'Real' New Mexico
by Jim Sagel
"New Mexico's Best"
By Richard Mahler
The late Jim Sagel
lived in the Espanola Valley of northern New Mexico from the early
1970s until his untimely death in the late 1990s, working as an
educator, translator and writer. An Anglo transplant from Colorado,
he taught himself to read, write and speak Spanish after marrying
into the family of local weaver Teresa Archuleta. "I
wanted to protect myself from my in-laws," he joked. "After I
learned the language, "I became fascinated with the stories that
my suegros (in-laws) were telling. I started writing them down-and
creating stories of my own."
For more than
20 years Sagel wrote, in both Spanish and English, about the Espanola
Valley. His poems and short stories won numerous awards, including
Cuba's prestigious Premio Casa, the Latin American equivalent
of the Pulitzer. In his opinion, wandering
is the best way to see the "real northern New Mexico." In Sagel's
the first time I crossed the New Mexico state line, I decided
to wander. There is something about the grandfatherly mountains,
the isolated adobe villages and meandering arroyos that immediately
invited me off the map. More than a quarter of a century later
I continued to cruise the back roads of my adopted home, not unlike
that first 'lowrider,' Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus),
who discovered much more than he was looking for.
aimless trips down Frost's 'untaken road' have led me to the most
austere and remarkably beautiful landscapes-likewise, they have
brought me into contact with the most hospitable and civilized
people in the nation, the Nuevo Mexicanos of the small villages and pueblos who truly mean it
when they say, 'Mi casa es tu casa,' even
after so many have taken them literally and taken over their land.
is what inspired the following selection from my manuscript of
'road love poems' to New Mexico, "Unexpected Turn":
"Pass with care,"
the sign cautions, but you need
no reminding as you pass by a butte brooding over stegosauras
hills. You know that the next turn always promises to be unexpected,
a ponderosa laid open by lightning, a herd of cattle sleek as
a Brahman vision, a lake tremulous with trout. This is a land
where the sky intoxicates the eye and history gossips in the willows
lining the river. It's the lost roads that lead to the desert
gardens; you miss your turn and end up finding your way.
turn your eyes to the ridge above the pueblo and gaze at the deer
dancers descending in the frozen dawn. You turn on the wooden
dance floor in your lover's arms, as the musicos play the valses
their grandfathers learned from their grandfathers. You turn a
hoe over in the mud to make the adobes for the home you are already
plastering in your dreams.
turn your head just long enough for the abuelo,
the grotesque and guffawing trickster, to steal your hat, leaving
you to squint at the Matachines dancing
their marked ritual. You turn over in your hands the santo
that has emerged from the root of a cottonwood tree; you trace the water
serpent coiled around a pot burnished black as an unbroken memory.
you have known this land, you will always turn back. Like the
exiled lover who could sense his lover combing her hair from a
thousand miles away, you will always hear the drum pounding in
your pulse, the Llorana weeping
in your inner ear, the sand cranes flapping their wings alongside
the river in your blood. Once you have taken the unexpected turn,
you will never again pass without caring."
For a full listing of Richard Mahler's
books, and to place orders for them, visit Amazon.com.
"The Best" Listings