Poet and Place: Fiesta Season in Las Cruces


When people from elsewhere think of New Mexico they usually think of Albuquerque,  Santa Fe or Taos, the northern part of the state.  Las Cruces is different.  It is in the desert in the southern part of the state and on the border.  You can’t take a main road from Las Cruces to the rest of the country without passing through a Border Patrol check point.  It’s quite clear that this area used to be part of Mexico.

My poem, “At the Edge,” about walking in the desert, has appeared this week on 200 New Mexico Poems, a site to celebrate New Mexico’s centennial of statehood.  You can find the site by clicking on the name in the blogroll to the right.  You’ll find poems about all parts of the state and many of its cultures: Native American, Hispanic, etc.

In my writing, the desert enters often.  As you can tell from my previous post, I pay attention to native plants and places to hike and they show up in my writing.  In Pennsylvania, there was a red-leaf maple outside my window which made frequent appearances in my writing.  Now the view out the window near which I write includes tall grass plants, an apache plume and a mesquite tree, which has grown from a small bush in half a dozen years.  I have thought of gathering these poems into a collection called “From Maple to Mesquite.”

Culture is a more complicated matter; one should tread lightly in referring to aspects of culture that really “belong” to others.  But it’s fiesta season in Las Cruces, and it suddenly seems as if everyone has a share in all the cultures we have here.  It began last weekend with a Salsafest downtown.  My family skipped that because the Greek Orthodox church in El Paso was having its Festival at the same time.  We came home with Greek food to keep us happy for a week.

On this three day weekend, there are enough events to do something every day.  You can go north to Hatch for the Chile Festival, west to the Fairgrounds for the Wine Harvest Festival or south to Holy Cross Retreat Center for the Franciscan Arts Festival.  First priority for me is the Franciscan Festival, where my favorite local musician, Randy Granger, will play his flute.  It remains to be seen whether I’ll get to the others.  I do need a little “down” time on the weekend.

The party continues all fall.  On September 15 and 16, hot air balloons and the Diez y seis de Septiembre festival (Mexican Independence Day) in Mesilla will be in competition.  Soon after that comes the Whole Enchilada Festival, then the next weekend the Southern New Mexico State Fair.  (It takes several of New Mexico’s sparsely populated southern counties to put together the equivalent of a County Fair in other parts of the country.)  Pagan Pride day arrives in mid-October, when some of my friends who belly dance will be performing.  November 3 and 4 there’ll be competition again, between the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mesilla and the Renaissance Arts Faire just across town.

After that I hope to get a little break before the holiday bazaars, tree lightings and luminarias of December.  November is time to be outdoors here, to visit White Sands National Monument and the petroglyph sites and hike up into canyons.  Landscape and culture: so much to keep us busy.


One New Mexico Poet

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Levi Romero is the New Mexico Centennial Poet.  This means he is making a lot of presentations.  One of them was at NMSU in Las Cruces recently.  He read from his collection, <i>A Poetry of Remembrance: New and Rejected Works</i>.

A poet who is willing to subtitle a collection “New and Rejected Works” certainly gets my attention.  It turns out this subtitle is also the title for a poem, which is placed as part of a section on lowriding, the passion of the young men Romero grew up with in Northern New Mexico.  Many of the poems describe the world of Romero’s youth, others focus on family and on community that hasn’t disappeared but is at risk.  The second and last poems in the book describe Romero’s visits to his mother in a nursing home; both are about telling stories, listening to stories and passing them on.

Some of the poems are in Spanish, and some mingle Spanish and English.  My bit of Spanish could get many of the pieces, but not the whole poems.  In his presentation Romero explained that he uses the mixed dialect of his northern New Mexico region.

August and fall seem to predominate in these poems, suggesting all that is passing or has passed as Romero moves into his own elder years.  He is well aware of the unreliability of stories also, as indicated in this section from “Most Skin Hits Road”:

our own histories
who we are
where we come from

could be reinvented
in the next sentence uttered
the next clever line spoken
the next interjection of humor and
sincere display of pleasantries
masking over the face of a new persona

and further answers to all possible questions
made more believable
than the reality of our own true selves
our leaking faucets, ragged lawns
oil stained driveways, two nights of dinner dishes . . .

Romero makes the reader welcome in his story-filled, ambiguous and basically cheerful world.  I recommend this book as an introduction both to an unusual subculture and to a writer who accepts and honors the layers of complexity in contemporary life.

Poems describing more of the many cultures and landscapes of New Mexico can be found at http://200newmexicopoems.wordpress.com/