Verses to an Institution
New Mexico poets share odes to the New Mexico Museum of Art on the occasion of its centennial.
WHAT’S NOT LOST
when there is an absence of
there is a direction chosen
where heart, intent, and desire, meet
preservation meets development
to set a precedent
for instances in which the likes of
MOMA follow suit.
Architecture and ancient character
conversing as if they’re
of two different tongues
but translation isn’t lost altogether—
instead a romantic erosion
set in motion
a revival that was
Yet performed with grace
and put in place
as Santa Fe Style,
Where seven sings of luck
like the planting of a seed
for means of interpretation
an authentic invitation
to the American avant-garde
What was once considered
to be hopeless and backwards in ways
saw a change —
a shift in the foundations
a brown and round revival
one that danced toward an identity
worthy of development
deserving of preservation.
Development of value
preservation of meaning
and the sustained promise
of authentic existence
abound—within these rounded
in these echoed halls
with floors that ache
to speak—oh the stories they’ve heard.
dialogue and growth.
musings of inclusion
a unique revelation
a gift in the desert.
One of sand and mud
earth and sky
and everything in between
the in between,
it’s where we find ourselves,
As cultures have clashed, coalesced
Erosion, a term not quite
fitting, unless we aim
to find the beauty in what is lost,
the treasure that is story,
that is song,
that is memory until memories are gone.
and so here,
striking are the instances
where we came from
who we are
where we’re going.
100 years removed from this place in time
what might we find at this particular site
what will have beautifully eroded
into a quest for something more
to be questioned
to be brought about in the idea of
beauty, of belonging,
of story and legacy.
And where is that
Santa Fe horizon, somewhere else?
and that ought to be just fine to those
who have walked these halls
and shared in the
art as response
This is the latest in a series of commemorative poems El Palacio has commissioned from Carlos Contreras. He has also written “Along the Beaten Path” for El Camino Real (bit.ly/ecrpoem), “It Used to Be a Village” for Coronado Historic Site (bit.ly/chspoem), and “Communion in the Desert” (bit.ly/nmhmpoem) on the occasion of the opening of the New Mexico History Museum, among others.
A FESTSCHRIFT ENDING ON A DRAWING BY RICHARD TUTTLE
Window-glance of lilacs on adobe, a
light breeze and sunlight
shivering thin shadows on the wall,
tulips blading up
through loam and leaf-rot. From brush-
stroke and trowel-slip,
from windrow poplars leafing-out to
a shadowy yet lucid history—water
rushing the ditch-mouth,
rose and lilac rifted alike with
mountain light and thunderhead,
with elk-bugle, bear-chuff, bolete and
chanterelle, the silent rift
between first sight and pounce, the
lion shadowing the straggling lamb
like a painting that carries the heft of
gold-leaf, of clay and wool,
the arched stroke of horses, golden in
the mist-shrouded meadow.
We are like that newly-sighted woman
oppressed by the vituperations
Of shadow, of color—the bugled blues
and honking reds pressed hard
against her eyes, her ears, purpling
everything—a blastula of color,
a fistula, a fist that whelms and
overwhelms with newness
until the barest stroke of graphite—
part line, part silence—tacks
across a flat pond of lined paper, a
light hand on the tiller, buffeted
by chance, by the weight of sunlight
on penstemon—a breath so
gentle now across the earlobe carrying
just your whispered name.
MOONRISE OVER HERNANDEZ
The baby never slept, and if she did
it was only for ten minutes at a time.
She wasn’t distressed, simply inquisitive.
She didn’t want to miss out on anything.
At dusk I walked her in my arms around the Plaza.
The moon rising above Picacho Peak pleased her, the star
over Loretto Chapel illuminating the narrow streets of town.
We climbed the softly worn stairs of the museum,
the uneven wooden floors giving way under my feet like a
She craned her head and stretched her arms toward the dark
vigas of the ceiling
with its carved red and blue bulleted pattern.
In a narrow room painted the green of a young ponderosa,
she gazed at Ansel Adams’ photographs,
moved her eyes across the southwestern sky of his prints,
pointing to the small white speck in the black sky
rising over snow-capped mountains, the river village of
and said her first word, up.
WHAT CAUGHT MY EYE
Would life be richer if the sunflowers blooming
Became tanagers and feathers flew out of the bird.
Maximilian yellow hit the George Bellows blue sky
I used to live below the abstract, adobe,
a tract house in the real. Our field flanked
La Mesita, inhabiting John Sloan’s masonite.
Oh Georgia, You drew me, lured by a skull,
a blue feud. I arrived and found a pelvis
by the road, caught is what I know about bone.
I ride this white painted horse home from the
My horse is in oil. My horse is in alfalfa.
A group from India passes between this life and my last.
Two of them take illicit photographs
next to two Hopi dancing in bronze,
a rattlesnake held in teeth
The man who donated his kidney strolls by.
Life always grabs me, rattle and fear,
Though my people rarely handled snakes.
Paint gasps for canvas.
We toss our lives back and forth, smile,
Handle what we dare.
This poem was previously published in The Singing Bowl
(University of New Mexico Press).
Thunderheads above the Plaza,
a stop, a start—
guitar and violin rehearse.
One of those days
when conversations can go wrong
but the violinist is barefoot and cheerful
in hot pink and kelly green
and the guitar player smiles adoringly.
“It’s fantastic!” comes from the audience.
Rehearsals are confusing,
as is life,
the same problematic measure
over and over
and how many times I’ve looked
at these murals—
St. Clare rejecting the worldly life
in Pre-Raphaelite fashion.
The crucifix reaches higher
than the Mayan priest’s staff—
these images speak of conquest—
and Christopher Columbus
dreaming of a schooner’s
red sails at sunset.
Then Robert Schumann
Piano Quintet in E-flat,
the poor composer
dying in the insane asylum.
Yet it seems so amazing
to be walking around needing only
a stringed instrument
to produce these notes.
The piece so familiar to my ear
yet essentially unknown.
Notes falling and falling and falling.
How each person
in the audience
contains an entire world,
even to themselves.
Sorrow, greed, opinion, accomplishment, secrets, lunch.
Who can walk down an avenue
in a great city and say—
I am complete.
Now the violinist is playing the cello!
Showing off or to prove a point.
And the cellist is laughing.
EARTH AND WATER
At home, though out of place, caught in a spell,
like Rousseau’s nude drowsing on her jungle chaise,
a numinous radiant-white outsize shell,
suggestive, slyly, of a desert skull.
Painted in reverse, on the back of glass,
at home, though out of place, caught in a spell.
In the first brushstrokes, fine as filoselle,
the details are laid down: wisps of snake grass,
a numinous radiant-white outsize shell,
camper in which itinerant undine could dwell,
at any moment to emerge and gaze,
at home, though out of place, caught in a spell
under the creviced juniper, the swell
of distant mesas, now iconic as
a numinous radiant-white outsize shell.
An echo chamber, like a villanelle,
through which the rhymes of desert seas can pass,
at home, though out of place, caught in a spell,
a numinous radiant-white outsize shell.
At dawn the Sangre de Cristos usher in slants of light;
all begins anew amid cool clean breezes
in the ancestral homeland of our relatives, the Kiis’áanii.1
Yootó2 is resplendent in the clear morning:
piñon, cedar and juniper, low red hills
and huge cottonwoods along the river
and the Plaza glisten in the new day.
They are eternal witnesses.
Near our home, the huge yellow chamisa are at their finest
in the bright September days though we admit
our detour around them due to their boisterous scent
and loud bees feasting on their nectar.
The young chamisa are perfectly round and stately;
their still-closed blossoms eager to debut in a few weeks.
They emerged in exact proportion to nearby stands
of brush, cholla, yucca and sage.
The crisp morning summons the sleek train
that is piloted by a bright yellow/orange roadrunner.
The car carries tourists who talk loudly though seated
they are compelled to share their grasp of local food, cafes,
shops and pueblos.
Sullen students lug huge bags down the aisle then sling
them onto seats;
they are shielded by headphones and pause only to tap
intense texts into the world.
Solitary tourists keep watch on the landscape, snapping
of lone horses on the hills, the crimson bajada dotted with
and lone billowing cloud. Near the depot, they take selfies
suddenly smiling broadly and unabashedly
at their outstretched hand. The sudden action momentarily
Fridays on the Santa Fe plaza:
slight winds carry enticing whiffs of hot dogs, burritos and
Bright balloons rise languidly above shrill wails and
On the verandas above, people sip cool drinks, dine on spicy
or warm, crusty pizza. Their banter and laughter wafts
the din of children running about, that tall guy talking
boldly into his phone
and the teenagers huddled on the grass sharing smoke
their hushed voices punctuated by occasional whoops of laughter.
The huge, leafy cottonwoods regard the stooped elder who
she pauses to watch the children carelessly bound ahead.
and recalls those delicious days when she too was light and
Ecstatic little dogs struggle to sniff every inch while minding
their “good dog”
status lest they are picked up. It’s torture to be carried in
such a delectable place!
Near the Obelisk, a busker strums guitar while silently pleading
for another bill, or better yet, a fiver. As graying hair falls over
his bowed face, he recalls the long-gone years of dim smoky
rowdy laughter, fanciful undying camaraderie, cold sweaty
cans of beer
and that huge clear bowl stuffed with bills.
“Ah, Kentridge, the residue of the past is very much with
he says to himself and smiles.
At the museum, my footsteps creak on the worn wooden floor,
Along the court yard pink hollyhocks and cerise roses
are radiant against the thick earthen walls.
The portals play annual hosts to strands of shiny, fresh ristras;
their deep, red iridescence a celebrated contrast to turquoise
Inside the dim museum, security guards politely shush
whisper restroom directions then move about silently.
I wander through the halls and consider lines, colors,
angles of light and time conceits in varied works as
Maria Martinez, Scholder, Houser, Rembrandt and Picasso.
The echo of each scribble, line, stroke of pen, brush or yucca
gesture from each frame, from decades, and centuries ago.
Later, I sit beside the Santa Fe river where the fluttering
evoke my ancestors’ long-ago journey to Yootó.
In the mid-1860s, the Diné were rounded up by the U.S. Army.
They were to be imprisoned at Fort Sumner,
but were first marched through Santa Fe to quell fears
about “marauding” Navajos and Apaches.
To the capturers’ surprise, the townspeople attacked the weary
disheveled children, elders and families.
They threw sticks, rocks and some even kicked and struck them.
Alarmed, the military formed a protective circle around them
then finally led them southward on the 200-mile walk to
The Diné were held there for four years then released in 1868.
In the afternoon din, I stretch my arms
and straighten my back: a reminder to maintain posture.
I see myself as others might: a Diné woman alone in Santa Fe
though I am bequeathed again with prayers, songs, and memory.
I understand that the huge trees, the cold river, dark velvet
and even the thick brown walls recognize me.
They bid me to return so as to cherish our ancestors,
and the multitude of gifts that surround us.
We are bidden to remember their journeys
as we prepare for the days ahead.
- The Pueblo people.
- Yootó is the Navajo name for Santa Fe, meaning a necklace made of beads of clear cold water.
- William Kentridge, Arc Procession 9. Lines of Thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to Now. New Mexico Museum of Art. September 2017.
- Diné means “The People” in Navajo.
THE REHEARSAL AT ST. FRANCIS AUDITORIUM
Xylophone, triangle, marimba, soprano, violin—
the musicians use stopwatches, map out
in sound the convergence of three rivers at a farm,
but it sounds like the jungle at midnight.
Caught in a blizzard and surrounded by wolves
circling closer and closer, you might
remember the smell of huisache on a warm spring night.
You might remember three deer startled and stopped
at the edge of a road in a black canyon.
A child wants to act crazy, acts crazy,
is thereby sane. If you ache with longing
or are terrified: ache, be terrified, be hysterical,
walk into a redwood forest and listen:
hear a pine cone drop into a pool of water.
And what is your life then? In the time
it takes to make a fist or open your hand,
the musicians have stopped. But a life only stops
when what you want is no longer possible.