Poetry Sunday: The Walls by Ray Gonzalez

Walls are very much in the news these days. In 2005, Ray Gonzalez imagined some walls. Some of them were real; others were a product of magical realism. 

Gonzalez was born and raised in El Paso on the Mexico/Texas border and walls feature in many of his poems. Perhaps there is a connection there. 

What do these walls represent? That depends on your perspective, I suppose. 

The Walls

by Ray Gonzalez

Julius Caesar’s head was cut off
and fed to the barbarians waiting
outside the walls of Rome.
Salvador Dali wore one orange
sock and a white one on days
he went to eat breakfast in cafes.
On days he stared at the wall,
he did not wear socks.

Yukio Mishima sheathed his knives
in wall of whale oil, claiming such
creatures were the only ones that
understood the art of sacrifice.
The last thing John Lennon saw
before he was gunned down was
the brick wall of his apartment house.

Sitting Bull had fourteen wives
he lined up against the cliff walls.
He would close his eyes and walk
blindly to them with an erection,
promising he would take the first
one his erection touched.
Crazy Horse watched silently
from the cliff walls above.

J. D. Salinger scribbled on his bedroom
walls as a boy, promising his mother
to whitewash the figures the first
time he was caught.
Joan of Arc climbed over the walls
and fell on top of a castle guard,
the commotion bringing soldiers
who swore the wall opened and
she escaped by stepping through.

Nikita Khrushchev stared at the wall
of nuclear buttons and knew
it was a green one they told him to push,
but the triggers were every color except green.
Hernán Cortés’ men met a wall
of arrows, then turned and ran.
Montezuma’s men met a wall of armor,
wept, then stoned their chief off the wall
for helping the conquistadores.

Carl Jung opened his eyes to find himself
sleeping against a wall of flowers,
the beautiful smell giving him the answer
he had been looking for.
Charlie Chaplin ordered his crew to remove
the hidden mirror from the wall, footage
of his latest lover overflowing
onto the studio floor.

Sor Juana de la Cruz hid her new poem
in a hole in the wall, but when a fellow nun
went to retrieve it after Sor Juana’s death,
it was gone.
The Dalai Lama stopped in the snow
and bowed his head to pray before the wall
of dead monks killed by the Chinese.

Virginia Woolf’s last memory before drowning
was the wall of family portraits, the photographs
of her father and brothers so radiant in the river fog.
Billy the Kid simply dug a hole in the adobe wall
of the jail with his bare hands and walked away.

Janis Joplin was found dead of an overdose
in her Los Angeles hotel, her face facing the wall.
Federico García Lorca did not face any walls
when he was shot under the trees.

No one knows how Tu Fu encased himself
in a wall of bamboo, staying inside the tube
for ten years, never saying a word, his feet
becoming the roots of bamboo within
the first few months of his silence.
Al Capone stared at the walls of his cell
in Alcatraz and added the bank figures again,
trying to get them right.

Babe Ruth heard a thud against the wall
of his hotel suite, the baseball rolling down
the hallways as a signal his tryst with the team
owner’s wife about to be revealed.
William Shakespeare stared at the empty walls
of the theatre, stood there without saying
a word, and stared at the empty walls of the theatre.

Geronimo extended his arms over the walls
of rock, the approaching sound of the cavalry
troops echoing down the canyon, the pictograph
Geronimo carved high on the wall, years ago,
lifting him to safety.
Two days before Salvador Allende was assassinated,
Pablo Neruda, dying of cancer, woke at Isla Negra
to find the walls of the room where he lay
were covered in hundreds of clinging starfish.


  1. I read this imagining how long it must have taken him to gather all the facts in his poem. I spent some time last week studying about the Berlin Wall. I have a low wall, painted a deep red, around my back garden. It keeps no animal life in or out. It just looks nice with the green of the plantings against it.

    1. I'm imagining your red wall and it is lovely! We have a fence around our backyard that discourages the deer and coyotes and any wandering dogs but not the raccoons, possums, skunks, and armadillos. They all consider it their refuge. I found Gonzalez's wall poem fascinating but very strange and yes, he does manage to get a lot of "wall" information into it, doesn't he?

  2. Walls are in the news... Cheers

  3. No doubt he compiled all the possible contexts we use the word "wall" in. I like it!

    1. I find much of his poetry that I've read quite enigmatic, and yet, even when I feel that I don't fully understand it, I find that I like it.


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