Art & Lit: Arte de Descartes,Villalobos, Nichols, Merimee Moffitt

By: Bill Whaley
8 September, 2016

Visualists and Litterateurs

Between teaching my course on technical writing to undergraduates at UNM-Taos and responding to KCEC predatory “motions,” aimed at plucking more money from Coop members, I recently stumbled into a number of art events and literary temptations. Though I highly recommend all of the above-named for your perusal, I have to complete reading these new books by authors who are nearly upon us. First, the show of community shows this fall.

Arte de Descartes

One of the highlights of the fall season’s collective community shows, will prove to be, I’m certain, the Arte de Descartes’ survey of artists working out the angst of American Waste or “Save a Landfill” (near you) which closes at the Stables on Sept. 10. Organizer Melissa Larson of “Wholly Rags” has continued to nurture her child into an echelon of elevated whimsy and humor. The remarkable sculptures, made from found and/or painted and pounded objects, both used and abused by humans, display the jewels of your average backyard or mechanic’s shop. Sculptors at Descartes turn the tragic reminders of the earth’s anthropocentric apocalypse into twisted laughter and comment lightly on the fringe residue of social malaise. Descartes’s low-key quirkiness will make for an interesting contrast with the Paseo’s extravaganza of techno contempo claims on the sensational.

Among others Eric Currier, who has made a career our of reclaiming clipped paper parts from across the world, shows up to focus attention on the lost names and persons of color. Debra Villalobos continues to turn (used) tea bags into dolls with aging faces symbolized by run-down watches. (You can also see Villalobos’s unique collages and cards at the Taos Artist’s Collective in a current show at the gallery next to Michael McCormick’s). My favorite piece at Descartes won “First Place,” David Rigsby’s “The Incredible Eclectic Electric Tin Meter Man.” Rigsby piece perfectly represents what I consider the “hydra-headed monster” at the Coop, which due to diversification, mismanagement, and exploitation has become the bane of members. I urge my fellow interveners and Coop members to view Arte de Descartes today and tomorrow before the show closes.

Nichols Goes Fishing

From William Butler Yeats comes The Circus Animals’ Desertion,” which culminates “In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart,” a line that pops into my memory whenever I think about John.

On Sept. 10, from 4 to 6 pm, see Taos’s favorite stand-up comedian read and sign at Rick Smith’s Brodsky Bookshop, The Annual Big Arsenic Fishing Contest! UNM Press sent “Arsenic” to the wrong address so I just received the forwarded copy last night and opened it up this morning. Here is the narrator at the “tenth duel” in 1992 with his buddies, Bubba and Yuri.

The fisherman writes, “My flies were tugged under by fast water and I felt the strike instantly, a big fish, with no need to set the hook. It sprang out of the water, catching Yuri’s attention, and then a larger trout banged my dropper fly and hooked itself.” The narrator nets the “eighteen-inch rainbow” and pounces, flips the other bigger fish into a net: A veritable 2 for 1! Pobrecito Bubba and Yuri. Course, the toll of physical excitement and personal intensity damn near kills the taleteller. The next ‘graph details the narrators response to a lack of oxygen and hopped up heart in a scary diagnosis of a man dying because of fishing while his buddies argue over literature.

Recently I bumped into Nichols at a grocery store, where he mentioned how he’d been coping with the idea of more “open heart surgery.” We both agreed that we wanted to get our current books finished before we died. While I go to yoga classes or walk in the mountains to maintain a semblance of physical health, Nichols visits heart doctors or grabs an “Albuterol inhaler” to keep the spirit alive even as his body gathers round “the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

See John fish, write, and sign books.

Merimee Moffitt at Somos
Sept.17, 7 PM

Gather round my friends and listen to Merimee read her tale of “Free Love, Free Fall, scenes from the West Coast Sixties” at Somos, Sept. 17, 7 pm. This book is the real deal by a real hippie girl who revisits her life and presents an authentic portrayal of a girl transformed into a woman. It’s a tale of the particular become universal for this generation. The physical hardships alone, shared with one of the loveable bad boys, Michael Troxel, in “The Cabin” episode, where the temperature dropped to 37 below is worth the price of admission.

As a man I always wanted to read a book like this from a woman’s point of view or just a girl’s and Merimee provides the extraordinary detail of a perceptive poet. I mentioned this book earlier in my search for the spelling of Troxel’s name while reviewing Klein’s  “The New Settlers,” which includes an extraordinary photo of Michael and Merimee. “Free Love” gets at the reality of the counter culture adventure in terms of sex, drugs, rock’n roll, a time when the idealism of youth confronts the overwhelming forces of the human condition and an innocent makes her way through life to experience and survives.

The narrative is fast paced, full of scenes that provoke pathos and achieve comic redemption. This amazing chick circulates up and down the California-Oregon coast, from the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City to the Haight in SF, to Gallup, El Rito, Talpa, and Arroyo Seco in New Mexico. Here’s an excerpt from The Cabin.

“Hey, Michael,” I called into the cabin, pulling up grayish-white long john bottoms. (I did laundry by hand in buckets of heated-up river water between trips to the laundromat an hour away in Española.) “The thermometer says thirty-seven below; Jesus!” I shivered and decided to get inside before my bare feet did some act of disconnection from my still-warm body. The ten-gallon milk can that held our drinking water inside the cabin had popped its little top and leaned like the Tower of Pisa.

“My breath was making noticeably solid white clouds, inside the house. It had been so incredibly hot when we first moved in the previous June, we’d never really sealed the flapping plastic windows around the bottom corners, figuring a little fresh air wouldn’t hurt us. Some of the logs had enough chinking missing so you could actually see slivers of daylight between them, reflecting off the trees behind the cabin.”

The poem below illustrates how one woman finds her voice.

The Seco Bar, 1973

I remember you, Michael, throwing me across the fender
kind of cowboy style, wandering saddhu
sad man seeking path
my face under your mad-as-hell fist
me dumber ‘n dirt at 27
you old at 38 sleeping with my skinny friend
kissing her in public, god, looking for love by the juke box
in the last rays of afternoon sun
all of us in wooden-floor nickelodeon light full of gin and desire

Either I died or she did was my snap decision
Alcohol’s wild fission of rage and motherhood trumped
discretion when my bar glass thumped her head
a few screaming bitch-pulls on her ponytail, a kick to her ribs
five guys jumped and you trotted me
bouncer-like to the parking lot

Barb wire and tumble weed bordered Taos Pueblo lands’
mountains and centuries of coyote quiet
I said go ahead, big man, break my face
looking down eye to eye, you paused
what stopped you, I wonder
some mercy for me, orphan boy; did you see me?
the crazy want for you, my same want to be done with you
your hand proved more hopeful than hate
in that Arroyo Seco showdown, I saved face twice
not knowing I’d leave you behind anyway—
the lone subtracted factor

both of us wanting a mother’s arms
the triangular strength of family elusive until
we grew, each into our own
I didn’t know yet of two more babies who would
play French horn and viola with confidence
who would never guess I pulled my voice out of
my boot one night and knocked a woman upside her head
that one lump on her sorry, split-tongue face opened me like
a town of possibilities
before anyone could depend on me for nada
I had to be my own ass-kicking best friend first


Merimee’s “Free Love/Free Fall” takes its place among my favorite authors of books about women by local authors like the story of Francis Martin in “Woman of the Century,” by Cecil Dawkins, Tally Richards’ “Open to the Public, “Sing My Whole Life,” by Craig Smith about Jenny Vincent, and “Edge of Taos Desert” by Mabel Dodge Luhan or even Cherie Burns’ “Searching for Beauty” about Millicent Rogers. For a certain kind of person, as Proust says, life doesn’t seem real until one reads about in a book. (See Swann’s Way, p. 427, Place-Names: The Name, Moncrieff-Kilmartin trans. Random House, 1981). Now, I must convince my bosses at UNM to let me teach these books. Great stuff.

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