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Wendy Shapiro"[A] powerful collection.
— Windy City Times
In Landscape with Human Figure, his fourth and most compelling collection of poetry, Rafael Campo confirms his status as one of America’s most important poets. Like his predecessor William Carlos Williams, who was also a physician, Campo plumbs the depths of our capacity for empathy. Campo writes stunning, candid poems from outside the academy, poems that arise with equal beauty from a bleak Boston tenement or a moonlit Spanish plaza, poems that remain unafraid to explore and to celebrate his identity as a doctor and Cuban American gay man. Yet no matter what their unexpected and inspired sources, Campo’s poems insistently remind us of the necessity of poetry itself in our increasingly fractured society; his writing brings us together—just as did the incantations of humankind’s earliest healers—into the warm circle of community and connectedness. In this heart-wrenching, haunting, and ultimately humane work, Rafael Campo has painted as if in blood and breath a gorgeously complex world, in which every one of us can be found.
Lambda Literary Award Finalist, Gay Men's Poetry
“Rafael Campo is an accomplished formalist. I hugely enjoy watching him skitter from sestina to pantoum, sonnet to rhymed couplets, to say nothing of his own nonce forms devised as the situation suggests.”—Maxine Kumin
On New Year's Day
If hopefulness resides in what we can resolve to change, then let us give up sweets, nail-biting, cigarettes, the habits of our weak humanity—we can succeed
if only we try hard enough, resist potato chips and shed ten pounds, return whatever book we have that's overdue, forgive inequities and do what's just—
because today is anything, it is our natural color, it is when we begin to save, it is the better spouse we'll be, it is beginning to be free.
Nightfall in Asturias
Like eyebrows raised with weary resignation, the arches of the Roman bridges here bear witness to the endless passage not of pilgrims now, but tourists. Equal in the terrible iniquities of sin if not in abnegation of the self, we photograph the Lord's profane creation: the darkly ugly family of boar that wallows on the river's edge, a plot plowed neatly into rows of rocky earth
that clings against a mountain's flank, a bus with "Bimbo" blazoned on its side (a brand of cake in Spain that makes some giggle—men, of course, who are Americans like us). The curving roads we travel parallel the northern route the faithful took to find the shrine where James the Greater's lost remains were finally discovered, centuries ago. The sun sets slow as a saint bleeds, eternal reds; fake Rolexes for sale,
spread out like treasures froma foreign land, attract a couple to a gypsy's table. I watch you as you puzzle over maps, perplexed myself by what, if anything, it is that joins us. Not the sin, because we're all guilty of the abominable; not lack of fear, because I know the loss of you would be much more than I could stand. I grasp it when the gypsies start to sing of night as sanctuary, love as hope.
Quatrains for a Shrinking World
I. El Oriental de Cuba, "La Esquina del Sabor"
Victorians surrounding it, the place is just a storefront restaurant that seats about a dozen people; strange, to taste roast pork that's drenched in mojo, yuca frites,
and milkshakes of mamey this far up North. Outside, if they were still alive, I might expect my grandparents to pass, the force of their unending exile not quite
enough to stop them—only slow them down. Abuela, stooped by bags of groceries, her makeup's compensation overdone; and Granpa, brittle as his misery,
his guayabera barely filled by bones. I wonder whether she'd prepare congrí for him, upon their safe arrival home. If only they could get there, finally.
II. Writer in Exile
I've wished that I were born a Soviet, so that my presence in America would cause as greatly dignified regret as leads to literary coup d'états—
but I am merely Cuban, dark and small as any from a hundred nations which exist for others' domination. All I say is colonized, if not by rich
"protectors" then by communists who redden on Varadero Beach; my poetry, if plagued by form, otherwise does not threaten (conveniently) the New-World-Orderly
procession of the vanquished. Hear my voice, my queerly Spanish intonation, hear the perfect sound of banishment. Rejoice! I'm nothing yet, although tomorrow's near.
III. Take-Out Night with Friends:
A Meditation on "Multiculturalism"
Half French-Canadian, half African-American, my friend is marrying an Irish-Chinese man; the Indian and German-Scottish couple always bring
their daughter to our get-togethers, where my partner and I host, conventional first-time homeowners—gay, or even queer (and yes, Latino too), we seem of all
our group the most bourgeois. We gaze at her, the tiny, lovely Nina Clair, her skin a color neither cinnamon nor pure white ivory, but somewhere in between;
she smiles at her "uncles," six months old still young enough to trust, to love without "diversity." Perhaps she sees the world in us. Or else, she's slowly learning doubt.
IV. The Modern Cartographer's Lament
My globe confuses me with distances. An island only ninety, miles lee fades infinitely far, while Budapest (at least the part that's Little Hungary)
thrives only blocks from where I shop street stands. If only hatred didn't travel just as paradoxically: the African-American whose tortured death defaced
the Texas hills, the NATO bombs unloosed upon the Balkans. Here, right here, I see each horror, all as near as neighborhood- as if these continents were joined, these seas
unfilled by tears none ever had to cry. I plot out borders nature never made, the shapes of nations random to my eye whose peoples wander, equal in their need.
Excerpted from LANDSCAPE WITH HUMAN FIGURE by Rafael Campo. Copyright © 2002 by Rafael Campo. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|On New Year's Day||3|
|Nightfall in Asturias||4|
|Quatrains for a Shrinking World||5|
|Ghazal in a Time of War||14|
|What I Would Give||16|
|For My Brother's Wedding||17|
|Landscape with Human Figure||19|
|In Praise of Experience||23|
|October Afternoon, 1986||24|
|Your Black Eyes||26|
|Playing "Fidel and Peron"||27|
|On Valentine's Day||28|
|Last Hours in Florence||29|
|Speak to Me||33|
|Poem for My Familiar||34|
|After Losing Him||35|
|Afraid of the Dark||39|
|Phone Messages on Call||51|
|Spiritual, ca. 1999||58|
|The Same Old Place||60|
|Supernumerary Poem with Fruit Pastries that Allegorically Addresses Death||61|
|On the Virtues of Not Shaving||62|
|The Four Humours||63|
|The Age-Old Problem of Sentimental Verse||69|
|After the Weekly Telephone Call||71|
|For a Dear Friend Who Is Grieving||72|
|Love Poem Written Especially for You||74|
|Living with Illness||75|
|Doberman Pinscher, Dreaming||76|
|Upon Overhearing, "Anyone Can Write Like Elizabeth Bishop"||77|
|You Can Just See the Cynicism||78|
|Cuban Canticle in Five Parts||80|
|On Christmas Eve||85|
|The Beech Forest||86|
|In Case of Emergency Landing||87|
|Questions for the Weather||88|