Poem of the Day, 12-10


Aug 5, 2000
Huntsville, AL
By Alberto Rios

Sitting at her table, she serves
the sopa de arroz to me
instinctively, and I watch her,
the absolute mama, and eat words
I might have had to say more
out of embarrassment. To speak,
now-foreign words I used to speak,
too, dribble down her mouth as she serves
me albondigas. No more
than a third are easy to me.
By the stove she does something with words
and looks at me only with her
back. I am full. I tell her
I taste the mint, and watch her speak
smiles at the stove. All my words
make her smile. Nani never serves
herself, she only watches me
with her skin, her hair. I ask for more.

I watch the mama warming more
tortillas for me. I watch her
fingers in the flame for me.
Near her mouth, I see a wrinkle speak
of a man whose body serves
the ants like she serves me, then more words
from more wrinkles about children, words
about this and that, flowing more
easily from these other mouths. Each serves
as a tremendous string around her,
holding her together. They speak
nani was this and that to me
and I wonder just how much of me
will die with her, what were the words
I could have been, was. Her insides speak
through a hundred wrinkles, now, more
than she can bear, steel around her,
shouting, then, What is this thing she serves?

She asks me if I want more.
I own no words to stop her.
Even before I speak, she serves.

bear facts

BamaNation Citizen
Oct 30, 2000
Plum Nasty, Mississippi, USA

I can not believe you posted this by Alberto Rios! Alberto was one of the poets and mentors I studied under at Arizona State University. Besides being a great teacher, he is just a super individual. We still keep in touch. Did you know he won the Walt Whitman competition for his first collection Whispering to Fool the Wind? Robert Penn Warren judged the competition the year he won it.

Alberto or Tito as his friends call him grew up in Nogales, Arizona. His father was Mexican and his mother was British. Rios is also a very fine fiction writer. He won the Western States Bood Award in 1984 for his collection of stories The Iguana Killer

Let me share with you a poem by Rios that was also included in The Best American Poetry of 1996. It is entitled "Domingo Limon." There is an interesting anecdote that accompanies it. In Tito's own words: "Of 'Domingo Limon,' Domingo Limon was a friend of mine since childhood and met an untimely death that was cruelly foreshadowed as in a bad novel. A week before our tenth high school reunion, the local newspaper erroneously reported Domingo Limon's death. It came to our attention because one does not forget a name like his. When we showed up at the reunion, so did he, and the event occasioned as much laughter as nostalgia. Not a week after the reunion, however, Domingo suffered a serious health crisis and, incredibly, he died. There was no warning, no prior condition, nothing but the event of the week before."

Domingo Limon
by Alberto Alvaro Rios a.k.a. "Tito"

In high school I had a friend
Like you had a friend,
The kind since first grade,

The kind you could count on
Not one way or the other,
Just always to be there,

One more name in the morning,
Somebody we would have missed
The way we would have been missed

If we had not come.
Domingo Limon. Sunday Lemon.
You don't forget a name like that.

Mingo rode his face tractor-like
Down the furrow of years
Our growing up took.

He kept his face to the ground,
He kept his eyes to the ground.
He might have grown taller

If he had looked up.
If he had looked up.
That's all.

After high school he grew the goatee.
We saw what it meant
Even if we couldn't say.

In that strap of hair
There was a cruel understanding
If one looked hard enough:

The goatee was a simple rudder.
That's what high school gave him.
A way to move.

That was high school on his chin.
That line was all of us.
It was a small map,

A gathering of meridians, braided
Descriptive of how to stand straight
In the sand and the water, and among the rocks.

He could not have spoken
His reasons for growing the goatee,
The same way we could not understand.

But it spoke for itself,
This hair he put first toward the world
There on a putting-out of his chin.

When he smiled with his teeth
It was the beginning of the voyage each time,
His teeth like ivory thumbs

Hitch-hiking themselves toward some adventure,
His teeth the many tusks
Worn off a single elephant

Who would not be stopped,
Who came back to the two holes of the gun,
The two holes of his own nostrils,

Because how else does a rudder lead but straight,
And what a good song of a rudder
That hair below his lip was,

That black thing
That kept him going
But would not let him stop.

It was a rudder and a song both
And together they made a motor.
Added to his body it let him be a boat,

His white and yellow and brown teeth
Now a mouthful of women at the prow,
These teeth-women facing each other

In the angular, comfortable way they did,
Dancing a sandunga of loose conversation,
The hardy rhythm of blue risk.

Those women who were his smile
They let him move away from the shore.
This mile and the goatee that started him

They sailed him fully from the shoreline,
That goatee becoming a leg
That pushed him from the dock.

It pushed him far and it took him farther
But no one knows where.
It was not on our map.

We don't know the death
Toward which a rudder like that eases a boy
Who just looked like a man,

A boy who was after all the elephant,
Not just the ivory.
He was the elephant

And the boat to get us to the elephants,
And the rudder too.
The boy who was everything

Just small. Nothing loud.
He was the hero
And the story itself as well

The way in third grade he said he was
Through we laughed because we didn't understand
When he talked to himself.

But he was the hero and the story and us.
And all we could do was watch.
He had no words to tell us what we saw.

He knew we could not know.
It was plough, finally,
That goatee, that blade into the earth.

He knew we could not hold against our lips
The edge of the plow
Steel on the hip-bone

Tearing up everything,
The whole body under it.
I still see it, Mingo.

from Prairie Schooner

There are places in this poem that readers will notice border on the absurd or fantastic. Here, Tito is delving into the art of magical realism, which is a common writing practice among Hispanic and Latin American writers. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a master at using magical realism. A great example of his can be found in Marquez' short story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings." But the use of magical realism is not limited to Hispanic writers only. Eudora Welty's "Moon Lake, Nikolai Gogol's "The Nose," and D.H. Lawrence's "Odour of Chrysanthemums" are all examples of magical realism by others.

CShine, I have a question. Do you write poetry?

[This message has been edited by bear facts (edited December 10, 2001).]

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