perfect for any occasion :: alberto ríos

1.

Pies have a reputation.
And it’s immediate—no talk of potential

Regarding a pie. It’s good
Or it isn’t, but mostly it is—sweet, very sweet

Right then, right there, blue and red.
It can’t go to junior college,

Work hard for the grades,
Work two jobs on the side.

It can’t slowly build a reputation
And a growing client base.

A pie gets one chance
And knows it, wearing as makeup

Those sparkling granules of sugar,
As a collar those diamond cutouts

Bespeaking Fair Day, felicity, contentment.
I tell you everything is great, says a pie,

Great, and fun, and fine.
And you smell nice, too, someone says.

A full pound of round sound, all ahh, all good.
Pies live a life of applause.

2.

But then there are the other pies.
The leftover pies. The ones

Nobody chooses at Thanksgiving.
Mincemeat? What the hell is that? people ask,

Pointing instead at a double helping of Mr.
“I-can-do-no-wrong” pecan pie.

But the unchosen pies have a long history, too.
They have plenty of good stories, places they’ve been—

They were once fun, too—
But nobody wants to listen to them anymore.

Oh sure, everybody used to love lard,
But things have changed, brother—things have changed.

That’s never the end of the story, of course.
Some pies make a break for it—

Live underground for a while,
Doing what they can, talking fast,

Trying to be sweet pizzas, if they’re lucky.
But no good comes of it. Nobody is fooled.

A pie is a pie for one great day. Last week,
It was Jell-O. Tomorrow, it’ll be cake.

nautical astronomy :: alberto ríos

Nautical astronomy is defined simply as:
The science of locating oneself at sea.

The map is wet, but usable.
In the vast water, the stars see themselves,

And in the sky, boats find their direction.
It is a kinship of depths and black-greens.

We do not sail on the seas–any of us.
All our lives we sail in between them.

the pomegranate and the big crowd :: alberto ríos

Ventura because she was hungry and because
She was curious—but more because she was curious—
Took the dare, a kiss for a pomegranate.
Everyone gathered, her friends and his. Everyone
Watched: the boys, the girls, the pigs and the chickens,
And more. Moving to the front were the children
She and Clemente would one day have,
And the children of those children, too,
Gathered and loud with everyone and everything else,
Loud as the pigs and fast as the chickens
Though she could not see them.
Still, they crowded her, and she could feel
Their anxious breathing.
This boy Clemente whom she would kiss
She would have kissed even without the pomegranate,
Though she could not say it
And was glad of this game. He suited her,
She thought. He had a strong face.
He felt what she felt. She could see him look around
But not at their friends. She could see him
Feel the shiver of the children they would have:
Their son Margarito, his two sisters
Both of whom would become nuns
If just to pray enough to take care of him,
This boy so serious he would seem like a stranger
In their arms, serious enough by himself
To make up for Clemente and Ventura
And for all the laughter
They themselves would feel,
This curious child who, as an old man
Would never trust a doctor for anything.
And his serious wife to come, Refugio,
And her sisters, Matilde and Consuelo as well,
All the people who would follow this kiss,
So many of them, and their children, too,
Everyone stood there, arms up, everyone watching,
So much noise in this moment,
This quick lending of herself
To his cheek, the way Ventura would later kiss
All these impatient children of theirs. The kiss
Seemed so small, but was filled with itself.
This small moment of affection she gave this boy
The quarter-second that it took:
There they all stood, waiting with the crowd
Egging them on, hefting the pomegranate
And pushing them toward each other.
Clemente and Ventura in that quarter-second lived
Their lives, a quarter-second not finished yet.

a small story about the sky :: alberto ríos

The fire was so fierce,
So red, so gray, so yellow
That, along with the land,
It burned part of the sky
Which stayed black in that corner
For years,
As if it were night there
Even in the daytime,
A piece of the sky burnt
And which then
Could not be counted on
Even by the birds.

It was a regular fire—
Terrible—we forget this
About fire—terrible
And full of pride.
It intended to be
Big, no regular fire.
Like so many of us,
It intended to be more
And this time was.
It was not better or worse
Than any other fire
Growing up.
But this time, it was a fire
At just the right time
And in just the right place—
If you think like a fire—
A place it could do something big.

Its flames reached out
With ten thousand pincers,
As if the fire
Were made of beetles and scorpions
Clawing themselves to get up,
Pinching the air itself
And climbing,
So many sharp animals
On each other’s backs
Then into the air itself,
Ten thousand snaps and pinches
At least,
So that if the sky
Was made of something,
It could not get away this time.

Finally the fire
Caught the sky,
Which acted like a slow rabbit
Which had made a miscalculation.
It didn’t believe this could happen
And so it ran left,
Right into the thin toothpicks of flames,
Too fast to pull back,
The sky with all its arms,
Hands, fingers, fingernails,
All of it
Disappeared.
Goodbye.

The sky stayed black
For several years after.
I wanted to tell you
This small story
About the sky.
It’s a good one
And explains why the sky
Comes so slowly in the morning,
Still unsure of what’s here.
But the story is not mine.
It was written by fire,
That same small fire
That wanted to come home
With something of its own
To tell,
And it did,
A small piece of blue in its mouth.
 
 
 
Poetry (February 2011)

nikita :: alberto ríos

Under a heavy wire milk case,
A piece of concrete foundation
On top, in summer, in her backyard,
Mrs. Russo keeps the cat Nikita safe
From birds, from dogs, from eating
Johnson grass, which he throws up.
Nikita waits for ants to wander in
And for the sun to leave.
Instead, she comes to keep him
Company, saying You look fat
And that her son died,
Remember I told you?
Walking thin in his uniform
On a road.

rabbits and fire :: alberto ríos

Everything’s been said
But one last thing about the desert,
And it’s awful: During brush fires in the Sonoran desert,
Brush fires that happen before the monsoon and in the great,
Deep, wide, and smothering heat of the hottest months,
The longest months,
The hypnotic, immeasurable lulls of August and July—
During these summer fires, jackrabbits—
Jackrabbits and everything else
That lives in the brush of the rolling hills,
But jackrabbits especially—
Jackrabbits can get caught in the flames,
No matter how fast and big and strong and sleek they are.
And when they’re caught,
Cornered in and against the thick
Trunks and thin spines of the cactus,
When they can’t back up any more,
When they can’t move, the flame—
It touches them,
And their fur catches fire.
Of course, they run away from the flame,
Finding movement even when there is none to be found,
Jumping big and high over the wave of fire, or backing
Even harder through the impenetrable
Tangle of hardened saguaro
And prickly pear and cholla and barrel,
But whichever way they find,
What happens is what happens: They catch fire
And then bring the fire with them when they run.
They don’t know they’re on fire at first,
Running so fast as to make the fire
Shoot like rocket engines and smoke behind them,
But then the rabbits tire
And the fire catches up,
Stuck onto them like the needles of the cactus,
Which at first must be what they think they feel on their skins.
They’ve felt this before, every rabbit.
But this time the feeling keeps on.
And of course, they ignite the brush and dried weeds
All over again, making more fire, all around them.
I’m sorry for the rabbits.
And I’m sorry for us
To know this.

some extensions on the sovereignty of science :: alberto ríos

for my father
 
 
1

When the thought came to him it was so simple he shook his head.
People are always looking for kidneys when their kidneys go bad.

But why wait? Why not look when you’re healthy?
If two good kidneys do the trick, wouldn’t three do the job even better?

Three kidneys. Maybe two livers. You know. Two hearts, of course.
Instead of repairing damage, why not think ahead?

Why not soup up the car? Why not be a touring eight-cylinder classic,
Or one of those old, sixteen-cylinder, half-mile-long Duesenbergs?

 
 
2

The hardest work of the last quarter of the twentieth century is to find
An edge in the middle. When something explodes, for example,

Nobody is confused about what to do—you look toward it.
Loud is a magnet. But the laws of magnetism are more complex.

One might just as well try this: When something explodes,
Turn exactly opposite from it and see what there is to see.

The loud will take care of itself, and everyone will be able to say
What happened in that direction. But who is looking

The other way? Nature, that magician and author of loud sounds,
Zookeeper and cook, electrician and provocateur—

Maybe these events are Nature’s sleight of hand, and the real
Thing that’s happening is in the other hand,

Or behind or above or below or inside us.
 
 
3

On a trip to Bloomington, Indiana, I was being driven there
From Indianapolis and my friend pointed out some hills along the way,

Saying that these hills were made as a result of the farthest reach of
The Ice Age glacier. I had been waiting for this moment

Ever since fifth grade. I could hardly contain myself,
Though I’m sure I just said uh-huh in the conversation.

I took a small and delicious breath. So, I said, slowly,
That’s the terminal moraine, huh? There, I’d said it,

The phrase I had saved up since the moment I found it
In that fifth-grade reader: terminal moraine.

I had never said it aloud. What’s a little scary, of course,
Is that I was more excited about remembering

Than about the hills themselves. But if it was scary, it was sweet
In the mouth, too. In a larger picture, one way or another,

The Ice Age glacier was still a force to be reckoned with.
 
 
4

The reason you can’t lose weight later on in life is simple enough.
It’s because of how so many people you know have died,

And that you carry a little of each of them with you.
 
 
5

The smallest muscle in the human body is in the ear.
It is also the only muscle that does not have blood vessels;

It has fluid instead. The reason for this is clear:
The ear is so sensitive that the body, if it heard its own pulse,

Would be devastated by the amplification of its own sound.
In this knowledge I sense a great metaphor,

But I do not want to be hasty in trying to capture or describe it.
Words are our weakest hold on the world.

rabbits and fire :: alberto ríos

Everything’s been said
But one last thing about the desert,
And it’s awful: During brush fires in the Sonoran desert,
Brush fires that happen before the monsoon and in the great,
Deep, wide, and smothering heat of the hottest months,
The longest months,
The hypnotic, immeasurable lulls of August and July—
During these summer fires, jackrabbits—
Jackrabbits and everything else
That lives in the brush of the rolling hills,
But jackrabbits especially—
Jackrabbits can get caught in the flames,
No matter how fast and big and strong and sleek they are.
And when they’re caught,
Cornered in and against the thick
Trunks and thin spines of the cactus,
When they can’t back up any more,
When they can’t move, the flame—
It touches them,
And their fur catches fire.
Of course, they run away from the flame,
Finding movement even when there is none to be found,
Jumping big and high over the wave of fire, or backing
Even harder through the impenetrable
Tangle of hardened saguaro
And prickly pear and cholla and barrel,
But whichever way they find,
What happens is what happens: They catch fire
And then bring the fire with them when they run.
They don’t know they’re on fire at first,
Running so fast as to make the fire
Shoot like rocket engines and smoke behind them,
But then the rabbits tire
And the fire catches up,
Stuck onto them like the needles of the cactus,
Which at first must be what they think they feel on their skins.
They’ve felt this before, every rabbit.
But this time the feeling keeps on.
And of course, they ignite the brush and dried weeds
All over again, making more fire, all around them.
I’m sorry for the rabbits.
And I’m sorry for us
To know this.

when giving is all we have :: alberto ríos

                 One river gives
                 Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

the chair she sits in :: alberto ríos

I’ve heard this thing where, when someone dies,
People close up all the holes around the house—

The keyholes, the chimney, the windows,
Even the mouths of the animals, the dogs and the pigs.

It’s so the soul won’t be confused, or tempted.
It’s so when the soul comes out of the body it’s been in

But that doesn’t work anymore,
It won’t simply go into another one

And try to make itself at home,
Pretending as if nothing happened.

There’s no mystery—it’s too much work to move on.
It isn’t anybody’s fault. A soul is like any of us.

It gets used to things, especially after a long life.
The way I sit in my living-room chair,

The indentation I have put in it now
After so many years—that’s how I understand.

It’s my chair,
And I know how to sit in it.

teodoro luna’s two kisses :: alberto ríos

Mr. Teodoro Luna in his later years had taken to kissing
His wife
Not so much with his lips as with his brows.
This is not to say he put his forehead
Against her mouth–
Rather, he would lift his eyebrows, once, quickly:
Not so vigorously he might be confused with the villain
Famous in the theaters, but not so little as to be thought
A slight movement, one of accident. This way
He kissed her
Often and quietly, across tables and through doorways,
Sometimes in photographs, and so through the years themselves.
This was his passion, that only she might see. The chance
He might feel some movement on her lips
Toward laughter.

the cities inside us :: alberto ríos

We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.

We speak words between us that we recognize
But which cannot be looked up.

They are our words.
They come from very far inside our mouths.

You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city
Inside us, and inside us

There go all the cars we have driven
And seen, there are all the people

We know and have known, there
Are all the places that are

But which used to be as well. This is where
They went. They did not disappear.

We each take a piece
Through the eye and through the ear.

It’s loud inside us, in here, and when we speak
In the outside world

We have to hope that some of that sound
Does not come out, that an arm

Does not reach out
In place of the tongue.