I Will Never Be Beautiful Enough To Make Us Beautiful Together
By Mira Gonzalez
Sorry House, 2013
55 pp., $13.00
Reviewed by Barrett Warner
There’s a lot to take away from Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground. The isolation of a purposeless man in a world that pretends to have meaning, the specter of physical sickness and the thrill of suffering, and so forth. But what I remember most—what gets me off about the retired civil servant with holes in his head—was that he had to be contrary to know he existed. Being bad was the only way he knew he was alive and he wanted desperately to live.
Mira Gonzalez’ collection of poems, I Will Never Be Beautiful Enough to Make Us Beautiful Together, is one of those debuts that remind readers Dostoyevsky lives among us, walking on stiff joints with arms reaching out to strangle us. In Gonzalez, he is channeled through a scattered, nervous, enthralling Los Angeles voice. If this were a music review, I’d say that Gonzalez was influenced by those who were themselves influenced by punk. But since this is poetry, I’m sticking with Dusty.
Gonzalez’ collection is not divided into sections, but often a poem will seem relational to its neighbor. There isn’t a golden key to open any golden doors, but it helps to read the first and last poems together since they frame the book’s ironic discussion of existence. “Mortal Kombat” is written as a series of connections and disassociations: “I am thinking about those tiny clams that bury themselves under wet / sand at the beach…I want to bury myself under wet sand…I begin to count how many people I have had sex with in my life / I say out loud: / ‘I don’t care about the people I’ve had sex with. I like being alone…I want to take a bath with all the lights off.” I know who I am because I am silent and hidden and not predictable, she seems to be saying.
The closing poem, “I Wish That You Would Yell at Me and I Would Yell Back and We Would Both Remember That We Once Had a Relationship Worth Yelling About,” references the ending lines of “Mortal Kombat” when she groans about the neighbors yelling about something:
I intentionally hit my elbow on the corners of tables
and sensed something barely conscious in the wood grain furniture
the necessary emotions for maintaining consciousness
an inability to experience phenomena first-hand
for example: it was christmas day
I wrapped my arms around you from behind
I was sitting cross-legged in the middle of my bed
you were looking down at your phone
I saw you from the perspective of a parallel universe
and your face was infinitely huge
I slept so well those nights
The yelling? The something worth yelling about? This is what happens when the poet’s closely held heart and mind connects with someone else’s closely held heart and mind. It is definitely something worth yelling about. From silence, empathy’s effect on existence tilts the answer: I know who we are—what we mean together—because we yell.
In these poems, music, noise, rests, gaps, and pacing are in evidence, but the abiding narrative concerns the alliance between ancient adversaries—thinking, and feeling. Thinking is above ground, and feeling is below ground, but in Gonzalez’ three-stanza rock cantos (narrative for clarity, assertions for movement, images for questioning) there is almost no space between the head and the heart. Memory and desire are close enough to be constantly touching and the nearness of concept to emotion sustains a personal morality that eclipses action itself. Consider her image of biting in “Induced-compliance Paradigm”:
I enjoy being bitten during sex
because of the causal connection
between the act of biting and
the feeling of being bitten.
Definitive action, the core of the type of poetry that involves taking a walk and noticing something unexpected, is overshadowed by the oneness of the head and the heart. Gonzalez doesn’t need to seek a partner either for her head to feel, or for her heart to think. Satisfied by the oneness, she merely wants to be left alone most of the time. The poet’s alienation from others doesn’t include being alienated from herself. It’s just that sometimes she wants to step away from the oneness. It can be exciting to do so. Often there are cars involved, or stairways to climb or descend and escape into alleys. Lovers are good for this existential swerve—for at least a few minutes—but drugs are better, and the swerve lasts much longer.
In “I Will Inevitably Ruin Our Relationship” she writes “life was progressing against my perception of time” and “it is also uncertain whether or not I existed while I was kissing you.” In this poem, the passive voice bears the subtleties an active voice is incapable of, while the question, do I exist while kissing you? opposes the belief that “A man is what a man does.” Doing, acting, verbing in any way seems to separate the head and the heart, undermining the meaning of our existence by merely making us busy, “people walking from one destination to another / with looks of determination on their faces.”
Being jaded, a little grumpy and bitter, I enjoyed places where Gonzalez made my eyes moist, as well as her playful, humorous notes. Her poem about setting the alarm clock to go off at 12:30 in the afternoon made me smile, and not just because I wake at 4:30 a.m. without one. In one of several knock offs of the memory and desire thing, “The Main Purpose of the Heart Is to Make Heart Sounds,” Gonzalez writes:
I will touch your face using my entire body
and we will recall a specific warm morning
when we felt numbness in the space between atoms
and our mouths tasted like the unattainable closeness of years prior
The poems I didn’t “get” were no less compelling, in part because Gonzalez makes terrific use of specific details and drops an image like “misshapen cashmere sweater” when the reader desperately needs something tangible. In her poem “You Will Roll around in an Empty Parking Lot with Him until You Lose Circulation in Your Limbs and Forget Your Own Name (Everything Is Okay),” there’s a feeling of intense claustrophobia—the speaker is trapped in a car overlooking a cliff as her date describes a movie plot based on his life played by James Franco: “the credits roll and you pull me toward you / by the neck of my shirt / your index finger is in my mouth when you say / ‘we don’t have to.’” That finger, you know. Haven’t we all felt it?
For most of us who are looking for beauty and truth in all the wrong places this collection provides a little coaching. If Gonzalez can’t be beautiful enough she can at least be truthful enough, and that counts too. Her poems made me realize there is a kind of beauty which I as a writer will never be closer to than twenty feet. Still, I can see it. I can hear it and be swept away. Even if I can’t touch it, grab it, love it with sad, happy, angry lips…I can know it’s right over there wherever Gonzalez’ pen spits its ink.