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Reviews of Two Books

Saying the Heart’s Hidden Honesty

Lynne Zotalis’ Mysterious Existence, a revelation of a life in photographs and poems and prose passages, taps in the pieces of a heart’s jigsaw puzzle. Distinguishing hazy pink from purple, puzzle solver Zotalis takes up daughters, fathers, friends, lovers, husbands, the Earth, suffering and joy and as she slips the right piece into the destined spot, a reader feels a tiny triumph, saying yes, yes, yes. 

“No apologies,” the poet writes. “One defense is mediocrity settling into good enough.” But she won’t let us glance at the box top, because solutions reside not in the top’s fixed image but in the emerging, incomplete, inspiring mysterious existence before us.

Mysterious doesn’t mean unclear or obscure. Mysterious means yearning. It means feeling gratitude that can scarcely cover the gift. Mysterious is the fuel that stokes our anger at injustice and that opens our memory to fulfillment.

And if you look for an expression of love of a spouse in modern words, singing in true tones, buy Mysterious Existence and memorize the 12 lines of “Quantified Love.” You will discover in that poem and its companions a voice for your heart.

Ghostly Guides Snub Silver City

Yesterday, at Ailman’s house
I met a ghost quick as a mouse.
She wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish she’d come to stay.

Note to the tourism promoters of Silver City: Our town is ghost poor. We deserve to lodge at least one poltergeist each in hotels Murray and LuLu. 

When the Curious Kumquat Restaurant was alive, at least we had Maria, an apparition that silently shadowed owner Rob Connoley late at night when he was turning Gila foraging into dining masterpieces. It may have been Rob, or his husband Tyler, who supplied Maria’s requisite tale, perhaps a child’s death or a husband lost to execution. Maria prowled the Kumquat, mourning spookily, standing silent in the dim of an abandoned corridor.

Tourists like that stuff. The proof is a shelf of books about New Mexico hauntings. For a negative example, Nebraska lacks such tomes of terror and, thus, who wants to visit Nebraska? 

Unhappily, books like Donna Blake Birchell’s Haunted Hotels and Ghostly Getaways of New Mexico (History Press, 2018) ignores Silver City. Ghosts, who usually disguise a dull visitors’ guide, prefer to show up in Las Vegas and Lincoln rather than in The-Town-with-Four-Mild-Seasons.

New Mexico Death Rituals: A History by Ana Pacheco (History Press, 2019) mirrors Birchell’s in ignoring Silver City, except for an account of Billy the Kid, getting two details wrong within a single paragraph. But with death as a theme, Pacheco ranged widely. She could get an award for the most photographs of tombstones in a single book, including three markers connected to Billy. Northern New Mexico generated scads of pictures of villagers looking grim around open caskets. Gruesome or more than gruesome are pictures of the untimely ends of Black Jack Ketchum and Pancho Villa, who wasn’t even a New Mexican.

It’s curious that Pacheco described the burial of D.H. Lawrence’s ashes on his ranch, now a writer’s retreat for the University of New Mexico, but failed to report the following story about those ashes. Frieda Lawrence had arrived at Lamy and put the urn with her husband’s ashes on the railroad platform as she awaited her ride to Taos. Someone snatched the urn. D.H.’s ashes interred on his ranch were probably related to a convenient fireplace.

Whether the Lawrence story is true, I cannot say. I do claim the protection from a proviso appearing in Pacheco’s and Birchell’s books: “The information in this book is true and complete to the best of our knowledge. It is offered without guarantee on the part of the author or The History Press.”

With a doctorate in cultural anthropology, Barbara Marriott has the academic chops to deliver accuracy in Myths and Mysteries of New Mexico: True Stories of the Unsolved and Unexplained (Globe Pequot Press, 2011). Academic chops forgo the macabre and deliver tales of hidden treasures as well as those of crime, mayhem and UFO’s. She does offer a chapter on ghosts, the loveliest of whom is Rebecca, the randy occupant of the Cloudcroft Lodge.

Marriott demonstrated her good taste in addition to her credentials when she refused to rely on rumors about the disposition of the body of Albert Fountain, probably murdered with his son in the White Sands. That rumored disposition involved the hogs of a man acquitted of Fountain’s death. The acquitted hog farmer became a popular New Mexican politician whose name graces a state park. 

The anthropologist used the word “hoax” even as she detailed the sightings of a hairy, eight-foot tall humanoid in New Mexico’s mountains, from Navajo country to Las Cruces. (An Arizonan, Marriott may be forgiven her persistent misspelling of Otero County.)

There you have three books with “New Mexico” in their titles intended to inspire shivers at gory happenings. As already noted, if we want to gain a chapter or two in these tourist treasures, Silver City must strive more strenuously for some ghosts or a trove of gold with romantic legends. 

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Tom Hester

Tom Hester was not born in a log cabin, though he was born.  In the early part of his life he retrogressed, moving from Austin to Lubbock. (Lubbock was Molly Ivins' perennial joke line; otherwise, she would have been left with Turkey, Texas, the home of Bob Wills.) Tom attended P.F. Brown Elementary where in an early grade he was a crossing guard and wore a white, harness-looking belt.  Subsequently, after Brown, he attended San Francisco State U; the U of Texas, Austin; Texas Tech U; and U of Pennsylvania. Along the way he studied history and sociology and received some degrees. Among his few solidly good life decisions, Tom married Consuelo Leal and was a house husband for 5 years, caring for son Carlos. They lived in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Arlington, Virginia, before moving to Silver City in 2006. Tom retired as chief of the technical editorial staff, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice.
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We respectfully acknowledge that the entirety of southwestern New Mexico is the traditional territory, since time immemorial, of the Chis-Nde, also known as the people of the Chiricahua Apache Nation. The Chiricahua Apache Nation is recognized as a sovereign Native Nation by the United States in the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Friendship of 1 July 1852 (10 Stat. 979) (Treaty of Santa Fe ratified 23 March 1853 and proclaimed by President Franklin Pierce 25 March 1853).

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