The Sunday Poem: Richard Oyama... What Is Richard Doing In Albuquerque?

Do your friends far away ever wonder why you are living in Albuquerque? It is hard to explain to an outsider. This poem will make you smile as your head moves up, down, and sideways. It probably won't help your friends much.

Born in New York City, Oyama has a Master's degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. He lives in NE Albuquerque.

Authors Note: In September 2009, at the invitation of Bob Holman, I read at the HOWL Festival in Tompkins Square Park. This is an answer poem to my NYC friends Fay Chiang and Holman who posed the title question about this expatriated New Yorker.

What is Richard Doing in Albuquerque?

Because red or green is the question
Because the Sandias wreathed in smoke appear & disappear
Because the black-thick skies open like a flower & rain buckets fissures of lightning that is Lear’s storm in a spontaneous noon at midnight
Because Frontier is not Kerouac’s “lands-end sadness” but a restaurant with portraits of John Wayne not “ironic”
Because everyone says Where you at? not only the hipsters
Because sopaipillas are doughy pillows drizzled in honey
Because New Mexicans love their guns’ heft
Because a professor emeritus of engineering says universal health care is Socialistic
Because the sun is a hammer of god
Because Polly talks about a good rain & living in it
Because it’s as handy as hip pockets on a hog
Because the Westside trails off into nothing & tumbleweed bolls blow along the road
Because 11 women & a fetus are buried on the West Mesa
Because vapor trails of Kirtland’s fighter jets are a lesion in the sky-brain
Because Latinos refer to themselves as Spanish or Hispanic & despise the word Chicano
Because liberal cant is never assumed
Because it appeals to the secret cowboy in me
Because you see frozen clouds clear stars & a moonrise more fulsome than the beard of Ansel Adams
Because you see Indians queue up at Walgreens liquor dept. at 8 a.m.
Because my bloodline travels from Mongolia hops the Orient Express & walks the land bridge across the Bering Strait to the Southwest
Because a Navajo student said Why do we have to come from somewhere else? Their creation stories emergence from other worlds
Because Burque’s as neon-bright & kitschy as Los Angeles in the ‘50s
Because you’re copper-colored in Canyon de Chelly’s dawn light
Because Madrid is a strip mining town cum hippie paradise
Because I saw a white horse trot down the main street of Cerrillos & a ghost slide behind the local bar’s blurred windows & because the saint’s hands formed a steeple
Because descansos grace the roadside where the drunks are haunted by their dead
Because Chimayo’s side chapel has a pit of tierra bendita where parishioners scoop the holy dirt offer wooden crutches & the town is glasseyed on heroin
Because at 6 a.m. I listen to the Goldberg Variations with no whatsoever ambient noise
Because my students include an exotic dancer a dominatrix & a San Diego gangbanger
Because Sundown recites Diné naming stories & plays the Moonlight Sonata
Because Early-Ray speaks with the oratorical cadences of Frederick Douglass

Because George said Seeing a girl spit’ll make your dick go soft in a second
Because Steve paints portraits of all the dogs in the park
Because Neil claims his mother has worms in her brain
Because George said Rufus just opened up a can of whupass
Because Craig said George is a sick puppy
Because Texans know every obscene nuance of the language
Because New York is the Empire of Pain
Because San Franciscans love themselves too deeply
Because New Mexico is Paraguay
Because it’s the center of nothing
Because nowhere is the center
Because it’s a heartbreaking hurt

--Richard Oyama

Photo courtesy of Nina Fonoroff.

Poetry submissions are welcome. Email The whole Sunday Poem series is available from the front page of the DCF by clicking on The DitchRider in the left-hand sidebar. Poems early in the series are archived under "previous post" at the bottom of The DitchRider blog.

Views: 205

Comment by Margaret Randall on January 31, 2010 at 8:19am
As a former New Yorker who also found my way to New Mexico, this poem was an arrow to the heart. Some of your "reasons" are also mine, some aren't, but I recognized almost every image and felt at home. Thank you, Richard.
Comment by cathyray on January 31, 2010 at 8:51am
Comment by Barelas Babe on January 31, 2010 at 10:02am
Richard - I nodded my way through each line of your poem - you've captured our city in so many ways. I am now contemplating printing this out and posting it on my office door in Washington DC. My colleagues may still be baffled about why I continue to live in Albuquerque, but your poem will give us a richer starting point for conversation. Gracias. Oh, and do you teach during the summer? I want to take a class too!
Comment by Adelita on January 31, 2010 at 10:32am
Wow. This is so wonderful. Thank you.
Comment by Sandia Shirts on January 31, 2010 at 12:38pm
Gotta love NM
Comment by Georgia Santa-Maria on January 31, 2010 at 3:01pm
Terriffic, and true. Thanks for the beautiful images.
Comment by bonnie on January 31, 2010 at 4:21pm
Amazing. Do we have a state poem yet?
Comment by Richard Read Oyama on January 31, 2010 at 8:51pm
Thank you all. I've stopped teaching. . .
Comment by Merimee Moffitt on February 7, 2010 at 7:09pm
Damn, Richard, You ARE a cowboy Well, now--I think maybe I can survive another day and write again--things were getting dicey here on my too lazy weekend--you just reminded me what funny is and damned fine--never thought I could possibly tolerate so many "becauses" but you SHOWED ME! I can't leave either, ever Thanks so much for this classy piece --you even managed to get Kerouac in. I am soooo impressed--writer's envy


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