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Book Review: Book of Mornings, Raúl Niño, and The Perfect Moment by Raúl Niño

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    The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
    –Rumi (1207-1272 CE)

It isn't often that you find an author who isn't clamoring for publicity, or take himself too seriously. Imagine my surprise and delight in encountering a Chicago area poet who feels that his work — strong, deeply felt and beautifully rendered — should just stand or fall on its own. 

Niño was the winner of the Sister Cities Award in 1992, an award that took him to Mexico City on a reading tour to help foster stronger cultural ties between Chicago and Mexico City. He was the recipient of the Significant Illinois Writers award in 1993, presented by Gwendolyn Brooks, Poet Laureate of Illinois. His poems have appeared in anthologies such as Power Lines, published by Tia Chucha Press, and New Chicano/Chicana Writers, published by the University of Arizona Press.

Niño is currently waiting for his Muse to return from holiday in Barbados (why there? she's got a lovely tan already), at which time they will exchange pleasantries, then get down to the important business of editing through his new manuscript, Rough Sutra, and if the sky remains blue, it may be published by MARCH/Abrazo Press in 2008. Raúl Niño lives in Chicago.

My dawn
is your dusk.
Your eyes close,
mine open.

Moon seduces oceans
to fill your shores.
Meanwhile, the gravity of lovers
strolls freely,
corralling history
into the palms of fidelity.
Soft laughter beneath your sky
makes the long journey toward mine.

My dusk
is your dawn.
My eyes close,
yours open.

    My hands are restless dreamers
    that awaken early,
    seeking your geography,
    two hardy explorers
    hiking over valleys and hills
    of your warm terrain.
    They need no light,
    these faithful adventurers.
    Memory guides them
    through receding shadows
    of familiar textures,
    soft nostalgia
    their only goal.
        Moonless sky begins to change,
        hues blend,
        merge lines of ocher,
        heaven and earth divide.
        These palettes of insomnia,
        are summer’s solstice hesitant shades.

        A restless night of desire is over,
        my lover sleeps in her foreign thoughts,
        loosely tucked between thin sheets,
        with the curve of her spine
        exposed to my memory,
        while the sovereignty of her bed drifts away.

        Landlocked I watch as
        navigating light fills her room,
        familiar patterns and textures return,
        clothes, furniture and floor,
        waiting to be touched again.

    Days take on the character
    of an unmarried uncle,
    hesitant to linger too long.
    At such an early hour, such a late thought,
    as a Moorish moon searches for a prayer,
    Nordic clouds descend for a closer look
    swift and low.
    Overhead a wobbly V formation
    falls across the sky like loose string.
    I listen to the honks and squawks
    of these geese fade away.
    And the wind picks,
    leaving a rain of leaves to bury my world in ocher.

        My son wakes up before me,
        so early that robins
        still dream.
        He crawls over
        his sleeping mother
        whimpering half words and
        scattered phrases.
        He pokes my shut eyes,
        pulls my ear with a strong grip,
        and makes a muffled cry
        pointing into the darkness.

        I want to sleep a little more,
        let my last dream play itself out.
        My son has other plans.
        He wants to play.
        He wants his juice.
        He wants me to chase him.
        He wants to see the cat eat.
        This little person who seems
        to have always been,
        hugs me, and I hug him down
        onto a couch in silence.
        Sleep finds him fast, and all I hear
        are his deep breaths,
        and a robin beginning its day.

Niño captures the radiant, small moments in his poetry, the everyday ordinary and transcendent. Elements of Rumi and Rilke, and their mutual love of the stripped down universe of dusk and dawn are woven through this small, but memorable volume. In previous columns, I profiled poets who shake you to the core, who rattle the bones, whose writing is a political wake-up call. We desperately need poets like Neruda, Martín Espada, June Jordan and Margo Tamez. Our need to be re-awakened is always there, our obligation to seek justice is as necessary as breath. But we also need roses with our bread, which is why we need writing like Raúl Niño's.

In many ways I find his choices a fascinating example of the ways free verse can etch those singular, luminous moments, with simple, clean language. His directness, his clarity, frames the things he loves and captures them, both as memory and his feelings about them.

Book of Mornings says much about mature masculinity. Early on, men need to tilt at windmills, slay the dragon, rescue the maiden. Those battles in the larger world must go on, in different ways, for men and women alike. This book and Niño's sentiments in it, speaks of someone who can now also let himself be rescued by love, by commitment, by children and family.

Book of Mornings is poetry that reflects what a man feels at the deepest level, in a chapbook that strings together those shining, ephemeral moments that make up a life.

Raúl Niño's exquisite chapbook Book Of Mornings is now available through Marcha Abrazo Press. Niño has taken time to meditate over and perfect these gems, and has also designed the portada cover. If you can't make his readings where the chapbook will be available, send a money order for $12.00 to MARCH/Abrazo Press, Post Office Box 2890, Chicago, Illinois 60690. Niño will autograph and dedicate your chapbook, if the buyer includes instructions. His first poetry collection, Breathing Light, was published by MARCHA/Abrazo Press in 1991, ISBN 1-877636-10-X. Copies are extremely rare, also available by mail order for $20.

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