Tony Nozero © 2010 All Rights Reserved
The Change in Seasons
When coffee first arrived in Europe,
It was referred to as “Arabian wine.”
In turn-of-the-century San Francisco,
The Bank of America began as the Bank of Italy.
When Cortés arrived at Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519,
Moctezuma II greeted him warmly, and kissed his hand.
Seasons will not be still, filled with the migrations of birds
Making their black script on the sky, the white
Marks of jets, the clothes we wear, shoes, hair on faces:
We are amazed by it all, enthralled by the movement and the cold
And the hot, thrilled by the scent of onions cooking, but then by ants,
By an elephant, by anything loud in its moment, our interest changing
In tandem with the world’s newspaper written in the window
In front of us, the world, whose own attention is taken by the planets,
By darkness, by the sun and beyond it, by the vastness of very far.
As the world looks up, it makes us look up as well: Look, we say—
We and the world, right there, we are simple, and stopped. But then
We move on. It is wondrous, whatever we are looking at this time,
But there are things to do: The rest of the day yet ahead, woodsmoke
Evening, then the night, and the items in next week’s datebook
Ready to find us in our sleep. We blink goodbye to riders on horses, we
Stop hearing the woodpecker at work on the chimney, we simply stop.
* * *
The Flour Man
When my son helped his grandmother
Make tortillas for the first time,
They got flour everywhere, first
With the rolling pin, then the clapping motion
Their four hands made, this music, each
Intent on finding the song there to be sung.
Flour fell everywhere, a small, dry rain.
When he walked onto the carpet
He left a perfect footprint trail,
Left-right-and-left, as if on purpose,
This white sequence the map we imagine
Hanging in a dance studio for beginners, steps
Neatly drawn, careful, a little extra movement
At the second footfall carefully made
Even in its accident, nudging him
Into the ancient sandunga dance of the kitchen,
Moving with the rhythm of the centuries
Inside his grandmother, years for hands,
Her laughing, now, humming and not
Working as she looked her long look
At this young man, this boy who,
Even in this kitchen’s snowstorm,
Had found his way home to her,
This man who had started his walk away,
But who turned and saw himself for a moment
In the broken mirror of her face.
* * *
The Half-Brother Sciences
Half of magnetism
Is repulsion. We forget this.
If we say something is magnetic,
Wanting to say that it repels us,
We will confuse people.
No matter how right we might be,
We will be entirely misunderstood.
That’s not all of it. When we see black,
We are seeing, they say, nothing,
Except of course that we see black.
Saying that it is nothing,
Even if this is right—
Who will then believe us
About other things?
The black is still there. And,
Even a child knows there’s something
In the dark. Something big.
These truths and others like them gather,
But by themselves. They are right, but
Bitter. We are glad to see them on holidays
But even more glad
When the evening is over.
We say our good-byes at the doorway
And in the cold,
Cold happy to have them back.
* * *
Leaving Without Saying Goodbye
Dying, you’ve gone ahead, gone before, forward—
Without me. And you are right: Best not to leave tracks,
No direction, no hint, that the way might be found
Too easily, that so simply I and so many might follow.
We will each find a way. It is not cruelty but cruelty’s
Difficult opposite not to show us, not to tell
The words we might hear too soon, the magic trick
Explained, so that it is not treasure anymore, not darkness.
Such a simple thing, going away. Good-bye.
We say it all the time, this small practice, this
Getting ready, until finally we think we don’t have to.
We did not say, but should have, good-bye to oranges,
Good-bye to crickets. For all those farewells,
Gone now, they were not enough. We did not learn.
To see you now is to see only part of you.
To see you now is to imagine you, as if you,
My you, are part-way submerged in water. I know
Your legs, but I cannot see them now, those old beasts.
Your feet. Instead, I imagine them. Your legs, your
Hands. But to imagine you is to die a little,
To go where you are going as far as I can,
Knowing myself unwelcome for the first time.
To walk with you part-way, then to turn back.
All Poems Copyright © 2010
Alberto Ríos’s ten collections of poetry include The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body, a finalist for the National Book Award. His most recent book is The Dangerous Shirt, preceded by The Theater of Night, which received the 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Award. Published in the New Yorker, Paris Review, Ploughshares, and other journals, he has also written three short story collections and a memoir, Capirotada, about growing up on the Mexican border. Regent’s Professor and the Katharine C. Turner Chair in English, Ríos has taught at Arizona State University for over 27 years.
from Poet’s Bookshelf: Contemporary Poets On Books That Shaped Their Art
poet Alberto Ríos
Dr. Seuss, McElligot’s Pool
Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Louis de Bernières, Corelli’s Mandolin and Birds Without Wings
Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths
Günter Grass, The Tin Drum
Mercè Rodoreda, Time of the Doves
Jorge Amado, Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon and Dona Flor
and Her Two Husbands
Two kinds of books stay with us and create a category unto themselves, these books defined by the time we read them: the books we first read and the books we’ve just read. In the first case there are, of course, the books of childhood, and for me in particular these books spoke to the imagination of a little boy in a small town, but a small town on the border, which allowed for unusual things. In this category I would specially mention one of Dr. Seuss’s lesser known works but one which gave to me everything I needed to step onto the dance floor of the imagination: McElligot’s Pool.
Beyond childhood are those first books that take us into and through adolescence, building something next for us. Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land comes to mind, though I’m somewhat sorry to say so. The last several summers I’ve reread all the books I read in high school, in order to see what and who I was. Many of those books, many of them science fiction, stand the test of time, and I can see something in them still. Stranger in a Strange Land, however, stands out in that I thought it was my favorite book for many years. Rereading it, I was aghast at so much of it—most of it, really. But I know what I liked, which came down to one sentence, in that whole book. It was a sentence that spoke to, shall we say, all of me as an adolescent. I remember it this way: When Michael Valentine Smith kissed a woman, that’s all he did.
The second category of books, those more recently read that I know will stay with me, is comprised of opposites—the simple ingenuousness of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and the challenging terrible elegance of Louis de Bernières’ works, the last two of which include Corelli’s Mandolin and Birds Without Wings. The great, messy in-between of all the books one has read, however, is dominated for me by Gabriel García Márquez, most all of whose works I cherish, and most prominently among which I place One Hundred Years of Solitude. In this vein I would go on to include Jorge Luis Borges’s Labyrinths, Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum, Mercè Rodoreda’s Time of the Doves, and Jorge Amado’s Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands.
These of course are all works of fiction. Poetry is another matter altogether, and while it has certainly been a major part of my life, in what I read and what I write, I feel it has come to me in lines and images, words and breaths, more than whole books. It is poetry’s gift that it cannot be named so readily. Also curious is that I find so much poetry in prose, in the best of prose, and when I find it there, I am surprised by it, whereas, in a book of poems, I expect it. That is how I come to list prose books as inspiration for poetry, at least for me. I am tempted to make a greater list, but this feels right for now.
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