Hughes was incontestably a genius, as is Ronaldo V. Wilson. (But his soul already runs wild, as did Hughes's.) Ronaldo's first book, The Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008) is a novel-as-poem, or poem-as-novel. And also uncategorizable. It erects chapters-as-mirrors onto a life that is akin to but isn't Ronaldo's. Unless you look closely. But you won't see what you think you're seeing. Or not seeing. And you cannot put it down. The book won the 2007 Cave Canem Prize, which proves that its judges are visionary and a lot more progressive than many people stomping around the literary world claiming to be on the newest tip, but who probably wouldn't have given a book this fresh the time of day, even if they thought they had the moves. Ronaldo's second book, Poems of the Black Object (Futurepoems, 2009), is equally remarkable, worthy of the highest praise, demanding repeated readings. You think you grasp it but you really don't. He's like that.
I carried around one of his manuscripts, dipping into and out of it in amazement, for several years. Whenever I would read it it was as if I were reading something revelatory and unexpected. I always say that there are some poets it's better to see in person before you read their work than after, and some it's better to see after you've read their work, but Ronaldo is an artist and thinker who's worth seeing at any time. He is the only poet and critic I've ever known who can incorporate push-ups, phone conversations, Tagalog, and a host of other things as part of his reading/performance, and pull it off. Flawlessly. His emails are even poems, whether he's reading them aloud or you're reading them on your screen--and some appear in Poems. When I first met him, at NYU, he was doing pull-ups without breaking a sweat. The arms are important. But then what should anyone expect of a Grand Slam champion? Paris, watch out! Below is a poem from his second book, treading as it does between beauty and menace, splendor and almost unspeakable horror, all of it packed tightly into every fiber of the Black Object's body, breaths, words, silences. Would you remember "red"?
THE BLACK OBJECT's CATALYST
Your face gets to a lake, wind chimes, and pear, sliced near a window. This fruit, laid in a spiral and locked to Jarlsberg cheese, staircased in a row with crackers, is yours. In celebration of your face, you think -- if you were born to vitiligo lips, and naps, instead of clear skin and curl, what $65,000 per square acre land would you ever get to see? On the drive to this spot, there were llamas in a field, African long-horned steer, goats that look like they've been amputated in half. Pine trees wave in the wind and reflect on the glass table on a deck that extends over the water. On the railing is an abalone's husk. Its meat is gutted, mother of pearl left to catch ash. What if your face were stripped away from this house? Would you remember red: the hummingbird's throat?
Ronaldo V. Wilson, from Poems of the Black Object, Futurepoems, 2009. Copyright © Ronaldo V. Wilson. All rights reserved.