archives winter 2008



Black Blossoms
            after Goya, Madrid

Sisters, with your grinning skulls hovering above the gutted stomachs of your bowls,
your teeth look so pretty when you pray. Say the word broth, say the word mutton

and the kitchen mocks you with dust. Even the cupboards have picked the teacups
clean. Say famine and the black magic of the word rewards you with resolved

conflict: dead now the old debate over poultry or fish—the chicken coop wireless,
the lake a sand trap that swallowed the dog. When the dog refused to yap at its dark

luck you tittered at its only act of bravery: the deliberate leap into the mud.
Poor desperate bitch, teats like beads of hardened wax, the dandelion of its head

jutting out in spite of its wish to forget the pity of you mummified mistresses,
the wooden spoons in your hands the reachable crucifix you split between you.

You might have eaten the dog, but it had three legs and you none, your femurs
long-since tapered to the floor. You stare each other down and laugh, consuming

the only edible resignation: humor. What is misery now that the last spring
you will ever know has already been forgotten? What is pain when the final blister

has been chewed off and digested? Old widows, with your backs to the windows
you won’t need light outside of your widow gowns. When the sun sets next it will

blossom with the blackest mushrooms and the moths will lay their eggs on your leathery
smiles—O wicked wicked larvae bubbling in protein much too late. Isn’t it funny

how whatever moves from this minute forward sets itself into motion without muscle.
Your hollow throats chuckle as your dimples ingest your cheeks, as your tongues

deflate with your thighs and breasts, and as your bodies spasm at the last chance
for sensation: the pucker and stretch in the sutured centers of your gray vaginas.


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 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 us holy as you stuff me
in the trunk: I’m wearing mother’s blouse, her skirt.



(after the painting by Otto Dix, The Dancer Anita Berber, 1925)

Strawberries are just as shameless, flaunting their freckles in daylight, making believe
they entice us because they’re strawberries and not because they look like nipples.


They say she knew the cut in her toe would start to bleed when she pressed her foot
on the stage, her ex-lover in the front row, seeking evidence that she still loved him.


The autobiography of red begs a coda when the hand twitches the moment the paint
runs out and the second hand, the one holding the brush, provokes a stigmata. 


She likes her women to flush in the usual places, yes—the cheeks, the chest, the valley
of the mound—but nothing tickles her more than their palms getting warm on her back.


War as Woman is what it should be called, this dress stretched open like a battlefield,
this arsenal of fingertips and bullet kiss, this bloody bed with a skull rising through it.


They say she could detect a woman who had just miscarried by the smell of dry fruit
escaping in the woman’s breath, by the silence in her step—a crib coming to a stop.


On the streets of Berlin the walls shrink back like stomachs kicked in and people toss
in their sleep like forks in the sink—all night the clanging sweats on the canvas.


A bath after midnight cools the burning in her calves, but she soaks inside another
dilemma: will she set her throat on fire with whiskey or with the dark-eyed neighbor?


The secret to the perfect angle is to use blades instead of bristles, is to carve a jaw
the way one would cut into a birthday cake—with knowledge of one’s mortality.


They say she could bend down and suck up the diamond in her navel to her nostril,
not because she was flexible, but because she had the pull of a tornado in her nose.  


Red, he said, because there was no other way to keep her still, this devil that slipped
out of every dress except for the one that coated her skin after her body sliced open.


My name is Anita Berber and I no longer dance for anyone, but I will keep my eye
on you, you who will pirouette your soul like smoke through the crack of the world.


                                                                                          for Marion Ettlinger  


Rigoberto González is the author of two poetry books, So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks (University of Illinois Press, 1999), a National Poetry Series selection, and Other Fugitives and Other Strangers (Tupelo Press, 2006). He has also written two bilingual children’s books, a novel, a memoir, and the forthcoming book of stories, Men without Bliss. The recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, and of various international artist residencies, he writes a twice monthly Latino book column, now entering its sixth year, for the El Paso Times of Texas, and monthly reviews for Luna: A Journal of Poetry and Translation. He is contributing editor for Poets and Writers Magazine, on the Board of Directors of the National Book Critics Circle, on the Board of Directors of Fishouse Poems: A Poetry Archive, and on the Advisory Circle of Con Tinta, a collective of Chicano/ Latino activist writers. He lives in New York City and teaches at the MFA writing programs of Queens College/City University of New York, Rutgers University—Newark, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts.