BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Return of the Poet Ricardo Sanchez Comes Home to Live… BY PAT LTITLEDOG Kern Place Park, El Paso. ITHOUGHT THAT I should find a place appropriate to my subject: the El Paso poet Ricardo Sanchez. Maybe I should pick a place along the Border Highway, running beside the chainlink fence which follows the Rio Grande, where his old neighborhood, Barrio del Diablo, has been buried under concrete and suffocates now with fumes from the El Paso water treatment plant. Or maybe I should sit downtown in the San Jacinto Plaza, which he celebrated in his greetings to his hometown, sent last spring on his 54th birthday along with news of his cancer. On the plaza , multitudes still mill around large plastic-lacquered alligators, the improbable emblems of a desert city used to containing paradox at its heart. But Kern Place Park is closer to my motel room, and I want to walk. It’s also as much a part of Ricardo’s El Paso landscape as those other neighborhoods, although not generally called a barrio, but an early subdivision once dominated by Jewish families escaping the European holocaust. Today it is home to anyone with enough money to afford its sprawling homes and formal, watered lawns. In a way, this is as important a neighborhood to Ricardo’s poetry and thought as was he turf of his old X-9 gang, which contained the adobe house his father built himself for his family, with the help of friends. After all, it is Kern Place and its related subdivisions, climbing up the mountainsides into ever larger and more elaborate architectures, that helped define Ricardo’s angerthe neighborhood he specifically named, in his call for revolution twenty-five years ago, to be burned down and used as a symbol in its burning as Watts had been used as a name for black ragebecause, as he explained, Chicanos would not burn down the homes of their own families. Instead, they would choose to run the flag of fire along heights which overlooked without seeing and dominated without any intelligence of those being dominated, and where little curiosity resided even to find out the most rudimen Pat LittleDog is a poet and writer who lives in Kerrville. tary information of those who lived below them. burn, burn, burn desde Wilshire a River Oaks kern place to Sutton place, burn, burn, burn…. This is also a good neighborhood for me to write something of Ricardo because it’s my own old neighborhood, where twentyfive years ago I was living in a fixer-up provided by a real estate broker who took pity on an almost homeless hippie and took me inas the sort of pet artist the wealthy sometimes tolerate. It was then that I first heard Ricardo read in a downtown bar. So not everyone who lives in this neighborhood that once struck the match to Ricardo’s fury is rich, but it is undeniable that many of El Paso’s rich do live here. And seen from the distance of south El Paso, the subtleties and nuances of existence here are lost, so that all that may ever be known are the stories of maids and yardmen brought back home with a little pay, just as all that many Kern Place residents might ever learn of those living below them is a bit of kitchen Spanish, plus stories filtered through police reportsunless some new point of view is sought and found by individuals on each side of these social barriers, marked off in street grids.P.L. Senor Don Loco-Canceroso as the jollyless / carcinogenic orchestrator waves his baton… LAST JANUARY, hours before his scheduled surgery, Ricardo Sanchez called his friend Dagoberto Gilb. “I’m dying, man,” he told him, “spread the word.” And so, in the days following, the word traveled fast through the circles. My own telephone rang again and again while the news was repeated, spreading faster than fire or even internet, illuminating old connections and bringing us to talk long-distance in communion over this old friend we shared. John Tilton called, the owner of Paperbacks Plus in Dallas who once had supplied books and business savvy for us to open stores with room for poetry and performance, first in Austin, then in San Anto nio Ricardo’s in the latter city translated into Spanish: Paperbacks…y Mas! Jim Cody called, small press publisher of Ricardo’s Amsterdam Cantos, describing plans for a Border Voices Literary Festival, scheduled for the last days of September in El Paso, at which Ricardo would be the featured reader if he felt good enough \(or is still alive at that time, since doctors were apparently predicting no longer than six of papers and poetry recognizing him as one of the first poetic articulators of the Chicano movement, ranging from academic pieces delivered by such as Juan Bruce-Novoa and Luis Leal, to poetry performances from Miguel Algal -in, Lao Delgado, Denise Chavez. Chuck Taylor called, another of his publishers. Every call brought stories of connection and recollectionJim Cody’s wake for his father, when he and Chuck and Ricardo and I and another one or two or three fluctuated from bar to bar, regaling each other with bits of each of our father’s lives. Chuck recalled the true beginning of friendship, when Ricardo helped him install a used radiator in the decrepit Valiant he needed to make the move out of Salt Lake City and back to Texas. Bobby Byrd called, publisher of Ricardo’ s EagleVisioned/Feathered Adobes, which I had given what I thought was a friendly review, but which I would later find out Ricardo disliked intensely \(because of what I said he said, which he did say, but not the way I around and around in these circles which seem to get smaller and smaller as we get older and older, a fact of our lives as writers in provincial Texas. Some of us had chatted quite recently; others I hadn’t seen or heard from in several years. Ricardo’s cancer, then, had set us all to talking, catching up on family histories, improbable cancer remedies, new gossip, apologies for old affronts. As we talked, Ricardo struggled. His cancer was pervasive and inoperable, occupying most of his stomach and other vital organs and spread into every cell. Once opened by the surgeons, he was closed back up and sent home to be cared for by his wife Teresa. No cure, he was told, was 14 SEPTEMBER 1, 1995 rift,1141.5
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