Working Absence

October 2, 2009

Kit Carson and his Favorite Horse Apache

Kit Carson and his Favorite Horse Apache

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working Absence  

 

 

“You have deceived us too often….”                                                                        

                                         General James H. Carleton

 

I wake up dreaming of work and feeling guilty

hoping one dream can balance another like

an execution is supposed to balance a murder.

  I sip tea as the sky stretches below me. Smooth

tops of clouds extend forever, but it’s only the limit

of my vision. Maybe that’s all forever has ever been,

the shortcomings of not seeing around the bends

on our private planets. One dream relieves the last and

I’m flying to Albuquerque imagining I deserve such

a miracle as being so up in the air (amazed at flight)

when I’m traveling to shut up the windows, check

the metal roof, trim branches and harvest a fistful

of oregano for the kitchen. I’ll rent a Ford to drive

the rest of the way to the mountain valley where

I’ve purchased a house where I plan to retire

and then eventually die. So much of my past is long

past recalling, there’s no place to go back to anymore.

 

I love it here, where I am and am not.

 

Three hundred years ago Navajo people grew peaches

in mountain valleys not much different from my valley

…perhaps two days on horseback from where

I’ll watch the stars pass and fall and sleep tonight .

They called the fruit in an old language carried

across ages of ice pursuing herd tracks of caribou.

When these mountains appeared large enough

to contain their wandering, they walked in circles

–the people, the caribou and late summers brought

the sweet labor of harvesting peaches and corn.

Their lodges faced east.  No one anticipated much

worse than their private extinction, dry bones

and a thousand years of peaches.

 

When I grew up bombs exploded

with the regularity and seeming nature of thunder.

I didn’t awaken sometimes, other times it was

somebody our family had known, or lived

down the street from the killings. People talked

about this plague of murders in old languages

that they had carried like pastry across Europe.

But it was already disappearing in our mouths.

It whispered deep rasping, complaint and loss.

It slowly starved, having lost the ability to talk

about love, as babies no longer cooed and babbled

happily in its syllables to form their first words.

The truths it spoke of were disappearances,

habitual robbery and unceasing forgetting.

If you travel to the home of these languages

you’ll hear them still sing and barter good

bargains, or  argue about the eloquent points

of philosophy or poetry…laughing.

In my hometown they only can tell you

where things once had been and are no more.

They’ve lost the vocabulary of harvest festivals,

the drowsy tones for bedtime stories, and exalt

for wedding blessings. Only lonelier and loneliest

they name who is no longer among the mourners.

 

At the farmer’s market in Santa Fe I bought six peaches.

They were small as hen’s eggs, fresh picked and sweet.

When I sliced them open, pale flesh streaked with red veins

released a thin perfume—like a child that had walked

through a forest. Not like the ripe crates of Georgia

peaches that smell drunk with summer, these were shy

fruit. A woman with a tattoo on her wrist sold me

my peaches and gave me an apple. This too was a language,

smart and generous, “Come back.” I hold that peach

close inhaling its exotic kindness. Then I call the airport

to confirm my return to the work I left behind.

The work. The damn guilty work.

 

*Image taken from “The Life and Adventures of Kit Carson, the Nestor of the Rockies”, illustrations drawn by Lumley, engraved by N. Orr & Company, 1888

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One Response to “Working Absence”

  1. Mike Says:

    Remarkable how a piece of writing can appear to be unreadable and then weeks later the exact same piece of writing reads effortlessly.
    Parrallels between New Mexico and Youngstown? The sad, tragic facts, sensual details, tribal and personal history, along with the implied refuge, and insecurity, in work make “Working Absence” poetry.
    It’s wonderful knowing someone who has taken writing so far.
    Be well.


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