My Letter to the Heavens for a “Literary Giant”: Rudolfo Anaya, mi papá nuevomexicano (Part 2)

A Really Miraculous Journey (READ PART ONE)

I drove with a friend for 111 miles, más o menos as el cuervo flies, before our first stop in your land of origin. The whole trip was a bit surreal… It had started as a relatively warm October day, but the temperature was starting to drop significantly as we were heading east. Driving in silence and pondering climate whims, I was remembering a conversation with John Nichols years ago in Taos. Our common friend Teresa introduced us when I attended Sharon Oard’s Taos Summer Writers Conference. The highlight of that event, apart from Stephen Benz’ inspiring travel writing workshop —whose result gave me the courage to dare calling myself a writer “even in English”— was the visit to the D.H. Lawrence Ranch in San Cristóbal, NM.

I loved it all: Trinidad Archuleta’s buffalo painted on the outside wall of the cabin; the stories of the caretaker of the ranch, who enjoyed the oooohs and aaaahs of his audience when he recalled the knee-high snow he sometimes had to plough through to come check on the homesteader’s cabin; Lawrence’s vanilla-scented ponderosa pine immortalized by Georgia O’Keeffe, the woman you evoke in Randy López Goes Home, wondering if the ‘crazy artist’ would pick up the hip bones of Spirit the faithful horse to take them to her studio; and the phoenix opening her wings over Lawrence’s shrine. There I carefully observed the writer’s death certificate from Vence, France, where “southpaw-impaired” mini-me played theater among other pines, at a stone’s throw from where David Herbert left this earth.

mini me playing theater in Vence

On that pleasant Taoseño afternoon John Nichols had told us how much Denise Chávez, who visited him from her warm Las Cruces, suffered from the cold of Northern New Mexico. I must say… I don’t blame her, although sometimes only through a bit of suffering and time freezing do we reach lasting bliss.

on se les gèle à Taos

Underlining the transformative effect of the opposite ‘temperature’, Lawrence describes the hindrances on one’s soul journey if one is not ready to embrace the discomfort that will be bringing the shift:

Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled, made nothing? Are you willing to be made nothing? Dipped into oblivion? If not, you will never really change. The phoenix renews her youth only when she is burnt, burnt alive, burnt down to hot and flocculent ash. Then the small stirring of a new small bub in the nest with strands of down like floating ash shows that she is renewing her youth like the eagle, immortal bird.

Once, out of the letters of my three names (we love identity abundance in Belgium!), a young boy who inhabits the sacred garden of my symbolic world had made up a new alias for me: Ashen Lyrics. Maybe he was hinting at the writer’s phoenix… Is it because of the phoenix symbolism that many people cremate their departed ones, in the hope of seeing them again as a fledgling bird? Did you still see us from your ashes when we said our last goodbye at St Joseph’s on the Rio Grande? The urn containing your ashes, lost among flowers between the parishioners and the altar, looked so tiny to contain a literary giant…

You know I’m no longer familiar —nor particularly at ease— with Catholic services, let alone in English, so my eyes wandered a lot during Monsignor Lambert Joseph Luna’s sermon. I checked his name because of two things he shared with us that I liked. He loved reading you from the seminary far away from home because Bless Me Última took him back home to New Mexico; and he quoted Coco, the movie, to reassure us that you would always be with us if we remembered you… Thank you, Saint Joseph’s Joseph Luna!!! Have you noticed? The priest’s last name “for real” is shared with the Puerto de Luna farmers on the maternal side of young Antonio’s family! Your magic words always influence the tangible world… Thinking of the sacredness of la luna, the moon, I was remembering a beautiful painting by New Mexican artist Pola López which impacted my soul: a raven watching over a curandera’s altar.

raven over curandera's altar

Check her work at https://www.polalopez.com/

Pola is from Las Vegas, NM, and Joseph Luna as well. Should I be surprised by this perfect synchronicity? Probably another touch of magic from Pola’s work, which, as she herself assures, rests on the border between “magical realism” and “pragmatic idealism”. While the priest spoke I was peeking behind your beautiful farewell picture by an October golden Bosque. You were portrayed in a Kachina bolo tie and a blue shirt as bright as Crispín’s guitar. That same picture shines on the back cover of Serafina’s Stories, your Puebloan version of Shahrazad. A great visual invitation for us to never give up telling stories… I wondered if the cute statue of el Santo Niño de Atocha in the church background was the intermediate stage between the “‘Him’ increased and us decreased” embroidered on a white silk banner. Maybe not too serious a thought, blame it on Coyote, the church is close to the Bosque… But I digress.

Back in October, now closer to Pastura, I was shivering behind the wheel. I had the strange feeling that my memories and wandering thoughts influenced the weather, causing the mercury to drop even lower… Then something warmed my heart as I drove past the ‘Milagro’ sign, and I smiled, confident that the day would be blessed with more than a miracle.

for letter to Rudy in the Heavens milagro sign

I was imagining that John Nichols mischievously mismatched map locations to honor the tiny Eastern spot on the New Mexican map, close to your birthplace, when he located his Beanfield War in a “fictitious” Milagro, while his descriptions clearly reveal the Northern New Mexico sceneries he calls home. From one of several Milagro book covers Coyote whispered to my ear that the “place twisting” was more than plausible, maybe not of Nichols’ sole making but with a little help from Spirit… Like the angel namesake born of a whirlwind at the beginning of the movie adaptation, I believe Coyote plays hide and seek on Nichols’ covers due to a trick from his compadre Raven. You honor the two trickster archetypes through their fight for the Sun in the Sonny Baca mystery series. As I see it now, the black bird, well, my version of him, instead of arrogantly stealing the four-legged’s thunder, chooses to slowly drag the solar being down the underworld to teach him a thing or two about life, death and rebirth. Do you remember when I told you I thought I knew why Patricia and you had seen a hawk strike a raven once at Chaco Canyon? Well since then Raven struck back, so that both could be even, and it brought powerful lunar lessons.

The first thing one sees upon entering Truchas, the beautiful hamlet on the High Road to Taos where Redford filmed Milagro, is a raven sign by Truchas artist Bill Loyd. The man seems to love ravens. I read in an interview that he created a very special wedding gift for a client: Hugin and Munin on top of a triskelion. That must be quite a spiraling sight! The sign of his studio shows a raven pointing with his lips (oops, beak) towards his bird family, maybe readying everything for a tricksters’ meeting, a ravens’ conference. Synchronicity made me recently translate a book that talks about a Coyote Conference, held in Coyote, Northern NM. So who knows, close to your birthplace, maybe there was once una Conferencia del Cuervo! I like the raven sign in ‘real’ Truchas better than Devine’s ‘dancing trout’ ranch entrance in the movie, even though the fish honors the Spanish name of the town… I refuse to call “murder” the beautiful bird family. Or maybe I would, only to acknowledge Raven’s role on the road to spiritual healing, helping one to murder the ego, like Lawrence’s phoenix, like corn kernels ground between la mano y el metate. Once we accept the disintegration of our overly categorized persona, we’ll become Spirit’s private (third) eye, enabling magic to sprinkle the stardust of us over ancestral scenes, brushing back to life our soul’s primal memory to reveal ancient fingerprints… Some of Bill’s ravens in Truchas hold round, red gifts in their beaks; I decided they were the fruit of el capulín, chokecherries from Sofía’s tree, your female character, embodied wisdom, patiently waiting for Randy to finally make it home from the realm of the dead…

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Still speaking of the dead, Coyote yields to cute calaveras on some of Nichols’ covers. The beautiful skeletons —which Posada portrayed in every imaginable life situation— also brighten the other two covers of Nichols’ New Mexican Trilogy. Those limbo-dwellers are deceit lovers, and the first time I watched Robert Redford’s rendering of The Milagro Beanfield War, in the shadow of the “Panchovillesque” Coyote Angel, I saw Kokopelli. “For my eyes only” he traded his captivating concertina for a hypnotizing hollow reed. Ever since that first “hallucination”, he’s been with me. The piper told me to believe in my hunch regarding Nichols’ literary trick, heedless of its veracity, because believing is how one truly enters the parallel realm of writers’ magic… And magical parallels sure started to arise on the day I drove to your land, where invisible Luna farmers would spill some beans for me to find in the middle field of my Book of Life’s intersecting galaxies.

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Peeking a little deeper into John Nichols’ world through documentaries, I remember thinking that his Taos den, “wallpapered” with books —even in the bathroom!— and where he keeps every single letter he ever received, was the embodiment of the Agua Bendita post office where Randy López landed among coyotes, and where “dust-covered packages were stacked to the ceiling. Letters bulged from crammed niches. All sorts of tattered boxes covered the once brilliant Saltillo tile floor.” Hey, you said the post office wood door was carved by a Taoseño… Maybe in your head your friend John was the postman who appears in Randy’s journey.

I have to admit that I am slightly obsessed with prospecting for authors’ inspirational quarries (at least in the works of two writers), looking for clues to whence and where the muse took them. I draw from personal glimpses into the writers’ universe, and I also like to ‘verify’ the fiber their threads are made of, like that image in Zia Summer: Sonny, following a lead that might relate the murder of his cousin Gloria to cultist activity, looks for all the places where cattle mutilation occurred. As a Baca/Vaca (cow) himself, maybe Sonny unconsciously felt that those missing parts of the four-legged victims were the visible signs of his own soul loss. Perhaps that’s why he and Raven constantly look for each other, periodically stealing the medallion sun from one another. In his meticulous search of mutilation scenes Sonny comes to the realization that those names on the map are organized in the shape of the Zia sun sign, just like the property of Raven and his cult, near La Cueva in the Sandías, the Center of the Sun. Of course Nathalie had to “make sure this was true”, reproducing the location of all the mutilation scenes on her own map of New Mexico! My “excuse” is that I’m very visual… Once a nerd always a nerd, maybe because it kinda rhymes with ‘word’!

mapa para averiguar

I often carry your words on my road trips (and other people’s words too), picking “the right book for the right place”, feeling that driving them around special spots might reveal something, through some sort of subtle symbiosis. To White Sands, I had taken Jalamanta; and then “the whole enchilada” of the Sonny Baca series —together with Alburquerque (which I see as the genesis of Sonny’s journey) and Bless Me Última— to the Sandía Mountains. The latter was on a “gateway” day, the cross-quarter day Americans greet with a groundhog searching for his shadow, and Belgians honor by eating yellow pancakes as round as the Sun… On that February day I walked over one of the silk furrows of Grandmother Spider’s web —which more practical people call lay lines— spreading my chessboard blanket by a juniper tree, not too far from your Raven’s La Cueva, “the cave”. There I organized the books in a Zia circle, arranging the series’ titles to match seasons and directions, and to reflect my own life’s journey. I was having trouble with Jemez Springs and Alburquerque, switching them back and forth between East (the dawn, the birth) and the Center (the pre-dawn, the womb). I started to feel like a double impersonator, of both the card trickster and his viewer “victim”… I guess my difficulty arose from the question of where to start, East or the Center… Only later would I understand that I also needed elevation to get the right order and be part of the magical flow.

title directions

Since I ‘verified’ Sonny’s detective skills, I also wanted to locate Randy’s windmills. I know. You did not really plant windmills in his landscape, but you made him embark on quite a Don Quixotesque quest. So for some reason I wanted to know which ‘real’ hamlet hid behind “Agua Bendita”. For the longest time in my probably futile quest I was confused, because I remembered that “Agua Bendita” was the name of Truth or Consequences in Tortuga. Apart from honoring the healing waters coming from Turtleback Mountain when you wrote that story of your paralysis and recovery, you probably wanted to restore the meaning of the former name of the town, Hot Springs, before it changed to what first sounded to me like an ominous prophecy, learning only later that it borrowed its new name from some sort of radio trickster show…

However as he Goes Home Randy is said to be roaming Northern New Mexican sceneries. Although it might have been a ‘mirror portrayal’ of a journey to the underworld, mentioning North while having him wandering South, all the scenes definitely had ese sabor norteño, único y alquímico… So I concluded that you drew your main inspiration from Jemez Springs, where you spent blessed times and even founded a retreat for budding writers. All I did at that blissful place was sit on an adorable vintage turquoise porch swing under a tree, but I think such fleeting moment actually built the memory I needed to go back to, whenever I lost balance or when I drifted too far away in the labyrinth of my convoluted thoughts…

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The last time I remember walking a labyrinth was at Ojo Caliente, another of those hot springs; there are many in New Mexico… The renewed awareness of their abundance worked as a potent reminder of the fact that todas las aguas son benditas, all waters are sacred. Water was, is and will always be life.

Water is one and only… Maybe using the same descriptive name for different hot springs along the Río Grande was a way for you to remind your readers of this truth. So instead of rigidly looking for ONE spot in particular to locate Randy’s journey, and remembering how the act of writing usually seams its literary quilt from bits and pieces of memory rags, I decided that I should consider Randy’s limbo as the River of all Rivers, an ancient stream collecting many treasures from numerous tributaries. I did not come to that realization by myself. Without My Raven’s help and his leading caw caw caw, I might still be drowning in a sea of confusion. I know sometimes you worried about that raven. Now from where you are you know there was no reason para preocuparte, and I promise we will talk some more with birdie once we get to how I roamed my own living limbo in a strange Wild West universe, which lies east from where I once lived. East we were still headed on that October day, to meet your childhood sceneries.

Once in Pastura, the snow hadn’t yet made its appearance, but I could barely feel my fingers as I took pictures of the landscape of your past. A lone tree weeping by the cold railroad tracks; a rusty truck about to take root in an earth as weary as the vehicle’s body; several abandoned houses, each telling me in a crumbling voice muffled by adobe dust that it could be THE ONE where you crawled toward that pencil, foreseeing and (pro)claiming your destiny…

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By the time we reached Santa Rosa, it was snowing heavily, and we were thankful for the well-deserved meal from Joseph’s, your recommended restaurant on Route 66. The minute we were seated, characters from your universe came to the surface of my reality.

A strange metonymy imposed by an imperious power made me start calling my friend by the name of the town, repeatedly addressing her as “Rosa”. That’s what Sonny would do too with his beloved Rita, once he dreamed of Billy the Kid’s novia, named Rosa in that Shaman Winter’s dream. I was starting to mix times, names and stories too, maybe getting ready to let my fox nagual enter the ravens’ realm.

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Also, maybe the picture on the back cover of Joseph’s original newspaper menu acted as the mermaids you’d sometimes see in the Río Grande right before la Llorona’s hour. The two Blue Hole divers were inviting me down the abyss of Writers’ Wonderland to meet your last “Rosa”, born from the Chupacabra series. In the third story of the trilogy, Rosa Medina has left L.A. for her grandparents’ adobe casita in Puerto de Luna, NM, where she slowly becomes a novelist wrestling with ways to render an accurate story of Billy the Kid. THAT Rosa is the one I have been secretly looking for after all those years reading you: THE female character closest to me… Don’t all readers need to feel identified with novel characters, or am I a weird Rudy geek? Of course I loved the sweet yet strong Rita and the powerful yet caring Lorenza, but, like Sonny would say once he was getting cold feet, I “ain’t a taco pusher”. I am not a curandera either, at least not THAT kind of curandera. My potions are my creations; my tinctures are my synapses; mi milpa es mi bloga, que cultivo a pura pala, a pluma abierta. If I were to identify with any literary alter ego back in the shaman detective days, Sonny was the one.

As I’m writing this letter, struggling to weave the proper word quilt, a Serafina’s colcha to wrap my story in, I am experiencing Rosa’s exhaustion, obeying the quasi tyranny that glues me to the laptop while I navigate the vast array of despotic thoughts competing to be brought into the light of words:

The deeper [Rosa] got into Billy the Kid’s life, the more other stories got tangled in her mind. Novels she had read kept jogging her thoughts as she wrote, poems from long ago, scenes from movies, all interfering. Staying focused on Billy’s story was exhausting her. (…) She stopped riding her horse in the afternoon, and began to work from morning till midnight. She stopped visiting her neighbors. The story consumed her. (…) By writing the story [she] got into Billy’s time. Isn’t that what writers do, get so deep in the story they feel like they are in the story? The author becomes a character, and the character is trapped.”

Trapped I am, as I try to stage my thoughts like Sonny staged his dreams, willingly following in Rosa’s footsteps. When I took that trip to Santa Rosa I had just re-read Rosa’s adventures in Puerto de Luna, when she left a drug-ridden L.A. barrio to spend her summer writing in the quiet, rural family house. With “a little help” from her friend Marcy, well acquainted with ETs, Rosa ends up following Billy the Kid through a wormhole along the Pecos River, to be by his side during the tumultuous Lincoln War, so that she can get Bilito’s story right.

In Santa Rosa, something was telling me that el Bilito was visiting us too on that October day. In Sonny’s adventures you had called Billy’s “favorite sweetheart” Rosa, and then you summoned a modern Rosa to fight the Chupacabra with him, but on my journey to your land which is also Billy’s, the famous outlaw whispered to my ear that he was thinking of his mom. The lady’s name was Catherine though, not Rosa. ¡Ay! Catalina… The name appeared in Sonny’s shaman quest, as one of the kidnapped girls the Chicano detective had to rescue in order to save his own soul, his very existence.  All of them shared the initial ‘C’ of their first names. Were you hinting at “Chican@”? Were you inviting the reader to “C” through the veil? In Rosa Medina’s adventures between Guadalupe and Lincoln County, you attributed a dark connotation to the letter “C”: the “C-Force”, code name for the Chupacabra makers, the ones I saw as crazy members of some sort of “GMO” (Great Manipulation Order) Cult… The two sides of the C seemed to tend towards a perfect cosmic balance. Light and shadow, positive and so-called negative… In the Sonny Baca series I loved the handwritten addition of the detective’s notes, by the way. Now I think I know why your subconscious chose to place a Catalina there in the heart of Sonny’s search, but hushhhh, I won’t say here… What I do want to say is thank you to Belle, your niece Belinda, for making Rosa’s notes palpable too, enabling the reader to learn some more about Billy’s discreet momma…

maps and notes 2

I was probably being influenced by the famous outlaw’s wishes, so after lunch I proposed to go pay a tribute both to Billy’s tomb and the ominous Fort Sumner’s Bosque Redondo where the Long Walk of the Navajo ended. Before that I still wanted to take a few pictures of your Santa Rosa universe, like the church where you were baptized, on 3rd Street at Lake Drive, just behind Baca Street, but of course. I knew hot salsa would be needed to stoically face la fría niebla rosada, the cold pinkish mist that was wrapping the afternoon sky in eerie hues. After thanking Joseph’s staff for the warmth of their meals and smiles, off we were. Roses were symbolically blooming all around, since I remembered that you were baptized there, at Santa Rosa de Lima Church, on the day of la Virgen de Guadalupe, the one who poured roses on Juan Diego’s tilma for him to prove his vision was real. Perfect for a child of Guadalupe County…

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Also, for some reason I was hearing in my head the amazing pirekua, or Purépecha song, “Rosa de Castilla”, soundtrack of Nava’s movie Mi Familia-My Family. Its nostalgic notes adorned a recent memory of another road trip with the same friend, whom I kept calling Rosa. A few days before our current adventure we had treaded the old praying grounds of the ruins of the chapel dedicated to the same Saint Rose, on the river bank of the beautiful Chama. It was on el Día de la Hispanidad, Spain’s National Feast Day, formerly better known in the States as Columbus Day, graciously renamed Indigenous People’s Day in New Mexico. Feeling her presence in the sunrays filtering through the broken walls of her chapel, I knew Santa Rosa de Lima wanted me to connect the dots between her own feast day and a certain event in my life. She murmured half-kept truths, blurred memories that spoke of atole, flowers, earth and her bounty, the celebrations around the state in her name, she who ‘competes’ with la Virgen de Guadalupe as Patroness of the Americas. She poured sensations through the funnel of time, projecting the long shadows of massive crosses on both the Chama and the Río Grande rivers, speaking of a birth, speaking of cycles of time and sanctifying wines. In one crevice of the chapel’s crumbling adobe walls, the contour of U.S. Route 84 snaked its way down south, prophesizing our upcoming visit to your place.

santa rosa de lima abiquiu

However upon leaving Santa Rosa, instead of following that route like any “normal” person would, I stubbornly wanted to take the road less traveled, the dirt path I thought might have witnessed Billy’s horseback rides to and from Puerto de Luna. Before embracing the ‘wilderness’, we took time to greet the statue where you forever write Última’s farewell words. I love that, to honor your life, The Guadalupe County Communicator chose, among many others, a picture of you by your Santa Rosa statue. In retrospect, I think you sit there as a gatekeeper. Back in October I sensed that your bronze effigy was guarding the entrance not only to the physicality of that part of your childhood that taught you about seeds, but also to the rich field of your psyche’s realm.

To be more receptive to my own psyche’s whispers, my ego would be ruffled a bit throughout the years, so that I could fall deeper down the rabbit hole. A big, red rabbit was the shape of one of the first balloons I must have held as a child, and I will always remember your reaction to my most important balloon story. ¡Vaya historia! You were the first one to hint at what I should do with the miraculous journey of the very-long-distance helium sky runner, the balloon that I let go off from Belgium and that landed in Guadalajara, Jalisco, México…

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As I struck a pose with “you” under falling flakes, I remembered your words from years ago. “Maybe you have to wander a little around this earth to find parts of your ánima, still to be explored, known, received.” You were right, Rudy, oh so right, but I don’t think I would have found a way to ask the clouds for the deep meaning of my balloon ride without My Raven’s help… Speaking of corvids’ flight, before landing in la milpa mexicana, the cornfield of the Bamboo Ranch in Guadalajara, my balloon glided over a distance of “5,911.339” miles as the crow flies. This is too big a figure for a wor-d-shipper… so I reduced it to one digit, applying the theosophical process that adds the numbers of a birth date to find one’s life path… and the maaaaaaaaaaaaany-mile flight boiled down to 4, my age when I held that balloon, and 4 like the sacred directions proudly floating on the New Mexican flag. What a perfect pattern for my soul search, echoing what don Eliseo explained to Sonny in Shaman Winter: “there are four roots to a man’s history, as there are four sacred directions from the Center; four quadrants of the universe.” The old man knew it was not yet too late for Sonny, even though his ancestors Owl Woman and Andrés Vaca, members of the Oñate expedition, had just been separated in dream by Sonny’s “archnemesis” Raven, who would still need to take four grandmothers in the dream realm to kill Sonny Baca’s spirit, or so your story has it.

When my friend and I reached Santa Rosa’s Blue Hole, the mysterious seven sister lake system, we were the only living souls around. The cold was close to un-bear-able. We could hardly find enough layers to brave it for a stopover by the water. I did not see the golden carp as I tried to take a picture of ‘something’ below the water surface. The weather conditions had turned the usually crystal clear turquoise water into a dark pitch as black as a scrying obsidian bowl, like the one Owl Woman held in Sonny’s dream…

The big red buoys over the surface, guide lines for divers to hold on to when descending into the abyss, reminded me of my sky runner balloon, and I guess it is what prepared me for a vision. First I saw scenes of one of my favorite movies, The Big Blue by Luc Besson. The French director portrays divers holding on to a similar device when propelled down below to try to break the depth record, reaching the chasm where dolphins become mermaids. The tale told on the phone by the main diver to his love interest is both beautiful and dreadful.

Do you know what you’re supposed to do to meet a mermaid? You go down to the bottom of the sea, where the water is not even blue anymore, and the sky is only a memory. You float there in silence, you stay there, and you decide that you will die for them. Only then will they start coming out. They come and they greet you, and they judge the love you have for them. If it is sincere, if it is pure, they will be with you and take you away forever.”

I guess it’s a nice example of the two apparently opposite aspects of water, and of all elements: they can bring both life and death. You sure know something about it after your near-death experience when you drowned in the acequia… But still, all your books are an ode to water, which you praise and worship, like all good farmers do. Was it a way for you to come to terms with duality? Did your childhood spent by the seven sister lakes made you ponder the seven joys and seven sorrows of life, together with the seven types of love Ancient Greeks talk about? La tristeza de la vida is something Agapita, the curandera with a name that obeys the laws of universal love, told Young Alfonso, “whose friend” recounts his Sorrows through letters to “dear K”.

More than the diving device, what I saw beyond the Blue Hole’s buoys were the multicolor balloons held by the Big Blue protagonist while visiting dolphins held captive in Taormina, and how he let himself be dragged in the water to feel what was wrong with a new dolphin girl who did not belong in the pool; the long intercontinental phone conversations with the woman he was falling for; his monitored heartbeats, printed on a long paper stream she stole and cherished, holding on to it in intuitive anticipation of all she would have to let go off; two diver friends toasting with champagne at the bottom of a pool and how they played fools inhaling helium and telling coyote jokes in cartoonish voices; the pain caused by the death of that friend taken down below with the mermaids, and the joy and comfort brought by three members of the diver’s dolphin family. Finally, the most disturbing images of all: the drowning of the diver’s father when he was a little boy in Greece, and the same diver sliding below the frozen water surface, his hands touching the thick ice layer trying to find the way out of the solid water prison. Was it because of the loss of a father that he felt less awkward with silent dolphins than with talkative novias? Was it to find his father who fell into the abyss that he took the plunge himself, over and over again until he suffered raptures of the deep that made him choose the eternal company of mermaids, there where the water is not blue anymore? Or maybe he preferred the version of his amor he had seen in the bottom of the lake… The glacial hole he slid under when he met her was in Peru, the nation of Santa Rosa de Lima, where lakes have heart shapes, not too far from a huge body of water that protects the once broken Gate of the Sun…

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Have patience, your journey here today will eventually show you the way out of the frozen walls too,” whispered a voice in my ear. I decided it was Santa Rosa de Lima telepathically talking, finally delivering part of the message she first tried to convey from her crumbling adobe chapel up North, in the land of the witches, where a crevice took the shape of route 84… In a split second came another vision on the surface of the lake. I saw myself squatting at the bottom of the empty pool in my Granada village, after lighting votive candles in the shape of the Zia. Yes, that wish had come true, I told my former self in the pool of time. Then my adult face regained its child features, and the turquoise pool walls wrapped me in the colors of the New Mexican sky as I rode a Black pony in Normandy, France. The four-legged belonged to a little girl named Alice, like the one who explores Wonderland… One day that four-legged took me down the maze of a giant cornfield. Yes, I could feel it, the balloon in the milpa did want me to see the relevance of it all in the land of the rose, but I still didn’t get it, even though my child self invited me to peek through the window of time.

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There on the edge of the artesian well, I constantly remembered your metaphor of a person’s subconscious: a deep lake one has to dive into to retrieve part of the ánima. I know that long ago my ánima spoke through a tear ripple on another lake. That one felt so much wiser than I saw myself at the beginning of the journey… Then I remembered how History was defined in a watery way too in a book about a real-life shaman’s journey toward healing the soul.

I will tell you something I have discovered. Listen well. History is an underground river that flows underneath the present. Everything that ever happened keeps happening below us. The river empties into the present now and then. That is when catastrophe occurs. Historic catastrophes are sometimes caused by someone inadvertently digging too deep into the past and reaching the rivers of history. This river flows simultaneously backward and forward: it has no source and no exit. It is formed by the debris of time; it is made out of unfinished business.” (Andrei Codrescu quoted in The Price of a Gift)

Unfinished business… Is this why we come back over and over again, why we “bet-them-Mike’s horses”, as you made the old man in Randy López Goes Home pronounce metempsychosis? All this made me shiver, because I remembered minor catastrophes that sometimes had happened when I was the one digging too deep… Two such small catastrophes were about to occur after we left the Blue Hole and got back to the car to cross the river again and reach Puerto de Luna, where Billy the Kid had come knocking on the door of Rosa Medina the budding writer.

pdl bridge y luna

Under the bridge by the Pecos River, a lonely dog was the only witness of our crossing. Did he guide into the underworld the lunatics or inocentes you saw as the true sages of any given community? Had he seen Randy and his dog Oso lately? Or Rosa on her mare Mancita following Billy towards his destiny? It made me realize that for once I had not yet used any “real” book I brought with me that day. I only grabbed a self-made, make-believe book with no page, where I kept the curandera’s potions and herbs under the guarding eye of an owl and the fragrant spell of… a black paper rose. All my make-believe “ingredients” held a symbolic charge I was unaware of when I created them: all of them had something to do with Rosa Medina and my own quest… Rosemary, “the Rose of Mary”, has always been used to strengthen memory; la hierba del manso evoked the name of Rosa’s mare, una yegua mansa, a tame, gentle mare; la muda de serpiente, snake shedding, was the eternal renewal to which I was submitting my soul; el polvo de rosas, rose dirt, close to a rosa negra, black rose, was clearly the alchemical call for Rosa’s transformation (or my transformation into her?) under the shade of a juniper that not only Última knows how to speak words of love to… The make-believe book accompanied me when I dressed up as Última for Halloween, honoring what would be your last birthday on earth. My makeup reproduced the ‘double face’ (tonal and nagual) of a shaman sculpture I was gifted long ago by my parents, only that I did not re-member it when I painted my face… 

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Lost in thoughts, I allowed the car to choose the next stopover for us after roaming the ghostly Puerto de Luna: the gray pony took us to the historic marker stating that Coronado built his bridge on the spot (which, legend has it,  he named that way because he saw the moon rising over the mountain pass…)

coronado sign

Was the place really a wormhole after all? Ancestral voices were starting to emerge, gurgling their memories to the surface of our present. I kept hearing “Tonatiuh”, name of the Aztec fifth sun under which I was born, in a somehow angry tone. A horse, not Rosa’s mare though, appeared in my mind’s eye rearing on its fallen male rider, inflicting him what I sensed would eventually be a mortal wound. My machine “pony” decided it was time to go further south, so I followed my instinct and drove down a road that would soon become unpaved. A ‘Spanish Rose’ on the metal ranch sign that marked the end of the pavement seemed to telepathically convey more hidden messages to store them among the black petals of the paper rose slumbering in my curandera’s book.

Already half way through the dirt path I thought would take us to the road to Fort Sumner, a road block prevented us from going further south. We were ‘trapped’ on the road on the edge of Guadalupe-la virgen County, unable to make it to De Baca-Sonny (‘like the sun’) County. The so-called Hawk Road visible on the map, which apparently could have taken us further down, showed up on the ‘wrong’ side of the path. Did I mention we were on ‘the Path of the Sun’, el Paseo del Sol? All which is related to you always seems to be leading me on that sacred Path of the Sun, rekindling something asleep in my soul, like the first time I read your Zia Summer dedicatoria:

Dedicated to the old people who walk on the Path of the Sun, and who remind us that clarity of the soul is possible, even in these violent times (…) and to the spirit of Última, who [has] encouraged me along the path of illumination that comes with Lords and Ladies of the Morning Light [los Señores y Señoras de la Luz].

So up the Path of the Sun we went. Tata Sol seemed happy while we were going south, since it had showed up behind the clouds, to paint the boulders a warmer color and soothe our bones with some of its warmth. But after the U-turn, Tata Sol destroyed the resolana del camino, leaving toward its pouting room. It was getting cold again, and the more I drove, the stranger it felt… A quick look in the rear mirror and a peek outside the door confirmed my suspicion. Yup, my rear left tire was desperately flat, probably after treading a cactus in that U-turn I made. Yay! We were in the middle of nowhere, with one phone dying and the other with no service anyway, among distant ranches where no one was to be seen, and whose fences seemed to never have learned the fantastic purpose of a bell… The four coyotes Randy met at Agua Bendita’s post office had to be slapping their tricksters’ thighs rolling in mulberry jam, or then it was my raven family giggling under their wings as they devoured cherry pie…

No pasa nada, it’s all good, I’ll walk to look for help in some ranch”. But this ranchería land seemed as dead as Agua Bendita right after crossing the two-headed calf gateway, not even an old man on his Spirit horse to tell me about life or death. “Hello…” “Hello, anybody home?” I was expecting to hear the echo of my own words. “Home – home – home, plays Dorothy’s broken record…” Three cattle guards later, and inches away from losing my limbs to the cold, I decided to believe and trust, at each of my bilingual steps. “Please, someone; Por favor, alguien; Please, someone…” all this until I reached the car again, where my stoic friend amazed me with the Zen monk’s attitude she displayed, as long as she stayed warm in the car. Ten minutes later, a big truck appeared with a cowboy switching hat with THE only mechanic we ever needed, fixing the mess in less than five minutes. I was so grateful, kneeling on the cold dirt track trying to feel and be useful to him as he gave my car its pedicure. I think I thanked him at least six times in a row…

Without noticing it then, this is probably where small catastrophe number 2 happened: back home there was no way to find a necklace I decided to wear that morning after some serious thought about it. It meant the world to me, and I did shed some tears when I noticed the loss, but then I took a deep breath and thought it was yet another invitation for me to learn the art of letting go and to believe that even necklaces had to bet-them-Mike’s horses…

As my pony happily galloped west on its neatly fixed feet, I knew only my body was in the vehicle. My soul or at least some of its sherds had decided to stay in Rosa Medina’s parallel universe. Contemplating the setting sun over the horizon,  I was taken back to another sunset captured in the rearview mirror, in 2011, coming back from Zuni, that summer when New Mexico was caught in the frenzy of a chase game to find Billy… And sure enough he appeared in my October mirror, repeating the ad’s catchphrase with a new twist: Travel New Mexico, Catch the Kid and Win… Raven’s Gift.

catch the kid and win raven's kid

(TO BE CONTINUED: here)

2 thoughts on “My Letter to the Heavens for a “Literary Giant”: Rudolfo Anaya, mi papá nuevomexicano (Part 2)

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