Unpeopled Eden by Rigoberto González is the winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the 26th Annual Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and was a finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry from the Publishing Triangle.
Unpeopled Eden opens in Mictlán, the region of the dead in Aztec mythology, inviting us down into a world where “the men are never coming home” and “rows of ghosts come forth to sing.” Haunted by border crossers and forgotten deportees, lost brothers and sons, González unearths the beautiful and musical amidst the grotesque. These mournful, mystical poems are themselves artifact, a cry for remembrance “for those whose / patron saints are longing and despair.”
“Casa,” from Unpeopled Eden
“Casa,” from Unpeopled Eden:
I am not your mother, I will not be moved by the grief or gratitude of men who weep like orphans at my door. I am not a church. I do not answer prayers but never turn them down.Come in and kneel or sit or stand, the burden of your weight won't lessen no matter the length of your admission. Tell me anything you want, I have to listen but don't expect me to respond when you tell me you have lost your job or that your wife has found another love or that your children took their laughter to another town. You feel alone and empty? Color me surprised! I didn't notice they were gone. Despite the row of faces pinned like medals to my walls, I didn't earn them. The scratches on the wood are not my scars. If there's a smell of spices in the air blame the trickery of kitchens or your sad addiction to yesterdays that never keep no matter how much you believe they will. I am not a time capsule. I do not value pithy things like locks of hair and milk teeth and ticket stubs and promise rings--mere particles of dust I'd blow out to the street if I could sneeze. Take your high school jersey and your woman's wedding dress away from me. Sentimental hoarding bothers me. So off with you, old couch that cries in coins as it gets dragged out to the porch. Farewell, cold bed that breaks its bones in protest to eviction or foreclosure or whatever launched this grim parade of exits. I am not a pet. I do not feel abandonment. Sometimes I don't even see you come or go or stay behind. My windows are your eyes not mine. If you should die inside me I'll leave it up to you to tell the neighbors. Shut the heaters off I do not fear the cold. I'm not the one who shrinks into the corner of the floor because whatever made you think this was a home with warmth isn't here to sweet-talk anymore. Don't look at me that way, I'm not to blame. I granted nothing to the immigrant or exile that I didn't give a bordercrosser or a native born. I am not a prize or a wish come true. I am not a fairytale castle. Though I used to be, in some distant land inhabited by dreamers now extinct. Who knows what happened there? In any case, good riddance, grotesque fantasy and mirth. So long, wall-to-wall disguise in vulgar suede and chintz. Take care, you fool, and don't forget that I am just a house, a structure without soul for those whose patron saints are longing and despair.