In the Woods

A Bend in the Rio Chama, Northern New Mexico.

My great-grandfather, an employee of the Southern Pacific Railroad, brought his family to extreme southern New Mexico in the early years of the 20th century. There they witnessed not only some of the violence of the Mexican Revolution as it flowed over the nearby border into the New Mexico Territory, but some of the saga of the First World War as it played itself out in U.S. troop movements and espionage activities along and across the frontier. My great-grandfather served in the U.S. Army during this period, and was able to remain in New Mexico in his new military role throughout the conflict. All these things left vivid impressions in my grandmother’s memory, which in turn inspired in me a love of the American Southwest and New Mexico in particular. In my case, however, it is the northern part of the state which has always most captured my attention, though whenever I have been there I am always reminded that just a bit farther south, and now a century ago, my grandmother’s early life played itself out in that arid and adventurous land.

Here is a poem I wrote recently, a somewhat nostalgic few lines, set among a grove of trees growing along the banks of the Chama River, in Rio Arriba County. Some of the vocabulary is antiquated and regional, typical of what was for centuries a quite isolated part of the state. I wrote the poem originally in Spanish, but my English translation is fairly literal, so that reference to it should take care of most difficulties a person unfamiliar with the northern linguistic differences might have.

In the Woods

The muddy molasses
Of the stricken acequia
Is the chosen home
Of the yellow brown grasses.

The noisy violet sorrel
In the breezes of the woods
Is the sweetheart of sparrows
In the slow pine-nut season.

Where’s my little river now,
And the chattering of the grasses?
Where are the healing herbs
And warm sunlight of the past?

Here in this prickling,
This tin can pile of recollection,
I look back and rest enshaded,
Moving always at half pace.

En el Bosque

El melaz zoquetoso
De la acéquia desprovecida
Es hogar elegido
Del zacate enchagüistado.

El chocoyle ruidoso
En los vientos del bosque
Es el güiso de gurriones
En la lenta piñonada.

¿Donde ahora está mi rito,
El güirigüiri de las matas?
¿Donde fueron los matariques
Y el solecito de los años?

Aquí en este pelizco,
En la jarrería de mis recuerdos,
Miro hacia atrás tan sombreado
Y siempre a media rienda.