The Great Pat Smith American Dream Poem

I have been teaching poetry for too long
I know this
everyone else thinks so too
the trick’s to clear out before they say so

In a dream I am leaving
crossing Central Avenue
wider now than the Rio Grande
heading down and west
past Jack’s and the bloodbank
past Gizmo’s and Blazer finance
saying hello
to my sad downtown that was always waiting

I am taking a job
becoming the best cashier in Albuquerque
my register sings
I call out orders:
sunnyside up
once over lightly

I smell like french fries and Evening in Paris
my nails are polished
my smock is pink
my hands drip nickels

all the regulars call me Patti
spelled with an i
they eat me up
while the juke box plays
Lacy J Dalton
Willie and Waylon
I hum right along
I know all the words
I am cashing in

One day my customer is Busby Berkeley
He leans on my counter  lights a cigar
looks me up and down
likes what he sees
and says in a wise voice
Girlie, can you swim?
I show him my medals from the 400 freestyle
the 1958 First Annual Pine Point Maine Open Water Classic
He says Esther Williams is making her comeback
They are calling the movie Born to Swim
if I meet him tonight at 8 at the Y
he’ll let me audition for the chorus

Suddenly it is all so simple
there are no limits
to all the color light can turn water
my stage name is Tammy Aphrodite

I am one of the girls
we swan dive from volcanoes and Grecian Columns
stroking tandem, we angle down
then bubble up like spangled lilies
slim fish chlorine virgins
who cares about tenure
I lose the need to breathe
I could stay down forever

In a world all light and water
I am the wet,
the wordless angel

 Last Tuesday Lee and I (with our granddaughter Hannah) drove up to Albuquerque to the memorial for our friend Patricia Clark Smith. We've known her for a long time. Indeed, on the drive up I tried to remember when I first met her. I think it was in one of those great bars that Albuquerque and Santa Fe used to have back in the 70s. The Thunderbird in Placitas, Claude's in Santa Fe, Smokey Joe's on the corner of Central and University in Albuquerque, Raphael's Silver Cloud out on the highway north. It must have been summertime, 102 hot like it was last Tuesday, muggy, some nameless band playing, maybe a jukebox. I was drinking and standing looking at the dancers and this little woman appeared out of the crowd of rockers. She was dressed part-Indian, part country and western. She had a roundish smiling face and her eyes twinkled. Yes, her eyes really twinkled. Who would guess she was a PhD from Yale? Who would even care? I certainly didn't. She asked me to dance and she grabbed my hands and out we went into the crowd of dancers. And we danced.

Since the memorial Lee and I have been mulling over Pat and her death. For whatever reason we have been feeling sort of empty, like something is not there. She was my generation, and like so many of our peers--important workers in the fields of culture and literature--, Pat's not very well represented on the internet. The talks people gave were wonderful, but mostly the people talked about Pat as a wonderful friend and colleague in the university. It was good to see old friends, especially our publishing colleague John Crawford, Pat's lover (aka husband), the longtime independent publisher of Westend Press. But only poet and performer Joy Harjo represented the alternate universe of poem-writing outside the university, that place where I feel most at home. Well, that's not quite true. Poet David Johnson, who like Pat has roots in each world, was the last speaker. He was  Pat's friend and colleague in the English Department at UNM, but he also shared with her the love of literatures that range far beyond the accepted canon (especially was back in the 70s when they started stirring the pot)--the poetries of Native America, women and men of color, of the various nations of Latin America. In concluding his talk David read from her book Changing Your Story "The Great Pat Smith American Dreampoem." Listening to the poem (a man's voice, a woman's poem) I thought then that I would put the poem on my blog.

I lose the need to breathe
I could stay down forever

In a world all light and water
I am the wet,
the wordless angel


Patricia Clark Smith (Valentine's Day 1943-July 11, 2010)

Poet, writer and activist Patricia Clark Smith and her John Crawford (Westend Press publisher)

I lifted this obituary from the Albuquerque Journal. I'm sure John wrote it, with the help of many friends and Pat's two sons, Joshua and Caleb.

Patricia (Pat) Clark Smith died peacefully at Women's Hospital in Albuquerque Sunday evening, July 11, 2010. She had been admitted four days earlier and died of successive organ failure. She was surrounded at death by her husband John Crawford; her two sons, Joshua and Caleb; members of her extended family, and her friends; She is survived by her two brothers, Mike Clark, 64, and James Clark, 61; and her two sons, Joshua Smith, 43, and Caleb Smith, 40. A memorial service will be held at the University of New Mexico chapel at 5:00 Tuesday, July 20, 2010. The public is invited to attend. Patricia was born on Valentine's Day in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1943 and lived with her mother, grandmothers, and aunts while her father was serving in the Army Air Corps. When her father returned from the service and the war ended, the family moved to Hampshire Heights, a project on the outskirts of Northampton, Massachusetts. While she was later renowned as an accomplished scholar, poet, and teacher, she always stayed close to her working-class Irish, French Canadian, and Micmac Indian roots. Her childhood friends from Hampshire Heights, whether or not they left New England, remained close to her to the end. Following the war her two brothers were born: Mike, later a sea captain, and Jim, later a musician. Patricia graduated from Deering High School in Portland, Maine in 1960. She attended Smith College as a scholarship student, graduating with a B.A. in 1964, and Yale University from 1964 to 1970, when she was awarded a Ph.D. in English. Meanwhile she married Warren Smith in 1963 and had two sons, Joshua in 1966 and Caleb in 1970. She and her husband taught at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa from 1969 to 1971. From the beginning she attracted the attention of helpful and kindly mentors. The distinguished English professor W.K. Wimsatt, his wife Margaret, and their family befriended her during the Yale years and thereafter. In 1971 her husband Warren was offered a position in the Classics Department at University of New Mexico and Pat followed, soon joining the regular English faculty. She taught English at UNM for thirty-two years, from 1971 to 2003. Early in her career at UNM she also taught at schools connected to several Navajo Indian reservations (Ramah and Sinosti) in New Mexico with a new mentor, pioneering New Mexico early childhood teacher Lenore Wolfe. In the late 1970s she and Warren Smith were divorced. She taught courses in Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman as well as American literature and creative writing. She began to expand her interests in Native American studies. One of her early Ph.D. students, Laguna Pueblo author Paula Gunn Allen, published a revised version of her doctoral dissertation as The Sacred Hoop, a groundbreaking approach to feminist studies in Native American literature, in 1986. Among Patricia's companions throughout this period were Native American writers Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, Simon Ortiz and Luci Tapahonso. She published the first book of her own poems, Talking to the Land, in 1979. She married teacher and small press publisher John Crawford in 1987. She published her second book of poems, Changing Your Story, in 1991. She and her husband joined UNM Professors Paul Davis, David Johnson, and Gary Harrison in editing and publishing Western Literature in a World Context, a two-volume college anthology, in 1995. She also published As Long as the Rivers Flow: Stories of Nine Native Americans, with Paula Gunn Allen in 1996; On the Trail of Older Brother: Glous'gap Stories of the Micmac Indians, with Michael RunningWolf in 2000; and a younger reader's biography, Weetamoo: Heart of the Pocassets in 2003. Those who have known her deeply- and there are many-have praised Patricia's generosity, her ability to bring out the best in others, and her gift of encouragement. She has started many a young writer or scholar on his or her career. Her advocacy for women scholars, multicultural writers, and especially Native American students has moved the teaching profession powerfully in this region. She has also befriended many people she recognizes as her own kind-waitresses, nurses in hospitals, receptionists, clerks in stores. Arrangements are being made for gifts to be donated to Native American educational funds.

She was a good lady, a wise lady. May she rest in peace.


Dreaming Martino's, Dreaming Juárez

Dennis Daily--musician, musicologist and library archivist (@NMSU at the time)--took these photographs at Martino's Restaurant on Sunday March 23, 2003. These waiters, busboys (see note) and chef had served me, my family and friends for years. I have their names in a file somewhere that I cannot find. The last time I was over in Juárez, Martino's was simply a bar that opened at 6pm. I don't go across that late to find out what's going on. The on-going counting of the murdered dead continues to overwhelm the city. This last Sunday was election day. 13 people were killed.  Families are leaving, businesses are closing. But Martino's has always been an important place for me. A piece of the culture and ambiente of El Paso and Juárez. For those of you who don't know Martino's or Juárez, I'm pasting below an article I wrote around the year 2001 for a local magazine. It gives you some gist of what the restaurant and the city used to be. And below that is a sweetly humorous photograph, taken by good friend Michael Wyatt, of the famous parking sign that stood in front of the restaurant.

[NOTE:In a restaurant in Mexico, to get a waiter’s or mesero’s attention, you use the word “Joven” which translates literally as “young man.” I never was comfortable using the word in Mexico, especially at Martino’s. As you can see from Dennis' photographs, these guys were all grace and style and for many years they were my senior. Especially my all-time favorite, a man named Moises II, a Peter Lorre look-alike who retired sometime in the 1990s. So when I wanted another beer or martini, I said “Señor.” Even in speaking with the busboys. I felt more comfortable like that, even though sometimes it took a while for them to realize I was trying to get their attention.]


Things You Can’t Do in Austin or Santa Fe, #3
(Written sometime around 2000-2001)

This is a message to those thirty-something and forty-something and fifty-something paseños who worry themselves silly because they’re not able to spend enough time and money in Santa Fe or Austin:


Walk south along El Paso Street past the Camino Real, the pawnshops, the shoe and clothing stores and the peculiar assortment of other thriving businesses. You will come to a bridge that crosses a river. On the other side of the river the bridge will miraculously unburden itself in another city that exists in another country. This is a foreign city and a foreign country. Indeed, you can go to London or to Paris and you won’t be in a country as foreign to you as the city and country on the other side of that bridge.

If your heart is open, you will be amazed at this journey. It’s like you have walked into a story that Gabriel Garcia Marquez is writing. You remember Gabriel Garcia Marquez, don’t you? You read his books in college. If you didn’t, you should have. Make a note to yourself to buy 100 Years of Solitude the first chance you get.

If you are a little bit waspish, or if you look perhaps like someone who will vote for George Bush, then the people in this foreign city will look at you like you are a foreigner. Trust them. They are right. Suddenly you are a foreigner. It’s like walking through a mirror. That’s okay though. They want you to enter their country because you probably have money in your pocket and credit cards in your wallet. In fact, you might think about giving some of the change you are rattling nervously in your pocket to the indigenous women and children who will greet you with their outstretched hands. These families--the tiny women in the colorful dresses, the men in the white pants and shirts, the children hungry and forlorn--are the Tarahumara. They have fled the Sierra because of the never-ending drought and their fear of the druglords and logging companies who are usurping their homelands.

You might be overcome with sadness, even remorse, seeing the poverty of the Tarahumara. Likewise seeing the poverty of some of the other citizens of this country. Maybe this is why you have forgotten about the Bridge from our country into their country. You didn’t want to look into the heart of such poverty. I can understand that. They can understand that. But give them a quarter. Or even a dollar. It won’t hurt you. It might even help you. Just please don’t sully their proud history by naming a polo club Tarahumara. This would be an arrogant and ugly act.

But this is not the reason you have crossed the Bridge.

You have crossed the Bridge so that you can go eat at a restaurant that is a few blocks further down the street. Don’t bother telling this to the cab drivers who want to take you to the market or to the bullfight or to a girlie show which is only around the corner anyway. Just ignore those guys and walk straight to Martino’s.
Martino’s is waiting for you next to the historic Kentucky Club. You might even want to have a drink at the Kentucky Club before going next door to Martino’s. Fine. The place has a wonderful old-fashion mahogany bar and a long mirror where you can sit on a stool and contemplate the meaning of things. The bartenders serve ice-cold Mexican beer, and they fix a decent and inexpensive drink. The bathrooms sort of stink, but that’s okay as long as you sit toward the window. If you see friends of your sons and daughters--indeed, if you see your sons and daughters--ignore them like you ignored the cab drivers. You are in a foreign country, they are in a foreign country, and you are turning another page of the story written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

So it’s time you enter Martino’s.

Before entering, however, peer inside through the big plate glass window. You will notice two things--first, the very neat and semi-elegant motif is bronze with red and white table clothes and huge mirrors, and, second, there are not too many customers inside. In fact, if you look closely, you might notice that there are more waiters inside than there are customers. This always mystifies me. Martino’s is my favorite restaurant and it is never full. Why? Because people like you are not crossing the Bridge to eat there. This is why I have brought you here. I love Martino’s. I want to see the waiters and the busboys and the cooks and the owner making money. I don’t want Martino’s to disappear like Julio’s disappeared.

So don’t be worried about the emptiness. You will enjoy yourself.

Entering Martino’s is a pleasure like an oft-practiced ritual is a pleasure. You push open the glass door and a waiter neatly dressed in a white jacket will be waiting for you. He is glad to see you. He and his colleagues quietly organize your table, they insure that you are comfortable. You soon realize that--no matter how good the food will be--the real pleasure of Martino’s is how the waiters treat you with respect and gentleness. They are never in your face, but they appear miraculously when they are needed. Like they too have read 100 Years of Solitude and they have learned the genuine meaning of service. My favorite is Moises II who looks like Peter Lorre and who first waited on my wife Lee and I in the 70s. But two or three others rival him in the soulful practice of the art of being a waiter.

Now that you are seated at Martino’s, I want to give you some advice

If this is your virgin crossing, don’t worry about the water. It’s bottled water. The ice is from bottled water.
Once you’re beyond the question of water, I recommend you order a martini straight up (derecho) with either Tangueray or Beefeater’s as your gin of choice. Vodka, of course, should not be considered. Although other devotees of Martino’s praise the traditional Margaritas, or the icy exotic drinks of greens or blues, or even the exquisitely cold beers, I believe my recommendation leads you deeper into the mystery that I perceive at Martino’s. The waiter prepares the martini at your table. It is a ceremony worth watching, a sacrament to enjoy, and it’s certainly well worth the 4-bucks you pay for the pleasure. Especially since it’s a double.
Like many restaurants on the other side, the menu at Martino’s is huge, and I have never come close to eating everything. If you want something before dinner, the shrimp and octopus cocktails are good, the escargot (or so says my friend Willivaldo Delgadillo) is delicious. When you’re choosing an entrée, stick with the steaks and fishes. Under no circumstances choose a Mexican dish. They don’t know how to cook Mexican food at Martino’s. Also, stick with the simply prepared foods. Our experience with the paella, for instance, is that it was excellent one visit and lousy the next.

I usually get the chateaubriand cooked on the grill or pan-fried French-style in butter. I order my steak medium-rare, and the chef has never disappointed me. The meat is very tender and very delicious. It rivals any steak served in El Paso. Guaranteed. At $10.95 it’s truly one of the great deals anywhere near our city.
The fishes are a number of different fillets, or whole Black Basses, cooked in a variety of ways. They also have lobster and shrimp dishes. I don’t know anybody who has ever had the lobster. All entrees come with a soup, salad and potato. My favorite soup is the French onion. It’s delicious. Even my snotty New York friends say it’s delicious. But Martino’s has other soups, each with its fans--a hot potato soup and two cold soups, avocado and a gazpacho.

Sadly, the salads are commonplace--iceberg lettuce and tomatoes with the usual suspects for dressings. Oh, well. I eat them and am happy I did. I notice, however, that my friends sometimes don’t eat the salads. I don’t know if they’re worried about getting sick or simply don’t like iceberg lettuce. I never ask.

After dinner, the waiter will offer you a wide selection of deserts ranging from a raging flambé to the traditional flan. Lee and I usually get the flan with a bunch of spoons for everybody. It’s truly rich and delicious. I may even go whole hog and get a good shot of brandy in a snifter and a cup of coffee. Why not, huh?
I hope you enjoy Martino’s. I hope you sit close enough to the big front window so you can watch all the different kinds of people walking by. Doing so is an act of meditation, one that is amplified by the fact that you’re in a foreign country but close to home. The waiters somehow recognize the fact that you are meditating and they leave you alone.

If you’re a man, I hope you visit the bathroom so can enjoy the old-fashioned pleasure of melting the ice in the urinal.

When you’re done, pay with a credit card because you get a much better rate of exchange. BUT tip the waiter with cash. U.S. dollars. Twenty-percent at least. The staff will have earned that amount easily. Besides, you’ve had a truly wonderful dinner for somewhere around $20 a head. That’s very good for the excellent evening you’ve had.

The waiters will shake your hands as you leave. Go back outside into the noise and the traffic of the night. All sorts of kids will be on the street full with a wild energy that you lost long ago. They might frighten you, they might worry you. That’s okay. You can remember the confusion in your own heart at that age, no? Walk back to the Bridge, poking your head into the stores and into the discos.

I hope you’re full of wonder...

 (Photo  by Michael Wyatt)