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Archive for July 10th, 2007

Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy, book by L. Luis LopezI first heard L. Luis López read his poetry a year ago at the Ghost Ranch “Coffee House.” Coffee House is an open-mic event held Thursday nights to highlight the diverse talents of that week’s participants. I remember Luis standing at the front of the large hall where Coffee House is held, clearing his throat before reading. The room got quiet, even the kids. As he read his voice rolled up-and-down in the sing-songy way los Chicanos de Nuevo México talk, especially when they’re back home with family.

When I went to Ghost Ranch this past week, I arrived at the open-air studio where my Hebrew Scripture Retablo workshop was taught and there at a table in the center of the room was Luis López. It turns out he not only writes poetry — he teaches a class on mythology and the night sky at Ghost Ranch, he’s taken traditional Spanish Colonial tinware for the past five years, and he was enrolled in the same retablo painting class that I was taking.

A year ago Luis read from his book Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy, which recalls his childhood, ages 6 to 16, in Albuquerque’s South Broadway neighborhood. This past week he read two new poems from a book yet to be published. He gave me permission to publish both poems on red Ravine. What strikes me about his words is their poignancy, their all-at-once sadness and humor.

The cadence in this first poem summons a certain sense of heaviness I imagine one might carry after years of seeing a family member live day-in-day-out with schizophrenia.



          Salvador Quintana
          (for Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra)
           by L. Luis López

          When on his meds, Salvador Quintana
          leaves Rosy his Chevy
          in the garage, walks to, sits
          at McDonalds,
          drinks coffee, eats apple pie, smokes
          a cigarette,
          drinks coffee, eats cherry pie, smokes
          a cigarette,
          drinks coffee, eats apple pie, smokes
          a cigarette.
          Salvador Quintana when on his meds.

          When off his meds, Salvador Quintana
          takes Rosy his Chevy
          out of the garage, drives to, sits
          at Joe’s Bar,
          drinks wine, eats chips, smokes
          a cigarette,
          drinks beer, eats peanuts, smokes
          a cigarette,
          drinks whiskey, eats sausage, smokes
          a cigarette.
          Salvador Quintana when off his meds.

          But this was not always Salvador Quintana.
          Before he was twenty
          he played center field for the Gold Sox,
          drew cartoons,
          made people laugh and laugh when
          he mimicked
          Cantinflas, Jerry Lewis, sang
          like Dean Martin or Little Richard,
          loved to dance,
          had his Dulcinea deep in his heart, had
          marriage in mind.
          This before twenty was Salvador Quintana.

          But his Dulcinea chose another,
          Dulcinea chose another,
          she chose another,
          chose another.

          Purity of love began to decay deep in his
          heart, anger festered deep
          in his brain,
          voice upon voice upon voice arose,
          unleashing word upon word,
          talking all at once, all at once, until

          something snapped, snapped
          in his head. He saw giants whirling
          on the horizon,
          saw fearsome knights
          riding out of the dark, dark woods,
          saw giants whirling on the horizon,
          heard from the voices
          that acid licked from the back of stamps
          would make the giants
          friendly,
          heard that sips
          of red liquid from the bottle
          would make fearsome knights
          riding out of the dark, dark woods kindly.

          I have known this Salvador Quintana
          forty years,
          I knew the other Salvador Quintana
          before he was twenty.
          I saw the change from that Salvador Quintana
          to the present Salvador Quintana.

          Today Salvador Quintana and I will
          leave Rosy his Chevy
          in the garage, we will walk to, then sit
          at McDonalds,
          drink coffee, eat apple pie, smoke
          a cigarette,
          drink coffee, eat cherry pie, smoke
          a cigarette,
          drink coffee, eat apple pie, smoke
          a cigarette.
          It’s Salvador Quintana’s birthday.
          I will celebrate with my brother on his sixtieth.



Luis prefaced this second poem by saying it was about his very critical father. Later, when Luis talked about his poetry during a break in our retablo class, he said writers often write about their parents as a way to deal with issues carried from childhood. This wasn’t that poem for Luis, although he has written a lot of poetry about his father. The following poem is light-hearted and captures, I think, a sense of acceptance.



          so I left him fuming
          by L. Luis López

          why do you come here from that South
          saying y’all
          and not hardly speaking no Spanish
          my Dad says

          you went away speaking good Engllish
          and good Spanish
          and
          now you come here with y’all and
          down the holler instead of alla
          or over there
          and I say Dad I just like
          to talk like where I am

          so now I will say ese and alla
          and to get more on his nerves said como esta usted y’all
          mon pere because I spent part
          of my South in Louisiana
          among the cajuns

          and he said I mean he really
          said nada and lit a Chesterfield
          and that meant he said nada
          even more
          so I left him fuming



I asked Luis about his path to becoming a poet. He told me he started writing at age 30 because he liked to describe the people around him. His first pieces were plays. He also wrote short stories before finally landing on poetry.

Luis told me he gets he gets up every morning at 4:30 and writes 2-3 hours. Every poem he writes by hand first then inputs it into the computer, and as he does so he begins the revision process. He said he loves revising his poems and knows when he’s done once the poem “clicks.”

Luis was born in Albuquerque in 1938. He currently lives in Grand Junction, CO, where he teaches English and Classical Languages at Mesa State College. He hosts a poetry writing and reading group that meets monthly at the downtown library. You can catch him at Ghost Ranch most summers, where you can watch the night sky with him or listen to him read his poems at Coffee House. Oh, and if you see Luis, make sure to ask him to show you his retablos. It turns out, he is a wonderful folk artist in addition to everything else.

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