The Clifton Hotel

Clifton, Arizona, is a small town, about 3400 people. And Morenci, the mining town just up the highway, is even smaller at under 1500. I hoped that, between the two towns, I’d find a decent hotel.  

Clifton is located right where it says “Greenlee County Historical”

I looked online and found four but checked the Clifton Hotel first. I looked at the website and found it was recently restored, and, in fact, still under renovation. It was a former “cowboy hotel” built in 1890 and at the time was called the Central Hotel. Happily, it was said to be haunted.

How could I not go? I’ve encountered spirits in the past but never when I’ve stayed in a hotel that was haunted. But I could hope.

I called the hotel and spoke to one of the owners, Karen, who bought the hotel with her husband Matt in 2017.

The couple lived in Tucson, she an engineer and he busy restoring and renovating buildings. They saw an article about Clifton that had a photo of the arch ruins downtown and decided to drive the two-and-a-half hours for a visit.

I have no idea what this used to be. I’ll find out on my next trip.

But Clifton held a surprise for them. The same day they arrived, they saw a rundown old hotel.

They called the realtor, visited the building, and bought it. That fast.

The realtor who sold it to them had once owned the hotel but sold it because shortly after purchasing it, he injured his back quite badly and wasn’t able to rehab it.

He sold it to the the current owner who just a few weeks after the purchase was hit by a car while walking in a crosswalk. His injuries left him unable to do the renovation, so he hired a crew to begin work.

The first day the crew showed up, they felt extremely uncomfortable there. They walked off the job and refused to go back.

But with all of that, Karen and Matt decided to buy the place.

Matt, however, became the third owner in a row to be derailed from his restoration project.

A few days before closing on the hotel, Matt became desperately ill. He couldn’t get out of bed for a week. In fact, he had to lie down in the back seat of a car to make it to the closing at all.

But he made it through closing and when he was better, he moved into the hotel to begin renovation.

Karen wrote this to me:

“Matt’s first few nights here were terrifying (I was living in Tucson at the time). He saw shadows and felt very unwelcome. But he persevered, and we feel that, because our intention was to restore the hotel rather than just modernize it, his work was accepted.

We’ve just put the finishing touches on our fourth room. This one is upstairs. While I don’t usually notice anything other-worldly, when I was in that room, putting up curtains, I was overcome by strong, long-lasting deja vu. I brought my bartender in there and she was immediately covered in goosebumps. She left the room and said she would never go in it again. Interestingly, the dogs do not like the room either. Katie will go in, but will slouch the entire time, while Pops will not enter at all.”

When I saw some of the before photos, I was shocked. If I hadn’t already stayed in one of their lovely rooms, I almost wouldn’t have believed it was possible.

From the outside it looked pretty hopeful.

All the “before” photos were provided by Karen and Matt, owners of the Clifton Hotel. Remaining photos of the interior today are mine unless otherwise noted.


The hotel today

The lobby needed a bit of work. Much of the damage was due to the 1983 flood which left 6-1/2 feet of water in the hotel! The building was abandoned then because it seemed impossible to clean up.

The walls held up well, though, since they’re constructed of slag block, a mining byproduct. Each block weighs about fifty pounds. Exterior blocks are stacked three thick making the walls 18” wide.

Matt and Karen had the blocks tested to be sure there were no traces of uranium or anything else dangerous. They’re perfectly safe.

Here’s a shot of the lobby when they bought the hotel followed by two photos of it today.

Waiting to greet visitors

Karen shared all three of the above pictures. What an astounding difference!

Here’s the stairway as they found it.

Here are a few more shots that show the state of the hotel when Karen and Matt purchased it.

I simply can’t believe they bought it!

Here’s a before shot of Suite 2, where I stayed. Cement blocks fill in most of the space of the original window. A few photos down you’ll see today’s lovely curtained window.

And after.

Matt removed some walls to double the size of the rooms. Suite 2 was lovely, but it wasn’t large.

Back when it was a cowboy hotel, rooms must have been about 8’x10’. Today they’re twice the size, but once the bath and kitchenette are carved out of the space, the room is comfortable. But “cozy” might be a better description of its size.

Noticed that part of the wall was left un-plastered to show the original slag block wall.

The microwave and mini fridge were handy, and there was even a small sink for washing my utensils. Rooms are decorated in period furniture, but I’m sure it’s much nicer than what the guests of the late 1800s once had!

A few sweet touches.

No clock radio here!

A big plus: My bed was one of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve ever slept in. And there was lightning-fast internet, too, something those cowboys of a hundred years ago could never have imagined.

At the back of the hotel is a common area with a large table, a coffeemaker, and space to relax.

I sat in this area for breakfast and dinner each day. I mostly had the space to myself but ran into another guest one time.

Well, I didn’t quite have the space to myself since the two hotel doggies often showed up to keep me company.

Pops (left) and Katie

If you’re headed to Clifton, I truly recommend this hotel. I did have one disappointment with my stay, however. I never saw a ghost. Perhaps next time.

Beware when searching for the Clifton Hotel on the web, though! There’s one with the same name in Tucson that may come up first when you look.

To avoid the confusion, here’s a link to the hotel. Its website has additional information on the hotels history and on the town.

https://www.clifton-hotel.com

A Visit to Clifton

I went to Clifton, Arizona, to visit a saint for my birthday See previous blog post: https://emilievardaman.com/2020/09/25/a-visit-with-a-saint/

Heading north, I took Highway 191. Previously, it was named Highway 666, but in 2003, states ceded to pressure to rename it. “The stigma of being the mark of the beast” was the reason given for the change. Some travelers refused to drive the highway fearing it was controlled by the devil.

Many of us shook our heads and adjusted to the new name, though many long-time residents around here still call it Old 666.

Driving through the Sulphur Springs Valley, I took in the differences from my last trip in the spring (see Pursuing Poppies). In early April, the ocotillo had not yet leafed out. Now summer’s leaves were turning gold, and amber sprinkles began to litter the ground beneath the cacti-like plants. 

In early April, bright green corn stood a few feet tall. This trip, field corn was dried, ready for harvest as cattle feed, with ears to be left behind for winter’s visiting Sandhill Cranes to eat.

Last April, cotton had only been in the ground a month or so but it, too, was ready for harvest. Hay was baled and ready for winter.

Pecans trees, which need up to 200 gallons of water daily over a seven-month season, were also ready for harvest. 

Especially after this summer’s near-record drought, many county residents are speaking out against raising the water-thirsty trees here in the desert.

I continued up through Willcox to Safford. As I passed Mount Graham on the way to Safford, I recalled the sparkling blue skies and big puffy clouds of a year ago when I drove this route to Colorado. I mourned the fires throughout the West that have left smoke hanging even here, many hundreds of miles from burning forests, burning subdivisions.

2019
2020 The photo doesn’t convey how gray the skies were. My eyes were burning due to the smoke!

East at Sanford and then north again. West the last ten or so miles to Clifton, population about 3400.

I drove through town a bit and tried to stop in the Visitor’s Center, but it was closed due to Covid. Then I headed to Park Avenue to find the Clifton Hotel, my home for the next two nights (blog post about the hotel soon).

And what a greeting I got on Park Avenue!!

Bighorn Sheep!
A park full!

I found my hotel and unloaded. I’d planned to head straight to the cemetery to visit the saint and then have dinner. I’d brought a meal from Bisbee’s Cafe Roka and planned to eat by the San Francisco River. Amazingly, it was still running even with the drought.

But since I’d had only a light breakfast, I tucked into my grilled tuna and salad (delicious as always) before heading off the the cemetery. The two dogs at the hotel volunteered to help me with the tuna, but they didn’t get a nibble.

Katie stared sadly from a distance after being turned down.

After visiting Santa Teresa’s grave, I spent a leisurely evening reading in my room.

On Sunday, I visited the cemetery again and then roamed the area a bit.

I found Clifton to be a lot like Bisbee—no surprise since they’re both mining towns built into mountain hillsides. 

Someone’s goats

But Clifton has more and better sheer rock cliffs than Bisbee. And it’s much, much quieter. The silence at night was a delight. 

I wandered downtown and didn’t see a soul. Clifton seems to be closed up tight on Sundays. But I did see a few great old cars. 

Parts of downtown are in serious need of restoration.

I even went to Morenci, about four miles up the road, to look at the open pit copper mine there, the largest in the US.

But I became dispirited after seeing hillside after hillside of mining damage and turned around without visiting the main overlook.

That evening, I visited Rio San Francisco. Such a delight! The temperature dropped significantly by the water under big cottonwoods. I waded upstream a bit then simply sat awhile, listening to the music of running water.

Later as I again settled into my room, I realized that if I were (far) younger, I’d consider moving to Clifton, buying and fixing up an old building. Perhaps open a small coffeehouse. That’s how comfortable I felt, and that comfort had much to do with the handful of people I’d met.

The few people I’d encountered were very friendly and welcoming. Some I talked to admitted to many differences among residents and their opinions, but all said the townspeople as a whole cared for and supported one another. 

On Monday, I had a quick breakfast and said my goodbyes to Clifton Hotel co-owner Karen.

I headed out on Park Avenue and found my welcoming committee had gathered on a cliff to see me off.

I took the back road out of town, which conveniently passed the cemetery, so I was able to stop in again for a last visit with the saint.

Then back south, down Old 666 and home.

Chloe was glad to see me.

A Visit With a Saint

My adventure began when my friend Cinda sent me a small article she’d found online. It was about the Mexican folk saint Teresa Urrea, “The Saint of Cábora”. (Or it could be Cabora, without the accent. Maps disagree.)

Now, I happen to love Mexican folk saints. And I’d read about Santa Teresa in Luis Urrea’s famous book The Hummingbird’s Daughter. Luis is the great-nephew of the famous saint. I’m a big fan of Luis Urrea and have read a number of his books, but The Hummingbird’s Daughter is special to me.

Teresa’s story begins in the Mexican state of Sinaloa where she was born in 1873. It continues with the family’s move to Caborca, Sonora, and through her development there as a healer. The book ends when she has to flee for her life. The book is historical fiction but Teresa’s healing and miracles are well documented.

Teresa and her father, late 1800s

The article Cinda sent me said that Santa Teresa, often called Teresita, was buried in Clifton, Arizona, a few short hours north of where I live. She’d died of tuberculosis on January 11, 1906, only thirty-two years old.

As if it happened, my birthday was coming up in about six weeks. I’d been looking for something special to do. When I reached 70 a few years back, I figured it’s pretty important to celebrate every year.

So what does one do to celebrate during the time of Covid?

Easy. Visit a grave. The grave of Santa Teresa Urrea.

I did a bit of research online and found a photo of the grave. It was covered with a concrete slab and surrounded by a small, decorative metal fence. The notes said the grave was unmarked, but with the photo I hoped to find it. I saved the photo onto my iPad.

I scheduled a room at the Clifton Hotel (blog post soon about this sweet place). I reserved two nights.

I headed off on my birthday around 9:30 and after stopping along the way for gas, coffee, photos, etc., I pulled in to Clifton around 1:45. I wandered a bit and got to my hotel by 2:30.

After a quick meal, I headed out to the cemetery with my iPad containing the grave’s photo.

The photo showed two tall Italian Cypress trees, and I figured I’d line them up with the mountains in the background to find the grave.

I got to the cemetery and was happy to find there were only two Italian Cypress trees, the ones in my photo. I could see them right through the cemetery entrance.

It didn’t take long to find the grave, but I was surprised and pleased to find it was now marked with a simple cross atop the concrete. Teresita was etched into one arm of the cross, Urrea into the other.

The fence was decorated with a rosary, and there were pink and yellow plastic flowers tied to the fence. A candle to the Virgin of Guadalupe and a small card called an estampita (a little stamp) for the Virgin sat at the base of the cross. The estampita had the Virgin’s likeness on the front and a prayer on the back. The rim of the concrete was decorated with rocks. 

I sat.

I poured out some of my sorrows, told her about Covid and the terrible divisiveness in our country. I asked her to intervene. She’s a saint, after all.

We chatted for about twenty minutes. Truth be told, she didn’t really chat. But she listened.

As I left, I asked her to come to me in my dreams.

I visited her the following day, leaving some fresh-picked flowers on her grave, and stopped by again on my way out of town the morning I left. 

Each time as I left, I asked her to visit me.

She hasn’t yet, but who’s to know? If you’ve read my post of a few weeks ago, you know I sometimes encounter spirits.

Teresa, I’m ready for a visit.

Seventy-Four and There’s So Much More (With Apologies to Neil Young)

“Old man, look at my life / I’m a lot like you were /Old man, look at my life / I’m a lot like you were / Old man, look at my life / Twenty-four, and there’s so much more.”

I loved those lines from Neil Young’s Old Man when I was twenty-four. I left the Midwest for Tucson at twenty-three, and a month later at twenty-four I was living in Tucson and knew I was a Westerner.

But Neil, you need to do a rewrite now.

“Young one, look at my life / I was a lot like you are / Young one, look at my life / I was a lot like you are / Young one, look at my life / Seventy-four and there’s so much more.”

I don’t yet know what the “much more” is, but to be sure, I plan on going after it.

Some of that “more” will include sorting, tossing, packing, and moving, though to where I don’t know. But it will be a place with public transportation and good medical facilities.

Part of the “more” will involve travel to places near and far and especially travel to be with my family. 

Most likely a part of the “more” will include a cat one day. An indoor cat. No more feline mass murderers in my home. 

Before Neil Young sang of  being twenty-four, there’d been songs with ages in them. Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen. Janis Ian’s At Seventeen

When I did a Google search, I found there are many more songs with ages in their titles. Most are by people or groups I’ve never heard of and mention ages sixteen to twenty-five. Very telling about our culture.

One didn’t fit that mold, though. The next song I related to was John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High

“He was born in the summer of his 27th year / Coming home to a place he’d never been before / He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again / You might say he found a key for every door.”

I was twenty-seven when I moved to Bisbee. It was winter. But by the summer of my twenty-seventh year, I knew I’d come home, to a place I’d never been before. You might say I was born again, into a community of hippies and I felt I’d found a key to quite a number of doors.

Key? Ha. In those days, no one locked their doors.

Then there were no more songs with ages in them, at least not that I recall, until sixty-four. When I finally caught up to the Beatles’ When I’m Sixty-Four, well, I still liked the song, but the line “Will you still need me, will you still feed me / When I’m sixty-four” held little meaning since I didn’t much need to be needed and anyway, I was feeding myself. 

Feeding myself a bit too much, actually, since I was at least thirty pounds overweight. Glad I’ve corrected that. 

There was one more song that spoke to me though it wasn’t about a specific age. It spoke to me long ago and does so even more clearly today. It’s John Prine’s Hello in There.

“You know that old trees just grow stronger / And old rivers grow wilder every day / Old people just grow lonesome / Waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in there, hello.’”

But Neil, now that I’m seventy-four, please do a rewrite on Old Man and call it Young One. You can use my suggested opening lines. They are all I can come up with, but please pick up on it, okay?

Spirits I’ve Encountered

The first time I met a spirit, ghost, or whatever you choose to call them was in about 1975.

I was house sitting for friends about ten miles east of Bisbee (Arizona.) I stayed for a week in the little house that sat right off the highway.

I’d had several experiences of car lights flashing into the kitchen. Each time, I thought someone had pulled into the drive because it was the only way lights could have lit up the kitchen that way.

But there was never a car in the driveway. This happened every night, sometimes more than once, but there was never anyone there.

I slept on a sofa, and about six feet from it was a large open beam that ran the width of the house. The beam sat several feet below the ceiling.

Near the end of my stay, I awoke suddenly one night. Sitting on that beam was a round, oversized orange head. It was like a cartoon image—perfectly round with simple features.

The eyes of that orange face stared directly into mine.

Suddenly it hovered and moved in closer to me. It just hung there in the air for a bit and then faded away.

And no, I wasn’t dreaming.

My second encounter was in the summer of 1977.

I was on a road trip, gently roaming my way to Montana, and stopped for a night at Canyon de Chelley.

The first afternoon, I hiked some and spent time gazing into the canyon. The second day, I visited the White House Overlook.

I felt a stirring. A past. I couldn’t identify it, but I swear I felt spirits of the dead around me.

I was standing next to an older Diné man. We were both staring at a cave in the rock face high above the canyon floor.

He spoke softly. “My mother died there.”

My head spun his direction as he continued. “The army was attacking and she was carrying me up the ladder to the cave. When she got there, she handed me to my grandmother. My grandmother took me and right then, my mother was shot in the back and fell into the canyon. My grandmother pulled up the ladder, and those of us in in the cave were safe.”

I don’t remember what I said to him, but tears streamed down my face for the next ten minutes or so while we stood there side by side. 

No wonder I’d felt the ghosts of the past.

The third time was in 1982 when I lived out west of Bisbee at a place called Banning Creek Ranch, about halfway down Highway 92 from the tunnel on the south side.

The house was a delight. I loved every inch of it. Almost. There was one spot in the living room that was cold. Always cold, even on a hot summer day. The sofa sat right at the cold spot facing a beautiful fireplace. 

I couldn’t enjoy the sofa because of that cold. But I was the only one who noticed it. 

About a dozen years later I was in a writing group, and we met one evening in the home of a woman who lived maybe half a mile from the Banning Creek house. I told her where I’d once lived and she looked shocked.

“Did you know a cowboy was murdered there? He was shot and killed right in front of that big fireplace.”

Ah. The cold spot.

The fourth time was in 1989 in Guatemala. I was taking a boat across Lago Atitlán on a day trip from Panajachel to Santiago de Atitlán.

Lago Atitlán is stunningly beautiful but infamous because of the way it was used during the wars of the 70s and 80s. 

The indigenous population had many members working as or working with the guerilla, fighting Guatemala’s dictatorship.

Soldiers would come into a village and take a suspected leader away. A short time later, villagers were herded to the lake. A helicopter would appear, its side door open. The kidnapped villager, hands tied behind his or her back, was pushed out the door into the lake where he either died on impact or drown.

It was one of numerous repressive actions the government used to stifle revolution. Over a decade or so, hundreds were dropped into the deep waters of Lago Atitlán.  

On the day I was crossing the lake, I was gazing out across the still waters. Suddenly, clear as anything, about sixty or seventy people rose from the lake. All wore indigenous clothing.

A man near the front moved forward a bit and held out a large turtle to me.

I gaped. I gasped. Then I heard voices close behind me and looked around. Others on the boat were looking at me oddly.

When I swiveled my head back to the people of the lake, of course they were gone.

That is the day I became a Turtle Person.

The next time was late in 2006, about ten months after my father died. I awoke in the night and saw his face across the bedroom under the window. His face zoomed toward me and he looked at me closely. Then, just like the big orange face that had done the same thing, Dad disappeared.


I’m guessing he was there to check up on me and say goodbye.

This is my dad at about age 55. He lived nearly 40 years more.

And now I have a new visitor. Or at least I did.

For about three weeks I had a visitor, a man. I’d see him out the side of my eye, usually my right eye. I’d see him all through the house and once outside. 

He’d be standing at a slight angle to me, as if I could turn slightly and we’d be looking straight at each other. He stood somewhat slouched, dressed in browns and tans, and he wore a hat. I never saw him clearly because when I’d look, he’d be gone.

I got the sense he was youngish, maybe in his thirties. But it was hard to tell since I could never really see him.

He’d just stand there, maybe six feet away. He looked like he should be holding a cup of coffee. And maybe he was.

I got the sense he could be a cowboy, but again, since I never got a real look, I can’t be sure. 

A few weeks ago, I may have made a mistake. I told others about him. And he hasn’t been back since then.

I wish he’d come again. I’d like to find out who he is and why he’s here.

Each of my ghostly encounters is still so real, so clear. I can see every one and envision the setting perfectly.

I once assumed folks lucky enough to be visited by a spirit had that connection with just one person in one location unless they were some kind of medium. I had no idea I’d be one of the lucky ones, let alone have several experiences.

I love knowing I can, on occasion, be visited by spirits, even those to whom I have no special connection. I look forward to my next encounter.

Will

I met poet Will Inman in maybe 1997, in the early days of the Quarter Moon Coffeehouse where I was a co-owner. 

Will had come to Bisbee to do a reading in the coffeehouse, but he didn’t have a car, so some kindly soul had brought him from Tucson the afternoon of his reading.

August Schaffer made sure he had accommodations for the night, and since I had to head to Tucson the following day, I was charged with driving him home. 

For some reason I don’t recall, I couldn’t take my own vehicle to Tucson, so August said she’d loan me her old VW diesel. 

I showed up early to pick up Will and was ready to head out, but he mournfully told me he was hungry and hadn’t even had a cup of coffee. I semi-grudgingly opened the Quarter Moon, made a pot of the coffeehouse’s excellent brew and toasted us a few bagels, smearing the tops with cream cheese.

As the coffee finished brewing, I was wondering what I was going to talk about with the white-haired, slightly unkempt stranger for the next two hours. He was a good bit older than I, but that wasn’t really a problem. He was also gay, and I was fine with that. 

But the man was a poet. A nationally recognized one. And that was intimidating. I don’t write poetry and am in the group of people who often times doesn’t “get” poetry. So that left me feeling … well, yes, intimidated.

Will Inman, 1976. Photograph by LaVerne Harrell Clark. Courtesy of the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Copyright Arizona Board of Rgents.

We took off up 80, coffee snugged between our legs and munching bagels. We sputtered up the hill towards the tunnel and within a mile of downtown, Will said, “Would you mind if I open the window a bit? That way the diesel fumes might not kill me before we reach Tombstone.”

I laughed and told him the smell of diesel always reminded me of Guatemala. With that, our conversation took off.

We spent the next two hours laughing, talking and sharing stories like we were old friends who hadn’t had the chance to laugh or gossip in a long time. We talked of our past, present, and future lives as we roared up to the interstate and then to Tucson’s west side.

When I pulled in front of Will’s house, I felt quite sorry our time together was at an end. But the time didn’t end then because he invited me into his home.

Startled isn’t even the word I felt as I stepped into his living room. I immediately flashed on the home of a woman I’d worked with at the Tucson Urban League a dozen years previously. 

This woman had kept every one of her newspapers for maybe the last decade. Or longer. Some areas of the house had stacks of papers three and four rows deep, and they were piled up nearly to the ceiling. I remember the horror I felt knowing the house would be an inferno should there ever be a fire. 

Will must have known that woman. She must have been his mentor, for his living room held a similarity in the piles of papers and magazines he kept, with the resultant trails running through them.

Will Inman and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1979. Photograph by LaVerne Harrell Clark. Courtesy of the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Copyright Arizona Board of Regents.

The biggest difference was I could see Will’s artistry in his piles of paper. They didn’t merely stack against the walls. He’d created curvy, winding trails, and he kept the piles low enough to allow sun and light to spill into his home and afford him a view of his garden.

This was a sharp contrast to Newspaper Woman. Her piles of papers covered the windows. She had but one narrow path through the living room straight into the kitchen. There she’d left access to the stove, refrigerator and sink plus a tiny section of one counter.

There was another trail into the bedroom. Although the bathroom was next to the bedroom, access was closed by piles of papers and one had to backtrack to the kitchen and follow a different trail to get there. 

So Will’s house didn’t really compare. Thankfully.

I used his bathroom flushing with a bucket next to the toilet. He captured shower water until it reached the right temperature and used the caught water for flushing.

I followed the trail from the bath to the kitchen which thankfully had no piles of paper. There he handed me some iced tea and invited me into the back yard which, in contrast to the house, seemed lovingly tended and groomed.

There he took me through his garden and introduced me, truly verbally introduced me, to each plant. He told me a bit about each, like how long he’d had it and its habits.

He tore off a leafy green for each of us to nibble. He assured me it was full of minerals yet needed little water. It was bitter, but edible.

At some point during the morning, maybe as early as smelling diesel and laughing together, and certainly long before we nibbled bitter green leaves, I understood that this man was important to me and would be for the rest of his life. 

And he was.

Will Inman, 1982. Photograph by LaVerne Harrell Clark. Courtesy of the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Copyright Arizona Board of Regents.

When I left, we promised to stay in touch and became regular letter writers. He’d often send a real letter, but more often he’d send a poem with a note scribbled on the back. I wish I’d kept them all but still have a few.

Several years later, I was attending Arizona Writing Project at the U of A for a six-week session, dorm and meals paid for via a grant. I knew Will had a writing group and met weekly, so I called and asked if I could attend.

Of course, everyone in the group but me was a poet.

The first week I attended, I brought nothing. Will read a poem of his about a wolf and it inspired me to write a piece for the following week.

I read it and got great feedback from everyone, but Will remained silent for a time. All eyes turned to him, and I sat there nervously awaiting his comments.

Finally, he looked at me and simply said, “That’s a poem.”

“No it’s not. I don’t write poetry.”

“It’s a poem,” he repeated. Then he looked away and had the next person share his work. 

Many months later, I pulled my piece out and worked it into a poem. I knew Will had been right, and just had to mull it for awhile before I could shift its form. 

I sent it off to him and got an immediate reply. It was the only time he did not send me a poem, just a message.

His one-line note read: “Told ya.”

Will Inman, 1985. Photograph by LaVerne Harrell Clark. Courtesy of the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Copyright Arizona Board of Regents.

The Streets of Kansas City

In 1985 I left the desert for a job in Kansas City, Missouri, a city that had long been racially divided. I moved to have the chance to live closer to my family in St. Louis and take an interesting job. 

Two years later, I was offered a position as director (and sole employee) of a day drop-in center for street people. Thankfully, I was able to get an assistant about a year later.  

It was a late spring afternoon in 1988, long before the Black Lives Matter movement began.

I was walking from my downtown office at the Homeless Center to a nearby social service agency. 

Suddenly a young Black man dashed across a vacant lot with four policemen in pursuit. Three of those men were white, one I thought might be Japanese. 

Suddenly, the young man’s shoe slipped off, and he knew it was over. He stopped, raised his hands, and turned to face his pursuers.

I’d paused to watch, of course. But I was shocked when the first cop to reach the man began to beat him with his club. The victim covered his head and he was hollering, “No, man! No! I stopped!”

Without even thinking, I ran over and hollered at the cops to stop. They did. Not because I’d told them to but because they were surprised at my interruption. 

One of the white men walked toward me and said I had to leave or I’d be arrested for interfering with police business.

I walked away but continued to watch, standing there as they handcuffed and hauled their captive back across the lot and around a corner.

I didn’t follow them, but today I wish I had.

What I did do was write a letter to the editor describing the event. I told the paper I wanted my accounting printed anonymously, but they refused, saying the paper required that my name be on the letter.

I had to think about that for a bit. Kansas City police were well known at the time for basically doing whatever they wanted to do. But ultimately, I agreed to having my name printed.

The next morning, my assistant opened the Homeless Center and I came in maybe twenty minutes later. There were a dozen or so men already there.

When I walked in, one of them waved the newspaper and they all began to cheer and applaud. One guy borrowed my scissors so he could cut out the article and put it on the wall. Suddenly, I was a hero.

Within an hour, I got a call from the Chief of Police. He wanted to know if my letter was true and I told him that of course it was. He asked if I thought I could identify the policemen, and I said I believed I could.

I walked same route as I had a few days before, this time passing the social service agency and nervously entering the police station. The captain himself met me and escorted me to a room that had a few dozen photos posted.

I identified all four who’d been there, first telling him who’d swung the billyclub and next which one had threatened me with arrest. Then I quickly pointed out the other two. The whole ID process took me under a minute. The men’s faces had burned into my brain.

I was notified about a week later that all four men had been put on leave and the one who’d swung the club had been demoted.

I have no idea if the man who’d been beaten was satisfied with the outcome, but I was. I wondered if the Black man had been surprised by my intervention. I also wondered if the police had beat him more later because of it. 

Since it was Kansas City, I was truly uncomfortable for several months afterwards. I never sped. I made complete stops and always used my turn signal. I waited at crosswalks until the light was green and didn’t even consider jaywalking. 

I didn’t want anyone in the department to have even the hint of an excuse to ticket or arrest me for anything.

All was well at the Center until mid-summer when one morning one of the guys came tearing in, running through the big main area and heading out the back. I dashed out of my office to see what was going on and almost collided with a cop in pursuit. I remained in front of him as he screeched to a halt.

I chewed him out for chasing through the Center and told him he was welcome to visit but that our space was off limits for chasing and arresting. 

By then he’d lost whoever he was after, so he just snarled at me and left through the front door. 

There was a good crowd there that day, over twenty guys. They first roared with laughter and then cheered me again. 

That story circulated for days, and guys who came in only occasionally dropped by to thank me. Some gave me a hug. 

Interestingly, after that, the regular beat cop (not the one who’d been chasing a client) came in one day and said he’d like to drop by now and again. He said he wouldn’t be looking for anyone nor be there to arrest anyone. He just wanted an occasional friendly presence.

I about fainted but decided to trust him. I told him it would be okay. The guys weren’t real pleased, but over time, they got to know that cop and true to his word, he never gave anyone a hard time when he dropped in. The guys adjusted and even found they could talk to him, ask him questions.

A simple intervention on a vacant lot and stopping a chase culminated in a bridge-building between the guys I worked with and at least one man, one tiny piece, of the Kansas City Police Department.

Never doubt that one small action can have a profound effect. 

Bisbee Says Black Lives Matter

British colonists arrived on the shores of what is now the United States in 1607. In 1619, a short 12 years later, the first black people were kidnapped from Angola and delivered by a ship known as the White Lion to the shores of Virginia.

Two years later, the Indian Wars began. Over the next few decades, neighborhood patrols were established in some areas to watch for Indians, and in other locations patrols were established to track and capture escaped slaves.

White privilege on this continent had been firmly established.

Privilege can only exist if its lack also exists. Therefore, it’s in the best interests of those with privilege to hang onto it, and that means those who have it must keep denying it to those without.

Four hundred years after that white privilege was established, the first known death of COVID-19 in the US happened on February 6.

About two weeks later, Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, was out jogging. He was killed by a former policeman and his son. Although there was no protest at the time, there was a large outcry and the men who murdered him were eventually arrested.

The virus began spreading, and on March 16, San Francisco Bay Area’s stay at home order began. Three days later, the order was instituted throughout the state of California.

Just a few days before that, however, on March 13, as the virus was building and spreading, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor of Louisville lay asleep in her bed. Breonna was an EMT. She was shot and killed by the police who burst through her door, executing a no-knock warrant on her boyfriend in search of drugs.

There were no drugs.

Again, there was no immediate protest but there was a large outcry against no-knock warrants.

Black people know they have a 2 1/2 times greater chance of being killed by police than white people do. Black people also know they have died from COVID-19 at three times the rate white people have.

A report by CBS News on May 7 showed 38% of Whites had been laid off from their jobs. 44% of Blacks and 61% of Hispanics had been laid off.

All this frustration was in place when George Floyd was murdered on May 25th in Minneapolis.

George had paid for a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. I have no idea if he even knew it was counterfeit. But in under 20 minutes, policeman Derek Chauvin had George handcuffed and was kneeling on the Black man’s neck.

George repeatedly asked for help and told Chauvin he was unable to breathe. People observing this called out to the police, telling them George had not even been resisting and was clearly incapable of resisting. Three other policeman stood by and did nothing to stop the murder.

Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck even after he was unconscious. He remained on his neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds.

High school student Darnella Frazier videoed George’s murder and posted it online.

With that, frustration in the Black community reached its limit.

Protests begin the following night and soon they spread to over four hundred US cities and towns in all fifty states as well as in eighteen other countries.

People were sick and tired of Black people being treated as though their lives did not matter. Black lives matter. And that certainly is not to say that no one else’s life matters. It is a reminder. It is a demand. Black people must be treated as though their lives matter as much as everyone else’s.

On Monday, June 1, a young woman posted in a Bisbee community Facebook page that we should have a protest. Most commenters agreed with her but some said there shouldn’t be a protest because there could be violence and damage done downtown.

As one who has gone to marches and protests in this town for more than forty-five years, that concern sounded absurd. I was delighted a young woman had decided to organize this.

We assembled on Tuesday, most of us masked, at 6 in the evening at what’s called Grassy Park in downtown Bisbee. The official park name is the Copper Queen Plaza Park, but I’ve never known a single person to call it that. It’s Grassy Park.

Members of the local police department had been invited to attend to march with us but none of them showed up. In fact, none of them even showed up to monitor the event because they were as unconcerned about violence as the rest of us.

In Grassy Park, names of Black people killed by police were read, and soon 75 to 80 of us were marching through town a half mile uphill to the Iron Man statue.

I found even the statue was well masked.

As marchers gathered around the Iron Man, a Bisbee man read names of the twenty people who’ve been killed in Arizona by police so far this year. Of that twenty, eight were minority men. That’s 40%, when the minority population in our state is about 23%. Others spoke of racism and privilege and police brutality.

After the speeches, the group returned to Grassy Park.

Photo by Bisbee resident John Allen.
Photo by Bisbee resident John Allen.
Another photo by John Allen

As of today, Derek Chauvin has been arrested on charges of second degree murder. I feel it should be first degree. To me it became premeditated the moment Chauvin stayed kneeling on George’s neck when he was subdued. It certainly became premeditated when he continued to kneel on George’s neck once he was unconscious.

Tou Thao, J Alexander Keung and Thomas K. Lane, the officers who looked on as George died, have been charged with aiding and abetting murder. They watched for the entire eight minutes and 46 seconds Chauvin strangled George Floyd.

George Floyd’s life, taken because of a $20 counterfeit bill.

Photo by Bisbee resident John Allen.

It is time for white-privileged people to understand. Black lives matter.

Pursuing Poppies

Just past dawn, we three intrepid Ladyranchers climbed into my RAV named Luna.

Ladyranch is my acre of land on the Mexican border, and currently, three women live on it.

The morning was cool and overcast but expected to clear.

We were headed from our tiny town on the Mexican border, up through McNeal, Elfrida, and on to just north of Sunsites in search of California poppies. Remembering last year’s display, I wanted to share the beauty with the two women here.

An hour later, we were there, parked across the road from JH Helicopter Service, right at the corner of Wylie Coyote Road and Horse Country Road. Really.

But the poppies were still sleeping. The cool morning and overcast start of the day had left them unable to open yet.

Except for one.

So we waited. We walked a bit and found a few other things to photograph.

But it was quite cool, so we climbed back into the car and ate our snacks. Well, at least I did. I devoured everything I’d brought along: the end of a bag of peanut butter pretzels, a Kind bar with cashews and cherries, and banana.

But eventually, it warmed up and poppies filled the fields.

And not just poppies.

Around 10:30, we decided to head back south making a quick stop to photo remains of an old windmill.

We gassed up in Elfrida because the prices were far lower than in Bisbee.

We passed a field plowed and ready for planting and one already planted.

This part of the county is known for cotton even though it is an absurd crop to grow in the desert. It takes over 5000 gallons of water to produce 1 kg of cotton. No wonder our water table is dropping! And then we saw one field: It looked like a few bales of cotton had exploded before they were picked up.

But soon we were near the turnoff to Whitewater Draw. Why pass it up?

Nest of tent caterpillars

No cranes since they’d all gone north. But there were hundreds of Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

And then the star of the show: mama owl and her babies!

You can see a second baby hiding behind the first.
The shy baby was still hiding behind mama.

One our way home, another old windmill.

Poppies, Whitewater, blackbirds, owls, and two old windmills. We were sated when we headed out on them last twenty-five minutes to home.