Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, June 4, 2006

Alberto Ríos's new book, The Theater of Night , tells the life story of a couple, Clemente and Ventura, through a series of lyric poems. Ríos creates the feeling of enchanted or intimate lore within a family: The material is precisely "familiar" in that sense. But Ríos also evokes the mysterious and unexpected forces that dwell inside the familiar. Sigmund Freud's ideas relate the familiar to the uncanny: to half-remembered or forgotten origins, fears and desires that come back in fantastic guises. In keeping with that notion, these characters have interior lives where fantasy and experience intertwine. In his poem "The Dreams That Cried," Ríos shows how elements as familiar as the human face, a baby's cry, animals and gardening can convey the charge of the uncanny:

The Dreams That Cried

Things become other things, she said.

It's what's inside them, I guess.

When I was little I always heard about the onza in the mountains --

It was supposed to be a combination of a mountain lion and a jaguar,

Something like that, something scary.

Now there's the chupacabra , which is everywhere,

Sucking the blood out of goats, and maybe people.

Those were the big stories.

But there were little ones, too.

I think they were worse.

The stories about the niños de la tierra ,

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