todd moore | las montanas de santa fe: visions of the spirit country

John Macker

lives in a fabled old roadhouse on the Santa Fe Trail. His back yard is a labyrinth of boulders, cactus, sagebrush, blown sticks, scorpions, and rattlesnakes. In fact, there is a story that a monster rattlesnake guards an old conquistador horse path leading from the edge of Macker’s yard right up into the Sangre de Cristos. And, closer to the house is a small stone slab holding a wrecked typewriter. Macker calls it Peckinpah’s typer. The machine is a chaos of rusted keys all mashed together. I’d like to think that Kell Robertson used it when he wrote Pretty Boy Floyd and in one of Robertson’s many travels the typewriter bounced off the back of his old green pickup and landed not far from where it rests today.

LAS MONTANAS DE SANTA FE or THE MOUNTAINS OF HOLY FAITH is a collacoration of John Macker’s poetry and Leon Loughridge’s art. There are books and there are books. Some are like lowdown dives where you enter at your own risk. Some are like cathedrals, pure works of art. LAS MONTANAS is a pure work of art. I am looking at a reduction woodblock of Diablo Canyon by Leon Loughridge. The title under the woodblock says it all. “An exploration in woodblock and poetry of the faith and culture of Northern New Mexico. A hand printed book with poetry by John Macker and woodblocks by Leon Loughridge.”

Working with images of the american southwest is a tricky business simply because that first wave of Taos and Santa Fe artists really tapped into something almost other worldly as far as painting and visual art are concerned. And, of course, Georgia O’Keeffe followed them brilliantly with her stark visions of New Mexico. However Leon Loughridge’s work is both epic and personal when it comes to a unique way of seeing in the spirit country. Because, whatever you see in the spirit country, you see with your soul.

The pairing of Leon Loughridge’s art with John Macker’s poetry is like making sparks fly up into the air. Macker understands the outlaw shamanic feel of life in the desert southwest and he demonstrates it in LAS MONTANAS. I am always astonished by the best of his poems in WOMAN OF THE DISTURBED EARTH, BURROUGHS AT SANTO DOMINGO, THE FIRST GANGSTER. One of my favorite John Macker poems is “Call Me The Doc Holliday Of Language.“ “I am the voice of the wasteland/The wasted, the outgunned, the/Disenfranchised…” There is no doubt that Macker is the Doc Holliday of language, because he understands better than most New Mexican poets that both the gunfighter/outlaw and the outlaw poet are flawed tragic heroes wandering through some gorgeous lunar landscape just before setting out on the Jornado del Muerto.

beyond geography

I thought of the Sangres
like a lover,
low green graceful range
a nativity
beyond geography

we are this open work
between words
just a pair of stone desert
sipping cervezas,
chatting up Borges, the
blind Argentinian
underneath the imaginary virga

this I learned:
when faced with forked paths
choose both
no book is ever finished
every mountain belongs to another
when we read each other across this
twilight softened range, we are,
become one,

beyond one.

Macker’s sense of storytelling is really what holds these poems together. When he writes about Mount Taylor or Black Mesa or Holy Ghost Creek you are there. You can see the mountain, you can hear the water. The feeling that Macker conveys in these poems is that he is the keeper of all the best stories. He knows where the old bones are. He can lead you to Folsom Man’s footprints or the cartridges left on the ground from the Lincoln County War.


Coyote blitzes across the mountain highway-
I miss him by this much, but I could still see the wind

blowing through his crooked smile as he vaulted
the guard rail in the tapioca snow.

It’s no secret he gave birth to thunder in his trickster
youth, no secret he resents the world’s loneliness.

He harangues the moon because it’s
there and always defers to its precocious melancholy,

prefers to watch the pollen-streaked sunrise from the
summit of Penitente Peak, gorges himself on

wild datura and in a dream blames global warming
for the creeping fungus stains on the cave walls at Lascaux.

As sensate as he is promiscuous, calls out my dogs like
a gunslinger and then yips a litany of excuses until he’s long out of sight.

During the drought, he wanders the mountains twice as far for food,
and squats like a bodisattva under a virga waiting for rain.

In his more blissful moments he’ll tell you his diurnal wanderings
leave footpaths on the chambers of the heart, deep in the heart of

New Mexico. In the spring he paddles far up the Pecos until ravens
peck his shadow off the surface of the still river and he locates

a drawing of himself on a wilderness cave wall where he’ll wait
with belated breath to be reborn again.

John Macker’s work in progress masterpiece is a three part long poem. The first section called ADVENTURES IN THE GUNTRADE was published by Turkey Buzzard Press about seven or eight years ago. All by itself, GUNTRADE is unique. The second section, UNDERGROUND SKY, is due out in 2010. I have read long fragments of it and they hint at something as darkly epic as GUNTRADE.

While ADVENTURES IN THE GUNTRADE and UNDERGROUND SKY are glimpses of John Macker’s large outlaw vision of the american southwest, LAS MONTANAS DE SANTA FE should be seen as his stories, songs, and dreams coming out of the spirit country. This is a book of private chants and conjurings.

John Macker

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.

Much more on John Macker can be found here…

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