The Enemy

The Enemy

by Rafael Campo

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In his fifth collection of poetry, the physician and award-winning writer Rafael Campo considers what it means to be the enemy in America today. Using the empathetic medium of a poetry grounded in the sentient physical body we all share, he writes of a country endlessly at war—not only against the presumed enemy abroad but also with its own troubled


In his fifth collection of poetry, the physician and award-winning writer Rafael Campo considers what it means to be the enemy in America today. Using the empathetic medium of a poetry grounded in the sentient physical body we all share, he writes of a country endlessly at war—not only against the presumed enemy abroad but also with its own troubled conscience. Yet whether he is addressing the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the battle against the AIDS pandemic, or the culture wars surrounding the issues of feminism and gay marriage, Campo’s compelling poems affirm the notion that hope arises from even the most bitter of conflicts. That hope—manifest here in the Cuban exile’s dream of returning to his homeland, in a dying IV drug user’s wish for humane medical treatment, in a downcast housewife’s desire to express herself meaningfully through art—is that somehow we can be better than ourselves. Through a kaleidoscopic lens of poetic forms, Campo soulfully reveals this greatest of human aspirations as the one sustaining us all.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Rafael Campo is one of the most significant poets writing in America today. In exploring the complexities of his position—Cuban American, gay, Harvard grad, physician, scrupulous observer of himself, of others, and of the worlds we inhabit—he has produced a richly textured, layered body of work, distinguished for its mastery of, and wrestling with, poetic form, as well as for its courage, compassion, and clarity. Hybrid—a mix of memory and desire, trust and fear, anger and love—his work has always been death-haunted yet he speaks for what is alive and healing in American culture.”—Alicia Suskin Ostriker, author of No Heaven

“Rafael Campo writes tough, questioning, rueful, exquisite, true-hearted poems that resist nostalgia while testing the transformative power of beauty. In perfectly wrought poem after poem, he explores the ‘honor’ of sacrifice and the breadth of human fidelities. The Enemy is surely Campo’s best book yet.”—Elizabeth Alexander, Yale University

“Rafael Campo’s The Enemy moves with naturalness, speed, and balance between experiences of domestic love—a couple of gay men, celebrating rites of daily ordinariness—and scenes from a doctor’s life. We turn to Campo for frankness, freshness, and the tang of truth, and we are rewarded.”—Rosanna Warren, author of Departure

Jim Piechota
“[A]n enterprising, emotive journey visiting upon many wide-ranging, contemporary themes. . . . Campo's talent is on great display here, soft, smooth, flowing, and soothing enough to pamper even the most hardened of hearts.”
Cortney Davis
“Campo's poems are always a surprise, shockingly honest and revelatory, words that are shaped and made rhythmic by form—bullets, if you will, explosives that arrive shiny and contained. In this collection, his poems reach new heights of maturity and insight, and they are, more than ever, searingly honest.”
Heather A. Burns
“For readers who are new to Campo's poetry, this collection is a good introduction. He writes of music and celebrates the erotic. He has awe for the mysterious and a familiarity with despair, and he catches frequent hints of God's presence. In this book, there are tiresome days in the clinic and patients who are near death but who will not die. There are poems in which our fragments all fall into place perfectly. . . . Campo's poems show how medicine can best be of service in the absence of cures or quick fixes, and how medical professionals can best be present, mindfully and emotionally, during moments of human suffering.”
Publishers Weekly

Campo's substantial following comes in part from his background and his achievements: the Cuban-American doctor, now teaching at Harvard Medical School, has written fluently and movingly, in four previous books of verse and two of prose, about his heritage, his work of healing, and his love life as a gay man in the age of HIV/AIDS. The unusual audience Campo (What the Body Told) has built comes at least as much from his deft handling of rhyme and meter, and those skills are on evidence here more than ever. Rhyming pentameters, sestinas, villanelles, pantouns, rhymed haiku and monorhyme apply the tools of premodern verse to the trials and joys of contemporary life. "A Simple Cuban Meal" reflects, over "roast pork,/ black beans and rice," "how little pleasure teaches us in life"; several vivid pages translate poems on erotic and political themes by Neruda. In the titular villanelle-one of several lyric works related to September 11-"We fear the enemy is all of us." Toward the collection's more optimistic close, a long-term lover, a rainstorm, crocuses and a New England beach become the poet's allies, and readers are privileged to watch him "realize/ it's in another person's heart, his eyes/ that the story of us achieves completion." (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Product Details

Duke University Press Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Enemy


Duke University Press

Copyright © 2007 Rafael Campo
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3862-8

Chapter One

Dialogue with Sun and Poet in memory of June Jordan The sun is making arguments again. Today, its dappled chattering through leaves persuades me that the world deserves reprieve. You're dead, and though your subjects were contained in poetry that sometimes flustered me- I wanted to restore some order in your fridge, to witness Palestinian outrage somehow more dispassionately- I see now it was you who rewrote me. The sun refuses any compromise, insisting on the beauty of its rays, like you, illuminating how we're free yet not. Democracies of bugs and sand, fat kingdoms of the SUV, we're all beneath what both of you, great fireballs of life, have helped me better comprehend as truth. It's June, too bright to be the end of days that some foretell; the sun has more to teach, and soldiers still have distant wars they might imagine never starting. Instrument of peace, I take this pen into my hand to write, the morning almost over now. Flood the page with light, burn the house down, is what you say. Arise. I understand. Addressed to Her (Provincetown, June 2002) On seeing you that second time last night, Pat Benatar adisembodied blare amidst a night yet ravenous for dares, I thought I'd talk to you, to ask you why you let him grab your bangled arm that way. Presumptuous, I thought myself, to want to enter in your narrative of hurt. A sparkly rhinestone necklace named you "Kaye"; your tan was richly oiled, as if burnished more by hand than sun. A teenager flashed by, his skateboard growling come-ons as he eyed your heaving breasts. I wondered, too, how your caress might feel, if not to me, then to another. Around you glowed the plinkering arcade, like summer carnivals where I played straight. "Stop it-hey, you're hurting me." I smothered her, desperate to remake myself, her body so soft I prayed it might accept me, hold impressions long enough to be retold as truth. Kaye, I wanted to so badly I made myself forget what you must know: You turn to him, so awkwardly bent back, too beautiful to resist, the night gone black, and offer your unyielding, human soul stretched taut-forgiving him, forgiving us. "Elsa, Varadero, 1934" Black ocean and white beach-gray sky beyond- she clasps her wide-brimmed hat atop her head, holding on to what she could. Even then, invisible, such forces were at work, roiling her dress, exerting modern will. She turns away, but in the gusting wind America insists on having her. Color is not invented yet, too late to prove to me those eyes were jungle green. Her diamond's half-remembered glinting pink- she isn't poor, reclining on the sand, not yet. The photograph, despite its flat and only half-discovered world, admits some cause for youthful hope: gardenias dance across her undone silken scarf, as if they knew that someday I would notice them and wish I'd learned her Cuban songs. That day drops off into oblivion's dark haze, the love of the conquered nothing if not strong. Night Has Fallen You would have loved the irony: The dark persists, Reinaldo, even as you helped to conquer it. I lost the book of poetry, your first, found used someplace I traveled to. (Not Cuba-maybe France, or Spain.) That first encounter was by chance, although I'm sure I'd seen you with the lepers- the aids ward where I worked was like a shipwreck on some lost, quarantined island. I thought we could have been like brothers, or like lovers, as if in poetry the world could be made whole. By then, you were already dead of course, but how was I to know it? Night was falling everywhere, and everywhere I looked I saw my own black memories; I learned what cannot be recovered teaches. Reinaldo, how I wish I could have called to you before this sleeplessness set in! I think you could have shown me love beneath a banyan tree, then freedom stolen from the wallet of a hypocrite, and then, escaping fortresses' and hospitals' white, stench-smeared walls, at last, the way back home. Personal Mythology That's him, the little faggot I remember, all that hair slicked back with foamy mousse drying hard as a helmet. There he goes, his eyes watching his own shape in the mirror, the outline of his half-hard dick in jeans and the downy chest hair in the deep V of his unbuttoned oxford places he imagines being touched. Dumb kid, he preens to disco music from the turntable, some Trojans stolen from his father's stash soft circles in his wallet with some cash. He wants to slip towards life through some locked portal, not knowing what I know now, that his face will never be more worth seeing. He thinks he's less like Helen than Achilles, winks at his jaunty unlit cigarette, blows a kiss across two decades' emptiness- how could he have guessed that sex was like pain, too fleeting a glance at the gods' domain, the hero's weeping over Patroclus depicted in his textbook. That damn queer, I can't forgive his innocence, as if he might be just like anyone, his love weak armies crushed in this heart lost to fear. Piranhas I. Discarded in a pond-some teenager's black mood. Grown bored with watching it devour hapless, shiny goldfish, he takes it there one night, a thrumming plastic bag of water- so desperate to escape. At the dark edge he stoops, perhaps is sad a moment as the thrashing suddenly goes silent, depth is found. Ohio farmland menaces; he's grateful when he sees the light of home, the local strip mall's yellow double arch, faint roar of traffic. Hungry and alone, he microwaves some popcorn, takes the couch, and clicks on Ozzy Osbourne's family. They argue: sex, tattoos, what's on TV. II. Hispanic male, twenties, thin moustache, around one-hundred sixty pounds, slicked back black hair. "A predator," blares the newscast, as next is flashed the little girl he took. She looks like innocence, all that is lost forever. Ravenous, we eat her up, her soft white flesh and auburn curls-we must, the story goes, have justice. Gaza strip, twelve children dead as more Israeli bombs hit terrorists; and on a lighter note, a sixteen-inch piranha in a pond was caught by anglers in Ohio. It did not belong there-alien, a monster-how it got there stumps officials in the town. III. I search for it in boxes in the basement. Its demon visage haunts me, teeth exposed by taxidermy's art. Such defacement, I know now, but as a boy it seemed less posed. A souvenir from hell-that awful trip we took to see the Orinoco. Heat, my parents arguing, mosquitoes, chirp of tree frogs in the night-the river's might seemed greater next to the small settlement. There, indios sold tourists baskets, carved trinkets, and pirañas-frozen regiments on bamboo shelves. I cried, wanting to have my specimen of rage-red belly, black fins, those jaws that turned the weak to skeletons. Brief Treatise on the New Millennial Poetics Elizabeth Avenue, Elizabeth, New Jersey Found rhythms: blast of gangsta rap, tires' screech, the jangle just before a shop door slams. The Polish-Portuguese churrasquería escapes the poet's eye: to some, it is unbeautiful, to others, merely quaint. I notice in the empty lot next door a makeshift baseball diamond, home to dreams Dominican and Puerto Rican kids still dream, though some of us hate sentiment, while others only see the factories that in the distance spew out wartime fumes. The Catholic church greets worshipers, wide mouth exhaling organ music, God's dank breath, unsure if it's astonished or just bored. My family's first years of exile here were neither happiness nor weirdly fate: necessity comes closer to the truth of what Elizabeth, New Jersey meant to us, hard winter streets heaped up with snow that fell both magically and randomly, a loveliness that terrified me. Now, the tiny bakery that once gave warmth, its glow like Cuba down the concrete block, is utterly dilapidated. Smell of bitter Cuban coffee, cigarettes- a hint of guava, strangely sickly sweet. What do the poets say? We must refuse nostalgia's reassurance that the way was clear; or else, observe the pastries glazed like perfect porcelains, improbably aligned. So orderly I must instead confess I'm human, how they break my heart. El Viejo y la Mar My island, here I am addressing you again. You're deaf as an old man, can't stand straight anymore. We both should be ashamed of this behavior-you, for your pride, me for loving you with my womanly heart. For once, won't you listen to what I say? The winters here are very cold. I yearn for your lean body next to mine, the night remembering to keep its promises to end, and to bring stars again. Your snore growls like the jungle, your face is brown from staring at the white sun. I've gone blind hoping that you would die and leave me all your riches-old man, what have you hidden under the stone in the plaza? I thought while I slept once, you rowed it out to sea and cast it overboard, explaining the gold that dances on the waves at sunset. You old fool, all I can do is imagine the humid warmth of your breezes, like rum's hot perfume on your heavy, endless breath- here I am, I've been waiting forever, but you're drunk again on your own beauty, while I still cry for punishing myself. Ode to the Man Incidentally Caught in the Photograph of Us on My Desk At first, you look determined, sunglasses protecting your imaginary blue, and therefore possibly sensitive, eyes. You don't seem like the others, arms askew, heads angled, asses in the air-you march as if you think that life depended on your mission. Out of focus, on the beach we have our backs to, maybe it's forgone to you, the heartening conclusion that humanity must still be worth your care. Around you teems the world at play, too fat, too innocent, too broken to repair. Much time has passed; the cheerful photograph of us seems marred by your demeanor now, as if the years of heedless frozen laughs had changed your mind, as if you always knew that any love was treacherous, that all was somehow lost. Irretrievable friend, your vaguely handsome face yet dutiful, bear witness to us, even in the end. The Enemy The buildings' wounds are what I can't forget; though nothing could absorb my sense of loss I stared into their blackness, what was not supposed to be there, billowing of soot and ragged maw of splintered steel, glass. The buildings' wounds are what I can't forget, the people dropping past them, fleeting spots approaching death as if concerned with grace. I stared into the blackness, what was not inhuman, since by men's hands they were wrought; reflected on the TV'S screen, my face upon the buildings' wounds. I can't forget this rage, I don't know what to do with it- it's in my nightmares, towers, plumes of dust, a staring in the blackness. What was not conceivable is now our every thought: We fear the enemy is all of us. The buildings' wounds are what I can't forget. I stared into their blackness, what was not. God, Gays, and Guns Inventing memories I've never had, I think about the church that kept me safe, kind neighbors who invited me to supper, the garden where my grandparents grew squash. But no-in church, I wasn't ever safe, an outcast who just wanted to belong in Eden, where desirous love was quashed. I yearned for safety, wanted freedom more, and wished that all the outcasts could belong. My parents wanted me to love this place; America, to them, was safe and free. Its generosity still baffles me: My parents taught me I should love, sow peace, become a vessel of Christ's sacrifice. His generosity still tortures me, forgiving sins that seem like life's intention. Become a vessel of Christ's sacrifice, I give myself entirely to another whose face forgives my sins and bad intentions. Love for him-love for God and country- could anyone give one up for another? Go back, to that place of promise and loss, love him still as you love God, in that country that never existed, but someday might- gone back to that place of the possible, kind neighbors invite us now to supper, we who exist to ask how we yet might invent the memories I never had. Patriotic Poem after Neruda The war on words had been declared. A voice was now considered dangerous, and could be confiscated by police. A metaphor lay beaten in the street while moonlight bathed it in white tears. The war on words had been declared, in language none could contradict. A lie ran naked through the capital, while onlookers looked on. It seemed that everything stopped making sense: the punctuation of the traffic lights, the thudding sound of dictionaries shut, the heavy heart the poet wore to bed for love. The war on words had been declared. A lullaby defied the curfew, night close in around it like swaddling clothes. A girl spelled "moratorium" in school; the next day she was dead, her hands sawn off as punishment. The war on words had been declared. Soon, silence stole over the land, broken only by the piercing protest of car alarms set off by no one's touch, a neighbor's wailing weed-whacker, a song that once remembered one cannot get out of one's head. WAR ON WORDS DECLARED cried out the evening paper, soundlessly, too late- the President was on TV to say we had won, we had won, we had won. Post-9/11 Parable It's almost March, the time when we- (American democracy)- might go to war against Iraq. A nation injured in this way cannot forgive its enemies. It's almost March, the time when we remember Jesus dying for our sins. Good Christians, stoning whores, demand a war against Iraq, an eye for each unseeing eye, tooth for decaying tooth. Winds rise: it's almost March, the time when we will bury spring's surprising dead. Maimed children, mute counterattack, won't stop this war against Iraq: down from the mount, the F-16s drop bombs, enough for all, exact. It's almost March, the time when we have gone to war against Iraq. Sestina Dolorosa The rain falls all day long, while I pursue a memory of I'm not quite sure what. A gray asthmatic tree begins to wheeze; the wind picks up, dies down again, a slow, relentless process. Thought resists, a mule that won't pull any load. My desk lamp's light encircles clutter: photos, bills past late, as if they'd gathered specially to say Don't write another word. Don't smile. Outside, I'm sure of it, the street is wet, a slick black tongue, always telling its lie. Although I don't remember what it was, I'm sure it had to do with distant wars. The rain falls all day long; I hear the lilt in water's quiet voice, the clouds slung low as if to listen for its secrets. So would I like listening, with snowmelt's weight, in rivulets as truthful and as small (Continues...)

Excerpted from The Enemy by RAFAEL CAMPO Copyright © 2007 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.
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Meet the Author

Rafael Campo teaches and practices general internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He is the author of several books of poetry, including Landscape with Human Figure, winner of the gold medal in poetry from ForeWord Magazine; Diva, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize; and What the Body Told, winner of a Lambda Literary Award for Poetry; all also published by Duke University Press. He has written two books of essays, The Healing Art: A Doctor’s Black Bag of Poetry and The Poetry of Healing: A Doctor’s Education in Empathy, Identity, and Desire, winner of a Lambda Literary Award for memoir. His poetry and essays have appeared in periodicals including The New England Journal of Medicine, The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New Republic, Out, The Paris Review, and The Washington Post Book World.

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