The Book of Ruin

by Rigoberto González, reviewed by Laura Eve Engel 

If “[a] century of silence is violence,” then Rigoberto González’s fifth collection is a voice raised against the void, speaking for tragedies past and sounding a wild alarm into an increasingly insecure future. With nothing less than the apocalypse at stake, González adopts some of literature’s most urgent and enduring modes with the visionary flair of an oral storyteller and the shrewd wisdom of an allegorist. He explores the direct relationship between a global history of colonialism and looming environmental devastation: “Catastrophe / was just another balloon to deflate. By the time / the ground beneath our feet began to shake, it / were already too late to save our cities, which had / turned to liquid we couldn’t drink.” Empathetic reimaginings of real events—wars, tsunamis, the Ludlow Massacre—ready us, if ready we’ll ever be, for “Apocalipsixtlán,” a brutally imaginative allegory belonging to the postapocalyptic canon alongside Mad Max and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Here, our not-so-distant future is one in which a “crack / opened up like a wound on the earth, the oceans / receded, the animals died,” a world where hunger turns humans feral and “home is a word as dead as mother.” Careful to consider that “[t]he earth has groaned like this before” but unseduced by fatalism, González ultimately seems to issue not a sentence, but a warning—as within any admission of culpability, there lies a fierce insistence on agency, a mandate to own up and do better: “The crack / in the earth, it is us. The crack in the earth, it is ours.”


This review originally appeared in in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Spring-Summer 2019.