ALBERTO ÁLVARO RÍOS
Arizona’s inaugural poet laureate and a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, is the author of eleven collections of poetry, including The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body, a finalist for the National Book Award. His most recent book is A Small Story about the Sky, preceded by The Dangerous Shirt and The Theater of Night, which received the 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. Ríos is also the host of the PBS program Books & Co. and University Professor of Letters, Regent’s Professor, and the Katharine C. Turner Chair in English at Arizona State University, where he has taught for over thirty-five years. In 2017, he was named director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.
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.
—From A Small Story about the Sky (Copper Canyon Press, 2015).