Rodney Gómez's Arsenal With Praise Song somehow manages to yoke together lament and celebration, reproach and veneration across the borders of eras and nations. Set in the stark desert landscape of the México–U.S. border all too familiar to so many refugees and migrants, these poems scrutinize human bodies and the body of the earth as the sites of great injustices and violences—political, social, and spiritual—and as the vehicles that carry our collective legacy generation to generation.
Rodney Gómez is the author of the poetry collections Geographic Tongue (Pleiades Press, 2020), winner of the Pleiades Press Visual Poetry Series, Ceremony of Sand (YesYes Books, 2019), and Citizens of the Mausoleum (Sundress Publications, 2018). He is the winner of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize, the Gloria E. Anzaldúa Poetry Prize, and the Rane Arroyo Chapbook Prize. Gómez is a member of the Macondo Writers' Workshop and edits an annual anthology for youth poets from the lower Rio Grande Valley. He works in mobility demand management as Executive Director of Parking and Transportation at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and lives in McAllen, Texas, where he serves as poet laureate.
"The nights were hive and I grew used to them" writes Gómez as we follow the swarm through radiating deserts and dreamscapes. Something ancient troubles these poems into being. They are lit with the gleam of a knife's edge, as though the law declared: you will sing even though your throat be slit. These praise songs drift over kin and graves, river-water and history, so tender in their tendering. "She said the wind / would vole into a voice / plant its bugle / in every ear," and we will listen.
There is a moment in Rodney Gómez's Arsenal With Praise Song when the poet offers that "Where there is fire / there is mourning," and yes, these poems indeed are fire. Rife with it. From the wounds and the owls to the knives and the gasoline and the rivers and the cages and the fire of belonging, Gómez's poems invite us to mourn but also to give honor and to live and to name things and to remember, because as Gómez tells us, "We are all holy smoke." In the beginning, Gómez dedicates this book "For the missing," and I leave his collection with this line written on my wall: "We carry their dust / inside our bodies."
“If no one remembers, the stain disappears—” But Rodney Gómez won’t let that happen in his haunting collection, Arsenal With Praise Song. And praise we do, as readers, joining in, when a father “born / with bombardment in his mouth” must leave his family as “cicadas wept”; when a “wound is disarmed by the sound of waterfalls”; when faced with “a salvage / birds rush to unpiece collapse / buzzard, vulture / the dove, surprisingly / with urn-like wings.” And we equally praise and come to examine those wings as much as the bee that comes “projectile to the next world” and the “brown recluse carries / the elevating poison of heaven.” In a world where violence and “bullets / cannot possibly feed // a collapsar,” the speaker who is “not a romantic / about pain” but wears it “loose like the hand’s bones around my throat,” transforms lyrical testimony into a wounded but awakened landscape through a series of questions that refuse simple answers. We walk alongside the speaker and feel the force of praise that can only exist as unflinching candor, in which Gómez asks us all to reexamine the very myths we treat as truth, challenging us to look closer at our world where “every animal is a fuse” and “the heart is a weapon.”
At its heart, this collection is an exploration of compassion itself, its rooms and its limits, which haunt the communities we create—like the family, like the borderlands, like the nation. Rodney Gómez's poetry, both intimate and expansive, is a gift to treasure.
—José Antonio Rodríguez