reading and writing the poetry and stories of our people and places

Friday, August 28, 2009

Stages from Evening to Night

last evening

sun hits
mountainside glows

clouds hover
mountainside goes

same mountain

sharp ridges of cloudtops
melted frame of cloudbottoms

evening rain
evening sun
i wear my sunglasses
while i have wipers on

last week

along first base line
drop is thrown at my cheek
i look for thrower
folks are drinking beer
yelling at right fielder
eating nachos
no one looks back

game ends
we walk to car
mist turns to sprinkles
we rush inside
drops drill me
through inchandahalf gap
of broken driver's window

i drive to store
for eggs and milk
the crashes against hood
stop me
i turn for home

his 16 years say
let's go
my hand shifts to R

in front of store
we brace with baseball caps
slam doors
splash in


stars poke through
midnight-blue-at-9-o'clock blanket

half moon
less than half way to the top
of unharnessed sky

hole swallows key

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Few Notes on Abiquiu

Since we had never been in this area, we drove through Abiquiu before heading back south. The little time that I've been living here in New Mexico, I've heard a lot about O'Keeffe, Abiquiu, and Ghost Ranch. Also, I've skimmed through Witches of Abiquiu in Bookworks, the local independent bookstore here in town.

About a month ago, I bought Geen a book by one of Georgia O'Keeffe's neighbors. It's called The Genízaro and the Artist, and the author is Napoleón Garcia with help from Analinda Dunn.

I haven't heard a lot about genízaros, but I've heard some. Last fall, before I was going to teach an introductory course in Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies, I read a lot about New Mexican history. In those readings is where I encountered the term genízaro. I did not find one clear definition, but for those unfamiliar with it, here is my patched together definition from memory: Native person, often from a Pueblo, who worked for Hispano families and often lived with them. In some cases, these Natives had been sold into servitude--slavery in form though not name--by other Natives (non-Pueblos, including Apaches, Comanches, and Utes) or Spaniards. The genízaros didn't remain connected to other Natives. Also, there was mixing between these Natives and Hispanos. I don't have a handy list of sources, but Nuevo México Profundo: Rituals of an Indo-Hispano Homeland has an essay by Enrique Lamadrid that discusses this term.

We stayed long enough to take some fotos. Here's one of them.

Very First Rafting Trip

From Saturday, August 22, 2009

I turn from driveway onto Garden Road 30 minutes late. My nephew R sits in front as he has been most of this week-long visit. This time, I tell him to let Geen sit up front so she can GPS me like she always does. She disagrees saying that she can guide me from the back seat. He stays where he is and immediately falls asleep or rests with his head down and covered. After 20 minutes, Geen asks if I want her to come up front. I say, Nah, it's okay. Another 20 minutes go by before she tells me to pull over so she can come up front. I drive a few more miles. I pull over on I-25. He moves to the back without either of us having to ask. She asks for the stereo and puts on the radio to keep us alert. We eat our homemade bean-and-egg-in-corn-tortilla breakfast tacos with some green chile that her cousin made.

I am afraid that we will miss meeting our guides at Bode's. We drive through Santa Fe then Española. I watch the speedometer and roadside. I don't want to mark this trip as I did two others last year: with a moving violation. It's not fun to stand on the side of a road, especially being outnumbered with towering state police officers' hands on guns.

We arrive and I park on the side. I rush into the store. Have any rafting guides been here, I ask a few minutes before 9:30 am. There were some here earlier, the young woman of color at the counter tells me. I ask the older white man at the other cash register the same thing. I hope that I have read the website and the brochure correctly: Meet at Santa Fe at 8:30 am; Abiquiu at 9:30 am. I go to the car and check the brochure. Again. Geen and I talk about calling the company, but our cell phones have no service. Geen suggests that I ask to use the store's land line. I go inside and ask the man to use his phone. He asks why. I tell him. He says, They're running late. They always run late. This is New Mexico!

Our rafting guides arrive and we load up into their two vans. Our driver Katie passes out the permission slips. R has already given me the slip that he and his mom had to sign. I sign mine then pass our slips in and wonder how necessary they will be. Katie drives us further north about 30 minutes. We get out and the guides lower the four rafts from a van's roof. One member passes PFDs (personal flotation devices) and instructs how to put them on. He says to make sure that they don't go above our ears. He says that if we fall into the water, they'll grab us by our PFDs' shoulders. No rafting guide ever says life jackets throughout the whole day. One says, Life- then stops herself and pronounces PFDs.

Katie gives the safety lesson to the entire group of 20. We learn the importance of holding--and NEVER letting go of--the oar with a T-grip; pointing our feet downstream or grabbing the rope if we find ourselves outside the raft; and other survival tips. Katie then assigns passengers to the four guides and rafts. We get her. Our other passengers are a woman, her teen daughter, the daughter's teen boyfriend, and the woman's man. Katie tells us that the front two seats tend to be the wettest then she asks who wants them. Everyone stays quiet then the woman raises her hand. I wait for someone else to claim the other wet seat. Long pause. Finally, Geen says she'll take it. I know that Geen has swimming issues. I volunteer to take her spot. She lets me. I think about the adventure of the trip and ask R if he wants my seat. He doesn't hear me and while I'm explaining myself, the woman tells R that he can have her seat. It wasn't what we planned on, but it feels right. R and I smile nervously and excitedly at each other.

We scoot onto our seats bottoms first as directed. I'm surprised that we sit on the raft not inside on the bench. This is not how I had imagined being inside the raft. I reason that if we sit on the raft, it will be easier for one of us to fall in. Katie tells us to plant our feet--outside foot goes into a pocket and inside foot goes beneath the seat that we're not sitting on. I tell Katie, My inside foot doesn't get a good grip beneath the seat. Geen says hers doesn't either. Katie doesn't seem to hear or worry. I worry. Katie tells us we are not allowed to scream like little girls. I stifle a protest. I take some comfort when she adds, It's usually little boys who scream like little girls.

Katie has us practice going forward and backward then she sets us on our way. She calmly commands, Forward. We glide through the water like a huge eel or hippo. I dig my oar in the water and puuuul just as she's instructed. I look at R to make sure we are in synch. He barely puts his oar in the water and doesn't puuuuul. I pull my oar back and smack the teen boyfriend's oar. Somehow we go forward as Katie directs. One by one, the three other rafts follow us. We're a pack of lazy hippos floating down the river now.

Katie guides us as she makes light conversation with our two different groups, two different families. The other family quickly answers her questions, almost cutting her off. The girl and her boyfriend go to a boarding school in Pennsylvania. She spent her summer at Berkelee College of Music, and he worked at his mother's golf course. Geen, R, and I do not interrupt until Katie has asked her question. We wait for one of us to answer then we fall silent again.

One of the other family members asks how deep the water is. Katie stands her oar into the brownish water and says, About three feet. One by one, we each stand our oar in the water to confirm her measurement.

Water sloshes against the raft. The sky alternates between cloudy blue and overcast grey. The sun cooks our skin then retreats and rain sprinkles our heads. Katie tells us that according to an old wives' tale, the winter snow will be as high as the five-foot tall grasses swaying on the banks. In the background, mountains colored shades of red to brown watch us as we glide down river.

Katie expertly and nonchalantly navigates us down the Chama. We float along until we can see the swirling rapids ahead. Worse, or better, we can hear the rapids. They are not frothy and white as I had imagined. The water slaps against the raft and falls inside to wet my lower half. R makes no sounds as water hits him. I scream like a little girl. Okay, I yelp like a woman who has had very cold water thrown at her. Honestly, more water seems to fall on my side than R's.

Every now and then--and too far in between--Katie commands, Forward. I thought we were going to be moving those oars a lot more than we are. I thought we'd paddle so much that we'd beg her to say Stop. Once in a while, there's a Backward. But after three strokes, she says, Okay, stop. Maybe twice we get in four or five strokes in a row. I never feel that I'm in danger of falling into the water.

I look around. I imagine the first people to have travelled down this river. I wonder about other rivers, rivers I haven't seen--the American and Sacramento in northern California. I remember declining invitations to go white water rafting on them. I think of the Mississippi and remember Mark Twain's "Two Ways of Seeing a River" from the reader I use for English 950. Twain describes his feelings when steamboating on the Mississippi was new to him. He was enthralled. Later, when he knew the river, he could not get back the poetry of it. I know I'll never know the Chama or lose the poetry of any river back home.

The woman points out swallows' nests to her daughter. I don't want to turn my head because I don't want her to see that I am listening to her conversation though it is hard not to sharing the same ten feet of space.

Katie guides us to an eddy. She waits for the other guides to approach. She asks if they are hungry and want to stop for lunch. The guides check with their passengers and everyone says they can wait. Half an hour later, we stop for lunch.

We climb a small hill. We all notice a large tree with a rope hanging from a branch over the river. A male guide grabs the rope and swings his body out over the river. He returns to land, takes off extra clothing, and swings out again. Over the river, he releases himself. My eyes fall to the river and see him on his back with his knees bent and sticking out of the water.

The guides set up tables and bring out loaves of bread, lunch meat and cheeses, lettuce, tomatoes, condiments, and peanut butter and jelly as well as cookies. They say they let men serve themselves first yesterday so today it's women first. The breakfast tacos have worn off. Geen and I line up right away. I tell R that he'll get his turn soon. The guides clean up and we're off ready to finish our ride. R and I switch sides. Geen follows R to the other side too.

R is completely awake and a little more expressive during the second half. I think the early rapids were more mild than what he had imagined.

I point out tiny mudcaves beneath ledges. Geen tells me those are the swallows' nests. Oh.

As we approach our landing, the random sprinkles have turned into a light rain. We disembark and walk up to change our clothes. I change my shirt and decide to change everything else when we return to Bode's. We climb back into the van for the ride to the store.

R asks if we're heading back to Albuquerque. He wants to come back for Free Seat Cushions that will be given away at the Isotopes game. By this time, Geen has gone inside to change into dry clothes. The rain is pounding the top of the car and I have to raise my voice to be heard. I tell him that we had wanted to see what we could see in this part of New Mexico that we'd never been to, but because of the rain we may be going back sooner than later. Geen comes out. The rain stops. We cross the road to Abiquiu.

I chose this trip because I thought it would be a Class 3 and it was a 1-2. My brief rafting research revealed that class 1 is easiest and 5 is hardest. I figured that class 3, middle ground, was a safe place to start. My research also revealed that Taos Box is Thee Mera-Mera Rafting Trip and a class 4. Katie suggests coming back in late April or early May when the water is its highest and doing a class 3 trip. If it's good she says to come back the next week for Taos Box.

Some days I think this blog should be called Ignorant City Slicker or Urban Rat in Rural Paradise. My San Francisco is a small city--not big but definitely city though I'm not a complete hardened urbanite or streetwise cat. It's that I'm more familiar with what lies on top of concrete than what lies beneath it. During my two year "field trip" or residency here in New Mexico, I find myself laughing at myself for what I don't know and have never experienced as well as in complete awe of the beauty of this place. July 26th marks the end of Year 2 and beginning of Year 3 of the New Mexico 3 to 5 Year Plan.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

RGHS in the Evening

After dinner, on the spur of the moment, I ask Geen if she wants to go to the track. She says yes.

Does my question have anything to do with Kris telling me at dinner that she has lost 10 pounds? Yes. We're betting free lodging in Vegas in December that we can beat the other in losing weight. We each wanted to get fit (or fitter, depending on how I'm feeling). I suggested the contest part. My Mom did a similar one about 30 years ago and I fantasize about winning the top prize like she did. I weigh what I did when we weighed-in in June. I'm not on the path to victory, but I still have 4 months.

We pull up. There are lots more cars at Rio Grande High School than when we came to play tennis a few weeks ago, but it doesn't look like as many people. There's space between two other cars, but it's not marked parking. Back in my City, I'd worry about a meter maid coming out of nowhere on a Cushman and adding to my parking ticket collection. Here, I just make sure I don't roll over the broken glass.

We walk over a large pipe on the ground that a little girl is using as her kitchen counter. There are men, women, girls, and boys on the track. Everyone is wearing work out clothes and jogging or running shoes except us. Geen asks if I want to go against the tide of everyone else. I fall into place and start walking. Geen points out the two young women ahead who are walking their chihuahuas on leashes. We laugh. As we walk around the first bend, I see the No Dog Walking sign. We walk on. We see two women walking backwards to our, the community's, flow. They don't seem to care though they are wearing appropriate gym clothes and shoes.

Geen and I walk and talk about how we hate jogging and running. I clarify that I hate those activities until I don't. I mean that I love walking. I could walk for miles forever. I could. But when I've been walking a lot, after a while, I want to run. Well, walk very fast then faster and faster until I'm jogging not quite at the speed of running. I don't think I've run since Uncle Joe was chasing me down 18th Street when I was a kid. That was a reason to run. What helps me jog is I keep a pace. 1, 2, 3, 4 inhale. 1, 2, 3, 4 exhale. 1, 2, 3, 4 inhale. 1, 2, 3, 4 exhale.

As we round the last bend, I notice a young man standing alone in the middle of the track. He is lit up by the towering lamp. He crisply maneuvers a rifle in various positions from his right shoulder to left with momentary stops in front of his chest. Over and over the same clean movements. I remember the young men from Mission High School's boys' drill team. Every Wednesday that I wore a green plaid skirt, I admired their jackets, trousers, and patent leather shoes. I remember watching them practice in the courtyard after school. The loud clangs of metal butts bouncing on concrete, the clipping of canvas straps hitting wood. Rifles carefully raised then wood stock banging against wood stock. All in step. And when they weren't, dropping for 10, 2o, 50 push-ups. I remember the day when other mere privates and I were allowed to shoot in our school's rifle range. I whisper, Right shoul-der...arms! Left shoul-der...arms! Pre-sent...arms!

By the end of my jogging/running/breathing lesson, we approach the pipe again. There are six small round and expertly patted mudcakes on the pipe in front of the little girl. A truck pulls out of the parking lot before us. Another two pull out while we are settling into the car. Two more vehicles turn on their lights and wait for me to turn around. Those four lights follow us out.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Breakfast Taco Envy

Why? Why does Texas have breakfast tacos and we don't? Why, God, why?!

Breakfast taco:
small corn or flour tortilla
Add some beans, papas, huevos, or bacon. Okay, those are my favorite contents but there are plenty others. Some salsa on the side. Mmmm.
Affordable: $1.69 at Austin's Chilito on Dean Keeton for each 2-item taco isn't dirt cheap but 2 tacos for $3.40 do satisfy a panza until lunch.
Easy to eat sitting down or on the go

Why can't I find these where I live? I'd like to be able to buy them when I'm out and about. Or, it'd be nice sometimes to run out and get a dozen--okay, a dozen-- and bring them home to eat.

Yes, Burque has plenty of tasty breakfast burritos--red and green--and my Mission has delicious, filling lunch and dinner burritos. But there are just some mornings when I wish I could eat breakfast tacos without having to change time zones. Or cooking them myself.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon. Thursday: 1 taco with beans and bacon, 1 with papa con huevo. Friday: 1 taco with beans and egg, 1 with with papas and bacon. Saturday: same as Friday. All on flour tortillas with a chipotle salsa. I can't wait for Sunday morning. Twelve hours. Tick, tock.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Life on the Road

years ago my auntie allie

and little cousin jovi came

from their small farm in sonoma

before wineries put that county on the map

they visited us

my very brown father

my white stepmother

my brown face


no-denying-my-missing-african-link hair

in that house

in middle class white suburbia

that same world i had visited on weekends

only moved to from the mission

after my mother died

a year earlier

jovi and i played on dad’s front lawn

a sloppy throw

bungled catch

jovi yelled

the ball went into the road!

i laughed and laughed

it’s a street not a road!

as i stepped off the sidewalk

today auntie still lives in forestville

jovi moved to a place called bend

they laugh and laugh at me

without sidewalks

here on garden road

Garden Road


today i live on garden road

been in this house a lil more than a year

last spring i tried this thing

called gardening

good thing we’re in a desert

high desert but still desert

i watered







clay dirt but dirt


when i was a kid and we wanted to eat a piece of candy

that had just fallen on the ground

we said

god made dirt

and dirt don’t hurt


san francisco’s mission district

yields its own bounty of harvest

countless used condoms

on sidewalks

in middle of streets

small piles of broken glass

every few parking spaces

reveal another driver or passenger

forgot to remove

what another community member liberated

jackets, CDs, cell phones, stereos

a careless step and you might slip on

a mouse or rat or pigeon

smashed into asphalt

clear plastic bags

small enough to hold a button or two

probably held one helluva high

discarded syringes pop up

almost as often as they pop skin

the dirt fills every crevice of carved concrete


Count off

1, 2

count off 3, 4


Count off

1, 2

count off

ain’t gonna hurt no more

dolores park’s playground

sandbox buckets and shovels

share space with cigarette butts

when you drop to all fours

and roll down the hills

careful for the dog shit

moussing your hair

fat pigeons waddle on garbage can rims

can’t remember ever seeing a squirrel

no water feature here

but mission playground’s barely heated outdoor pool

shivers a few blocks away

at the corner of 18th and church


there’s a cop or two on horseback


in the south valley at dusk

an anglo guy leads his daughter

they clip clop their horses down la vega

saturday mornings

mexicanos trot theirs—saddleless—

to the levee

weekday afternoons

a lone rider races his curved shadow down hardy


when gaby and chen visit

geen and i take them to see our neighbors’ horses

white horse down la vega

chocolate and double chocolate on anne

geen pulls the dry grass

beneath our feet

carries the slim pickins straw

to white horse’s mouth

white horse sniffs her open hand

licks chews swallows

sniffs for more

the camera in my mission hands

points at gaby squealing

chen circling his wrists

as if shaking off excess water

black dog crosses la vega

barks and growls at us

i don’t know anything about horses

but i know dogs chase

me, my sister, and girl cousins were running down 16th

across from mission dolores

heard a dog

we screamed as little girls do

we ran faster

he ran fast enough to catch the slowest one

not me

that dog didn’t bite these barrel legs

Stay still

Don’t look

Be calm

black dog leaves


this season even as i return to







dreaming of using the well

on my land

i see empty lots and abandoned adobes

instinct asks

when will someone build with steel and concrete

when will someone





the purple flower

on the weed

in this desert

of clay dirt

reminds me

i am on borrowed land

i stop

cut around the weed

topple skyscrapers

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

West Side Women

West Mesa Women

west mesa women


no killed

killed and left behind

not forgotten by familias

mothers and daughters

come on TV

we love her

we miss her

we wont forget her

we never forgot her

even when TV ignored our cries

the killer ignored her cries

newspaper columnist

a woman

brownest thing on the masthead

writes how TV reporters

went to families

requested responses

to police officials finding

mother/daughter/sister remains

mothers/daughters/sisters have no comment now

cuz when they asked TV

to broadcast fotos and films of

their mothers/daughters/sisters’ faces

TV asked

Where’s the story?

What’s the angle?

TV said

Television is an expensive media…

The Albuquerque market…

we want to lock up cops who say

You didn’t report her missing

Well, not right away

and they’re right

until she appeared on the cover of The Albuquerque Journal

we wouldn’t have known her

if we had passed her on the street

maybe we did pass her on the street

if we’re honest with ourselves

we can admit

we probably passed her on the street


walked by

walked on by

kept on going

cuz we do that

sometimes we just walk by

we don’t know how to help

don’t know what to say

what to do

or we choose not to

do anything

she’s choosing

she chose

she left her parents’ house

her husband’s home

left her baby girl in front of the TV

left her boy at the sitter’s

and she walked

but why did she walk?

why would we leave

our loving mothers

protective fathers

supportive sisters

understanding brothers

strong men

innocent babies?

why would we

go out with people

who don’t respect us

take drugs

sell our bodies?


mom turned her eyes

at the same time uncle put his

on my


dad left long ago

and i want to finally find him


the teachers

kept assigning homework

and didn’t read the notes in the margins

help me

i’m scared

i don’t know what to do


the babies wouldn’t stop crying

they just cried all the time

for everything

even when we asked


for them to stop




they didn’t stop until we

placed our hands on their little mouths

little mouths so close to little noses

maybe they stopped cold

left us with nothing but hot fear

we still couldn’t hear

ourselves think

until we smoked a little

drank a little

just a little

for a little while

maybe we just needed

a time out

that’s when he came

around the corner

with a kind smile

smooth words

cool wheels

slow drive

to the west side

maybe he listened

for one moment

someone listened to me

before he screamed at me

bruised me

broke me

pushed my bones into dirt

drowned my breath

with west side dust

In December, I attended a vigil to remember a young woman who died from a drug overdose hours after being released from police custody. I had never met her. Her girlfriend's mother invited me.

Family, friends, community individuals, and organizations, especially Young Women United, began gathering in the young woman's name to press for changes in policies to benefit others, especially other young women. Some of the changes we have been seeking are: drug treatment on demand, rehabilitation not incarceration, and for the jail to stop releasing people in the middle of the night and not allowing folks to call someone to pick them up before being released downtown.

There was another vigil in January. By February's vigil, a woman was walking her dog on Albuquerque's West Mesa when it found a hip bone. By the time the official search ended in April, 11 sets of women's and one fetus' bones had been found. Seven women have been identified.

Also, there are still at least 13 women considered missing. Some of the women who have been identified from the West Mesa were on a list of local missing women compiled between 2001 and 2006 by the Albuquerque Police Department. There is some feeling that police did not do enough--or do enough early enough--to find the women. Also, family and friends went to mainstream media to publicize their loved one being missing but received little to no help.

A woman who has been working with the families of the murdered and missing women suggested that the community come together this month to celebrate in the name of the women. This past Sunday, the vigil was a picnic.

I will update as...now I hear on the radio about George Sadini (sp?) killing 3 women and wounding more in Pittsburgh. Murder here, there,...I'll stop for now.