Instead of The Flowery War, Niño came to write a small body of intimate reveries, meditations and musings, short-lined, minimalist poems and poem-fragments that constitute The Book of Mornings, a chapbook somewhat in the vein of the nocturnal and bedroom poems of Breathing Light, but now marked by the domestic dimensions of a man with wife and small child and also marked by his growing focus on Buddhist themes and practices. In these poems there is absolutely no specific ethnic marking, as if the poet cannot allow himself a Latino move without disqualifying the supposed purity of his lyrical intentions. Writing of this collection, Chicago poetry critic C. J. Laity provides a rather remarkable appreciation worth quoting at length:
Niño creates a vast landscape of life with this small chapbook [where] … twenty half-page poems … exist as parts of one epic poem that explores the author’s life, from falling in love to conception, to childbirth to fatherhood. Each part … is a glimpse, often no more than a second in time, of a morning in the life of the poet, but Niño manages to include infinity in each of these seconds. The design of this book is symbolic of this theme [with] each poem existing on the page without title or page number, so that the poem … appears to be a rising sun. This [implies] a wonderfully thought out concept [as if] … these poems … are about actual things that [the poet has] perceived [each morning]. … Niño starts by noting that morning takes place at different times, depending on [where] you live. … He [then] … personifies the universe, breathing life into everything he sees.… His “stubborn moon” seduces oceans,” and “still lolls in the sky/ a clipped thumbnail/ remnant/ of a celestial manicure.” Everything depends upon the sun rising, [sometimes with] … “graffiti of trees/ against a growing blue sky.” Sometimes too the sun rises slowly and sometimes it explodes. [But] differences in weather, season, health or mood also add to [the] definition of [each] morning” as colors, birds, dreams, smells, and sounds. Mornings are a time for a headache, … for sexual arousal, … for rituals:
First church bell sounds
as dry leaves of oaks and elm
sound a chorus touching a breeze,
above them a prism of blue grows.
Niño’s [sees] magnificence in ritual, glory in sameness. … The robin, or the cat, or his wife, or his child is there for him each morning as sure as the sun rises. … [So] he … reminds us that today is merely a continuation of yesterday which is merely a continuation of history, and that the rising sun has remained consistent over the centuries, over the ages, since time began. Each departure is also an arrival; each sunrise is also a sunset. … The key to enjoying this book’s full potential is reading each line of poetry slowly, as if tasting a fine wine, taking in each word individually, [for] in Niño’s “haiku-like verse each word has been selected ever so carefully to achieve the perfection that is this book.
In spite of the great depth and value Laity has found in Niño’s Book of Mornings, I find even greater richness in the five longer-lined and perhaps more complexly thought, dreamy and visionary prose poems which Niño has drafted for a collection-in-progress entitled Still Life with Hands. Herein, the hands belong to his mother, whose words are “a muffled message” in Spanish, and who soothes him, cuts onions, and weeds a garden—his mother whose hands have scrubbed so many floors, washed so many shirts, knitted so many scarves and hats. By projecting even a little away from the “I” dominating The Book of Hours, Niño begins exploring more complex patterns and inevitably brings in dimensions of Mexican being. Hopefully his poems about his mother’s hands, as well as other recent efforts, will project him toward and beyond many aspects of his own experience, toward a broader universe in which deep cultural patterns and everyday life fully converge to create visions and poems which are ever more fully new and luminous.
Anonymous. “Poetry: Raúl Niño.” In Howl. Vol. 1, no. 1. Summer 1992: 3.
Farr, Marcia. Rancheros in Chicagoacán: Languge and Identity in a Transnational Community. Austin. U. of Texas Press. 2006.
Laity, T. J. “TOP DOG: RAUL NINO.”
Niño. Raúl. Breathing Light. Chicago. March/Abrazo Press. 1991.
____. The Book of Mornings. Chicago. March/Abrazo Press. 2007.
_____. “Reading from The Book of Mornings.”
Zimmerman, Marc. U.S. Latino Literature: An Essay and Annotated Bibliography. Chicago. MARCH/Abrazo Press,1992: 69.
_____. “Raúl Niño” in Francisco Lomelí and Carl Shirley, ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 209: Chicano Writers, Third Series. Detroit/San Francisco/London/Boston/Woodbridge, CN: Briccoli, Clark and Layman. 1999: 167-169. Updated version: “Raúl Niño” in Nicolás Kanellos, ed. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latino Literature, Vol. .II. Westport, CT. Greenwood Press. 2008: 810-11.
Marc Zimmerman. Professor Emeritus of the University of Houston and the University of Illinois at Chicago, has written and edited over thirty books on Latin American, Latino and other themes. Director of LACASA Chicago and the Chicago Latino Artists Project (CLAS), he is currently publishing research on Chicago Latino art and literature in El BeiSMan, and has recently published his fourth book of fiction, La penisola non trovata (Milano, Greco e Greco) (a version in English recently published as The Italian Daze) Moorpark, CA. Floricanto Press 2017.