Ruins Runes


Review: Tierra Zia, poems by Gary David, Illustrated by Dawn Senior, nine muses books, 1996; $8.00, ISBN: 1-878888-19-6. 40 pp., 3541 Kent Creek Road, Winston OR 97496.


From time’s wreckage shored,

these fragments shored against ruin...  (Canto CX)


Except for three years living in San Francisco & Berkeley during the late Sixties, I’ve not spent much time in the West. But if, when, I do return, it won’t be to any city. I’ll search out the past that remain in the present, as a present, and I’ll take this book of poems with me, Gary David’s Tierra Zia. This book is a tour guide of the language and land of New Mexico by a poet whose previous book of poems, A Log of Deadwood, mapped out the upper midwest Dakotas as a reclamation project against not only the destroyers of the landscape but also the destroyers of the mindscape (the land grabbing miners and the purveyors of the myth of progress that justified the ruination). Ed Dorn praised David’s “Log” as a “verse documentary” that “may well be the light of the future.” If so, that light has yet to be seen by enough people since A Log of Deadwood dropped as such into a forest of hyped mediocre poetry so that, well you know, even if it made a sound there was no one to hear it. So I suggest that readers who want to know the state of Western poetry read Tierra Zia for the necessary emotional registry then move (be moved) to A Log of Deadwood, subtitled A Postmodern Epic of the South Dakota Gold Rush for the facts of the destruction.

I have only briefly visited the archeological remains of the habitation of the original peoples of the West, but I have spent many hours among the ruins of the Native American Indian mounds of the midwest. I am familiar with the archeology of loss, of looking at fragments and how “time’s wreckage” provokes the imagination. I have yet to read a poem that takes “these fragments shored against ruin” and transforms them into poetry as well as David’s poem “Through the Mouth of Chaco Canyon.”

This poem has, for me, a haunting footnote. It reads, “Until recently a spiral petroglyph on Fajada Butte precisely indicated solstice and equinox dates.” Ever since I heard of this petroglyph and seen a picture of it, I have used it as my metaphor for poetry: language that is rough, natural, but precise, language that over reaches itself in its connection, as part of the earth itself, to connect the maker with the heavens in order for the community to see and understand the self as inherently cosmic. As David’s poem documents, the solar observatory is now also a ruin, destroyed by “waffle-soled boots.” By some eco-tourist? Some New Age self-absorbed boor? There is no blame, but there is this record of the wreck, and every writer should read it:

We know the bolt action

of our own time, but don’t succeed

in making whole again

these broken pots.


Well, we don’t. And we won’t. But these poems struggle to do so. And they do, to the limit of what is possible, and that’s the limit we need to know more about if we are to stop destroying and begin construction something of value from the waste. In the same poem David, who never loses sight of the present, never allows the language to turn impotent in nostalgia, mentions his daughter turning on the television to watch cartoons: “A coyote drops another anvil / off a cliff.” David brings in The Trickster obliquely, as he must. There have been too many poets using and abusing the Native American cosmic / comic trickster for that character to move us any longer. David wisely leaves it alone, leaves it where it works best, tv land.  Coyote, Bugs Bunny as Nanabush, maybe even Beavis and ButtHead, are there for our children to enable them to see more clearly the ruins we continue to leave behind us. Gary David and the artist Dawn Senior give us this other way of seeing, from the fragments the intimation of the whole, which, as we should know, is the real name for the holy.