Generations in Mesilla

They call it Old Mesilla – the tightly settled grid of one- and two-story 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

            of ancestors

            and soldiers

            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

            for innocents

            who never walked

            the Calle Guadalupe.

The undead pleading for the unborn.

2 thoughts on “Generations in Mesilla”

  1. Thanks, Ken. I’ve updated the posting with some pictures that give you more of a visual sense of how the town prompted this poem.

  2. Again, Bill, your comments and poems both enable us Smoky Mountain people to share your stay there. We look forward to your return home. – Ken

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