The Sunday Poem: Jim Sagel . . . Mayordomo



the mayordomo parks his 58 Dodge pickup
with the battered barandal and the caved-in door
in the center of the camino
     jellies through the barbed wire fence
snagging a rip in the back of his ancient leva
and walks up with his eternal mud-packed shovel
     slung over his shoulder
trailed by his arthritic German Shepherd
and I know I'm in for a two-hour recitation
of the unabridged oral history of the Salazar Ditch
complete with the flood of 29 and the drought of 48
along with a half-dozen chistes about his latest
     rendezvous with the viuda María
and the inevitable condemnation of the lazy sonofabitch
muchachos de hoy en día who won't even touch a pala
     for fifteen bucks a day anymore
the mayordomo gestures and gesticulates the hours away
with his dedo mocho
     the stub of a right index finger
sacrificed decades ago to a band saw
while his shaggy cejas dance over his watery eyes
and he reaches for the petrified wad of Juicy Fruit gum
stuck over the bill of his grease-stained cachucha
     and though the sun has sizzled into shadows
and I've spent the entire afternoon simply nodding my
I finally pay my acequia fee
content the ritual has been accomplished

warm winds can stir in the cottonwoods again
history remains intact
the compuertas will soon be flooding open

Jim Sagel (1947-1998)

"Jim Sagel was a young teacher in the public schools when he met the young weaver Teresa Archuleta, soon to become his wife. As a condition of their marriage Sagel agreed to live in the family household, in the midst of a century-long tradition of storytellers and artisans.

"He honed his Spanish to the point that his collection of stories Tunomas, Honey won the Casa de las Americas prize in 1981.

"Author of five story collections and a volume of collected poems, Sagel died tragically in 1998." (from  West End Press)

Our own cleaning of Las Acequias here where I live was Saturday. It seems suitable to use Jim's "Mayordomo" poem as a timely tribute to him, his life cut short at age 50, and to the hope we all have in the renewed flowing of irrigation water this Spring in New Mexico.

Sunday March 23rd at 3PM in Placitas the 10th year of the Duende Poetry Series begins with a giant double-barreled splash: Georgia Santa Maria and Zachary Kluckman and it's free. Come out and join us in the live poetry celebration at Anasazi Fields Winery.

Send submissions to The Sunday Poem to or to Thanks to all and Happy Productive Spring! Larry Goodell

Views: 405

Comment by Margaret Randall on March 23, 2014 at 6:53am

What a welcome surprise to find this gritty and great poem by Jim Sagel on the DitchRider this morning! Jim wrote Spanglish as only a gringo fully immersed in northern New Mexican culture could. His poems and stories are a solid part of our unique landscape. He was also the sweetest human being you'd ever want to know, making his suicide all the more tragic. Thank you, Larry, for reminding us of the power of his words, and for adding that wonderful photo (by Lenore?) of the acequia . . .

Comment by larry goodell on March 23, 2014 at 7:28am

Hi Margaret and thank you. The photo I took is of the ditch just above our house, what our fruit trees and gardens (if any) depend on . . . last summer was bleak with only 2 days of real irrigation from las acequias de Placitas. . . Jim Sagel and Cipriano Vigil did poetry and music at the Living Batch in 1990, a wonderful program I fortunately recorded (duende spinoff # 6).  Jim's death cut a lot of us to the core . . . 

Comment by larry goodell on March 23, 2014 at 9:38am

Richard Kallweit wrote: "Never knew Jim.The one mayordomo I got to know was Jocko (Unale) whose homemade wine always got me wasted; I suspect from adulterating it with grain alcohol or vodka."

Comment by Dee Cohen on March 24, 2014 at 5:50am

Great poem. Thank you.

Comment by Sí Serrano on March 24, 2014 at 2:25pm

Mr. Sagel was my creative writing teacher at Espanola Valley, I truely adored him and still have my journals with his notes.  He also dedicated "Dancing to Pay the Light Bills" to my Grandma Agueda who taught me to weave, she could always be found dancing on the loom.  What a wonderful surprise to see this post. RIP to two of my favorite teachers. Love you both always.

Comment by cc on March 25, 2014 at 9:33pm

Great poem, thanks for sharing it.


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