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Peter Ludwin

Peter Ludwin Peter Ludwin lives in Seattle when he's not discovering people and places (Acoma, Terlingua, the Mississippi Delta, the Wallowa Valley) and sharing his musical talent on the autoharp and guitar.  He has published poetry widely in journals around the country and is currently working on a memoir/cultural essay about living in America.  Every December, he sells Xmas trees in New York City.


That night in Lajitas
I saw all we are given to see.
In your veins domed cities, empires,
and in your face dawn over Machu Picchu.

Was that a guitar where your teeth,
like Lorca's poems,
flashed diamond bits toward Mexico?
I heard gypsies shape the moon
and your hips bring the languid
rhythms of the silk trade.

It was all so clear,
like the blues and yellows
in Vermeer's maid pouring a pitcher of milk.

That's why this distance now,
with no way to reach you,
rumbles like thunderheads that threaten
but bring no rain, no rain.


You could tell she'd been around,
scuffled for years in bars
all over Colorado
looking for that one breakthrough gig.
Something in the eyes,
a wariness, a frayed hunger
that said hold it,
thorns grow here
and you might trip over the scars

But that was for everyday life.
After the slick harmonizing duo
sat down to normal applause
she climbed onstage and let us have it,
her rough, smoky voice
a scorched earth policy that destroyed
whole villages
and made us want to eat steak raw
and have mistresses
and die from orgasm
in a nest of tropical vines.
Outside, high in the Rockies,
snow was melting.
Why she hadn't made it
was one of those mysteries—
the disappearance of the Maya,
the back side of the moon.
You had to catch her in the moment,
a meteor from the night desert floor,
you had to be looking for it:

dark water,
darker earth.


So open this land
even the fences along the road
sing their freedom.

Filets of earth
lie exposed like salmon flesh
torn apart by bears.

The earth says My grasses sweep away
to the horizons like the sea,

and the buttes say From my heights
you can see beyond the horizons,

and the sky says I rule the earth
and I have no horizons,

and I say I am the wind,
I will be a guest in all your houses.

(for Russell Salomon)

Restaurant Jalisco, the sign read,
a two-room adobe hovel
sticking up like a wart
from the desert floor. No,
you said, it's too funky,
we'll get diarrhea or dysentery
or something even worse
that nobody's got a cure for,
this time you've gone too far—
but of course we went in anyway
to the little patio with its one
small table covered with sand,
which the old man's wife
swept away with her hand
before she took our order.
You didn't want anything
but she misunderstood
and brought out two plates
of eggs and beans and tortillas,
which we had to eat
or insult them
and slink away like whipped dogs,
and you grudgingly conceded how good it was
while she kept bringing more plates
of tortillas without us saying a word
and avocados
and the chickens ran by from the garden
and the three kids kept trying
to get the radio to work
by beating on it with a hammer
and the old man
went about his chores,
hauling buckets of water back and forth,
the two meals coming to about $1.75.

Do you remember, my friend,
how that breakfast lasted
all the way to San Felipe,
where the pelicans flocked to greet us?


I sit in this ancient Pueblo village
and let the sun warm my bones.
No sound here among the kivas,
the crumbled rooms and plaza,
except a distant crow
who talks because last night
he had a dream which he must tell
or fly crippled into his own deep night.

On the drive this morning
I saw many antelope
grazing the yucca-dotted plains.
Alert, elusive, they reminded me
how you hovered on the horizon
as I journeyed north toward Pecos yesterday,
a presence as real as these vast distances
that evaporate everything but pain.

The Tompiros fled this site
over three hundred years ago.
The Spaniards who came
looking for gold and converts
abandoned these stones to the wind.
I, on the other hand, seek a different history,
a water from silent tongues
that gleans your stories from the dust.

It’s a mirage, this medicine.
I find no stream where the cactus grows.
Just a bird who squawks at me,
who fertilizes the air with his madness
where your shadow cools these ruins,
a fevered beggar haunting the juniper
like the Indians and friars who once toiled here,
the music of your hand, rising.


Putting on a tape of Mexican guitar music,
Charro sets to work replacing my clutch.
From his low rock wall I look out
over Lajitas and the Rio Grande to Paso,
where roosters shatter the still morning air.

The guitar entangles your image
in its strings, brings the memory
of your aroma clinging to my hand
after I drove home from the dance.

That night I had a tremulous sleep.
Horses pawed at my dreams
as if they were snowdrifts
hiding pockets of rich forage.

Here on the border nothing is as it seems.
The patio at the trading post is vacant,
yet we are moving,
moving in a world of sound and light,
and there are some things even Charro cannot fix.


Because she had once married a Greek
because I'd traveled to Greece in the '60s
because we were visiting a mutual friend
on the Upper West Side,
we had this conversation.
And though I protested when she sat down
that I had to get some sleep
she insisted on just one small glass of wine.
Which became two and then three
as we agreed that where Kazantzakis was transcendent,
Sartre was empty and Hemingway merely small.
Her hands spoke passion,
as if releasing flocks of doves into her voice,
a soft liquer blend of European Texas
that drew me into that old yearning
for the expatriate life,
for garnet angels
and mandolins raining down
                                             on Russia
and I thought yes,
there's that chorus in the blood,
the one that's attended all our births:
to track the minotaur,
the iron tyranny of THINGS,
to find it and destroy it with the dance,
with epiphanies of water,
swinging up onto its head
like a naked acrobat
as the sun pours in from the sea.


I awaken to a flood-lit land,
to a moon throwing down
     dappled light
through supplicant branches
                                             of juniper.
Even the aspens
back up the hill behind me
show herds of silent appaloosa.
I feel them when a breeze quickens the leaves.
Their hooves, flashing from constellations,
stipple my face with ice.

To be human now
means to hang my skin
from the nearest branch
and step with no bones
into the circle,
into the moon and the sage.

Or is it something else?
This hour,
the hawk's own vespers,
feeds like an Aztec priest
on the unsuspecting.
Whence comes this talon grip,
the mean guitar that adorns
the temples of all the holy?

(for Mary)

Once a maker of longbows,
you awakened curled up
at my feet in the tipi
a Nez Perce had offered us.
Like tendrils of the sweet pea vine
snaking in dizzy loops above the earth,
something quiet and unspoken
between us had not yet touched.

That morning you went down
to the Bitterroot River to bathe.
When you came back through the forest,
hair shaggy with muted suns,
Nick was playing music from How the West was Lost.

At Big Hole we joined in the ceremonies.
As if to say they understood,
some deer appeared on the battlefield
and two small birds drove off a hawk above our heads.
While I smoked the pipe with the men
surrounding the buffalo robe
you photographed the herbs
burning from a large shell in the center.

That night we followed Lewis and Clark
and the Nez Perce over Lolo Pass into Idaho.
Along the Lochsa River we set up camp
where a tree grew under our tarp.
You found a bathing hole
with a full moon gilding the surface.
We sat there a long time,
and again the next morning,
when your foot discovered a rock
in the riverbed with a perfect tipi design.
We both understood this omen.

We touched at this place then.
Not with hands,
those clumsy warriors
that clutch and fumble things away.
But with eyes of cedar bark
that pierced the finite boundaries of stone,
silent voices chanting the ceremony,
the purling syllables of swift water.

Copyright © 1999. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Duplication of this poetry and/or art without permission of the author/artist is forbidden under copyright law. Please ask permission if you wish to use for non-commercial purposes
  Big Cats in Snow Tuesday, July 11, 2000