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About this poet

Alberto Alvaro Ríos was born on September 18, 1952, in Nogales, Arizona. He received a BA degree in 1974 and an MFA in creative writing in 1979, both from the University of Arizona.

He is the author of several collections of poetry, including The Dangerous Shirt (Copper Canyon Press, 2009); The Theater of Night (Copper Canyon Press, 2006); The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2002), which was nominated for the National Book Award; Teodora Luna's Two Kisses (W. W. Norton, 1990); The Lime Orchard Woman (Sheep Meadow Press, 1988); Five Indiscretions (Sheep Meadow Press, 1985); and Whispering to Fool the Wind (Sheep Meadow Press, 1982), which won the 1981 Walt Whitman Award, selected by Donald Justice.

Other books by Ríos include Capirotada: A Nogales Memoir (University of New Mexico Press, 1999), The Curtain of Trees: Stories (University of New Mexico Press, 1999), Pig Cookies and Other Stories (Chronicle Books, 1995), and The Iguana Killer: Twelve Stories of the Heart (Blue Moon and Confluence Press, 1984), which won the Western States Book Award.

Ríos's poetry has been set to music in a cantata by James DeMars called "Toto's Say," and on an EMI release, "Away from Home." He was also featured in the documentary Birthwrite: Growing Up Hispanic. His work has been included in more than ninety major national and international literary anthologies, including the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.

"Alberto Ríos is a poet of reverie and magical perception," wrote the judges of the 2002 National Book Awards, "and of the threshold between this world and the world just beyond."

He holds numerous awards, including six Pushcart Prizes in both poetry and fiction, the Arizona Governor's Arts Award and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Since 1994 he has been Regents Professor of English at Arizona State University in Tempe, where he has taught since 1982. In 2013, Ríos was named the inaugural state poet laureate of Arizona. In 2014, Ríos was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.


Selected Bibliography 

The Dangerous Shirt (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)
The Theater of Night (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)
The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2002)
Teodora Luna's Two Kisses (W. W. Norton, 1990)
The Lime Orchard Woman (Sheep Meadow Press, 1988)
Five Indiscretions (Sheep Meadow Press, 1985)
Whispering to Fool the Wind (Sheep Meadow Press, 1982)

 

 

Refugio's Hair

Alberto Ríos, 1952
In the old days of our family,
My grandmother was a young woman
Whose hair was as long as the river.
She lived with her sisters on the ranch
La Calera--The Land of the Lime--
And her days were happy.
But her uncle Carlos lived there too,
Carlos whose soul had the edge of a knife.
One day, to teach her to ride a horse,
He made her climb on the fastest one,
Bareback, and sit there
As he held its long face in his arms.
And then he did the unspeakable deed 
For which he would always be remembered:
He called for the handsome baby Pirrín
And he placed the child in her arms.
With that picture of a Madonna on horseback
He slapped the shank of the horse's rear leg.
The horse did what a horse must,
Racing full toward the bright horizon.
But first he ran under the álamo trees
To rid his back of this unfair weight:
This woman full of tears
And this baby full of love.
When they reached the trees and went under,
Her hair, which had trailed her,
Equal in its magnificence to the tail of the horse,
That hair rose up and flew into the branches
As if it were a thousand arms,
All of them trying to save her.
The horse ran off and left her,
The baby still in her arms,
The two of them hanging from her hair.
The baby looked only at her
And did not cry, so steady was her cradle.
Her sisters came running to save them.
But the hair would not let go.
From its fear it held on and had to be cut,
All of it, from her head.
From that day on, my grandmother 
Wore her hair short like a scream,
But it was long like a river in her sleep.

From The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body by Alberto Ríos. Copyright © 2002 by Alberto Ríos. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

From The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body by Alberto Ríos. Copyright © 2002 by Alberto Ríos. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

Alberto Ríos

Alberto Ríos

Born in 1952, Alberto Ríos is the author of several collections of poetry and was the recipient of the 1981 Walt Whitman Award

by this poet

poem

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

poem

On the Mexico side in the 1950s and 60s,
There were movie houses everywhere

And for the longest time people could smoke
As they pleased in the comfort of the theaters.

The smoke rose and the movie told itself
On the screen and in the air both,

The projection
poem
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