Taos Fiestas: A Time of Elegies

By: Bill Whaley
20 July, 2012

Nellie asks us to remind the tribe about the memorial for Chuck Perez on Saturday, July 21st at 1pm on Lama Mountain. Please contact Iris Gersh at 505-807-2171 for details and directions.

Below we post an excerpt from Peter J. Adang’s fine piece from The Taos News (July 19, 2012) about Art Ortiz (RIP).

“With all of this chaos and seeming insanity around us, it is refreshing, even gratifying, to encounter a gentle person like Art Ortiz, a person who is willing to listen to, and consider, the points of view of others instead of, as so often happens today, putting labels like liberal, progressive, conservative, Democrat or Republican on people and then rejecting their ideas simply because of the label. Perhaps our world would be a better place if we all took a page from Art Ortiz’ book and tried to be more tolerant of the opinions of those who have different political, social and economic philosophies from us.”

Peter captures the essence of Art’s civil tone. He (and Butchie Denver) served on Taos County’s Planning and Zoning Commission for years. We often spoke of our mutual concerns re: the Coop, the County, and the Town. As I remember Art was a heckuva a high school basketball player and member of a famous Taos High team that competed statewide successfully prior to the separation of schools by division. (I can’t find the file right now.) Art embodied the uncommon decency of civil conversationalist and he exemplified old-fashioned republican-democratic politics—more concerned with public service and common goals than factionalism.

Like some of his compadres in the local Republican Party, Virgil Martinez and Arsenio Cordova, Art possessed a passionate concern for the community. In Taos I have often said the republicans stand left of center in comparison to most democrats in other places.

At Raoul’s Barber Shop of Love in El Prado, we had multiple discussions about local and national politics in good natured and humorous give and take. More often than not, we agreed about local issues even as we disagreed about national politics. Linda Bence, a fellow traveler of Art’s wrote, “He was a true Conservative and he contributed a lot to our community. Art was a true gentleman. He went to all of Luis’ roundtable discussions on coop a year or so ago and I know that he was very generous with his time and money. He and Marilyn were a really nice couple. “

Our hearts go out to Marilyn; she’s a sweetheart just as Art was a real gentleman—a hard role to play in Taos.

During the annual Fiesta, I am reminded how the revelers used to gather at La Cocina, gradually spilling out the doors and forming a massive semi-circle on Friday night. Over the decades Fiesta has grown into a real community homecoming for those who travel to Taos from out of town to greet friends and family. Any homecoming is marked by the memories of the departed spirits.

At the beginning of the 21st Century (think the murderous fiesta weekend of 2003) so many young native Taosenos met their untimely end due to violence. Today the names we remember represent the decline of the body and return to nature: Chuck Perez, Ken Price, Butchie Denver, Art Ortiz, Jerry Padilla, and Amanda Bailey, Kay Solomon et al.

While the native community, especially Taos Pueblo and the Hispanic Catholic community are familiar with ritual, rosaries, funerals, and memorials, from childhood, my own generation of arrivistes—Nellie’s so-called tribe–from the last forty years is growing more accustomed to the reaper’s appearance. As fiesta continues through the weekend, we might look carefully at each other while thinking “who’s next?”

Below, Taos Friction posts an elegiac poem by John Balaban, who got in touch after the recent publication of Taos Portraits. John contributed a poem to the book about Tally Richards (RIP). (Some 22 of 6o subjects in Taos Portraits have passed on since Paul O’Connor began the project.) John spent time here and wrote several poems set in the area.

Eliseo’s Cabin, Taos Pueblo

Yellow alfalfa banks the rutted lane
that winds in under the bedstead gate
latched with loops of baling wire.


Horseskulls bleach on fenceposts
running down through sagebrush
to the cabin snug by the sandy creek.


Pieces of plows hang from the cedars
along with barn hinges, tractor chains,
and a rusted-out kettle. A buffalo hide


drapes a lodge pole wedged in willows.
The cabin’s covered in sweetpea vines,
blossoms tumbling out bees.


Eliseo has set his cot outside
near an iron pot brimming peonies.
Lying alone at night, watching
stars shake, hearing the creek talk,
he remembers before there was a camp


and his father would come here to watch
thunderheads collapse on the prairie
and drag sweeps of rain across arroyos.


Worried about the old man sleeping on the ground
he sawed planks and hauled them up by buckboard
rocking to the meadow on wheels that smelled of sage.


Now old himself he comes to his cabin
to heat chili and bread on the wood stove
to sleep by the creek or sit by a spruce
whittling birds for grandchildren.


In the dark, he hears his ponies graze
across the fern-crowded creek
where fireflies flare like memories
and his father and grandchildren’s voices
rise from the cold traveling water.


John Balaban, tbalaban@earthlink.net

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