Northern New Mexico: “Where We Wouldn’t Know Who to Hate”

Laya’s hands are small, almost childlike, and she is a short woman, easily a head below me, but she seems to tower above me. It’s not the first marvel.

She escorts me, with a bit of a waddle, to the massage therapy room, and I think, “This is going to be good.” Something about her fragrance, her shoulders, straight and forgiving. She exuded confidence in an ‘I got this’ sort of way, which I admire, especially when it is absolutely genuine, earned, and packaged economically. The massage did not disappoint.

Somewhere between oil rub, salt scrub, and clay facial–all birthday presents and annual treats–we managed small bits of actual conversation. Bits beyond my sighs and her saying, “Feel good?” And my mumbling something positive and dozing back into the “ahhhhh” of a terrific massage.

She balled those little hands into tight fists, and she worked with a stunning ability to dig deep into my muscles. Did she just hit my femur? I became jelly. Happy, happy, calm, jelly. The room smelled sweet, like honey or peaches, and stark, eucalyptus. My nose was massaged as well.

In one of our chatty bits she pretty much turned my brain into jelly, too. She responded to my inquiry about what brought her from New York to New Mexico. Her accent was weary, but distinct enough that it made me curious. Her reply will stay with me forever.

“My husband is Jamaican,” she said, as the dull, exacting tool of her fist found another calcium deposit in my shoulder. Ahhhhh.

“We came here for our kids.” And just when I thought she could go no deeper, she reached into my lung, I think, and released age-old stress.

“We came her so our kids wouldn’t know who to hate.” And her fists rode across my shoulder blades like an old Chevy truck, heavy and determined. My muscles cracked and hissed like steam released from a rickety teapot. I felt empty and full.

“There are so many shades of brown here,” she concluded moving around to the front of the table, her ribs to my head and preparing to go into my shoulders with the full frontal force of hers. “We’ve been here for years.”


One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is wise and compassionate guidance, especially in recognizing good from bad and right from wrong. Doing so with color blind direction is–has it always been?–difficult, courageous, and honorable. I didn’t ask about her kids, husband, or the success in reaching their goal. I knew the answers.

The shades of the landscape in New Mexico are as resplendent in their diversity as in the population. Shades of brown? Laya is right. Shades of language. Shades of cultures. Shady rivers.

I travel there for solace and vistas, colors and calm. I met Laya, and I’m struck both by her need to find a place where her children would not know who to hate, and her having found it, or created it.

My shoulders hurt the next day, but in a good way. My spirit, well, it soared. Although I do not believe, sadly, that we can find a place where there is no hate in this world, I believe we can make one, even if it as small as our own home, or our massage table, or a village north of Santa Fe. Being able to choose the landscape for such an endeavor is a gift, a dream. American.

A little massage, a little wisdom. Look at me, waxing all philosophical.

Life is good.

Buying Peaches at a Roadside
Lo Leo, Pero No Lo Hablo

Your language rolls like nectar
off your tongue
into the air
as fragrant and sweet
as the peaches you sell.

I listen and envy
each word.

Cuántos duraznos le doy, seño?
Dos pesos cada uno, diez por seis.

Your language sings from your throat.
From mine, it sticks to my tongue
like a goat head
when I sorely attempt
a mere syllable
I can’t make the sounds

the music turned around
went the other way.

Like a shy child I hold up
the correct amount of fingers
to answer you
as the words,

Seis, por favor,
hide behind my tonsils.

“Six peaches, please,” I think
in my language
spilling ashamed
and silent

down my throat.

Gracias,” you smile.
I walk away
with my peaches
my language
my bachelors degree.

Photos of Ojo Caliente from yours truly, except for the peaches, those are from

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