“Doing Nothing: Poems before the Pandemic” is a special book.
Special because the poet, Ralph M. Flores, was a lesser-known writer from Tomé, whose poetry deserves wider recognition.
The book is also special because it reveals Flores in possession of expressive, earthy voices that imaginatively reinterpret themes in different poetic forms.
He resets Greek myths, ancient archetypes, biblical stories, and personal experiences, etc., to address such themes as femininity, compassion, beauty, love, fleeting life, inevitable death.
In the long poem “Lucifer,” Flores injects the demon into the relationship God has with Adam and Eve in the Old Testament tale.
In the end, it is Eve who comes out the most resilient and dominant. The poem won’t let the reader forget Eve’s significance as a symbol of the feminine.
Flores observes her many roles: “Mother of mystery/Loom of time/Portal of love/Bed of fruition/Womb of life/Giver and taker/Renewer and redeemer …”
Flores stresses femininity in the poem “Mary: The Birth,” retelling a New Testament story. As the physical mother of a son, Mary proudly, startlingly asserts her relevance to anyone listening: “He is mine alone. I knew him first … No one else but I/Can know this child’s worth./But why this chill of desperation/Arising from this birth? …”
Several poems address compassion with a clear and present eye.
One is “Requiescat for Carl” in which the poet massages dying Carl’s feet, “cold, grey, blind blobs/and try to transfer life/from my hands to you.”
Another gem is the poem “The Wetback.” From the get-go, the narrator shows compassion for this servile visitor to his back door, seeking food and water in exchange for labor.
The narrator sees himself as being “almost as Mexican” as the visitor, and later philosophizes, “What is a man cut loose from land and language? Of a sudden to be colored in the land of white?”
The brown of the poet’s skin is affirmed and admired in the poem “An Artist of the Particular.” His skin darkens, leading him to believe that he is “the dark-skinned Everyman!/But I am no man’s man./In me difference is the norm.”
Some poems refer to experiences with women. In “Bar Talk,” that reference segues to thoughts of marching toward old age long before the poet achieves senior status: “And so I nudge past middle thirty/to begin the swift and devastating slide/slipping down the nether side/with lonely men for guides.”
Flores lived well past 35. He died in 2017 at the age of 77.
In “The Evening News,” popular legends are humanized. Among them are Cinderella, who is glum and lonely. Snow White sets up house with seven married men. Sleeping Beauty is still asleep while the Prince is tangled in castle vines.
Flores exhibits great pleasure in writing in the form known as haiku.
In “Love: A Haiku for Geri” (Valentine’s Day 2008), he waxes romantic:
“Dreaming bud closed tight./Sunlight wakens sleeping life:/Beauty bursts in bloom.”
“Geri” is Geri Rhodes, Flores’ widow and the editor of “Doing Nothing.”
“To me, his poems were what mattered most to him. So I saved them until I thought I could do justice to them. It was hard because they were all on loose paper in folders and not dated,” Rhodes said.
The book’s title, she said, is borrowed from former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins, who said all a poet needs is time and the discipline to do nothing, in other words, to be mindful on one’s own.
Flores had also authored “The Horse in the Kitchen: Stories of a Mexican-American Family,” “The Illustrated Fractured Fables” and “Tales from La Perla, A Misspent Hippie Youth.”