Kevin A. González

Cultural Sellout

“and gold will rise over his blood
until it wounds and reigns over the wounded”
—Pablo Neruda

In a Prague bodega, you said Pepsi
& pointed at a tiny cooler
where sandwiches lay
like children napping in a closet,
backs touching. 101 Crowns.
When the cashier pointed at the total
& you only had crisp hundreds
she could not break, you shrugged—
head sunk into shoulders, hands
open & cupped as if expecting
the juice of comprehension
to be poured into them,
the thin weight of a plastic bag
looped around your fingers.
You wrote about the kioskos
in Luquillo, Puerto Rico,
the fritoleras’ hands scarred
by the bursting pounce of oil,
coconuts like green bowling balls on ice,
where gringos pulled soggy Franklins
from meshed pockets,
that bloodless birth of tourist gold.
You wrote how hard it all was, always
italicizing your little Spanish words,
always as if your only choice
was a busted-baseball-mitt
kind of life. Your parents
kept offering a new one, but no,
you wanted the brief pound
of thin leather, those red stitches
tattooing your palm. In college,
you fed your wallet at the ATM,
guarding your PIN number
from all behind you. Your father
rewarded a BA in Creative Writing
with a Rolex, & you’ve worn it to readings
where you read poems about culture
as if it were something you find on a beach
with a metal detector & shovel.
When you explained the MFA acronym,
your father glanced from the other side
of a drizzly Reidel glass
& asked to see some poems.
You gave him a ghazal about fire
& jammed a bowline in his throat.
He asked about the boat,
the diving trips & baseball games,
& why was it that when you dug your hands
into the crystal ball of language
it was only tragedy you pulled out,
how at twenty-one you were no Neruda.
The truth has propellers that find canals
to beat in your chest. Your heart sunk
like one of those wrecks you dove together
in Truk Lagoon, Micronesia,
where four Chamorros
threw bottles at you from a pick-up
& yelled Yankees go home!
& for the first time in your life
you did not want to discuss status
or clarify what you weren’t. Some gifts
are better left wrapped. Gold wounds
& reigns over the wounded,
& can you borrow that Neruda line
& still call this your poem?
You should have told your father
he was right: Pablo was not the kind of poet
who googles his own name
to see how famous he’s becoming. Pablo
did not dangle his culture like a cattoy
in every single title. You’ve studied this—
you bought his complete works
with your first check
from that MFA Program. Your father
thought it stood for an insult:
MotherFuckingAnything. Rightfully,
your mother was a stewardess
who was always there, dragging you
through the intricate aisles
of italicized supermercados,
so different from that bodega in Prague
where Pepsi was the only agreement.
An army of Lalique figurines ogled you
while your father read & reread that ghazal.
He looked up & said, You know,
after the flames subsided,
there was one unscathed wine glass
nestled atop the rubble.

Kevin A. González
Cultural Sellout was first published in Indiana Review, Volume 26 Number 1, Summer 2004.
Poem, copyright © 2004 by Kevin A. González
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2004, From the Fishouse