Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Tucson. I drove out to Tucson, crossing the flatlands in Kansas, Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle and much of New Mexico, a forty hour trek of 2,608 miles. Agave and creosote bushes are roadside features in the desert southwest. On my way back to New Hampshire, I visited Bruce Holsapple in Magdalena. He lives in an isolated location, eleven miles up an unpaved slope to a spectacular retreat among piƱons and black and blue grama grasses. Bruce is a William Carlos Williams scholar, fascinated by evidence of the influence of decadence in Williams’s early poetry. Like me his feeling for his own work is indebted to the support and example of Burton Hatlen, who should not be forgotten. I also stopped in Albuquerque, after that Taos. The ride along state highway 518 threads snowclad peaks and yellow grasslands, vistas of alpine valleys where cattle graze and elk browse. In Norman, Oklahoma, a hard days push to the east, over high desert flatlands, I read from my poetry, both Roman Exercises and the translation of Yvan Goll’s Neila. Crag Hill, my host his living room the venue, my odyssey informed by the impulse to share work.  

In Tucson, city of arrival and departure, I read from my translation of Antonio Gamoneda’s Description of the Lie, a book whose cynicism conjures suffering under Spanish fascism. Many translators had gathered, myself and my emotions, an asterisk among luminaries. Face to face with others, I vacillate between anxiety and depression. Tucson for all of its cosmopolitan panache, as evidenced by dining alternatives is also the city of Lesly Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead. That deep vision, like the vision of Mexico profundo, wherein tribes seek to restore their integrity though a revolution that has not yet ended, haunts real estate developments, nightclubs, and other marks of corruption and speculation. I could not shake her vision, my eyes remained clouded, in brightest sunshine. For all my nervous pessimism, I was warmly received in the Arizona Poetry Center. I conclude that my compulsive social life requires excursions to sites of poetry and poetry in translation, driving the miles my therapy. In the embrace of friends I find comfort (Peter, Cynthia, Giancarlo, Lucina, Mark, Margaret) although I also embrace isolation.

I have constructed itineraries that involve grueling hours of lonely travel. On the way out, at the home of Robert and Elizabeth Murphy in Loveland, Ohio, I felt the generosity of feeling that characterizes the lives of my hosts in their agricultural retreat on the banks of the Little Miami, surrounded as they are by encroaching suburban developments and hundreds of acres of malls with identical shops and chain restaurants, repeating themselves until they breach the desert horizon. In Loveland friends gathered for a bounteous feast. I had been invited to share my recent work. After Loveland, I drove out to Lawrence, Kansas, the televisions there tuned to the triumphs of the Kansas City Royals over the New York Mets. I learned from Jonathan Mayhew who had invited me to  address his Spanish classes that both Langston Hughes and William Burroughs were familiar with Lawrence in their time. Jonathan and I that evening dined in a bank building that had been converted to a restaurant. Is this conversion underway everywhere? It has happened to the Nashua Trust Company granite temple of my childhood. The students were engaged by Gamoneda’s acrid lyricism, or so I was told. Memories of trauma do not weave the mantel that I would fold around my spirit.

It’s a long way from Lawrence to Tucson, with nights spent in the interchangeable motels that cluster around each interchange and vary only in the quality of linen and toilet paper. Few use the swimming pools for relaxation. It’s a nervous nation. My way was mostly along U. S. Highway 54. The freight trains to El Paso, descending from Great Lakes ports, follow the same route. On the way out I discovered Hatch as I sought an alternative route to Interstate 10, blocked by an apocalyptic truck fire. On the way home, I also visited Hatch at the suggestion of Mark Weiss. Mark has at his command intimate knowledge of many secrets of the Southwest as well as the wider world. I purchased a five pound cluster of chiles, requiring yet some drying, according to the shopkeeper. These I gave to Bruce in Magdalena. Finishing these notes implies that I have settled in at home again in Weare, New Hampshire. I have my souvenirs, a Navajo mother with three babies in her puppet arms and some pottery from Jemez Pueblo.

Donald Wellman