A friend once told me that a poet once told her that the key to unlocking any poem is determining its narrative stance. If pressed, I would guess the source of the beautiful and beat-boxed poems selected for Tomás Riley's collection, Mahcic, is the buzzing and omnipresent high-tension wires that zig and zag and rest above the stained pavement from 25th Street west, connecting barrio to barrio to barrio.
Many of the scenes brought to life in these poems are lengthy observations of places most of us only get a glimpse of as we drive by on our way somewhere else. Riley, using the imagined gaze of the high-tension wire (which can't ever look away), creates poems that simply stare. They are focused and unobtrusive. They watch and report and, like a bystander watching a fight, never interject at the risk of solidifying their fear of being completely helpless.
However, stating that these poems merely paint pictures would be wrong. There's a thesis here: We have looked askance for far too long, Riley seems to argue. It solves nothing, so here he is staring straight back.
“The Urban Village” exclaims: “Can't hear/ the minute/ dime drops in it/ locked up/ tighter than loose change/ doled out/ by believers/ even the stars/ come second hand/ dropped lovingly/ from overhead choppers/ blocking out the moon.”
We can see this is no pity party. This is clear and clever embracing; this is honest acceptance. Such acceptance reflects a present maturity in dealing with past pain, not only assuaging the future, but also finding in it a sense of hope.
This idea is wholly exemplified in Riley's final 12-part poem, “Mahcic: A Mexipino Genealogy,” which drifts back to memories of grandparents to find answers for a newborn. Riley concludes, “There are no answers/ to not being/ just a scream that never stops/ and I will tell you/ scream m'ijito scream.”
A book-release party for Tomás Riley will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, April 14, at Chicano Perk Morgan Square, 616 National City Blvd., in National City.