Beautiful Wall takes us on a profound journey through the desert Southwest where the ever-changing natural landscape and an aggressive border culture rewrite intolerance and ethnocentric thought into human history. Inextricably linked to his Mexican ancestry and American upbringing, Ray Gonzalez’s collection mounts the wall between the current realities of violence and politics, and a beautiful, never-to-be-forgotten past.
Here is the hand in its shade of absolute
and the study of grapes with bruises.
If the river took the body,
how did it burn?
Here are constellations stained in the books,
the sentence hidden from the truth,
executions painted on the sun
as if what is here must be understood.
If black hands reach for the sun,
how do ashes mask the face of history?
Here is the measure of the body, the rain
that drips on what has been done—
a greater telling vague with tongues.
If stepping into the void is a cut flower,
how does war leave survivors?
Here is the healing hand on the throat,
the good heart and its water spilled
when things are finally understood.
If the poem takes the soul,
how does sound embrace it?
If this is silence,
how does the bird bend the tree?
“Ray Gonzalez, a longtime poet, diamond-eyed traveler, observer of our Southwestern landscapes and peoples, is a most worthy writer to receive the Witter Bynner Fellowship. As a poet, he has covered much ground—not only as a professor and founder of many literary events throughout the nation, but also as a pioneer in experimental poetics; El Paso, Texas, histories and narratives; and incessant literary production. Ray has been at this for over four decades, not to mention his contributions in flash fiction, fiction, non-fiction, and his deep knowledge of American Pop musical culture. He is most deserving, most talented, and a true treasure for all of us.” ―Juan Felipe Herrera, US Poet Laureate
“‘The desert is sick of being written about,’ declares the speaker in Gonzalez’s fifteenth collection of poems, yet ultimately what Gonzalez does is allow the reader to experience this expansive American terrain through his image-driven verse. The U.S.-Mexico border is where histories and stories converge, not always pleasant but not always tragic, and certainly worth considering. Magic awaits the keen observer, the careful listener. Each poem encourages the visitor: ‘Look.// Put your hands here./ This is a beautiful wall.’” ―Rigoberto Gonzalez, NBC News
“Gonzalez’s dense, surrealism-inflected poetry does seem obsessed with mud. But each time the image appears, it transforms. Mud becomes angels, walls and clay — metaphors for the survival of Mexican culture under colonialism. This culture transgresses “the violent border” between the United States and Mexico. . . . With long sentences and repeated phrases, his poems have an incantatory rhythm that takes the reader on visionary journeys through a landscape saturated with history and myth.” ―Star Tribune
“Gonzalez, a celebrated and prolific poet, delivers another rich volume of exquisite verse, focusing on the beauty and ambiguity of walls, both literal and metaphorical. . . . Along with such fellow Chicano poets as Alberto Ríos and Juan Felipe Herrera, Gonzalez continues his invaluable role in American literature.” ―Booklist
“Gonzalez has a way of combining the mystical with the everyday and nature with the world of the family to produce poems lush with empathy.” —Library Journal
“Gonzalez...has established himself as a writer of place....[In his poems] landscape becomes a palimpsest where no single narrative reigns.” —Publishers Weekly
“As a whole, Ray Gonzalez’s Beautiful Wall is a work of luminous intensity that emerges from the poet’s pure imagination. He calls upon both gods and poets to buttress his creation. Here the natural world and the world of surreal fantasy coexist. The voice of Gonzalez is the sound of the wind in the trees. His art is imbued with courage, light, and prayer. In short, he is one of those rare poets with the power to give shape to the unknown forces that guide us from birth to death. Beautiful Wall is a magnificent achievement.” —The Journal
“Ray Gonzalez is a visionary poet in the classic sense, which means that he creates an entire universe of meaning and emotion in this collection of poems. Rich with an embrace of his Mexican heritage, Gonzalez is representative of the new voice of American poetry, the voice of immigrants and their descendants, and in the hands of someone as accomplished as Gonzalez, two things happen at once: poetry is brought down to the gritty level of real experiences, and real experience is raised up into poetry through the poet’s keen attention to craft. This is a major accomplishment, and these are poems worthy of our faith and our close attention.” ―Bruce Weigl
“Ray Gonzalez has given us again a book of humanity and compassion. It is a pleasure to have him lead us from the Rio Grande to Montana, from Colorado to his hometown of El Paso, Texas, and all across the West in search of both the menacing and the luminous. And what a joy to travel, too, alongside Gonzalez’s beloved poets brought to life here—Lorca, Celan, Levis, Vallejo, Kerouac, Bly, Neruda—and especially Weldon Kees, who fills the heart of this wonderful book in the sequence, ‘Crossing New Mexico with Weldon Kees’ in such a way that Kees becomes the Virgil to Gonzalez’s Dante as they cut through the vast Southwest with its ‘tangled forms of faith and death.’ This is a book that affirms poetry as the art of a vast nation. Gonzalez celebrates and laments. He blesses and curses and brings both moral outrage and tender empathy to his subjects of lived lives and dying lives.” ―David Biespiel
“The gods in Ray Gonzalez’s Beautiful Wall—Xochipilli, Garcia Lorca, Huehuecoyotl, the mountain lion, and many others—help him guide us as we pass through walls that attempt to divide cultures, dimensions, even life and death. The spiritual journey he undertakes with us, for which he invents a new language as a golden bough, is not based on literary artifice. It comes from a place so deep that Gonzalez brings us with him, both in sorrow and in ecstasy, to an entirely unique vision of this world and all the others that hide behind it.” ―Lawrence R. Smith