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Más Cerca: In search of the authentic

June 17, 2014, 12:00 am

The poet Greg Glazner founded the creative writing program at the College of Santa Fe. When the college collapsed, he was forced to move on. He now teaches at the University of California, Davis, and in the Pacific Lutheran Low-Residency MFA program. The poem “Fin de la Fiesta” is from Glazner’s first book, From the Iron Chair, which won the Walt Whitman Award, judged by Charles Wright, who, incidentally, was just appointed United States’ poet laureate.

FIN DE LA FIESTA

Los Conquistadores, Horseback, The Burning of Zozobra, Streetdance, Sea of Trinkets, Coronation, Procession,
Candlelight, Choir

At the duskfallen end of it, there were graces.
Downhill, the mock-adobe storefronts faded
and finally darkened, the glittering
misery of traffic eased a little,
and the torchbearer stooped at the switchback,
his lips tensed to hold his cigarette. He must have
paused to let the falseness leave him,
pressing the torchhead to a stack of pine,
his arm against the waist-high fire
shined with sweat, his eyelids gold.
There was a choir behind us, high-pitched
in their sentimental verses, but the surrender
in their voices, the amateurish earnestness
and the firelight on the path were undeniable.

In the dark we could hear the torchbearer
rasping as he climbed, slouching and lighting up
entirely, and shuffling on, half-silhouette again.
Then he was gone, and his luminarias
were set adrift in the lateness.
In the distance San Miguel, the mission
of the pueblo slaves, was muted to a black
relief in hotel lights, and music
from a bell choir somewhere floated
through the murmuring, the small, habitual bitternesses,
houses downhill lit before the news, the adlight rolling
like a sea-blue love of sleep across the fixtures.

But in the dark wash of the air, there were voices,
clerestory windows, the shadowy gathering of faces
stripped of everything but the need
to send up lights and sing. The towers
full of tolling at the end of mass, the street,
the first ranks of celebrants. It wasn’t history
they entered, their candles, hundreds,
rippling toward us. It wasn’t force
or crucifix or greed between the federal offices
and the trinket shops stripped down to their little
eyes of incandescence. Such a flickering progression
in the blankness. Faceless. The flames a current there.

At the atonal confluence where we waited, bell choir
and mariachis, whispers, mas cerca mi hita,
closer. Listen. He was gone, with his gold
eyes and his branch flame. Just the disembodied hands
and for their moments, bodies sidelit on the path
as if they passed through islands of original light.
There were graces. The young flashing through
the rich senselessness, so many ascensions,
cupped candles, palms flickering,
woodsmoke, breath. The vacuum.
Each face flushed brilliantly against it. Then not.

“Fin de la Fiesta” is a poem that seeks the authentic in an event, the Fiesta de Santa Fe, that sometimes struggles with authenticity, an event with its roots in conquest and branches in commerce. It might be easy to dismiss or embrace the event entirely, but one of the poet’s jobs is to complicate tone, to explore the full complexity of experience. What I love about Glazner’s poem is the lush language, the firm sense of what a line of poetry is—that complex melding of music and meaning—and the way the speaker navigates the impulse to judge and the impulse to praise.

The tone is complex. The speaker is clearly wrestling with his own judgments leveled at commerce, history’s bloodletting and a certain blind religiosity. Thus we get the poet weighing the “falseness” of “mock adobe,” “sentimental verses,” “hotel lights,” “trinket shops,” the television’s “adlight,” and the “federal offices” against the “graces” of “surrender,” “earnestness,” the “bell choir” and the simple “need to send up lights and sing.”

The poet judges but does not finally condemn. The poet Randall Jarrell, once wrote, “I identify myself, as always, / with something that there’s something wrong with, / with something human.”

“Fin de la Fiesta” acknowledges the wrongs (foremost among them, “the pueblo slaves”), but tracks the speaker as he lets go of everything that divides him from the experience until he can see the kernel of goodness. At the close, Glazner replaces the opening catalog of public events—“Los Conquistadores, Horseback, The Burning of Zozobra…”—with another catalog of intimate events: “ascensions, / cupped candles, palms flickering, / woodsmoke, breath.”

What makes poets important is partly this reluctance to participate fully until they have found a way to balance the authentic against the inauthentic. In “Fin de la Fiesta” we’re led by speech into speechlessness, brought to the end of reasoning, of judgment and the distance that judgment brings. In the final image, the “fiesta” is life itself, the “fin” enlarged to the final “fin” we all face. Our ephemerality as creatures is the poem’s true subject and what calls us together, calls us “más cerca.” The poem ends on an image of this ephemerality: “The vacuum. / Each face flushed brilliantly against it. Then not.”

Jon Davis is poet laureate for the city of Santa Fe and a teacher at the Institute for American Indian Arts.

 

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