It's because my family's
been living in Cruces
since the 1860's. Its because
my mom's father was
Apache, but there are
plenty of Germans, too.
I grew up watching
my dad's mother
my dad's dad practicing
the fiddle so he'd
play well at the wedding
that weekend. Any wedding
in Cruces, any time they
needed a strong, resonant violin
player. But my parents
who spoke Spanish
with me lived in the
suburbs of Albuquerque,
sheltered me from
that life. So I
went out to Cruces
this summer, went
to Tucson, too
where the other half
of my family
is the pain of the
desert, pain of separation,
the infinite desecration of land
but I am not nor will
ever be a part of the pain
you write. It's my own
pain that's my muse
and I like Lowell more
than Castillo. I'm sorry
if this fact offends you.
I am sorry I am not
en la frontera fighting
our battles, which seem
more like yours, not
mine. I have children
to raise, and their
that is, we are now
Americans and have no
need for tribalism, even
though the world
is ruled by such.
My real friends
laugh, and those who
know my work laugh.
I will go all over
this country reading
and blazing like a fox tail.
For I am hot as hot coal
there is nothing to stop my words
now, no redneck county sheriff
to tell me shut up, Mesican, or
shut up, Indio. My children
are free and mixed and I am alive.
I have been
in the Sonoran
Desert, the high
so dry the desert
took most of my sadness
the way the heat
out there drains
you of water without
you knowing. 108
in Bowie. Later,
that day in
Truth or Consequences
sopapillas. All of,
all of my friends
down in the Great
or living or living.
In drenched metropolitan
of the suburbs. Shame
that I, between dry
old cities, could take my
car, take a turn on
some old highway,
drive into the salt
flats, chasing dust
devils all day. Or that
there would be no
one out there, and I
know this because
from my little hotel hovel
in Cruces it would take me
not time at all
to be in desolation,
away from the river,
a bus ride. A simple
walk to see the stars alone at night.
When my grandmother
Josefina died, my grandfather
Felipe let all the rabbits
go. The fat ones,
the wise ones
who knew she liked
paella with rabbit & shrimp
she bought at the Albertson's
in Las Cruces. A dish
her mother taught her.
Today at the old farm
there's nothing but
wood to burn. An empty
house, the fields wild with
volunteer cotton. I couldn't even cry.
There are the old photos
folks I'll never know,
land I'll never plow. Shadows
from the old hickory
in the yard--a ghost place
that I'll never see again.
So on the ride home, along
El Rio Grande, which is full
of promise, full of water
I fell for the desert again,
I said your name
wishing you could
see the farms and fields
rushing by, the river
at its height, the acequias
which mean so much.
will the butterflies
last. Your son
says fifty years.
Maybe one or two left
in the high Montana
Rockies. He says
by the time you die, dad
the sky will be forever
pale gray unforgivable,
like the sheer weight
of steel on the world.
Like Atlas you say,
holding up a
losing proposition. I am
always "suffering dreams
of a world gone mad."
My ethos savory
like a burnt offering.
Most of us
happened to Earth, unaware,
weather unpredictable, late
spring and early summer confused.
But the morning glories
still fight their way
out of the clay
to honor the Sun God and
the Prince of Flowers
who'll have nothing
to do with us, anymore.
Are you any
busier than you were
twenty minutes ago.
If so, I'd like to know
the secret of your
time you left your
room in search
of an awkward
feeling wafting along
like diesel smoke.
In fact, that must
have been you
like fast freight
train, so full of
energy it would
take you miles
to stop. Now
the years are
just as heavy. A friend
asked what happens
when we outlive
our dreams, our ambitions.
I said I'm being courageous
enough to get out
of bed in mid winter
at five am to scrape ice
from the car. The
one my father
to own, sometime
in a future he knew
he'd never see.
That'll be the day:
the spangled memory
of you in your sunglasses
like Doris Day--
sometime after the endless
long stairways and beautiful
spaces you'll wonder why
there wasn't music playing,
say Brahms or Strauss.
In the Miami
Valley apple blossoms
are counting the days--
up on the hill the last
strains of La Sonnambula
are playing while
I explain my life,
everything in it.
I am moved by your simplicity
and the small decorations
telling me so much. You know
I carved a wooden heart
just to see if it would
start. I etched veins
to see if it would pump.
In return the heart
stayed dry and cool
so I made a fire. It
bobbed in the flames
like undone charcoal.
It then turned to iron
and I the alchemist
was scared and scarred
by the sacred mess I'd made.
My father, born summer early morning
sunlight among the nuns, was taken
to the place they take the small ones: a room
with little bears on the wall, slots of oxygen
tubes and metal. Surviving that, he made
his way from where he came, a blank
hot land he could no longer stand, dryness
taking hold of everything. He
took his stand and left the West for good--
finding wetness and rain everywhere
he was finally good. Now growing old
he sits alone counting his rib bones,
testing out his time, the days and seconds
left behind like postcards or love letters.
Now in this day
God has been defeated.
The waters run naked,
dirty. And we're all
fried by the field of grass
you left us at the roadside.
Faked, bottomed out,
our new century is a deep
lake so blue, endless.
On what night
did you arrive and
under what stars?
Here the sky is cracked
colonized by signals,
I'm trying to be alone but I
can't. Your songs
don't need any religion,
they're holy by
all accounts. By our
days you were numbered,
anointed in time
for color TV.
Charlotte Osborne and
her two sons lived in the Spanish-style brown stucco at the end of the cul-de-sac,
where the alley also ended. Across the street and the cause for the cul-de-sac
was a Lutheran Seminary.In that
neighborhood, people came and went, students, immigrants, missionaries. In
fact, her neighbor was a professor at the seminary as had been her husband.
both Charlotte and her neighbor, the professor’s wife, Marge, had been having a
hard time managing their dogs and their teen age children. The dogs ran
wild and loose, biting people, and the kids walked through people's yards and
spaces without thought, indifferently vandalizing cars during the spring when
it was graduation or Prom.
can't say much about Charlotte’s kids except that the two boys were
blond-haired browned-eyed truants, hoodlums and generally unruly. Her dog
was vicious, as was Marge’s.One day that
dog even attacked my dog as we walked by. Poor Angus would never go down
that street again.I remember the day
her dog ran around in my yard chasing a cat. She was of course aghast when I
chased her off. Her son called my dog a pussy.They
were generally feared in the neighborhoods as freaks.
The turn is this: sometime in 1992, before we got to Saint Paul, there
had been a huge raging fire in that neighborhood. It was probably a colder
day in early march Minnesota. Lingering kids at home, you know,
pre-school kids, snow and ice, temps in the 20s. And there's not much on
tv. So you suit up the way you usually do, and you take your dog with
you. Dad’s building a fire for the kids to warm up. There's the
faint smell of eggs frying.
Out in the hills it's a little colder than you expect, but
you get through the town into the woods that run parallel to the freeway.
It takes about an hour: the woods are grey, no green buds but
signs of animals abound: raccoon tracks. Deer droppings. But the
hard ice-free trail feels good and as you’re hitting your stride, there's that
smell--like paper, like paper burning.
2 miles away your husband is setting his library and
his home office on fire, having piled a set of theological tracts and academic
journals into pyramid of sorts. He's taken a fire starter, that is, a
greasy tar soaked piece of plywood, and set that on fire with a big green
kitchen match: strike anywhere. The fires really getting along by
the time you get home. Not realizing it's your house on fire.
There's some screaming. In what was your husband the professor’s office
there's nothing but flame and destruction. Like a movie but it's not.
Your two sons running down the stairs, slowly, slowly so slowly you hope
they make it to the open front door. Something about the dog.
Sure there's dire fire engines everywhere and cops
too. Most of the south side destroyed by fire. Tiny pieces of burnt
book paper everywhere, and ashes. The last thing you see before you faint
is the sun rising and your two sons fighting with a fireman to get back into
the house to look for your man and his dog.
really knows what goes through the suicidal mind, what processes drive one to
self-immolation and familial destruction.David was professor of New Testament Studies and Jesusology.Not the most popular professor in at a small
college, but dutiful, knowledgeable, and able.Some students found his formalism and his traditional attitudes
odd.Others championed his conservatism
outside of the class, and even wore bow-ties in his style.For a long time he had tried to finish an
extension of his dissertation, dealing with core of Jesus, how we believe in
him, and under what circumstances, in what conceptual terms.His evaluations had never been bad, and well,
that one time he yelled the Dean had been long forgotten.He did publish regularly in B+ academic
journals like the Midwest Quarterly.
his sons knew him was another thing.They’d
been in Boy Scouts together and had climbed hills and dales all over Minnesota,
they’d become expert with canoes, being able to trundle through northern
Minnesota in the summer for fun in the vast systems of lakes and rivers that
offered a natural peace anyone can love.We just don’t know much about mom except that she loved to run.
letter. No one had seen David’s suicide coming, at all. Not Charlotte, or the
boys.Or his colleagues.What was most fierce-some was the act of his
death:the piling of specific books,
tracts, and journals, the quick immolation of his stacks of papers, notes,
essays, and journals, sheer walls of flame, the furniture gone, David and his dog
somewhere in the middle of all of this.After 2 days his sons stopped rooting though the burned out part of the
days in late July you’d see Charlotte and her two boys cooking weenies and
burgers on the grill, ketchup and mustard on the redwood table, bowls of salad,
glasses of lemonade.Other times, you’d
find the boys in the alley tossing a ball back and forth to their new dog, who
seemed to want to kill everything it bit or caught or even saw.The house had been repaired, the room taken
apart carefully, the house rebuilt in places.But there was a big basement window and you could see stacks and closets
full of what must have been David’s clothing.The dog would bark and snarl through the night, madly.
biggest mistake that Charlotte and Marge made was getting mean dogs.For what ever reason.Perhaps the need for comfort and safety
drives some people to allowing their dogs to become mean.Or maybe the meanness of life filters to the
heart, anyway, all the time.In the summer of 1999 Marge’s giant black
poodle attacked my Wheaton Terrier, Angus.The cops were involved.Next
year, Charlotte’s dog attacked my dog from across the street.The cops also told me that they had to take
Charlotte’s poodle away as it was deemed viscious and dangerous after attacking
one of the officers.The worst part:the cops believed me, but as they pointed
out, Charlotte’s family and Marge’s family felt entitled since they were
homeowners and I was a renter.“Just
stay away, they’re crazy” Officer Friendly advised.There was a short war, though.My partner dumped at least a quart of honey
on one of Marge’s dogs when she caught it in our yard chasing a squirrel.Her kids then vandalized our car.
There are other
incidents, mostly repetitive.
In the early summer of 2003, my
partner and I stayed up late one night to burn paper.Lots of paper.Box loads.We were moving and wanted to rid our lives of old bills, old papers, old
evaluations, old writing.Our landlord
had a wonderful, cast-iron chimenea and gave us full permission to “burn away”
as she exclaimed.
It was warmer and
dryer that early summer in Minnesota, and it would be out last.The trees had all bloomed and blossomed,
greenery grew like a song on the air.Kay’s chiminea was large, wide, heavy gauge iron.A true burning machine.
You know what it’s
like.The fire starts, the smell of
paper is not like the smell of wood burning.It is sharper, more acrid, bitter and white in substance, thick and
We had sacks of paper.The fire reached out of the chiminea and
tried to touch the sky.Bolts of flame
would leap as we tossed in old syllabi, useless textbooks, bills and letters,
mass mailings, old student papers and evaluations.We howled in drunken excitement.We fucked on the hard concrete patio as
the fire raged in the round tub of the chiminea, as the thick white smoke fumed
over and into the neighborhood, missing no home or company of guests.Our dog Angus ran in crazy circles up and
down the hill and our young children slept the sleep of innocents.
The cry in the night.Almost 3 in the morning.The fire still hot and burning, with three phone-books and a whole box of
student evaluations to burn.We sat in
out sandals and shorts, in t-shirts smoky as the air, with pokers, rods, and
an actual pitchfork to control the fire.Cigarettes and wine.We had a
hose and lots of water available.The
cry at night.A shrill yelp, a
horrifying shriek.A ghost, or so I
thought, wandering down the hill on the stairs the city built 30 years
ago.Charlotte, naked, her white breasts
burning in the light of the fire, her pubis startling.Charlotte crying.“Is there a fire?Is there a house on fire?” Her pale body
fluttering in the wind as the fire rages.Her dry bare feet on concrete, the sounds of summer birds.The last papers, the hose and the water.I still see her floating up the hill like the
ghost she must be by now, almost chanting as Marge takes her home.