Manzano Mountain Review is an online New Mexico literary journal affiliated with UNM-Valencia.

         Two Poems

by John Nizalowski

October Dawns
(reprise for Kyle Harvey)
October dawns
cold and wet.
At last, the waves
of desert heat
have abated.
The radio sings
of white Las Vegas
madness, but at
least the rhythms
of the universe
keep running –
October’s waning
light rooted in
July’s first darkness.
Even the equinox
is past, the gods
have returned
to Abalone Shell
Mountain. Kiva
priests peer into
cedar wood flames,
knowing the time
is coming soon to
light the new fires
of kachina Shalako.
Here, the windows,
filled with heavy
silver clouds, send
me to sleep while
I listen to Allen
Ginsberg’s Kaddish,
“the saxophone
chorus of houses
and years” crafting
dreams of the wide
Erie Canal rimmed
with ice beneath
skeletal grey trees.
Upon waking, I
remember when
Ginsberg drew an
eye in my copy of
Howl – 1988,
New Mexico,
in the Kimo Theater,
realm of Hopi masks,
peyote visions, and
jazz jams on drowsy
warm bee humming
July afternoons.
But now it’s October,
and the great red and
gold snake of time has
slid beneath a deep
sandstone shelf in
Pollack Canyon, right
under that single Ute
shaman, to dream
the long dream of
winter’s vast
planetary arc.
Defining December
(reprise for Kyle Harvey)
While the spirits of the dead
may arise in November, they
settle again in cold December.
Hermann Hesse knew this,
so he descends into the Magic
Theater in Steppenwolf, and
Harry Haller searches for the
gateless gate in the pure dark
German winter. It could have
been a naked cottonwood
standing over that stone wall.
Once, when I was having a
bad trip on psilocybin, I lay
under a dead cottonwood
in a Sierra Nevada canyon
and peered up at the shaking
stars between bone-white
branches. I understood then
to the root of my spine that
everything dies, even the
changeless night. Orion spun
overhead in the ice god air,
his sword pointed straight
at me. For it was December,
and the crescent moon was
liquid fire. I swear a final
generation of Greek poets
was born that night. I prayed
to Saint Joseph, patron saint
of fathers, to save me from
my vision. I’m not sure why
I did this, since four years
had yet to pass before my son
was born. I imagine December
spoke to me, the nativity of
Christ, or rather, the birth of
Mithras, son of the sun, born
on the winter solstice, eternal
light incarnate, slayer of the
primordial bull, reimagined by
the Achaeans as the Minotaur.
So, we must all be as Theseus,
and bathe in the blood of the
sacred oxen, thereby calling
the light to return. At Zuni,
to do this they hold the rites
of Shalako, messengers of
the gods, great thunderbird
forms sweeping up and down,
reflected in the windows backed
by the absolute dark before the
dawn: mule deer altar, Pendleton
blankets, and carved serpents in
seasoned wood. Three old women
dressed in black grinning at the
holy Mudhead clowns who clap
their hands in a mockery of the
these untouchable spirits, humor
in the service of the taboo, life
reborn, even the old dead poets:
Alvaro, Allen, Lew, Jack and Jim.
Yes, even Jim who took his life
by his own hand in the bosque
south of Isleta, shotgun blood on
the cottonwoods, all of it woven
into December’s tapestry. Out in
the Western Colorado desert,
where Jack Kerouac saw God
pointing a finger formed from
the long Catholic centuries,
the Dog Star shines with a
crystalline brilliance, brightest
object in the moonless sky,
shedding its blue-white light
on the juniper, the sandstone
shelf, the sleeping coyote, the
shamanic pictograph, owl eyes
staring at the cottonwoods
stripped of leaves, waiting to
be reborn in the drums of the
spring. As Antonin Artaud
explains, “For the soul goes
from day to night, like the
earth; only the sun goes from
light to light…. But who is to
say at night there is no sun?”
And thus he defined December.
John Nizalowski is the author of four books: the multi-genre work Hooking the Sun; two poetry collections, The Last Matinée and East of Kayenta; and Land of Cinnamon Sun, a volume of essays. Nizalowski has also published widely in literary journals, most notably Under the Sun, Weber Studies, Puerto del Sol, Slab, Measure, Digital Americana, and Blue Mesa Review. Currently, he teaches creative writing, composition, and mythology at Colorado Mesa University.