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Little Tesuque

Barbara Henning

November 4, 2005. Outside the window thousands of cottonwood leaves are falling and accumulating. Across the way, through the bare branches, even at dusk I can now clearly see the white trailer belonging to my neighbor. A husky man—I've seen him outside picking up brush and hauling it across the road, the road leading up to the post office and then left to the highway and the Tesuque reservation. In bed with a hot water bottle keeping my feet warm, outside a half yellow moon and a yellow window in his trailer. I fall asleep with my book and my face under the blanket. As it is now—I prefer it this way.



With my right arm in a sling, I turn the car onto La Huerta Lane, the bumpy dirt road winding down toward the river and my house. Hurt my rotator cup last week lugging suitcases around New York City. This morning an MRI—suffocation with a hammer pounding in my ear, something only Poe could have imagined. Breathe shallow, the nurse said. Oww. Calcium spur impinging, pinching and a piece of cartilage floating, poking. The skeleton inside, the leafless trees outside, and the occasional man or woman living out here so isolated, so quiet, like human saguaros looking out over sterile sands and fields. I stand in front of the window, slowly moving my arm up and down. Then my neighbor passes by his window, a glint of light, a shadow, perhaps to answer the telephone or to take a cover off a pot simmering on the stove. He's on the left and then he disappears. Maybe there's never any center to it. The propane heaters make a hissing noise day and night.



When I wake up in the morning, the light comes through the window, and I'm drunk on the trees and the sunlight. Pour down your warmth, great sun. The brown leaves make a thick blanket over the ground. Over the ridge, the arroyo, Little Tesuque runs downhill, carrying moldy leaves and debris with it, today a stream, perhaps someday in the spring a small river. As I'm climbing up the path, I see him sitting in a lawn chair and we nod to each other. He's not a white man or a black man or Asian. Tan skin with an elegant forehead, perhaps an American Indian.



November 27 – Sunday. It snowed last night. Frigid cold. Put on my boots, coat and scarf and walk down to the store. Pain has let up, but my arm will not move. Can’t get a hat on my head or a tie in my hair. Spiders in every corner and I can't reach up with the duster to put them outdoors. Move south girl where it is warm. 20 degrees outside. Somewhat warmer inside. Wake up at night and see tree branches, the moon and stars. Wake up in the morning dreaming I am with Allen in an apartment in Brooklyn. I am standing on the street weeping because I have found a new place in Queens. Day come white, or night come black, I was leaving him. Will you please let me return? I beg the landlord.



December 6. So cold I can’t walk outside today. Sky wide open blue. Lewis’s aunt died this morning. When I pass by a mound of sticks, do I disturb those who are resting? An arctic blast or something like that, not normal this time of year. When I sit on the toilet, I can feel the cold under the floor, coming up through the cracks. A foot of space under the floorboards and then dirt. Tomorrow the winds are supposed to change and the earth, on this spot, will warm. I wait and wait, but my feet feel icy at night so I buy an electric blanket to warm the bed. I dream I am standing in front of a big crowd of people yelling out yoga poses and they will not follow my instructions. They are laughing and talking. I remember clearly that the room was dark.



Three phone calls this morning from Mook, Né and Patti. We scatter family, must be some karmic thing. Take a walk down the river, hopping from one stone to the next, and then deliberately climbing up into the yard with the trailers. I see him raking some leaves, wide shoulders and bushy hair. He goes around the corner of his trailer and I pass through the lot, emerging at the road. Reading Whitman, Robbe-Grillet and a new book by Juliana Spahr, this connection of everyone with lungs, day and night, despite our differences, the oxygen we share with the plants and each other. Dead U.S. soldiers, dead Iraquis. Not alone, never alone, and yet this helplessness. Yes, my brother, I'm here. Cross my hands over my chest and doze off. These evenings are all the same, and I won’t stay here forever. The house is not insulated and it's too cold in the winter.



Monday December 12. My fingernails are cracking. I put a blanket over the doorway between the kitchen and the mudroom. Warmer. Coughing worse then ever. Sooth! Sooth! Nothing serious, just an inconvenience. I am in better shape than I was when I was twenty. Richard Pryor died this weekend. Some disease finally gets you, he said. On to the brink of harm. Another earthquake and Afghanistan is shaking. Gangs of white redneck Australians are attacking the Lebanese neighbors. Human rot. I worry about being alone too much and about a little cough, but at least mobs of white racists are not chasing me through the streets.



Make an x with your shoulder blade, moving diagonally. I can’t feel one corner but there is hope. On the way home from the physical therapist, I stop to buy some paper and leave the lights on in the car for the second time today and when I go outside the battery is completely dead. Waiting for a tow truck in the store, then in the cafe talk to Anne Urban on the cell and she’s adamant. She wants me to move to Tucson. Rent a truck, she says. Buy a new battery the man says, sending me to an auto place on Cerrillos where I sit for two hours only to learn that my battery is perfectly fine. No matter which way I turn, a new narrative will unfold. Back home I am sitting in a chair reading Duras's The Lover. Stay as long as you'd like. When I look up, I see my neighbor sitting in his chair, too, reading.



The crisscrossing lines of parched trees against a background of blue. The one I want so much. The glass makes a glare and the white curtains turn black. I always drop out, cut short, leave a little too early. My middle name—can’t stick around for the end, always going home before the party begins. That’s why it was so painful to receive tenure. I crumpled up the letter and tossed it in the garbage. I must have my freedom. I stop by Penske to find out how much it will cost to rent a truck and move my things from New Mexico to Tucson. Now I am rocking in Mr. Henderson’s old rocker from Avery Street in Detroit. The empty boxes are stacked in the garage ready to be packed and moved somewhere. Sang somewhere over the rainbow to my aged aunt on the telephone.



Sunday night. Two-mile walk. For sale. Tire tracks. Even slower. Skid. Invisible fence. Enjoying solitude. But I’m not like this rock where darkness falls, then snow, then sunlight melts it away, but the rock remains. Lonesome love. Stop at the cinema and see Pride and Prejudice. She gets Mr. Darby and her sister gets hers, too. All the women in the family are saved from destitute poverty by two love marriages into wealthy families. Love, sex, polite conversation and money in one swoop. Maybe if I stay put, stay here, stay for a year, I'd meet my neighbor and we'd crawl into bed with each other, his stocky body curled around mine.



My physical therapist’s brother-in-law had a heart attack in the snow. He was surprised. She saw it in his eyes. He didn’t want to die, but he did anyhow. Christmas Eve. Blue lights put me into a Christian melancholic place. I must be still. The trees and my legs and trunk blend together in the ever on-going present. A memory of blue. Decide to be more frugal. Drive into town to buy one screw and end up spending more, a floppy green wool hat and a pair of gloves. Can't save a penny even though I resolve to do so every month. A long break from men and passion and maybe my psyche as well as my body will be completely healed. Or it would never happen again. The water in the world is rising and rearranging things in ways that might seem tragic. We can’t see the larger movement because of personal losses.



Hiking down the arroyo. Animal tracks. Water on the rocks, a tinkling sound, like a Japanese haiku. The whistle of the wind, it is not my voice. So quiet. After walking for a while, I become a little frightened—maybe a coyote or a bear. Up the stream a shadow. I stand still on a rock and the shadow turns the corner followed by the man who lives in the trailer. Hello I say. He nods. Beautiful out here isn't it. As always. I reach out my hand and he touches it lightly. His eyes are dark brown. John he says. Barbara I say. He's leaning against a tree. And then we go on in opposite directions. Unusually heavy rains in the past few months have created a lot of growth and now everything is dry and crunchy except the little stream of water running downstream over the rocks. The vines appear to be choking this tree. The same type is growing up the side of the house. A rail on the side of 73 South and a small white cross.



Behind the fluffy remains of dried plants, his old trailer with one window boarded up. Inside perhaps he is taking a nap. It’s cold outside now and if you touch a branch lightly, it will break. 20 degrees and I kick the leaves and the shadows of leaves. It was so dark that night, my stepmother says over the phone, that we had to take a cab home from the shopping center. She never bought anything, just glided the cart up and down the aisles, looking at things. Now she can eat, sleep, it's quiet at night. From my living room in the country to her living room in St. Clair Shores, a telephone connection. At night I hug a pillow in the same way I used to hug my husband. If you want sex, the Indian teacher says, get married.



Brown dried leaves hanging off a branch, misty white sky, an elegant haiku, swinging back and forth, outside a thin layer of snow. On the TV, the woman is shocked and surprised and the policeman is definitely concerned. The white settlers kill the animals and the Indians night after night. The Indians look like my neighbors. Their faces enter into my consciousness, my meditation, surely into my dreams. Turn it off. Getting into bed after I’ve warmed it. So beautiful sliding between the warm sheets, the vines growing into the crevices between the door and doorjamb. You do know it's all over, don't you? the woman says. Uselessly. All night, these voices return.



Something wants to be free in the air, in the woods, over the fields. The red blisters on my nose are sunspots. We feel incomplete and so we pose for the photo. For the Sufi, the divine is hidden but wants to be discovered. In Las Cruces I am visiting with a friend who wants me to move there. I dream that Michah is a baby growing right out of my arms and there is a woman here who is old and in severe pain. The men move her body around roughly without consideration for her condition. In the morning my friend tells me that his mother died in the room where I was sleeping. In the photo, her hair is arranged neatly in a bun. Flying over Alamagordo in a little plane, large layered mountains with no forest cover. Windy and bouncy. The mountains underneath, the sky, the desert, white sands—a plain of calcium dust.



The fields were over grazed and that’s why these woody bushes have taken hold. The only thing now is to let the cattle trample them or to carefully burn out the bushes, the ashes re-fertilizing the soil. Then the grass will grow in the stretch of land between the mountains, the fault lines stable today, the rocks, cliffs and hills of lava on the horizon. Yearning for the impossible. A man honks at me. I start up, jerking, and turn the wrong way into the coming traffic. He puts his arm around her. The sun is in the west and the moon is a little white spot on the blue background. All else continuing.



Walking to the dumpster, the leaves crunching under my feet, the peeling wood, the fallen leaf caught in the crevice. The three tenants on this compound are away at work. I stand still next to the largest cottonwood. I am starting to feel as if I belong here, like a pinecone wedged in between the rocks. But that's not what I envision beyond the present moment. The dry wind, I have heard you. After dark, I turn on the engine, but the car won't start. Left the lights on again. I climb the ridge and knock on his door. John looks out with a wedge mark in his forehead. My car won't start. His dark brown eyes. Could you give me a jump? He puts on his hunting jacket. When I turn over the engine, his big old blue Pontiac and my little Honda are facing each other.



It’s slowly getting warmer but most of the valley is parched and tangled, not a moment of stillness for a week because I’m writing maniacally as if there is somewhere to go. A thousand warbling echoes. The tire tracks cross on the road making a pattern. The sun is amazing and bright, the air bitter cold. By noon, the cold gives away and the dream dies off. I kept putting the wrong clothes on a child and she’s going on stage in a few minutes. I hear someone pounding on the door. It's John with a bag of apples. Someone gave him these. Did I want some? He is self educated, he tells me, he never managed to learn much of anything in school.



Back in a field the other side of the river, I see him practicing tai-chi, slowly, methodically, without his jacket on. It's warm this afternoon. His mother grew up on the pueblo. His father was a Polish farmer from Ohio who had a passion for Nietzsche. On the way out to the car, I look over and he waves. We didn't talk to each other much. The word goodbye is final and superior to all. What could have would have, but it's too solitary and cold here. Look what you ran out on, I'll say to myself later. I drive into town to rent a truck for tomorrow when my son will arrive and we'll pack up all these things, these books and chairs and then drive through the desert, in between the mountain ranges, across the dusty plains, so I can set up daily sociability once again in a little apartment in a duplex in the city of Tucson.






* Lines and fragments from Marguerite Duras' The Lover and Walt Whitman's "Out of the Cradle and Endlessly Rocking" are collaged into this story.

* “Little Tesuque” was originally published as part of a limited run photo-poem pamphlet. Also, the text was published in Downtown Brooklyn.