poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

Recorded at the Chancellors Reading, Poets Forum 2015. NYU Skirball Center. New York City.

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 many poetry collections, including A Small Story About the Sky (Copper Canyon Press, 2015), 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. In 2017, he was appointed as the new director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University. 


Selected Bibliography 

A Small Story about the Sky (Copper Canyon Press, 2015)
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)

 

 

The Border: A Double Sonnet

The border is a line that birds cannot see.
The border is a beautiful piece of paper folded carelessly in half.
The border is where flint first met steel, starting a century of fires.
The border is a belt that is too tight, holding things up but making it hard to breathe.
The border is a rusted hinge that does not bend.
The border is the blood clot in the river’s vein.
The border says stop to the wind, but the wind speaks another language, and keeps going.
The border is a brand, the “Double-X” of barbed wire scarred into the skin of so many.
The border has always been a welcome stopping place but is now a stop sign, always red.
The border is a jump rope still there even after the game is finished.
The border is a real crack in an imaginary dam.
The border used to be an actual place, but now, it is the act of a thousand imaginations.
The border, the word border, sounds like order, but in this place they do not rhyme.
The border is a handshake that becomes a squeezing contest.

The border smells like cars at noon and wood smoke in the evening.
The border is the place between the two pages in a book where the spine is bent too far.
The border is two men in love with the same woman.
The border is an equation in search of an equals sign.
The border is the location of the factory where lightning and thunder are made.
The border is “NoNo” The Clown, who can’t make anyone laugh.
The border is a locked door that has been promoted.
The border is a moat but without a castle on either side.
The border has become Checkpoint Chale.
The border is a place of plans constantly broken and repaired and broken.
The border is mighty, but even the parting of the seas created a path, not a barrier.
The border is a big, neat, clean, clear black line on a map that does not exist.
The border is the line in new bifocals: below, small things get bigger; above, nothing changes.
The border is a skunk with a white line down its back.

Copyright © 2015 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author. 

Copyright © 2015 by Alberto Ríos. Used with permission of the author. 

Alberto Ríos

Alberto Ríos

Born in 1952, Alberto Ríos is the inaugural state poet laureate of Arizona and the author of many poetry collections, including  A Small Story about the Sky (Copper Canyon Press, 2015). In 1981, he received the Walt Whitman Award for his collection Whispering to Fool the Wind (Sheep Meadow Press, 1982). He currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem
      In Mexico and Latin America, celebrating one's
      Saint's day instead of one's birthday is common.


I was born in Nogales, Arizona,
On the border between 
Mexico and the United States.

The places in between places
They are like little countries
Themselves, with their own holidays

Taken a
poem
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
2
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