Blue Mesa Review Issue 42
Blue Mesa Review Albuquerque, NM Founded in 1989 Issue 42 Fall 2020
Blue Mesa Review is the literary magazine of the University of New Mexico MFA Program in Creative Writing. We seek to publish outstanding and innovative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, along with compelling interviews.
Cover Art National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; made possible through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center
BLUE MESA REVIEW Fall 2020 Issue 42
Mikaela Osler Rhea Ramakhrisnan
Fiction Editor Nonfiction Editor Poetry Editor Faculty Advisor Readers
Layout and Design
Jennifer Tubbs Mikaela Osler Rhea Ramakhrisnan Lisa Chavez Alison Bratkovic Shelbie Corey Katrina L. Gallegos Andrew Koch Crys LaCroix Kaylee Maxon Alex McCausland Ruben Miranda Emma Mitchell Mariah Perry Evelyn Olmos Sayra Ramos Aliyah Reese Joe Rull Tristan Santoniello Cyrus Stuvland Keara Sweeney Allegra Velazquez Summer Vigil Daniel Ward Jennifer Tubbs & Mikaela Osler
Table of Contents Features
Foreword: In Honor of Rudolfo Anaya Melina Vizcaíno Alemán
Joyful Memories Belinda Henry
The Pulse of Life Rudolfo Anaya
From Libro to Libretto: Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima Héctor Armienta
Fiction Bruja Mary Winsor
A Mute Girl’s Yarn Khanh Ha
Poetry Crown of Screws Kelly Weber 37 Year of the Horse (2002)
Stephanie Chang 68
Nonfiction feast day: a lyric Tess Fahlgren
Shitkicker Jeremy Mata Kinter
Letter from the Editor 80 Author Profiles 71 Artist Profiles 73 Art Long Ago There Was A Time Despy Boutris
Tool Guilherme Bergamini
My Nature Seeks the Wild Jocelyn Ulevicus
A Cage You Might Have Sprung, Flown Away Frederick Nitsch
Auto Court E.E. King
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Albuuerque, New Mexico--Mikaela Osler
Foreword: In Honor of Rudolfo Anaya Rudolfo Anaya (1937-2020) closed the final chapter of his life this year, but his legacy lives on in the Southwest and at UNM. Over the past six years, I worked with Mr. Anaya to plan the Rudolfo and Patricia Anaya Lecture on the Literature of the Southwest, a series he launched in 2010 and named in honor of his late wife. Though I never met Patricia, I felt the mutual love, respect, and dedication the two shared in their home, where Mr. Anaya warmly hosted me with a bottle of uncorked wine and a beautiful view of the Sandía Mountains from his dining-room table. We talked and imbibed at the table, and these table talks gave me an intimate view into the home space of New Mexico’s literary luminary. Few words can explain my deepest sorrows and sympathies in the twilight of his passing, one of New Mexico’s most important Chicano writers. This latest issue of Blue Mesa Review is a fitting tribute to Mr. Anaya, who founded the literary magazine in 1989 and dedicated the first issue to the Southwest. In Fall 2019, BMR ran an interview with Mr. Anaya in its 30th-anniversary issue (vol. 40), and the following Spring 2020 (vol. 41) featured the poetry of US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, who was to deliver the tenth annual Rudolfo and Patricia Anaya Lecture on the Literature of the Southwest in Fall 2020. Much has changed since our pre-pandemic lives and prior to Mr. Anaya’s passing. In Spring 2020, I collaborated with then Editor-in-Chief Tori Cárdenas and Fiction Editor Mario Montoya to publish Harjo’s poetry as part of BMR’s ongoing celebration of Mr. Anaya’s contributions to Southwestern writing and writers. Since then, we postponed Harjo’s lecture and Montoya proposed a tribute issue to Mr. Anaya. As Editor-in-Chief, Montoya wanted to honor Mr. Anaya in the next two issues of BMR. We brainstormed ways to connect BMR to the Anaya lecture series while also honoring one of New Mexico’s leading literary luminaries in the twilight of his passing. This issue is a collaboration across the critical and creative work that we do in the English Department at UNM, especially during times of loss and crisis. We join forces to honor Mr. Anaya’s life and lifelong commitment to student success, and we hope this issue lends deeper insight into the critical and creative outlets he worked to establish in the name of Southwest literature and culture. Two feature essays lead this issue, one by Belinda Henry, Mr. Anaya’s niece, and the other by opera composter Héctor Armienta. Belinda’s essay offers an intimate window into Mr. Anaya as a person and a caring uncle. I wanted to hear Belinda’s memories of Mr. Anaya, who was not only a literary master but also a family member, a teacher in the classroom and at home. Belinda and I first met when I began visiting Mr. Anaya in his home, and we became better acquainted after the 2018 lecture featuring Héctor Armienta, who had just premiered the Bless Me, Ultima opera at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. The trust and friendship that Héctor engendered with Mr. Anaya and his family was evident. By that time, Mr. Anaya had stopped attending the lectures and other public events, but his family stayed connected and came out especially for Héctor’s lecture on the heels of the Bless Me, Ultima opera. I am incredibly grateful to Héctor and Belinda for the time, care, and attention they paid to their words and memories. With Belinda’s assistance, we also acquired the right to publish Mr. Anaya’s poem, “The Pulse of Life,” composed in memoriam of the 49 victims of the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, 8 | Issue 42
Florida. This issue thus honors Mr. Anaya with two essays and perspectives that give us a full view of his personhood and significance as a master of fiction, but it also includes Mr. Anaya’s own philosophical perspective and poetic voice, with a critical lesson about the human condition, understanding, and worth. As Belinda points out in her essay, the success of Bless Me, Ultima led to Mr. Anaya’s position in the English Department at UNM. In many ways, the novel paved the way for BMR and other initiatives Mr. Anaya spearheaded, even after his retirement. My vision for this tribute was to strike a balance between family and the profession, art and the academy, with attention to the literature and lecture series that Mr. Anaya established throughout his lifetime. The Rudolfo and Patricia Anaya Lecture on the Literature of the Southwest has hosted a number of prestigious speakers throughout its history. Héctor’s essay highlights this prestige but also illustrates the timelessness and aesthetic innovation of Mr. Anaya’s now classic New Mexican novel. On October 5, 2021, the English Department will host US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, who was once a student of Mr. Anaya and is a UNM alumna. Harjo’s lecture will double as a homecoming and a celebration of Mr. Anaya’s life, which came to a close in 2020 but continues to endure as part of his literary legacy, in the initiatives he established and the literature he produced. As with any collaborative project, we did not know what this endeavor would produce. The end result is even more dynamic than what we had envisioned. This issue of BMR brings together our two feature essays, Mr. Anaya’s poem, and the prize winners from this year’s writing contests. Collectively, the contents of this issue and the next one under Montoya’s editorship will pay respect to the past while also providing a publication venue for emergent and future writers, the poets laureate and other artistic voices that continue to define the Southwest as a feeling and a place. These writers are a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of literary expression during times of crisis in the past, present, and future. We hope to illustrate how Mr. Anaya’s own “pulse of life” beats on in these new and future voices. Melina Vizcaíno Alemán University of New Mexico December, 2020
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UNM English Department Presents the Tenth Annual
Photo by Matika Wilbur
Rudolfo and Patricia Anaya Lecture on the Literature of the Southwest featuring the distinguished speaker
Joy Harjo, U.S. Poet Laureate Author of In Mad Love and War, The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, She Had Some Horses, Crazy Brave: A Memoir and An American Sunrise: Poems In Collaboration with the National Hispanic Cultural Center, Journal Theater, 1701 4th Street SW Thursday, October 5, 2021 at 7 PM
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Joyful Memories Belinda Henry
We come into this world and begin our journey down the road that is life, a life filled with adventures. Throughout our years, we face fears, sadness, uncertainty, joy, and if we are fortunate, we are surrounded by family and friends with whom we share a deep, unabiding and loving bond. They help ground us so that we learn the lessons we need to live a life of purpose. We must experience all that life offers to truly learn and grow. Rudolfo Anaya was my tío, my father figure, and my lifelong teacher. I addressed him as tío, in the way he preferred. But I speak and write about him as my uncle. He loved, encouraged, and inspired me. Now he has become my spirit guide. I have been fortunate enough to have people that love me, and that I love so deeply, it is impossible to measure. Some of these special people have moved on from this world, people like my grandparents, my mom, my aunt Loretta, and most recently, my uncle Rudy. They are all now in a new realm of each one’s idea of heaven. I still feel their loving hands on my shoulders. Their essence permeates my being. I feel my uncle Rudy guiding me, and at times I think I hear him. He comes to me when I need him most. He gives me strength. Was I just lucky to have come into the place and time that intersected with my uncle Rudy’s life? Was my fate pre-determined? Was there more at work? My uncle Rudy taught me to always question, to delve deep in search for answers, although the answers may or may not come. What was most important was the process through which I gained knowledge and insight. What I gained was what helped me learn who I am, who I wanted to be, who I needed to be. In an interview my uncle gave once, he discussed rediscovering who we are individually through collective memory. After much discussion with him, I had a deeper understanding of what he meant. We find ourselves through connections with our community. The connections we form become our collective memory. We are individuals, but being part of a community is something special. It’s what teaches us humanity and humility. I was raised by my grandparents, so my life became intertwined with my uncle’s from the time I was an infant. My grandma Rafaelita and my grandpa Martín had ten children, including my uncle Rudy, aunt Dolly, and aunt Loretta. They still lived at home when I came into the picture and they were all big, important parts of my life. My uncle was the last to leave home, and he allowed me to do just about anything I asked, as long as it was safe. In his bedroom, he had a record player along with a large collection of albums. I loved going in there, unfastening the latch on the record player, swinging open the lid and pulling out each speaker from the sides. Then I’d play records from his classical music collection. Why did I choose classical music? I’m not sure. Perhaps he planted a seed, but I love it to this day. Uncle Rudy strived to foster a desire for learning. I recall a set of Encyclopedia Britannica he purchased for me when I was seven or eight years old. The purchase also came with a ten-volume set of children’s books, each devoted to a particular genre: science, history, health, nursery rhymes, Greek mythology, children’s and young-adult literature. They were fascinating and became well-worn over the years. My uncle opened my mind to exploring new and exciting worlds. Through reading, I was Blue Mesa Review | 11
transported to places where I was allowed to escape and dream. We started a tradition of going to the public library when I was five years old. I browsed stacks and stacks of books. He never rushed me and, when I finally made my selections, we walked over to the check-out counter, handing my library card to the librarian. There they would stamp the return-due-date on a slip of paper glued to the inside cover of each book. This was before computers, a practice that most can’t picture in the digital age. I had to keep track of the books, and if they were late, a fine would be assessed. My uncle had to pay a late fee only once, and I never allowed that to happen again. This was one of many activities we shared, now etched into memory. I vividly recall my uncle treating me to a fancy dinner. I don’t recollect the specific reason, or even if there was one. It was a special, memorable evening at an Italian restaurant, where we were served a delicious multi-course meal. I had never experienced such a meal! I felt so grown up, at the ripe old age of eight, sitting there with my uncle, sharing pleasant conversation. We always talked. When he drove me to school or after. Or when we ran errands to the bank, or the UNM Bookstore, or wherever we happened to be going that day, we chatted. In the early evening, he would help me with my homework, looking over my spelling tests. Later, he would head off to his room to write. He used a typewriter then. Sometimes, I can still hear the tap, tap, tap of keys as he created magic. What a soothing sound. Back then, I didn’t have any worries; life was good. It never dawned on me that things were constantly evolving. Now I realize that the only constant in life is change. When I was nine, my uncle Rudy married my aunt Patricia. I felt devasted by the announcement! The news worried me, because it was the first time I felt a real sense that I might lose him. However, my fears were unfounded. He continued nurturing me, even after he married and made a new home with my aunt. We had forged a true bond that could never be broken, no matter what. From the time I was nine to about age twelve, my sister, Lynn and I spent time at my uncle Rudy and aunt Patricia’s home on weekends, holidays, and summer vacations. Often, we played croquet or badminton in the backyard. Inside was a big, beautiful den with walls of bookcases with plenty of books from which to choose. My favorites were the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. There was a closet filled with comic books, games, and craft supplies meant to keep energetic children busy until exhaustion set in. And there were always dogs, two Dachshunds, Noki and Chica to play with and love. Also, there was Oso, my uncle’s last Dachshund. He was his faithful companion until the end, and my uncle knew I loved him as much as he did. Once Oso transitioned from grieving his master to accepting he had passed, there was no question where Oso would live. I brought him to my home. I had worried about him for a couple of weeks, but dogs are resilient, and he’s thriving. Holidays, especially Easter Sundays, were filled with good food, love, and laughter. After hunting for eggs, which were colored the night before, my uncle would devise a contest to occupy and entertain us, like ice-cream eating contests or whistling with a boiled egg in our mouths. The prize for the winner was usually a dollar. I don’t think the prize was worth how sick we felt afterwards. But we were overjoyed at the prospect of winning. Looking back, I understand the real prize was forming joyful memories that lasted a lifetime. Then there were the camping trips, like the one to the Pecos mountains when I was eleven or twelve. My uncle Rudy set up two tents in a clearing, each equipped with sleeping bags for everyone.
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One tent was for him and my aunt, while the other was for me and my brothers and sister. We set camp near the river. Crossing the water required balancing on a log bridge in order to reach the mountainside to hike and explore. The first afternoon, my brothers crossed to collect firewood. One returned and reported that there was a cave near the top. Naturally, I wanted to see it. So, I crossed the river and hiked up the mountain. I hadn’t given any thought to what might be inside the cave, nor did I take a flashlight. I entered, but only got twenty feet in when fear overtook me. The cave became darker with each step, and it was dank. I was barely able to see ahead of me. I started thinking about the strong possibility that there were bats, maybe other wildlife that used the cave as a den. I quickly turned and ran. With my heart still pounding, I began my decent to the base of the mountain. But I was moving too fast and tumbled when I lost my footing. I rolled all the way down the mountain. From my uncle’s tent, he had a perfect view. He leaped up and ran over to cross the river. In his haste, he slipped from the log, and hurt his ankle, still managing, somehow, to reach me. I don’t remember the fall. One moment I was outside the cave, the next I was lying at the mountain’s base. All I remember was I regained consciousness when my uncle gingerly lifted my head. I noticed my blood on his hands before I lost consciousness again. My uncle carried me to our camp, balancing on the log with his injured ankle. When I awoke, he and my aunt discussed driving me to a hospital, in case I needed stitches. I was more terrified of the hospital than of my fall. I pleaded with them not to take me. They cleaned me up and determined it should be okay, monitoring me throughout the night, checking on my many cuts and bruises. But I was fine. My uncle Rudy made me promise not to tell my grandma, afraid she would never allow me to go camping with him again. She went to her grave without knowing, (or at least I assume she did). My uncle and I looked back on that adventure and laughed. With him, we were always on some adventure, especially when camping. I saw our trips as nothing but good times. I was simply doing what kids do, having fun, but there was often much more at play. Every activity was a teachable moment for my uncle Rudy. Without realizing it, I was gaining knowledge and an appreciation for family and nature. I was learning the value of being part of a community, and the importance of respecting people and the environment. During those early years, I learned plenty about being a responsible citizen. As time marched on, during my teenage years, I was busy with all that came with the territory while my uncle stayed busy teaching and writing. Yet, he remained involved in our family. He made it his mission to continue caring for me and his parents. Like with his reading and writing, his devotion to family was unparalleled. He was a constant presence around our household. In 1972, Bless Me, Ultima was published. My uncle dedicated the book to both his parents. The dedication read: Con Honor, Para Mis Padres. They had done everything they could to get him to that point. His parents, who had limited education and resources, sacrificed for their son, and he was forever grateful to them. For this, he loved them deeply. Their hearts swelled with pride for their son who became all New Mexicans’ native son. I wonder now if my grandparents had any inkling of just how successful their talented son would be. With the huge success of Bless Me, Ultima came much attention. In 1974, my uncle Rudy accepted a position as a professor in the English Department at the University of New Mexico. He also
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travelled the world doing lectures and book signings. All this notoriety gave him a platform, allowing him to open doors that had previously been shut to him and other Chicano writers, and he took full advantage of this platform. He never stopped encouraging and supporting emerging writers. He paved the way for many, far too many to count. And through it all, my uncle remained deeply rooted in New Mexico. An interviewer once asked him why he hadn’t moved elsewhere, perhaps a publishing hub like New York City. He responded by saying he would never leave New Mexico. Albuquerque was his home. This place, with its beautiful people and awe-inspiring landscapes, was where he was meant to be, where he found inspiration. During my twenties, thirties, and forties I worked long hours. My uncle was busy teaching and writing, and I didn’t see him much. We kept in touch by phone, getting together for family celebrations on most holidays. He was also travelling a lot, doing lectures, book signings, accepting awards. But we missed him dearly when he was gone. If we were in need of family between holidays, my aunts and I would work around my uncle’s schedule, hosting parties to maintain our connection. Eventually, my uncle retired from teaching college courses, but he never stopped teaching. He was always teaching someone something. Anyone who was open to his wisdom and intellect could benefit. I recall telling him it was important to learn at least one new thing daily. So, being the consummate educator, he gladly assisted me in this endeavor all the time. When I decided to take an early retirement, I remember sitting at my uncle’s kitchen table talking, like we did after every meal. I told him my plans. “Good”, he said. “You can work for me.” It wasn’t an offer. Plainly, I wouldn’t be retiring early. He put me to serious work. But he eased me into my new job slowly, patiently. He gave me projects that didn’t require too much prior knowledge. Then he added more to the job. It became all encompassing. It continued to be a learning process, up to the very last moment. Even now, I’m still learning. There were some aspects I enjoyed more than others. But every bit of the work was incredibly important and interesting, and required my full undivided attention. Over the last ten plus years, I went to my uncle Rudy’s house almost daily. Every time, at some point during our conversation, he would ask me the meaning and origin of a word or term. Or the title of a book, or name of an author. Or whatever question came to his mind. Sometimes I knew the answer, but if I didn’t, he would instruct me to pull out my “little computer”, which is what he called my smartphone. I would look up the information, then he would expand on the answer with more detail, or a short story to cement what I had just learned. Always teaching. I appreciated my uncle Rudy’s wisdom more than I was ever able to express. I made it a point to remind myself how fortunate I was. There were people who would have given anything just to shake his hand. To talk to him face to face, or have him sign a book. I had unfettered access to him! I could greet him with a huge hug any time I wanted, or call him to say good morning, or ask him a question I had on my mind. I was so fortunate to have my uncle readily available, and I never took him for granted. Working for my uncle Rudy brought us closer over the last several years of his life. I learned so much, and I met so many amazing people. I was blessed with opportunities most people can only dream of. One of my favorite memories was accompanying him to the White House, where he received the National Humanities Medal in September of 2016. President Barack Obama bestowed the award on him. What an honor it was to have met the President, but what was most special was watching this brilliant
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man, my uncle, being recognized for his talent and humanity. I beamed with pride. My husband, Abe and I took on the roles of host and hostess for many celebrations my uncle held at his home for writers. There were hundreds of people he recognized and supported. During these celebrations, there could be up to seventy-five attendees. The energy and joy in our home was palpable. I loved to see how happy it made my uncle to give of himself. In 2012, a group of Latino writers and supporters, called Libro-Traficante, organized a caravan from Houston to Tucson to smuggle banned books into Arizona. They picked up people and books along the route. One of their stops was my uncle Rudy’s home. My uncle provided food and drinks for everyone. And, of course, he provided books for the cause. My husband and I shopped and cooked for the event. We went to my uncle’s home early that day to ready everything for the guests, then went home to change our clothes. We had expected a large group but were shocked when we returned to my uncle’s home to find two busloads. The number of people there was much more than we expected. Yet, everything went off without a hitch. Everyone had a great time. I admired my uncle Rudy more with each passing day. I began to recognize just how much he did for others. He inspired and encouraged countless people, me included. He was generous with everyone, and never wanted credit. He never turned down another writer. He must’ve read and edited hundreds of manuscripts, but I noticed he was getting tired. I suggested he respectfully decline many requests. But it wasn’t his nature. He continued to read, edit, and write blurbs for anyone who asked, as long as he was able to push himself to do it. As is the case with many writers, he had a daily routine of devoting mornings to his craft. Writing was his life; it sustained him. He often told me he had written whole chapters while dreaming, or he had re-written lines or even entire paragraphs. He would work and re-work a manuscript. He had me read his work for errors or to offer suggestions. Without exception, they always looked flawless to me. I was reading the work of my near-perfect uncle. Mine were not the eyes of an objective reader. When I returned a manuscript, we discussed any changes or ideas I offered. He was pleased to see I was interested, that I was learning the process of writing. Then he would continue adding to the manuscript. Whenever he claimed he completed a final draft, I knew it was not final until he turned it over to the publisher. With every read-over, he found something to tweak, sometimes desiring a total re-write. He was a perfectionist, and this, coupled with his off-the-charts intelligence and creativity, were traits that made him an amazing and talented artist. I can only guess what goes into writing a novel, a play, or short story, but I imagine the sheer love of bringing characters to life, to artfully express yourself through words, makes the work worthwhile. My uncle Rudy, Nora, his caregiver, and I ate lunch together nearly every day, sometimes inviting other friends and family. We shared good meals and great conversation, celebrating life. We talked family history, television shows, the day’s news. He loved to watch and chat about birds, rabbits, the bobcats, and the hollyhocks in his backyard. He kept a bird feeder filled with seed year-round. It was for the doves, and not the pigeons, since the hungry pigeons would quickly empty the feeder, and the doves would be deprived. Nora or I would wave off the pigeons with a towel. Now, the doves coo, “We miss you Mr. Anaya, thank you for keeping us fed and watered.” The pigeons also coo, laughing, “We miss you too, Mr. Anaya, we enjoyed the game.” The pigeons were very smart, flying away temporarily to perch on a
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nearby rooftop, returning once they saw an opportunity. This game went on until my uncle decided he lost the battle. Finally, he allowed the pigeons to eat. After all, they were hungry too. There’s a picture in my mind’s eye of my uncle Rudy’s mischievous, playful smile. During or after a meal, he would suddenly break into song, or he would give riddles and tell silly jokes, or he would recite poetry. He had an amazing memory, and I was always impressed by how much knowledge he must’ve stored in that brilliant mind. Then we would move on to more serious conversation. We talked about current events, which naturally led to politics. We never could avoid politics. These conversations led to interesting discussions about one crisis or another. Like the shooting at Pulse Nightclub, the Syrian Refugee Crisis, or the events at the US-Mexico Border. Unfortunately, there was always a great deal of turmoil in the world to discuss. My uncle was deeply troubled by the inhumane. He regularly contributed to charities, feeling very fortunate he could help. Charities like Doctors Without Borders, Catholic Charities, or any organization focused on the poor treatment of the less fortunate. He always stood for people who experienced injustice simply due to the color of their skin, their religion, gender, or sexual orientation. He wrote two beautiful poems to mourn the lives lost at Pulse Nightclub, and the lives lost, with millions more displaced, during the Syrian Refugee Crisis. The titles were, fittingly, “The Pulse of Life” and “Syria’s Children.” He shared the poems with friends and family, encouraging everyone to help however they could. In spite of being troubled by injustice, my uncle never lost faith in people. He always found good in them. A passage from Bless Me, Ultima is testament to my uncle’s positive outlook. “The smallest bit of good can stand against all the powers of evil in the world and it will emerge triumphant.” I try to remember these lessons every day. My sister, Lisa posted something my uncle said that speaks to his ability to remain hopeful and find beauty. “Look at the Sandías, what do you see? If you look closer you see flowers, trees, all alive and rich with color. Not just las Montañas, but life itself. Don’t just look. See.” My uncle Rudy gave of himself so completely, and without question or expecting anything in return. He spent his life teaching, encouraging, supporting, and inspiring all of us to live purposefully. And he was so grateful. I recalled his words: “I don’t know what I would do without you, mijita, thank you for all you do.” I was honored. He did so much for me, I could never repay him in a hundred lifetimes. I was so humbled by his gratitude. Every time he spoke these words, I held onto them tightly. Hearing them warmed my heart. I aspire to be as compassionate, generous, and gracious as my uncle was. What I will miss most, besides his physical presence, are those deep, heartfelt conversations we regularly shared. One of our last conversations took place one evening, before my uncle Rudy moved on to his next chapter. I was sitting next to him, talking about the day’s news, his emails and his phone messages. Out of nowhere, he asked me to tell him a story. I told him he was the storyteller, but he persisted. So, I began recounting stories of when my grandparents were alive, specifically, my grandma’s cooking. My uncle had often stated that his idea of heaven was sitting around my grandma’s kitchen table eating chile, beans, fresh tortillas, quelites, and natillas, so I thought these memories made for good stories. He asked me to tell him stories of his childhood in Pastura and Santa Rosa. I reminded him that I had not been born yet, but I would do my best. We chatted for almost two hours. It was such a beautiful evening. I felt a sense of calm. Everything would be alright.
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Amid my grief, suddenly joyful memories flood my mind, then I smile. My message to my uncle is: “I admire and respect you greatly, and I always will. I miss you deeply, I love you forever, and thank you for giving me a lifetime of love. And joyful memories that replace my tears of sadness with beautiful, happy thoughts of you.” There is a poem titled “A Reason A Season A Lifetime.” I came into my uncle’s life for a reason and a lifetime. I am fortunate to have learned from him, and I am forever grateful. He lives on in my memories. His was a life well-lived.
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The Pulse of Life Rudolfo Anaya
It was the twelfth of June another hot and humid Florida night. In Orlando young people gathered at the Pulse Club, enjoying camaraderie, the dance floor pulsating with life, dancers moving to syncopated music, Latin rhythms, good will embraces, laughter, friendships, plans for tomorrow, flashing smiles releasing stress in silent motions. Then the pulse of life ended. A man on fire came from a dark, twisted place, methodically spraying death, massacring our LGBT dancers who fell like cut flowers. Pulses died in 49 bloodied wrists, blood pressures plunged to zero, juices of life that would never flow into the future stained the sad dance floor. Shock spread across the country, across the world, enough grief to last many lifetimes. Lost lives cannot be replaced. Orlando pulled together, offering condolences and help. From here we sent flor y canto, oraciones, flowers and poems, prayers. Left bereaved on this senseless plain, we wondered who killed the Golden Rule, Love Your Neighbor.
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We mourn our fallen comrades, our gay sisters and brothers, and after grieving we march to tear down the barricades of hate, bigotry, prejudices. We march to tear down walls that separate.
Rudolfo Anaya 6/19/16
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From Libro to Libretto: Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima Héctor Armienta
Like many others of my generation, I read Rudolfo Anaya’s epic novel Bless Me, Ultima when I was in high school. After high school, I attended the California Institute of the Arts where I earned my BFA in Music Composition and went on to earn my Master of Music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Since then, I have devoted my life to telling the stories of the Hispanic community, particularly those that draw on the Mexican American cultural experience. Mr. Anaya’s novel stayed with me throughout the years. Once I established my opera career and company, Opera Cultura, the novel immediately came to mind as something I wanted to adapt. In 2015, I had the opportunity to propose the opera to Mr. Anaya. I never expected that I would have the opportunity to create an opera based on the novel. As part of my process in procuring the rights, I met with Mr. Anaya in 2015. We went to the home of his sister, Dolores, who had a piano. I wanted Mr. Anaya to hear some of my live music. Should I be fortunate to get the rights, I knew we would work closely on the development of the libretto, so it was important that we get to know each other personally. The piano was in a large room overlooking el Río Grande. As I played some of my music, an eagle flew by and was visible from the other side of the room’s sliding glass doors. Mr. Anaya took it as a good sign and that was the beginning of our relationship. Over the course of a year, I flew from my home in Oakland several times and consulted with Mr. Anaya as I wrote the libretto. At first, he was intent on writing the libretto himself, but I knew from previous experience that this was not the best route. I understood the difficult for any novelist to part with characters, scenes, and subplots. These elements are near and dear to them. For someone else to adapt their work, the adaptor needs to distill the most important elements of the original. To that end, Mr. Anaya asked me to focus on three critical themes in the novel: destiny, good and evil, and Catholicism versus the natural world. Originally, the opera was going to be in four acts but that proved to be too long. The Opera Southwest asked me to keep it under two hours and it was a wise decision, but it would not be easy to explain to Mr. Anaya. I had already removed a number of characters and scenes. After many discussions, we agreed on what I would keep and what I would remove. I believe the opera is stronger because of the necessary cuts to the synopsis and the original scene-by-scene. Condensing such a rich piece of fiction and coming-of-age story into three acts presented an incredible challenge, but I felt it was important to focus on the themes that Mr. Anaya identified as central to the novel. My process begins with a synopsis and then develops into a scene-by-scene outline. I work simultaneously on musical themes (motifs) as I develop the synopsis, scenes, and libretto. The musical themes need to capture the essence of the characters, moods, and settings. For example, in Bless Me, Ultima there is a particular musical theme for the River (El Río), the Plains (El llano) and, of course, one for Ultima. The opera begins with a Prologue, which is a dream sequence that captures the birth of a child. Two families quarrel over his fate, setting into motion the main spiritual and psychological conflict that pulls at Antonio. María of the Luna clan wishes for her son to become a priest while Gabriel of the Márez Blue Mesa Review | 21
family dreams of returning to his vaquero roots, and these warring ideals structure the opening duet between mother and father. The duet gives voice to the mother’s hope and the father’s frustration, and these chords structure Antonio’s birth, his young life, and the primary theme of destiny that structures the opera and the novel. Meanwhile, Ultima and her Owl spirit watch over the birth scene on a hillside. The dream folds into real life as Gabriel arrives to take La Grande (Ultima) to live with the Márez family. Acts One, Two, and Three focus on key scenes and sites from the novel, like the rural town of Guadalupe, New Mexico, the home, the saloon, the river, and the Llano. Other sites and scenes like the school and the church had to be cut completely, but these sacrifices of content nonetheless created a unique literary license that makes the opera all its own. We changed and adapted other narrative threads in order to keep the opera concise. For example, at the start of the novel the Sheriff informs the Márez family that Lupito has killed his brother, but in the opera Narciso, the town drunk, is the messenger. The creative decision to give Narciso this role did not change the impact of the opening scene, but other changes delved more deeply into the formation of minor characters. For instance, Mr. Anaya and I explored Tenorio’s motivation. In the novel, Tenorio’s character is uncomplicated, but we developed a back story for him in the opera. In short, the townspeople falsely accused Tenorio of a crime he did not commit and his once long-time friend, Prudencio Luna, did not come to his defense. Prudencio is patriarch of the Luna family, so Tenorio’s daughters curse his young son as retribution for their father’s past injustices. The curse signals a turning point in the novel and the opera, for it is the moment in which Ultima alters destiny and ultimately opens herself up to her own fate. One of the main departures that I made from the novel was the creation of the Owl character. I decided to animate this character with a countertenor, or a male singer who is able to sing in mezzo soprano range. The Owl appears in traditional New Mexican garb to underscore the spiritual and regional importance of Ultima’s animal spirit. The sound of a countertenor can create a spirit-like, eerie quality. In the opera, the Owl understands the fate of Ultima, particularly when she decides to cure Tony’s uncle. The interaction between Ultima and the Owl firmly establishes her destiny, which is one of the principal themes in both the opera and novel. In regards to the music style of the work, I tend to write within a neo-romantic operatic style while still incorporating styles that reflect the Mexican American cultural experience. As part my effort to create more musical authenticity, I visited New Mexico several times and did research at the University of New Mexico’s Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections in Zimmerman Library. After spending most of the day there, I discovered two pieces that would be the musical backbone of two arias in the opera. The first was a drinking song that I used to create Tenorio’s aria, which appears in the bar scene in Act Two. Second, I found a piece for violin and guitar. I used part of the violin melody in the very opening of what I call the Luna Farm Harvest scene in Act Three. The harvest scene is a joyous piece, where the characters both dance and sing. All of the music reflects a careful composition of sound and character that speaks to the underlying themes that Mr. Anaya and I identified as essential to the novel. For instance, Tenorio’s aria draws on the traditional Mexican corridos (ballads) that I researched in the UNM library, and the musical accompaniment of his daughters creates a feeling of dissonance and chaos. Meanwhile, Ultima’s songs reflect the power of the natural world with the sound of clarinets and wood winds. The sounds of the Llano and the River bring them to life in a way that animates their character as
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they appear in Mr. Anaya’s novel. Bless Me, Ultima had its world premiere in February 2018 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. With a fabulous production by the Opera Southwest, the opera included a cast of debut performances by Daisy Beltran as Antonio Márez, José Luis Muñoz as the Owl, Javier Abreu as Gabriel Márez, Carelle Flores as María Márez, and Javier Ortiz as Narciso. The opera was also the debut for Conductor Guillermo Figueroa, Stage Director Octavio Cardenas, and Costume Designer Dorothy Baca. In all of these ways, the Bless Me, Ultima opera put into practice my mission to diversify the opera community and make classical music relevant to Mexican and Mexican American communities on both sides of the border. With special thanks to Maestro Anthony Barrese and Executive Director Tony Zancanella of the Opera Southwest, the Bless Me, Ultima production was nationally broadcast in September 2020, in the shadow of Mr. Anaya’s passing. With the national broadcast, more individuals will learn about Mr. Anaya’s great work now that he has passed into the spirit world of Ultima. The Bless Me, Ultima opera honors the most sacred parts of Mr. Anaya’s classic novel while also creating new characters and voices for the next generation of opera fans. The Owl character in the opera, for instance, compliments Mr. Anaya’s Ollie Tecolote (Owl) books for children. In this way, the opera pays tribute to a classic novel while also opening up opera to a new generation of listeners who can identify with the musical motifs and characters on the stage. As I look back at the time I spent with Mr. Anaya, I realize that his journey continues to inspire me. The obstacles Mr. Anaya had to overcome convince me that we must often build our own road when opportunities are not readily available. Most importantly, our stories have a right to be told and we must tell them ourselves. Bless Me, Ultima fulfilled my lifelong mission to explore the Mexican American experience through a new lens—opera—and to recalibrate this lens to include Mexican American people on stage and in the audience. Thank you, Mr. Anaya.
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Taos, New Mexico - Jennifer Tubbs
1st Place Fiction 2020 Summer Contest I wish I could say I knew horses and horsemanship. Well, now I do. I know what it is to love animals and sentient life. The story advanced at a compelling place, carrying me along in the special world of San Juan del Corazon Roto/St. Juan of the Broken Heart, set in any possible familiar and loved New Mexico towns, where life presents its hard choices and its everyday brutality. The protagonist, a thirteen-year-old girl, is the hero of this tale. In this pandemic time, we see an increase in cruelty to our animal friends, and yes, it is systemic and terrifying. When a person is oppressed, they will oppress. The story teaches us that no matter our age, our station in life, we can stand up, speak out, live the truth of our lives, against all odds. I applaud the writer for the tight kernel of strength and power this story is. Home. What is Home? Our interior truth. This is what the writer shows in what is a taut and unforgettable tale of moral courage. Denise Chávez
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The mare backs out of the rusty trailer that was never meant to haul a horse of her size. She doesn’t miss a step as her freshly shod feet find the ground. She approaches Roy and me as though we are her old friends, not strangers she met for the first time at the sale barn this morning. Standing before Roy, she lowers her head, but no greeting leaves her throat. Roy unbuckles her halter and slips it off her head; he replaces it with the new one he bought for her at the feed store this morning. Roy lifts the mare’s thick forelock through the halter, and then struggles with the buckle. “Got-damn, the neck on her!” he says. “I’ll have to punch another hole in this strap.” “What’s her name?” I ask. “It’s on her papers,” Roy says. “Brouhaha. Cashier the sale barn said it’s German or some damn thing.” “Can I name her then? Something different?” “We’ll see,” he says. This means he hopes I will forget. But I won’t. Spending the summer here with him and naming one of his horses is as close as I’ll ever get to having one of my own. I know it, Roy knows it, and my parents know it. Which is why they sent me down here alone, no little siblings or cousins to tend, until school starts in New Mexico. “Being the oldest, it’s hard,” my mother told me when she dropped me off at her parents’ house in South Phoenix. “It’s like being a mother, except without the good parts. You deserve some time to yourself, honey. Have a little fun.” And so I have. But summer is almost over, and I am homesick for my little brothers’ pestering and noise, for their elbows and heels digging into my ribs when they’ve fallen asleep in my bed after a scary story. And I miss my sisters’ pranks, and the way they hear what I mean, not what I say. They would all love Roy’s new mare. In the corral, the mare’s new family await her: two indifferent geldings, a Shetland pony who’s always trying to pick a fight, three mares who are half-sisters, and two foals born only six weeks ago. Roy has always resisted conventional wisdom by corralling horses and ponies, mares and geldings, together on his small acreage. They all walk over to the fence, the way curious horses will do, heads up and moving fast like they’re late for an appointment. I wonder how this little band that has been together a few years will take to Brouhaha. And how she’ll take to them. Roy tosses me the lead rope. “Hold onto her for a minute. I mean, who the hell ties ribbons in a horse’s tail, huh? Charlie Roscoe, that’s who. Fancy bastard. I paid a lot of money for this horse. I don’t need no ribbons to see I beat them Roscoes this time,” he says. “D’you see them tipping their hats at me on our way out? Yeah, they know it, too.” The Roscoe brothers own a big farm not far from here, just beyond the orange groves, and breeders and ranchers come to South Phoenix from all over the country for horses. And the Roscoe horses have
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always been priced or pedigreed beyond Roy’s reach. Until today. Roy walks to the truck, laughing low and growly as he does when he has out-maneuvered us kids at cards, or when drives the truck close to the road’s edge on South Mountain while my younger siblings and cousins and I hold onto the wheel wells in the back. He is never happier than when he gets over on someone—usually, it’s us, his grandchildren who don’t know how to read him. We have a more difficult time decoding Roy than he has with the diner menu and the stockman’s register. If the mare wanted to run away, I could not stop her. A skinny, thirteen-year-old girl at the other end of this rope is only a gesture. She is the tallest horse I’ve ever seen, except for the Roscoes’ Clydesdales. She must be seventeen hands at the withers, maybe more. And she is flawless: a true bay, no sabino anywhere on her gleaming body so brown it’s almost red, and her mane and tail are blue-black. Every inch of her shines. The cowboys at the sale barn rub baby oil on the livestock. If the cows and pigs are at all fat and healthy, or if a horse is all muscle beneath the sheen, like this big mare, that’s what bidders see from the bleachers above the arena. And I have to admit, here in the brilliance of late afternoon in August, that little trick is devastating. Brouhaha shines past all ideas I ever had about what beautiful might be. She is calm, her eyes half-closed while she shifts her weight from one hind leg to the other. She seems to know what’s expected of her. She needed no pushing, either, from the cowboys at the auction arena. I hold a grudge against those men who wield electric shock prods to move the animals through the chutes and pens to the arena, shocking the calves whose pink tongues can’t help licking the baby oil from their curly coats. Roy says any horseman or cowboy who zaps an animal with electric hardware is a no-good sonofabitch, that’s what. The mare tosses her head, and pulls the lead rope through my hands. I take hold. “Whoa, now. Settle down,” I say. “Come on, honey. Let’s be friends.” She lowers her head, nudges my arm. I don’t have any grain or sugar cubes in my pocket, but the mare shoves her nose into my shirt front, and sniffs me as though she knows different. The other horses whinny. The mare doesn’t answer the way she ought to, the way polite horse manners require. Dolly, a pinto and the oldest of Roy’s mares, leans over the fence and nickers repeatedly. Still, the new mare does not respond. Roy is back with his wire snips. He begins cutting away the bright pink, green, and yellow ribbons braided through the mare’s glossy black tail. She sidesteps away from him. “Whoa, now,” Roy says. “It’s gonna be okay, darlin.” He places his free hand on her rump, to let her know he is there. “It’s okay.” He takes hold of her tail again, and this time she lets him finish the job. The ribbons float to the ground, and the mare swishes the skirt of her long black tail in Roy’s face. Twice. He steps beyond the reach of her tail, and laughs the way he does when one of us kids accidentally knocks off his Stetson in a dirt basketball game or forgets to set a spoon down for him when we’re eating ice cream at night. It sounds friendly, unless you know the code. If Roy’s quiet laugh were printed on a page, it would read, “Don’t even think about doing that again.” Roy walks around the mare to look her in the face. He takes the lead rope from me, and rubs Brouhaha’s nose.
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“She’s kinda big for a Thoroughbred, but it’s on her papers. Isn’t she beautiful?” he says. “Yeah, Roy, she is.” “She’ll be in season soon, too, is what they told me. It’s all in them papers.” I am embarrassed for us both. Roy pretends to read, but the truth is he can’t. The name on his birth certificate is “Baby Boy”, but most people call him Roy. So do I, unless I’m upset; then I call him Papa. He reads traffic signs and price tags, and he is proud of his driver’s license. He could learn to read, really read, if he wanted to, but who is there to teach him besides his grandkids? And who wants that? Not Roy Turner. His wife, our grandmother Maureen, could teach him, but then she’d have the upper hand somehow. So, he pores over his paperback Webster’s dictionary and his Western Horsemen magazines at night. Long after we’re supposed to be asleep, I hear him at the kitchen table trying to pronounce words he has circled in blue Bic, words that sound strange in his uncertain whisper: “pos-i-tive” and “pal-o-min-o” and “in-ter-est rate.” “Can I look at her papers? Her name, I mean?” I say. “Yeah, sure,” he says. “Can I name her? If you’re not gonna call her ‘Brouhaha’?” “We’ll see. Open the gate.” The heavy gate is steel and iron, the panels purchased from Farm and Ranch, and the only piece of this entire corral Roy didn’t build himself from scrap pipe and old highway signs. The farthest side of the corral is a mural in faded day-glow warnings nailed between two-by-fours: “Yield” or “Slow” or “Construction Ahead.” The gate swings easily, and the soapy and vanilla smell emanates from the hinges Roy maintains with generous coats of WD-40. I always struggle to stop the gate from opening too fast and wide after I’ve lifted the latch. Roy has told me holding back the gate is good for me. Opening it slowly, dragging my bootheels in the dirt, will train my muscles, make me strong. He says corral gates should open inward, a deterrent to runaway horses. But none of Roy’s horses has ever tried to run off, even when the gate is open. I lift the latch and step onto the bottom rung of the gate. I reach up to grasp the top rail as I would the monkey bars on the school playground, and I kick off from the fence. “Hey, don’t do that,” Roy says. “You’ll wear out the gate.” I jump down and strain against the weight of all that steel swinging on greasy hinges. “But it’s too heavy, Roy. It gets away from me.” Roy leads the mare past me into the corral and slips off her halter. “Shut it,” he says. I push the gate closed again, and latch it into place. The mare shakes her head, and then walks to the opposite side of the corral, joining the other horses in the shade beneath the willows and cottonwoods, though she does not greet them. “She’s probably tired,” he says. “The sale barn is a long ride from here, and Roscoe’s is just the other side of them orange trees, not three miles away. So I don’t know why they couldn’t let me pick her up from their place tonight,” Roy says. “Anyhow, she must be tired.” “Yeah,” I say. “She’s probably tired.” “Welcome home, Brouhaha,” Roy calls. She turns and faces us, her head high. Even in the shade, she shines.
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*** In the cab of Roy’s truck, I find the large envelope stamped “Roscoe Farms”; inside it are sales receipts and vaccination records. The mare’s name, on all these documents, is Bruja. My uncles speak mostly Spanish to us kids, and we’ve picked it up, too, from the grandmothers— everyone’s grandmothers—in San Juan del Corazón Roto, our latest hometown. And anyway, Spanish is easier than the Irish my father’s grandmother spoke in long distance calls when I was little. Spanish is real life in New Mexico, and how we learn in school. So I know this word Bruja when I read it on the Roscoe papers. Through the cracked windshield of Roy’s truck, I see Bruja craning her neck and baring her teeth at Dolly, who trots away and surrenders the spot under the willows and cottonwoods, abdicating her role as boss mare. Then Bruja charges one of the geldings, who runs to join Dolly on the other side of the corral. The other mares walk to an opposite corner, driving their foals before them. I jump out of the truck and join Roy at the corral gate where he stands watching the horses, waiting. He is tense, and his posture as he holds onto the gate says he is about to jump over it, or he is bracing for impact. Across the corral, the big mare faces us again. She lowers her head and kicks the fence behind her, over and over. Her steel-shod hooves splitting the wooden rails and peeling road signs is thunder cracking on a cloudless day. “What the hell,” Roy says. “What in the got-damn hell, Brouhaha.” “It’s Bruja,” I say. “She’s Bruja. A witch.” *** The other horses are stirred up, trotting aimlessly around the corral. The foals’ awkward gaits and long skinny legs are no match for the chaos they’re swept up in as they run after their mothers. Roy runs to the truck, and calls to me over his shoulder. “Don’t move. Don’t open the gate, no matter what. We have to get her outta there.” Bruja has demolished a section of the back fence into a pile of kindling, and the only thing keeping her inside the corral is a proper fence on the neighboring pasture. Beyond that, a wide irrigation ditch separates the properties. The mare gallops from one end of the corral to the other, back and forth. She is mighty, majestic, and the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. Dust clouds rise thick and fast where the horses stop and pivot around each other. Roy slips through the gate, a long lariat coiled in one of his gloved hands and a section of old garden hose in the other. He draws one end of the hose through a belt loop on his Wranglers and walks slowly in Bruja’s direction. He raises the lasso and swings it slowly overhead in an ever-widening circle. The other horses cluster together in a far corner of the corral. But Bruja runs circles around Roy, and pays him no mind as he lets the lasso fly. He hardly ever misses, and why would he, anyway, on a day as lucky as this? His first throw finds her neck. Roy loops one end of the rope around a thick cedar post set in the ground at the center of the corral, and runs out the slack, positioning himself so the post is between himself and the mare. He digs his bootheels into the dirt, and pulls the rope hard. Puffs of sawdust rise like smoke as the rope burns into the cedar. Bruja must give up or choke out.
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But she does neither. She backs away and rears up, and the harder Roy pulls, the harder she fights. She stamps the air with her front hooves, and then stands on her front legs and kicks her hind ones, over and over. Each time she rocks back on her hind legs, she tosses her great mane, a whirlwind of long black hair. Finally, most of the play in the rope is on Roy’s end, and Bruja is drawn within a few feet of the post. She stumbles, only once, and then Roy relaxes the rope. The mare is winded. “That’s it, girl. Settle down,” Roy says. “Whoa, now.” He pulls the rope taut around the post, even though Bruja seems calmer. She doesn’t lower her head, no matter how sweet he talks. She snorts hard, and then stands perfectly still. Roy reaches up to take hold of the rope on Bruja’s neck. When his hand closes on the lariat knot at her throat, she head-butts him, knocking off his Stetson and sending him tumbling into the dirt like a rag doll. Roy scrambles away, barely avoiding the hooves that crush his hat. “Go get Tony,” he yells. “Get help!” But I do not move. I cannot move. Roy jumps to his feet and gives the rope several hard yanks, pulling Bruja close to the post. He ties off the rope around the post, and draws the garden hose from his belt loop. Roy raises the hose above his head and brings it down against Bruja’s neck. She pulls hard against the rope, and when she chokes and stumbles again, he whips her back and belly and shoulders—anywhere the hose can strike. “Roy, please,” I scream. “Stop, Papa!” But he keeps on. He beats her until the sweat pours off his face, until his shirt is soaked through. Her attempts to pivot or jump are thwarted by only a wood post and a nylon rope; she can’t get away. Roy ignores her screams and mine. He beats her until she is lathered in sweat and blood, until she surrenders and folds on herself. She goes still. Her eyes are the only thing wild about her now, and Roy gives her enough rope to collapse into the dirt. I’m on the ground, too, just outside the corral, on my knees. I know I should run for Tony, our nearest neighbor, but I can’t take my eyes off the mare. Her front legs curl under her, as though she intends to stand. Her chest and belly rise and fall in great, shuddering breaths. She looks up at me, or I imagine it to be so, and I lose myself to the sobbing I’ve been holding back. “Hey, no cause for that, Maggie,” Roy yells. “Stop that crying right now. She’s gonna be fine,” Roy says. “Just fine.” He retrieves his hat, slaps off the dust and reshapes it with two punches of his fist. He ducks through the corral slats and stomps past me. “Who tricks somebody into buying a crazy horse? The Roscoe brothers, that’s who. Got-damn sonsabitches.” *** The headlights of Maureen’s Buick swing into the dirt driveway and, for a few seconds, catch me perched on the corral fence. The car door creaks open, and then it closes again. I hear my grandmother step across the almost-lawn to the porch behind the house. Her heels click across the concrete and through the back door, and the kitchen light comes on. She stands at the window, fills a glass from the tap, and takes a long drink. The fingers of her free hand worry the gold chain at her neck, a gift from the telephone company for fifteen years of service. Maureen’s long shifts keep this place afloat, as they have since the accident that ended Roy’s job as a
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crane operator on a roadbuilding crew. Maureen’s wages pay the mortgage on their two-bedroom house and the adjoining three acres here in South Phoenix. Her paychecks buy the alfalfa and carrots and grain for the horses. And since her promotion last summer, Maureen can afford brand-name ice cream, and dry cleaning for the beautiful skirts she wears as a supervisor. It’s Southwestern Bell Telephone, not Roy’s horse operation, that keeps everything going – Southwestern Bell and the woman who gazes out the kitchen window and into the darkness, looking right at me, but not seeing me. Grandma Maureen retreats into the house now, and I lose sight of her, too. The mare is still tied to the post; Roy forbade me to let her loose. But when he left, I loosened the rope so the mare could roll to her other side, or stand without choking. She hasn’t moved much. But she is back on her feet, her head lowered before the post that subdued her. The back porch light comes on, stippling the yard with the shadows of locust shells in the fixture that hangs crooked around the bulbs. I leave the fence and return to the mare’s side. She doesn’t flinch at the touch of my hand on her muzzle and, though her muscles twitch slightly as I stroke her shoulder, she doesn’t resist or protest. I’m careful not to touch her anywhere else. Dust clings to her oiled body, even her long eyelashes are coated with it, and in the scant yellow light from the back porch, she looks as though she is painted up in mourning. Bruja lets me cry into her neck. I swear I can feel her labored breathing in my own chest, and she shudders when a truck passes on the nearby road. Grandma Maureen calls to me. “I seen you on the fence. You alright?” She is a silhouette of a woman moving toward me, her back to the 60-watt bulbs over the porch. “I’m okay,” I say. “But she ain’t.” Maureen has exchanged her suit and heels for Levi’s and a pair of white Keds. She ducks through the corral rails and walks over to me. She looks over her shoulder to the blank space in the driveway where Roy’s truck should be. “Where’d he go?” “Said he was going for medicine. An hour ago. He didn’t even unhitch the trailer.” Maureen pulls an Eveready from the back pocket of her jeans. She trains the light on the mare’s body. “Who done this?” she says. “Who d’you think?” “My God,” she says. “Oh my God.” “I shoulda gone for help. Tony. Or somebody.” Maureen takes my chin in her free hand. “Hey, now.” My knees give, but Maureen holds me upright. There is comfort somehow in the signature fragrance of her body, a mix of Chanel Number Five and Tide laundry detergent. “Maggie,” she says. “This here is not your fault. Do. You. Hear. Me.” “Yes, ma’am.” “You can help her now. Run get a bucket of water—from the pump, not the trough, and bring some grain. I’m gonna get a few things from the house, but I’ll be right back.” She looks me hard in the eyes, a wild mix of stern and tender. Then she releases me. “Run,” she says. But that’s exactly what she does—she runs like I’ve never seen her, in those pretty sneakers. She stops on the porch, and yells into the darkness. “When Roy gets back, let me talk to him.”
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Maureen and Roy hardly ever speak to each another. I’ve asked her why, but I can’t decipher her code. All she has ever told me said is that, before Roy’s accident, things were an ugly kind of hard and she is glad things changed before I was born. After Roy’s crane rolled from the highway and down a ravine outside of Tuba City, twisting him up in the operator’s cab, he quit drinking. I return with grain and water. Maureen has untied Bruja from the post and led her closer to the gate, into better light. She loosens the rope around the mare’s neck, and then guides the lariat over her head. The horse complies with Maureen’s every motion. “Hold this light on her,” Maureen says. I set down the buckets before the mare, who seems disinterested, and take the flashlight from Maureen. “S’alright, hon,” Maureen says, to me or maybe to the mare. “It’s gonna be okay.” And I believe her. Maureen reaches into a brown paper Food City bag at her feet for the supplies she gathered in the house. The mare doesn’t startle or flinch, doesn’t take so much as a single evasive sidestep while Maureen pours peroxide over the lacerations and wipes away clumps of oily dirt. She slathers on ointment, and under the beam of the Eveready I hold above her shoulder, the wounds form a glistening constellation across the mare’s great body. The work is slow and Maureen’s motions are surprisingly tender. All I know of her ministering of affection are the hot meals she cooks even in the heat of summer, and the “hard-scrubbing” she gives the small kids when they play in the muddy irrigation. Maureen doesn’t dispense hugs and kisses, never baby-talks babies, let alone animals. But here she is, her voice soft and broken and unrecognizable, speaking soothing words to the mare. I’ve seen Maureen’s features configured in anger, surprise, and disappointment, but never in like this. Never in pain. Maureen’s work on the mare seems a mercy to them both, and I can’t help thinking one of the strangest English words for which I wish I knew a Spanish translation: painstaking. “You got to hold up those buckets for her,” Maureen says. “It’s hard to bow after a beating. She’ll need some grain, too.” Maureen returns the medicines to the grocery bag. “I’ll go fix you some supper,” she calls over her shoulder. “Maammaw?” I say, calling her by the little kids’ name for her, a word I haven’t spoken since I was a little kid myself. Maureen shoves the grocery bag through the rails of the corral, and then ducks through. She stands on the other side now, her curls straying around her head, a haloed figure backlit by the porch lamp. “What, hon?” “Nothing,” I say. “Just, thank you.” Bruja takes a long draw from the fresh water, sucking down most of the bucket before Maureen speaks again. “You’re welcome, hon.” Her voice is again strange to me. “See to her, and then come on in. You need sleep. Your mama and the littles will be here tomorrow.” *** Maureen is at the stove, cooking Saturday breakfast: fried eggs, bacon, biscuits and grits. She wears ankle-length jeans, an apron over a short-sleeved button-down shirt, and the pink fuzzy house slippers. Her graying auburn curls are damp, and her hazel eyes are tired.
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I dress quickly, and run to the back door to find that my boots are again the only ones parked there. “Hold on, now. Whyn’t you sit down and have your breakfast?” Maureen asks, but it’s not a question. She sets down a jar of my mother’s plum jam. “Your mama will be here soon to pick you up. I don’t know if they’re staying the night, but anyway, I’m glad we got to have just you this summer. Not that we don’t love having all you kids here. You know what I mean.” And I do. It has been fun, but also lonely here with my grandparents. I miss my siblings and, this morning, the pain is acute. Not even Maureen’s fluffy biscuits can raise my appetite. I swallow guilt and sweet melted butter, and chase it with the coffee my parents don’t know I drink. “I checked on the mare first thing,” Maureen says. “She ate the grain, and a big flake of hay. You got to eat, too, hon.” I part Maureen’s fancy JC Penney curtains on the kitchen window. Roy has unhitched the trailer, but his truck is gone again. “He said he was going to the feed store,” Maureen says. *** Bruja stands in the shade of the willows. She is still, her head low. The other horses are circled around her—close enough to satisfy their curiosity, but keeping a safe distance. The foals run at each other, playfighting as they do, and none of their mothers attempts to cut them away from the herd. As I approach, Bruja raises her head. Her height is still overwhelming, and for a minute I consider running to the gate. But she nudges my shoulder, and lets me rub her soft muzzle. “I’m so sorry, honey,” I say. “How ya feeling?” There is no reason to expect anything other than the angry welts and open cuts on her body. But the sight of her injuries and the warmth of her sigh on my shoulder while she smells my shirt break me into a million pieces. Roy’s truck lumbers into the yard. He jumps out, slams the door, and runs to the rear where he lowers the tailgate. All I can see of him are the top of his crumpled, sweat-ringed hat and his shoulders in motion. He stands back from his work, removes his hat and passes his arm over his sweaty forehead. The sleeves are rolled up on the same shirt he wore yesterday—a faded blue snap-button, patterned in sweat and dark smears. Roy looks up, calls to me. “Hey, come on out of there. She’s dangerous.” He pulls a long rod from the bed of the truck. Bright orange, with a strap Roy pulls over his wrist. He flicks a switch on the handle casing, and the bite of current into the air is a thousand stinging bees, then it’s silenced with another flick of Roy’s thumb. “What’re you gonna do, Roy?” “Teach her how to behave,” he says. “Wait, Roy!” I run to the corral gate. “I mean, who does that—right?” “Who does that? I’ll tell you. Roy Turner, that’s who.” *** Roy doesn’t look like the fifty-three-year-old man I knew him to be only yesterday; the stubble I’ve never seen him allow on his face is more gray than black. The morning sun washes out his face, and there are dark circles under his eyes that seem gray now, too, not blue. He is small and sad, a stack of crooked lines
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that don’t form a man. Bruja trumpets. The band is agitated, trotting and loping around the corral, and pivoting away when they cross the border of Bruja’s place beneath the trees. We are all on the edge of something. “Help me get the rest of them into the other pen,” Roy yells. I lean against the gate, and fold my arms. Roy stares at me. Maybe he doesn’t see me the same, either. Maybe I am not to him who I was only yesterday, a thirteen-year-old girl child who never gave him any trouble. “Help me now, and I’ll give her to you. You like her so damn much, you can have her.” Roy should know better. He has taught me it’s impossible to command a horse whose loyalty and obedience never depended on reward or a harsh word. When she decides she is done, the creature whose loyalty and labor have been freely offered, there is no changing her mind. “Whatcha cryin for? I said I’ll give you a got-damn horse. You want that witch out there? She’s yours—but we got to train her.” I don’t move. I don’t argue. I respond as Maureen does in moments when he attempts to goad or humiliate her. I nothing him. Roy gives up. He weaves his way across the corral, as if the ground is tilted beneath his feet. He approaches the geldings first, waving his arms and whistling as he does when he wants to gather or move them. They oblige by trotting to the far end of the corral. The mares are slower to respond, but they follow the geldings, foals in tow. The crazy Shetland grunts low at Roy. But even her resistance is overcome with one loud clap of Roy’s hands. He tumbles into the dirt. Bruja has not moved from the shade of the cottonwoods, but her head is up and she is breathing hard. Roy brings himself nearly upright, then folds again, head bowed and arms outstretched on the ground, looking as though he could sink into prayer or crawl away. I am as still as my pounding heart will allow. I don’t know if it’s violence or devotion rising in me as I look on Roy’s crumpled form. I call to him, softly. “Roy. Are you okay?” He struggles to his feet, takes up the prod again and waves it in my general direction, flicking the switch, over and over. The threat is buzzing and percussive, scary and irritating. “High voltage,” he yells. “This here is stun gun quality. Special made. Longer reach.” His words are syncopated with persistent zaps from the prod. Roy turns his back on me and walks to the knot of trees, to Bruja. “Don’t do it,” I yell. “Please don’t. Papa.” Maureen slips through the gate. I never heard her coming. “Let me handle him.” She runs to Roy, her apron flapping at her knees and clouds of dust rising in the wake of her furry slippers. “Roy, come inside,” she says. He looks up, puzzlement across his forehead. “No. Take that girl in the house.” “Roy, come on. You can sleep this off.” “Got-damnit,” he yells. “Leave me alone.” “You know what, Papa?” I yell. I take a couple of quick steps in his direction, and then step backward when he turns to look at me. “You know what?” “Spit it out,” he says, and then he turns away.
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“You’re a no good son of a bitch, that’s what.” I pick up dirt clods and chuck them at him. A couple clumps of dirt strike his back, but they are dry and small, and disintegrate. I feel sick again, but this time it’s not because I don’t know what to do. It’s because I know what I must do, and it scares the hell out of me. Bruja gallops to the empty end of the corral, opposite the other horses who nicker and groan, a collective low murmur emanating from the cluster of their pinto and sorrel and dappled heads and rumps. Maureen steps behind Roy and snatches the prod from his grip; the rip of the Velcro strap from Roy’s wrist is loud and satisfying. Maureen throws the prod out of Roy’s reach. He lunges for her, and then falls down again. “Roy,” she says. “Get up. Let’s go inside.” She kneels beside him and reaches into a pocket of her apron for a cloth. She dabs at his head. “Now.” Roy leans into Maureen, and she pulls him to his feet and drapes one of his arms across her shoulders. I unlatch the gate to let them through. “Get rid of it,” Maureen calls over her shoulder. And I know she means the prod. She helps Roy across the yard and onto the porch, the two of them bobbing along together, out of rhythm. Roy stumbles on the porch steps, and then he and Maureen step haltingly inside together. The door swings closed behind them. I latch the gate again, and walk over to the prod in middle of the corral. Then I feel Bruja’s breath on my neck. She nudges my shoulder again, and I turn around. “I ain’t got nothin, honey. And there’s nothing I can do.” But we both know different. Bruja follows me to the gate. She whinnies low, drops her head. I’m sorry the littles won’t get to meet her, and I won’t see their awestruck faces or hear them ask how tall is she and what is her name and can we ride her. I lean into Bruja’s neck, and breathe in her scent—sweat, dirt, baby oil and pure-dee horse. She lets me gently push her away from the gate. Her sidesteps with my hands on her withers feel like a dance we’ve rehearsed. Or a blessing. She tosses her head. I raise the latch, and slip to the other side of the gate. I step aboard the frame, and kick off hard. I ride the heavy swinging gate until it is as open as it can be, a fact reported by the peal of colliding steel and iron, and by the reverberations in my hands and feet when the gate slams into the fence. Bruja trots through the gate and never looks back. When she is clear of the yard, she lopes down the dirt road, her head high and her body gleaming in the morning sun. She disappears into the orange groves, headed where, I hope, she is expected. There will be big trouble over this. And it will start with a long string of curses followed by pointless questions. Why’d you leave the sonofabitchin gate open? he’ll say. Where’d the got-damn mare go? He will look at me hard, biting his lower lip and trying to take in my features that are no longer readable to him. Home, I’ll say. She went home. She was always gonna go home.
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1st Place Poetry 2020 Summer Contest “Crown of Screws” is a poem that’s fractured but whole. A lyrical intelligence, which surges inward and outward, tethers a body in pain to other bodies, to the natural world, to the political body. This kind of gorgeous thinking simultaneously mends and rends the lyric space; it infuses the page with cascading musics and startling language. Eduardo Corral
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Crown of Screws Kelly Weber
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Long Ago There Was A Time Despy Boutris
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1st Place Nonfiction 2020 Summer Contest “Feast Day” is beautiful and daring in its structure, fluid in its haunting commute between the visceral and numinous, the literal and metaphor. While this is not the first story to conflate the bodies of women and livestock, its indictment of the dumbing down, the stockade, is wildly original. Pulsing with paradox and a rage that should be understood as fierce devotion, “Feast Day” bucks at the idea that domestic and docile are saintly qualities for any female body, and does so with a rare and nuanced intelligence. Amy Irvine
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feast day: a lyric Tess Fahlgren
memorial of sts. perpetua and felicity Daily Reading for Thursday March 7, 20191 Reading 1, Deuteronomy 30:15-20 ‘Look, today I am offering you life and prosperity, death and disaster.2 If you obey the commandments of Yahweh your God, which I am laying down for you today, if you love Yahweh your God and follow his ways, if you keep his commandments, his laws and his customs, you will live and grow numerous3, and Yahweh your God will bless you in the country which you are about to enter and make your own.4 But if your heart turns away, if you refuse to listen, if you let yourself be drawn into worshipping other gods and serving them,5 I tell you today, you will most certainly perish; you will not live for long in the country which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. Today, I call heaven and earth to witness against you: I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live,6 in the love of Yahweh your God, obeying his voice, holding fast to him; for in this your life consists, and on this depends the length of time that you stay in the country which Yahweh swore to your ancestors7 Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would give them.’8
1 Feast day of the saints Perpetua and Felicity, patron saints of cows. 2 In the year 203, Vibia Perpetua, an educated 22-year-old noblewoman still nursing her infant son, made the decision to follow the path of her mother and become a Christian, despite her pagan father’s wishes. He tried to change her mind, but when she refused he tried to claw out her eyes. 3 I was fifteen when I ran away from home. I made it to the city, five hours away from the small town where I lived, and called my parents. They made my brother come pick me up. 4 Felicity, a slave who was eight months pregnant, was arrested alongside Perpetua. The two women found themselves in a prison so crowded with people, Perpetua “had never known such darkness.” 5 Did I run away because I was sick of standing in the front pew at church, lips resolutely shut against the hymns? Was it my dad’s habit of waking me before dawn to work, or was it something even more selfish? 6 When Felicity gave birth in prison, the soldiers mocked her. They wanted to know how she would handle being torn apart by lions if the pain of childbirth was so great. They must not have known it wouldn’t be lions, but a rabid heifer who would be summoned to kill the women. 7 Last summer, while attempting to separate my father’s cows from their calves, an enormous cow — a panicked mother — ran up from behind me, stretched into a swift pirouette and kicked the front of both my legs with two black dinner-plate hooves. Later, I gazed at the purple bruises on my pale thighs and thought, I deserved that. 8 The rabid heifer didn’t do its job of killing the Christian noblewoman and the slave, and so they stood side-by-side to be slaughtered by men. Today, they are depicted with their arms wrapped around each other, the joint patron saints of the beast who failed to kill them. They are also the patron saints of expectant mothers, ranchers and butchers. Who’s the patron saint of paradox? Who’s the patron saint of cruelty?
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birth I am a good daughter every ninety minutes when I talk myself off the couch at the alarm’s ring. Over the tights, double-layered socks, long underwear and two long-sleeved shirts I’ve slept in, I pull a pair of Dad’s old Wrangler jeans and canvas coveralls. I stuff my feet into knee-high lace-up pack boots and pull on two pairs of gloves. With a Scotch cap pulled down over my ears and a silk scarf around my neck, I grab a flashlight and open the door. The night glitters. The membranes in my nose stiffen with cold. Three winter-coated cats escort me across the yard. I am a good daughter in the breath-warmed corral, weaving through the crowded and huge bodies of expectant mothers. My white flashlight beam sweeps back and forth. I listen: they hum. Through the chorus of grunts and murmurs there is one definite voice of urgency. In the back pen, I find a black Angus girl on her side, the mountain of her body heaving as she pants, huffing silver clouds into the dark. My fingers ache from the cold. Her shining eyes watch me, the skin beneath her tail split open, speared through by thin hooved legs, soaking the frozen ground with blood. By the time my hand is back on the doorknob, the cats have returned to the warm caves they’ve found in feed barrels or old saddle blankets. Dad is sleeping in a rhythm like mine. I am a good daughter when we alternate trips into the cold so the cows aren’t alone for longer than forty-five. One calving season when I was little we camped out on Army-issue cots pushed together in the empty living room of the farmhouse, before the new tenants moved in. Moonlight poured through the windows, lighting bare walls and carpet silver. White fields expanded to the dark, distant tree line. No neighbor lights, no crawling highway. The train’s roar was so loud it could have been right in the yard. Lonely, I rested my arm on the dark hill of my sleeping father’s shoulder. Now at his bedroom door I only have to say, “Dad,” and he knows. He’s up in an instant, clothed and out the door.
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memorial9 of st. teresa of calcutta10 Gospel Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother11 and his mother’s12 sister, Mary13 the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.14 When Jesus saw his mother15 and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother,16 “Woman, behold, your son17.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
9 September 5, when this Teresa would come home from school to an empty house, microwave ramen and sit too close to the TV. 10 Also known as Mother Teresa.* *You know the one. 11 This Teresa’s mother is also named Mary. 12 This Teresa’s mother, named Mary, had six children, the eldest of which was a son who died very young. 13 This Teresa’s mother, Mary, was happiest “with her babies inside her.” 14 There is no evidence that Mary Magdalene was a sex worker, though that is the prevailing myth. She was yet another Mary who loved Jesus. 15 Mother Teresa is known for her white and blue sari, worn as a nun’s habit. She worked in India with lepers and those suffering from HIV/AIDS, but believed suffering to be holy. Her work didn’t aim to alleviate that suffering. 16 For nearly fifty years, this St. Teresa suffered from “a dark night of the soul,” or a time when she felt no presence of God at all. She wrote, “Heaven means nothing, to me it looks like an empty place. The thought of it means nothing to me — and yet this torturing longing for God.” 17 When this Teresa’s nephew was born, her sister asked all of her siblings if they were Catholic or not. This Teresa’s brother, Andrew, replied, “Yes.” This Teresa replied, “No.” They stood together at church and sang the same songs, crossed themselves in unison, and from the same chalice drank the same blood. Afterward, they went to their respective homes and lay beside their partners. Andrew became the godfather of their nephew while this Teresa wondered what it would have meant to lie, too.
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immaculate conception Not many Black Angus bulls’ genes are of a high enough quality to produce valuable calves. Because of this, cattle ranchers often use Artificial Insemination (AI), a process in which semen from a registered bull is purchased and inserted into the cow through artificial means. Catalogues containing hundreds of examples of quality bulls are provided by the American Bull Society (ABS), which Dad pores over to find the right sire for his calves. The glossy catalogues litter the living room, our bathroom, and my parents’ bedroom. Different bulls offer different benefits. I used to make a game of finding the best bull, with shining black fur slick against the massive hump between his shoulders, a deep chest and snub nose. A resentful glare on his magnificent face. Heavy, with a low birthweight. Good disposition and, always, the heaviest deepblack scrotum. Dad picks his favorites, sometimes up to three, and places an order. Tubes of semen arrive in a large white tank of liquid nitrogen, which is stored in the garage. As a child, I was explicitly warned against playing with it.
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to bear children To aid in the AI process, cattle breeders insert CIDRs18 (Controlled Internal Drug Release), pronounced “ciders.” These are intravaginal progesterone inserts,19 demonstrated in Fig. 2. Progesterone is released at a controlled rate into the bloodstream after insertion, which is used to synchronize estrus, or sexual receptivity. With this tool, the fertility of a female mammal can be controlled, making it possible to schedule convenient impregnation.20 By synchronizing estrus, large groups of cows and heifers can be bred at the same time in a narrow window.21
18 From the Catholic church’s Humanae Vitae: “ . . . the direct interruption of the generative process … [is] to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.” 19 Was I a bad daughter when I took myself to the clinic at sixteen? The nurse remembered administering my shots as a baby. She gave me a manila folder that I hid under the passenger seat in my car, unused ring of pills still inside. Weeks later, I came home to find the folder on the kitchen counter. My mother made me promise I’d never do it again — “it” being sex, I guess. 20 Was I a good daughter when I got another set of pills and was too afraid to take them? Was I a good daughter when I took them and was too afraid to utilize them? 21 Was I bad daughter when, as a twenty-five-year-old woman, I told the doctor at Planned Parenthood that the IUD she was about to put inside me was about an eighth of the size of the cows’? It pinched somewhere unrecognizable and I nearly blacked out.
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memorial22 of saint teresa23 of jesus, virgin24 and doctor of the church25 Brothers and sisters: It is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the freeborn woman. The son of the slave woman was born naturally, the son of the freeborn through a promise. Now this is an allegory. These women represent two covenants. One was from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; this is Hagar.26 But the Jerusalem above is freeborn, and she is our mother. For it is written: Rejoice, you barren one who bore no children27; break forth and shout, you who were not in labor; for more numerous are the children of the deserted one than of her who has a husband.28 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are children not of the slave woman but of the freeborn woman.29
22 Feast Day: October 15, as the weather gets crisp and red foxes are spotted in the tall, dry grass. 23 Pendants, books, black-hooded ceramic figurines layered in dust: St. Teresa was assumed to be this Teresa’s namesake. 24 This Teresa texted her Catholic mother to ask which virgin she was truly named after and learned that no one had ever known, nor cared to specify. 25 St. Teresa was born as the Catholic nations shifted from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. They deleted all the days between the fourth and the 15th — in October of 1582 she died on one or the other. We celebrate her feast on the 15th, which is strange because St. Francis died the 3rd, so they could be feast buddies but nine fake days cropped up in between. 26 St. Teresa ran away from home at age seven with her brother Rodrigo to find martyrdom among the Moors. When this Teresa ran away to that larger city, five hours away, she did not intend to die. Both had mothers determined to raise them to be pious. 27 This Teresa’s mother withheld insurance information so that she wouldn’t have access to birth control. 28 This Teresa’s mother had six children. 29 St. Teresa is most famous for a statue of her most pivotal spiritual experience, which occurred after a long period where she did not feel God’s presence. Called Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. About the experience that inspired the statue, she wrote, “I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…”* *St. Teresa fucked Jesus to orgasm and called it mental prayer.
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birth II Icy wind whips across the field, dropping the wind chill temperature to forty below zero. A young cow stands against the wind instead of cuddling her newborn. Too late, Dad hauls the frozen calf into the house. He wakes me up to tell me that it wasn’t my fault. He wanted to give the poor thing a few, final warm hours, he says, then drives into town for work. In the dim light of early morning I find her flat on the floor. Utter disaster, a half-dead thing, wheezing into the stained carpet. I press my hands into the thick silken fur on her ribs and apologize. Am I a good daughter when I blow-dry a newborn’s icy hooves? In middle school we had a similar situation. His frozen legs and ears resulted in deformities we thought were cute. He lived a simple life in the corral, a pet eventually, and I named him after a boy I thought was similarly cute. We ate his meat all winter. From the basement I pull sleeping bags and blankets to stuff into the dryer. I wrap her feet in a heating pad, then lay the dryer-warmed layers over her body. When they cool I replace them with fresh layers, again and again. She is my project for the day. I drink coffee and watch the pile of blankets breathe. Kneel on the dirty ground, rub her legs, tell her it’ll be okay. Nearly 7 o’clock at night I slide a feeding tube down her throat. Her tongue is cold and gray, eyes filmy. With a firm squeeze, a solution of water, sugar and salt slides into her belly. Shocked, she tries to stand, then collapses. Am I good daughter when I hold her frozen ear and repeat apologies? I finally leave the house for the first time all day and an hour later Dad sends me a text to say she’s died. Would you like for me to wait until you get home before I take her body away? I’m with my friends, texting under the table. No, thank you.
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memorial of saint thérèse1 of the child2 jesus, virgin3 and doctor of the church4 My Novena Rose Prayer O Little Thérèse of the Child Jesus, please pick for me a rose from the heavenly gardens and send it to me as a message of love.5 O Little Flower of Jesus, ask God to grant the favors I now place with confidence in your hands. St. Therese, help me to always believe as you did in God’s great love for me, so that I might imitate your “Little Way”6 each day7. Amen.
1 St. Thérèse of Lisieux, or The Little Flower, was born in 1873 and eventually, at the age of 24, died of tuberculosis. She is celebrated for being silent and cheerful until her death. 2 As a baby, this St. Thérèse was sent to be cared for by a wet nurse. When she was over a year old, she returned to her family but had become extremely temperamental and was prone to excessive crying. This kind of thing can happen when a baby doesn’t attach very well to its mother. It can happen when a baby’s mother is distant. 3 Ah ha! That’s where this Teresa went wrong, but it’s not a fun story to tell. 4 Feast Day: October 1, when golden bales of hay lay scattered beneath the cool blue sky and dry malted alfalfa coats your tongue. 5 St. Thérèse often experienced spiritual dryness. She wrote, “For me it is always night, always dark, black night.” 6 This St. Thérèse wrote, “When I am in this state of spiritual dryness, unable to pray or to practice virtue, I look for little opportunities for the smallest trifles to please Jesus, such as a smile, a kindly word when I would rather be silent. If no such occasion offers itself, I try at least to say over and over again that I love Him.” Is that unlike when this Teresa’s father told her that he fights his slow spread of sadness by saying, “almost like a prayer, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, for the capacity to see the complexities’”? 7 This Teresa’s mother told her that her smile would someday save a life. She took on a scowl. People did die.
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to bear children (II) When it comes time to breed, Dad gets some friends together to help gather the cows. They like a chance to cowboy. On horseback we find the herd and try to push them into a temporary corral Dad set up the night before. Am I a bad daughter when the directions he yells are snatched by the wind and a handful of cows slip past me? I jerk my horse after them, kick him into a lope, muttering to myself, Dad, I can’t hear you Dad, that’s not helpful, Dad. The sun burns my scalp through the part in my hair. My horse stumbles on a rock, and a real cowboy loops the errant cattle back to the herd. Once inside the corral, we can push the cows up the narrow alley and into the squeeze chute, which contracts and holds them in place. Dad uses a long plastic rod to insert the CIDRs, leaving thin blue plastic threads poking out from beneath their tails. The artificial insemination process is strict; they are removed seven days later - you simply yank on the thing.
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immaculate conception (II) The cows mill around in the corral while they wait for insemination and we nest in tall grass to eat lunch. Dad made white bread and beef-roast-and-ketchup sandwiches. He insists on both buttering the bread and wrapping the sandwiches in a paper towel before plastic wrap, so they are at once dry and thick with cold butter. For the occasion we have brand name potato chips, grocery store cookies and hot coffee in a heavy Thermos. The hot white sun burns through our long-sleeved shirts and, if I take off my hat, the part in my hair. Our boots, pants and hands, like everywhere else, are coated in mud and manure. The vet comes over from Malta and the cowboys who’ve been helping us shake his hand, stand a little taller. We push the cows up the alley one last time. The vet slips a thin metal rod inside each cow’s vagina to deliver the mail-order semen. I am a good daughter when I monkey on the alley, pushing with my feet and wedging my body against the metal, finding leverage to push forward cows who refuse to become pregnant.1
1 From Humanae Vitae, “Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.”
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memorial1 of st. teresa benedicta of the cross2 Gospel From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.3 You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do4.”
1 August 9, when the prairie has crisped to dull yellow and hot days on the lake are ruined by strong, dusty wind. 2 Born Jewish in Poland in 1891, her birth name was Edith Stein. Until her baptism in 1922, she didn’t practice any religion. She wrote, “Every time I feel my powerlessness and inability to influence people directly, I become more keenly aware of the necessity of my own holocaust.” 3 Many holy people have reported a period of “spiritual dryness,” or a time when God was absent from them. Despite her escape to Catholicism, this St. Teresa was eventually killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. 4 What does it mean to belong to any one thing? Can one write a letter of allegiance and be saved? Apparently not: apparently nothing.
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are you open Some months after artificially inseminating the cows, we head again to pasture and, on horseback, bring them into the corral. With quiet gestures, we separate them into groups and move them up the alley. A big girl in front sees her escape and runs for it, but Dad’s friend Rick is waiting and, pulling a lever above his head, slams the head gate closed around her neck. With another lever he squeezes her body tight in the metal cage. Between its red bars, the balloon of her presses through, coarse black fur hot and shining in the sun. Dad opens a small metal gate behind her. It swings inward and hooks to the chute and blocks the cows still waiting so he can stand directly behind her. Lined up behind it the small metal gate smashed against each other, breathing heavy, are a line of 1200-pound cows. Their summer coats are smooth. They flick flies with their tails, toss their massive heads and moan, dark eyes rolling. If they smashed through that gate, my father would be crushed. He slips his arm into a plastic glove that reaches to his armpit, lifts the cow’s tail and pushes his arm deep inside her rectum. Holding his hand like a scoop, he pulls thick green manure in quick, methodical pulls. Three scoops or so and it’s clean enough to push his hand back in and, palm down, feel for the skull of an unborn calf. Most will have been bred. Those that didn’t are deemed “open,” meaning “not pregnant,” and will be sold at auction. Goodbye.
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images Fig. 1. Detection of pregnancy by rectal palpation redrawn from original by Arthur, et al., 1982 from (Reproduction in Cattle) 2004. (Blackwell Publishing) https://www.researchgate.net/ publication/316285755_Reproduction_in_Cattlef. Accessed December 9, 2020. Fig. 2. Proper placement of insemination gun to deposit semen in the body of the uterus. (Oklahoma State University Extension) 2017. https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/artificial-inseminationfor-beef-cattle.html. Accessed December 9, 2020.
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2nd Place Fiction 2020 Summer Contest I love the color, the light, the rich density of this magical story. The story of Hai Yen, the sixteenyear-old mute Vietnamese girl, resonated so strongly with my younger self. As emerging adults, we are often faced with the perils of the world and those who would harm. We each have our stories of passage. Though the world of Ca Mau, in southern Vietnam, may seem faraway, the writer was able to lovingly capture the essence of an emerging adolescence that was both precious and resilient. The story was a feast for the senses and left one with a hope that yes, good still resides in this world. Let us never forget we are surrounded by spirit/angels and others who watch and protect us in small, blessed ways. It was a great pleasure to inhabit this world and become part of its essential mercy. Denise Chávez
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A Mute Girl’s Yarn Khanh Ha
The Swallow Father told me when I was seven that every Vietnamese name has a meaning. My name is Hai Yen. Tran Thi Hai Yen. My first name Hai Yen means the swallow, a sea bird known for its resilience and tireless wing. But he named me Hai Yen—a pretty name for a girl—because a day before I was born a swallow flew into our house and built a nest in a ceiling corner. Father said that was a good omen. I was born mute. I’m sixteen today. It’s my birthday, a Friday. That means I have to stay in our family’s herbal store to help Mother inventory the herbal goods, which arrive every Friday. My grandparents own the store. Grandpa is an ethnic Chinese who married Grandma, a southern Vietnamese girl from Ca Mau. Grandpa is like a town doctor who practices the art of therapies to harmonize the yin and yang in the human body so that the flow of qi, life energy, can be unblocked. Grandpa has a room in the back of the store where he receives his patients. Mother manages the daily chores in the store and I help after school. Before I was born, Father was still on the other side, a communist propagandist, who occasionally slipped into Ông Doc town to buy herbal medicines at our family’s store and sometimes he would receive acupuncture from Grandpa. They became friends. Then a few years before 1975 Father defected to our side, the Republic of Viet Nam. In 1975, when South Viet Nam fell to communism, Father disappeared. For ten years. Then one day he came into our store, gaunt looking in threadbare clothes, his familiar long black hair now completely gray—an inmate just released from a socialist-reform camp by the Vietnamese communist government. Shortly after he married Mother. Six months before I turned sixteen, Father fell ill. On the last day of his life, Father asked me if I remembered the story he had told me when I was seven—how my name came about. I signed to him that the swallow brought good omen when it flies into a home. Father smiled a rare smile. He spoke with his eyes closed. I made a sign that I understood. I was the good omen. Floating Market The floating market on Ông Doc River runs through our town. Father took me there once when I was six. He carried me in his arms and we stood on a bridge looking down. I could see rows of boats and sampans moored along the riverbank and the water was silvery in the morning sun. Nobody knows how and when the floating market had come into being. Perhaps when some sampans came to rest along the sleepy bank, the oarswomen asked each other for a light, maybe a betel chew, a bottle gourd, a pumpkin, or a dash of nuoc mam—fish sauce. And, after a while, a little flea market took to life and then one day a floating market was born. That morning he didn’t buy anything. We stood on the bridge as the sun was rising and the river shone white in the mist that hung like a translucent mosquito net over the sampans. The sleepy river woke at the first sounds of oars as skiffs thin as a leaf glided to and fro, bringing the first customers to
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the market. Father carried me down to the bank and asked if I wanted breakfast. The rich-egg redolence of pastries hung over the bank. I made hand signs and Father bought me a wedge of sponge cake, a porous pastry that looks like a sea sponge. Over the tranquil river a woman vendor’s voice called out her specialty. Rising from the bows of many of the sampans were long bamboo rods that arched over the water and dangling on the rod was the house’s specialty—the ripened-red hairy rambutans, the yellowtinted papayas, the lime-green guavas, the deep-purple aubergines. There used to be a boater who was here among all the boater merchants, and who sold nothing but one product. Human merchandise. She sat that day in the domed shelter hidden behind an all-black curtain hung across the entrance. You could have a peek at her and, if pleased, sit down and play a game of Chinese chess against the boat owner. His daughter, he would tell you, was sixteen. She must be pretty, for men of all ages accepted the invitation for a game of chess, and all left, losing money to the man. That day Father decided to play a game of chess against the man. He didn’t peek into the dome. He just sat down and played. There was a small crowd who gathered in sampans alongside the man’s boat and watched in silence. Some of them were chess players and others were curiosity seekers. When the morning mist finally lifted hours later, the match was over. On the wooden board, nicked in several places, there were only a few chess pieces left. Father had checkmated the man. He didn’t bother to get to know his prize intimately. He simply shook the man’s hand while the crowd looked on in awe. Later Father told me during his ten years in the communist re-education camp, he had learned how to play Chinese chess and played every night before regimented bedtime, and played on when the oil lamps had been put out, having had to cover the chessboard with a thin blanket and lighting the board with a flicker of cigarette lighter for each move. Father must have had a deep affection for the floating market, because it was something dear to the natives, which, he told me that we, the communist northerners, came to destroy. The Hair Clasp Last night when I was soaking my feet before bedtime, Grandma came in and dropped chunks of alum that looked like ice cubes. They frothed in the pan of warm water. Sometimes Grandma added a sliver of cinnamon and it gave the water an acrid scent. I made hand signs that I felt clean, the soles of my feet tingling and the tingling going up to my calves, and Grandma wiped my feet dry with a towel and said, “Little one, you have the most beautiful feet.” I sensed that I must keep my body pure and clean and I never forget the scent of cinnamon. Grandma told me that Grandpa’s grandmother, who was Chinese living in China, had her feet bound. I asked what that was, pointing to my own feet. Grandma explained and I asked her how a girl whose feet were arch-shaped and small from binding could walk. Grandma minced back and forth and I laughed. She said it would be a horror to her if my feet were bound. After soaking my feet, I lay in bed and sleep wasn’t coming. I felt warm in my feet and the warmth brought my hand down there to touch them. I pulled up the legs of my pajamas pants and looked at my legs, their long shapes and the arched shapes of the full calves white in the reflected streetlight. I looked
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down at my chest and knew why Grandma made me wear a brassiere when I went outside. I had become more conscious of my full bosom the day I found out from my classmate how she got her tortoise-shell hair clasp. She wasn’t as tall as me and she was flat-chested. Yet I envied her for her eyebrows. They arched over her eyes like ink brushstrokes. She said to me, “You like my hair clasp? It’s real tortoise shell.” “It’s pretty,” I said. “I got it for free.” “How?” There was this middle-aged man, she told me, who had a sundry boat and would come into town once a week. He docked his boat in a cove and the clinking chime he hung on his boat would tell you he was there with all kinds of trinkets once you came inside the domed shelter to satisfy your curiosity. She went in there and after looking around saw a tortoise-shell clasp. “Isn’t it pretty on ya?” the man said in his purring voice. She turned it in her hand, biting her lower lip, and nodded. “How much money ya got?” “I don’t have money.” He scratched under his chin. “Get some money. I can’t keep it for ya.” Reluctantly she handed the clasp back to the man. He raised his eyes from where he sat on the floor. “You really like it, eh?” She nodded, feeling like a mouse under his stare. “Keep it.” He shrugged as she peered at him at a loss. “If you feel bad taking it, do somethin’ for me.” He pointed at her chest, coughed, spat and made a sign of unbuttoning her blouse. I have thought a lot about what she told me. When he had seen her breasts he said, “Come back next time and I’ll give you a nice bra. Lacy stuff. Pretty on your nice skin.” She said to me, “Do you want to come with me next time?” She eyed my chest. I could see a glint of envy in her eyes. I never considered her invitation. It was vulgar of her. I want to keep my body pure and clean because I remember how much care Grandma gave it. First Time On Friday I didn’t have to stay in our herbal store to inventory the herbal goods arriving in the afternoon. Mother let me go with Grandma to deliver prescribed medicine to some folks out of town. These folks showed their gratitude for what had cured their illnesses by giving Grandma a laughingthrush kept in a bamboo-slat cage. It was a cute, black-chinned thrush. Grandma said it could mimic sounds it heard. I sat holding the cage in my lap as we went downriver in a boat. A wind chime rang melodiously, the sound coming from another boat going upriver. For a moment I thought of the man who sold sundries from his boat and the tortoise-shell hairclasp. The laughingthrush puffed its gray-colored breast and sang pee-koopee-koo. Then it blinked. Round, honey-brown eyes. It gazed toward a stand of black mangrove on the shallow edge of the riverbank. Hanging from the trees’ trunks were the picturesque curtainlike roots touching the water. Those roots nurtured oysters and snails that had attached themselves to them; that’s what Grandma explained, as she always did on our
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outings. She said pelicans and sometimes parrots or spoonbills sheltered in the trees. A kingfisher shot out of the foliage. The laughingthrush cocked its head, its white-browed eyes gazing after the kingfisher’s flight. I patted Grandma as she braced herself against a sudden lurch. The boat was crossing a river mouth where a stream ran into it, swelling the current. She looked back at me. “What, dear?” I signed and pointed to the caged bird, and Grandma said a bird could survive in the wild if set free, but only an adult bird. A baby bird that grew up in a cage would likely die in nature. She asked me why I wanted to set it free and I thought of the way the bird’s eyes had fixed on the kingfisher, as if mesmerized. I signed again and Grandma said, “Let me think about it when we get home.” The boat came side by side with a merchant boat, like those I had seen at the floating market. Shelved inside its dome were rows of jars and crocks of candies and preserved fruits, and in the bow were laid out rattan sieves. There were the orange-colored sesame balls, deep-fried and glistening, leaf-jelly cubes, molasses-brown, in plastic cups. Grandma bought a big jar of golden sugar which gleamed like sand. She said it was made from sugarcane. As our boat moved again, past the merchant boat’s stern, a young girl was washing herself. She didn’t see me. Skinny, long-haired, she looked younger than me. Her skin was pale white in the sun as she squatted in the stern over a pail of water, her floral-pink pantaloons pushed down to her ankles, washing her crotch with her hand. The water tinged red. The first time I bled like that I was thirteen. Something evil had entered my body. I got under a blanket and cried. Grandma said, “Nothing’s wrong, dear. It’s normal for girls.” The Leper Isle Once, when I was seven, I went in a boat with Father to Leper Isle. It sat like a dark swell in midstream of the fast-flowing Ông Doc river. Father said a century ago the lepers made the isle their home. The ostracized caste fended for themselves in their refuge and over the years many of them had died from drowning when they took to the water. Father didn’t tell me why he went there with me on that day. Years later I knew from Grandma, who said the isle used to be a Viet Cong haven during the war, a place for them to stash their cache of weapons and ammunitions. I imagine when Father was still a North Vietnamese communist, he had been to the Leper Isle. What brought him back there, I don’t know. Perhaps memories. That same year the town halfwit was found dead on the bank of Leper Isle. Her body was snagged on the silt roots of crabapple mangrove. She was in her thirties, often trailed on the streets by mischievous children whom she chased off when they started throwing rocks at her. The year before she had become pregnant. Some river man must have lured her onto his boat. A fisherman or a sundries boat merchant. Or a shopkeeper in town who gave her a floral blouse and said its plum-colored fabric went nicely with her milky-white skin. And she was blessed with such fine skin. Sometimes she would casually squat down on a sidewalk, push her satiny black pantaloons down past her thighs and urinate with passersby moving up and down the sidewalk, many of them pretending not to look but those who peeped were men, salivating at the smooth white of her buttocks. I saw her grab any man who came within her reach during her pregnancy. “You dirty goat,” she said shrilly. “I’ve been looking for you. You made my belly swell
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up like this and you pull up your pants and scoot away.” And the men cringed then jerked away, some cursing, some red in the face. She liked to bathe at night and left her clothes on deadwood carried to the riverbank by high tides. Some rascals would hide her clothes and then watch her cavorting in the water, cursing and calling out the names of their ancestors, three generations deep. When they recovered her body on Leper Isle, they speculated that she must have drowned, or worse, been raped by those barge men who often went downriver late at night. Then the stories went around that the halfwit woman sometimes came up at night on the riverbank, sitting without clothes on a rock facing Leper Isle, and waited for any man to come and copulate with her. I don’t know how much of it was true. But something about the woman had stayed with me. Perhaps it was the abnormality one is born with. She was born with no intelligence and I without the capability of speech. One day I asked Grandma why a person is born with a handicap while others are normal. Grandma took a moment to think, then pulled me into her and said, “It’s your karma. Pay for it in full before you become normal again.” The Sundry Boat One day last week Grandma and I rode home in an oxcart. We were the only two passengers and our cart was pulled by a big black bull. As we were leaving the open-air market there was a woman leading a cow by the halter ahead of us. It was a fawn-colored cow. The bull suddenly sprang, lifting its forelegs off the ground, and charged after the cow. It jumped over the cow’s rear end with the harness on its back, the collar around its neck, the wooden shafts of the cart on its sides, which pitched the cart up on a tilt, slamming its rear against the ground. We slid back. Grandma screamed. Her head bounced as it hit the slatted side of the cart. The old man who drove the cart lashed the bull with a whip, jerking it back on the reins. He cursed and shouted as he yanked on the reins until the bull relented and dismounted. The woman pulled her cow away but only after slashing her finger at the old man. “Get that horny bull castrated,” she said. “Cut his thing off!” Grandma found her tortoise-shell barrette on the ground just as the cart moved back, the bull still snorting and trampling the ground back and forth, and the wheel went over the hair claw and I could hear it snap. So Grandma berated the old man and he apologized to her until she calmed down and told him to get moving again. She was sore because that tortoise-shell hair clasp had been with her even before I was born. I thought of buying Grandma another hair pin and then forgot about it. Earlier this week I was walking home from an errand by taking the riverbank and as I walked past rows of boats being docked at rest, I heard a wind chime. It was hung outside the curved dome of a sundry boat; one of its sides was clad with several tires while it was moored against the cinder-blocked wharf. The breeze swung the blackpainted wooden turtle that swam above stringed bamboo tubes in ivory yellow. The tubes clanged with colored glass beads and they made mellow sounds in the breeze. I hesitated before stepping down onto the boat’s deck. I liked the barrette that my classmate got among the other things sold on this boat. It wasn’t as nice as Grandma’s old hair clasp but maybe I could find another one just as pretty. When I bent low to enter the domed shelter I saw the man and thought of how my classmate got her hair claw from him and I almost stepped back out. He grinned at me from
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where he sat on a low stool. His tobacco-stained teeth were uneven and some were like a dog’s sharp teeth. He was holding a jar shaped like a garlic head when I entered. Slowly he uncorked the jar. The cork was made of a dried banana leaf twisted and tied with its fibers. I was wearing a knee-length black skirt and a short-sleeve white shirt and my hair kept falling across my face as I bent to find my footing under the low dome. A smell of fermented rice. Perhaps from what he drank in that jar. He took a sip from the jar and his eyes screwed to slits taking me in. “Anything in particular I can get f’ya?” he said in his phlegmy voice. I panicked. I don’t interact much with people except when I stay in Grandpa’s herbal store to help out with Mother. So I made hand signs to tell him what I wanted. His eyes opened as if something had just struck him on the head. “Ya can’t speak, huh? Can ya hear?” I nodded. “Ah, poor thin’n.” He gestured with his hand still clutching the jar. “Look ’round. Plenty of girlie thin’s f’a pretty girl like ya. Look ’round.” I wasn’t going to stay any longer than I had to. He nodded, his nicotine-darkened lips pursed. “Have all sorts of girlie thin’s f’hair. In those containers, honey. Knickknacks. Them thin’s look pretty on ya. Necklaces, bracelets, lockets, earrings. Got a mermaid hair comb and all kinds of hair pins. Just look ’round, pretty youn’ thin’n.” There were shelves nailed to wooden curved slats that supported the dome and on the shelves were glass jars and plastic containers, big and small, and hanging from the domed ceiling were knickknacks like jewelry in brass, wood-carved animals—a deer head, a painted beetle—blown glass ornaments. They jingled when a breeze blew in and my head touched a glass egg and I stopped moving. I turned to those clear plastic containers on the shelves. He groped his way to the stern. I picked up a brass necklace. It had a little girl on a swing. I put it on my chest where my shirt was opened at the top into a V. The metal felt cold against my skin. I put it back and picked up a pair of earrings. They gleamed in silvery white with two little birds, each with a little leaf dangling below. I don’t have my ears pierced but my classmate did, the one who got the hair clasp from the owner of this boat. She wore crescent-moon earrings, made of bone of some kind, bone-white and pretty. I saw the mermaid hair comb. It was bronze yellow and had a glass cabochon set in the center with a sitting mermaid’s picture in it. I really liked it, so I didn’t put it back. In a next container there were hair claws with blue or brown marbled grips, hair clips with a brass butterfly inset with colored glass stones. They looked too youthful for Grandma. Then, at the bottom of the container, I saw a tortoise-shell hair claw that looked like a rusty-red centipede with golden claws. It was pretty and simple looking. Just like Grandma. As I held it in one hand with the mermaid comb in the other hand I felt the boat moving. I bent lower to peer out of the domed shelter and saw that the boat was in the midstream and the wharf was smaller in the distance. I saw him grope his way back in, bent, both hands on the wooden floor like a simian. Slowly he rose, still half crouched, until his head touched a tassel necklace dangling with painted beads. He gripped me by the wrists and brought my hands against his face. “Ya like ’em?” He sniffed my hands. “Ya smell so nicey. Lemme give ya somethin’ worth wearin’.” And he lifted the brass necklace that had the little girl on a swing and said, “Wear it. I have it in black glass too and aya that color is pretty on y’ youn’un.”
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He smelled bad. I backed away. The sight of the distant wharf alarmed me. I made a panicked sound and it came out like a whine and he said, “I wish ya could speak ’cos ya must got a sweet voice and come, come, lemme put it on ya, youn’ thin’n.” He fumbled at the top button of my shirt and I pushed his hands away. He yanked down on it. The button snapped and for one second he seemed frozen as he stared at my chest and moaned, “Ah ya angel . . . ya skin . . . ya a beautiful youn’thin’n.” He pulled me down, his grubby face already buried in my chest where my shirt was pushed out like a Y and my bosom hung without a brassiere. “Ah ya smell so nicey . . . lemme smell yah sweet lil’ pot . . . now . . . now . . . doncha be scared . . .” He pulled me down and his rough hand went up under my skirt and I clamped my legs and hit his face with the mermaid comb. The comb’s teeth raked across his stubbled face. He fell back touching his eyes and I stumbled out of the dome, my head hitting the stringed trinkets and they clanked. I waved frantically at a boat coming downriver toward us and I screamed but the sound that left my throat was garbled sound. He grabbed my hair and yanked me back. I swung around, my shirt flying, and felt the breeze on my chest. He dragged me back in. I hit him with my fist, the mermaid comb broke against his head and I hit him again with the other hand and broke the tortoise-shell hair pin too. He threw me down on the floor, his legs bent, planted on both sides of me, and leered down at me. “Ya have a notion of wat ya did?” A corner of his upper lip raised showing his yellowed canine tooth. “Ya ain’t gonna rob me of wat I want, not in did worl’ naw naw . . .” He flung up the bottom of my skirt just as the boat shook. I brought my hands down there, panting, nearly in tears, and he grabbed both of my hands by the wrists and made a strange guttural sound in his throat as he cut his eyes downward at my lower body. I saw a woman at the dome entrance, bent low, peering in. I knew her. The old woman who owned a riverboat. Grandma and I had ferried in her boat when Grandma had to go to Leper Isle to buy herbal pots. The man snapped his head back to see the old woman crouching over him, holding a long oar in her hand. “You dirty old goat,” she said, baring her red-stained teeth from betel chew. He gingerly rose and as he did I slid away from him and stood up. My head hit the ceiling and the brass trinkets tinkled. The woman gestured at me with her hand, “Go out to the stern, dear thing. I’ll bring my boat up.” The man neither looked at me nor the old woman. He just remained on one spot, slouched. I got off the sundry boat. The old woman, rowing her boat toward the wharf, cast a curious glance at me. “You don’t need to tell me anything, dear little one. I can’t understand you anyway. You can tell your grandma, though. Maybe someone can do something about it.” She kept rowing while I tucked in my shirt in and sat pinching the top of it with my fingers. I felt grateful to her, but I couldn’t speak. Like that sundry boat’s owner, the old woman drank too. When she ferried us to the Leper Isle she would wait for Grandma, sometimes with me in her boat, and waiting I’d doze and wake up to a yeasty, faintly sweet smell of rice wine and see her sitting on a reed mat toward the stern, a glass jar being warmed on a brazier. Sometimes coming back Grandma would share with her a cup of rice wine. Along the riverway to Leper Isle there were mangrove groves rising from tangles of roots from the muddy bank, forming a tall stand to bear the storms coming in from the sea. There were mangrove logs paving the steps that led to riverside shanties and sometimes as the boat passed by I would see mudskippers carried in by the tide
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walking on their fins, flicking their goggled eyes around. The Leper Isle was near the sea and between the shanties you could see huge fishnets hanging on poles. Sometimes a stench of fish followed you downwind. For years, since I was seven, Grandma had gone to the Leper Isle to buy ceramic pots and she always ferried downriver in the old woman’s boat. I asked Grandma what was so special about those ceramic pots that she must go there to buy for Grandpa. She said a century ago it was a haven for the lepers until one day a band of brigands came and built their own sanctuary. It was built with the lepers’ labor. When it was completed, the bandits herded all the lepers to a pit and burned them. Afterward they dumped lime on the charred remains and filled the pit. The local government caught wind of the massacre and brought in its naval fleet to lay siege to the isle. After several weeks the bandits ran out of food and began killing one another. Those who came out to surrender were hung along the shore until shore birds and vultures pecked their flesh away. In the end the government troops moved in and, under the district chief’s order, buried alive every bandit in a pit next to the mass-burial ground of the lepers. After the war ended in 1975, an entrepreneur built a kiln on the isle. The hard clay came from the old burial sites. Once fired to 1200 degrees Celsius, the clay came out oxblood red. The ceramic pots they made had that dark red, glazed, sounding clear when you tapped it with your fingernails, and bounced off the cement floor when dropped. Grandpa cooked his herbs only in the clay pots made on Leper Isle. He stocked them and sold them to his clients. When we reached the wharf, the old woman shipped the oar and looked at me still clutching the top of my shirt. “Listen, dear little one. You’re pretty and smart. But there’re people who think a handicapped person is something like an imbecile. A deaf, a mute. It brings out the predator in them. Like that old lewd goat. But you shouldn’t be ashamed of what you are. Just be more careful when you deal with people. You hear?” I nodded. I wished to thank her, but I knew she wouldn’t understand my language. I walked home pinning the top of my shirt with my hand. I thought of the tortoise-shell hair clasp, the color of a rusty-red centipede, and I didn’t know if I should tell Grandma about what had happened to me.
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My Nature Seeks the Wild Jocelyn Ulevicus
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2nd Place Poetry 2020 Summer Contest “Year of the Horse” is a beautiful poem that complicates familial narratives. The scenes and the imagery are astonishing—they recharge the familiar. Each couplet is perfectly crafted, rich with linguistic pleasures. What a joy to encounter such fine work. . Eduardo Corral
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Year of the Horse (2002) Stephanie Chang
I shipwreck every sunset that frames this city’s best features. The bells and whistles of bone: a bit around my breast. My mother says glory has nothing to do with grief. All afternoon, I caramelize my corpse. My bloodline hung as laundry. A prop pistol fired blank: this body stolen out of slow motion. I learn there is no version of this myth where I don’t win. At home, a man bruises my mother’s face into tapioca. She plucks leaves from the dark, makes tea. I return to her dirt-drunk, miles ahead of every past life where she passes away. We sit for an interview on the study of things faster than the speed of light. I return a blur. My body a blemish of bullet. As she boils the skins off peaches I ask, have you eaten? Eaten well? Tell me about your day. Are you
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unwell? Meanwhile, eight suns drip piss. Screen test: The horizon
The camera lens, carved out of sweat, catches it all:
o-mouthed over sour candy: Sky caked in smoke that sobs
Every sun shot down was shot in technicolor.
some story about a saddle. Cut back to home:
Every color I cremate reincarnates as sunrise.
My mother tapes a peach to the window. Tapes this film for repeat viewing. She purchases prayers off Taobao, echoes the on-sale scripture for a god who claims he can outsmart the end of the world. At her request, I present pearls as proof of the millions of moons I outran, pocketed along my teeth. Play along— I was born knowing a thing or two about disaster. Disaster my better name. The catalyst that calls me home. Disaster depicts my want as wanton. The film reel tunnels red my neck. My mother sobs over a pair of scissors, drowns herself in the end credits.
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A Cage You Might Have Sprung, Flown Away Frederick Nitsch
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2nd Place Nonfiction 2020 Summer Contest “Shitkicker” is a frank and necessary exploration of western masculinity--its tone bravely confessional and hardscrabble like the land itself. This story hangs its hat on half-truths, deftly navigating the hazy borderlands of privilege and bi-racial identity in crisp, tightly packed scenes that invite us, with irony, into an America that is anything but either-or, black and white. That it does so with such vulnerability and tenderness is to show us a better world beyond the barbed wires of patriarchy. Amy Irvine
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Jeremy Mata Kinter
Wearing this hat doesn’t make me a cowboy. I feel like an imposter, not a “cowboy.” There is not a singular reason why I wear it or why I started wearing it in my thirties. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It just stuck. My dad wore hats, boots, and bolo ties. He doesn’t anymore. He gave me his boots, an old-white-straw Stetson and sourly said, “You can keep’m. I don’t dress country no more.” He looked into the ground as if disgusted by the notion of donning a hat again. I looked at the newly waxed black boots on my feet. They made me feel like a man. They made me feel straight, not like the pretentious intellectual homosexual my parents thought I was. “What do you mean by that dad?” “I mean I don’t dress country no more. I don’t like it.” “Did something happen?” “Nope, I just don’t like it no more. There’s some pearl snaps in the closet you can take if you want.” So I took them, along with some pants. Wranglers, bootcut. I wore them until my knees bled through the denim and my money clip shot through the back left pocket. My dad stopped being country and I started pretending to be. He gave me all this stuff shortly after he got out of rehab for drinking too much cheap Early Times whiskey and holding my mother hostage at gunpoint. When my sister called me in the midst of it, I thought he’d killed himself. My brother-in-law was a Sheriff and the first one on the scene. My sister called me from the driveway when my dad let my mom go, fired two rounds inside the house, then snuck out the back into the black bleak plateau of the desert grasslands spanning from our back yard 50 miles south to Deming. He just walked out the back door because the three deputies just stood behind their vehicles facing the front of the house. They all just waited with tears and guns pointed at the house for him to emerge or just not. He eventually came out of the darkness. They didn’t notice him; my dad walked right up to one of the deputies with a .308 rifle over his shoulder and surrendered. No charges were pressed. My mother pressed none and my brother-in-law was one of the Sheriffs that arrested him. He later told me when he first arrived he walked right up to the front door and knocked, he was greeted with the barrel of a rifle to his chest and my dad said: “I’ll fucking kill you if you try and come in here.” “It seemed like there was some sort of demon that took over your dad. It didn’t even sound like Russ.” The only tangible reminder of the incident are two bullet holes in the kitchen ceiling. We never talked about it then, and haven’t since. My mother stayed with him through it all because she’s a poor old Mexican and he’s a slightly less poor honkey. She stayed with him out of necessity and circumstance, not love. Separation easily becomes too inconvenient, and codependence looms large. A divorce at 70 is like
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uprooting a 2,000 year old Juniper. Old white women love the hat; they always smile at me. Straight, young white women like the hat; young lesbian women hate the hat; black women think I’m a racist. A guero in a hat. Law enforcement love the hat. They don’t profile white males with cowboy hats in diesel trucks. I haven’t been pulled over in years. “The hat demands authority,” is my sardonic explanation for friends who ask, but it’s not the explanation I offer for the aesthetic privilege it has entitled me to. The hat is only half me, and half the hat is only half of what I am. Marlboro-Man wannabe and bean-eating wetback. Grandson to a bigoted World War II vet, grandson to a Mexican mineworker who went on strike against the Empire Zinc Company. The perfect crown of an embattled white-passing Chicano male. The platitude of duality embodied in a single piece of apparel. I’m usually the only one with a hat on in any given room—even in Albuquerque. The first time I ever wore a hat semi seriously was years after I’d left Silver City and graduated from college. I bought a cowboy-cut black blazer and some tight Chicano-brown Wrangler slacks from the thrift store for a party. I borrowed an ivory shantung straw Garth Brooks hat from a friend. When I walked into the room my girlfriend at the time screamed, “That’s my boyfriend everyone!” The hat demands authority. It was the single most flagrant display of public affection I’ve ever received in my life. “It suits you,” she said. “You look like your dad. Very handsome.” The next time she’d see me in a hat would be six years later. I was in a Cavender’s Twister 2X Dallas black felt cowboy hat that I’d bought two years prior before a trip to the Grand Canyon. It’d gathered a lot of dust and wear at that point; she avoided me while her new boyfriend stood in the corner. He oddly evaded people while taking pictures of them with a Horseman 35mm camera. He had on a grey gambler hat, the posh porkpie alternative to a commoner’s cowboy headpiece. For once, I wasn’t the only man in any given room with a hat on in Albuquerque. The second time I seriously wore a cowboy hat was to a funeral for my dad’s best friend Wayne. He was a necessary acquaintance at best. I never saw my dad seek out Wayne’s friendship, or any friendships for that matter. It was always just Wayne needing my dad for money here and there. They’d been truck drivers together somewhere. I remember him making us pancakes in a trailer in Battle Mountain, Nevada. The funeral was in the front yard of his house in Hurley, New Mexico, 20 miles southeast of Silver City. He was buried under the only tree there, and his wife Nancy was drunk on Miller Lite by the time we arrived. “She’s a fucking piece of shit,” my dad told me as we pulled up. “She probably killed the poor bastard.” The yard was only big enough to let a small dog piss on the edges of the fence. I thought it was appropriate to dress the part. It almost felt like a uniform. At that time my dad was still dressing country. Before the standoff, my dad was working at a Ford dealership as a mechanic in a small town called Lordsburg, 40 miles southwest of Silver City. A bunch of shitkickers picked on him there. Men ground by masculinity to the point of blind apathy. They bullied a 70-year-old by drinking his Cokes marked “RWK” and eating his lunches marked “Russ” until he quit. My dad always went to work to work and
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that’s all. He never felt the need to make friends or pander to upper management; he just did his job and went home. He loved what he did in small sparks of accomplishment and inspiration, but mostly worked for the necessary wittles his whole life. I imagine it was those small-minded young mechanics that drove him over the edge, not his first son Robert, my estranged older half-brother, dying. An emotionally bitter man raised by a bitter man, my dad let life cascade over him. Sentiment sinks in a parabolic tease. It sinks in me too. I wanted to kill those men. One of the only times my father talked about my brother was one of the few times I saw true fear in his eyes. “I wouldn’t shake your brother’s hand without a gun in my waist. Some people are just bad. Your brother is bad that way.” Robert spent more than half his life in prison and was gunned down by a couple junkies in his home. Unfortunately this and one other memory is all I have of him. The third time I wore a cowboy hat it stuck. The boy inside me wants to be a cowboy; boys inside the husks of men, little boys who don’t know what a cowboy is anymore, never knew. Not like we knew 150 years ago. We never knew what a cowboy was. Boors in hats. Gentlemen holding doors open. Killers. Healers. Whisperers. Racists. Natives. Tillers. Women. Contractors of meat. Rednecks and country bumpkins. Shitkickers. A culmination of misplaced sentiment poured into a void romantic figure riding into the sunset. Outlaws, frontiersmen, pioneers. The idea is far more beautiful than reality, and the reality only a little less terrifying than the fantasy. I feel the need to tell strangers in cowboy hats that I grew up on a ranch in order to validate my head ornament. It seems as if they always feel a curious obligation to approach me, like we’re in a circle jerk boys club. I’d rather not engage them for fear they find out I’m some sort of imposter, for fear I find out they’re some sort of imposter. We act as if there is a prerequisite to wearing a cowboy hat, but no one knows what that criteria is. A lot of them seem to think it’s rooted in the toughness of one’s upbringing—thinly sliced sharp white machismo. It’s the look of mud splattered on innocence, smeared with the fingers of fear and hate that our fathers wash off with the act of simple provision. The mirrored encroachment of this is what I aim to avoid. “You look like a real shitkicker. Can I bum a smoke from you?” “Where you from?” “Turkish Royals? I wouldn’t expect you to smoke these.” “I grew up on a ranch,” I say. “It’s about 15 miles east of a little village called Mimbres. You’ve never heard of it.” “Try me.” A half-fibbed explanation of where they are from ensues. “Noonday Canyon. Ya heard of it?” I ask. “No I haven’t” “That’s because it’s half-fibbed, like the ranch you’re from.” “What’s half-fibbed mean?” ***
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Noonday Canyon rests in the bed of the Blackrange Mountains on the outskirts of the Gila National Wilderness. Our family’s ranch house was about 10 miles down a road of sun-soaked unforgiving dirt, cavernous washboards, and two arteries of water you have to cross that bleed into the Mimbres River. The incline of the road above the second creek crossing nearly feeds vehicles to the heart of the canyon at 40 degrees, rising about 50 feet in elevation. The access levels to a plateau of only two residences: our ranch house a little north against the border of the Gila, and our neighbors (whom we called the meditators) directly south. The walls of the canyon formed and folded into each other, slated pink rock turning and tossing as a natural accordion of erosion shouting in the symphony of a million glorious years before a human eye could even process it. On the plateau we could look east to the canyon’s creek and the mountains, and north to the hills rolling onward into the Gila, and south to the meditators’ meticulously built stone and concrete retreat. I had an unlimited amount of space to roam, and none with whom to roam. My dad worked at Chino Mines, same as my grandpa, as a mechanic, and tended to the cows as a ranch hand when he could to pay rent. My mom stayed at home and cared for me, the youngest child, and my sister, who was in her early 20s at the time. This place was the fertile ground of the Mimbreño, Chilende, or Warm Springs Apaches. I saw the stars in the ground: the obsidian of shattered arrowheads, the smooth eroded white of rare pottery shards, and the bones of the old souls that called this home. I desecrated their land with my soft white palm. I was less inclined to learn about cows, build barbed-wire fences, or kill large game. I wanted to dig and find those rare pieces of ornate pottery. I awkwardly shifted into the paradigm of rural life. A shitkicker, lifting dried cow patties up and digging my fingers into the basura. I didn’t like riding horses, or cutting the balls off bulls or branding their hides. I probably have the process mixed up because I didn’t like it. I never minded killing small game: rabbits, gophers, squirrels, and such. I used to get a rush out of hunting them down. It scares me that I enjoyed it; it scares me that I might enjoy it now. The one time my dad took me deer hunting I hated it. This wild, majestic animal shot in the spine on the side of a hill spilling its shit out and trying to crawl to safety left a sour taste in my mouth. I looked through the scope and had him right in my sights. I stopped before pulling the trigger. “I don’t know if I want to kill him dad.” “You want to kill him.” I put my eye back to the scope and shot him. I now know it was because I was the better shot. “I’d rather be looking for pottery,” I thought while carrying the hind legs of this lovely stinking beast. “I’d rather look to the ground until I’m nearly blind.” The ground begins to shift with life when you look into the navel of the Earth long enough. That’s no kind of shitkicker, one who prefers books and collecting to killing and collecting. The shitkicker that actually kicks shit and sticks his hands in it in the off chance a cow accidentally ate a pottery shard. I never minded it; cow and horse shit doesn’t stink nearly as bad as our shit. My dad would look on in blind astonishment, laugh, and think, “What kind of weird faggot-ass kid do I have here?” Let me kill this Holy Land, father, let me kill it with you in my own way. This is how we can exist together.
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My dad wore a lot of cowboy hats then. They served a practical purpose. Out there in the watching sun marking us as indistinguishable inhabitants of time. He was out there a lot. I was out there too, but he never gave me one. I never thought to ask. I never cared to have one, and he never cared to offer. I’d been escaping it, and just let the thing crawl upon my head in an act of irony, vain homage, or need. That childish need of some sort of fatherly acceptance that rises later in life. It’s probably because of all three. Mr. McDermot wouldn’t sell my dad the ranch house. We just wanted the residence and the few acres it existed on, but he couldn’t part with it, despite having an empire matching Turner’s. I remember our last day there; my dad looked to the folded pink stone of the canyon, his white hat engraved upon the landscape like an epitaph, and said, “You’ll miss this place.” His cracked and swollen hands cupped a large white plastic cup, its outside streaked with dirt. Inside was a lot of Early Times and a little bit of Coke.
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Letter from the Editor Dear Reader, Thank you so much for reading Issue 42, dedicated to the memory of our beloved founder and fearless leader, Mr. Rudolfo Anaya. Without Mr. Anaya, the entire landscape of Southwestern literature would be different. Even outside of our region, he impacted the scope of American books, and world literature too. From award-winning novels to children stories, his voice resonates through generations. As a native Burqueño, I can tell you we hold our local heroes sacred. From Holly Holm to Johnny Tapia, Al Unser Jr. to Neil Patrick Harris, we are proud of our own. Mr. Anaya is certainly no exception. Here, love for him is astronomical. Albuquerque has an elementary school, as well as a public library, named after him. Annually, we honor October 30th as “Rudolfo Anaya I Love To Read Day.” To strengthen child literacy, there’s The Rudolfo Anaya Summer Reading Program, where students get awarded for reading books. He’s our wise, gentle abuelito sitting by the fire, offering biscochitos and a good story, a lesson. His tales have become a part of New Mexico as much as New Mexico influenced him. Growing up, my role models were Tupac Shakur and Bo Jackson. But I loved to read books. I got my hands on Treasure Island and devoured it. I also read The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner. At fourteen, I read A Stone for Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins, about a boxer from New York City. By then, I was noticing a common trend: none of the characters in these novels resembled me or the people around me. Setting, language, none of it was comparable to my world. I started believing Chicanas/os didn’t exist or belong in literature, besides maybe as villains, like in Hollywood. Then, my freshman year in high school, the instructor assigned a novel that changed everything, Bless Me, Ultima. I was amazed by the beautiful landscapes and colorful language, especially since the novel authentically depicted home. In it, there were adobe villas and farmworkers and a wise, old curandera. New Mexico dripped off every page. Finally, literature depicted me and my worldview. We existed. I was relieved. For me, Rudolfo Anaya proved we had stories, and that our stories mattered. And sometimes, we were the heroes of our plots. Through Rudolfo Anaya, I discovered the work of Luis Valdez, Luis Rodriguez, Denise Chávez, and Ana Castillo. Eventually, I found Gloria Anzaldúa and local legend Jimmy Santiago Baca, from Blood In, Blood Out fame. Anaya’s work became my gateway to other Chicana/o authors. I uncovered my place in the literary world. Chicanos and Chicanas who looked and lived like me were writing great, critically acclaimed, award-winning material. Perhaps, so could I. I’d like to thank everyone who made this issue possible, starting with our reliable, dedicated editorial staff. Jenn, Rhea and Mikaela. Without your long hours, we have no magazine. Thank you, Lisa Chavez, our Faculty Coordinator. To our judges, Amy, Eduardo, Denise. Your time and expertise were invaluable. A huge congratulations to our winners: Mary, Khanh, Tess, Jeremy, Kelly and Stephanie. Exceptional work. To our photo and art contributors, thank you dearly, for adding your visual touch. A special thanks goes to Melina Vizcaíno-Alemán, our foreword writer and Guest Editor, for her assistance 80 | Issue 42
with organizing and coordinating this issue. Lastly, thanks to Mr. Rudolfo Anaya, for years of innovation and inspiration. And for creating Blue Mesa Review, a magazine we all love and cherish, over thirty years ago. We hope this issue upholds Mr. Anaya’s honor and legacy. Mil Gracias, Mario Joseph Montoya Editor-in-Chief, Blue Mesa Review
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Authors Mary Winsor Mary Winsor has spent most of her life in the American Southwest, the setting for many of her stories and essays. She is a recent graduate of the MFA program at George Mason University. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, La Presa, Plougshshares, Longreads and Carve. These days, Mary can be found on a small, urban farm that grows the best tomatoes in Utah.
Kelly Weber Kelly Weber is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place (Tupelo Press) and the forthcoming chapbook The Dodo Heart Museum (Dancing Girl Press). Her work has received Pushcart nominations and has appeared or is forthcoming in The Laurel Review, Brevity, The Missouri Review, Cream City Review, Palette Poetry, Southeast Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Colorado State University and lives in Colorado with two rescue cats. More of her work can be found at kellymweber.com
Tess Fahlgren Tess Fahlgren was born and raised in rural Montana. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Joyland, Permafrost, Five on the Fifth, The Missoula Independent and more. She was the recipient of Montana Quarterly’s 2016 Big Snowy Prize for Nonfiction. A graduate of the University of Montana, she is currently an MFA candidate in nonfiction at the University of Minnesota, where she was awarded the College of Liberal Arts Travel Grant, the Gesell Fellowship, and twice the O’Rourke Travel Grant. Previously, she co-directed the Montana Book Festival and taught art in rural Montana with the Art Mobile of Montana and in the town of Nashua. She lives in Minneapolis with her partner and dog and is at work on a memoir.
Authors Khanh Ha Khanh Ha is the author of Flesh and The Demon Who Peddled Longing. He is a seven-time Pushcart nominee, finalist for the Mary McCarthy Prize, Many Voices Project, Prairie Schooner Book Prize, The University of New Orleans Press Lab Prize, a twice finalist of The William FaulknerWisdom Creative Writing Award, the recipient of the Sand Hill Prize for Best Fiction, Greensboro Review’s Robert Watson Literary Prize in Fiction, the William Faulkner Literary Competition, and The Orison Anthology Award for Fiction. His new novel, Mrs. Rossi’s Dream, was named Best New Book by Booklist and a 2019 Foreword Reviews INDIES Silver Winner and Bronze Winner.
Stephanie Chang Stephanie Chang (she/they) is a Sino-Canadian writer and rising freshman at University College London. Her work appears in The Kenyon Review, Adroit Journal, Waxwing, Penn Review, Diode Poetry Journal, and Berkeley Poetry Review. She has been recognized by the Adroit Prize for Poetry, Anthony Quinn Foundation, and Poetry Society of the UK. Stephanie has participated in the Kenyon Young Writers Workshop, Adroit Mentorship Program, and Speakeasy Project. Currently, she edits for Sine Theta Magazine, a print-based publication by and for the Sino diaspora.
Jeremy Mata Kinter Jeremy Mata Kinter is a writer from Silver City, New Mexico and currently resides in Albuquerque. He has written and edited for the arts and culture online publication Pyragraph. He earned his degree from Western New Mexico University with a Bachelor’s in English Literature. He draws inspiration from his rural Southwestern upbringing, as well as American Southern Gothic influences.
Artists Guilherme Bergamini Reporter, visual artist, and photographer Guilherme Bergamini is Brazilian and graduated in journalism. For more than two decades, he has developed projects with photography and the various narrative possibilities that art offers. The works of the artist dialogue between memory and socio-political criticism. He believes in photography as the aesthetic potential and transforming agent of society. Awarded in national and international competitions, Guilherme Bergamini has participated in collective exhibitions in 31 countries.
Despy Boutris Despy Boutris’s wrting has been published in Copper Nickel, American Poetry Review, The Gettysburg Review, Colorado Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. Currently, she serves as Poetry Editor for Gulf Coast, Guest Editor for Palette Poetry and Frontier, and Editor-in-Chief of The West Review.
E.E. King is an award-winning painter, performer, writer, and biologist - She’ll do anything that won’t pay the bills, especially if it involves animals. Ray Bradbury called her stories “marvelously inventive, wildly funny, and deeply thought-provoking. I cannot recommend them highly enough.” She’s been published widely, most recently in Clarkesworld, Flametree, and On Spec. Check out paintings, writing, musings, and books at www.elizabetheveking.com and amazon.com/author/eeking.
Frederick Walter Nitsch Frederick has a BA in philosophy (Boston University, 2006) and pursued graduate study of the same at Loyola University before leaving his combined MA/PhD program for mental health reasons in 2011. He now works part-time for a mental health nonprofit, doing outreach and education at high schools around Chicago and assisting with trainings for the city’s first responders. Frederick lives and paints in Rogers Park, where he has been for 13 years. Frederick is also an active member of Chicago’s improv comedy community.
Jocelyn Ulevicus Jocelyn Ulevicus is an artist and writer with work forthcoming or published in magazines such as the Free State Review, The Petigru Review, Quince Magazine, and Humana Obscura. Working from a female speculative perspective, themes of nature and the unseen; and exit and entry are dominantly present in her work. She resides in Amsterdam and is currently working on her first book of poems. To see her artwork and her cute cat, Pilar, visit her on IG @beautystills.
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Dear Readers, We're excited to share with you this issue, featuring a foreword by Dr. Melina Vizcaíno-Alemán, feature essays by Belinda He...
Published on Mar 29, 2021
Dear Readers, We're excited to share with you this issue, featuring a foreword by Dr. Melina Vizcaíno-Alemán, feature essays by Belinda He...