43

A New Poem by Rigoberto González

July 12, 2017  By Rigoberto González
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43

 

There’s a man who stands on the crest
of the mountain, staring at the land. He beams
with gratitude: no better friend to Guerrero’s clans.
His father was a lumberjack and chopped

 

the pine for boiler, spit and cooking stove, his uncles
worked the mines for lead and gold, and he
the most industrious of them all—or so he’s told—
saved enough to buy a plot to farm the tastiest

 

yams the town had ever known. He tilled
the soil at the crack of dawn and prayed for rain.
He combed the loam, kissed the sprout, wept
into the earth and the waters poured down,

 

swelling the meat, each tuber so plump the villagers
joked that it’s what caused the ground to shake.
But quakes don’t bring men to their knees
like reaping ñame, the clawing of hands keeping

 

rhythm to the harvest’s wayward tune: Oh
delectable mole with your weighty rump, how you
itch for caress when you twitch your nose
in the air, you flirt, no less striking in a dress

 

made of dirt, you muscular calf in a pantyhose.
The farmer laughs, but only in memory,
and he hikes each morning up the mountain
to recall it and every other sound the hills invoke:

 

his father’s grunt each time the ax struck wood,
the whistle in his breathing as he nestled logs
into a load, the groan of hoisting it upon his back
and, hunched down, the steady footfalls headed

 

to the donkey cart. How the uncles pleaded
with his father, Join the mines! Join your brothers
in the dig and give your son a more rewarding
task than gathering sticks for heaven’s sake, all

 

alone with nothing but that little cross-eyed beast
to tease with riddles! But his father carried on,
cutting firewood until his death. When the farmer
came to mourn him on the mountain Mountain said:

 

No grief, my friend, your father made no sounds
with sadness. And when you feel the urge to weep
come visit me and I’ll remind you of what joyous
man he used to be. I am the mountain that I am

 

because your fathers lived contentedly, and I
in turn have helped you thrive through hunger,
live with pain. We have survived together. If you
agree to treat me with respect I’ll keep

 

you happy. Bring your son to me and I’ll do
the same with him: he’ll fill my days with sound
during his hours of labor, I’ll fill his days with song
long after you are gone. The harvest after that

 

the farmer brought his son along. The boy
was quick to graduate from toys to tools
and had a knack for pulling out the yams
intact without a scar or scratch. And when

 

he giggled at his father trying to lift the treasure
sack his father felt the earth absorb the pleasure
of paternal exultation. And suddenly he understood
why the mountain never caved: each piece

 

of vegetable or mineral pulled out, each log
removed, was replaced with an expression of elation,
a gesture of goodwill. The legacy of reciprocity
continued until the son became an adolescent:

 

like his father and his father’s father he had
interests independent of the men around him.
He left the farm and, with his father’s blessing,
went to school. That too is the way of the land,

 

said the elders who nodded with approval
as the child picked up his books and pencils
and bicycled a path from the muddy rural road
to the city streets that watched his intellect grow.

 

And so too grew his awareness of unfairness,
of the need to teach the people and prepare
to battle political corruption by rattling
Mexico’s government with voice and education—

 

✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞
✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞
✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞
✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞ ✞
     
 

Oh proud papa, how you poured your hope
into the yams until they mirrored the disgraceful
fate of your beloved son after he and the other
42 were disappeared. Now you hate to watch

 

this cemetery of a farm unburied limb
by limb and none of them his bones. Now
there’s not a sound like happiness to spit
out of your mouth to offer to the mountain.

 

Both of you go numb. You’ve become
the man on the crest of the land of the dead—
earth force-fed the evidence of man’s insidious
acts that rot its viscera away. Everyday you seek

 

his grave but Mountain doesn’t speak. If it
exhales with the poisons in its lungs it surely
crumbles. Thus it remains inert, impervious
to your prayers—a cloud of seed flung over

 

the valley suspended in midflight. The brittle
Eucharist of hope not swallowed dissolves to
nothing on dry tongue. But don’t give up, good
sir, even when passersby shake their heads

 

and say, That’s the madman who shrills as he
punches holes into the mountain. His son is buried
somewhere on this land so he digs anywhere he can.
He hasn’t found him yet. He likely never will.

 

There’s a man who stands on the crest
of the mountain, staring at the land. He beams
with gratitude: no better friend to Guerrero’s clans.
His father was a lumberjack and chopped

 

the pine for boiler, spit and cooking stove, his uncles
worked the mines for lead and gold, and he
the most industrious of them all—or so he’s told—
saved enough to buy a plot to farm the tastiest

 

yams the town had ever known. He tilled
the soil at the crack of dawn and prayed for rain.
He combed the loam, kissed the sprout, wept
into the earth and the waters poured down,

 

swelling the meat, each tuber so plump the villagers
joked that it’s what caused the ground to shake.
But quakes don’t bring men to their knees
like reaping ñame, the clawing of hands keeping

 

rhythm to the harvest’s wayward tune: Oh
delectable mole with your weighty rump, how you
itch for caress when you twitch your nose
in the air, you flirt, no less striking in a dress

 

made of dirt, you muscular calf in a pantyhose.
The farmer laughs, but only in memory,
and he hikes each morning up the mountain
to recall it and every other sound the hills invoke:

 

his father’s grunt each time the ax struck wood,
the whistle in his breathing as he nestled logs
into a load, the groan of hoisting it upon his back
and, hunched down, the steady footfalls headed

 

to the donkey cart. How the uncles pleaded
with his father, Join the mines! Join your brothers
in the dig and give your son a more rewarding
task than gathering sticks for heaven’s sake, all

 

alone with nothing but that little cross-eye beast
to tease with riddles! But his father carried on,
cutting firewood until his death. When the farmer
came to mourn him on the mountain Mountain said:

 

No grief, my friend, your father made no sounds
with sadness. And when you feel the urge to weep
come visit me and I’ll remind you of what joyous
man he used to be. I am the mountain that I am

 

because your fathers lived contentedly, and I
in turn have helped you thrive through hunger,
live with pain. We have survived together. If you
agree to treat me with respect I’ll keep

 

you happy. Bring your son to me and I’ll do
the same with him: he’ll fill my days with sound
during his hours of labor, I’ll fill his days with song
long after you are gone. The harvest after that

 

the farmer brought his son along. The boy
was quick to graduate from toys to tools
and had a knack for pulling out the yams
intact without a scar or scratch. And when

 

he giggled at his father trying to lift the treasure
sack his father felt the earth absorb the pleasure
of paternal exultation. And suddenly he understood
why the mountain never caved: each piece

 

of vegetable or mineral pulled out, each log
removed, was replaced with an expression of elation,
a gesture of goodwill. The legacy of reciprocity
continued until the son became an adolescent:

 

like his father and his father’s father he had
interests independent of the men around him.
He left the farm and, with his father’s blessing,
went to school. That too is the way of the land,

 

said the elders who nodded with approval
as the child picked up his books and pencils
and bicycled a path from the muddy rural road
to the city streets that watched his intellect grow.

 

And so too grew his awareness of unfairness,
of the need to teach the people and prepare
to battle political corruption by rattling
Mexico’s government with voice and education—

 

Oh proud papa, how you poured your hope
into the yams until they mirrored the disgraceful
fate of your beloved son after he and the other
42 were disappeared. Now you hate to watch

 

this cemetery of a farm unburied limb
by limb and none of them his bones. Now
there’s not a sound like happiness to spit
out of your mouth to offer to the mountain.

 

Both of you go numb. You’ve become
the man on the crest of the land of the dead—
earth force-fed the evidence of man’s insidious
acts that rot its viscera away. Everyday you seek

 

his grave but Mountain doesn’t speak. If it
exhales with the poisons in its lungs it surely
crumbles. Thus it remains inert, impervious
to your prayers—a cloud of seed flung over

 

the valley suspended in midflight. The brittle
Eucharist of hope not swallowed dissolves to
nothing on dry tongue. But don’t give up, good
sir, even when passersby shake their heads

 

and say, That’s the madman who shrills as he
punches holes into the mountain. His son is buried
somewhere on this land so he digs anywhere he can.
He hasn’t found him yet. He likely never will.

 




Rigoberto González
Rigoberto González
Rigoberto González is the author of 17 books of poetry and prose, most recently Unpeopled Eden, winner of the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Recipient of the Guggenheim, NEA, NYFA, and USA Rolón fellowships, he is currently professor of creative writing at the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark and on the board of trustees of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). His book of criticism Pivotal Voices, Era of Transition: Toward a 21st Century Poetics is forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press Poets on Poetry Series.









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