Monday Jun 24

Ray Gonzalez is the author of numerous books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His recent books of poetry are Cool Auditor: Prose Poems (BOA Editions, 2009) and Faith Run (U of Arizona P, 2009). His newest anthology is Sudden Fiction Latino:  Short Short Stories from the U.S. and Latin America (W.W. Norton, 2010), co-edited with Robert Shapard and James Thomas. He is the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Where the Serpent Sings
                                    After Julio Cortazar
Where the serpent sings
is a place you can listen to
if you are alive with flowers
and the last water left there
by your lost brother.
If this is true, the sound of fire
is the noise of birth where
danger is a red sunset
touching your forehead
to make sure you are alive
with the sound of laughter
and the roaring flame of
what you will never know,
each year of wings slowly
turning into every century
of having to bite
the umbilical cord that
emerged on the day
you were born.
The Traveler
I went home to peel potatoes in
a kitchen whose floor was swept
long ago and I saw drops of milk
pour down an old man’s chin.
He told me what stays alive
is covered in resin.
When he rubbed it off,
the perfect wooden carving
of his mother warded off what
anyone could ever say to him.
Her arms were extended to
those who couldn’t see,
her old son offering
to carve a mother for me.

Remember to Focus the Lens
                                             after my nephew Tony Mena’s death, 1986-2009                             
The problem of ambiguity is an issue of shadow and light, the figure returning from the illustrated war as a figure in an equation where the strength of ordinary disobedience reminds the eye of the day when the cardinal alighted from the tree and vanished in the tall grass. The surmise of ambiguity cleans the body of its own making, a figure found carved in the rocks merely a signpost toward the cave that was destroyed a few centuries after the mark. The issue of ambiguous desire leaves nothing to the imagination, though the swimmer was displaced in the leaf-green water by a shape that appeared without warning, this myth abbreviated and taken apart when the illustrated war no longer fit the headlines, the casualty list made up of luminous points of light fashioned out of the deep breathing of those who never returned, though the figure in black ink is drawn upon the wooden box by careful hands that have not left the vicinity for two generations because he can see clearly with his open eyes. Thus, the problem of ambiguity forces a correction in the line that was drawn to be read and not seen, the figure returning from a time of peace to thwart any possibility of being counted as another young man lost in the future, when the ambiguous symbol is drawn on an unfinished work of art.
The Hairline of Donald Barthelme
When Donald Barthelme wrote, “It is good to leave a few crumbs on the table for the rest of your brethren, not to sweep it all into the little beaded purse of your soul,” it was a phrase from a one sentence story that stretched to six pages. Surprised, he realized it was the reason his hair had receded and finally disappeared. He never wrote such a long sentence again because the hairline of Donald Barthelme receded with each short story he wrote, until he composed completely bald. Barthelme kept writing shorter and shorter stories, until three pages became one and a lone paragraph disappeared like hair and became one sentence. Barthelme wrote a handful of one liners to celebrate the fact his hair was gone, but did not show them to anyone.
When Barthelme could no longer write and was dying of throat cancer, his hair was already gone. One day, his head suddenly started growing hair again. He struggled to stand in front of the mirror to stare at the strands of new hair at the top of his head. A few days before he entered his death bed, Barthelme went to his filing cabinet and pulled out a manila folder full of one liners he wrote years ago. The last of his words he ever read to himself formed the sentence, “Today we filmed the moon rocks.”