Furious Dusk, the 2014 winner of the Andres Montoya award by my colleague David Campos, completely derailed my impressions of a calm, even restrained, colleague. However, Campos’s verse has helped me better understand the Hispanic culture into which I have married/moved here in Central California.
Hunting” is about a young boy whose manhood initiation depends on his ability to embrace the power of hurt. The father in “Drywall Dust” sings while his son, laboring to prove that machismo, smashes his own thumb. While “The Call” does mention a mother, its formatting suggests the degree to which women are disjointed from men, and the son from his father; when told his father has collapsed, the author wonders if it is not “Another punishment of his?”
“After One Year of Trying” offers the overripe decay of a fruitless union. The poet’s anguished marriage imagery is arresting recognizable: “Leftovers stick like bad memories, / like the biting words, irresponsible, / childish and selfish. /My wife and I left the table/ to scream each other’s faults down the hall.”
“Inheritance” is a side reflection, focusing on an abandoned table crafted by a female carpenter. That short poem’s final play on words stopped me short: ”I had stood on its stump and proclaimed / to be more capable than my father/ a giant literate in its grains.” “Hollywood Endings” and “Museum of Natural History” both helped cement the unsettling feeling that home is always alien.
Drinking lizard blood is just one of the never-ending tests of manliness Campos displays, yet the peak of suffering comes in the modern trauma of obesity, encountered in “Diet.” Brilliantly, Campos uses formatting to evoke a mirror’s image, reflecting his battle with father and form, expectations and results.
Hurt, he demonstrates, is hurt’s reward. “Bowl” shows men stepping in to clean up the mess they have created, to forestall death and perpetuate pain, as if there were no other reason to exist.
Campos implies that being hurt can be a decision: the poet’s father counted the neighbors’ shrinking at his loud morning music as proof of racial hatred.
“The Stones from the Water” felt like ablution. Campos combines a volcano and its lava with boulders, glaciers and water. While earlier he writes “baptism isn’t enough,” when stones dance to the meeting of fire and water meet, the cleansing is sufficient.
Forgiveness plays under the unsettling beat of discord: ”After Hearing of My Father’s Passing” begins “This afternoon it’s raining in Riverside/ and I remember how the mountains of Los Angeles/ slowly put on their long coat of pines/ as we climbed trails up the steep inclines/ of the heart; breaths were hard to take.”
“Dusk” is the poem that gives the compilation its name, and it centers upon Fresno. If I see an old typewriter in a thrift store in downtown Fresno, I will wonder whether Campos typed “this is not a toy” on it, as dictated by his father.