“Do 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.
It resets Greek myths, ancient archetypes, biblical stories, and personal experiences, etc., to address themes such as femininity, compassion, beauty, love, fleeting life, inevitable death.
In the long poem “Lucifer”, Flores injects the demon into God’s relationship 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 will not let the reader forget the significance of Eve as a symbol of the feminine.
Flores observes her many roles: “Mother of mystery / Craft of time / Portal of love / Bed of fruit / Uterus of life / Giver and taker / Restorer and redeemer…”
Flores emphasizes femininity in the poem “Mary: The Birth”, telling a story from the New Testament. As the physical mother of a son, Mary surprisingly proudly asserts her relevance to anyone who listens: “He’s mine alone. I knew him first… No one but me/Can know the value of this child./But why this thrill of despair/Following this birth? …”
Several poems approach compassion with a clear and present look.
One is “Requiescat for Carl” in which the poet massages Carl’s dying feet, “cold, gray, blind spots/and tries to transfer life/from my hands to you”.
Another gem is the poem “The Wetback”. Right off the bat, the narrator shows compassion for this servile visitor at his back door, seeking food and water in exchange for work.
The narrator considers himself to be “almost as Mexican” as the visitor, and later philosophizes: “What is a man detached from land and language? To be suddenly 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 man! / But I’m nobody’s man. / In me, difference is the norm”.
Some poems refer to experiences with women. In “Bar Talk,” this reference follows thoughts of marching into old age long before the poet reached senior status: “And so I passed my thirties/to begin the rapid and devastating slide/slide down/with single men for attendants.
Flores lived well past 35. He died in 2017 at the age of 77.
In “The Evening News”, popular legends are humanized. Among them is Cinderella, who is brooding and lonely. Snow White settles down with seven married men. Sleeping Beauty is still sleeping while the Prince gets tangled in the castle vines.
Flores takes great pleasure in writing in the form known as haiku.
In “Love: A Haiku for Geri” (Valentine’s Day 2008), he becomes romantic:
“Dream bud tightly closed./Sunlight awakens sleeping life:/Beauty bursts into bloom.”
“Geri” is Geri Rhodes, the widow of Flores and the editor of “Doing Nothing”.
“For me, his poems were what mattered most to him. So I saved them until I thought I could do them justice. It was difficult because they were all on loose paper in folders and undated,” Rhodes said.
The title of the book, she said, is borrowed from former American Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who said that all a poet needs is time and the discipline to do nothing, in other words, to be aware of oneself.
Flores was also the author of “The Horse in the Kitchen: Stories of a Mexican-American Family”, “The Illustrated Fractured Fables”, and “Tales from La Perla, A Misspent Hippie Youth”.