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Suggest Paradise

By Ray Gonzalez

“I was told to stop writing / about my grandmother’s tortillas,” says the speaker in Ray Gonzalez’s “Stack of Tortillas,” before reveling in their “soft texture of paradise,” suggesting a childhood innocence free of “the future where a cold / stove in darkness is where / eternity is served its meal.” Suggest Paradise, Gonzalez’s latest collection, shifts between such narratives steeped in memory—including the speaker’s recollection of playing poker as a student with Raymond Carver—and dreamlike territory, as in “The Error of Sleep”:

You were the paradise of form.
A watt of beauty.
Torn ear sounds like torn ear.
The path leads across the field.
I must be a scar on that road.
Anything the gods want to send.

Gonzalez’s natural world responds to human intervention: “The trees want to touch each other. / They wish to get closer because of // the state of the world […].” A solar eclipse erases all life even as it seems to bring Americans together to see “the same thing / in the sky, for a change,” any such unity upended as the poem closes, zooming in on a now visible border wall, where any pause in risk and arrest has been temporary. 

In one of several poems speaking back to William Carlos Williams, the speaker is the body on the bridge of Williams’s “Desert Music”: “Yes, I am a body of rags,”—a body stuck in limbo, sold and smuggled, unable to move: “Do not cross to El Paso without wiping / your shoes of me, one foot on US // concrete, the other scraping away / at my Mexican rags.”

This is a collection of making and memory—familial, literary, historical—in a world where “the poet / and the priest clashed before each took / turns washing his hands.” Here, the poet continues to remember, to observe, and to make song:

I pass by the carcass of a crow.

It blesses me with its ugliness,
and I ask for the bread cure

because there is a city 
where I can go and sing,

the honeysuckle dripping
the same water as the sea.

Reviewed By Rebecca Morgan Frank
Publisher University of New Mexico Press
Pages 112
Date February 15, 2023
Price $18.95