four Way Books, 2011)
Other Fugitives and Other Strangers (Tupelo Press, 2006)
So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until It Breaks (University of Illinois Press, 1999)

Prose

Red-Inked Retablos (University of Arizona Press, 2013)
Autobiography of My Hungers (University of Wisconsin Press, 2013)
Men without Bliss (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008)
Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa (University of Wisconsin Press, 2006)
Crossing Vines (University of Oklahoma Press, 2003)

The Ghosts of Ludlow, 1914-2014

A century of silence is violence.

*

That winter a blizzard, a cold that crawled over
            the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and covered

                 the foothills with a crust of ice.
                        Everything whitened into bone.     

            The clothesline snapped like a branch.
                        A warning shot can be understood in

any language. The entrance to the coalmine dropped
            open like the mouth of a skull without eyeholes.  
           

            Mining folk felt safest underground.
                 The pits were for protection from the chill

that had stretched into the spring. The pits
            were for protection from the wind that kept the walls

                 of each tent shivering all night.
                        The pits were for protection.

*

And somehow the kettle still sang,
            its burst of steam a prized distraction

                 inside the deadness of the tent.
                        In the moment it was the thing

            with most life. It filled the small space
                 with breath—an exhale so far away

from the hour it would take
            the first bullet in its lung.

*

            The horses crushed the quiet.
                 Their nostrils flared and suddenly

                        they looked quite human
                                  in their rage. One foot sunk its hoof
                                               
                 into the face of a doll—an act
                        so cruel it had to have been deliberate.

            The baby limbs stretched out in shock.
                        No mouth, no throat—no sound.

                                    The horse shook its tail like a shrug.

*

Few things gathered the bodies
            in the camp—a game of baseball,

                        a marriage, a christening, a strike.
                                    And war, which darkened the light

            in the tents, shadow upon shadow.
                        The soldiers first, then the smoke,

                                    and then the fall of
                                                a smothering sky.

                          The pits, so womb-like, a refuge
                                    for the lambs while the wolf

            devoured the tents, so sheep-like in their
                        whiteness, so sheep-like in their bleating.

*

            The pits were for protection.

*

One evening the cook was making stew
            in the cauldron. A witch’s brew, said

                        the children who dared themselves
                                    to come near enough to toss

                        a pebble of coal in the pot.
                                    The rocks bounced off the bellies

            of both cauldron and cook. The man cursed,
                        which only made the children giggle.

                                    He chased them with the spoon.
                                                It made them laugh some more.

                        To teach a lesson, he grabbed a rabbit
                                    by the ears. It kicked and splashed as he

            submerged it under boiling water.
                        He trapped it with the lid.

                                    The children screamed in terror,
                                                imagining the bunny swimming

                        through the scalding soup
                                    only to reach scalding metal.

*

            Grief for a dead child sounds the same
                        in Greek or Italian or Spanish. Grief

                                    for eleven children has no language,
                                                only numbness—

*

                                                            it hardens even the land.
 
                                                Fires dissipated. Battles ended.
                                                            The miners rolled their stories up

                                    and left the town of Ludlow, 100 years
                                                empty except for an abandoned row

                        of shacks. Near the baseball diamond, a
                                    memorial as neglected as the playing field.

            A memorial rings hollow—it’s for the solace
                        of the living. To reach the dead

                                    walk toward the structures still standing,
                                                their windows still looking in.

                        Listen closely for the ghost of a woman
                                    tucking into bed the ghost of her son.

            Lean in. That blank sound you hear?
                        The weight of the ghost of her kiss

as it passes through his head—
            the collapse of absence into absence.        

Originally published in Newtown Literary. Copyright © 2017 by Rigoberto González. Used by permission of the author.

Originally published in Newtown Literary. Copyright © 2017 by Rigoberto González. Used by permission of the author.

Rigoberto Gonzalez

Rigoberto González

Rigoberto González was born in Bakersfield, California, on July 18, 1970, but lived in Michoacán, Mexico, until the age of ten. The son of migrant farm workers, González traveled between the United States and Mexico for much of his childhood. He earned a degree in Humanities and Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of California, Riverside, and an MFA from Arizona State University in Tempe.

by this poet

poem

It's no curse
        dragging my belly across
                the steaming sand all day.
        I'm as thick as a callus
                that has shorn off its leg.

If you find me I can explain
        the trail made by a single limb.

                I am not a ghost

poem
Tonight
I dared to crawl
beneath the sheets

to be nailed down
around me,
waiting for my lover, she

who enters
without knocking, she
who will unstitch

my every seam
along my thigh,
my side, my armpit.

She who carves
a heart out of the heart
and drops it

down her throat.
Sweet surrender this
slow death in
poem

—from "The Bordercrosser's Pillowbook"

Fulgencio's silver crown—when he snores
the moon, coin of Judas, glaring
at the smaller metals we call stars
my buckle
the tips of my boots
the stones in my kidneys
an earring
a tear on the cheek
the