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When Desert Willows Speak Poetry by H. Marie Arag贸n

When Desert Willows Speak Poetry by H. Marie Arag贸n

©2015 H. M. Aragón All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author, except in the case of written reviews. ISBN 978-1-929878-66-6 First edition

PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733 Printed in the United States of America



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The Editor and the Poet wish to thank the editors of the following: A Girl with a Book & Taking Leave Malpaís Review Vol. 5 No. 1 Summer 2014 Una Tierra Sagrada: Aroma de Café y Fast Food & Pueblo Alamo & Coyote: Native ‘Song Dog’ Malpaís Review Vol. 5 Spring 2014 Ofrenda for Philip Malpaís Review Vol. 3 # 2 Fall 2013 Wild Horses Malpais Review Vol. 1 No 4, Spring 2011 The Procession Adobe Walls Vol. 2 2011; Under Acequia Culture Title. Revised 2015 Picking Capulín 200 Poems New Mexico Anthology Spring 2014 Colcha Treasure Published in 200 Poem of New Mexico Anthology, Spring 2014


WHEN DESERT WILLOWS SPEAK, THEY SPEAK IN FLOWERS: Poetry from New Mexico’s H. Marie Aragon by G.L. Brower


he title of this new book by H. Marie Aragon is a good one because many poetic flowers also bloom in it. Nature has a strong presence in this collection of poems, but also collective history, anecdotal family history, personal relationships, a celebration of women’s lives, politics when it touches Aragon’s world, as well as implications of time and space, especially between two poles of her world: New Mexico and Chicago where Aragon graduated from Loyola University (BS), Northeastern Illinois State University (MA), and National Louis University (MA). While in Chicago, Aragon worked for the Chicago Public Schools as a creative expression teacher in a center for gifted students housed at Chicago State University; she served as a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor for grief/loss and school crisis management; and coordinated career programs. Aragon moved to Eldorado, a Santa Fe suburb, in 2008, where she has been making art quilts and writing poetry. She also formed a poetry critique group in 2009 called High Desert Poets. Since moving to New Mexico, Aragon has published some of her poems in Malpais Review, in which she was mini-featured (Winter, 2013-2014 issue). And: she has also published poems in the Santa Fe Literary Review, Sin Fronteras (Writers without borders), Adobe Walls, 200 New Mexico Poems Anthology and other publications. Besides winning a Prize for her poem “From the Dark to the Light Side of the Moon” -which is in this chapbook, she also won the chapbook’s publication with this 2015 Lummox Press Poetry Prize. A good choice! Congratulations to both poet and publisher! Of the twenty poems in this chapbook, all well written, they progress from personal reality to some of the larger questions/issues in the larger world, always keeping women and herself in mind. Her first poem, “A Girl with a Book” is about Malala Youssefsay, the Pakistani girl who courageously participated in literacy and schooling campaigns for girls and who survived a gunshot in the head by Islamic fundamentalists. (For her campaigns, Malala won the Nobel Prize). One of my favorite poems is “The Procession” which recounts Marie as a girl participating in a “Novena procession”; another is “Ofrenda (offering) for Philip,” a “Day of the Dead” offering for a Vietnam vet —4—

who passed away; “Secretos No Mas”-a poem about the recent fire at New Mexico’s LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) which is involved in nuclear “secrets” and the dangers of unburied nuclear waste that could have potentially harmed the state and its people (a warning); “Picking Capulin” about her aunt (tia) Corina picking the chokecherries to make jam; and various poems in which nature plays a part in the focus, from coyotes in cemeteries, to the mythic Raven totemic trickster figure, wild horses and a lover. Pick up this book! Take a trip to New Mexico! It’s like a desert willow, flowering. * * * Gary L. Brower has published four books of poetry and three CDs: Planting Trees in Terra Incognita (Destructible Heart Press, 2006); The Book of Knots (Destructible Heart Press, 2007); For the Wild Horses of Placitas & Other Equine Poems (El Caballo Press, 2009); & Leaving Cairo as if it were a Dream, with CD (Malpais Editions, 2011); and CDs: Gary Brower Reads (Vox Audio Series, 2008); &, In Paradise we will become Music (Malpais Editions, 2013). A new CD (with flautist Johnny Alston), The Wanekia & Other Poems is forthcoming. A performance poet, he has read his work around the state of New Mexico and across the U.S. as well as on radio & TV. He is also one of the directors of the Duende Poetry Series of Placitas (now in its 9th year), which sponsors four annual readings. He is the Editor/Publisher of a poetry quarterly, Malpais Review, which is beginning its fourth year of publishing (See In addition, he has taught at Kansas & New Mexico Universities and at USC, UCLA, UCSD, directed American University programs in Barcelona & Madrid, Spain, & in Guadalajara, Mexico. He has also worked with Mexican migrant workers in southern Oregon. And: he has worked as a journalist. In addition to his own poetry in English, he was trained as an Hispanic poetry specialist at Drury & Missouri Universities, and met, knew (or read with) Octavio Paz, Nicanor Parra, Angel Gonzalez, Ernesto Cardenal, & Jorge Luis Borges. He also published essays on the work of these poets. Born in Kansas City, Mo., he lives in Placitas, NM. —5—


This book is dedicated to Tía Corina whose voice was never heard


A Girl with a Book Here, beneath domed boughs of piñon, a bell of tempered steel chimes loudly. What God of sound creates such harmony – clapper against a trinity of metal? In Pakistan, adhans echo from a minaret. A young school girl covers her head with a hijab. Here, geese fly in V formation honking their way south. Aspen leaves of burnt sienna wither and layer earthen floor. Under bare lilac branches Buddha sits one hand up waiting for purple spring and sweet songs of sparrows. In this peaceful setting – I look at the new moon searching for a fresh beginning, renewal of hope, a clearing as tattered Tibetan flags wave. People across grasslands, deserts, mountains – beyond all borders shout a common refrain – Trade books for bullets! Who is Malala? he shouted. Then fired point blank.


She is hope for half the world. Her single message – One child, one teacher, one pen,

one book.

Here, in light of the new moon I stand to offer a prayer – May ‘Wind Horse’ carry my offering to end fear of women for as long as the moon shines, for as long as the tide rises, for as long as blood flows.


Una Tierra Sagrada: Aroma de Café y Fast Food On St. Francis Drive, hidden between Dunkin Donuts and Santa Fe Expert Tires an old burial ground lies preserved. Once, surrounded by orchards – apple, peach, and apricot this sacred ground was honored. Wild iris, black-eyed Susan sown by centuries’ hands flourished in occasional downpours. Now, skeletal lattice chollas replace wooden grave markers. Sharp barbed spines stand guard. In spring, cactus flowers – fuchsia, claret, and sienna grow between sunken plots. Grave markers with family names painted on rusty metal signs erased long ago by harsh winds. Young cholos mark territory with graffiti. Scorned by Linda, la mayordoma – No tienen un sentido de familia, ni respetan a los antepasados.

— 10 —

One tall white cross stands erect made by hand, tied to the earth with rebar and cement base. Cementerio de Guadalupe consecrated in 1886 by Archbishop Lamy for descendants of early Spanish settlers – bodies buried, families mourned. Keeping vigil on Early Street, is a life-size Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe painted on a tin shed – turquoise, green, bronze. This Lady watches over burial plots of Jesús y Martina Romero, and early Spanish settlers who dared to settle harsh arid lands. In the solitude of this forgotten tierra sagrada where history is recorded in stone – a single sparrow surveys her nest of eggs.

— 11 —

Totem Medicine A raven tattoo on Colin’s arm will bring him winged-guidance for life’s journey. It is said – and I believe – that Raven – ebony ink eyes, black iridescence feathers, carried a stolen brand of fire, flew out of the darkened womb, changed night to day – forging wisdom for all. Atop the tallest tree Raven built a nest of twisted twigs, wove in – mystery, amulets, charms, dried bones, intrigue, specks of shiny mica and a single white feather. Raven somersaults in flight, calls out, laughs – seems to play. Trickster fellow he fools us all.

— 12 —

High above land – Raven sees what he sees, knows what’s coming. He then perches on Colin’s shoulder – whispers messages, warns of danger. Raven-Spirit – powerful medicine. At the end, the very end – Raven will carry Colin’s soul back to the spirit world on iridescent, black wings.

— 13 —

Pueblo Alamo Hoe in hand I scrape particles of rock sediment, minerals and caliche washed down from Los Cristos for millennia. Here, Ancient Puebloan descendants built adobe homes – puddled blocks of mud and straw, one generation atop another. On nearby hilltops Puebloans prayed in circular shrines. Their Gods blessed them, yet sent no rain. Coronado rode horseback on this land, He searched for El Dorado – found mud pueblos. In anger he turned back with empty saddlebags – scorned by the Spanish Crown. Yet friars saw gold in Indian souls. They stayed behind to baptize native peoples against their will – praised by the Catholic Church. Today, I see Puebloans hunt antelope, strip dried corn from husks, mend their adobe homes. I scan the sky for puffs of smoke, listen for chants from nearby hilltops. High in the sky, lightening strikes, thunder roars – still no rain only virga. Two red-tail hawks with up-turned wing tips circle in hot desert wind. Ancestral spirits return. — 14 —

Here She Comes Musalsal Ghazal Did you hear ‘bout a gale-force wind that circles seas, in summer time? One black eye, hips that swirl, she churns the Keys, in summer time. She crashes waves ten feet high, ‘long the coasts from here to hell. This wild, tropical gal spins counter clockwise, oh so free, in summer time. Board up windows, tie down cat. This crazy woman is talkin’ real dirty. Get off surfboards, no time to sail. Go home thrill seekers, in summer time. Run away from beaches, lay low for high tides. Only fools trust a category five. She churns up oceans, heavy rains tag ‘long tossing debris, in summer time. Say a prayer to Neptune, hope you have a will. Cause you can’t fight this virago. Hurricane Marie, old but not dead, hope she mellows at sea, in summer time.

— 15 —

Taking Leave Walking out on the tarmac I turn once more to wave Her heart – a sack of stones She wants me to travel She wants me to stay close My father said If we let go she won’t return Mother – If we don’t let go she will leave on her own She put a silver cross in my pocket Silence louder than lift-off Fingering a rosary she offers her third child to St. Christopher for a safe journey How spirited the minds of youth – suitcase full of the future – map of Mexico City Spanish dictionary photo of Frida Kahlo Just yesterday my father’s homing pigeon returned

— 16 —

The Procession In a small farming community where land understands the connection between prayer and rain a Novena procession began. With a blue and silver rosary in hand my mother led the procession. Neighbors walked closely behind. I followed along mumbling sounds not yet part of my language. I rode my red tricycle, a small plastic statue of Jesus tied to the handlebars with a rubber band. The summer was hot and dry – bell peppers, corn, tomatoes, and chilis lay wilting in the parched fields. The acequia sand was as fine as powder. We carried favorite santos – La Virgen de Guadalupe y San Isidor – a time-honored ritual, sacred and deeply felt. Prayers repeated over and over in Spanish – En nombre del padre … Parciantes lived like a tightly woven cloth – each strand supported the next. Here, water was as thick as blood.

— 17 —

The procession continued – Reza por nosotros – reverent prayers repeated with faith that rain would follow. Suddenly, a flash of lightening then sounds of thunder. Slowly, it began to sprinkle. Milagro! Milagro! Our prayers were answered. We hurried to the acequia as trickles of water formed rivulets in the sand. Rain washed our hot sweaty faces. In this small farming community, land understands the connection between prayer and rain our Novena procession ended. Gracias a Dios.

— 18 —

Ofrenda for Philip Marine Corps photo young innocent. Your cross – Viet Nam heavy. I arrange your ofrenda on a smoky-blue colcha shawl, votive candles to light your way. Agua Santa para saciar tu sed. Peaches, plums – sweet nectar for your passage. Orange Marigold petals to soften your barefoot journey. What more can I offer? Sunflower seeds y una cerveza fría. Chocolate calavera – Philip – written across its forehead. No way to escape. Agent Orange – silent for twenty years, ambushes your lungs. Bells ring a mournful tone, a single trumpet, a folded flag. Winged horses carry you home. *Hoy, Día de los Muertos estás presente como en los años antes de tu muerte.

* Today, Dia de los Muertos you are present as in the years before your death. — 19 —

Picking Capúlín In a small tin bucket she carefully strips the branch of capulín.* Juice, fills creases of her fingers stained crimson and purple. Tía Corina always wore an apron over a cotton print dress. She had a hump on her back, no teeth, never a lover. In childhood she watched as her sisters walked to school – the school her father built on the land that her father gave. She stayed home to help her mother clean house, make beds, prepare food, and wash dishes. The Spanish Peaks stand in the distance. A fleeting scent of pine needles, sweet clover, and wild lilies tease her senses. In the summer fields, her daily world vanishes. Come late August, green chokecherry leaves turn red, mustard then brown. Keep horses at a distance as dry leaves are sweet with poison, but the fruit is ripe for jam.

— 20 —

She boils jars twice for safety, apples for pectin, cooks then crushes. Capulín bubbles in la olla on a wood-burning stove. Tía Corina tastes the jam on warm tortillas – astringent taste of capulín makes her mouth water, confuses the palate. After purple jam is stored in the winter cupboard, Tía Carina unties her apron, puts on her camisón, takes down her bun, lays her head on the pillow – and dreams of pine needles, sweet clover, wild lilies, and the river that runs to the sea. * Capúlin – chokecherries

— 21 —

The Dark and Light Side of the Moon*           Women gather children, small worn shoes, a mason jar of coins. They search in the dark night for shelter. Española      Santa Fe      Tesuque     no roof no safety. I walk through galleries  on Canyon Road, San Francisco Street, Artist Row to see art in paint, sculpture, and wood. Women gather children,  cloth for diapers, bars of soap, a cooking pot.  They search in the dark night for foreign borders. Syria,    Guatemala,    Afghanistan     no roof no safety. Veiled women      Aphrodites in burqas     together, always together.  At the market they buy chickpeas for hummus, aubergine for baba ghannouj, fresh greens, and beets.                   Morality Police flog their bruised legs with long-handled batons –                  if women move too slowly, if they cause men to lust,  if they…if they…if they… Women are beaten because they are women.                                                     An art collector at the Santa Fe farmer’s market wears Versace sunglasses. Make-up hides her blackened eyes. I fill a straw basket with fresh squash-blossoms, hard crust bread, goat cheese, fresh sweet corn… My first grade teacher, Miss De Boise           sends me home for an absence note. I walk through the park      alone, through the small town   alone, into the countryside    alone. A man follows in the distance. I hide in deep damp furrows between rows of corn stalks.                                         He darts back and forth     searching. I crawl home on my belly mud-stained dress     my heart a bass drum.

— 22 —

The scent of corn forever scorched in my brain. Today, in my dreams a field of sweet corn is a safe haven. Jihadists abduct Nigerian girls from a boarding school. Western ideas   western studies     forbidden. Oh sweet St. Jude Thaddeus, apostle of lost causes, there with Jesus in the boat      on the hill     at the supper –  Bring Back Our Girls from the Boko Haram.   In schools from six to sixty. I study art, music, poetry. My soul transforms – closer to God like a whirling dervish – sounds of reed flutes, drums, cymbals. Whirl      whirl     white skirt flies     tall honey-comb hat – farewell to mind. Rumi,…what is this whirling…caught in the wind…?  In this container I call body     there is peace.     Arms open wide      I see God in every direction. Whirl, right arm up      closer to God, left arm down – I pour women’s sorrow into the ground.                                  Ground, where at the far end of an open field three ravens prance back and forth on a rail fence.

* This is the winning poem for the 2015 Lummox Poetry Prize. This chapbook is part of the prize.

— 23 —

An excerpt from the title poem When Desert Willows Speak Desert willows reach for the sun plumes of fragrant flowers, burgundy trumpets with yellow throats – sweet nectar for humming birds  a long distance from home. In time the desert-willow  will shade the south portal – graceful branches,  long slender leaves –  a canopy of lace. Alone in Florida, your wounded  spirit and body heals. If you hear a whisper  from westerly-winds –  winged-bird of my soul, listen for desert willow’s wisdom:      anchor roots deeply,      bend gently in the wind,      reach for the sun.

This is a sample. To order the complete 46-page book please visit our website:

Desert willows sampler  

H. Marie Aragon's poem The Dark and Light Side of the Moon won the 2015 Lummox Poetry Prize (the prize consists of some cash and forty copie...

Desert willows sampler  

H. Marie Aragon's poem The Dark and Light Side of the Moon won the 2015 Lummox Poetry Prize (the prize consists of some cash and forty copie...