The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body
National Book Award finalist
Alberto Ríos explains the world not through reason but magic. These poems—set in a town that straddles Mexico and Arizona—are lyric adventures, crossing two and three boundaries as easily as one, between cultures, between languages, between senses. Drawing upon fable, parable, and family legend, Ríos utilizes the intense and supple imagination of childhood to find and preserve history beyond facts: plastic lemons turning into baseballs, a grandmother’s long hair reaching up to save her life, the painted faith jumpers leaping to the earth and crowd below. This is magical realism at its shimmering best.
"Alberto Ríos is a poet of reverie and magical perception, and of the threshold between this world and the world just beyond. With humor, compassion, and intelligence, Ríos's poems overlay a child's observation and imagination onto our society of daily inequity, poverty, and violence. The light of memory shines on culture, language, family, neighbors, and friends saving them all in stories that become legends, a light so sensual and full it is 'swallowed into the mouth of the eye, / into the throat of the people.'"—National Book Award Judges' comments
"Alberto Ríos is a poet of reverie... Whether talking about the smell of food, the essence of a crow or a bear's character or of hard-won human wisdom, Ríos writes in a serenely clear manner that enhances the drama in the quick scenes he summons up."—The New York Times Book Review
"... Rios's verse inhabits a country of his own making, sometimes political, often personal, with the familiarity and pungency of an Arizona chili."—The Christian Science Monitor
"Alberto Ríos is the man you want to sit next to when it is time to hear a story."—Southwest BookViews
"In The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body, Alberto Ríos doesn't borrow a myth. Rather, he finds the myth underlying his own life—myth that translates effectively because it is not confined by language. The images of Ríos' life are so vivid, it is as if he has written a picture book that anyone can understand."—The Home & News Tribune
"In his new book of poems, Alberto Ríos has given us evidence and motive for celebration. Ríos' poems follow a path of wonder and gently move us to emotional truths that grab our breath and link our inner and outer landscapes. His alchemy works a transformation in the inner vision, turning us toward the deeper mystery of life itself."—American Book Review
Alberto Ríos teaches at Arizona State and is the author of eight books of poetry, three collections of short stories, and a memoir about growing up on the Mexican border. He is the recipient of numerous awards and his work is included in over 175 national and international literary anthologies. His work is regularly taught and translated, and has been adapted to dance and both classical and popular music.
In this latest poetry collection by R os, a veteran poet and story writer and professor of English at Arizona State University, the speaker is focuses squarely on childhood experiences and memories. In poems that are typically prosy ("I was born in Nogales, Arizona/ On the border between/ Mexico and the United States"), the animating thoughts often far outweigh linguistic exploration, as in a meditation "My Chili": "When you bite chili,/ You are not biting chili./ With its own teeth and its own tongue/ for taste,/ The chili, after all,/ is biting you." Food memories are, in keeping with the book's title, a major focus of these recollections, as in "Chinese Food in the Fifties": "There was only one place./ Kim Wah's, Nogales, Mexico./ I ate only the white rice." More compellingly, the notes to this poem describe how the restaurant had a birdcage with birds who would fly up suddenly "if you entered too quickly," which the poet remembers when hiking in the desert, where white seeds of cottonwood filled the air. The intentionally banal ("Eating Potato Chips in Middle Age") or the ouch-inducing "The Nipplebutton" ("I drew your nipple through a buttonhole,/ Idly at first and then with purpose,/ The intrigue of a nipplebutton/ Suddenly discovered...") make the collection list a little, but R os's wry twinkle keeps things in balance.