As the book-length debut by a veteran of the Chicano spoken-word collective Taco Shop Poets, Mahcic reflects the TSP's playful yet socially conscious sensibility, but the big surprise is Tomás Riley's sustained verbal, musical, and imagistic eloquence. His word flow reaches heights of expressive density through what would best be described as syncretic Spanglish scat: "mariachi muse(sic) riffs / against the twilight / of olmec head nod / hand fly / flecha fast / to dominate the plate / rotating in the dark / obsidian / outcast / on the remix / overrun / by selva sagrada / con su machete / en la mano / mascarada."
According to the book's epigraph, Mahcic (pronounced ma-seek) means "something whole or complete" in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. We soon find out that Mahcic is also the name of Riley's infant son. Beyond its autobiographical significance, the title signals the quest for a Total Poetry that can recast the signifying density and iconography of Mexican American culture into a new urban vernacular: "an urban village rising / from the pedestals of pavement."
The yearning for totality leads Riley on a mental road trip "across / effete and desolate / America." In the movement of these poems "Mahcic" meets "muse(sic)" and both find their groove in the vital movement of the post-millenium Latino city, with its "parade of bodies / diving into one another." At its breathless, eloquently aphasic best, Riley's scratching is attuned to the bustle of border-crossers "always departing / as they arrive / in ten dollar duffel bags / with pockets lined / with telegiros / and lotto tickets / scratching / at the chances / for return."
Alliteration keeps Riley's sinuous synaesthesias both fresh and potent: "a rough face / leapt into the lyric / ticking / tongue glyphs / up the temple steps / rhyme / from reed songs / rolling." His simultaneously tight and loose "tongue glyphs" recall the baroque and politically-coded language play of such foundational Chicano poets as Alurista and Juan Felipe Herrera, as well as Raúl Salinas, to whom "Grey Grease" is dedicated. Like that of his predecessors, Riley's music is calibrated to short-circuit the bloated culture of capital, and to "become the fall / of western wal mart." Accordingly, Riley's eccentric cartography accommodates everything from tattoos and chinos to fake social security numbers and p-funk norteño; from Mexican border communities and San Diego beaches to the dollar stores of the Mission.
In their introduction to the book, Guillermo "Memo" Nericcio García and William A. Nericcio assure us, somewhat tongue-in-cheekly, that Riley's poetry will appeal simultaneously to "aesthetes" (because of its elegant tempo shifts and code-switching) and to "Chicano studies devotees" (because of its cross-border politics). Cheekiness aside, I must concur: scored as recombinant beats in the endless remixings of a social body, Riley's poetry does double duty as funky urban baroque and as a creative summation of various translingual, post-hip-hop, and spoken-word aesthetics. Mahcic is in this sense both tradition-scripted and forward-sounding.