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.