Posts Tagged ‘Santa Fe’

Lost islands of our lives

June 24, 2019

There are episodes that are cut off from the great river of our lives. These are weeks or months or even years with no connection to our present day. We haven’t returned to these places; we don’t tell stories about the events that took place then; we aren’t in contact — not even ersatz social media contact — with any of the people.

These episodes can feel like dreams. Like ancient cities lost in the jungle. Like islands that were once part of the mainland but then isolated by continental drift — our own personal Galapagos, where time stops and the beaches are pristine and the animals never learn to fear humans.

For me, one of these times is the spring I spent in Santa Fe in 1978.

Downtown-SantaFe

Downtown Santa Fe

I took the semester off from my East Coast college and through some random decisions ended up working as a waitress in a deli/bar on the main square. In retrospect, I was throwing things at the wall to see what might stick. Imagining myself as a writer, wanting to experience America beyond Manhattan and Cambridge, creating a life from scratch among utter strangers. I stayed for a while in a Jesus freak commune and met Vietnam vets and fended off harassing bar patrons and had a crush on a soulful-eyed, beautiful Latino construction worker who barely noticed me and drank a lot of peppermint schnapps and then one night died in a car crash on one of New Mexico’s winding mountain roads.

When spring ended, I returned to Cambridge and college. I’ve never been back to Santa Fe. I don’t remember – perhaps never knew? — the last names of any of the people I met there.

It became a Galapagos island. It stood apart; my history moved forward elsewhere. As decades passed, I thought about those months less often.

But among the encounters I had that spring was one with a marginal and short-lived literary magazine called Read Street, after one of the streets in Santa Fe. It was started by an unlikely character – a loud, crass, heavily-accented New York man who wore tinted aviator sunglasses in that late-70s “on the make” style. He was someone you’d expect to find managing an L.A. rock band, not running a little literary magazine. I think I had a short story published in it. I think he tried to pursue me and so I backed away from the magazine.

There’s nothing else I remember about that particular aspect of my Santa Fe time… except for a poem published in the magazine that stuck with me through all these decades. I had attended an event where the poet, a Native American woman, read it aloud: I was struck by her long, dark hair, her gleaming talent, and her age,  just a few years older than me.

The phrase I remembered from her poem was “cuchillo moon.”

Her name, which I have also remembered all these years, was Joy Harjo.

Last week she was declared the Poet Laureate of the United States.

And so the modern scientific research vessel – or is it a touristic cruise ship? – pulls up to my Galapagos island.  Private, dreamlike memories are abruptly anchored to  2019 news headlines. I’m not sure if something has been lost or something gained.

But… congratulations, Joy Harjo! So well deserved.

And here is that poem, which I was able to track down, thanks to Our Friend the Internet. (It’s from her 1983 collection, She Had Some Horses. Unfortunately, the blog template doesn’t allow me to reproduce the exact formatting.)

Cuchillo

By Joy Harjo

cuchillo
sky
is blood filling up my belly

cuchillo
moon
is a white horse thundering down
over the edge
of a raw red cliff

cuchillo
heart
is the one who leaves me
at midnight
for another lover

cuchillo
dog
is the noise of chains and collar
straining at the neck to bite
the smell of my ankles

cuchillo
silver
is the shell of black sky
spinning around inside
my darker eyes

cuchillo
dreams
are the living bones that want out
of this voice dangling
that calls itself
knife
(cuchillo).

Advertisements