Sitting at her table, she serves
the sopa de arroz to me
instinctively, and I watch her,
the absolute mamá, and eat words
I might have had to say more
out of embarrassment. To speak,
now-foreign words I used to speak,
too, dribble down her mouth as she serves
me albóndigas. No more
than a third are easy to me.
By the stove she does something with words
and looks at me only with her
back. I am full. I tell her
I taste the mint, and watch her speak
smiles at the stove. All my words
make her smile. Nani never serves
herself, she only watches me
with her skin, her hair. I ask for more.
I watch the mamá warming more
tortillas for me. I watch her
fingers in the flame for me.
Near her mouth, I see a wrinkle speak
of a man whose body serves
the ants like she serves me, then more words
from more wrinkles about children, words
about this and that, flowing more
easily from these other mouths. Each serves
as a tremendous string around her,
holding her together. They speak
Nani was this and that to me
and I wonder just how much of me
will die with her, what were the words
I could have been, was. Her insides speak
through a hundred wrinkles, now, more
than she can bear, steel around her,
shouting, then, What is this thing she serves?
She asks me if I want more.
I own no words to stop her.
Even before I speak, she serves.
From Whispering to Fool the Wind (Sheep Meadow Press, 1982). Copyright © 1982 by Alberto Ríos. Reprinted by permission of the author.
About this Poem
"Nani is an affectionate diminutive of "nana," or grandmother. Sopa de arroz is rice soup. Albondigas is meatball soup. This poem is a sestina." —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 served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2014 to 2020.
Date Published: 2019-10-28
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/nani