Posted by: cousinbrandon | February 1, 2013

Versus: The Poetry of Cousin Brandon

With the exception of Chicago and Boston, I’ve hated every place I’ve ever lived while actually living in that place. I say with the exception of Chicago because, even then, I loved it, and even now it remains my favorite US city. In the case of Boston, I never felt comfortable there, and today I still feel zero sense of longing for that town. (My apologies, Bostonians, but I find it to be an awful, stick-up-its-ass, racist, impossible-to-find-your-way-around kind of city.) In the case of the rest of the cities I’ve called home — Santa Fe, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and, of course, Harrisburg, PA — there is a certain nostalgia that pretties them up for me, despite my never loving any of them when I lived inside their respective dorms, apartments, and houses.

Philadelphia was just “Filthydelphia,” a place that reeked of piss and was littered with trashy streets and even trashier people. Pittsburgh was cold and unwelcoming. It was grey and confusing. It was in a cloud of anesthesia not provided by the old steel mills. Harrisburg? Please. It’s where I came from. It was equal parts suburban bullshit and inner-city crime haven. In fact (and this still may be the case), it had more crime per capita than Philadelphia! It was uncultured and tiny and dull. The people had no stories. There was no sense of adventure — of where people had been, or even where they wanted to go. It was a weigh station for mediocrity.

And then, finally, there was Santa Fe. I moved there at 21, poised to finish my degree in creative writing at the now defunct College of Santa Fe. It was 1996, and at that point “going west” was everything to me. The idea of leaving Harrisburg and its cold winters and shitty bars and shittier people and shittiest culture behind for the warmth and comfort of New Mexico was something preposterous, yet happening. I made that happen. I completed all the paperwork. I applied. I was accepted. And without ever having visited or even been to the state of New Mexico, and without knowing a single person there, I went. I didn’t so much leave Harrisburg as I left a trail of fire and skid marks in my wake. I couldn’t wait to begin the life that I knew I’d always wanted. I couldn’t wait to be “home.”

Pfft. Home. Not even. Aside from meeting a guy that very first day in Santa Fe who, even now, 17 years later, I consider my honorary younger brother, it was a bust. Not the faculty, mind you. Hell, I’ve written glowingly and spoken lovingly of the wonderful poet Greg Glazner, whose work still moves me now. No, not that. It was just — well — Santa Fe that failed me. I just never fit there, or it never fit me. As a college student with little money, I couldn’t find my way among the visiting celebrities and artists who adorned the Plaza, nor among the working class New Mexicans who, frankly, seemed undeniably lazy and careless. Yes, I had friends and peers who I absolutely loved, but the town itself wasn’t what I thought it would be. Not at all. It was like something out of a movie — like some kind of island with a bubble surrounding it from the outside world. It was quirky, yes, but that somehow managed to make it unreal and, therefore, phony. It just wasn’t me. And after two years in Santa Fe, I was, once again, gone.

But that’s the thing with nostalgia. It creeps up on you when you least expect it and goddamn if it isn’t powerful. Just ask Don Draper. For me it was about six months ago, as I was re-reading Greg’s book From the Iron Chair. I’d not read it for some time, yet immediately there I was, back in Santa Fe, among the arroyos and the lightning storms and the mountains and the black night skies littered with stars wildly bright. And just then I realized, god, how much I’ve missed it. I realized, too, that 21-year-old me wasn’t ready for Santa Fe. That is, 21-year-old me couldn’t appreciate it properly, and was instead just another nomad wandering the American west. It’s good, then, that we grow older, because it allows us to see things not as they were, but as we were. You don’t need to go west to find that kind of space; you simply need to stand still.

Remembering Santa Fe

I re-read my professor’s book
lifted from the bookstore
my first semester in Santa Fe –
when I tucked it deep inside
my waistband and bolted
for the exit – and only now
do I discover what beauties
I didn’t even know I loved,
tracing my finger over the raised
bump of every letter as though
a palimpsest, as though
tracing a street map
of Santa Fe itself.

I am in
the Plaza now. I am on
St. Michael’s Boulevard,
on Canyon Road,
on Cerillos.

I am wandering
the Agua Fria schoolyard,
stilled by the arms of tall grass
that envelop me before driving
the hot miles out of town
to Albuquerque on I-25,
past mountains, past
Indian casinos that pop up
sparingly in the redbrown
glaze of desert.

I am walking
within the walls of the arroyos
sick for water, filled
with the promise of death
for whatever Loon
or Ring-necked Pheasant
may have thought to sidle up
and stick its long beak
into the chipped rock-face
teeming with dust.

I breathe
in deep the Piñon and listen
as bats chirp invisibly
through the towerless backdrop, wings
slicing through the void
of New Mexican sky,
waiting at any moment
for me to stop reading
and give back to the world
what I called my own, but wasn’t.

BD

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