Poems Then and Now

Catharine Savage Brosman

Southwest Evenings

Rio Abajo1

Mary Austin (1868-1934)

In Rio Abajo ghosts walk.

At Socorro I saw them,

Three and twenty brown gowns, rope-girt and sandalled.

By old Isleta ford,

Don Francisco de Coronado with his Spanish gentlemen—

Armor-rust on their satin sleeves,

Arrow-slits in their leathern greaves—

Rode all down the cotton fields

While the Tegua war-drums thundered.

Once in the dawn below Belen

Creaked the broad-wheeled carreta train

Whose single guttering candle showed

Where La Conquistadora rode

To reconquest and old pain.

Once by this saguan’s ruined arch

Music its walls absorbed gave back again,

As in the dusk guitars were playing,

And on the stamped adobe floor

The dance still swaying.

Still is the alameda sweet

With sun-steeped petals strewn

Where late the twinkling monstrance passed,

Mid gold more lucent than its own,

To bless the fields again.

Chapala Midnight

Witter Bynner (1881-1968)

What spirit is abroad that so bereaves

The night? No one has sung, nor a guitar been played.

A hound under the house has whined and bayed

And a bat is breathing at the window-eaves.

When I look out the moon among the leaves

Of corn becomes a curve of metal. I am afraid

Lest I may hear the whisper of grass-blade

Growing out of a body that still grieves.

I lock my door and cringe along the wall,

Snuffing my candle as I creep to bed;

And when I hear a fragment of wax fall

On the table-top I feel at the top of my head,

Tapping my memory, the bony ball

Of a finger that was once perfectly made.

Metates

Catharine Savage Brosman2

—Acacia Ranch House, Arizona

We arrive too soon; the small museum isn’t open yet.

Chairs and a swing invite us to the porch,

as a determined breeze, configuring the trees

in random motions, riffles through my hair

and lifts my collar. We’re in Oracle, named for a mine,

itself the namesake of a ship; and the Acacia Ranch,

a slice of time, well past centenarian, sails

through the rugged Santa Catalinas, with its timbers

of great age visible in beams and rafters, and its adobe

keel, enduring. It has served as sheep ranch,

miners’ and travelers’ lodgings, post office, smithy,

smokehouse—also sanitarium and morgue.

Don’t we feel young and vigorous, walking around

with good lungs, hearty voices, muscles

well maintained, responsive? Now to the displays:

tools, saddles (narrow, plain), embroidered dresses,

vests, tooled boots, a hat devised of feathers.

Photographs propose their black-and-white enigmas,

mostly stern, occasionally smiling. Bill Cody

owned the High Jinks Gold Mine here; Edward Abbey,

wanderer of the Southwest, kept a p.o. box.

Who’s this? Ah, someone less well known,

one Alice Carpenter, originally from Detroit, not well,

who moved to Arizona, lost her husband to the flu,

then her son to early death, but loved the land,

its native peoples, and the past, as it eroded swiftly

under time and men’s indifference.

She assisted the Tohono O’odham who camped out

along her property; and she collected artefacts,

not carelessly, but learning, labeling and preserving

them, even facing down the bulldozers

of Indian mounds.—I’ll stop this evening with a friend

who owns her house now (paintings, dark wood chairs,

textiles, terra cotta tile). As dusk moves in, we’ll eat

a simple meal on the veranda, looking over palo verde,

agave, and bird of paradise in bloom, and Alice’s

metates strung like beads along a path, round,

hollowed, now returned to earth as ornaments, attesting

to our ancient hunger, ancient toil. A great horned owl

will call to me toward dawn. “Who? Who, who?”


1 The source for Mary Austin and Witter Bynner poems is The Golden Stallion, ed. D. Maitland Bushby (Dallas: Southwest Press, 1930).

2 Catharine Savage Brosman is professor emerita of French at Tulane University; [email protected]. She is the author of fifteen collections of poetry, the latest of which is Aerosols and Other Poems (2023) from Green Altar Books, an imprint of Shotwell Publishing, Brosman’s poetry has appeared regularly in AQ, along with her article “Poetry and Western Civilization,” in the spring of 2023. In our winter 2023 issue she reviewed Jonathan Chaves’s Surfing the Torrent in “Poetry and the Human Experience.”


Photo by S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash

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