A decade ago I lived in El Paso, and I slept on a partially-deflated air mattress in a small hot apartment next to my first wife and her disassociation from me. I was a young soldier, busy and dutiful. A baby and a toddler were the glue that held us weakly together for a time.
I’m elsewhere now, healthy, happy, and loved.
Those decade-old memories are sheathed in so many layers of life.
I’m brave now, finally.
But sometimes I think about El Paso.
I’ve begun to dig.
I’ve begun to peel back the layers so that I can touch my own ancient misery and grow a blossom of sunshine.
I try to remember good things.
I remember a dust of snow in January up on the Franklin Mountains, weather cold enough for a warm coat. And I remember the tall palm trees around the fake blue of a swimming pool at a hotel the color of sandstone.
I remember all the good Catholics gathered at their gorgeous churches on warm Sunday mornings, and how I remember feeling happy for them that they still believed in something, in their doctrine and ritual, in their trusted priest that placed the body of Christ upon their eager tongues.
I remember sometimes imagining that I was in a city in Mexico instead of the western corner of Texas, feeling that I’d escaped something and made a home in a country that I wasn’t born in. Like Allen Ginsberg or Jack Kerouac, I could become inspired, I think, in the vestiges of Old Mexico
I could drink good tequila and eat steak after watching the bloody spectacle of bullfighting.
I remember the sunsets that were lit up like the warm palette of a painter over the desert and the brown mountains, over that strange city within which I lived but was too afraid and busy to properly know.
I remember at night gazing out over El Paso and across the Rio Grande to the alluring chaos of Juárez, its streetlights glittering like moonlit shards. Those shards were actually poetry, though, tragically, I didn’t know it then.
I know it now.
A rusty bridge spans Turtle Creek as it meanders through South Dakota farmlands, walleye and snapping turtles out of sight, weathering the cold of late autumn. Children throw stones through thin ice formed on the surface. Sweet pipe smoke follows my steps, and I think of my father-in-law, when my wife and I walked with him on this same bridge after dinner. Spent shotgun shells litter the bridge, evidence of teens shooting birds and turtles during the warmer growing season. The children collect the spent shells and stuff them into jacket pockets. We make our way back towards the farmhouse in the burnished afternoon light.
Nicholas Trandahl is a poet, newspaper reporter, and Army veteran that lives in Wyoming with his wife and three daughters. His simple and honest verse is influenced by the writing of Raymond Carver, Ted Kooser, Jim Harrison, and Ernest Hemingway.
Trandahl is published by Winter Goose Publishing with two collections, Pulling Words and Think of Me, on shelves now and his third collection, Bravery, releasing in spring 2019. His was also a featured poet in the poetry compilation Heart of Courage, which was published by Swyers Publishing.