Ray Gonzalez’s 11th book of verse finds him in a dream-like trance, whispering prose-poem tales over the feedback of a Stratocaster shuddering in front of a Marshall full-stack. It’s a beautiful dichotomy where the reader strains to keep their eyes from jumping ahead to the next line/thought/sentence/fact.
The best pieces in the collection are those containing factoids which may or may not actually be fact. They come across almost like the later work of David Markson, pulling tidbits from different places and assembling them into something with much deeper meaning. In “Available for an Epiphany,” where “A language becomes extinct in this world every two weeks”, Gonzalez strings together everything from the name for a pregnant goldfish to the little known former NY Giants defensive back Elvis “Toast” Patterson.
In some pieces Gonzalez’s pull is so strong that it actually takes away from other poems in the book. The perfectly readable (and quotable) “Affordable Aphorisms” is unlucky enough to find itself leading into “James Wright Returns to Minneapolis” where in a play on Wright’s “Hook” Wright himself drops a dollar bill into Gonzalez’s hand while waiting for a bus. It could have been overly gimmicky, but maybe because of the earnestness of Gonzalez, it works in its surrealist mist.
The poem following “James Wright Returns to Minneapolis,” “Let Me Disappear,” contains its own parallel realities. In it we find
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was “Moon.” That sentence is hard to say. Of course, Buzz was the second man to step onto the moon in 1969. The first was Neil Armstrong, but he had no moons in his family, so he pleaded to Buzz on his knees, “Please, let me go second. Let me go second and every moon-lover will love you forever, instead of me.” This happened inside the capsule on its way down to the moon. Buzz thought, “Let me disappear,” but it was too late. They hit the surface and history was on its way.
Strangely enough, the part about Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name is true. The conversation, however, is obviously Gonzalez’s imagination, as Aldrin himself fought to be the first one who actually stepped out of the lunar lander. Aldrin’s desire to “disappear” is amusing as not only has he not become the footnote he thought he would become, but because of Armstrong’s refusal to lead anything other than a severely private life, Aldrin has been the go-to personality, even appearing on “Dancing With The Stars” and going on a book tour.
“Room Thirteen” starts with “In room thirteen, the wooden stairs from the old whorehouse are stored, lying on their side like an enormous accordion that won’t close.” The image of the stairs as an accordion is great, but with Gonzalez it is the details, such as the stairs being wooden and “from the old whorehouse” that make this poem really hold together until the final line: “In the room, something else wants to move, but never will.” In between those two lines one finds “one window, but it can’t be reached” as well as “stationary things […] that want to move a few inches, but are blocked” – and the knowledge that “Room thirteen will catch fire someday and be the origin of a conflagration that will burn down the entire structure”. It reads like a set-piece for a Tim Burton movie that was never made.
The highlight of the collection is “The Guitars,” a three page piece where almost every sentence includes the word “guitar” and once again offers up what may or may not be the truth behind some famous axes. The most disturbing line reads “When Eric Clapton’s four-year old son fell out of a 49th floor apartment to his death, there were two electric guitars and two acoustic guitars in the room with the open window.” The sense that comes across is “how can those guitars ever play anything but the blues after being a party to that tragedy?” Later, “The guitar Jimi Hendrix burned at Monterey was never seen again after the show, his roadies claiming for years that it simply vanished backstage.” Of course it did – anything else would have been too ordinary.
Ray Gonzalez has managed to create a reflection of everything he sees, but in the way a rippling pond does: slightly distorted, with some images contracted and others pulled to their limits. As for prose poetry in general, Cool Auditor stretches it to new places, pulls it around dark corners, and guides it into places unknown.