for Amiri Baraka
It was all I could do
It was all I had learned
It was all that there was”
-Jerome Rothenberg, Seneca Journal
grizzly claw- scarfaced Mimbreño
one of the last of the free incorrigible chiefs
a handful of bitter tobacco, pollen,
sage to the wind
drinks smoke from a broken tequila bottle,
knows the first rattler of spring has
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaastirred in Socorro.
The dried white bones are riotous
on the desert floor, here
in the southernmost sub-range of north
aaaaaaaaThis vulcaniste contemplates the 3 days until
in real time, this morning the
free life woke up still born, swathed in another
drought, just about anywhere south of
the half-baked Rio Grande. A wounded
infant cries on a blanket on an oily cloud
aain the dust.
Homeland security has replaced
spiritual topography as
the operative seduction of those most endangered.
Who was the true Killer of Enemies on earth
starving, depleted by futility
warrior heads in the shadows
beyond the range of the strange decrepit tongues of the
aaathey followed Loco because he’d “rather make you his
slit a pony’s throat & drink its blood
than accept water from a conqueror.
I’m in a bar, at the badlands edge of a border
town, twilight detonates itself all over the red hills
& my brain is being scoured by the genius of
Muddy Waters who snake charms
my nerves with a minimalist
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaI Can’t Be Satisfied
going where no blues song has gone before in my head.
My oldest friend,
we were altar boys together,
told me he went to sleep in Austin with a migraine
& woke up in
the morning with no sense of taste or smell.
He remembers our Catholicism like he remembers the
flavor of certain exotic foods.
Tonight is Earth Hour,
a celebrated hour
without artificial light,
will salute the night all over the world
but no such
thing will occur here. In this place,
climate change has come & gone. Those
left will see the melting candles in each other’s eyes.
The desultory tinkle of ice in glasses is like
broken wind chimes.
The bartender keeps an empty glass behind him
at the bar near the cash register.
Says it was Hemingway’s tequila glass
that once upon a time came from a favorite haunt of his
deep in the heart of Sonora.
We gaze upon its fevered luminosity
with appropriate reverence.
No one speaks. When we do,
it’s in a language not universally understood,
by the reverent or the sober.
I have to remind the guy next to me I’m
only here temporarily. Just one tequila
for the open road home.
He claims he’s had an atrial fibrillation,
shouldn’t be drinking at all. No stimulation.
But it’s March Madness & he’s put everything his kids own
on North Carolina.
The trucking outfit in Las Cruces
just laid him off.
His children flinched inside ragged dreams while grandmothers tried to divine the smell of rain from the distant black hills that were bundled like extinct bison shoulders in the pre-dawn dark. There were poultices of snakeroot for the wounded after the slaughter at sierra en medio, when Loco crossed the border, marched the women & children in front, warriors at the rear looking out for the Americans. They were attacked from the south by Garcia’s Mexican cavalry who swooped down on the unarmed, exhausted weak & the young. History says they killed more than 78.
For the rest, there were stealth missions looking for mescal at first light.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaInto dust. The
desert snow. Loco
will decorate his face with charcoal. The
eyes of the dead somewhere above ground beyond
shadow still burn like embers
& remember the night.
(Shamanic wild ass Geronimo leaves with him
skull in a canvas bag
he now holds close to the flames, tells the
skull in perfect Apache, you thought you’d live
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayou made us grieve for things
we cannot name.)
The mankiller wind lashes itself to the landforms
smells of debauchery &
his desert sizzles like a fuse;aaaa this is
where the clouds break off from the distant
hills & float
Each shape is an obscure race
of shadow animal that drifts in
high over the border; each
cloud is shape shifted meticulously
by the vulcanic
Loco knows each of their Spanish names;
aaaaaBeyond the arroyo seco, there is heat lightning
as most of the early life force
fades from the darkened room.
Men sniff, cough &
can’t realize they’re perched on sacred ground.
How many canyons in the American Southwest are named
Diablo Canyon, on maps or in legend,
likewise, the Black Mesa’s in New Mexico alone?
They are all the same landform, in that they’re sutured
together by myth & wild crafted lore,
violence & lust,
dusted with history,
most possess a disproportionate number of
human bones, victims & conquerors,
shards & fetishes
just under the dirt, yet distinctly different.
As if occurring on separate but equal planets.
aaaI’m drinking on the underground sky of the dead.
I feel like telling all I know of the old rogue chief Loco, which isn’t much, from a
poet’s point of view, that
his compañero Geronimo wasn’t a chief at all
but a warrior & shaman, a wild wolf leader of men.
A spokesman, the most famous. His friend.
aaUntil we all surrendered.
aThere was a night in history when heat lightning
could charge a landscape & I imagined Loco looking out
beyond the fire at the reddish blooming flashes that
illuminated the black ground in the distance
off to the west & seemed to draw the Mimbres dead
up from the earth as if coerced, no, more like provoked,
by all that tormento in the night sky & if he focused his
eyes he’d see the shadowed warrior shapes wandering loose
in the dark without particular purpose or gravity.
They were spooked to life to fight beyond life.
These sacred grounds: I’ve hiked them, walked them for
miles on trails made of sand, camped them, felt their deep night
chill, made fires & stoked coals, woke up on the hard ground
in the cold morning, grieved & laughed
in isolated desert whispers,
memorialized the family departed with impromptu cairns.
aaaI also prayed out loud so the solar gods would listen.
Sunrise, Loco squats with his segundos
scratches a batch of futile destinations
in broken circles in the desert pavement.
Red penitente streaks of wind lash his back &
he once etched how many men he’d killed
into a stolen trooper’s saddle,
never scalped a one though,
that ain’t the Apache way. Left
them flat on their starched naked backs
on an ant pile
mouth & lungs open to the earth,
aaaaato be scalded by the sun,
desert time, the shape of
his last dawn
a free born man, he
dreamed of his children in febrile, sand-
blasted sleep, &
watched with one gnarled eye
the clouds form, reform, witness, hover
over the winter of his life
& disperse narcissistically
until he had to climb sierra en medio
in the near dark,
catch hell fire at the edge
of the horizon,
come apart in shards &
cascade into the Sierra Madre.
lives in Northern New Mexico with his wife in an old roadhouse on the Santa Fe Trail. Books and broadsides of poetry include For The Few, The First Gangster, Burroughs At Santo Domingo, 2 +2=1, among others. In 2001, won the James Ryan Morris Memorial “Tombstone” Award for poetry. Has given public readings with writers such as S.A. Griffin, Frank Rios, Tony Scibella, Gregory Corso, Andy Clausen, Ed Dorn, Linda Hogan among others. Has had essays and poems published in journals and magazines throughout the U.S. including, most recently, Manzanita Quarterly, Sin Fronteras (Writers Without Borders), Pitchfork, Black Ace Book 7, Mercury Reader, A People’s Ecology: Explorations In Sustainable Living and a large section from a new manuscript Adventures In The Gun Trade (considered to be a seminal Outlaw text), was featured in Mad Blood #2, October 2003. In Colorado, in the early-mid 90’s edited the award-winning literary arts journal, Harp, which featured interviews and poetry by Robert Bly, Gregory Corso, Charles Bukowski,Tony Scibella, Diane DiPrima and many others. Has two dogs and when time permits, listens to the wind.
John Macker’s most recent book of poetry is Las Montanas de Santa Fe with woodcuts by Colorado artist Leon Loughridge. He is also the author of Woman of the Disturbed Earth, (Turkey Buzzard Press, 2007), among others. He has recorded 2 spoken word cd’s: black/wing w/John Knoll and Reading at Acequia Booksellers. He is the editor of Desert Shovel Review and was co-editor (with S.A. Griffin and Marsha Getzler) of Black Ace Book 8, a tribute to the late L.A. poet Tony Scibella. His work is currently included in Mile High Underground, an exhibit of art & literature at the Evans/Byers Mansion, Denver, Colorado, sponsored by the Colorado Historical Society.