Wednesday, December 14, 2011


A sign in Amtrak
city station —
I look around
we look at ourselves

It is so, we all die. Each and every one of us; no matter the car of wild kids swerving us on a curve heading north from El Paso on Route 10, and by the looks of it they might be headed into something bad earlier than they should; or the old guy peddling fruit and vegetables from the rear of his pickup truck parked alongside the road. He'll die too and I wish he wouldn't. I hope that little boy who sat between me and the taxi driver — who at one point while driving put an arm around the boy and hugged him — I hope that little boy lives longer than me, just as I hope my own son thrives and his mother with him. I can see Susan and Carson living a very long time as mother and son. I'd like to be with them, and if it can be forever, I'll take that too.

This is how
you come to feel when you read these wonderful household poems by Bobby Byrd. It's the living and the dying and the inbetween. You read a poem, then look up and realize — my god, I want to read it again — or at least say it out loud to someone, tell others about it. Bobby's poems bring people together and everything looks easier than it is. How fortunate to be able to live a life like this, a life that is ready for any death and a life that would have friends say, "Yeah, Bobby, he lived a good one." Behind it all, the poet puts on an accomplished act of fakes and feints and laughing through the pain; one just doesn't gain the hospitality Bobby gathers in his poems without the struggle, and for that I consider him one of the best poets in El Paso, even though I know he would stand up at least a dozen other poets from the city and describe how he learned from them.

We're driving
out of the city in less than one hour after we arrive passing up the opportunity to visit Bobby and his wife Lee, and maybe it is because we don't want to ruin a good thing, but don't ask me what that means.

We go
on to pass Keith and Heloise Wilson just north of here in Las Cruces — close friends with Bobby and all of these good folks friends with some of our friends. Because Drummond Hadley was on the phone with a mutual friend who said we were about to leave on a train in the early morning, Drummond called our house from his ranch in one of the corner pockets of Arizona. He'd heard we were coming his way and he would be delighted to have us visit, he even knew the train passed as close as Lordsburg, New Mexico.

Hadley, Wilson and Byrd are three champs of South
west poetry (for lack of a better term) since the 1950s and not one of them was born there (except Keith) and I have a hunch that makes all the difference: for whatever reasons they arrived, fell in love with a place and stayed. In Hadley's case as a poet, he has almost disappeared there; it's just that serious.

It certainly
seems like we are the fools, preoccupied, selfish, that we leave behind Bobby in Texas and slip past Keith in Las Cruces which is so easy to locate on this highway, and never make it as far as Lordsburg with a junction route that allows you to drop gradually into Arizona. Even Ted Enslin, a friend to all three of these poets and not too concerned about these visits we miss — like me he knows it will happen — but by letter Ted wishes we had taken the little highway from El Paso that wanders to Las Cruces through old towns Berino, Vado, Mesquite — "And you would have been in the shadows of the Organ Mountains the whole way."

know, I know, we can't please everyone but we already have plans to return and find Ted's highway, and I hope we can do it by not being noticed as we did two days later on this trip to La Luz, New Mexico. A tip from a New York Times travel section noted this small town — close enough to the sensation of White Sands, as an authentic old-style New Mexican hideaway, and after driving in for a moment and leaving, I wish everyone would leave La Luz alone, just leave it be. The Times readers arrive with bed and breakfast trappings and the need for an immediate fix from an urban rapidity; in other words — they want everything. La Luz is so close to Alamagordo that it doesn't seem possible there could be a feeling of relief as you sink into the shade of cottonwoods floating over the town's narrow roads. We stayed one hour eating oranges and pretzels in the parking lot behind a church with a freshly painted, or refurbished, mural.

There were many such excursions and wrong-that-became-right turns and pleasant discoveries all through the New Mexico we visited. A little like Vermont, with the best swimming holes and trails and sloped pastures no one has written about, and we found a few. Or else we appeared at some places during a day that completely won us over and these places didn't even have a name.

Americans seem to
have an agenda where one visits a location that everyone else has been to so you have something to talk about to someone when you return. Yosemite experience to Yosemite experience, Grand Canyon to Grand Canyon, Big Sur drive to Big Sur drive just won't compete with watching falling leaves settle into a mountain stream in Arizona. I figured out after a few trips to the Southwest and a few more to go, the reason we haven't visited with any of these poets we do love and admire, is that we are coming to terms and introducing ourselves to the land, which is in the best way, getting to know the people, whom the best poets know.

~ Bob Arnold, from American Train Letters
(Coyote Books, 1995)

photo © bob arnold