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Unpeopled Eden

paper • 84 pages • 15.95
ISBN-13: 978-1-935536-36-9

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Unpeopled Eden by Rigoberto González is the winner of the 2014 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

Rigoberto González

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:

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.

 

 


  • “In Unpeopled Eden, Rigoberto González traces the border-crosser warriors who float underground in the realm of Mictlán, the northern Aztec exile-space of the dead. Yet this is not cultural archeology or language experiment. Here we enter under the skin and inside the bone of the death village. We fall into the gnashing river where no one really dies yet is ripped out of self and stuffed into a shell of half-being: the fantastic abandonments, the strange trinities of father, mother and son, all in a nocturnal neo-Juan Rulfo plaza of ‘concussion light.’ I marvel at Rigoberto’s groundbreaking new poetics—a rare, raw, lyrical, surreal, fearless, piercing tour de force.” —Juan Felipe Herrera
  • "The latest from the energetic and versatile Gonzalez (Black Blossoms) has a tight focus with potentially a broad appeal: its four long poems look hard at the victims and the antiheroes of the U.S.–Mexico border troubles, while shorter lyric poems, a verse-letter, and sharp experiments with nonhuman personae (a talking house in 'Casa'; a Gila monster) look at other intimate, familial and political bonds. The title sequence reimagines the 1948 catastrophe made famous by Woody Guthrie’s 'Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportees),' looking at its traces on the landscape, at migration’s everyday carnage ('The lesson:/ if wounded, stay behind to die') and at wider ironies: 'The chain gang called upon to gather/ the debris sang the Prison Blues/ all afternoon.' The poems 'In the Village of Missing Fathers' and 'In the Village of Missing Sons' consider interrupted generations with unmistakable reference to current events: 'That’s life/ in the village without handsome/ men… Some say/ they journey North to waste/ their days as kitchen slaves.' Gonzalez, also a prolific critic, memoirist, and writer for the young, sets big goals here, including formal variety. He also never limits himself to one subject, working hard to let in all the readers he can." - Publishers Weekly (Oct.)
  • "Though González’s poems concern themselves with death, the underworld, forgetting, and inhumanity, this is not a collection of apocalypse. Unpeopled Eden shows us ourselves because we all seek a border, we all seek betterment." Read the full review
  • "In these moments of sheer brutality, we witness Gonzalez crafting music out of incorrigible suffering. He looks at the ugly and asks us to look again. Gonzalez caresses us, lures us to his page, points our chins to his words, and says, 'look there, I dare you to eat.'" Read the full review.
  • “In his fourth collection of poetry, Rigoberto González crafts a world contingent upon its border, demanding you to consider the space a border creates within itself, the space created outside of its bounds, and what’s left of the abandoned after one crosses over." Read the full review.
  • "In the chaos, everything is transforming into something else. This combination of hard-hitting politics and surrealist technique creates powerful poems. What makes Gonzalez such an exemplary poet is that he makes his politics and his aesthetics work in tandem." Read the full review in the Fall 2014 issue.
  • "The poems in Unpeopled Eden are at once magical and chilling, lyrical in how they render these traditions into image and utterance, but without softening the violence or dampening the pain. They are documentary of the migrant tradition without getting mired in realism, and they are epic in perhaps the only sense we can have today: these poems tell the story of a people through the aftermath of their trials." Read the full review in Pleiades 35.1.
  • “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.” --Kwame Dawes, judge for The Academy of American Poets’ 2014 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize

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