Seeing Freedom in Print


Robert Gibbons

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 121 in December, 2009.

New president visiting drug-war-torn country of Mexico called up recollection of our own final day there exactly thirty-five-years ago today, what with it marked so indelibly in our travel-weary heads, color drenched imaginations, empty pockets, having given up on America four months earlier, setting out cross-country for Chile, granted naively, to see Neruda’s home on Isla Negra eighty kilometers south of Valparaíso, not so far, because we were free to roam, had taken Freedom by the horns, downright sick of Nixon’s America, needing another country’s dream, or many other countries’ dreams, the little VW square- back practically given to us by Robert Hellman before he exiled himself & family in Denmark, sick as he was of Nixon’s & his ilk’s America, we all took off! The road welcomed our wheels & true sense of Freedom grabbed by bull’s horns from Blue Ridge Mountains to Smokeys, from Memphis to Elk City, Oklahoma, from Hoover Dam to the San Bernadinos, we were Free! Damn, knowing how low we dropped out when I repeat the story that Nixon made no difference to us any longer; the Watergate transcriptions printed in the New York Times carried with us as an excellent weapon against mosquitoes in Mexico City hotels, only after we saw bulldozer cover burnt-out remains of the SLA hideout hours after the authorities found another body in the cellar we hoped was not Patty Hurst; Nixon the worst. (Until, well some other Texan numbskull took over to amass many more mass killing statistics even statisticians in the department of the GAO on G Street in DC can’t keep exact figures on; Oh, Anonymous Dead!) Those languorous days in Long Beach trying to sell the car to use the cash to travel deep, we thought, into Central America, & further down to the mountains of Quito to the shores of Isla Negra in our naïveté, finally pocketing the grand in cash, & stashing it on our person along with traveler's checks saved working nights in the fish factory, & her equally-hard-earned bread accrued over years of working for the Man, not quite like Nixon & his ilk. Mexicali to Guadalajara, where the new president is reported now spending Time, & the elevation of air across the tube yesterday forced recollection of our Time there thirty-five years ago. Sweet, elevated, floral air of Freedom wrenched from the duende of bull’s horns in a country in death throes of corruption & denial, whose stink was such a contrast to this air, where we looked at an apartment to rent. Beautiful second-floor we were tempted to stay in & read & write for months, but moved on to Mexico City, where we met Ali Chumacero in his vast library, fine poet in his own right, & friend of Paz, along with Fernando Sanchez, who worked closely with David Siqueiros on his public murals, then working to complete one after Siqueiros’s death only months before. Mexico began to offer everything we needed. Dreams of Quito & Chile & Neruda & Isla Negra receded into realities of geographical distances & satisfactions right before our eyes in Mexico City with its Two Fridas & ubiquitous Riveras, or Zihuatanejo, Veracruz, & Oaxaca burnishing ancient imagery & magical colors into our beings free from growing tightness of control back in the States, where the country teetered, yet again, on losing its Soul. Manuel Avila Camacho even took us under his wing, putting us up at his place in the center of the city, after he spent the previous summer in Paris at the home of Orson Welles. If I seem to be dropping names here, perhaps it’s because we knew no one before, when wrenching the horns of Freedom from the wild bull of gorgeous Mexico as opposed to the States, sick of the stink of corruption & control, only to Time our return on the day after the resignation of Nixon, when I saw the cop in the car there in the Zona Rosa reading headlines in Spanish, giving him a broad smile & thumb’s up at our good fortune in seeing Freedom in print, & boarding the plane home hours later, thirty-five years ago, today.