I learned a lot the past week in El Paso, where my father resides. I learned a lot about poetry. Not about form, lines, and imagery, but about sight. I drove streets I remember driving in a car and on a mountain bike and learned that they were the same roads clarified. I know them perhaps better now.
Seated on the front steps in the early morning I noted a man run by in expensive running shoes. He was followed by a stooped woman in broken sandals, who carried a paper bag. This is the mix on that old road on which my father’s house was built in about 1917, a red brick 1200 sq ft bungalow where my parents raised 5 children. The house is small, squat, raised on a base of stones, the front squares of lawn now just dust and sand with a few spears of grass struggling to live. The sun and sand forbid more.
When I visit, the house always appears smaller than I remember. I wonder how we all got on there. The city is exploding in size, the university building up, and the mix keeps mixing. The way landscaping has changed is interesting, too–multi-colored rock, orange quarter-inch paving sand, red and white brick, very little grass, lots of cactus rearing out of places that had once been watered routinely. Water conservation. The city’s backbone mountain has more and more radio and communications towers so that at night red lights blink like needle punctures heating and cooling, heating, cooling, over the dark houses that climb the rocky slopes, the stars above it all wiped away by the tens of thousands of street lights.
Drivers stopping at the stop signs waved. I remember a Lexus and a beat up Ford. That’s the mix in my “old” neighborhood. But that’s not the way it used to be. Of course, I waved back, because I was seated there, and it’s what you do.
I’ve always been intrigued by patterns, especially with mazes, thus narrative is a means for me of seeing. Urban spaces reveal how we think about idealized space and action, from the smallest plot to the more aggressive boundaries of a city. The space, its shapes, its roads, its architecture, reveals us. Built, controlled space follows a thinking plot. It demonstrates. It reveals collective and individual creativity. It reveals failures that can’t just be put into the trunk of a car and driven to the dump.
The city is another kind of poem and story. It changes when you keep trying to read it.