JB Bryan

For no other reason except it’s spring and my yellow columbines are still sprouting in the backyard (actually, I started this 2 weeks ago and it's time to deadhead the columbines, poor things, the viscious hot summer coming) and the spring winds are leaving me and El Paso alone, I want to celebrate my friend Jeff Bryan, aka JB. This picture of him is in front of his adobe teahouse that he built mostly by himself. It’s sits outside his studio in Placitas, NM. Below is a picture of JB as he guides me through a tea ceremony inside the teahouse. A wonderful occasion. JB told me the history of the tea ceremony (the hero--venerable what's-his-name--at the end of a story falls on his sword, doing the honorable thing because he has offended the Emperor), he explained all of his implements that he bought here and there and he of course he made me a delicious cup of tea.

Not a lot of people away from Albuquerque know about JB. He seems to like it that way. He basks in his peculiar contented curmudgeonly goofy randomly-carnivorous Buddhist exile, extolling the blessings of the local arts and local groceries, the native flora and fauna, sometimes conked out on a good glass of wine, while happy to be saving us all. He’s a fine poet and fine abstract Zen painter; and he, with his wife the artist Cirrelda Bryan, operate their small mostly-poetry publishing company La Alameda Press. That’s with their left foot. You can't make a living publishing poetry books, for God's sake. So with their remaining appendages and time, JB and Cirrelda cobble together their living almost magically. JB is a delightful book designer. His books--whether for La Alameda Press, Tres Chicas Press or our Cinco Puntos Press--all have a definite feel and presence, their own JB personality, like Black Sparrow books did back in the day when Barbara Martin was slinging type alongside her hubby John. Most of this is done from their funky adobe house in the NW of the Albuquerque, just off Alameda Avenue, hence the name of the press. The place is immersed in art and books (there's always delightful small books of poems next to the toilet) and animals and computers and projects of every sort and their wonderful daughter the percussionist Cirrelda Beth, aka CB.

For the last several years, every time I talk to JB he is quitting the publishing business. Why shouldn’t he? It’s a pain in the ass. But JB doesn’t seem to listen to himself because La Alameda Press keeps putting out its quirky list of books, most of them poetry books which are doomed to financial failure. Among the recent is an important edition of Home Among the Swinging Stars: The Collected Poems of Jaime de Angulo, edited by the world-wandering German poet Stefan Hyner, poetry that was elemental to the poetics of Snyder, Kerouac and Blackburn. La Alameda also did Joanne Kyger’s AGAIN: Poems 1989-2000 (Jeff also designed Kyger's collected About Now for the National Poetry Foundation) and my particular favorites Lisa Gill’s Red as a Lotus: Letters to a Dead Trappist and Joe Somoza’s Cityzen which I’ve talked about before. Jeff also is a collaborator and active participant in the city’s poetry scene, and he’s a fellow Zenster. He and his cohorts make up the Three Stones Sitting Group and every Wednesday night they sit staring at the wall at the Friends Center near downtown Albuquerque.

Below the photo of JB and me enjoying our tea, I'd like to paste his long rambling ranting manifesto "Aesthetics" about the meaning of living the life and being a poet and a painter and all that other good stuff, but it's too long and it's scattered all over the page. Just too much work for a distracted blogger. Hopefully, he'll put the damn thing in a broadside and try to sell it although in the end he'll give away like he always does. But instead I'll paste in a poem that I cherry-picked from the Santa Fe Poetry Broadside. Oh, I love his poetry. Enjoy JB in his many hats. Buy his books and support La Alameda Press. Small press ventures like his are so rare these days, so vital.

Thirsty for Greywater


I have a broom, my wife has a broom,
our daughter has a broom--
that's because we're slobs.
I have a dishrag, my wife wields the shovel,
our daughter--a measuring cup,
that's because we're busy.

Squash in the compost,
tossed-out seeds start a wild spread.
Old boards stacked in careful piles,
needlenose tin snips and baling wire
turn broken sticks into trellis and gate.
Sump-pump sends septic water onto
ornamental wetlands experiment.
Washing machine hose
snakes alongside the house,
lathers iris, feeds the yarrow.
I catch dishspill in tub and pail,
toss beneath the red plum.
Inside every drip, our black ink
slides deliberately below the surface.


My version of utopia?
Laze about the backyard in my rumpled Stetson,
loud Kahanamoku Hawaiian shirt,
peruse epazoté, tend volunteer salvia--
ignore every skewed expectation.
I wave at a robin with my left hand,
then measure a board with a length of my saw.
Upright like the hollyhocks,
I shuffle around humming
a Thelonious Monk tune--
can't quite get how the intervals work,
can't get rid of it though.
The last section of drainpipe is a serpent's tail.
Screwdriver blade is creative thought.
Someone invented boiled linseed oil
to keep paint viscous and painters live by it.
I've ended up in this part of town on purpose.
What's broken is at least paid for.
Please O water table
float high to every root
and guide my reckless, ignorant trespass!


Solid as a beast,
a loop of grapestalk wraps upon itself,
tendril upon tendril upon light,
leaves so thick as to make a fence.
Full tilt kale & lettuce & spinach,
A crow tip top the old catalpa tree,
and one talking back that talk!
Five tons of bee buzz
in the space above the raspberry jelly!
My wife's laundry takes care of the locust tree
& two miscanthus along the road.
If I think about society for too long
I begin to itch all over.
I'm a prisoner of envy.
I wish I'd invented the manila folder!
We should write what we notice
& to whatever notices us back.
I put down the clippers.
As light fades to disappear,
skin turns the color of eggplant.
Last night, a long shout of stars
flooded the Mother Ditch.

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