There’s a special place in Nasario García’s memory – and his heart – for New Mexico’s Río Puerco Valley. It’s where the 85-year-old García grew up. And many of his beloved children’s stories are set there.
García’s new book – “Lágrimas: Poems of Joy and Sorrow” – is an ode to the rural valley southeast of Chaco Canyon.
The collection of compact, enticing, prose-like poems, in Spanish and English, takes the reader back to a long-ago world. The subjects of “Lágrimas” include the land, the sky, religious celebrations and especially the people as García remembered them. García was raised in the village of Ojo del Padre (Guadalupe).
In fact, one poem, titled “Ojo del Padre,” is a tribute, and at the same time, a lament to the village: “Today we leave you,/not for lack of love/but fearful/that tomorrow/we may not have/enough to eat.” In the next stanza García mournfully explains the possibility of starvation by drought: “The cornfields/are tired/of begging for rain./What will we harvest?/How will we live?”
What prompted him to write this book of poetry? The initial prompt goes back decades, after García had received a B.A. and an M.A. at the University of New Mexico. He and his wife went to Spain where García did a year of doctoral work at the University of Granada.
“Granada was sort of a hot bed of (famed writer Federico) García Lorca and the city vibrated with his poetry; it was simple yet complicated. The language reminded me of the (Spanish) my elders spoke. There was that affinity and poetic inspiration of Lorca, and other poets later on,” García said in a phone interview from his Santa Fe home.
Actually, García explained, the Spanish of his elders was a mix of sources – medieval Spanish, the Spanish and Nahuatl of Mexico, Anglicisms and “a number of expressions you don’t see outside my valley. The people ingeniously invented phrases,” he said.
García gave an example of a phrase that he said either came from Mexico or originated in the valley. The phrase is at the very beginning of the fourth stanza of the poem “Tio Filiberto:” ” ‘¡Qué catos/ni catos!’ interrumpió/ la esposa de Filiberto toda enfadada./’Es lo que saca/por andar de pelagatos.’ ”
The phrase in question is “Qué catos/ni catos!”
On the next page is the stanza’s translation: “‘Don’t bring me that!’ Filiberto’s angry wife interrupted. ‘That’s what he gets for being such a nobody.’ ”
Another poem, “A Great Cowboy,” pays homage to a man named Sergio Tenorio.
The poem declares that there was no better horseman than Tenorio in the valley, not in its forests, nor in its ravines. García writes that Tenorio could rope, brand and earmark calves so proficiently that no one could outdo him.
By contrast, the poem “Iscariote” is about a fellow named Josefate from the village of La Jara. His nickname was Iscariote, which in the valley meant a shabbily dressed person. Another descriptive phrase in the same poem described Josefate as dressing al troche-moche. In the valley it means, García said, something done helter-skelter. It’s a variation of al trochi-mochi.
García wrote the poems of “Lágrimas,” or tears, three years ago at the rate of about one a day. Writing and editing the poems, he said, was easier for him than the longer process of writing and editing stories or his memoir “Hoe, Heaven, and Hell: My Boyhood in Rural New Mexico.” García is also a well-regarded folklorist, educator and linguist.
Among his other books are those on Hispanic humor, and tales of witchcraft and the supernatural from various parts of northern New Mexico.
The Historical Society of New Mexico bestowed on García its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
“Lágrimas: Poems of Joy and Sorrow”