Report from the Desert, or Celebration is Contagious

I keep thinking of the amazing audience last night. A warm sold-out crowd at the Border Book Festival welcomed Sherwin Bitsui and me in the Mesilla Community Center. So much history packed there. My first book “the last song” published in Las Cruces. And now I’m in effect introducing Sherwin as I was so many years ago. So many fine poets and mentors, like Joe Somoza and Keith Wilson. There is no poetry, no music and no performance without the audience. The audience is an inherent part of the process. (We might write poetry or music “for ourselves” or “of ourselves” but what does that actually mean? What is the self? Is it a spirit occupying a body, a community? The physical shell animated by the spirit? Is it a cascade of many or multi-selves dazzling us from eternity?) I listened backstage as Sherwin took the stage. I’d done my sound check (great soundman, Kenny—absolutely matters), shaved an extra reed, warmed up my voice and horn, lined up the selections, then took the audience, mc and performers into my heart. That is, I recognized that we are in a ceremony of meaning together in that particular place and time. Meanwhile my nose was running with exhaustion overload. I didn’t know where the energy, the inspiration would come from, or how, but I’ve learned to trust it, communicate with it and remain in awe of it. And it arrived just in time… Each audience makes a unique soul. This one was electric. We all recognized each other; then flew. In the middle after I read the poem for rain, the rain came down, with a riot of thunder. There is no elixir like the smell of the desert drinking rain. In the end, there was singing, horn playing, poetry and we all round danced.

This contrasts with an audience back east last week (not NMAI). I could have been a huge spider on stage. There was no visible joint response from the audience though I saw a few lights here and there. Nothing seemed to work at all, though I performed well. Yet, how can I say that if I didn’t “get” the audience? Or they didn’t “get” me?

I will let it all go now. And get some sleep. And remember, science is a religion.

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