In fragments of memory and description, Fletcher (Descanso for My Father, 2012) recalls his mother’s life, his family history, and a New Mexico that’s disappearing.
In this unusual work of creative nonfiction, the author’s memories spill out like newly discovered treasures. In a narrative framed by his visit to his aging mother in his native New Mexico, Fletcher provides a series of prose poems—some short, some essay-length—inspired by artifacts that his artist mother “rescued” from the desert and his own explorations of places he heard about in childhood stories. The book lacks a strictly linear plot and is instead organized into eight thematic sections with titles that evoke their moods, including “homing,” “root,” and “nostalgia.” Fletcher’s prose vividly depicts the New Mexican landscape; for example, he describes a valley as “the small of a woman’s back, an earthen hollow beneath the shoulder blades,” and a river as a “mud-brown tapeworm.” When he arrives at his mother’s house during a storm, he realizes how little he knows “of her life—and how it came to be,” so he delves back in time, uncovering stories of his grandparents, his great-grandparents, and other ancestors, which border on folklore. Along the way, he pieces together a family history, with memories overlapping one another through multiple generations. In these stories, a complete picture of his mother gradually emerges—as a young girl, as a wife, as a widow, and as an artist. The tales sometimes evoke the supernatural, including “presentimientos,” or visions of loved ones at their deaths, which he says once “happened all the time.” These hints of magical realism complement the dreamlike writing and the prominence of the natural world in it. “We live in a world of miracles,” his mother says at one point. Fletcher’s book is a chronicle of all the quiet miracles that make a life.
A lovingly crafted portrait of a person and a place.