They call it Old Mesilla – the tightly settled grid of one- and two-storey adobe buildings gathered around the central plaza and its church. There is a “New Mesilla” stretching half a dozen blocks beyond this central grid until it yields to fields and mile on mile of the pecan groves waiting for water from the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which has bottled up the Rio Grande some miles north.
We have had a chance to walk these streets for the past month, listening, looking, talking to the residents and shopkeepers, getting some little feel for the century and a half of human habitation here. One street, the Calle Guadalupe, stretches the length of the old town, connecting its cemetery on the south to the plaza and the church on the north. It is a place where generations live connected to the church, the bells, the groves and fields, and family memories. I’ve tried to capture that in this extended poem as we end our stay here, perhaps with better ears for this kind of community and its struggle to maintain this chain of generations in a world of planned obsolescence and constant destruction of the old for the coming of the new.
The Calle Guadalupe ends
or yet begins
among the tombs
brothers sisters aunts and uncles
mothers and fathers
sleeping in the earth beneath
stones elegant and plain
chiseled and painted
with photographs and plastic flowers
benches for the living
waiting arms outstretched in welcome
like bare pecan trees
pleading for the waters
to be born again.
You pass along the uncurbed way
homes sheds and stores
a pig sleeping in the dry dirt
turtle doves whooing in the cottonwoods
doors in blue against the brown
Our Lady painted on a desiccated stump.
You reach the plaza
shoes clattering on bricks
children scampering in screams like sirens
giggles from the school girls
as the wind whips Sister’s wimple
and the Spanish-speaking carpenters erect
a bandstand to replace
what was there before
commemorating when Mesilla
found itself a reluctant bride
purchased from old Mexico.
You hear the churchbells motorcycles cellphones
drumbeats from a slowly passing car.
You cannot hear
the cries of murder born of greed and passion
buried in adobe walls,
of gallow judgments from a hanging judge,
the weeping of old priests.
You reach the church
signs telling women
there is help for crisis pregnancies.
You come upon a stone within the courtyard
who never walked
the Calle Guadalupe.
The undead pleading for the unborn.