Alberto Ríos, a recent finalist for the National Book Award, is the author of ten books and chapbooks of poetry, including The Theater of Night—winner of the 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Award—three collections of short stories, and a memoir about growing up on the border, Capirotada. Ríos is the recipient of numerous awards,
and his work is included in over 200 national and international literary anthologies. His next book, The Dangerous Shirt, is forthcoming. His work is regularly taught and translated, and has been adapted to dance and both classical and popular music. Ríos is a Regents’ Professor and the Katharine C. Turner Chair in English at Arizona State University.
One Thursday Afternoon: Magdalena, Sonora, 1939
Baltazár went to the market and came home with a parrot.
Thursdays in this town were always just so:
What should have been four big potatoes and some white cheese
Came home in a cage filled with green feathers and two wings.
The mathematics of exchange in this world, the stomach or the heart—
Which of these, how much of one for the other,
Friday would have to sort out. On a Thursday afternoon
The world sang or was sung, a full dinner coming through the air.
Regarding the world beyond the market and this place,
Baltazár knew little, save the few words and the several pictures
In the open books and newspapers he had seen, their pages more
Wings than words, Baltazár laughing at their attempts to fly in the wind,
Their efforts to get themselves into the sky, to follow the birds,
This flutter stronger than anything the happy family parrot tried to do.
Stories came as well like distant birdsong through the radio. All this.
But this, too: The horizon and the desert and the stars at night.
I have listened for what makes no sound,
Trying not to mistake it for silence.
This quiet is equal to and greater than
Anything I have heard made of noise.
Nothing explodes just as easily in its moment,
Saying zero where so much is expected,
Offering nothing even as we have waited
So much so hard so long for something.
Listen, if you can. Nothing makes no sound, so much.
It is long in its making where noise is fast,
Slow in its intensity.
I have worked all my life to hear it
As one might listen in the dark for a wolf.
Every sound is not a wolf, but one.
Dreaded, dreaded, I have listened
Hoping not to hear what will not be heard.