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An astonishing new talent, Rigoberto Gonzlez writes with a clarity of the senses that pulls the reader into a marvelous and unfamiliar world. The sidewalk preacher, the umbrella salesman, the nurse on the graveyard shift, the professional mourner - all allow Gonzlez a clandestine glimpse of their lives. Crackling with the dry electricity of the desert and flashing with the brilliant colors of Mexico, Gonzlez's poems are rooted in the fertile soil beneath poverty's dust, the border's violence, and longing's desolation.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780252067983
ISBN-10: 0252067983
Format: Paperback
(5334mm x 3887mm x 203mm)
Pages: 112
Imprint: University of Illinois Press
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publish Date: 1-May-1999
Country of Publication: United States


US Kirkus Review » Selected by Ai for this year's National Poetry Series, Gonzalez's first volume of mostly straightforward narratives with their somber ironies and death-drenched imagery rely on a multicultural appeal for their uniqueness. As in the awkward title, he's translating his Mexican heritage for readers who are meant to gasp at the poverty and superstitions of his ancestors south of the border. A number of portraits illustrate the sad Mexican lives: "Planidera," a professional mourner, saves the tears from her husband's death for her job; in "Sentimental Undertakers," the local coffin-maker saves old, worthless pesos to place with the dead, a folk custom; "The Exhibitionist Umbrella Salesman" doesn't understand the townsfolk's reluctance to buy his product, which they fear will jinx the weather; and, best of all, "Craft of the Candlestick Maker" nicely describes his devotional art. Many of these poems are haunted by the spirits of the dead, and the masks, dolls, and mannequins throughout the volume all focus on the departed. Gonzalez blends native lore with Catholic belief (not much of it doctrinal), and in his best work, echoes the repetitions of biblical verse. Many poems about his grandparents are affectionate memories of reading Spanish together, or looking at the stars. Gonzalez, however, also weighs down his volume with social commentary implicit in portraits of exploited border workers, Mexican-Americans who endure prejudice, a migrant worker who picks grapes for the wine of the affluent, and a repairman up north who commits suicide (because he feels so lost and lonely). In the title sequence, Gonzalez flexes his magical-realist muscle in a poem in four voices about sexual jealousy and revenge. A clear and focused debut, but one that's also too predictable as a result. (Kirkus Reviews)

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