THE SMALLEST MUSCLE IN THE HUMAN BODY

Alberto Rios, Author . Copper Canyon $14 (112p) ISBN 1-55659-173-X

In this latest poetry collection by Ríos, 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 Ríos's wry twinkle keeps things in balance. (Apr.)

Forecast:Ríos's memoir, Capirotada, covers some of the same ground as these poems, as do his short stories, collected in three volumes, the latest of which is The Curtain of Trees. Both of those volumes are from the University of New Mexico and were published in 1999. Look for strong regional sales of this title, along with some course adoption nationwide.

Reviewed on: 04/29/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
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