Neighbor sky wire


In the tangerine corner of the Pagan Lounge, Raymond Leonard hobnobs with a bunch of girl goblins over a glass of spiced wine at the 1998 Halloween All-Star International Poetry Slam Week in Taos.

Pobrecito, those Jimmys and Robertos from Albuquerque are thinking. Raymond Leonard comes from Shiprock to read, what is he thinking? Raymond is a chubby guy, not much to look at, listen to or rub against — you’d think — even after a Tuesday night extended happy hour in the middle of jam week. He’s fancied himself a poet for a long time now, so he goes to slam after slam after slam.

Truth be told, Raymond’s poems are more like little confessions or prayers than sex and anger. Sometimes he sits down before he’s finished. Those slam judge kings and queens don’t care much for his soft-hipped vaguely luminous friendly meandering po-et-ry – where’s the grind, Ray? Where’s the heat and the frightening wetness, Raymond Leonard?

But he’s a gentle man, more quail than crow; nothing raucous or nasty in Raymond Leonard.  It doesn’t matter if they raise or lower the bar, he’s always there with his quiet hands, his still round face, his words so steady and regular gathering sweet on leaf ends on damp mornings, shining – pah! – for 1/10th of one second and then dropping – dah! – onto the clay mud to run away.

Raymond’s been married for 17 years to one woman, and they are still watching that morning wet collect, together real early most mornings. Cupcake, he calls her – her name is Eileen, Elena, Leena, or Sweetie Pie. No slams for Ilena; she raises calabazas and onions, she raises children and buries elders.

Ilena does not slam, but Raymond Leonard does, so she sends him off with white bread sandwiches and a thermos of black coffee. He hitchhikes mostly, but he has cousins all over the place and they can see his barrel chest and short legs even before they know it’s him – hey Leonard ya-ta-hey dude, where you going?

Going to slam, he tells them, and they’re thinking, yeah ok, some step meeting, some baseball game, some Denny’s out in I don’t know Farmington, Four Corners, but he means Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, those are the altars at which he will confess. There’s a corn dance in his poetry and big green tomato worms and propane stoves and satellite dishes bigger but not more multitudinous than the wishes of the grandmothers. Raymond Leonard has more grandmothers than god.

The slam women dress their hair and slide into home base with Raymond once in a while, Raymond son-of-the-code-talkers, and if he is mild-mannered so what, he’s got history deeper than that high river gorge, and it’s still running wet and clear.


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September 2006
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