The poems that comprise Gabriel Ramirez’s Dove with Hooves are a tender hand beneath the harsh lights that seek to heal and fail. Here in the world Ramirez has erected for us a pantoum becomes a mother’s insistent prayer, a set of gums becomes a valley, a brother holds a bloody hammer, then his brother’s palms; Ramirez invites us to the peculiar music of a psych ward, to the peculiar music of fraternal love. Within the poem “mom visits Jesus & Jon at the psych ward” Ramirez expertly utilizes the pantoum’s format of quatrains, of the reframing attendant to the each stanza’s 2nd and 4th lines becoming the 1st and 3rd lines of the following quatrain.
I never said this was going to be easy. you also never said I’d be in a psych ward. I didn’t want this for you, for any of my children. i wanted you to stop calling yourself Jesus.
you also never said I’d be in a psych ward. you told me I was going to see a new therapist. i wanted you to stop calling yourself Jesus. son, you won’t get into heaven like that.
And is it possible to read these stanzas and not think of escape? Do the quatrains here not build a crucifix in themselves against which each devastating lyric is a nail that begs the flesh closer? The room seems intraversible and beneath its lights nothing can aspire to be the same. In “Jon nods at Jesus from the hospital bed” Ramirez paints this in language where the weight cannot be conveyed in anything besides the facts.
thanksgiving in a psych ward is not thanksgiving. christmas in a psych ward is not christmas. new years in a psych ward is not new years.
We cannot forget within these poems also Ramirez’s willingness to manipulate the layout of the page itself in order to convey equal parts distance and cloying familiarity. These are stanzas that cling, stanzas that are rooms, stanzas that are bodies, multifaceted and breathing still beneath the yoke of an at times terrifying and seemingly insurmountable weight. Displayed in this suite then is Ramirez’s gift for transfiguration, to illustrate silence into a cacophony, into the love that is also struggle. May we all be so lucky as to find poems like these that deliver a brother’s love with such urgency and grace. May we all find poems like those that make up Dove with Hooves, these prayers that demand our fists.