So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks: Poems

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Overview

Rigoberto Gonzalez 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 Gonzalez a clandestine glimpse of their lives. Crackling with the dry electricity of the desert and flashing with the brilliant colors of Mexico, Gonzalez's poems are rooted in the fertile soil beneath poverty's dust, the border's violence, and ...
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Overview

Rigoberto Gonzalez 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 Gonzalez a clandestine glimpse of their lives. Crackling with the dry electricity of the desert and flashing with the brilliant colors of Mexico, Gonzalez's poems are rooted in the fertile soil beneath poverty's dust, the border's violence, and longing's desolation.
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Editorial Reviews

Ai
A poetic 'remembrance of things past,' a rare combination of beauty and craft.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It may be difficult for most readers to take poems like "Death of the Farm Workers' Cat" or "The Exhibitionist Umbrella Salesman" at face value. But in this debut, selected by Ai for the National Poetry Series, Gonz lez works to tell such stories, and his own, without embellishment, like the deadpan, sinister fables and parables of Ai's own work. Steadily lovely lines function like directorless cinematography "Catarina shakes the cracker crumbs off/ the lime dress with the collar crawling up the throat/ in Catholic schoolgirl fashion./ The torn hem above the knees won't show." Most of the poems are as clear and cohesive as the above stanza, and the stories they tell are rich with the colors, smells and exigencies of daily life in differing corners of the Mexican diaspora. Poems like "Perla at the Mexican Border Assembly Line of Dolls," "Planidera: Professional Mourner for Hire" and "Rosario's Graveyard Shift at JFK Memorial Hospital" show a particular interest in what often remains women's work. Others focus on the poet's childhood memories of Catholicism, nascent sexuality and literacy. Death--"that horrible truth spread/ like honey"--is never far away, foreboding and talismanic. Some of the poems' characters, purposefully deprived of depth, personality or self-expression, come off as social realist caricatures. But at their best, Gonz lez pushes the poems forward with grim authority--"Darkness can be so maternal:/ blood spots tip down like baby heads"--and startling beauty: "We value the chrysalis of bone/, the blue shell that brings down the sky within our reach." (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Selected by Ai for this year's National Poetry Series, González'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 townfolk'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. González 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. González, 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, González flexes his magical-realist muscle in a poem in fourvoices about sexual jealousy and revenge. A clear and focused debut, but one that's also too predictable as a result.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252067983
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 7/28/1999
  • Series: The National Poetry Series
  • Pages: 88
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Rigoberto Gonzalez

Rigoberto González is the author of thirteen books of poetry and prose and the editor of Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing. His memoir Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa won the American Book Award, and he has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
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Table of Contents

The Slaughterhouse 1
The Flight South of the Monarch Butterfly 4
Horn 6
At the Panteon San Franciscano, Michoacan 8
Day of the Dead 9
Planidera: Professional Mourner for Hire 10
Walking by the Panteon San Franciscano 12
In the Week of the Dead, Masked 14
The Night Don Pedro Buried His Best Friend, the Rooster 16
Sentimental Undertakers 19
Dona Maria Greets Her Comadre Dona Luna at the Balcony Window 21
Catarina's Dress Rehearsal 25
The Exhibitionist Umbrella Salesman 27
Craft of the Candlestick Maker 29
Before the First Man Stepped on the Moon 31
Response to the Sidewalk Preacher 35
Marias, Old Indian Mothers 37
You and the Tijuana Mule 39
Perla at the Mexican Border Assembly Line of Dolls 41
Penny Men 43
Death of the Farm Workers' Cat 45
After Jaime the Refrigerator Man Shot Himself We Said 47
Rosario's Graveyard Shift at JFK Memorial Hospital 49
Body Maker 51
The Man Who Learned about Origami 53
Widower 55
Mortician's Secrets 56
Show and Tell: How My Grandmother Taught Me to Read Spanish 59
Slide Transparency of My Now-Deceased Mother Sitting on the Lawn One Day before My Birth 62
Stars Breaking 64
Abuelo Photographs 67
Abuelo Looks at Stars without Glasses 70
Ghostory 71
What Smells Dead 73
Growing Up with Goya's Saturno 75
Sinister Hand 77
Texaco Alex 79
Taking Possession 81
So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks 83
The Man Who Gives You Nightmares 87
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2003

    Pure, Evocative Language

    Rigoberto Gonzalez makes it seem so easy: his poems sing with a clear, uncluttered voice about our quotidian existence. But don't be fooled. There is great craft in those easy, flowing lines. This is a beautiful, slender book of poems; a dazzling debut.

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