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The Day We Left Gallup


by Rudolfo Carrillo

I am not aiming to elicit anything controversial here and so will use the word sparingly, in a manner opposite of my old man. He always prefaced his own lamentations in and with the press as "controversial" - and would bite his tongue and draw blood from it in a manner that unconsciously mimicked the pissed-off and forlorn priests of the aztec idol Huitzilopochtli - before warning his progeny of the news of his latest exploits.


When that solemn ritual was complete and after he had washed his hands with hot well water and Ivory soap, my father would offer up the local daily rag for immediate and familial perusal. This was mostly so his wife, sons, and daughter could gawk and twitter about this or that record of the fluidic and bellicose utterances made by the fat man from the sea about progress and urbanization. They were uttered in the beatific, bureaucratic patois of all federal employees hellbent on destroying the last remnants uncolonized America; a tone, a jargon, an intention that the sailor had mastered in his land-locked middle years.


His words were immortalized by the inky work of a group of scribes located in the smoky and lightly vodka scented newsroom of the Gallup Independent and we read them and just about every damn thing else in that collection of pages and words. We looked for meaning in that place and through that medium from the time I was about four until we left for Burque; those years came and went before I really knew what water was.


Here's a good one. The editor of that paper had a weekly column. It was called Up and Down the Perky. The "Perky" was what some folks out there called the mournful excuse for a river tributary that sometimes passed through town. I say it was mournful because the only time I can recall it being really perky was during the monsoon season. On those occasions, it would usually overflow and flood the north side of town. Besides that, the Perky also carried the heavy green leftovers of the mysteriously glowing giants' farms that were hidden here and there in the immediate vicinity.


That's why my old man was out in the western lands, why we were doing our thing in the shadow of the hogback mountain. He was part of a US government team that was going to design and deploy a sustainable flood control system for the city while also assessing and measuring the hot mess left behind by another US government team.


So, when Coronado's men walked through that part of the world - about four hundred and fifty years before the older version of Rudolfo Carrillo stood in his ranch style kitchen with avocado-colored appliances staring at the Gallup Independent with a scowl of disappointment on his mustashioed face -  in the sixteenth century, they wept blood and anger, calling that ephemeral and unreliably wet ribbon of life el rio puerco. Then they probably watched the dirt and waited shamefully for their reflections to bubble upward from cracks in the dry earth and into the air, towards heaven.


They forgot about all those sly and nonsensical symbols of redemption and trod heavily, in grandiose costumes and metal suits, eastward to the big river.


In their absence and amidst the roaring vacuum created when one culture forcefully deconstructs another, only to be swallowed whole by the pale fish of western hegemony, I reckon that words like puerco became perky.


Anyway, the day we left Gallup, after my father's project ended in a drought year, the year of the small corn, my brother noticed a stagnant pool of water filled with hundreds of tadpoles setting across the street from our house. It was the end of summer and the rain was gone.


He asked me to help him. He wanted to drag the garden hose over to the little pond. He wanted to give the frog children a couple of extra days. We spent our final moments on the mesa giving temporary hope to a colony of doomed amphibians.


The hose was the last thing to go into the moving van. We drove away to Albuquerque. As we passed  the Ciniza oil refinery, my father rolled down the driver's side window and removed some white feathers from his pocket. He let them flutter in the breeze before releasing them into the airy wake the car was making in its stormy progress along the interstate highway.

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