Monday, December 31, 2007

looking back

for tom

recorded in her notebook on January 2, 1990:

I do not know why
we can love so hard
and so awkwardly, why now, under the shadow of the locust trees,
the air has turned purple, and the streets--
which are simply returning from rain--
appear permanently stained,
why there is such a thing at all
as loneliness…

--Charlie Smith

New York City, Spring 1987
Let us begin again, twenty years later, because she had fallen in love with a sad lost soul, a historian (or was it literature, or art, or architecture?) dredging through the morphemes of a lost language looking for some memory of himself. He manufactured himself anew each morning, bolstered by the stiff morning light, propped up by syllables, mumbling their sounds like a mantra as he shuffled toward his stuffy office in the history department on Washington Square. She is walking down a quiet Brooklyn sidewalk. Unlike other sidewalks, it is paved with flagstones beneath which, over time, the earth has shifted, so that now, as the heel of her boot strikes the surface of the stone, a clear sound rings out. She is unaware that this sound changes the tissue of the air around her--that time cringes uneasily and recoils from its standard procession. She does not yet know that hope ripples outward upon the waves of this sound, permeating the air around her and the ancient bricks of the row-houses that line the sleeping street.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out…
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall
That wants it down

He had inscribed a quote from Rilke inside the cover of The Last Temptation of Christ: “For one human being to love another--that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” He was not a dream, but a man she had dreamed years before, who had poured into her open hand several lovely stones. Twenty years later she knows the names of the stones: Merton, and Teilhard de Chardin, and Rilke, among others. Kazantzakis was the stone that introduced her to the struggle in which every man partakes: My principal anguish and the source of all my joys and sorrows from youth onward has been the incessant, merciless battle between the spirit and the flesh. She was twenty; he was almost fifty, but he often irritated her by saying he could not wait to know her when she was forty.

In 1990 she will be given a lovely, blank book by her best friend, whom she has betrayed or soon will betray, at the expense of the most tender friendship she will ever know, and will begin writing poetry. It is awful. We must endure this poetry for six or seven months before she abandons poetry for cooking. A dreadful poem about her mother is followed by a recipe for tabouli, then vegetable stroganoff, and ratatouille.

Then, somewhere in my dreams
A fog-torn place and funneled silence

By 1991, a week before her birthday, he will be dead. Shot in the heart. A self-inflicted wound, and suicide becomes the language of love, the last mumbled syllable of a man who existed out of time. In the last months of his life, even she had dismissed his lack of consonance with the world of the living. She hardly noticed the glistening stones, and they kept tumbling into her hands, passed on often by regretful emissaries.

He died on March 4th
With spring snow on the ground
Alone in his pavilion. Seated at the foot of his bed.
Holding his shoe.
His body did not burst into unforgettable fragments at his death, no.

In 1996, the recipes will temporarily cease. She will quote Meister Eckhart and Herman Melville, and make pithy evaluations about the last six years, followed shortly thereafter by an unhappy marriage and two recipes: aduki bean squash stew and Italian Riboletta, the latter being of excellent literary quality.

(She misses him. He had this way of seeing her in her faults, and shaking his head with so much love, saying, "Aw, sweetheart." And she is forty now. She knows who the woman is that he wanted to know. She would have liked to know him, too, at seventy. There were so many stones. She never thanked him for the stones.)

If nature will not tell the tale
Jehovah told to her
Can human nature not survive
Without a listener?

(quotes above are from Robert Frost, Nikos Kazanzakis, Celia Thaxter, Anne Carson, Emily Dickinson)

Friday, December 28, 2007

cronos and gaia

Image credit: Carlos Parada, Cronos

I passed most of the morning in bed, watching the sun, which was transformed into a milky haze by the dust of the windowpane. On days when I don’t have to be anywhere, it is almost impossible to leave the house during the hours when the sun describes its balletic arc along the southeastern perimeter of the house. Sleeping is allowed, even reading, as long as you wake or raise your eyes from the page and occasionally behold the sun--mostly, you may not leave the presence of the sun. For about two hours (say from one until three o’clock p.m.) the sun will be intercepted by a windowless section of the house and a large Arizona Ash that visits from next door. During this time you can go out.

From the front door step of our house you have two options. Going East leads to hip cafes, divy clothing shops and a used bookstores, beer, and wine and coffee--all that civilization has to offer can be found by going east. To the west lie the hills, the creek, the Spings, and the trails. This is the direction I most often find myself leaning, and even walks with an intended eastward direction usually are delayed by a westward jog. Today we head purposefully west, down to the creekbed with a thermos of green tea, an apple and a small container of milk. The sun is filtered by the overhanging vines and riparian trees, and we walk a long while before lighting upon a sunny, rocky place in the center of the creek bed, dry for weeks now. It is as if the underwater world was suddenly frozen in time--the rocks, the plants, the algae are all a milky white. Above in the blue sky, buzzards watch us.

The highway arcs above like a great serpent. It’s hard not to resent its ignominious presence--even if you cannot see it, it effects a constant drone that eventually comes to resemble the wind in the cottonwoods and sycamores--and all the more despicable because of it. We find crawdad parts, some fox fur, and scattered feathers--signs that some sort of normal, natural parade of life and death continues unhindered. Yes, I realize that in saying this I betray some fundamental principal of ecology that says we are also nature, not separate from it--but lately, and as always, I doubt this and feel we are aliens consuming this world and shitting it out in our hideous wake.

Last night we read the story of Gaia and Uranus, and I am again reminded that myths hold the key to many mysteries. As we walked down the creek, searching for treasure, I wonder about the Titans and the hundred-headed monster and the cylopses Uranus tossed into the depths of the earth. What do they tell us about who we are, about where we are going, and which direction to head in the hours devoid of perfect, dancing light.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

the lost ritual

She would say that there had always been a voyeuristic element to her personality--and she had confessed on countless occasions to close friends that she often felt like a ghost haunting even her own skin--displaced, oddly unhinged and out of time, wandering through life as if she were looking at photographs musing on the present as if it were instead the past.

It is early and cold, and she is irritated because she forgot to buy coffee and so she must perform the ritual recollection of the particles of herself without the binding power of caffeine. It puts things right again, things that have shifted out of place during the night, pieces of herself moving just so slightly that the machinery cannot function, or worse, pieces that have drifted so far she must call them back patiently. She sometimes performs this ritual in bed, but today she does it with a cup of tea, watching the morning sun cleave the cold from the skinlike fronds of an agave across the street.

Today they will procure the Christmas tree. This is a quasi-ritual fashioned over the years for her three children intended to replace the Lost Rituals of her childhood, which they cannot know about but she is sure they suffer anyway for the loss. The quasi, replacement ritual feels unutterably lame to her, a vague and insincere gesture toward Holiday, but it is as close as she can come to the Lost Rituals.

The Lost Rituals exist in a space-time vault accessible to anyone who participated in them, and are additionally supported by photo-documentation lest any of the details grow blurred or risk being forgotten. Most of this documentation was performed by her grandfather, who was socially inept, and an in-law privy by marriage to the rituals so he was never a bona fide participant. He used the camera and a highball as a foil.

The Lost Rituals were led, and performed for numerous, happy years, by her great-grandparents. They were working class who had made it to the middle class, and they owned a large house comfortably furnished with overstuffed sofas and Victorian era relics all organized upon a vast sea of white carpet. The formal living and dining rooms were where the ritual was celebrated. There was always an enormous flocked tree. It was hand-flocked by a local nursery and delivered in a giant plastic bag. The ornaments were never eclectic--simply iridescent glass balls and fake birds, and multi-colored lights.

Those who participated in the rituals wore their finest clothes. One year, when she was five, she recalls a nondescript dress with red polka-dot stockings. She can still vividly recall those stockings, and the joy they filled her with as she looked down upon her dancing legs. Others wore fur, or silk--for all day the great -grandparents had been engaged in the preparations--baking brisket and pie, making jelly and jell-o salad, rolling out biscuits and mashing potatoes. Then there was the eating and revelry, the present opening, and singing, and the laughter that had been looked forward to by all for the entirety of the long year.

At the time of the red polka-dot stockings, her family lived on a farm in the country, about an hour from the town where the grandparents lived. Her mother had grown up with the ritual, and would never have conceived of missing it, or worse, replacing it with another family’s ritual. On Christmas Eve they piled into the Buick with all their finery and drove the deserted farm roads the hour or so to the grandparents' and reveled happily until Midnight, when the grandparents informed everyone that Santa Claus would pass the houses by if the children were not asleep in their beds, so the the parents would bundle up the little ones--it was most often snowing--into the night and ferry them homeward.

Her mother and father always seemed happy during the ritual, but on the way home they began to shake off a studied composure to be replaced with bridling resentment. He has had too much to drink, the mother bristles at the father. The children in the back seat are not listening to the fighting, nor are they noticing the slight weaving along the curving canyon roads in the snow. They are scouring the black, star-filled night sky for signs of Rudloph the red-nosed reindeer.

This memory has turned sour in her stomach as she sits by the window with her tea watching the sun dismiss the frost. She picks over the seeds of her life, and wants to reject them all, paling as they do in comparison to the perfect seed of the Lost Rituals. There came a time when the grandparents grew too frail to host the ritual. One by one the children attempted to recreate the magic, but none were able. Each in turn failed to produce anything that could have bound the disparate members together for even a single evening. There were many noble attempts. She looks back over her life and marks this loss as the end of uncontrived happiness.

And she thinks again of the snow, the long ride home on Christmas Eve and the three children huddled in the back seat, unaware of anything but the magic of Chrismas: What if?

What if he had, while the mother nagged in the seat next to him, and the stars bore down brightly upon him, and the thought of the falling price of cotton that year and the incessant desires for things he struggled to provide, and he did, after all, have quite a lot to drink-- and the sheet of ice was glassy and beautiful and reflected the night, and when the wheels hit it, the Buick went spinning off into the snow with great speed, tumbling over and over, almost with a whisper in the forlorn fields of snow, to rest, at last, in the silence of the frosted winter grass. Not a movement, not a breath.

There is a shear force of will that turns the cantankerous wheels of fate in unseen directions. There was so much will that night, maybe only the children in their joy was enough to muster a mighty cry against the Great Inhuman Will, and they rose up in their joy with a resounding NO! Time, like a mighty steam engine that slams on the breaks to avoid hitting a cow on the tracks, issued forth a terrible sound of immense friction. The world shuddered. The animals pricked their ears. And the mother nagged, and the father turned on the radio. O, Holy Night was playing, and he took her hand.

They made it home safely, a little addled, though they knew not why. As the parents carried the last warm, slumbering body to bed, they felt as if somehow their lives have been irrevocably altered. The children dreamed of ice and silence. And this would never change. That night will always be the last night. The Lost Ritual will always be the last true thing they ever knew. And they will walk through life, and live, almost as everyone lives, but there will be a feeling, a vague, uneasy feeling, of being a ghost, haunting even their own skins.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

lost pengwin

Maybe you do not rercall what it felt liketo traffic in essences. Children certainly do, and when you happen upon a completely uncontrived essence, courtesy of some child just being, well, childlike, it is like a breath of sweet, fresh air.

When do we lose this? Some people, I think, do not, but why? Sudoku and crosswords are not the way to hold on to that fragile connection with utter expression, unhinged from expectation.

Monday, December 10, 2007

winter reading list

I am agitated.

Let me begin with yesterday. I met a Nigerian/German who could have been my favorite philosopher except my favorite philosopher, everyman, is wholly Nigerian--it was only his character who was German (mother?) and Nigerian (father?), but I took this to be a sign, nonetheless, and launched into a discussion of literature about which my new acquaintance knew nothing. He spoke perfect German, however.

But I could NOT retrieve the title of Ondaatje's Coming through the Slaughter which was where I had packaged this association along with a recommendation from "not my real name," Allan Smithee who had also recommended I read this. A woman at the party who might be this Nigerian German's wife tells me that the brain is shrinking because of Google.

But let me tell you what I will read over the break, if my brain will hold up:

Condorcet, Progress of the Human Mind or what some may know as Tableau of the Progress of the Human Spirit

Hugo's Notre Dames de Paris, and Thoreau and Emerson in small doses. I am still struggling with Emerson, and what seems to me to be something that today would look like a mental illness.

Meanwhile, I will work on my operatic singing. Every time I hit a high note my five-year old hugs me. She says it is because she loves it when I do that, but I wonder if it might not be simply self defense. So far the dog has not howled. I try not to think about the fact that my best arias are written for a tenor...

Most of all, do not sit around this holiday and drink beer and eat cheetohs (as was recommended by one of my classmates). Life is too short, and although I subscribe to both beer and cheetohs, have them over Condorcet of Virgil, or Hugo. We'll all watch the Big Lebowski in heaven...

Sunday, December 9, 2007

notes to myself

This is a link to an indescribably beautiful short film by one of my favorite philosophers. I am as yet inept regarding how best to post videos--but however you get there, it is worth the trip...

I awoke around 1 a.m., thinking about Bedichek, and Dobie, and
McMurtry and this long lineage of Texas writers, and I should include
Dorothy Scarborough, of The Wind and Katherine Ann Porter, who are the only truly noteworthy females of
Texas literature, but I always longed, don't know why, to belong to the
"boys club."

This might have something to do with my upbringing, and the
pre-kindergarten days I spent with my dad travelling from town to
unnamed town in the panhandle, stopping off at grain elevators to shoot the breeze with other farmers analyzing the market and bad-mouthing the republicans (those were the days--now the farmers in that area subscribe to a different set of politics driven by a man who wouldn't know which end of a cow to milk, but he employs a familiar vocabulary and perhaps that is where we all draw the line).

Bedichek will be much on my mind over the holidays as I embark upon a rereading of his Adventures with a Texas Naturalist

the not lost notes...

I guess I need to figure out the plot of this story. Grace is born, is raised by her father, rather uneventfully in this small Texas town, which at this point hardly figures at all into the story—should it be a larger part of the story? More characters? Anyway, she is haunted by her mother’s suicide, an incident which her father only ever describes to her in mythological terms. When she is forced to confront her abandonment after her father’s death, she decides to open the lid of the past and find out who her mother was and what was the terrible secret that she carried inside her—what eventually drove her to suicide.

She moves in to the old hotel, her mother’s childhood home, and the past comes alive. Layer after layer of history unfolds as she discovers the many secrets held in the walls of the old building. She is about to lose touch with everything, to be consumed by the past entirely, when she meets Holcomb Howell, a young cropduster. What ensues is Grace’s first love, a passionate encounter with the living such as she has never known, by her mother’s secret has now become her own, and the desperate battle is now being waged within her.

Why am I doing this? I know that right now I couldn't care less about what happens in this stupid story. So let me tell you this. How when Grace returned home she sat for a long time in the living room of the German farmhouse, feeling the emptiness of the rooms. There was a stillness in the air that oppressed her. What she felt most keenly however was the feeling that though she had lived in this house her entire life, she had never felt that she quite belonged. There was a distance between her and every object that occupied the house, as if some unseen presence had hovered over her warning, “Don’t meddle, don’t touch,” until her curiosity had finally subsided.

This house was a body vacant of spirit, and she herself felt this vacancy of spirit well. She rose from the crackling, decrepit sofa and smoothed her skirt as if she was off to the kitchen to make tea or wash vegetables. She went to her closet and took out an old suitcase of a floral print in needlepoint. She packed the few dresses and undergarments she owned. Then she searched the kitchen drawer...for a key. They had never as far as she knew, locked any of the doors. But the kitchen door through which the entered and exited exclusively did have a latch and keyhole. At some length of rifling through the drawers filled with pipe cleaners and small parts of dismantled mechanisms of various kinds, she discovered a small and heavy key on a frayed and faded green ribbon.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

folded hands

I've been drawing on the train. Thirteen days ago, it
was an old Hasidim who hung his head low as he read
the paper. And, when he was done, he folded and
refolded his hands, constantly switching which was on
top, so that it seemed as if they were transparent and
you could see one old wrinkly hand right through the

Last night a cold front blew in and I woke to frost on the glass. The house is quiet; the kids are away at grandparent's and it is just me in bed with coffee and the wind.

I love the idea of families all snuggled together today, sharing a meal, laughing and arguing and just, well--sharing one another's company and giving thanks for the beauty of their lives--just their lives, that is so much to be thankful for.

Being alone, I will do the sanest thing I know: First I will go for a walk on the trail. And I will pray for everything I can imagine. The things I am thankful for, the things I may take for granted, and for those who are not safely ensconced in the presence of loved ones, dysfunctional or otherwise.

Last night I heard on NPR that the police took a baby away from a Guatemalan mother who was breastfeeding her infant. They deported her, the baby (an American citizen) they kept here. I will pray that this insanity ends soon. There is so much insanity these days. Another insane commercial holiday looms---what are we thinking? Is anyone thinking? Sometimes it is almost unbearable to live in a culture whose concern is primarily "getting" and "having" more and more stuff.

I can't get the image of the man on the train, folding and refolding his hands, out of my mind. It is almost like the weaving of the fates--the perpetual folding, the neverending wringing of the hands--I imagine this is exactly what God does (metaphorically) as he/she/whatever, unnameable, watches the chaos below.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

pseudo-random numbers

for allan smithee (not his real name)

Yesterday the 338 was rerouted at Lamar and 29th because of a 'hostage situation.' (One man, fending off the authorities in a gunshop--can one hold oneself hostage?)

The wind started blowing today; we headed out to walk the dog because the leaves were doing their best impression of the Shelley poem, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, yellow and black and pale, and hectic red--a pestilence stricken multitude... possibly very poorly paraphrased, and I always confuse that poem with Shakespeare's sonnet about "bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang"...pestilence stricken multitudes. See?

She asks me: Who will take care of me when you are an angel?

I respond that I am very far away from being an angel.

But tonight the wind blows and the clouds move like the dead, soooo slowly. I imagine infinite layers into space, each moving exponentially slower than the one below, and suddenly I have lived an entire life, and I wonder, have I done what I came here to do?

perhaps I have forgotten what that was...

UPS delivers about 13 million packages and documents a day. If 1/100 of a percent (.0001) are lost, thats 1300 packages a day.

And then a perennial favorite:

Jilted by Sweden, Feted by Norway, Mathematics Finally Gets Its Due

Sunday, October 28, 2007

and belatedly, for beth...

Correspondence with A.E.Seale. chief of the Texas Prison System at Huntsville, Texas, in regard to the prison records of Big Tree and Satanta reveals that the two chiefs were received at the institution on November 12, 1871, each with a life sentence for murder, although some authors have stated that they entered the penitentiary November 12, 1871. Big Tree and Satanta were paroled August 19, 1873, but Satanta was returned as a violator November, 1874. (1)

W.A. (Bud) Morris and Joe Bryant of Mantague County conversed with Satanta while at the penitentiary (October 1878). Satanta had a talk with Mr. Morris and inquired if he thought the government would ever release him. Mr. Morris did not give any encouragement. Satanta seemed very despondent, and next morning, perhaps feeling his case hopeless, he committed suicide by jumping from a window or front story porch (reports conflict), October 11, 1878.

“I cannot wither and die like a dog in chains.”

The next day, Satanta slashed several arteries. An attendant stopped the bleeding and took him to the infirmary where he was lodged on the second floor. When the attendant left him alone, Satanta jumped from the landing. The prison record states that he died “from the effect of a fall received by voluntary jumping from a second story landing of the prison hospital.” (2)

1. Ida Lasater Huckaby. Ninety-Four Years in Jack County, 1854-1948. Texian Press: 1984. Waco,TX. P. 202.

2. Thomas F. Horton. History of Jack County: Being the Accounts of Pioneer Times Excerpted from Coutny Court Records, Indian Stories, Biographical Sketches and Interesting Events. Gazette Print,:Jacksboro, Texas. P.


“Maybe children wake to a love affair every other morning or so; if given any chance, they seem to like the sight and smell and feel of things so much. Falling for the world could be a thing that happens to them all the time. I hope so, I hope it is purely commonplace. I’m trying to imagine that it is, that our childhood love of things is perfectly justifiable. Think of light and how far it falls, to us. To fall we say, naming a fundamental way of going into the world—falling.”
-William Kittredge, Hole in the Sky

There is a farm, a lake whose shores still bear the imprint of your feet. There are bones of coyotes in piles along the fenceline that remember your name, and a lineage of grain that held your body when you jumped into silos, held there in the vision of sun through the opening above, shadowed hands reaching down to grasp yours and pull you up into the light again. In winter the pond froze over, and you were friends with the stinging wind, whose fingers like needles, worked their way through the red nylon weave of your jacket, the flimsy barrier between the cold and the small-bird of a heart knocking against the cage of little ribs. There was a dingey sky blanketing the yellow fields, a carbonate road winding off into the gray like a vein of crystal. It was cold, so cold the air pinched the skin between your nostrils, you who were poised in animal attention, listening. You discerned that the norther had a voice all its own, separate from the southerlies or easterlies. The North wind moans, you thought, it was a lonely sound like a ghost train culling the darkness with a single shaft of light flaying the dark skin of night, or a lonesome calf bawling for its mother. And as you thought these words you sang, Glory be to God on high…

The sleek dark bodies of Canadian geese gather on the frozen lake into a mass against the gale, clump together, for a moment blot out their own separateness, then divide in startled unison, the broad wingspans pushing steamy gusts toward your huddled shoulders. They rise clumsily off the ice, honking and flapping in awkward, jerking skyward movements, then drop gently onto the creaking, opaque sheet again, as if an unseen cartoon hand had suddenly let them go. They settle down into the inky hole of water not yet overtaken by ice. You scour the muddy shore for more rocks to throw, averting your eyes from the crucified coyotes hanging with slit throats on the barbed-wire fence at the edge of the cotton field. And on Earth peace and goodwill toward men…

Your hands were red and chapped, even shoved into the pockets of your corduroy pants they were numb, so you walked back along caliche road to the metal pole barn rising in a sharp angle to the plain, wind-formed in a perpetual leeward lean. There was a wooden enclosure, it is there still, and in one corner of the barn, you found a pushbroom set aside and forgotten against the splintered siding. You pushed it slowly as if in prayer, making patterns in the fine orange silt with the stiff bristles of the broom. We praise you…The pool of unthinking induced by the slow scratching of the bristles on the concrete floor was rippled by the clunking sound of broom head colliding with bucket. The suspect contents sloshed out onto the dirty floor, collecting into puddles of sepia mud. You peered into the bucket then turned suddenly away. Fleshy blobs floated in the blood black water. Your brain struggled to give these shapeless masses a context. They were animal, severed, unspeakable, what? You heard a snicker from the metal stairs that lead above the office where the hay was stored. It was Romero, the hired hand.

Romero makes a gesture near his groin with his hand still holding a cigarette," laughing. You looked back at the bucket, your face paling greenish and shoved your nose beneath the cold zipper of your windbreaker so you would not vomit onto the floor you had just swept.

Over the throbbing sound in your ears you heard the chatter of sparrows roosting high in the rafters of the metal barn, hollow echoes in the cold air. There was a propane heater inside Buddy’s office, but here next to the combines and the bags of sorghum, it was bone cold. Even the cats had disappeared, crawled into spaces between bales of hay. The grain dryer started up then with a whine, like a siren, ran for a deafening eternity during which you sang sotto voce the remainder of the fragment of the Creed, We thank you, we worship you and sacrifice you, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be Ah-men, then the dryer wound down, leaving the reverberations of its giant turning cylinders carving a headachey space between your ears.

The sparrows flitted down to pick over sprigs of straw, or candy wrappers or string, struggled in the fragile balance of gravity to return with the plunder to their nests near the ceiling. Sometimes it seemed the barn was a living creature, breathing with enormous lungs, and you, you were a creature inside clinging to its innards for warmth because you knew of no other shelter.

Romero finished his cigarette and walked down the metal stairs, his scuffed-up blood-stained boots slowly passed before your lowered head. You concentrated on the dust patterns on the floor. They were roads that you followed, circling spiraling roads leading up into the sky like the unseen roads the geese were supposed to follow south.

There was a road you remembered, from when you were still small enough to be slung up on your mama’s narrow hipbone. A cold day like this one, only sunny, your eyes squinched against the light that exposed the bareness of the land, the smooth arched whaleback of the earth spotted with cylindrical grain elevators. Your mother was thin, laughing, wearing a mint green dress that just touched the top of her kneecap, slender ankles cocked above high arches slipped into bone-white pumps, dressed more for an afternoon tea than to be tromping about in the dirt and tumbleweeds. Buddy drove with his wrist resting on the top of the steering wheel, raising two fingers in salute to passing pickups every once in a while, and occasionally swerving onto the shoulder of the road then jerking the pick-up back, so he could make your mama wince or gasp, and then she would laugh. He was taking you someplace special, to show you what he’d found on his hunting trip.

Buddy turned in on the loose gravel in front of a shoebox of a building. There was a lame horse hobbling around on the hardpan, and two longhorn steers huddled butt-end to the North wind that never seemed stop blowing the acrid sorghum smell into town, either that or the stench from the feed lot. You were lifted out of the pick-up and set down on the hard ground. And she held your dimpled hand as you stepped over Dr. Pepper bottles and shot-up beer cans, making your way to the chain link fence that enclosed a single dog run.

Do you want to look? your mama asked, you serious, digging the toe of your black paten Mary Janes into the orange soil. Your tiny hands gripped the cold steel and you poked your nose through the infinite linkages and infinite spaces between linkages, tasting the cold metal with your tongue.

Buddy strode around the back of the little dog house at the rear of the pen to bang on the wall of it, try to scare what was within, out. And he flushed out a mama raccoon wild-eyed, holding one of the babies by its scruff. Your mouth was poised in a perfect gasp of surprise, your Mama smiled, singing in a high-pitched voice Oh, How precious, and that was when it happened. First she swallowed the one she had by the scruff, just choked it down. Your Mama reached her gloved hand down to shield your eyes but she jerked your soft curled head away, for you had already seen the undeniable truth of it.

She ate all five of them, a visceral image that would become imprinted in the fore of your mind, an image you understood without having it explained and didn’t want it explained and would carry in your belly as a knowing about love that you would witness re-enacted countless times in your life and would never misunderstand the possibility, the inevitability of it. A cruelty wound tight with love, and inseparable from it.

It was this experience that must have awakened your mind to the many cruelties of farm life, or rather, farm death. The singular moment when something inside your small body became blind and ceased to see with an innocent child’s eyes.
But now you were older, an older sister, and you wondered sometimes how you would explain this brutal mother love to Billy when he was not a baby anymore. Billy, just born into the family line like a vein, the heart pumping into it not blood, but the life-sustaining liquid of worldly possessions.

Romero stopped, picked up the bucket and stepped off the concrete slab into dust, absorbed by the enveloping light of cloud cover. You could hear Buddy’s voice booming on the phone in the office inside that was filled with heavy wooden furniture that belonged to his father. Furniture that would one day be Billy’s. Buddy came out slamming the plywood office door behind him. Get in the truck, he told you, and you followed him out into the absence of sun, trotted around to the passenger side of the pick-up and scrambled in. You spoke beneath your breath the quick mumbled prayers you always said for the cottontails and coyotes and stray cats who might have been unfortunate enough to be loping along the highway just as Buddy’s pick-up truck came whining along the road. How you hated to see anything get hit. And by rote your lips mouthed the words of the contract, the terms being that you must repeat the entire Lord’s prayer before the truck reached the end of the caliche road where Buddy would turn off in a spewing of gravel toward town, For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.

Friday, October 12, 2007

dialogue II, for y.o.

Remember what you wrote about connections? The uncanny coincidences that riddled your days, once in the spring?

I notice that the superintendent of the hospital was
called "Talbot."

Salt process, medical procedure.

I am uncertain about many things, but I maintain (as I am sure you know) a great well of dreams, none to immense to at least offer a concerted attempt at manifestation. Whence this faith in dreams?

(Perhaps this is not true. As I write this I can think of a few, at least, that I am not bold enough, or naïve enough to pursue.) And the days--they are the subjective consequence of the aperture of hope. Lately I am seeing the world through such a tiny opening, hardly any light striking the retina of possibility.

it keeps me up at night.
There‚s a gash in my side
from which sighs leak out
and organize at the foot of the bed.

My friend, I will be forty-two next week. But Doris Lessing has won the Nobel Prize in literature at what, eighty-seven? I am just beginning, no? I see her face, radiant, delighted.

Each day
is a blessing, incredible, exhausting. I take the days
one at a time. Seems to be the best way.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

commentary on Plath

The Bell Jar: The Journal of Vacuum Technique and Related Topics for the Amateur Investigator

Vacuum Basics: Vacuum Fundamentals, Terminology, Applications, Reading List
The Units of Pressure Measurement (this was exceeded in early October)

Refrigeration Service Vacuum Pumps-Medium Vacuum at Low Cost

Building a Thermocouple Vacuum Gauge (the retainer fee is very high for de-thermocoupling)

A Simple Medium Vacuum System
(is this too much to ask?)

The Radiometer Bob Templeman on Generating X-Rays with Receiving Tubes
Some Resources and Ideas for Plasma Experiments (this may defended with first amendment arguments in some states)

’Vacuum and Scientific Americans Amateur Scientist
Some Recollections - (the postmodern equivalent of recherches des temps perdu)

Infrasound Monitoring with a Microbarograph (the NSA is still doing this)

The Farnsworth/Hirsch Fusor (temporarily bypasses homicidal impulses in rush hour traffic)

Leaks: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Bubbles and Gel Candles

Sunday, October 7, 2007

overture to part II


Walter Benjamin wrote that death is the sanction of everything a storyteller can tell, “suddenly,” he said, “in his expression and looks the unforgettable emerges and imparts to everything that concerned him that authority which even the poorest wretch in dying possesses for the living around him.”

I was born with the gift of touch. My father said it is because she took me into the sky with her when she left, when she rose like Medea in her chariot of the sun, but that he brought me back from the clouds. He carved me out of her belly with a kitchen knife, while her body was still warm, and I was wearing the caul, still tethered to her heart by the umbilicus which he cut, and he breathed his own breath into my lungs. Since then I have heard the stories imprinted in objects, of stones and soil and fabric, all things singing their own history in layers of complex variations like a symphony.

There are fragments of stories I touched as a child, pieces of cloth I stitched together to form a memory of her. The stones I held in my hand as an infant described to me in detail her first steps in that wind-torn field—how the leaning grasses suddenly stilled, awaiting her breath, how the dry wheat shafts were raked by her child’s unselfconscious steps releasing (from the cocked legsprings of tiny, skeletal animals) a sudden volley of sun-refracting flight.

At night the moths told me fairy tales, like shadow plays flickering in the dust of their wings. I held my breath and watched her life unfold before me on my pillow at night like the wings of a cicada emerging from its shell. The dragonflies told me she knew the true names of all the plants and animals, that she understood the language of horses, that she had first learned from birds how to fly.

Before I went to sleep at night, I witnessed as the fields and sky and clouds wrote her stories on my tongue. And as we watched the stars through telescopes before dawn, I would tell them to my father, and he would make me promise never, ever to lift my feet from this earth, not to listen to the beckoning song of the sky, like she had done, but to stay close to the words, for they would anchor me, and this is what I have done.

A key I found in a box possessed the memory of their wedding--how she had opened the door to an old hotel where she had lived as a child, how everything was covered in dust, and there were still toys on the floor that held the imprint of her hands playing with them before the last time she ever walked out that door. The smell of the cedar closet had made her cry, the furs that hung there for so many years still steeped in perfume from a ball, and when I touched the cedar trunk I saw that here she had unfolded the lace of her own mother’s wedding dress, and moths had fluttered out of it like angels. My father had seen their wings reflected in the liquid of her eyes. It was then, he said, that he knew he would not be able to hold on to her.

She married my father in the field of yellow grass behind our house, a shotgun wedding beneath the sky, and the wind whipped around her dress and it billowed such that he thought she might be lifted into the clouds, and the wind took the words, their vows, and carried them to a place where they might never be found. I have always searched for those words. I suspect that they are kept by Aeolus in his cave too soothe the winds.

Before he died my father found the book of poetry she had stolen from his house long ago. He said he knew she had taken it, and he had loved her more for that singular act of necessary thievery than perhaps anything else. I have it now, and use it to remember the sound of the wind that blows differently now that she is gone.

And my mouth still whispers the lyrics to a song about the end, for it is always where my story begins: her tentative steps out into that familiar sun-scorched field, the wedding field, how she walked shedding hope, stepping out of the clinging undergarments of faith, standing naked and pale beneath the light of clouds, clothed only in the heavy weight of a child; how she let go at last the thread that tethered both of us to the incarnate world, that most fragile thread of silk that held her heart to the turning blade, the knife edge, of her corporeal existence, her grief. I touch the earth of the field where she last stood and inhale the familiar smell of the soil, the overabundance of nitrogen, the faint, far off scent of lightning. The metallic particulate of burned gunpowder hovering, later, in the astonished air; the casual way she shrugged off her earthly weight like removing a heavy shroud. And then she was free, fragmented, fleeting upward in a fusion of light and memory, at last unburdened by the density that had pressed her down: this earthward pull, what had brought her here, and me, all of us, longing to experience the fragile beauty of light, the smell of skin, the delirious sensation of taste and touch, and sound.

And now I tell your stories to keep you close to me, until I, too, am safe again in the weightless world, for the stories, as Benjamin said, are like “seeds of grain which have lain for centuries in the chambers of pyramids”—what is germane and vital still, and born again in bread, sustains us. You were, Rilke said, “like bread on the altar before it is changed…”

I tell the stories beginning to end, middle spiraling outward, or from end to the unraveled beginning, where the sky first fell in love with you, a glinting fleck of star, fallen from the infinite heavens, for the first time perceiving within yourself the insistent longing for gravity, not knowing the weight, the sorrow, that was its bane. For the stories remind me of who you once were, and in the telling we are redeemed.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

epilogue to part I

It has taken me a while to process that my search for him is over. I was looking for him through light, through scattered fragments that disintegrated as I touched them, and the found that the only indelible remains were factual and cold, that I had created the past I was searching for, and its reality was as ephemeral as a dream.

We are complex creatures, and there is no tracing (at least at this moment) of our genetic material back through generations, and what if there were? It would no more belong to my grandfather or his father or mother than anyone else, in the alphabet soup that is each of our particular recipe for being. Even that is mutable, and we can raise (or lower) ourselves depending on will, and possibly faith.

When I look at the people in my life whom I admire and love, I don't care in the least from what genetic material they hail; I care about the person and how each navigates the passages of his or her life; I care about the poetry, the vision, the woundability.

From this place where I stand I wave good-bye to my grandfather-- a wave of the innocent young person I was when he had many opportunities to love me, to show some affection, which he passed up. I have continued to try to capture that affection even from beyond the grave--it will not come. But there is much here to love--there is no more time to waste seeking to reconcile what I wish might have been with what actually was.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I-84 between Lubbock and Post
Was it a betrayal to forget the girl with the magical shoes and the old photographer--to diverge for so long from the path of their unfolding, tentative connection toward the dark path of the dead? When I returned from my grandfather’s hometown, still populated by the living who had somehow drifted far from my imagination, I was faced with the unassailable fact that the living are not as we imagine them--and the dead are far from caring how they are imagined. Driving back along the long road lined with sage and wide fields of cotton and corn, only the sky continued to maintain the vast scope of the extent of my romanticizing, but it was equally ominous and beautiful, like the road on which we traveled, unending, but also fraught with countless perils and disappointments.

Which is to say that only the girl with the magical shoes held any hope. She had a future. She was still holding the world together in a fragile web of apprehension (and I know I have used that over and over again, but find no other way to describe that act of apprehending--to catch, to reach, to hold, to arrive, to understand--as way of being, if only for a moment, but moment after moment, until the world comes together in an almost seamless act of being held).

Years ago I sold everything I owned, and many of these things I had gathered from my grandfather’s cellar after he died. Among those things was a book that had figured profoundly into my young imagination, a 1950 copy of Time-Life’s The Universe. One thing that worked its way into my consciousness was an artist’s depiction of Saturn as seen from one if its moons. In my young, preliterate mind, that landscape was somewhere on this planet, California, as a matter of fact, where one could see Saturn setting, an immense ripe fruit on the horizon. Many years after this purge, I found a copy of the same book in a used book store. I opened it and it released the sweet aroma of tobacco that had infused everything in my grandfather’s room. I picked it up the other day, and started, for the first time, to read it. There was a photo of Albert Einstein, and one of his office the day he died. The only title that one can make out on his desk is “Philosophy.” But reading again through the description of the theory of relativity, I suddenly understood that one can only really “see” the world by holding still. It can’t be seen through memory, or fear, or hope, or desire, or frustration. One cannot speed through it on an expressway or an airplane without missing the most essential details. This was always the girl’s gift. She longed for nothing, she raged against nothing, she simply stepped off the G-Train and looked around her, and the world, which never failed to perform its balletic miracle for anyone still enough, goal-less enough, to perceive it. And that is where she met Sudek--in that space of apprehension, on the point of the needle. And that is precisely why I lost them both for so long.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

the mother road

This book is dedicated to historic Route 66, the Mother Road. One day it will be gone. Pieces of it disappear as I write this line. And when it dies, among its remains will be many tales and memories of the way it never was, and that’s all right; for the road is mythic, and myths tend to swell with each telling. From now on, let every tall story begin: Once upon a time there was a great highway…

And that part is true…

--Carol O'Connell

Maybe there is no longer a need to exhume the ghosts of the past. The dust is so thick, and memory solidifies into untrustworthy forms. You might realize, rifling through a stack of parched papers, insistently engraved in your grandfather's hand, that there are many stories, but not enough love to sustain them. What use is it to dredge up what is lost, what was lost long before the breath moved out beyond the atmosphere. You might say that these stories, were, after all, always your own, your desperate attempt at redeeming what can never be redeemed. Then so be it. Let the dust settle as it was meant to do, to cover by patient accretion the no-longer-living.

There was a road that once was vital and well-travelled, and music and dancing and camping flitted along its expanse beneath the neon lights from Chicago to L.A. The road is gone, and though you might keep driving, you will never reach the destination.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

the molecular composition of air

from Wisconsin Death Trip, by Michael Lesy 1973

Monday, July 9, 2007

june and boo, 1948

In one of his letters, Bedichek mentions a book by Alfred Russell Wallace entitled The Wonderful Century. In the chapter on photography called “New Applications of Light” he writes,” The improvements of the mode of production of light for common use …are sufficiently new and remarkable to distinguish this century from all the ages that preceded it, but they sink into insignificance when compared with the discoveries that have been made regarding the nature of light itself.” So much is changing at the turn of the century, and time itself is being compacted like the soil beneath any of dozens of heavy pieces of machinery moving the earth about to follow the contours of man’s desires.* Already, in 1951, Bedichek bemoans the passing of an era, the loss of the honey bee and man’s sense of wonder with the natural world. I am just a descendent in the lineage of the grieving.

Tricky thing, time--if you begin to move backward in it, like swimming against the current of some roiling river, it gapes and opens into an ocean, and what once was just a barely audible, far-off call of a vaguely recognizable bird is suddenly a roar so loud you cannot bear to hear it without clapping your hands over your ears. Do you, then, get back into your tent as God advised the Israelites?

Perhaps as we learn more, imagine more intensely, about the nature of light we will realize that nothing is lost, that it is all here in our midst, perceptible to some finely tuned instrument. Then I will quit grieving the maps and archaeological record discarded by an unappreciative librarian, or the Leica enlarger cast off as a bit of junk crowding the basement. Perhaps not. For now, I let my sighs join in a puddle with those of a fellow investigator of the past (although I know his sighs are spent with equal measure on the present, on the subtlest sound, the faintest shuddering breath).

Have we passed through the wonderful century? Are there any more poets being born?

*As Norma Evenson wrote in her 1979, Paris: A Century of Change, "And so, one hundred years is not so long. A century no longer implies a period of slow accretion." (xvi)

waiting for the bus

People Waiting for the Bus. Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views of St. Louis, Missouri. (created 1865?-1890?)Humanities and Social Sciences Library. Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs

Between the times I wander other people’s dreams of themselves at singular points of their lives they have forgotten were solidified in emulsion or inscribed onto a page, I ride the bus. The bus traverses vast expanses of the imagination, each intersection an unfolding drama that pulls me in, each new passenger a narrative unraveling. Yesterday we sat at a round metal table in the parking lot on Congress Ave where they serve coffee and I remembered the man in the Hawaiian shirt who often takes the same bus. He stands on corners with a sign that says, “Anything helps” or “Homeless Vietnam Vet.” Once I had taken the bus downtown at dark in a foul mood, and he had called out across the coach, You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and then he pulled a crumpled zinnia out of his backpack and handed it to me. He rides with me again, he doesn’t remember, tells me I’m beautiful or asks me to marry him. He never remembers.

I toy with the idea of myself stepping onto the 338 crosstown bus and transforming into something ravishing, a bus princess, who emerges forty-five minutes later at the intersection of 45th and Duval, the intersection of this dream and real life, the same unremarkable self I was before 8:22 a.m. when the bus hissed to a stop in front of me at Manchaca and Lamar.

Why I am thinking about the bus in the parking lot on Congress Ave, I don’t know, because the parking lot is filled with people in sunglasses and dogs and the coffee is hot and my daughter is rocking forward and back in her metal chair and asking to go see the garden at the chic motel next door. Maybe it is just this sense that each one of these provocative moments, the bus, the parking lot, the girl rocking back and forth in her chair, are pressing from the inside of me, struggling to burst free to relieve the ache of this sense of passing, of missing, of losing these moments, all these moments.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

spell of the silent

Lately I am wondering about words, I am suspicious of them, the spaces they create and expand within the space that is filled with breath and light and the gentle shuddering of tall grass as you wait for the next breeze, or the clattering of cottonwood leaves that mimic the gurgling of a stream, as if that were some defense mechanism for a riparian tree, to sound like water, no tree here! it seems to say, only water…

In this photo my great-grandfather looks toward the site of Custer's 1868 massacre of the Cheyenne. He could have stood, though, facing any direction and faced any number of massacres. He could have stood at the threshold of his own home and witnessed the emotional slaughter of generations. But he stands, listening to the grass. There is some sound-plate in his head, some sound-sensitive paper inscribing the whisper of the grass upon his skull. You would have to hold so still to hear it, to really hear it. He was good at that, good at listening to grass and waiting for light. I am not sure he was good at listening otherwise, but maybe he was, maybe I read too much into his incapacities in measuring the shortcomings of his progeny, myself included.

Whence comes the deliberation and aplomb of out-of-doors people the world over, savage as well as civilized? The American Indian is recorded as grave, slow, measured in speech and manner. The frontier Texan figures in fiction and in factual descriptions with a “drawl” and as a man of few words. Of course, now, with a generation of urbanization, as much chatter falls from the composite mouth of Texas as from that of any other state., excluding those of disproportionate metropolitan populations. Outdoor living not only softens speech but slows its tempo, reflecting quieter nerves and mental reactions surer if somewhat slower on the trigger.

It is because Nature herself is deliberate. Ninety-nine percent of her performance is gradual. To take a single instance out of those hundreds ready at hand: what a large percentage of urbanized populations miss beginning the day under the spell of the silent, pervasive, leisurely preparations of the heavens to receive the sun!
--Roy Bedichek, Adventures with a Texas Naturalist (1947)

Friday, June 22, 2007

hold the past lightly

my grandmother, as I remember her

my friend, you write to me, do not let it hurt you...

but you know I am straining my eyes, striving mightily to see between the veils of time, and it hurts, my heart, my eyes, and the bleary way I wander reminds me of homeless people, and I wonder if they are similarly trapped between flickering images, faint eidetic ghosts of what once was.

You can do that with people, too, you know. I know you know. You can look into them and try to see who they have been and who they will be, the way I have peered into the faces of my children and imagined them, fully bloomed like flowers from seed, and I was always wrong, because we do not transform like flowers, no. We add layers and layers of oursleves inside and out, multiple superimpositions, and we touch each other from faraway parts of ourselves sometimes, corresponding layers that another standing next to us might not even see. And to see and see and see into one another, where the seeing never ends but opens up forever into more faded images hardly recognizable except for the vague sense of familiarity.

I have been looking for someone to divine in me an image I hold of myself, of a girl, maybe just five, singing Beethoven's Ninth, trying to bring finality to the piece, and knowing that Beethoven suffered that same affliction--the music just kept going on forever. Sometimes I have seen something vast and powerful or shockingly beautiful or terrifying in another, that has not yet been, or has long since gone.

Why are you looking at me like that?

I am looking for you. I am looking for you in you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the shrine of the muses

5th century scroll which illustrates the destruction of the Serapeum by Theophilus (source: Christopher Haas: Alexandria in late antiquity, Baltimore 1997)

it begins when you are four or five. you realize that your inheritance lies in the vaults of drawers and under beds and folded between crisp sheets, what those around you have forgotten or have ceased to value. you alone recognize the importance of the singular, transient object--the I Like Ike pin, the fading photograph, the scratchy record--it is time slipping between the fingers of God, and you want to hold it, catch the sand before it disperses. these last few days you sit at tables and wait as box after box is delivered to your solitary desk where you are only allowed a pencil and stamped paper. you are looking for something specific, something definitive about place and landscape, something that may have slipped through the hands of time; but instead of sifting through the sand for gold, you are distracted by each fragment, the day is cold, windy…January, visited Eileen, warm, sunny…

it is exactly like a dream--you are wandering the cool depths of the library at Alexandria, looking for the words of the saints, and though you never find what you are looking for, you keep finding more than you are looking for. it is hot and sunny, or it is raining like hell, and still each moment of waking, normal life you are thinking about the archive, thinking about what lies in those vaults that you may never know exists…every moment of the day limned in the longing for the clean, desolate table where you wait for another box.

if you wonder at humanity (and you often do) you wonder most about this--this trait of documentation, of cataloguing, of searching for what is gone. you are not perplexed by the violent, the desirous, or the boisterous or prayerful or banal--you are perplexed by the card in front of you, the identification of a box that contains nothing but the itemized expenses of a trip to a place of no consequence.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


this is where you were, slowly shifting into the dust, leaning into the horizontal waves of sand that pounded the boards day after day, an exterior slowly disintigrating. and then she came, and recognized something beneath that skin, something redeemable, something recoverable.

i remember the dust here, barefoot in the dust and the fear of rusty nails, but there was no fear of loneliness, because though flanked by siblings, in this memory i have no idea where the they are, and hear only the wind, not their voices, and see only this parched, eroding earth beneath these bare feet, not their faces.

it is all vague, like this photograph, perhaps precisely because that is what remained after all--time came like some gentle mother and removed those memories, those thorns, but here are these flaking images, heaped in piles, reeking of pain.

we have scattered like leaves, and only i will return again and again to this place, searching for something i buried long ago. i dream it is a cat, i have buried her half alive and forgotten her, but I can't stop searching this earth for the almost imperceptible mewing. no, it was something purloined from the TG&Y, a small toy buried so that no one would know. no, it was something far more valuable. see it there in the yard, a shoot eruptng from the dry soil, not a rusty nail, not a carcass, but a tree with stars shooting out of its boughs like fire.

she had seen it all, my mother had. she had that skill of seeing far into things, and she had seen the house fall down around us all. i have forgiven her for everything, and still i go on gouging the hardpan with my fingernails.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

caprock storm

© Gene Moore

I don’t know. But for years I thought that something like this was an explanation for a recurring childhood dream of mine, of a landscape image like a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, no action or people, just a suspended dreamscape of a vermillion canyon wall under a cobalt sky, with white clouds hanging like cotton balls…In high school I decided I must have seen, when very young, a dramatic postcard or a National Geographic photograph that had made a strangely profound impression. Later, in college, I resolved on the more metaphysical explanation that the dream was a genetic memory and anticipated the rush of recognition in my wandering through the West.
-Dan Flores, Caprock Canyonlands

We dream of landscapes, and grieve and regret them. Sometimes a landscape becomes embodied in the form of a man, and you fall in love with him, possibly have his child, and spend years trying to dream that drum of prairie rain, that relentless thunderstorm out of your head and heart. This one had inscribed the horizon with a needle on the copperplate of his soul, and inked it and rolled you through the press with God knows how many pounds of pressure until every scratch was like your own memory, was engraved in your blood. Now I imagine him, that same landscape he etched in me reflected in his eyes, with cold precision--five hundred miles away for a few days, and I can breathe, and I know I will always miss him.

I don’t know if he saw the landscape in himself, if he looked toward his own cavernous depths with the same mix of longing and fear that I did, if he saw at the same time the beauty and tragedy--like the stories that littered the Caprock, rough-edged myths you could sharpen a blade on, only more heartbreaking. But there comes a time when you long to never be another Iphiginea, or Cassandra, or Andromache, or Clytemnestra--when you just want something that is simple, painless, perhaps, even (possibly) comedic.

But in the wetter years, the high drama of summer on the Llanos takes place in the afternoon skies…All along the front of the Caprock the canyons act like moisture tunnels, pipelines that funnel this warm, moist air into beachheads of dry air meteorologist call “drylines” atop the plain, spawning massive weather cells. Most are ordinary thunderstorms, but if the cell begins to rotate and sucks moisture up, the canyon wind tunnels at ever faster rates, at some level of critical mass the entire cell will go spinning off to the northeast, trailing tornado funnels behind it. -Dan Flores

Thursday, June 7, 2007

what would I be looking for when I did not find...

interpreting life through the tea leaves of fragments, it forms odd composites. Tonight I am thinking of Sudek and the war, furious at this war and that war and the wars we wage among ourselves, and the fear that war is as much who we are as love, and a part of me nods and knows that is true and I am not afraid but just resigned to the dark side of life that takes away what you most love when you least expect it, and you are looking for that thing the rest of your life, like some condemnation to hell, while others shop in malls or online and watch the fashionable TV shows, you reside in the black shadows of a pain so exquisite you would release yourself from it, but cannot because what you love might be out there, might be found.

I had to search. Far outside the city, toward dawn, in the fields bathed by the morning dew, I finally found the place. But my arm wasn’t there--only the poor peasant farmhouse was still standing in its place. They had brought me into it that day I was shot in the right arm. They could never put it together again…(josef sudek)

From Sudek's sketchy account of his crisis in 1926, we get a picture of a restless and troubled man accepting a casual invitation that leads him near the very spot where years before his hope for a normal life had been shattered. Leaving his friends, in mid-concert he wanders somnabulent until near dawn he comes to the exact place where, nearly ten years before, his life was forever changed. Unable to abandon hope of recovering his lost arm, he stays two months in that place, cut off from his friends and his world in Prague. Finally, his mourning complete, reconciled, but permanently estranged, he returns to Prague, where he immerses himself in his art. (charles sawyer)

Monday, June 4, 2007


But maybe I have a solution--why others find sex in my work and I do not: It came from an artist who called on me recently…he said, in effect, that I had seen natural forms with such intensity, with such direct honesty, that a tremendous force, like sex, which enters into it, permeates all nature, could not but be revealed.
--Edward Weston

walking at forty-one you are aware of light. you wait to go out until the sun has hidden behind the edge of the hills so that the boughs of trees are illuminated in great swaths of gold, and the birds skip among the branches, light striking their wings like fire. You are aware that you are not the person you thought you would be, you are certain you will know less and less as the days go by about who you really are, because the questions come faster than the answers, each one tugging at the threads of the self you have painstakingly stitched over the years. It’s okay, because there is more outside to notice, you are less concerned with the unfamiliar face staring back at you in the mirror than with the light, and the dreams that might emerge shyly once you learn to sleep again.

At thirty-eight you had written: begin with this image: spirits laundering the shrouds of the soon-to-be dead (p. 46) unknown vol. I came here to name the things that disappear--the grasslands and coyote that populate the landscape inside my right eye--here you could sink the blade deep, the earth would gasp with the memory of rough hands that caressed the rump of an old roan, a horse you loved. In my left eye lives longing and desire, syllables cast upon the ground like sticks and gathered up again for kindling. The left eye would start a prairie fire and watch it burn, sacrificing everything it loves to the skin beneath those hands.

writing at forty-one, there is no more shouting, only whispering. It is time to learn to listen.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

archaeology v: looking for Larry McMurtry

mom at the lake, 1970

the air conditioner has gone out, and we sleep restlessly with the windows open in the hope of a breeze with crickets chirping all night outside. We go swimming and wear our swimsuits the rest of the day inside, still damp and smelling faintly of chlorine. Our shoulders and cheeks are burned. We take long, languid naps with the blinds drawn. I am filled with longing, with overwhelming nostalgia for those lazy summer days at the lakehouse at Possum Kingdom.

If there is a time in our childhood around which we form like pearls, these lakehouse days were mine. I was almost born there, because my mother refused to go to the hospital. Eventually she must have relented, but I think her longing to be near the elemental fecundity of the lake slipped through her veins and into me. How many times had I sat on the edge of the dock examining schools of minnows that shimmered beneath the surface. The smell of the boat house got under our skin, and we carried that smell back up the steep steps to the house, and into our dreams. In the narrow hall between the bedrooms, seated before a small bookshelf, I first realized that words were a code that had to be cracked, and I sat for hours as if before the Rosetta Stone, trying to find the patterns. I knew that if I were to be given one word, I might be able to learn all the secrets hidden there.

Years ago, after reading Horseman, Pass By, I embarked upon a mission to find Larry McMurtry. His book town, Archer City, was not far from Mineral Wells and the Crazy Water Hotel and the lake where I spent my childhood. We drove into Archer City crushing hundreds of the thousands of tarantulas which flooded the two-lane highway. We slept in a (also un-air conditioned) bedroom in a Bed and Breakfast, and wandered bookshop after abandoned bookshop. The townspeople at the Dairy Queen eyed us suspiciously, pegged us rightly perhaps as drawn their prodigal son, to whom it seemed they had a rather contentious relationship. In the end I found him at the desk when I went up to pay for my copy of The Black Prince. I struggled to recall who Iris Murdock had been married to, and he informed me it was John Bayley.* I didn’t have the guts to say any more about my mission, about wanting to connect to this eccentric Texas writer who expressed yearnings so similar to those I felt, who grew up saturated perhaps by the smell of the lake not far away, by the crazy water that coursed beneath the land. I just drove off with unrequited longing, down the quiet road where with the solitary street light on a cable swinging in the breeze, a cinematic moment from The Last Picture Show.

On the way back to Austin I passed through Possum. I tried in vain to find the lakehouse, but everything had changed. The lake of my imagination was gone. We stopped along the shore just to look at the vast expanse of water. I felt nothing. A sudden cold front blew in, and it began to rain, pelting us with hail. The temperature dropped from over a hundred down to the forties in a matter of minutes. I drove home, made it the four hours back to Austin, but I was utterly lost.

*thank you for keeping me on my toes...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


HCP, the palisades, 1949

Maybe children wake to a love affair every other morning or so; if given any chance, they seem to like the sight and smell and feel of things so much. Falling for the world could be a thing that happens to them all the time. I hope so, I hope it is purely commonplace. I’m trying to imagine that it is, that our childhood love of things is perfectly justifiable. Think of light and how far it falls, to us. To fall we say, naming a fundamental way of going into the world—falling.
-William Kittredge, Hole in the Sky

Maybe the exact lack of verticality makes us flatlanders more susceptible, but I fall, every day. Lately dreaming of falling, on days I forget to fall, days where I am fundamentally oriented toward the everyday world. But I am hardwired, I think, to fall.

I think Sudek was falling, all the time, falling in love with light, and perpetually seeking that moment when light fell magically between the cracks and illuminated the forgotten spaces of the ordinary, rendering them extraordinary, if only for a moment. Tonight that happened. A large palm-like fern with sturdy fronds bursting forth from its center (so much rain--the streets become rivers, we paddle between dreams) had attracted my attention. I got the camera, focused with the light fading in the west, just as a lizard darted from the fronds, startled by my interest.

By day I had forgotten him, but at night he haunted my dreams, he waited. I remember the girl, and her approach, at twenty-one, with no fear, declaring, I am dreaming you. But at forty-one you wait for what you long for, though it dreams other dreams halfway around the world, in some Nordic light, you wait.

Monday, May 28, 2007

archaeology iv: cryptography

My job was to walk and look. We were looking for remnants of whatever had once been alive in this desert, reduced to a polished trace of what it had been: an edge of an old mud wall, flakes of bones that had risen to the air after three or four thousand years and made a shining scatter on the surface of the sand like snow.
--Susan Brind Morrow, The Names of Things

I had mentioned the burdens. And so I arrived to claim mine from the most baffling of American traditions, the storage unit--a sea of anonymous cubes in which god-only-knows what mysterious items are secreted away into blind oblivion that we either have no room for, or are ashamed to keep in our homes, or are simply the by-products of the thing disease. It would be an interesting investigation to one day order them all to be opened, and the contents catalogued, and an entire exhibit opened for the world to see.

The contents of mine were as follows (* indicates these were childhood belongings):

one doll house*
one metal rickshaw*
one box of several old lamps
one wicker basket of stuffed animals*
a trunk-sized Rubbermade tub of ancient recordings (including Glenn Miller, Uncle Remus, and and Aunt Pat's RCA record-your-own entitled Christmas 1947 and various piano sonatas)
one leather and cherrywood coffee table with brass feet
one pie safe, green, without doors, painted over with white acrylic paint
several plastic bags of stuffed animals
one child-sized teepee
two end tables (one pillar shaped one where my grandmother hid her erotic novels)
Christmas decorations
one musty suitcase
one large chair with a high back and blue floral upholstery
a 1939 Royal typewriter

The typewriter was the first thing I saw. It bears the label “Kemper Military School--Booneville Missouri” and is blood red metal in a musty black case. The keys are still luminous, like small lacquered stones. It was, of course, my grandfather’s, and it evokes memories of his furious typing away the hours in his room on Lipscomb street. He had an obsession with writing implements, and I remember the first electric typewriter he bought for my sister, and the lengthy hours of explanation for its use. Every Christmas he would buy her a lovely set of Cross pen and pencil. He wanted writing to be hers, the way it was his.

What was he typing? My grandmother did not clean out his room for many years after he died, and so I slept there when visiting, so I could look through everything. His pipe collection, his reams of paper in the closet and drawers and stuffed under the bed. They were mainly legal briefs. He might have been tinged with a slight case of graphomania, I do not know, but he seemed to always be tapping away as if life depended on it.

As I sit here awake at 3AM, I somehow know the familiar comfort of just laying down word after word, the letters falling in like little pebbles from your hand in some possibly vain hope of forming something beyond a mere scattering of syllables. Or maybe for the sole reason of the tapping on the keys, the looking for some polished trace of what has been, or what might or never be.

Friday, May 25, 2007

where drought is the epic*

H.C. Pipkin, Little Red River, 1947
*from Adrienne Rich, The Desert as Garden of Paradise

By 1970 the town was nothing more than a small oasis in a sea of dust and corn. The old Victorian courthouse in the center of town with its clock tower and pitched roof had already burned to the ground twice after being struck by lightning. It had been replaced in the '50s with an industrial-looking concrete structure with bare slab walls whose sole decoration was a series of large black and white photographs of the Dustbowl--entire farms being consumed by a cloud of thick sand as high as a thunderhead. She would often stand for hours in the dimly-lit halls of the courthouse--it had no windows--staring in wonder at the images behind the glass. The new courthouse stood in the shadow of the tall grain elevators blocks away on the edge of town, and was flanked on all sides by the drugstore, the Post Office, and the T.G. and Y. The bank and grocery store were less than a block away. By fall of 1970, the population was just reaching two thousand.

The site for the town had been surveyed in 1848 by Clovis Handstock, a twenty-one year old Virginia native who, to his credit, sensed an unusual vibration when he stood alone on the prairie near Old Salt Creek. As he slept at night beneath an intricate web of stars, his dreams tended toward the mythological--he dreamed history in reverse, a future unraveled before his eyes like a sweater. He dreamed of the Dustbowl and a Kiowa war chief and a solitary girl dreaming of him, somewhere far off, in a house where she waited her whole life for a man with wings.

Soon afterwards the first settlers began to arrive, mostly immigrants of German descent with a strong reverence for God and nature, who did not anticipate the capricious nature of the wind, nor had they yet encountered the particularly deadly breed of tornado indigenous to the Panhandle. For generations to come they would battle dust and wind, and they would drink from wells dug deep down into the heart of the limestone channel where prehistoric water had coursed beneath the surface of the prairie for millenia. It would be many generations before they realized that the source they plundered to irrigate their crops and feed their livestock and wash their automobiles and flush their toilets, was an irreplaceable vein, rare and pure, and possessing of strange properties. By 1970, travelers driving north or south on the new highways which cut across the flat earth like surgical incisions, could not but admire the tenacious and resourceful farmers whose arcs of shimmering water spouted from monolithic, mobile sprinklers beneath the unforgiving midday sun.

(from The Penetrable Air)


“it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates”
-Numbers 20:5

you would come to understand that
though you stood at the river for a long time
you could not drink.
there was a language of such vessels
devised in vain hope to stave off thirst:
cistern, well, jar, broken cup
each syllable falling hollow on the throat
of a dying bird
others would simply adapt to lack--wretched species
wanting after every drop
but never hiding from the wind, or dreaming of rivers
but of cottonwood and white seed that covered the blanket of a sleeping child,
high in the mountains…

If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water

(-T.S.Eliot “The Wasteland”)


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

beasts of burden

Thus the life of someone whose existence has somewhat preceded our own encloses in its particularity the very tension of History, its division. History is hysterical: it is constituted only if we consider it, only if we look at it--and in order to look at it, we must be excluded from it. As a living soul, I am the very contrary of History, I am what belies it, what destroys it for the sake of my own history (impossible for me to believe in “witnesses”; impossible, at least, to be one.
--Barthes, Camera Lucida

I choose this photograph for its burdens. My mother is the tallest child, flanked by her cousins. But what interests me here is not the human life, but the furniture. I grew up with the small marble table behind her, and I vividly recall the way the rough edge of the metal bites into your hands when you try to pick it up. I recognize every piece of furniture in that room, by a leg, or a surface--like distant relatives. These are the things we carry, our burdens of the past, what we are afraid to let go of. I know it’s not about the value of the furniture, but about some other ineffable quality. And it is a disease. My mother has two households of furniture in storage for she suffers from this disease, the collector, the archaeologist, the unwitting beast of burden of the past.

When I moved a few days ago, I sorely felt the weight of all these artifacts, yet could not let go. Why? Perhaps this is why we have museums, because we would rather let go of nothing, but eventually we must, so we select what will be remembered and maintained in climate and humidity-controlled environments, and we create hypermediated access to the past through its artifacts. A museum is a just big storage room of the past. Every new home I create feels like a museum to me, whose collection serves to remind me that I will never be free.

Lineage reveals an identity stronger, more interesting than legal status--more reassuring as well, for the thought of origins soothes us, whereas that of the future disturbs us, agonizes us…but this discovery disappoints us because even while it asserts a permanence…it bares the mysterious difference of beings issuing from one another and the same family…
(Camera Lucida)