Two Deserts


Late July, and the desert sky has rained this morning.
Running alongside the right bank of the tender river,

Through its wet air, its moist breath, running
Along the loam drifts and sand shore, through

The fallen cottonwood leaves and white seed,
Stepping on the slight twigs, the occasional bones,

Lizard bones, snake bones—twigs as much themselves—
Running along the shallow of this slight river,

A river on an aquifer on a sea, all underneath
Me: I have been here many times, but in running

I am lost, having found this place again
Only in this way, only in this moment.


A river to my side, a river underneath,
Two rivers—but a third river, too, when I run.

The humid river I’m inside of—
The slight hint of water I feel on my face,

On my back and legs, soaking through my shirt—
I’ve run into it, a sailor of this new-risen river,

A rightful citizen of the water.
I am its beast, faster only than the trees and the ants,

Not the frogs. This place, all around me,
It does not keep long on any map:

The river, the water to my left, below, and inside:
This place, this place: I discover it.

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.