I met the author and his wife, Suzanne, several years ago over lunch in Phoenix discussing fundraising strategies for an NGO they set up in Guatemala, “Seeds for a Future,” which provides training to impoverished rural women in and around Chocolá on the South coast, to improve family access to food and nutrition. I soon learned that we not only shared a love and appreciation of Guatemala and the Desert Southwest, but that Earl was also a writer and, in his case, a poet as well.
I was surprised to learn that he started writing as far back as 1959 and is publishing this spring an autographical novel laced with poetry and photos about his adventures as a young man in the Sonoran deserts of Baja California, Mexico, and Arizona, A Finger of Land On An Old Man’s Hand. As a high school senior, he came across one of the best Chinese poets, Li Po, noted for his elegant romantic verse, which was what the author felt drawn to express to some of the various women in his life at the time. He was soon writing about nature, environment, cities, social issues, and his imagination was fueled by his travels through Central America, the Sonoran Desert, and the Andes. “Everything I experience has potential for a poem—even the increasingly dreadful business of politics.”
In this book, his poems are divided into “Songs from my Life,” “Poems from Guatemala,” and “Desert Songs.” Anyone who lives in the desert appreciates the rare times it rains, which is why “Desert After Rain” struck my fancy:
Drained ivory clouds drift flat-bottomed/above valleys strewn in yellow froth/ where flowering palo verde trees geyser/ above cactus spines and creosote brush…
Colossal mesquites whisper ancient tales/ fall silent contemplating their love of rain. / All pause before resuming tasks of survival. / A silver dove decants its mournful song.
With a vivid description of the desert in “Subtle Greens:”
My mind is calmed by desert’s pastel tan and green colors/capped by a pale blue sky…”
I fancy cacti as fortified castles/ lush with wild displays of flower and fruit/as nature has had fun with shapes/and splashes of color.
From the Desert Southwest, the author transports us to the unique, ever moist environs of the rain forest in Guatemala with “Chipi-Chipi:”
It is raining/in the way of mist, / just heavy enough/to cling to plants/…too light to dimple the lake…
Chipi-Chipi is the name/Tzutujil speakers/ give to mist rain/ that neither/ starts nor stops/ yet accumulates/like dew/ to drip gently from/ palm fronds. / One senses eternity.
The author and his wife split their time between Guatemala and Arizona and have owned homes on Lake Atitlan, but eventually were drawn to Antigua, so I wasn’t surprised to find this enchanting tale of life in the Central Plaza in “Blind in Antigua:”
Girdled by ancient Spanish buildings, / their silent arches like eyes gazing with/ stern conqueror authority into Antigua’s, / graceful central park where modern folks/ now stroll, dally, and relax beneath gnarled jacaranda trees in full lavender flower…
In slow waltz, the calm mix of humanity stir/ in social mingling, a seamless stream that eddies, / and pauses on benches where lovers giggle/ and women chat in clusters, their hands waving/ “oh really!” as they rock back laughing in/ the glow of fresh neighborhood chin-wagging…
A man sits with sad slumped shoulders. / one foot raised on the shoeshine boy’s box/ as he reads of war and butchery in the world. / Worried only about future family meals.
The author deftly takes us from the enchanting world of Guatemala to its troubled, violent past in “Cesspool Brain:”
Imagine, /if you can, the cesspool brain/ of the Guatemalan army colonel/ who ordered the murder/ of hundreds of indigenous/ civilians and their burial/ in his army’s latrine pits.
Imagine again/ if you can, / him walking away. /Whistling of a job well done. / Time will fade victim’s names/ and the pain of personal loss/ but the Maya have not forgotten the / meaning of their agony. / Genocide is the mother of the next war.
The author uses plain language, “my Texas mother can understand.” He uses metaphors and rhyming sparingly. No matter where the poem takes place, it is underscored with a clear idea, image, and emotion, which paints a picture that will set the reader adrift on their journey.
One astute reader says: His economy of words–reminiscent of Asian and Native American poetry–thrusts the reader directly into the subject, whether it be the blessing of rain on a thirsty desert cactus or the grief of a soul destroyed by Guatemala’s Civil War. Earl’s uncluttered directness embodies what Thomas Merton, author of the spiritual classic The Seven Storey Mountain, said of his artist father:
“His vision was religious and clean, and therefore his paintings were without decoration or superfluous comment since a religious man respects the power of God’s creation to bear witness for itself.”
Another reader states, I read 30 pages, some of them with tears seeping, before I was aware that I was going much too quickly, racing to the next without savoring properly the previous. Like rushing through a fine meal. I have decided to start over, with new anticipation and greater appreciation.
Today, I read more, but more slowly and repeatedly. Mark Twain said about writing that the difference between a good word and the perfect word is like the difference between a lightning bug and lightning.
- Publisher : net (January 13, 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 118 pages
- ISBN-10 : 8182538505
- ISBN-13 : 978-8182538504
- Item Weight : 3 ounces
- Dimensions : 5 x 0.28 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #416,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #6,247 in Poetry (Books)
- Customer Reviews:
5.0 out of 5 stars 3 ratings
About the Author
An Arizona native Earl is a poet/photographer. His education includes Antioch College (BA) and the U of Arizona (MA). A political scientist, he founded Behavior Research Center, created the respected Rocky Mountain Poll, and was Editor for 35 years.
His second book, “A Finger of Land On An Old Man’s Hand,” will be published this spring. He is assembling a novel, “The Man Who Ate His Dreams,” and a collection of short desert stories for children. You can learn more about Seeds for a Future at www.SeedsforaFuture.org.
Mark Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. He’s worked with other groups like Make-A-Wish International and was the CEO of Hagar USA.
His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Literary Association for Non-Fiction and, according to the Midwest Review, “…is more than just another travel memoir. It is an engaged and engaging story of one man’s physical and spiritual journey of self-discovery.”
Several of his articles have been published in Ragazine and WorldView Magazines, Literary Yard, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Quail BELL, while another was recognized by the “Solas Literary Award for Best Travel Writing.” Two of his essays were winners at the Arizona Authors Association Literary Competition and another was recently published in Eland Press’s newsletter. He’s a contributing writer for “Revue Magazine” and the “Literary Traveler.” He has a column in the Arizona Authors Association newsletter, “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading and Why.”
His honors include the “Service Above Self” award from Rotary International. He’s a board member of “Advance Guatemala.” His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. You can learn more at www.MillionMileWalker.com and follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/millionmilewalker/