Crossing New Mexico with Weldon Kees

1. Santa Fe
“The walls are old,” he says.
I turn in the plaza and nod to Weldon Kees,
his face as dark as the cool shadows
that surround us, walls keeping him
safe, honoring his silence, though
he comes to me to be led away.

 

“The mountains out there are not old,”
he claims and slips his hands into his coat.
We cross the street, each Indian blanket
on the ground holding jewelry I would love
to touch, but Kees and the Navajo man
selling his crafts are whispering to the ground.

 

Kees surprises me by entering the Museum of Arts.
I follow him, the stone floor ringing with
our footsteps, empty arches blending above.
Kees stops and turns to me.
“One can see only so much,” he says.

 

He leads me to the twisted dwarf,
the tangles form of faith and death,
arrows bristling from its muscled body,
a sacrifice of the ugly encased in glass,
Kees staring at the sculpture as if
he knows why we really can’t see it.
He points to the deepest arrow
and places a hand on my shoulder.
“When you believe this, you are home,”
he tells me and walks out.

 

2. Albuquerque
The Sangre de Cristo mountains are old
and he is driving my car to the highest ridge,
the valley below avoiding the bright moon,
the same white light in the bay Kees wanted
to touch before he left.

 

“Mist and clouds are a lie,” he claims.
“Look down there. Men are running away.”
He drives slowly to the top and we get out,
the autumn sun burning terraces into scrub
cedars and piñon pines he wrote about
when he crossed here long ago,
standing on the edge of the cliff
as if this is the only way for him to go.

 

“Look past what you want to see,”
he sighs as the wind takes his slick hair
and makes him into someone
I have seen before, the streets of
Albuquerque down there as dusty
as his closed eyes.

 

We stand on the edge and I wait
at this elevation with Kees who wrote
that the towns we will not visit are
places where home truly lies.
“I must go,” he decides.
“Where to?” I ask.
“Anyplace you haven’t seen,” he says,
and walks down the mountain.

 

3. Tyuonyi
Kees and I are happy when the sun
splits the tree for a moment because
yesterday controlled this mountain dawn,
burning mud deeper into the adobe.
Cottonwoods catch fire here, give
the people time to hide inside turtle shells,
though they come out to watch us.

 

I stop as the drawings come to life
under the arches, symbols familiar
to those who sleep by crossing
the street each night.
As I stare, I realize a man who
diappears wants to understand
and not hide, yet the designs
tempt me to walk in the wrong
direction and leave him behind.
To go farther up would mean
a canyon where I have been.

 

A dirt street inside another path,
tiny houses falling back,
letting me pass beyond their
locked doors, as if the smoking
windows know where I must go.
When I enter the placita, the old
woman is not there because this
is about bringing Kees back.
The dirt street opens to the last
scorched tree breaking out of walls
to shade what can’t be blessed, its
branches confusing until their cracks
enter the ground in search of peace.

 

4. Santa Maria
Water disappears to settle as clear glass
that contains memories of thirst,

 

the ancient hole found in the ruins,
Kees’ hand keeping the others from skimming

 

the surface of the still water, reaching
to be alone under the mountain wall,

 

though eyes that watch have seen this before,
men entering and never coming out.

 

One hand keeps the other from touching the surface.
Pulling back allows the echo of falling rocks,

 

the deep swimmer breaking through walls
to emerge on the other side of the well

 

where the first figures to emerge in centuries are
sitting and rubbing sand over their wet, shivering bodies.

 

5. Fort Selden
Kees is getting tired in the desert heat
and sits on a historic slab of western settlement,

 

this old fort a museum where thirsty men
come to drink from the bitter well.

 

Kees smokes too many cigarettes
and shakes his head at me,

 

“Look at the moth and the deep iris in your garden
because the equation I found in San Francisco

 

is an eclipse drawn on paper
by my trembling hands.”

 

He pauses and takes a drag, my head bathed
in sweat and confusion as he coughs this,

 

“It is too late because jazz has gone away.
I placed a stone deity of a bird next to an eggplant

 

on my desk, its smooth purple skin as significant
as the gathering of birds in your head,

 

their chirping coming from sorrow,
even from the bay where I never told a lie,

 

though the grand steps lead to the burned church
where the musicians used to trace my forehead.”

 

I stare at him and he tosses smoke on the ground
because we are close to home.

 

6. El Paso
Kees waits at the bus station
in my hometown.
We cannot go farther because
the border here is out there and as violent
as the reasons he disappeared
in San Francisco a long time ago.
I want to tell him who I think he is,
but I grew up here and must hide
how things have really been,
drawing the light off the mountains
as if the doubters of history are simply
starving boys offering to shine Kees’
shoes on the corner of Paisano Street.

 

My hometown has a bridge,
but Kees won’t go near it because
he says to cross it would be
to admit there is something wrong
on the other side of my family’s house.
He can never cross because
we have found our way here,
El Paso dreaming its population
of mute men must keep growing
because the border keeps taking
too many of them away.

 

Kees looks at the bus schedule,
runs out of cigarettes
and everything is closed.
He nods at nothing and waits
on the bench with someone
he swears looks like me.
–Ray Gonzalez
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