Category Archives: Travel Poetry

Legend of Tonopah

A prospector awoke to find his ass
missing in the early morning shadows
of a greasewood shrouded spring
hidden in the barren outcroppings
of the high Nevada desert.

Picking up a rock too heavy to heave,
a rock with weight greater than ought
to be, a rock, if he were to pelt it, would
break his ass, he discovered the state
of Nevada’s second richest silver strike.
Tonopah, Nevada

According to local legend, Jim Butler was the prospector who made the strike about 1900. Tonopah is derived from the Shoshone language. To-nuv means greasewood and pa means water.

“Dónde está el padre de agua”

I step from a van at the edge of Taxco, Mexico, onto mountainous paths too steep to drive, onto cobblestone walks away from water falls’ din, away from thunder known by Nahuatl and Zapotec as “where the father of water is,” high in the Sierra Madre Occidental, the “Madre de las montañas” of padres and conquistadors, a silver lode raped by Spaniards, Mexican and Catalan to build Santa Prisca, Catedral de los ancestros.

Here, I marvel at silver trinkets, glistening toys in merchants’ windows, picturesque jewelry crafted by generations of artisans.

Here, I dine on corn, beans and tomatillos, roasted pig, goat cheese and newly carved fowl; here, I drink fermented juices of hillside vines, terrestrial labor of aparcero Mexicana, where incessant winds and Pacific rains erode volcanos, Vulcan gods of Aztecs, Greeks and Romans.
Taxco de Alarcón, Mexico

“Dónde está el padre de agua”: “Where the father of water is.”
“Madre de las montañas”: “Mother of mountains.”
Catedral de los ancestros: Santa Prisca (Cathedral of the Ancients).
Aparcero Mexicana: Mexican sharecropper.

When Helen and I first began traveling

     A long time ago, when my wife Helen and I first began traveling further than the grocery store we use to tell each other, “Let’s go now because someday when we aren’t able, we’ll have memories.” And I would add, “A closet full of slides and photosto help us remember.”
     It looks like that day is approaching. We were set to fly to Albuquerque on Feb. 15 and spend 10 days in the vicinity until my right hip became dysfunctional. Now it’s “further testing” and knocking down the inflamation until we find out what is wrong.
     Our focus was to be a Road Scholar week tracing the struggle of New Mexico’s conversos and Crypt-Jews. Among the sights we were scheduled to visit are Acoma Pueblo, the Cultural & Heritage Institute and Chayma’o chapel. Below are photos and poems and a paining by Helen Harris from trips in 1998 and 2007.

Child of the Desert

Dry brush crisscross desiccated

saguaro ribs bound with twisted

fibers to weathered poles. Specks

of shade in a solar sea cast

their patterned light over an infant

sleeping in a hammock gently

rocked by grandmother sitting docile

in her cobbled chair, beside a

castoff table draped with checkered

oilcloth, its tear tucked under an

                                             AM radio playing faux native

                                             music from an Anglo world

                                             across the desert, fifty miles away.

                                                        Museum of Indian Arts &

                                                        Culture, Santa Fe, NM

Sky People of a Thousand Years

for Orlando Antonio (1958-2007) Acoma Pueblo Guide


A warrior of many days,

sits on his kiva-step,

high above the desert floor.

In a voice low and worn,

he remembers climbing

with sky people of a thousand years.


When golden fire touches the west,

we People-of-the-White-Rock scale

this sandstone cliff to glittering light,

up a cleft, over boulders and scree,

ceaseless steps scoured by sandaled feet.


With vessels of medicine, water,
                                             and meal

on our heads, we climb
                                through darkness,

clutching handholds carved in rocks

         by sky people of a thousand years.


We reach for our lofty place.

Grasp the niches of time.

Pull through black to a clear day.

Rise another step,

         we sky people of a thousand years.

                                  Acoma Pueblo, NM


Interlacing description and emotion


     One workshop I’ve enrolled in this summer at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival is ‘description and emotion for all genres.’ Interlacing these without going overboard either way is tricky. It will be interesting to look back at some of my poems, such as this one, and see what improvements I can make.

     I’ve taken the first steps at setting up a Twitter account. Tweet me @dickharrispoet, with your thought on how well I’ve interlaced description and emotion in the this poem.


Boreal Matriarch

She startled me as I sped

towards the forty-ninth parallel,

a matriarch motionless

on a ribbon of grass

between the shadowy lee of boreal curtains

emerging spring and melting winter,

and a ditch choked with cattails in murky water.

Clothed in motley camouflage—

tawny, gun-smoke and brown,

tints of black on snout and tail—

she stood paramount

to the multi-wheeled menaces

speeding this wind tunnel.

A solitary life, haggard

from subzero survival, calving and suckling,

deceptively feigning slow footedness and tranquility

until angered by predators

stalking her offspring bedded in the understory,

or startled by naïve walkers crossing her path.