Gary Young: From New Mexico Journal

Bio

From New Mexico Journal: Rio Vallecitos

I often get confused about the stories I tell, and can’t remember if I’ve read them, heard them, or made them up. What does it matter? I am a mystery to myself, but no longer young, my life begins to make a certain sense; the facts I’ve forgotten, the lies I believe, the should-be’s and the might-have-beens. It could even be interesting, a pleasure, this story I’ve become.

~

I am a fearful person. I startle easily, and jump at unfamiliar sounds; I always expect the worst. There are cattle in this pasture, cows, calves, a buckskin mare and colt. They move from one side of the stream to the other, and graze under the cottonwoods, in the open fields, and beside the cedar and piñon. They sometimes bump against the wall beside my bed at night, and their bulk is palpable, eerie and profound. They make a noise like the whimper of children when they’re hurt. There has been no moon, and the nights here are deep. The solitude and the empty space distort and magnify every sound. A loose piece of barbed wire grates in the wind outside my window; footfalls and shrill cries wake me in the dark. I stay awake, to listen, and to wonder why I’m not afraid.

~

On a still afternoon, a sudden, ferocious gust of wind. The door blows open, and papers scatter on the floor. I step outside, and for the first time in a week there are no swallows in the air. A robin stands motionless in the field, then looks from one side to the other; looks up, down, and repeats this motion several times before flying away. A hermit thrush springs onto the boulders at the door. For the longest time he stands with his tail to the wind. He makes motions like the robin, from side to side with his head. The down on his neck is blown back in places by the breeze, and I can see how tiny and frail his body is beneath the feathers. The light suddenly dims; I feel a chill, and just as the thrush flies away, the rains begin.

~

Shadows passed over the mesa, and I saw six eagles sail across the valley. They rode thermals until they were almost out of sight, then dove, and swung back in circles over my head. The air seemed insufficient to their size—one eagle is enough to fill the sky. Two of the birds veered toward another, and when they met, shook their open beaks and tumbled for a moment before swinging back into an easy glide. They made graceful, abrupt turns, and when they did, the sun hit their backs like a mirror and reflected a fierce copper flash. The sky behind them was so severe that spots of white light began to dance in my field of vision. I don’t think I could have watched them any longer if they’d stayed, but they drifted off, with no other purpose, it seemed, than to fly.

~

I have never experienced such a fracturing of the visual and the verbal in myself. I have been writing in a fever, twelve and fourteen hours a day for the past ten days, and the few times I have tried to draw, my hand felt insensible, like a deaf man who wakes with amnesia and can no longer sign. Last night at dusk I went into the pasture to make etchings of the horses. I could feel an imbalance in my head as I tried to stop thinking, and this was manifested in clumsy, self-conscious plates. But the horses, first fearful and threatening, then cautious but indifferent, began to offer me their forms, and the forms flowed through me, and guided the scribe. I could feel a physical shift as I started thinking, not with my head, but with my hands. I was caught up, and forgot what I was doing. When it was finally too dark to see, I went inside and discovered that my two best efforts had been done on the same plate, one upon the other.

~

The skunks and the deer are in rut again. They bolt from the roadside and stagger into traffic, blind with lust. A skunk was hit on the highway north of town. There was a long streak of gore, a greasy smear on the asphalt. Whoever passed it looked away, but they couldn’t escape the stench. It’s autumn. The monarchs have returned to the eucalyptus grove, persimmons ripen on their slender stems, and the walnut drops its leaves. In the desert, where the war goes on another year, yellow dates hang in heavy clusters from the palm trees.

Leave a Reply