Swastika by Miriam Sagan

Some hate graffiti recently appeared in the Railyard Park near my house: Vax Jews. It is a bit confusing because vaccination saves lives and Jew is not a hate term. But it can be used as one. And if you think vaccination is an evil plot, then the Antisemitism is clear. This isn’t the first time. A memorial to the pioneer Jews of New Mexico was also defaced. In both cases, the hate message cleaned off. The Chabad rabbi suggested placing a menorah on the site for the upcoming holiday of Hannukah—a nice idea.

The Railyard has been a liminal place since I arrived in its environs in 1984. It was unusually industrial for Santa Fe. The Railyard had an atmosphere where lawlessness could happen. Even though it is now completely gentrified, it still retains a bit of this. Recently a sculpture by an African-American artist outside a gallery was torched. Hooliganism and racism are no strangers to the Railyard.

All this is to say that certain places will never be safe. And one of those places is America. As I was waking to the pale dawn of this lovely November morning I suddenly remembered a swastika. Boldly drawn in black sharpie on one of my mother’s kitchen chairs. A memory surfacing from my childhood. The chair, wooden and straight backed, was slightly decrepit and relegated to the backyard. It was odd lime green, but useful. I’d sit on it by the hour babysitting my sibs on the swing set. It could be used for a fort. It sat under the chestnut tree my grandfather had planted.

The swastika could not be scrubbed completely off. Its shadow remained. My unhandy mother did not repaint the chair, which eventually broke down in rain and snow. And was replaced by some actual lawn furniture.

The backyard was open to the neighborhood. Kids passed by all hours of the day. Anyone could have done it. Swastikas were ordinary, often drawn in pictures at school of World War Two scenes.

The swastika is an ancient symbol, taken by the Nazis. It appears all over the American Southwest, rolling backwards from the Nazi form, etched in rock. It might be a bent solar cross. It might be a symbol of migration. But the one on the kitchen chair meant hate.

My parents did not appear to react. Things happened—and Antisemitism was one of those things. I was glad when the chair was trashed. When the city removed “Vax Jews.”

Message Received

I walk the Acequia Trail behind my house frequently, but recently messages, stickers, and graffiti seem to be raining down in the night! The messages are a bit mysterious at the moment–what do they mean exactly? But as a follower of text, I wanted to share these.

The affectionate garbage can speaks while another hand curses evil.
No They Is An Island–thank you John Donne!
No Trespassing. I love you (in French)

Poetry Yard

I live on the 600 block of Kathryn Street, in a house I bought 35 years ago. “What is this neighborhood?” I asked the realtor as she drove west, out of the center of town and into an increasingly funky and unfamiliar place.
“A neighborhood you can afford,” she said.
I walked up the steps of the adobe stucco house, and looking through the living room window, had a full blown hallucination. I saw what was obviously a funeral, in full swing.
I better buy this house,I thought. I’m meant to live here my whole life and be buried from it.

***

For years I used to say, “I want to buy an empty lot on Agua Fria.” Agua Fria is the central street of the neighborhood, running east/west, all the way down to the old Spanish village of the same name. I didn’t know why, but I wanted another piece of land. Agua Fria has murals of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and a kind of folly in someone’s front yard. Cement statues and fountains of all kinds fill the space. It has American flags, madonnas, pixies, flowerpots, naked ladies, flamingoes, swans, and cupids. There is also Santa Claus, St. Francis, a dog, a frog, a windmill, angels, and chimes. The sign reads: “The love of this garden reflects the love of Helen’s Beauty.’”At first I assumed this was about Helen of Troy. Then some told me it was the gardener’s wife who had died. At all seasons it is strung with lights.

***

The police shot our neighbor, decades ago, on Hickox Street by the corner of St. Anne’s Church. He was mentally ill, and distraught, threatening to cut himself with a small steak knife. At the end of a long shift on a holiday weekend, a cop shot and killed him. The bullets penetrated the wall of the house a friend of mine was renting. The bullets narrowly missed the bunk beds where the red-headed boys were sleeping. I showed up in shock the next morning around 6 am to check on them and found my friend drinking vodka. I drank a shot myself. A decansos, a memorial, for the deceased sprang up, focused on the stop sign at the corer. Flowers and wreaths and notecards adorned the place where he departed this world. The cop was put on leave, my friend moved and later died, and I lost track of everyone else. Maybe I’m the only one who remembers?

***

The house is just a year or two younger than I am. My neighbor to the north, Gilbert, remembers when he was a toddler and fell into the foundation of what would be my house. It had been raining, and there was standing water. Mrs. Lucero, the across the street neighbor, dashed to pull him out. Gilbert and I are the same age. The house will soon be 70.

***
It was not my funeral that I saw. It was my first husband’s. He, Robert, died as a young man, after surgery. The house was full of people for many days. After he died, a few months later, the forests began to burn. I remember that because he would have been fascinated by the fires, as he knew a lot about the natural world. But he wasn’t there to discuss it with. The Jemez Mountains to the west were volcanic. Now fire covered them, but not a fire that had come from within. The sun turned red at noon Ash started falling on my planters full of pansies. My neighbor, the one whose house was shot up, called and said: “Mir, do you have a valium?” I lied, and said I didn’t.

***

When my mother died, I inherited a share in a piece of property that was contentiously owned by a family group. When it sold, the money confused me. It felt bitter, somehow tainted. Then I realize I could buy an empty lot. And turn it into…a poetry garden with sculpture. I looked all over town. I found an amazing—if scary and overgrown—piece of land that housed a section of the Acequia Madre. That is the central irrigation ditch that runs through town. No one owns it, not the city, not individuals. It is a kid of commons. After many phone calls, I tracked down the elderly man who was the mayor domo in charge of the ditch.”I know that piece of land,” he said. “Don’t buy it. It is cursed. It is good for no one.”

***

I should have realized it wasn’t Helen of Troy. I bet I’m the only person on the westside who cares about Helen of Troy.

***

I bought a different piece of land, one between Agua Fria and the river. Soon after, the entire neighborhood flooded in a hundred years’ storm. For a few years, it was a blank space. There was an abandoned building next to it, and a view of the mountains and the big sky. It was a suburban space, but one that touched on the wild. There was a homeless camp. Boundary lines were unclear. Raccoons, skunks, rabbits, and coyotes crossed it. Of course so did the neighborhood’s raucous crows. Robert Smithson, the father of land art, calls such places the “slurb,” the intersection between the suburban and the wild. Or, between what I call home and the rest of the cosmos.

***

Fire and water. The dead and the living. Earth and air. I did not even need to invoke these muses. They were already present. Here.

***
Recently, I passed Gilbert in the street. He called me over to introduce me to another friend. “This is my neighbor, Miriam,” he said. “She’s lived here her whole life.” We both started to laugh. “Well,” I said, “the only part of my life worth living.” And we kept on laughing.

Autumn…news from

I survived a three day period this October which marks the anniversaries of the death of two friends and of my first husband. Leaves fall. I move the herbs into the study and it warms up again. My grand-daughter is moving along in ways that can be described as very very close to crawling and pulls herself up to standing, mostly by using the nearest grown-up. Hickox Street has been widened as it turns into St. Francis, maybe in response to a terrible fatal accident last spring. I ate a glazed doughnut, and felt no regrets.
Then the car lights came on in the middle of the night. That really scared me!
Backstory–a recall, an adjustment to the brake lights, failure of that adjustment. Drained battery, engine light icons…trying to put it all together. Until at 2 am the driveway lit up red. I ran out and tried different things. Fortunately, but who knows why, the lights went off and I limped it to the dealer next day.
Now it is “fixed.” How many times have I tried to do the right thing, only to have it lead to something problematic and unexpected. Outside the laundromat a woman was crying in her green car. I told myself that if she was still crying when I came out I’d check on her. She wasn’t crying by then.
We realized the baby–like many of her relatives–has a bad case of FOMO–fear of missing out. She’ll fight sleep to stay where the action is. I personally don’t really have that any more. Autumn comes to me no matter what I do.

Poetry Garden

Let’s just say you have just bought .2 acres off of Agua Fria in a zone 3 residential neighborhood in Santa Fe. (Let’s say you are me!). And you don’t yet know exactly what the city will allow, or how much budget you have. But you have a vision to put up a poetry garden–text installed in numerous ways on this wild sunny lot. How would you hardscape? Would you add a little house or ramadas? Would the feeling be wet or dry?
For the moment–and this is that last moment–let’s leave practicalities out it. Please go wild! I need your fresh ideas, most particularly about how to put poetry text INTO a setting.
Soon enough I’ll be limited by realities, so now is time to dream.
Thank you! Do post below in comments section.

Meow Wolf Deconstructed: Review by Isabel Winson-Sagan

Review of Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return

Meow Wolf is an artist collective that has been part of Santa Fe’s local art scene for over ten years. The House of Eternal Return is their first permanent exhibit. It opened in March 2016 in a unique location, the past site of a bowling alley, and is quite extensive, with over 20,000sqft. The House of Eternal Return is an interactive immersive collaborative art exhibit, with a loose narrative and background story, that plays on imagination and unique environments. In their own words, “Our work is a combination of jungle gym, haunted house, children’s museum, and immersive art exhibit” (from meowwolf.com). It not only features permanent individual “rooms” of exhibition, but there is a performance aspect as well, which take place either in the dedicated performance art space, or include the entirety of the exhibition, such as the “House of Halloween” performance scheduled for October 2016.
The House of Eternal Return took over two years to construct and is the creation of over 100 local artists, not to mention engineers, computer scientists, builders, etc. Almost every imaginable material and medium has been used, from yarn to RVs. Many of the larger exhibits (which boast no one individual creator) were made with sKratch, Instamorph, and medium-density fiberboard (according to an article on arstechnica.com by Newitz). The exhibit is a follow-up to The Due Return, a temporary exhibit of an interactive space-pirate ship that was housed at the CCA in Santa Fe, NM, although satellites of the exhibit could be found elsewhere.
Visually, the striking thing about the House of Eternal Return is the unusual utilization of three-dimensional space, and the prevalence of light art. While the size of the exhibit and the individual eccentricity of the rooms makes a common thread hard to find, there is a certain psychedelic aspect that runs throughout. This has been highlighted recently by the introduction of special glasses (of the kind that are usually found at a 3-D movie) that add a new layer of experience when viewing the lights in the exhibit. There is heavy use of black lights, fog machines, luminescent color palettes, black and white “funky” exhibits that play with hallucinogenic composition, and of course the glow-in-the-dark creatures and plants that have been molded from Instamorph and illuminate the collaborative spaces, such as the cave with its dinosaurs and the mushrooms in the fairy garden.
The emphasis at the House of Eternal Return is not to have a typical gallery experience, where one views the individual artworks on a wall or arranged and lit professionally in the space. Rather, the experience is the point, and it is meant to be transformational. Each room and passageway is complete, and transports you out of this world. From floor to ceiling the artwork encompasses the viewer. Each individual space is fantastical, trippy, horrific, or even calming. But they all work together to play on emotion, kidnapping the viewer and taking them far, far away.
Because of the shear vastness of the exhibit, it would be difficult to analyze along strictly formalist lines. Rather, I would like to make the case that The House of Eternal Return is a post-modern art statement, one where the traditional boundaries between individual artists v. community and single art piece v. gallery have become blurred. My thesis is that one piece of the House could not exist without the whole, and in fact becomes meaningless when taken from this context. The House of Eternal Return is not a normal gallery, and does not host ordinary art works.
Meow Wolf has not completely broken with the traditional exhibit form, of course. But many of their influences seem to be drawn from the 60’s, both stylistically and philosophically. The DIY artists from that time, such as Arte Povera, Alan Kaprow and others, often experimented with communal artworks, art that didn’t seem like art, and art that couldn’t be quantified or even recorded. The emphasis then was on the experiential, something which is often lacking in the world of fine art today.
That being said, the range of influences present in the House of Eternal Return are staggering. There is yarn art, sculpture, light art, a treehouse, a laser harp, and so much more. Various cultural influences are clear, and sometimes not so clear. There is Arabic written on one wall, and a passageway that mimics an Asian street with shop signs written in an alien language. There are miniature worlds in the walls, plants growing in glass, and a cartoon world inhabited by demon women. We have pop art, New Mexican art, traditional women’s crafts, anime, temples to false Gods, and even a modern take on cabinets of curiosity. Meow Wolf is a backlash against minimalism, creating instead an exhibit overflowing with material.
Artistic collaboration is a hallmark of post-modern art, because the Renaissance worship of the single artist as creator falls to the elevation of community and community-works. Meow Wolf is a wonderful example of this, for the House does not put emphasis on the individual artist. The exhibit would not have been possible without a multitude of different artists doing radically different things, but in the end, their individual art pieces blend together to create something larger. While this has been done before, the House of Eternal Return is impressive because the individuation still shines through, without taking away from the piece as a whole.
Another way in which Meow Wolf earns its credentials as a post-modern artist collective is through its emphasis on community outreach. Their space does not operate simply as a museum does, offering classes and walkthroughs. Their maker space went up at the same time as the House of Eternal Return, and they immediately began a massive outreach towards their community. This can be seen in a variety of ways, taking into account such things as their collaboration with local restaurants and food trucks. The mission statement of Meow Wolf is to better their community. It is not separate from their artist statement. This is apparent in the fact that the House of Eternal Return provides a place for children and teenagers in a town with a paucity of spaces and activities for those age groups.
Personally, I think that the House of Eternal Return are phenomenal. Many people, myself included, say that they have never seen anything quite like it. When I first entered the exhibit, I experienced an “art high.” I was immediately overwhelmed, shocked, and elated. I’ve been back 10 times, with plans to go again. I believe that Meow Wolf is doing great things for my community. I also feel that they have done something truly unique- a fantastical art space unlike anything else, with a mix of new and old practices. But perhaps my favorite part is the re-imaging of the traditional gallery space and experience. It doesn’t always have to be paintings hung on a wall and viewed with a glass of sparkling champagne in hand, Meow Wolf has proved that. Art can be collaborative, immersive, wild and free. Art can be glowing, musical mushrooms.
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Photographs from Meow Wolf’s Facebook Page.

Check out their website for tickets and more.

Hunting La Llorona by Andrew Lovato

My colleague Andy Lovato has published several books and contributed to more. Here he is writing on the perennial favorite supernatural La Llorona. If I ask a class who has seen her when they were children, a few hands always go up.
This is from his collection “Elvis Romero and the Cosmic White Corvette: Vignettes from the Life of a Santa Fe Muchacho” and first appeared in “Green Fire Times.” Enjoy!

Hunting La Llorona

Dark lady of tears
Weave the spell that stirs my soul
But wander not to near
 
During the glorious months of summer, the kids in Elvis’ neighborhood played hide and seek, tag and invented elaborate games. One game that they never tired of consisted of boys chasing girls and holding them captive inside a jungle gym at the local park. The girls pretended to be horses and the boys played the role of cowboys with the most successful hombre being the one that possessed the largest harem of stomping and snorting ponies.
After the sun went down, the favorite pastime was telling scary stories. Elvis and his friends never became bored with the recycled tales. They sat in circles on the green grass of a host family’s lawn as the nightly ritual commenced. Girls shrieked and the boys laughed nervously when the story-telling began.
Ghosts and witches were popular topics of conversation along with devils and graveyards. However, as far as terrifying characters were concerned, none rivaled the queen of terror, “La Llorona.”
La Llorona was a name that evoked fear in the hearts of all Santa Fe youngsters. Her legend had several variations but the basic theme went as follows:
La Llorona was a beautiful woman who married a rich nobleman. She was very happy and she gave birth to three radiant children. One day her husband left her for another woman and she was so consumed with rage that she took her children and drowned them in an arroyo filled with water. After she realized what she had done, she went mad with remorse and drowned herself. Since that day her ghost had wandered the arroyos of northern New Mexico wailing for her dead children.
The story went on to warn that if any child happened to be near an arroyo at night and was unfortunate enough to run into the weeping ghost, a horrible fate would await. Some storytellers claimed that her victims first saw a mysterious red light that hypnotized them. These unfortunate souls were not able to move and La Llorona did away with them like she’d done with her own children. If she felt merciful, she might take an unlucky child prisoner and lead her captive to a demented fortress where she made the poor creature her eternal slave. These prospects were unnerving and youngsters cringed at the idea of running into the weeping woman.
Needless to say, kids took special precautions to avoid arroyos after dark which pleased their parents greatly and there was little done to discourage the legend.
In a twisted way, getting scared was so much darn fun. Elvis never felt as alive as when his heart was pounding and he was peering around nervously looking for a glint of supernatural light or the sound of a grieving woman in the distance.
One typical summer evening in late July, as dusk fell and the stars began to peek out over the horizon of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, all the kids in Elvis’ neighborhood grew weary of tag and kick-the-can and headed over to Floyd’s front yard to see if they could muster up the thrill of delicious fear one more time. Of all the neighborhood kids, Floyd told the best stories.
“If you look in a mirror while you hold a candle in a dark room, and you say three times, ‘El Diablo is my Padre,’ the devil’s face will appear over your left shoulder. I’m telling you the truth. You can try it yourself but remember when you see his face, make the sign of the cross and say, ‘In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, be gone!’ If you don’t do this right away, the devil will go down your left shoulder and into your heart and you’ll have a heart attack and die instantly and go to hell and become the devil’s slave for all time.”
The terror-stricken troop sat quietly contemplating this fate and not a sound could be heard except for the incessant chirping of crickets.
“Let’s call the devil tonight,” Ramona impulsively suggested.
Floyd seemed startled at the challenge but then he upped the ante. “Let’s call La Llorona instead. We can head over to the arroyo and do a ceremony to make her appear.”
Floyd had done it again. Elvis felt a familiar cold sensation crawling up his spine just when he’d thought he was too jaded to have it happen once more.
The adventurers’ numbers quickly began to diminish as soon as it was determined that the plan for the night would be conjuring up La Llorona. Several kids remembered that either their parents wanted them home early or some mysterious chore was still left undone and needed immediate attention. In the end, there were only four foolhardy madcaps left; Floyd, Elvis, Rudy, and Ramona Jaramillo who was never afraid of anything.
The nearest arroyo lay across the neighborhood park, near the school. The night was pitch black so Ramona ran home and returned a few minutes later with a flashlight and the brave troop began its quest.
“Did you guys check out the moon?” Rudy asked.
Elvis looked up and it was a thin, silver sliver in the dark sky.
“It’s a witch’s moon” Floyd whispered. “It’s a sign for sure that she’ll be out wandering around the arroyos tonight.”
They trudged silently in a tight pack following the slim ray of the flashlight that shone on the grass until they had crossed the park and had reached the bank of the arroyo.
“What do we do now?” asked Rudy breaking the silence in a solemn voice.
“We wait,” said Floyd. “We wait and listen for the sound of her sobbing. Ramona, turn off the flashlight. We’ll sit in the dark and ask her to come. If anybody hears crying or sees a red light that means she’s here.”
Elvis suddenly felt sick to his stomach and he had an unbearable urge to jump up and run for the safety of home. The only thing that kept him sitting there was the stronger fear of leaving the company of his friends and exposing himself to the evil spirit somewhere in the blackness of the empty park. He shut his eyes tightly and his breath came out in short, shallow puffs.
Floyd continued, “Remember not to stare at her red light or you’ll become paralyzed and you won’t be able to run away when she comes for you. Stick your fingers in your ears so she doesn’t hypnotize you with her voice and make you fall asleep. Just make the sign of the cross and say Hail Mary’s as loud as you can so she can’t possess you. It’s your only hope.”
Ramona responded to Floyd’s warning in typical Ramona fashion, “I’m not afraid of no pendeja, La Llorona. If she has the huevos to show up, I’ll shove this flashlight down her ugly boca!”
Somehow Ramona’s bravado did very little to reassure Elvis. He looked over at Rudy who was holding his head in his hands and moaning softly. They sat on the edge of the ominous arroyo for what seemed like forever and waited for their impending fate. The minutes dragged on but nothing out of the ordinary took place other than a couple of wandering dogs that came by and sniffed once or twice and went on with their business, whatever that was.  Rudy had calmed down and as Elvis’ eyes adjusted to the dark, the terror he felt began to ease away.
Floyd let out a fart and Ramona exclaimed, “Damn, cabrón, that smell is the scariest thing that’s happened tonight.”
Everyone laughed in relief as they realized that she was probably right and their reputations would be greatly elevated when they returned to the neighborhood in one piece. Already they were each privately elaborating their experiences in their own heads to make it seem like they had escaped from the evil clutches of the weeping woman by the skin of their teeth.
Elvis and his gang scrambled to their feet anticipating the warm tortillas and soft beds that were awaiting them, when an unmistakable wailing sound arose from the dark arroyo. It was the most mournful cry imaginable. Rudy let out a terrified whinny and for the first time in Elvis’ memory he heard a tone of vulnerability in Ramona’s voice as she cried out,
“Mama, mama, I wanna go home to mama.”
They stood frozen in terror. Floyd grabbed the flashlight and pointed it waveringly in the direction of the heart-rending shriek. The courageous lot held each other tightly, contemplating their doom when suddenly out of the darkness a pair of glowing eyes appeared and rushed toward them. Then another pair of iridescent eyeballs flew out of the arroyo. Near their feet, two huge alley cats tumbled in a chaotic ball of flying fur and exposed claws.
Screaming at the top of their lungs, the terrified kids ran like the wind across the park and straight to the safety of their homes and families. It was several days before anyone brought up the subject of that night and by consensus they all agreed it was best forgotten.
 
 

Blacked Out

Blacked Out

Sunday evening, the electricity went out throughout the city and the northern part of the state. Just at dusk, when you don’t notice for the first few minutes. I walked to the corner to ascertain it was at least the neighborhood and not the house. I immediately met new neighbors a few houses down, a young couple and a toddler.
“What’s the cutie’s name?” I asked.
They told me their names, which I promptly forgot.
Then Rich went out walking, but came back soon. Lightning forked the sky, no rain. We sat in the backyard admiring the string of decorative multicolored solar lights. We had three candles in the kitchen window. Stars playing hide and go seek with clouds.
An hour or so later when the lights came back on the neighbors set off firecrackers, usually reserved for a festive occasion such as the Red Sox winning the World Series or Obama becoming president. Santa Fe’s West Side neighborhood is firmly Democratic Party and no fan of the Yankees.
Thirty-five years ago, my first husband Robert and I were blacked out in our railway flat of an apartment on Rose Alley in San Francisco. It was late afternoon in winter, dark and foggy. We got into bed (our futon on the floor)and read by flashlight while watching the cat try to crawl into a paper bag. Around supper time the phone rang, our friend Thomas wondering if we wanted to go out for dinner.
Well, no, we said, it’s blacked-out. He laughed and told us—the power came on two hours ago, look outside. We did. Behind our alley, the entire city of San Francisco was lit up. We’d just been too engrossed to notice.

***
Also luminous–Meow Wolf from a recent visit:
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