Monday, August 11, 2014

Poet in New Mexico, Levi Romero

Xanath Caraza

“…that year I had risen out of the ranks of the “D-group” students

the ones bound for prison and/or a life lived

and terminated before the age of thirty

the ones who spoke the Spanish of their grandparents

as a first language

with accents thick and soft and musky

as the upturned earth rolling off

their grandfather's horse drawn plows”

excerpt, High School English



Levi Romero Sows Crops


This is Dixon, N.M. – Levi’shome.  It was his home as a small child living with abuelos y tíos. It was his home as a lowriding teenager, even when he lived in Albuquerque attending Menaul School.  It was still his home when he studied at UNM, or now, when he teaches there. You can go home again, he’ll say, but it can be a hard road.

Levi earned architecture degrees at UNM – a bachelor’s in 1994 and master’s in 2000.  Funded by UNM Center for Regional Studies, he is now a visiting research scholar in the UNM School of Architecture and Planning.  Designing buildings isn’t much a part of his life any more. He’s more interested in the structure of stories, the building blocks of memory and preserving the cultural landscape through people in New Mexico.

Levi’s family has been in the Embudo River Valley since the 1600s.  “My grandparents never had to wonder about identity. They never asked, ‘Are we Hispanos? Chicanos? Mexicanos?’  Nobody asked them if they were from here. Everyone was from here until the 1960s,” Levi said.

The longstanding families who raised corn, chile, radishes, onions, carrots and peas, soon found a crop of newcomers – trust fund babies who had their eyes on the land.

The etiquette on the narrow road has always been for one car or the other to pull to the side to let the other pass, depending upon which had a better place to pull off.  “Now the young people are in a hurry.  They aren’t polite.  They don’t acknowledge when someone pulls over to let them pass,” he said.  They don’t want just to get by.  They want to get away.

Young people have moved away and fields abandoned. “I always came back to work the land except when I was in grad school. Then the Chinese elms took over the fields. There were never weeds when my grandfather Don Silviares lived here,” he said. Don Silviares was legendary for his trade route and his produce – everything from apples to chile – that he hauled along his route from Embudo to Ratón and Cimarron to Dawson. Levi wrote a story about his grandfather, El Verdolero, the vegetable vendor.

There’s No Place like Home


Levi talks about the two-room adobe and plaster home his grandfather built. “They brought the vigas in from the sierras.  In the ‘40s he pitched the roof with corrugated metal.  It’s the last, continuously inhabited house in the area without plumbing,” Levi said.

The kitchen features a wood burning stove.  “It’s not the original, but it’s similar to the one my grandmother had,” Levi said.  The room also sports a more modern 1950’s stove and refrigerator. The kitchen cabinets are old trasteros; one features a flour bin from which many a tortilla had its start. On the wall is a mirror with the silvering wearing off. “Imagine the many souls reflected in that mirror,” Levi said, asking me to look into it, afterwards adding that mine is now among them.

The walls were crude, Levi said, and the kitchen was pink, and the other room green. “I wondered about a pink kitchen, but then my aunt told me that at one time she had the stove moved from one room to the other, completely changing the function of each room. That’s interesting to me architecturally – how the spaces were used and how their function could be changed so efficiently,” he said.

Levi points to windows that offer up potted geraniums to the sun. “From the windowsills you can see that the walls are 23 inches thick and that the windows have tapered openings to maximize the sunlight streaming in,” he said.  “My grandmother always had geraniums in coffee cans in the window.  I have memories of them. It’s where the story starts.  I reach back and recall family, community and place,” he said.

One room blooms with floral wallpaper.  He thought about taking it off and restoring the walls. “If I take it down, my memories go with it. So many memories – names of people and things that happened – are triggered by looking at those walls,” he said.  Writing in Spanish, he said, helps preserve the memories, too.

He debated with his wife about whether or not to install electricity or plumbing.  Ultimately, they decided to install electricity, but they incurred a much greater cost by running the wiring underground so that electrical lines wouldn’t be visible.

Levi the Poet


Levi’s first collection of poetry, “In the Gathering of Silence,” West End Press, published in 1996 features, “Woodstove of My Childhood,” an epic poem based on personal and communal histories.  His latest collection, “A Poetry of Remembrance: New and Rejected Works,” with UNM Press in Dec. 2008, sold out within a month of its official publication, which is unheard of in regional Chicano poetry.

Levi drinks from the memory well the house in Dixon serves.  He recalls his grandmother playing harmonica while hummingbirds poked their beaks into hollyhocks.

Although he was always at home in Dixon, he didn’t always live there.  As was common in Northern New Mexico, many families sent their children to Menaul School in Albuquerque.  “The Presbyterians were a big influence in places like Dixon, Mora, Holman.  It was a tradition for many families to send their children to school there, until the school no longer offered a sliding scale for tuition,” Levi said.

Levi was a successful student at Menaul and he was offered a scholarship to any New Mexico college.  “I hated school and told them to give it to someone who wants to go,” he recalled.

“No one modeled college for me.  My cousins hadn’t gone to college – they’d worked trades or in the mines,” he said.  Also, his father died when he was 14 and his mother bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis.  “I felt like I had to stay close to home. I wanted to come back to Dixon,” he said.

He’d seen the trust funders living as artists, sculptors and musicians while raising some crops.  He thought he’d like to become an artist and then live off the land as his grandfather did.  He learned that designer Bryan Waldrip needed some drafting help. Levi had no experience, but Waldrip took him on.

“It took more time to train me than he had time for so he suggested I enroll in the community college drafting program in Española. At the end of the first term I went back to work for him. He was also a painter, an artist. We drew and drafted all day and all night,” Levi said.

Levi’s job was to go into the studio early and fire up the wood stove. “He invited me with him to Taos each week where he attended figure drawing courses, which mostly means drawing naked women.  My lowrider friends thought that was pretty cool, but it really was all about drawing the forms, the same as if I were drawing this bottle,” he said.

He also realized that he had grown through the world of art and architecture, being surrounded by Waldrip’s labor and library.  He told Waldrip he was leaving for San Diego, but since he’d threatened to move many times, Waldrip didn’t believe him.  He learned that Waldrip told others that Levi would be fine because “he could get a job as a draftsman anywhere.”

Building a Future

In 1983, Levi’s plan was to go to Albuquerque and save enough money to go to San Diego.  He laughs. “It’s 2009 and I’m still not there. Nobody goes to Albuquerque to save money.  You make just enough to get by,” he said.

The architectural firms in Albuquerque didn’t have shelves lined with art books, cats in the window and the work wasn’t in beautiful passive solar design as it had been with Waldrip.  A few years later he decided, if he wanted to get back to that, he had to go to college.

The UNM architecture program was difficult and demanding.  Poetry writing, an outlet in his youth, continued to be a passion.  “I’d been writing poetry, but there was no poetry scene yet.  Until Jimmy Santiago Baca came along, poetry by young Chicanos had no audience,” he said.

Poetry and writing, activities that had always been a sideline to architecture, began to grow in prominence in his life.  Soon, following undergraduate school, and a couple of classes short of a minor in Creative Writing, he wasn’t just writing, but teaching workshops for literary organizations, detention centers and youth mentoring programs.”

He’s also taught in the UNM creative writing program in the English Department.  As part of his class, Writers in the Community/Schools, his students have also taken their teaching on the road facilitating semester long workshops at detention centers, charter schools, homeless shelters, senior nursing homes and in the Albuquerque Public Schools.  “I am able to get past the veils and obstacles put up by students who don’t feel comfortable in an academic setting because I used to feel like them,” he said.  He also developed a spoken word class where the students delved into Native American storytelling, cuentos, dichos and slam poetry.

Following his time in the English Department he came home again – to the School of Architecture and Planning – where he is a visiting research scholar.

He also assists in the Design Planning Assistance Center studio and has worked on various New Mexico community studio design projects, including a design for a field studio and community center based in the old Sala Filantropica dancehall in Dixon/Embudo.  This spring, Levi worked with students on a MainStreet project in Deming, N.M.  His role was to elicit the dreams and ideas from the town’s Hispanic community since they were unlikely to attend the charrettes to share their thoughts and memories.  Those stories were then shared with the students who incorporated those ideas in the designs for everything from streetscapes, youth community centers, to skate parks in the town of the legendary Duck Races.

He is currently exploring the histories and stories of the people in northern New Mexico along the high road to Taos and beyond.  He looks at acequias, salas, molinos and gardens, nuestra gente and all that represents the life and people of the region. “I’m doing some cultural cruisin’.  It’s not about kicking back, but about the important work that needs to be done. If we don’t gather these stories now, they will be gone forever. “Places, stories and history will be recognized as invaluable informants to architecture study in the future.  It will, ultimately, become part of the curriculum,” he said.

He’s laying some new groundwork on well-travelled roads.

Story by Carolyn Gonzales

Levi Romero’s work focuses on cultural landscapes studies and sustainable building methodologies of northern New Mexico, including centuries-old traditions of acequia systems, molinos, salas and other agrarian and cultural contexts related to the upper Rio Grande watershed. His documentary work is often presented through an interdisciplinary studies format that includes lecture, video/audio, and literary presentation. Romero’s latest book publication, Sagrado: APhotopoetics Across the Chicano Homeland, (co-authored with Spencer Herrera and Robert Kaiser) has just been published by UNM Press. His two collections of poetry are A Poetry of Remembrance: Newand Rejected Works and  In the Gathering of Silence. He was awarded the post of New Mexico Centennial Poet Laureate in 2012. He teaches in the Chicana/o Studies and Community and Regional Planning programs at the University of New Mexico.



            how can I tell you

            baby, oh honey, you'll

            never know the ride

            the ride of a lowered Chevy

            slithering through the

            blue dotted night along

            Riverside Drive Española


            poetry rides the wings

            of a '59 Impala

            yes, it does

            and it points

            chrome antennae towards


            'Burque stations rocking

            oldies Van Morrison

            brown eyed girls

            Creedence and a

            bad moon rising

            over Chimayo


            and I guess

            it also rides

            on muddy Subaru's

            tuned into new-age radio

            on the frigid road

            to Taos on weekend

            ski trips


            yes, baby

            you and I are two

            kinds of wheels

            on the same road


            listen, listen

            to the lonesome humming

            of the tracks we leave




aquí estoy sentado

en una silleta coja y desplumada

recordando aquellas amanecidas

cuando nos fuimos grandes y altos


en aquel tiempo que nos encontrabanos

sin pena ninguna

cuando la vida pa nosotros

apenas comienzaba y la tarea

era larga y llena de curiosidades


entretenidos siempre con

aquel oficio maldito

un traguito para celebrar la vida

y otro para disponer la muerte


ayer bajo las sombras

de los gavilanes que vuelavan

con sus alas estiradas

como crucitas negras

encontra del sol

pense en ti

tú que también fuites

gavilan pollero


con una locura verdadera

y aquella travesura sin fin

hoy como ayer

tus chistes relumbrosos

illuminando estas madrugadas solitarias

que a veces nos encuentran medios norteados

y con las alas caidas


tal como esos polleros

tirando el ojo por el cerrito de La Cuerda

así también seguiremos rodeando, carnal

carnal de mano

y de palabra

amistad que nació

en aquel amanecer eterno


y si no nos topamos

en esta vuelta

pues entonces, compa

pueda que en la otra



  en memoria de un gavilan: Rudy “Sunny” Sanchez

Of Dust and Bone


do I hear

‘mano Anastactio’s

muddy mystic drawl


coming over brain waves

fuzzy as AM Radio

nights   long time ago


when we slept outdoors

in the humming



sharing 32 oz. bottles

of soda pop

and bags of chili chips


and strumming broom guitars

to Band on the Run

with our transistor radios

tuned in to



seventh grade crushes

and teasing howls

in the mooing cow dusk

and hopping toad yards

lit in golden orange


adobe dust

on my brow

and burning, yearning

learning, love exploding

from my heart


like bottle rockets

on the starry spangled

Fourth of July


where are you lain

little dipper dreamers

who once stirred

under granma’s homemade

blankets in the dewy breath

of early morn


when grandfathers

with shovels slung

across their shoulders

headed for the ditchbanks

to open up their




oh, July apple

suckling summer with

the sweet and bitter taste

of wisdom’s tears trickling

down your pink mountain slopes


I see you

I feel you

I hear you




to be born again


oh, father’s graves

with splintered crosses

swaying skyline bare

under a November



whose resurrection burneth

through the flaming hearts

of your displaced



and from snowflake

whiskered men

mumbling broken mouthed

forgotten ancient prayer

of dust and bone


in the plaza

where rainbow haloed angels

crowned with a wreath

of wild country flowers

blow their groggy



I hear you


yes, I hear you ‘mano Anastacio


I hear you cawing

like a lone crow

in the pines

          Molino Abandonado

sopla viento, sopla más

y la paja volará

hay preparado el banquete

pa’ todo el que vaya entrando


sopla viento, sopla más

y la paja volará

hay preparado el banquete

pa’ todo el que vaya entrando


            la historia

            de un pueblo


            hecha polvo


            ¿ qué pasó aquí,

            qué es esto?


            ¿ en dónde está la sabiduría

            granma, granpa ?


            ya no quedan ni míajas

            ni tansiquiera una tortilla dura


            ¿ el sonido esta tarde?


            una Harley retumbando por la plaza

            ¿ y con eso seponemos de quedar contentos?


sopla viento, sopla más

y la paja volará

hay preparado el banquete

pa’ todo el que vaya entrando


sopla viento, sopla más

y la paja volará

hay preparado el banquete

pa’ todo el que vaya entrando


            aquel molino

            en un tiempo con su rueda en el agua

            ahora, se usa de dispensa


            ¡ay, hasta miedo me da

            arrimarme a este pueblo!

            las lenguas como flechas

            apuntadas y venenosas


            somos hijos de los hijos

            de hombres en aquel antepasado

            que se trataban como hermanos

            ayudándose unos a los otros

            al estilo mano a mano


sopla viento, sopla más

y la paja volará

ay preparado el banquete

pa’ todo el que vaya entrando


sopla viento, sopla más

y la paja volaráa

hay preparado el banquete

pa’ todo el que vaya entrando


            ¿ qué pasó aquí,

            qué es esto?


            ¿ qué no te conozco,

            de qué familia eres?


            ! o, pues, yo y tu abuelo anduvimos juntos

            en la borrega en Colorado

            y en el betabel en Wyoming!


            nos conocemos bien

            sin saber quién semos


            esta tarde, aquí


            el maíz bailando

            seco en el viento


            y el pueblo sin molino


sopla viento, sopla más

y la paja volará

hay preparado el banquete

pa’todo el que vaya entrando


sopla viento, sopla más

y la paja volará

hay preparado el banquete

pa’ todo el que vaya entrando


I Breathe the Cottonwood


I take the sage brush scent in

The folding hills

The heat of the asphalt

Twenty-seven minutes past noon


Past the historic marker

And the twisted metal road sign

The yellow apple dotted orchards

The alfalfa  


I take it all in


For you my brothers

And sisters

Lying on rubber mattresses

In your jail pods

Finger-nailing the names  

Of your loved ones

On styrofoam cups


The cactus flower puckers

Its sweet magnolia lips

For you today

Its prickly arms stretching

Up toward the clouds and the sky


Las mesas, los arroyitos, los barrancos

El Río Grande

La urraca, el cuervo

The cigarette butt pinched

And yellowed, the crunched

Beer cans on the roadside


I take it all in


Past the presa and the remanse

The swimming hole

Where you frolicked in the water

With your first crush

Her hair wet and pasted

Against the slant of her forehead

Her bare shoulders glistening

con l’agua bendita


Throughout the Genizaro valle

Las milpas de maíz

Are lined in processions

Their powdery tassels

Swaying back and forth

Like pueblo feast day dancers


Atrás, adelante, atrás, adelante

Heya, heya, heya, ha


Past the ancient flat roofed houses

Like loaves of bread and their

Backyard hornos with their black

Toothless mouths yawning

The acequias’ lazy gurgle

The tortolita’s midafternoon murmur

The cleansing cota flower

Los chapulines, las chicharras

El garambullo, el capulín


For you, my brothers and sisters

The willow, the mud puddles

Reflecting brown the earth’s skin


I take it all in


Years after my father died


and his body was lain into the earth

his garden continued to yield vegetables

radishes and carrots burrowed into the dark

moist dirt and the onion stalks stood straight

as the soldiers standing for the 21 gun salute


yesterday morning crickets purred

under the shade of the last broad

green leafed plant in the yard

while insects flicked under a canopy

 of morning glories


last time I saw you

we spoke of conflict

and that all endings

must have resolution


this afternoon I long

for the voice of the

red breasted robin


I yearn for the slow sinking rhythm

of a long summer evening

and good conversation


a thin thread of web glistens

in the crook of the plum tree

I am accompanied only

by the caw and swooping flight

of the crow across the afternoon sky


the sunflowers in the meadow

are crowned with halos of petals

browned and golden in the haze

of autumn sunlight


crouched  and looking

like old men

with wrinkled faces


their reach toward the sun


frozen in a final grasp

toward warmth and light




it is when you are not here


that I can feel

your presence most


when your presence lingers

and I am bent

like a branch

after seasons

of wind


I love how you hold me

my heart threshed

by the years

how you hold me up

from the weight

of all the years


your absence radiates

like the pungent heat

of a season turning

it radiates, it lingers

pungent and delicate as

crabapple blossoms


I love how you hold me

when you are not here

my heart threshed

by the seasons

the years 


Levi Romero

Levi Romero, New Mexico Centennial Poet in 2012, is the author of Sagrado: A Photopoetics Across the Chicano Homeland, UNM Press, A Poetry of Remembrance: New and Rejected Works, UNM Press, and In the Gathering of Silence, West End Press. He is from the Embudo Valley of northern New Mexico. Romero is a bilingual poet whose language is immersed in the regional manito dialect of northern New Mexico with its 17th century archaisms and melodic registers. His work has been published throughout the United States, Mexico, Spain, and Cuba. Romero's writing is a narrative tapestry of formal poetics woven through a palette of Nuevomexicano colloquialisms and the poetic richness of vernacular language. His poem, “De donde yo soy,” was published by Scholastic as part of a nationwide educational project and his radio interview by Taos journalist Tania Casselle won several regional and national press awards. “A Poetry of Remembrance” was a finalist in the Texas League of Writers’ Book Awards and listed as a Best Books of the Southwest, Arizona. He teaches in the Chicana and Chicano Studies program at the University of New Mexico.   

In Other News

In El Segundo Festival Internacional de Poesía de Occidente in El Salvador I will participate.  What an honor!


1 comment:

Marilyn MaC said...

07/25/15 HI! My name is Marilyn MaC
I got into internet world, just now, trying to find a Poetry Group in or close to Dixon NM;
an area that will become my home in a week. Poetry, writing, art is a big chunk of who I am.
So, after some years of wandering in the desert, I'm looking forward to a space of
reconnecting with my roots.
I'm not really sure how putting a message here will work, or who it connects with, but
it's worth a try.
I'm moving there to teach in the area.

Sincerely, Marilyn MaC