How rare to travel as an amateur or emigrant, so ignorant of a well-trod place that you let the place’s magic play with your “free gaze.” I, Rhode Islander, arrive with little knowledge of New Mexico. D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, retirees and moneyed Texans stay way in my back pocket. I take in a sightline that’s not East Coast congested, but vast and open. The roads are straight — endless — cutting through an artist’s range of pinks, ochres, yellows. The desert unfolds like an ocean of silver-sagebrush meets horizion. Everything breathes on thinner oxygen. The light makes rocks and cactus levitate. Cactus are wan and colorless until they burst into hot colors like cartoons. Veils of rain trail from navy-dark clouds you can see in some distance town. Sunset over a layered plane that looks like the bottom of the sky. In sum, an otherworldliness.
As poet Adam Zagajewski writes, to the emigrant, a rush of rain on a Paris boulevard can be Notre Dame’s equal. He also talks of how a workaday place falls prey to the “innocent sabotage of the free gaze, thus splitting it into disconnected atoms.” So the morning sunbeam opens the doors of vision. It doesn’t negate the tragedy of the native tribes but observing legacy of history in situ, witnessing the past in landscape, the native absence and presence becomes more felt. Paul Celan’s term “what happened,’ expresses the horror of what can’t be named here too.
There is Tsankawi, white pumice bone stone volcanic lava carved like ancient condos into 354 dwellings by the Pueblos. We meet an artist carving sacred wood with a power tool from the ledge of his truck in a town with a sacred mud well. And throughout the state is woven an impulse to let phenomena saturate — to hear the Earth breathe, speak, be. To listen to silence that is full of shimmering leaves or trickling sand as waves carry it through unfolding moments. To hear seeds in the paper-thin casement of dried nora peppers.