May 23, 2019

Tender Crusader

White Boots, by William Pitt Root (Carolina Wren Press, 2006)

When Bill and Pam were saying goodbye to me the first time I house sat for them, Happy followed Bill around the golden Tucson house, sniffing his suitcase and sprawling on the ground wherever they paused. Bill, in the middle of stuffing camera cords and clothing into his overfilled bag, told me he had something for me before they left.

Capturing mine and Happy’s interest, Bill pulled out a dusty, plastic case, containing a typewriter, and set it up on the worn, wooden table. As a sixteen year old, I had never actually seen one in person before, and it fascinated me. It was good timing, too, as I didn’t have a cell phone or wifi while I was watching over their home, and needed something to fill my time with. I asked if it was really mine, and Bill beamed at me in the way only he can, beneath his large beard, eyes shining, and said yes.

I kept it on the kitchen table that summer, facing their large wall of windows that overlooked the wide desert view, full of wild rabbits and sharp eyed hawks and thirsty plants, every morning and every night filling the kitchen with gold light and sounds of the Sonora. I wrote poem after poem, relishing the clicking of the keys and the ding of the line finishing. I ended up writing my first paper of my Junior year on my typewriter, amusing my high school Composition teacher greatly.

This past time I took care of their home, I was gifted their poetry books. Bill gave me White Boots, and wrote to me in his messy hand: “For Annamae — you are a tender crusader with the strength of a bear — write on! Bill & Mojo & Zazu & Sadie.”

White Boots is a cowboy of a book, and a hard worker, too. Bill, having been raised on a farm, captures fully the outdoors and the Southwest. I’ve been missing Tucson greatly, and all the chili pepper people I love there, which made for the perfect time to pick Bill’s book up again and think of my fire-hot home.

One of my favorite poems in his collection is “AT THE FOOT OF A HOLY MOUNTAIN” on page 8 of White Boots. It’s a beautiful poem, short and simple, a perfect Tucson night, a look out of their darkened window into the mountains.

“Nothing seems more still
than this desert at night,
late, after the breezes
of twilight
establish themselves
in the chaparral.”

There have been many homesick nights where I, dreaming of statue-tall saguaros and lizards sunning themselves on granite rocks, have laid in bed and read this poem over and over. I reread it because I know this night, I have sat in it and breathed it in and taken it for granted one too many times. Tucson air is its own kind of air, and somehow Bill has turned it into words, a poem, one that truly speaks to the hungry moon that desert nights are, full of scales and spines and a sky that seems so empty and so full.

Bill knows the West because he has it in his blood, and the blood of a miner, a farm boy, a hungry poet who loves his wolves and his desert cats and his poet-wife. Bill takes chipped turquoise, burning sand, a fallen ocotillo branch and grinds them into words, words that still smell like creosote, words that are still wearing their dirty boots. I cannot wait to see Bill and Pam again, embrace my border town, and be blinded “by the jeweled light” with my jewel eyes.

Annamae Sax