Sunday, December 30, 2012
I had spent the last few hours stressing and obsessing over my attire. The annual office Christmas party was scheduled for today. An email had been sent yesterday, reminding everybody that the party was at the Four Seasons Hotel. We were all required to look “presentable.” The men were required to wear a coat and a tie. The women had to look just elegant enough without going past a certain invisible line. Not too much, not too little. Just enough.
This is where the ordeal started. I pulled out almost every outfit I owned, every last shoe, everything I could find in my closet. My cousin was on the other side of the video phone watching me as I tried on one outfit after another, approving and disapproving my choices with a clear discernment that I simply didn't have. I had no idea how to dress, what to wear and what not to wear. The subtle rules of this masquerade escaped my mind, I had never been privy to these intricate instructions.
I thought of this while I ran to the bus stop early in the morning. Why did I worry so much about what to wear? Why was it so important to control how I looked, how others saw me? What was the meaning behind the requirement to look presentable? What did it say about me? What did it say about them?
Through a change in clothes, I would disguise my wild and chaotic nature, I would pretend to be in complete control of my own persona, my actions, my thoughts. I could be as normal and as mature as they were, as they seemed to be, as I assumed they were. There I would be, looking like them, wearing the uniform, part of the group. A question wrapped in a lie, a stumbling fish trying to swim over quickly drying mud.
I was gasping and stepping into the bus stop when I was suddenly greeted by the face of a dirty homeless man. He was so blonde and fair, and he was so happy, so happy I thought the sun had come down to say good morning through his wide open eyes.
"Look, look!" he said cheerfully, “A guy just dropped three thousand dollars in cash!"
I looked down at his hand. Between his dirt encrusted fingers there were rolls and rolls of $100 dollar bills, a package of myriad possibilities squeezed to the size of a fist. As I looked at him again, I saw him turn back into a dull, dirty old man. It was the bills that were shining like gold on his fingers.
I realized he was probably right. To judge by the amount of bills he was holding, there was probably a good three thousand dollars there, or even more.
"Put that back! Put that back” I told him, realizing suddenly that his appearance and the money didn’t go together, they would clearly stand out like a sore thumb in this mostly empty street.
He was putting himself in danger by boldly showing this treasure he had just found, this anonymous treasure that had just found him through some unknown random process that had now chosen to include me.
There was an obvious disagreement between his attire and such a large amount of money. Gold and rags, riches and dirt, power and weakness. People would stare, they might call the police, they might beat him up, they would accuse him of having stolen it.
“Please!” I asked again. “Put it away, don’t let anybody see it”.
He looked at me, suddenly realizing I was being serious. He sat on the bench and the smile faded from his face while his eyes were fixed on mine.
“I don’t care about the money.”
The tone of his voice had changed. He was no longer a homeless man, he was now a being detached from society, detached from this planet, detached from his mask. He was a kid, a grown kid who saw the world as a giant playground. He was once again shining brightly, he was the man I had seen first before I noticed his costume. The money in his hand turned into a dull plastic object, with no possible value.
Its only value was the adoration a child gives to a toy when he is playing with it, a gift freely given, a gift easily taken away. Only while playing would the toys shine with life, they would then be forgotten and cast away.
I saw him, my eyes wide open. I listened to him very attentively as he started to narrate his story: he once worked as a contractor, he made a lot of money. He used to live in San Diego, big house, two kids, a wife, a dog. His daughter was making good money now.
“Do you have any children?” he asked me.
“No.” I answered while gazing to see if the bus was coming.
“Do you make good money?”
“I make enough, I guess.” I said, while getting myself ready to board the bus that was now stopping next to me.
“Would you like a hundred dollars?” He said with a mischievous smile.
“No, I am ok,” I said, while slowly walking towards the door of the bus.
“Take it!” he said, “Just one bill!”
“No, thank you!” I said while smiling and walking up to the bus.
I sat next to a nicely dressed lady who was texting with her smart phone. I couldn’t help thinking of this man.
There was a clear disagreement between his shiny golden treasure and his dirty appearance. The mask didn't fit the event, the event cast an unflattering shadow on the mask. A man dressed in rags could not be so lucky, could not get so lucky, could not.
I looked down at what I was wearing, the costume I had worn to pass myself off as one of them, the lucky ones. I adjusted my scarf and slid backwards on the seat. I prepared my face for the masquerade that was waiting. One more among many. One more mask to hide a question I couldn't even begin to answer.
Monday, December 24, 2012
The girl sitting by the aisle was overflowing with curiosity. She leaned her little body over the armrest to watch the male airplane attendant talk about the emergency procedure. I made eye contact with her. She pursed her lips habitually and I imitated the small movement. She perceived what I was doing immediately, though she still looked at me with a bit of caution. She made another habitual shift of her face and I imitated that one as well. She started to smile, now consciously moving her eyebrows and lips and eyes. Each time she did something I imitated it as best I could. She laughed each time I wiggled my forehead or pursed my lips, when she burst into a brilliant smile, I would laugh as well.
I took the notebook and pen from my large purse and started drawing. I let my hand move, creating swirling psychedelic doodles quickly that shifted across the small lined page. I tore the drawing from the notebook and reached across the narrow carpeted aisle. She opened her hand instinctively. As she saw what was there, her face brightened like a sun moving across a cloudy sky, instantly lighting the world. She seemed to inhale the pen strokes and then without a second thought, held it up for her cousin to see. He looked through it like water, like there was no paper in front of him with a succession of dots and lines and liquidy flow. His disinterest struck me, it had such an absence of curiosity and interest and I wondered if we all eventually became a muted surface which nothing could touch.
She looked back and me and smiled. She held up the drawing for her twin to see. Immediately I started working on another doodle, intending it for her sister. When I looked back at them, the girls had taken out their little notebooks and were drawing. The girl by the window drew on the back of the doodle I had just made. Every now and then she turned it over to look at what had come through my hand onto the page.
When I was finished with the second drawing I handed it to the girl closest to me. She opened her hand and accepted it, but didn’t look at it. She tucked it under the notebook and continued drawing with intense focused attention. I worked on a third doodle.
The airline attendants came through the long, narrow aisle with their trays full of beverages and small packaged peanuts. When I was almost done with the drawing I could sense that the girl by the aisle was attempting to get my attention, we shared no language but I could feel her trying not to look at me in her shy childlike way. The quiet gestures summoned me. I turned towards her and she held the drawing up over her head and looked at it for a second before abruptly thrusting it towards me. A smile burst onto my face and she squirmed in her seat when she saw my excitement.
The drawing was of an airplane with bubbly clouds and human figures floating among them. I turned towards her and waited for her to look at me again. When she did, I nodded with a smile on my face and said, “I like it.” She cowered again and shrunk into her seat, smiling.
I worked on the third drawing and when I turned back, I saw that the older cousin had a glue stick in his hand. He helped the girls glue the doodles I had made into their notebooks. Since the girl by the window had drawn on the reverse side of the drawing I originally made, she had to choose which side to put the glue on. I saw them rolling the glue over the psychedelic swirls and dots.
Then the girl close to me fell asleep.
I move the window aside and flow out like the air. My pink chiffon dress made of fragrant rose petals laps at my legs like a gentle ocean wave upon the shore; calm, so silky in its movements. I am lulled by its touch, aroused, as though the gentle glide of fabric where expert fingers come to explore the shape of my thighs. Indeed, in that moment it is alive- or it always was and now, moving like the cool breeze, I can finally see it as sentient.
I catch the eye of a thick-breasted song bird. The tips of his feathers are white and seem to gleam like hot light against the seemingly monotonous brown fluff covering the rest of his body. He turns his head ever-so slightly to a wide-faced white flower, dividing his attention in two. I know he has not lost interest, but rather is pointing me down the path.
I turn to the bloom, not alone on the bush, yet standing out and rising higher, more full towards the life-giving sun. The white rose is unfurled and its multitude of petals, layers and layers of scented softness like an expert costume from the Bolshevik ballet. I move towards it, my body beginning to vibrate as the air pushes me along, speeding my new discovery.
Entering the hollow between the white walls I find a comfortable spot on the yellow cushion in its center. The pollen stains my exposed toes and the bottom hem of my pink dress and I sink deeper into the pollen, knowing its marks will come out in the next rain, or perhaps I can visit the tepid bird bath later when the sun has warmed the few inches of water in the ceramic bowl.
I pull a few of the petals around me for this sacred chamber. I lay back. This is my bed, my powdery yellow sanctuary. Several large stamens sprout from the center. I reach out and pull one of the thicker ones towards me, it is split in two at the very top, both ends curling dramatically in on themselves.
There is a little bit of privacy while the bees are over by the rosemary bush. I spread my thin legs and push the stamen inside. The sun comes through the petals, covering me with a warm fuzzy haze. Sinking on the yellow pillow, dust covering me completely now, adrift in a sea of fluff, I can see the blue sky between the cracks of the petals where they don’t quite meet.
The bees create a continuous drone as they work, I fall into its lullaby as the stamen moves inside me, becoming an explorer of dark places.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
The years since her birth had flown like a blue feather on a hurricane gust. Childhood had at first been painfully slow, but the moment her breasts were upright and singing, the years gathered strength and momentum, rolling faster and faster until she came to the edge and her pulse slowed. She grew out her hair in an attempt to capture what had been.
Now, her white mane long and clean, her hair had become a symbol of the past, like some sort of guiding line attached to a place she could not quite remember. The girl that had been, she had never known her.
She had watched herself from a distance, seeing the movements and thoughts of a skinny girl from an outsider’s perspective. Her dancing and singing was put under scrutiny, not by all those teachers and fellow students, but by the loud voice in her own mind that beat its comments into an ever-present rhythm she confused with the body’s pulse.
Her hair was long now, longer than it had even been. When naked she could feel the soft ends of her white waves rubbing against the back of her thighs.
Sprouting life seemed to grow unabated just beyond her fingertips. The tree outside the window, once a sapling she had planted with her own hands, had grown into a massive fruit bearing vine. It had pushed its way through the cracks in the house foundation, had climbed up the interior wall in her bedroom and spread along the ceiling.
There were flocks of bright colored birds perched along the ledges of her roof and in the garden. A once carefully tended plot of vegetables had exploded into a new life form. The tentacles of squash plants covered the land, expanding outwards, resolutely mounting wooden fences in its path, winding its way over forgotten toys and sun-chairs in the neighbor’s yard.
She wished she could bend that universal law into a pretzel, making time into a new shape so that she could experience it all again in a different way, perhaps with more clarity, perhaps with more wisdom.
She was old and her bones were metallic. Little walks around the block towards the park sent sparks through her, sometimes igniting the dried up lawns beside the path.
If only the proliferation of vines and thick weeds and the sun could wait for her, could keep her in their company. She would like to see it all to the end, every moment of existence before it all went up in a colossal puff of smoke.
She swung her hips as best she could, leaving a trail of embers on the sidewalk.
Friday, December 7, 2012
He is a spirit wandering the infinite places between sky and earth. Twisting and changing like cigarette smoke, he rides into the grasslands, white sweeping clouds above that bend from dragon to snake with a brush of the hand. Over the golden plains, mythic in song and lyric, he journeys like the parching wind.
He is a spirit wandering between stone and fire. We read the ashes and learn of his tales. There are no lines of worry crisscrossing his cheeks and skin. Death has no grip on his heart and bones.
He cannot die, he is the sunlight of the wide open west. He cannot die, he is the glittering gold on silty river bottoms and gun smoke wafting. He cannot die, he is the high pitched wail of the twelve o’clock train.
Without name he wanders the wasteland, hopping train tracks and imaginary borders made of blood and tears. Without name, the horizon opens up to him, waiting for a deep breathy kiss. Gunshots and loot, opened graves and old wooden crosses. He cannot die, he is the red rocks of the desert, the biting sand and open grasslands of buffalo.
His bones, made of feathers and air, carry all the wild dreams they have forgotten, lost in the songs of itinerant laborers laying forged metal tracks, lost at the massacres at Wounded Knee and the lynchings decorating every town square in anguished screams of mortal pain.
He is not afraid to die because he cannot die. Horses come to him and he plays with their riders. Men of leather and steel- made up of empty gun chambers and exploding white powder.
He smiles, squinting as they all search the sky for the promise of gold. Their home is the wasteland between earth and clouds, long stretches of nothingness colored by the temporary illusion of places and people and faces and tales. A country of drifters and grifters, tiny senseless cons that always end in battle. They search for treasure, an endless pursuit with countless forking roads that twist abruptly and lead always to murder and more splashes of blood that dry black on the dusty streets of empty towns.
The man with no name swirls between them all, carried by his feather bones. He cannot die, he is the purple light of sunset, the ripple of green meadow grass before a wild storm. Lighting snaps and he speaks.
Both the story and its teller. The fire and the wood. The killer and the killed. A strange whisper among the swaying grasses, an awesome silence among crimson buttes. Hear him cackling among the reeds of a small brook or shrieking over an open field, wings outstretched, prey in sight. See him circling, a ring of dark birds, waiting eagerly for some man or beast to give it's last breath to the indifferent prairie.
Where the curtains are drawn shut, where the towns people have gathered round the gallows, where the undertakers hammer rings against the hush, there you find him. Where wild horses run free, where coyotes lament their folly, where rattlesnakes make threatening music, he is there. In every face, in every street, in every mountain pass, there, there, there.
Death, smiling, the only god. Death looks up from the dug earthen graves. Death, watching closely from yellow flower faces and clouds heavy with rain. He is not afraid- the tight grip of fear which comes over men is absent from his light, wispy essence. The horse carries him on, over the badlands which stretch on and on, inspiring eternity to turn on itself, looking for more places to bloom. Hoof beats match the thump of his blood. They move on, one entity between fire and water, dancing between earth and sky
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Pain demands remedy. It demands attention, it creates an end. Ends are found wandering down many paths.
Little by little I felt like dying. I drove home up the 15 degree incline that went on for seven miles from the ocean to the mountainous woods.
The late afternoon sun was bright and hit my shoulders, browning them slightly. The heat came in through the window and he sat next to me, a 200 pound man with the potential for artistic expression and a capacity for miserable effort and run-ins with the law.
As I began to reach the peak of the oak covered meadow before a curvy 2 mile long descent into wooded Felton, I felt overwhelmed. The man had a multitude of chemical addictions and twenty nine years of pain that needed to be dulled and a father that had just died.
The family would not wait to hold the funeral and as a result, the tattooed addict beside me would never, as my mother said, have closure. She could see what was coming more than I could, that girl I was with firm round breasts and idealism that had somehow sucked her into a cave full of murky water.
My tattooed addict, sitting in the cushioned chair beside me had a history of minor crimes and outstanding warrants in a few states and credit debt that would haunt him until death.
Each one of his problems fell on my shoulders. I opened my arms to them and held them.
For a time I hoped that they would get better or change or that he would change or that his jail stays would alter him or that visiting the county hospital would at least provide him with methadone or some legal compound, but none of it changed. He took the methadone and then went to the streets moment later. Even after the doctors finally approved a physical therapist and a reason was identified for his unbearable back pain, he never stopped mixing and injecting, he never followed through on the recommended exercises. He was in a cave of his own.
He let me carry all his problems. I took him to the appointments and to the streets. I went to work and then handed over my cash to his open hands that were like magnets. I picked up his cigarettes and cringed every moment he stood at the doorway smoking, wasps of pungent odor coming right back towards me, covering my clothes and books with their stench so that one day I would have to throw them all away.
His problems were my problems. And his problems where too big for me and I wanted it all to end.
I remember saying: “but I haven’t made my mark on the world yet.” And he agreed. And so there was no double suicide.
But every day he got worse and I felt the dark cloud grow bigger and thicker and so strong that I could not see light beyond it. Every day his tolerance grew and he needed a little more black tar. Every day he needed a little more money. Every day he sunk deeper and I watched from the edge, teetering on the side, looking in and then beyond.
I went to work, I went to school. I brought him money and he took it to the beach flats and got small brown goo wrapped in pieces of plastic. After disappearing into the bathroom for hours and poking in every vein he remembered having he would emerge all sweaty and pink.
For a precious moment he would be free of pain, he would forget about his dad and the mounting legal problems and his back and the mountain of darkness that hung over our heads. Then time would slip and we would remember and the rattle would begin once again.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
"The price would be heavy," La Mujer said with a mixture of certainty and skepticism, the black curls clinging to her sweaty, tanned and rough cheeks as she leaned closer to Rose, the young white woman who sat in a wooden chair by the old kitchen table.
La Mujer’s eyes seemed to wax catlike for a moment, glinting yellow with flecks of orange and black as she spoke. Rose trembled despite the heat of the nearby hearth and pulled her handmade shawl tighter around her narrow shoulders. In the next moment, however, she had regained her determination and answered forcefully, thrusting onto the small round table a leather pouch that jangled with the promise of gold and silver.
"I can pay," she said through clenched teeth. Her pale complexion immediately flushed with red undertones and her auburn hair, once neatly combed in a tight bun, had fallen slightly, leaving strands of wavy hair dancing around her temples.
Seeing the young white woman speak with fire, La Mujer threw back her head and laughed for far too long. Just as Rose was wondering if the full-bellied cackling would stop, La Mujer slammed her hands down on the rickety table.
"Gold is fine for me, but I’m not the one who will extract the payment I’m talking about."
The candle between them flickered, coins spilled from the pouch and the younger woman flinched.
"Don’t waste my time," La Mujer spat. "You say it was El Cuervo that took your sister? Nothing from this world can touch him. He has very powerful dark magic. That is what you will need to defeat him, AND THAT comes with a very heavy price."
La Mujer fixed her stare intently upon Rose, looking for something inside those pale blue eyes.
"I understand," the young woman said at last.
"Do you?" La Mujer asked doubtfully.
"I would give my life. I would give anything that was mine to give. My soul? Is that what you want? Take it. What good has it ever done me?" Rose was shaking, now with anger rather than fear. "You say he has dark magick? Then give me darker magick. Do you hear me? Give me the devil himself to ride El Cuervo down and carry him back to hell!"
La Mujer smiled a mirthless grimace. The fire of the hearth cast shadows on the deep etchings around her eyes and cheeks, the light crawled over her scars of battle and the marks of the burning sun. She tapped her finger thoughtfully on the table and regarded the other woman for a moment.
"I know just the thing," she said, scooping up the bag of glittering coins and carrying them to the worn straw mattress in the corner.
When she had stuffed the treasure out of sight she went to the hearth that crackled and burst with licking flames. Using a pointed dagger she kept tucked beneath her stained rope belt, she scratched a large circle into the dirt floor just in front of the flames.
"Bring me that hat," La Mujer commanded, her hand gesturing to a black hat that hung on the wall.
La Mujer kept her eyes on the thick line of the circle as the young woman rose tentatively from the creaky chair. Rose walked quickly to the hat hanging to the left of the wooden door. Beside it a black linen sack dangled from another rusty nail protruding from the adobe.
As the younger woman reached for the hat something moved within the sack. On impulse, she quickly jerked her hand away, hastily snatching the hat.
"The cup too," La Mujer demanded.
"And the pitcher?" the young white woman asked.
"Just the cup."
La Mujer beckoned Rose into the circle and put the hat on the young white woman’s head. Her old, wrinkled hands took the cup and spilled the water onto the floor, emptying it completely outside the circle’s ring. Her eyes closed slightly, taking on a somewhat detached, distant look as she began murmuring something unintelligible.
She took the younger woman’s arm and pressed the pointed dagger into the soft white flesh near the underside of her elbow. Rose stifled a cry as the blood began to flow. La Mujer, still murmuring, swaying gently, caught the warm liquid in the earthen cup. When the cup was nearly full of Rose’s blood, she released her arm and licked the edge of the dagger, then placed it back beneath the rope belt wrapped around her thick waist. The younger woman clapped her white lace handkerchief over the wound and applied pressure, chest heaving, eyes shifting nervously from her arm to the cup.
La Mujer took the hat from Rose’s head. Raising it and the cup high, her murmuring increased to a fever pitch. The walls began to rattle and there was a deep, almost guttural drone that moved through Rose’s ears into her stomach and then out through her limbs.
La Mujer was vibrating softly, then her chest began to convulse, her arms and legs moved spastically in bursts and fits of energy. She held onto the cup, not spilling a drop as her full body heaved with the heat of flowing energy. Just as it seemed the little makeshift cottage held together with crooked nails, crumbling wood and adobe could endure no more La Mujer fell silent and a with a sudden gust the candle and the once roaring flames of the hearth were snuffed out.
There was a momentary darkness and then green flames sprang to life within the hearth. The young white woman gasped as the eerie light revealed a ghostly figure standing in the circle with herself and La Mujer.
"Amara," it whispered tenderly to La Mujer.
"Si, Damon, soy yo." She grinned
"Why have you called me?" The specter rasped.
"Porque carino, la mujer blanca paga su precio." Teeth flashing as her grin widened, she offered the cup to the specter’s lips.
As it drank the form became more material, its colors growing vivid and clear. The green of the flames slowly transformed and within moments, the hearth was restored.
Standing before them was a muscular young man with dark hair and blazing green eyes. His complexion was tanned, like La Mujer herself, but his cheeks were smooth and undamaged by sun and time. His clothing and boots were black leather and his spurs gleamed silver.
La Mujer placed the hat on his head. He flexed his hands and arms and smiled wryly at the young white woman with wide blue eyes.
"So," he said, "how can I be of service?"
"I want you to hunt down the man called El Cuervo."
As she answered she felt her legs buckle. The man in black caught her and steadied her.
"Hmm," he said, "his kind don’t die easy."
La Mujer laughed. "Lucky for her, your kind don’t die so easy either."
He looked the white woman up and down, noticed the purple and white print of her modest dress, the white lace frill along her neckline, the slight disheveled curls at her temples, the wound on her arm.
"What do you want Cuervo for?"
"He has my sister."
"You got a name?"
"And your sister?"
"You just call me Damon." He turned to La Mujer, "Amara, my guns."
La Mujer left the circle and fetched the black linen sack from the wall. Returning, she dipped her hand inside and withdrew two thick rattlesnakes and set them hissing into Damon’s rough, outstretched hands. The snakes coiled eagerly around each of his arms and writhed their way into his empty leather holsters where they transformed into gleaming six guns.
"They will need to feed and you will need to feed. You understand mi querido? Your power and theirs will wane unless you take life. For you, it must be her blood…while she lives. When she is gone…" La Mujer shrugged, looking away into the flames. "But your babies there, they will have to kill, one way or another. The greater the prey, the more powerful they become. Understand? Just like old times."
* * *
Under the moonlight they rode in silence, Rose and Damon side by side. The desert cold was still around them. The stars shone brightly.
After hours of quiet, many miles of desert were spread between them and La Mujer’s adobe hut on the mountainside. The spectral gunman made into flesh by chant and blood inhaled deeply and sighed.
"Smell that night air. There’s something special about the air at night. The stars and moon, the silver light, they change me somehow. Make me new."
Rose nodded silently, looking up at the sky full of light. She stared again at the black horizon, her body full of chill.
She asked, "Are you sure we’re going the right way? I mean," she said hesitantly, "there are no tracks."
"No, no tracks Miss Evans, but I’m sure."
"How can you be sure?"
"Because I used to ride with Cuervo’s gang a long time ago. I know where home is, way down past the border, beyond the river in the land of the dead. I know where Cuervo likes to roost. They wouldn’t have gone straight home after taking your sister. They would have gone east a bit first, grabbing more white girls, burning more farms, taking what they needed, having what they wanted… so we’ll meet up with them eventually in the canyon. All the routes home funnel into the canyon. We’ll get there first and wait in the caves."
"You were one of them then?"
"For a while after the war."
"And how did you die? I mean, you are dead?"
"Was dead. Now, thanks to you, not so much. Cuervo’s woman; that’s how I died. I ran off with her and he came gunning for us."
"So you’ll have a chance for revenge," she said.
"Looks that way." They continued in silence for a while before he stopped by a tall lonesome mesquite and dismounted.
"Why are we stopping?" she asked scanning the deserted landscape for explanation. His answer stopped her cold.
"I need to feed."
* * *
Before crossing the Rio Grande they stopped in a small waste of a town. The dust covered buildings were rickety and slap shod. Light and noise roared from the saloon until they entered and then a hush consumed the place and all eyes fell upon the grinning hired gunman and sickly looking young woman. When the shooting started Rose Evans, already pale from blood loss, crouched under a table and covered her ears. When she came to again it was because Damon was pulling her from under the table. He put her on her dainty feet and pressed a decanter of brandy to her lips.
"You need something too," he said and led her to a wooden table where a round man in a vest sat gazing vacantly over a plate of meat and potatoes. A perfect bullet wound in the center of his forehead trickled blood. Damon pushed the corpse from the chair with his boot and gentle guided Rose Evans onto it.
"Eat up," he told her as she stared at the slab of meat.
She covered her mouth to prevent herself from retching and shook her head. The bloody scene came through to her in short bursts and she felt as though the room were spinning. Shoving the chair away from the table, she let it topple as she ran to the street outside and doubled over. It was starting to rain.
Damon joined her, un-tethering the horses and putting the reins of her mare into her trembling hand.
"I’ll be dead won’t I? By the time we meet Cuervo?"
Damon glanced at her and took a swig from the brandy, but said nothing.
"That’s the price," she continued. "You’ll take my life bit by bit and I’ll watch your guns take the lives of strangers. My soul, all that blood, on my soul. I never noticed I had one till now." Her hair was loose and wet and heavy under the weight of rain. Her face was pale, her blue eyes wreathed in shadow. "But you’ll save Grace, won’t you? Get her away from him. If you don’t kill him, at least get her away."
Damon lifted her onto the horse and took another swig before pressing the bottle into her hands. He looked radiant, almost godlike with his black leather clothes collecting moisture and clinging to his muscular frame. The six guns shone like lesser stars. They looked bigger and more menacing than they had in La Mujer’s hut. He swung onto his horse with one graceful leap and urged it forward as the thunder rumbled ominously overhead and a silver rod of lightning tore through the sky behind them.
* * *
They entered a short series of caves and waited. When Cuervo and his minions entered the narrow canyon, their raucous voices echoed through the red earth, stirring Rose Evans from troubled dreams. Damon pressed a finger to his thin, pale lips and they waited for the noise to die down. She drifted in and out of sleep for a while longer, waiting, waiting.
Was it a dream when she watched Damon un-holster one of his guns and let it slither onto the cave floor as a rattlesnake? Not a dream when he took a small drink from the tender wound on her arm? A scream. Then another.
"Vibora! Vibora! Aye!"
Gunshots ricocheting off the cave walls. Damon creeping away. More screams and gunshots. Terrible laughter. She pulled herself up and used the wall to steady herself as she crept towards the noise. The earth quaked and she stumbled to her knees, crawled a while, emerged into the main cavern.
There stood Damon, guns barking hungrily. Something was flying through the cavern screaming. A raven. A rattlesnake brushed against her hand, hissed at her and kept going. Against one wall a line of young women tied together in a train, mouths gagged, eyes wide.
And Grace. Not with the others, but standing among fallen bodies, searching for something, a pistol, pried from dead hands.
"Cuervo! La Mujer envia sus saludos!" Damon shouted with a grin. His gun barked and the bird fell from the air and landed with a heavy thud as a man.
"No!" Grace screamed, aiming the pistol at Damon and firing before running to the fallen man.
Rose stumbled towards her sister and tried to pull her away.
"Grace, Grace, it’s me."
"Rose? You?" Grace’s voice was full of disbelief as she hastily regarded her sister, then shoved her away. "Go home!"
"Grace, I came for you, to save you."
Damon and his guns were finishing the last few men. He seemed illuminated by shadow, if such a thing were possible, taller, more menacing than ever. Lightning flashed beyond the cave mouth.
"To save me? From what? From soaring above the world? From taking what I want when I want it?"
Grace was laughing, tears streaking her cheeks. Her pale hair hung loose over her shoulders as she kneeled to caress the face of the dead man before tugging his jacket off of him.
"I don’t understand." Rose said meekly as she watched her older sister.
"I’m Cuervo’s woman now," Grace said, "that’s all Rose." She continued pulling on the jacket and gently guided the dead man’s arms out of it. Without glancing at her sister she said, "you should have stayed home."
The jacket was covered in glossy black feathers that glistened as another flash of lightning illuminated the cave. Damon now stood silently as Grace slipped a ring from Cuervo’s tepid hand and placed it on her own. She kissed his cold lips, then bowed her head and shrank down.
In the blink of an eye Grace was gone and a raven leapt up screaming. It circled twice over Rose before flapping out of the gaping cave mouth into the canyon.
* * *
Rose awoke again on horseback, Damon’s arms encircling her.
"Grace?" she croaked.
Damon stopped the horse, slid down and lifted her off as well. He laid her gently upon the ground. The thirsty earth had already soaked up the rain, giving off a perfumed scent. It hardly felt moist against Rose’s back. The clouds were scattered like phantoms across the violet sky. The east glowed pink to herald the dawn.
"Grace is gone." Damon told her. "Soon you will be too."
"I know," she rasped through pale lips. "The others? The girls?"
"I cut them loose and pointed them towards the border."
They sat in silence for a time.
"You’ll fade too, won’t you?" Rose asked, her voice weak and brittle.
"By tomorrow night."
"What will you do till then?"
"I’ll say goodbye to La Mujer."
Pink was bleeding into the violet sky, seeping into it like ink from a spilled blotter, highlighting the clouds.
"She’s the one." Rose rasped after a moment. "The woman you stole from Cuervo."
"Yes," he said, his black eyes smiling, full of mischievous delight.
They sat in silence watching the sky slowly brighten. As the sun’s golden crown crested the horizon Rose pulled the soiled handkerchief from the wound on her arm and Damon took his last drink. A brown dove cooed softly in a nearby thicket of mesquite and coyote willow and a small shrew scampered to its den as the desert cast off the night and shone softly into wakefulness, brilliant, golden, and sharp.
Friday, November 9, 2012
She looks up as the first of the pack begins to howl. It begins with an itch on the consciousness of one and then instinctively they are called to join, a reflex that snaps with the first yip. She turns her head up to the sky and lets out a long, high-pitched call.
The night above is dark blue with an undertone of brightness that seems to hold promise in its colored grasp. The sky is alive, not yet awakened by stars, but aware and vibrant and glowing with a richness that washes over the landscape like a heavy rain, bringing a softness with it that echoes the cacophony of the pack.
Her mouth is open and her eyes are closed. All her concentration, the very breath moving through her, the essential quality of her nature comes out in that long extended howl.
The pack of twelve send their signal to the moon, which is not yet present above the thick line of pine trees. They call to others like them divided by swaths of jagged mountains and forests so dense and moist that sunlight has given up its desire to penetrate the lush darkness. The pack sings out in a momentary unison of collective song.
Perhaps the wind will take their unbridled spirits and push it up and over to the other side of the living mountains, across the sea and mermaid bones, over to the deserts and ranges unfamiliar to wolves, where the people there have never heard the call or seen the craned necks and mouths reaching to the twilight sky.
This is when the circles begin, the moon has risen and its white glowing light resonates in their throats. The wind becomes rain. Water and fire turn to earth. Stone warms its face against the fallen sun and the howling continues.
Their eyes are squinted shut, their heads upturned to the deep blue approaching night. The first of the stars has begun to sparkle low in the sky.
Their sound creates the anvil of construction. Used to create and forge, to fuse light and melt forever with the burning flames high up above.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
It had been a long time since he had first come to this house and fallen in love with its occupant, a lovely young widow with flaxen hair and freckled cheeks. Somehow he had married her and stayed, and it had been a long time since then, a long time since he took off his guns and hung them in the closet, trading them for a hoe.
She died and his unborn child died with her. He buried them not far from the house. What few neighbors they had came to lay their hands on his shoulder in silence, one at a time before drifting back out into the golden abyss.
He might have left then, he had still been young enough. He could have taken up his guns and forgotten this almost life in a glorious blaze of gunfire. Instead he stayed. He hitched his horse to a plow and tore through the unforgiving earth as if in a trance.
He could no longer live, and yet he did not die. His days played out in an uninterrupted flow of monotony under a cloudless blue sky. Like the hands of a clock, he moved as if propelled by hidden gears, a prisoner of time frozen in a story that had ended prematurely. The days bled one into the other, each indistinguishable from the last. Only the occasional visit from a neighbor, once or twice a year, punctuated the seemingly endless single day that sucked his youth away.
A tanned old man with pale blue eyes, he stood on the porch staring out at the prairie grass, watching a figure approach from the distance. It seemed to be a child, coming in at a good clip. He stood and watched as the details emerged.
Yes a child, a girl, with soot on her hands, face and apron. Red hair, streaks in the sooty cheeks to mark the passage of tears. Maybe it was nothing that he could see, maybe it was something that he felt radiating from her, or the simple fact that she was a break in the endless predictability, but when she was near enough for the details to become apparent, he felt swept up by a wave of emotion and ran out to meet her in the field. He dropped to his knees and took her by the shoulders.
“Child, what happened?”
She gasped, and sobbed,
“Bad men. Bad men came. Bad men with guns.”
He looked over her head at the hills and could see the wisps of smoke dissolving in the sky beyond the hills. Then he looked back into her face, into her eyes, into all that must have happened written in the burning eyes of a child. He looked into the fire in her eyes and felt something quicken inside of him.
Standing, he scooped her up and carried her swiftly to the house and up the porch steps. It was the way he had carried his wife up those same steps after their wedding, but now it was a child and the feeling in his chest was different. He set her down on her feet inside the door and went to the closet.
His whole body was steadily flooding with heat, he could feel it in his limbs, his chest, his face. Opening the closet door he reached inside and took up his guns. He strapped them on without hesitation. It had been many years, but his fingers moved deftly as he opened the barrels, checking that they were loaded. He gave them a spin.
He stood in front of her then.
“What’s your name?”
A flash of recognition. Benson. They raised horses over the hill. Or they had until today.
“Can you count?“
“How many men were there? Take a minute, think about it.”
“What about your kin…anybody hurt?”
Again she nodded but this time her freckled face crumpled to expel the fresh tears that welled up in her eyes.
He laid his hand on her shoulder,
“You get yourself over to Doc Hoverstad’s place. You know where that is?”
She sniffed, “No.”
He motioned toward the back of the house.
“That way, north, across the creek. ”
They locked eyes again. He lifted his hand from her shoulder. Then he passed through the doorway and down the steps, eyes trained on the faint bluish curl of smoke in the distance.
He found the girl's parents together, Mr. Benson with three wounds in his chest, Mrs. Benson draped over his legs, half her skull missing. A young cow hand lay dead further from the house.
By the smoldering barn he found a man still breathing, a bullet lodged in his belly. Gasping like a fish out of water, the dying man didn’t seem to see the other at first. He was older with a grizzled chin, beads of perspiration all over his forehead.
The man with the gun knelt beside him and the dying man whispered:
“Don’t worry about me none. They took the oldest girl, Lizzie. Left an hour ago I think. You’ll catch them… you’ll catch them, I can tell, I know it, you have the look. Go on. Go…on…go…”
Another familiar feeling had come over him, replacing all the heat. Now he was cold, as if his heart could pump a blizzard through his veins. Everything was crystal clear, every slow steady thought, each strong quick motion.
It took him no time to recognize their tracks and follow them through the pass and out of the valley. They’d taken 20 or so horses with them, making them easy to follow. 20 horses and one girl.
How many years had it been since he put down his guns? It could have been no time at all. It could have been yesterday, except that he felt old in his bones, a bit stiff, slower than he had once been.
As the terrain leveled out and the grass gave way to dusty earth and brittle bramble the answer registered with clarity; 15 years. 15 years, six men, 20 horses, 1 girl. The world could be distilled into these figures.
They appeared to him as a cloud of trail dust. He stayed just near enough to follow them, far enough away that they wouldn’t notice him in pursuit. As dusk approached they made camp around an outcropping of large boulders. Thankfully, the terrain was littered with such groupings of stones.
The man with the gun left his own horse behind and approached in the descending darkness, just as they were lighting their fires, arguing about who would cook and who would stand guard while the others used the girl. He waited to see how the quarrel would go, if one or two might die before he descended on them.
One was already wounded from the raid on the Bensons and sat slumped against the rocks ignoring the others. The girl was laying where they had dropped her, on her side with her hands tied behind her back, a gag in her mouth, 15 feet from the wounded man, seven feet from the rest of the gang.
One bandit did pull his gun and point it at another, two more moved to restrain him. In that moment the girl wriggled up to her feet and started running. Someone gave a shout and all their attention turned to her.
The man with the gun took the opportunity, first firing on the bandit who had already drawn his weapon in the argument. Five. That one fell dead and another whirled, reaching for his guns. The horses had begun to scream and tug against their ropes. He dropped the bandit who was closest to catching the girl before turning his gun on the bandit who was drawing. 4.
Here he missed and had to duck behind a boulder as the bullets came screaming after him. Then he took a second shot and landed it in his opponents throat. 3.
The two bandits left standing gave up chasing the girl as their companion fell gurgling, grasping at the geyser of blood. They peered searchingly into the darkness, but the man with the gun ducked behind the boulder and waited, listening to their exclamations.
“Shit. Shit. They got us.“
“How many are out there?”
“Hey, shut up, how many of them?”
And then a third voice, a lot fainter, the wounded man,
“Just one I think.”
“I ain’t waiting to find out. I’m tearing out of here.”
“No you ain’t!”
The man with the gun seized the new opportunity, rose swiftly and fired on the bandit who had put a restraining hand on his cowardly companion. 2.
The coward spun wildly around drawing his gun and firing before the man with the gun could react. He caught a bullet in his shoulder and stumbled backward. The bandit fired again but missed giving the man a chance to recover. He rushed forward gun blazing until the coward hit the dirt with a thud. 1.
There was a momentary quiet. Then a single shot. The man felt the hot blood spilling out of his gut. Much too slowly he turned to the man who had killed him, the wounded bandit slumped against the boulder. They looked at each other silently, firelight dancing over their faces. Then the man with the gun took aim and shot the man who killed him in the head. 0.
He fell to his knees then, still holding his gun. 15 years and six men gone. 20 horses and one girl.
“Lizzie!” he shouted, “Lizzie Benson!”
It took a while, but the girl returned from the darkness and crept carefully over the bodies, kicking one that was still breathing. She came and stood in front of the man on his knees who was struggling to breathe.
“Lizzie.” he said.
She stared at him, the dirty gag still in her mouth. He motioned her closer and she got down on her knees in front of him. Letting go of his gun, he reached around her head and untied the gag.
He pulled a knife out of his boot and cut the rope that bound her hands.
Wincing in pain he dropped the knife and placed a hand on his blood-soaked belly.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I met you when you were a baby.” he managed to say. “You must be 12 now.”
“13.” she said. “I’m sorry. I don’t remember you.”
“Doesn’t matter.” he said. It was getting hard to see her, shadows were bleeding over her face, green eyes, red hair, freckled cheeks. “Your sister Margarette came and got me. She’s at Doc Hoverstad’s now. You know the place?”
“Yes, I do.” she answered.
“She’ll be needing you now. You better take those horses. Those are your horses.”
He couldn’t see her at all now, just the front steps of the farm house, the door slightly ajar. He must have fallen over because he could feel the hard earth against his shoulder. Her hand was resting delicately on the other shoulder.
“You know the way home?”
“I think so.” She was crying, he could hear it in her voice, but he was looking at that door, slightly ajar.
“North east. You can wait till the sun comes up, follow your own tracks back. You can take my belt, take my guns.”
“Mister, won't you come with me?” she sniffled.
“Not this time.”
He turned away from the door, heard it shut behind him, and looked out at the wide blue sky. His guns were hanging at his side, his horse was saddled and waiting. He smiled at the sun from under the brim of his hat and mounted in a swift fluid motion. Feeling young and feather light, swifter than lightning, he gave a little kick and was off, riding into an unfamiliar landscape, strangely beautiful, eternally uncertain, overflowing with terror and delight.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Power strength number soul, we will ever be.
In silky sand tear drops falling,
there our song was written.
Falling sliding, walking shadows, black legend free.
Burning, soaring, chalice pouring,
there we will ever be.
Beyond savage Saturn's grin,
where memories and dreams are one.
"There, there now, poor beast," I say as the guardian rests its great horned head on my lap.
Nova and Burn are near, reading the maps, looking at the lights in the black distance.
I am Sage. They found me in the desert, all scorched and broken. Under the cooling shade of those wide leafed trees which have no name I was washed and mended.
I am returning slowly. When first I saw my reflection in the dark cool waters I couldn't even say who I was. I stared at a stranger who gazed back at me with fear in his pale blue eyes.
But now I am Sage and the guardian rests its heavy hard head upon my lap.
The garden is all around us. Dripping green, rose red, slithering white. Flowing tendrils of life to love me, to hurt me, to hold me. A symphony of unknown fury and rhythmic lust, surrounding me on all sides.
This too seems familiar. Something almost remembered gleams through the strangeness all around me. I was here before, I will be here again, or maybe I have never been away.
I remember the burning gate glowing in fury. The descent, hard and fast. Flesh ripping from bone, sinews snapping, memories like butterflies blown from my silent center. I can see it all through the thick green leaves that hang over us like flat fingers bursting with dark blood. I can see the desert rising from below, screaming as it receives me.
Small clouds moving fast over the faded blue horizon. Sand as white as bleached bones, the sand is out there beyond the leaves, unforgiving in its white fury. Crawling, I found a still green lake whose salty water burned my wounds and brought my insides out. Vast emptiness. A desert bleeding. No self. No other. Nothingness.
Communication. That is where it all resides, without it there is nothing.
The crash left us mangled, almost killed this unit, should have killed this unit. Instead, it left me glittering; broken bones and glass and silver, a shiny starburst in the sand.
Communications were damaged. The others were gone, the long twisting coiled cords that connected us were severed. Hope left me like water from hot sand, sizzling up into vapor. For a time, a time long enough to change me, long enough to inflict deep wounds upon my whirling psyche, I was alone.
Nova is our pilot. He will figure out a way to lift us back up or he will die trying. I trust him implicitly, I will do what he asks.
Sometimes he comes over and talks to me, runs a wet cloth over my forehead, whispers some words. I respond and he smiles. Then he leaves and I watch his tall shape sliding away from me under the dark canopy of trees, his green tail flicking the earth behind him.
Nova's body is big, but the guardian leaves us all in shadow. As big as the guardian is, he is gentle and kind. To us. He is what he is to others.
Burn, the silent one, gathered the pieces, her six long black legs quick and nimble. Wherever Nova directs her she goes, back into the desert, deep into the verdant tangles of the garden, beneath the surface of the boiling pools by the jagged mountain where she found the guardian wandering.
She is small but strong. Not heat or cold, neither dry or wet, disturb her. She is one part of what was our engineer. Nova tells me the other part, the part that spoke and knew is gone. This makes things more difficult, but it will be all right. As she is, Burn can still put things back together with Nova's instruction. We must repair communications.
I remember falling beyond savage Saturn's grin. I remember the colored lights, the intense bursts of wild sound in the distance, the echoes of lightning, the violent screeching of our ship.
I shudder and the guardian shifts his head in my lap with a sigh. I remember the desert. I remember when Nova lifted me from the sand and I was frightened. Strangely familiar. Startlingly new.
What we now need is fuel. Flaming white hot. Vibrant life from the darkness, from the clouds, from the hidden entrails of mud, from blood, from flesh.
Nova and Burn read the maps and look at the lights in the far away black distance. We chase the always distant sun, our hands wide and open towards the morning star.
The guardian is weak, he seems weaker every day. This is no place for him. I stroke his heavy head in my lap. I will give him strength, I will give him my fuel. For as long as I can.
"There, there now, poor beast."
Chalice pouring, mouth wide, sacred savage eyes.
For now, the Garden. I remember. I remember the garden. And the burning gate. And the falling. Each unique, all as one.
For now I can remember. Someday my memories will become dreams. And someday my dreams will become memories. I will forget and remember and remember and forget. Each time this happens I will be startled by the newness of our quest. Each time I will wonder at the familiarity.
It may take a long time. But we will find it: the always distant sun. We will fix communications and awaken to life once more. Then we will soar.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Hold still and wait, the messages come through our skin, into our eyes. They bypass the mind and seep in like water on a meadow. Patience. It comes. More slowly than you’d like, but sit still, you’ll feel it tingling, moving like excited bees over open flower faces.
Yes, we are sweet, just let the city melt as it needs to. Those lights and bulbs and glass are not needed. Let them melt into pools of reflection.
The bees will find us open and pungent, sticky sweet and seeping with desire.
Sit still, you will feel it. Silence is the space between six hands. The stars are there, blinking. Night waits for us, holds us in its quiet hours.
Let your skin listen, the space behind you knees, the shadows radiating with intensity. Wide are our hands, chests, tubes and ventricles. Tired, our bodies. Sit still, let the body listen. The muscles, aching. Screaming for rest.
Oh, the Blanket. Mother in her folds. Infancy folded and clean, smelling of newness and fluff. The eyes, so bright, peeking from behind lids that weigh down; gravity will not be outsmarted, though we try.
Dream, oh, the dream. Shifting in its red and black. The orange moving like wispy clouds.
Ours is the road. A spiral of tar and gravel. Wide avenues that sometimes break into trenches and dirt paths.
None are the same, as the labyrinth walls can attest. Travel is motion, our steps clatter in the cracks of time, bouncing in the silence between our hands.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
How many moons have I in this skin?
Looking out, the night sky is littered with light.
Other stars, other worlds.
The celestial is within, flowing through each limb.
The body is alive.
The dark pattern of galaxies, the rings of Saturn illuminated by the sun.
The body is alive.
A young girl in a bed, naked and reading.
For the moment of one inhalation she can feel the enormity of the cosmos.
Space stretching further than the mind could touch.
dark and speckled with light and solar flares.
She looks out the window and sees a palette of greens and shifting leaves.
Blue skies and the faint wisps of clouds.
Beyond the atmosphere, it is all there, as ephemeral as her own body.
We shift together. The body on earth, the earth around the sun, the sun around the galaxy.
Shifting together as one massive entity.
Caught up in shopping trips and career plans and the dinner menu.
The furthest stars shine, exposing themselves as worlds unto themselves.
I know them.
The wormhole is here taking me from one state to the other.
The mind opens with many doors,
I step through the threshold over and over,
finding myself a little ahead,
sometimes many steps behind.
The body is alive.
The leaves shine, letting in speckles of light and creating layers of shade and shape.
I am a universe unto myself, a uterus of creation eating the blood that lines me.
The stars are fed, they cannibalize the glory.
Friday, September 21, 2012
I spent 6 years trying to make up for one sentence said to the wrong person. Six years trying to dig my way out of sorrow and regret with money. Shirts, shoes, cigarettes, cds, concert tickets, milk, orange soda, hot dogs, art supplies, a silk screen press, heroin, lots and lots of heroin.
I worked and he spent as he wanted and I knew it was all because of that one sentence blurted out at dawn in the police station. One damn sentence condemned him as a felon forever. A string of words put him in minimum security jail for two months.
When I first saw him in that bright orange cotton pajama uniform and had to pick up a telephone to talk to him through the glass in the visitation booth, I thought I would crumble. I ran around town meeting with lawyers and bail bondsmen, I looked for an apartment and picked classes for the upcoming term. I went to his court dates wearing the purple paisley skirt he liked and every gemstone I owned for protection. I put the red garnet ring his mother had sent me on my left hand and walked into the courtroom, knowing I had put him there, knowing I needed to get him out.
I did what I could for him, depositing extra money into his ‘inmate account’ so he could buy extra food. I went back to my job and saved money for his bail, I accepted the collect phone calls and then worked like hell to pay them off.
When he was sentenced to two months I went to visit him faithfully every Sunday. He had been placed at “the farm,” the low security building by the city dump. It was a one story facility without fences or barbed wire, there were cats and peacocks that roamed the grounds. There he was issued white linen pants and a thick jeans jacket. We were allowed contact on those visits and he had me smuggle in cigarettes under my jacket, which I always hated to do.
He got a job in the kitchen and I was impressed when he told me he made a mini mountain made of melon pieces and parsley. I thought that he found ways to make even the worst of circumstances beautiful. He became the resident artist and drew pictures for the wives and girlfriends of other inmates. On Valentine’s weekend he presented me with a drawing of a sleeping mermaid with her arms wrapped around a heart-shaped moon.
I would arrive early on Sundays and be one of the first people in line, which was the way I insured we would have the full visit time of two hours. We would kiss and I would wear a skirt and sometimes he would touch my clit and I would leave there sopping wet.
Six months after he got out our troubles really began. The heroin became a necessity. I lived with the fear of death or jail. I wanted to save him, I wanted to be with him, the guy who drew and made me laugh, but I had not seen him in years.
I kept trying to make up for my initial wrong, but it just never worked- he only got worse. He was out of jail, but I had never left that one moment, that damn sentence, those few little words.
Friday, September 14, 2012
Ready… once again, as the circle returns.
I can almost taste it as it curves along those invisible walls that make up the magnetic fields of our existence. The sound of that bullet, bursting forth in anticipated explosion, waiting, waiting as it pierces the air with hot precision.
We wait as the circle curves back and we prepare once more. All of us, here with our attention, as the stars tell stories from above. The horses neigh in the background beneath leafy trees. The smell of sweet, crisp water overwhelms the charcoal, earthy odor of our shots.
We lay in the brush. The dry leaves press against my sweaty chest. With one eye closed I find my target, alive and filled with force, his gun glittering in the moonlight.
The sky, always dark with wide clouds that shift and turn. In the silence between bullets, before I draw from the endless cycle and aim once again, I turn towards the road. In just a moment I feel its long dusty tongue lick the dirt from my rough skin. Its gaze of passive indifference opens like a wide tunnel and I see myself on horseback, riding west beneath a sky so vast and endless it brings tears and fills my chest with indescribable longing.
The road, it cares neither for the sun, moon or children of stars. I am nothing to it, it takes the salt of my death and turns me into the path itself. I am the ground and move over purple mountains taking the silent message of choice up and up, zigzagging forest-covered mountains, down through the open ranges of the yellow valleys, through rain, over desert so parched and white that nothing lives, nothing can live. The sound of bullets ding and clatter from above. The horses stir and I squint once more.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
This was not the sweet sound of evacuation. It was not civilization coming with dry walls in the midst of a flood. It was the brutal force of empire. It was metal and strength looming from above. It was reinforced steel and bullets. It was brute strength.
There was one more tree left, the rest had been cleared away. Chopped, roots dug, bark mulched.
I had been there when there was still a small grove of oak trees. It had been a sunny Saturday. Blue. A soft wind that carried summer on its wings. The earth had been covered in a blanket of tan leaves that were hard and brittle and sharp along the edges.
The spirit was still young then. There was still a chance, they thought, to save the grove. A small group had gathered around a guitarist. He leaned against a tree, eyes closed in concentration, lyrics forming on his lips.
My steps echoed with crunching leaves, adding a bit of unnoticed rhythm. The leaves, one step closer to the earth. Dust. The trees were a canopy. Late afternoon light sprinkled in like glittering jewels.
A barefoot man in cutoff jeans walked through the grove holding burning sage. A thin, button-up shirt, unbuttoned now, exposed his smooth hairless chest. Skunk and earth. Smoke looked like genie dreams in the rays of sunlight.
Close to the sidewalk, a few bicycle activists distributed bruised apples and oranges collected from the nearby farmer’s market. The small space was alive. Young girls in wide skirts. Old women with long white hair that had seen this all before, and yet still hoped.
"We will save it," they claimed. They would. They wanted to.
Months later, the university was through with games. The guitarist, apples, the sage. All forcibly removed. The squirrels, birds, they were all gone. The police had built a metal chain link fence around the grove, trapping a few lone tree sitters that had climbed into the thick oak branches as a last resort.
I had almost been one of those girls. I had almost taken my sleeping bag and gone into the night. There could have been moon light, a stolen kiss, but that was a different path. I stayed in my blue carnival house. Warm, cool-hued and imagining, never regretting a night under the stars that would never be.
There was a different tree to climb and I listened to him sooth me like water. Cool. Tranquil. His words dripped down my ears.
The fence went up, metal and cold, doing what it was designed to do. The crowds watched, pushed to the other side of the street, their hands clutching the barrier, watching as the chainsaws came. They cut every old oak in the grove. They turned a home to little pieces, they turned it into dust.
Just one lone tree remained. The barefoot activists. Just a few thorns left.
Force was nothing new, force stretched out, trickling into every dark hole. Fifty years. It was not about war or free speech, it was only trees. Nothing had changed, the eyes of the country still blinked in hazy sleep.
Far worse had been done, more violence stood tall on batons, ready for another skull.
The police came, the fingernails on the octopus, the lowest level that would squeeze into those holes, bashing the centers with their metal-toed boots. Trained men. Guns, bullets, gas, masks, batons, handcuffs. Helicopters. Once again.
There were just a few left. The only animals now remained high in their branches, waiting for the inevitable. Barefoot, eating granola, waving signs, burning sage. Surrounded by gas and guns, the tree could offer no protection. Its own death was coming.
The grove was gone. Steel bars and cement were no longer a bad dream. The hard hats were ready. Plans. Fiberglass. The obstacles were cleared and soon it would all be over. Most would forget this ever happened.
I listened to it on the radio, driving early. Bright morning light coming through the windshield. News of the final standoff. The barefoot people came down. They said they had been assured no charges would be pressed. The university later denied making that promise. And the final tree came down.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
We were all sitting around in a circle in the living room when the doorbell rang. Bright and clear. Like Isabel’s voice on green hills. It rang again as I day dreamed. I jolted awake, eager to see what lay on the other side.
Standing illuminated in the glow from our weak porch light was a green dragon. He was not the giant lizard of old fairy tales, larger than ten buildings, but he was taller, thicker, and more scaly than me. Standing at least seven feet tall, I craned my neck backwards, feeling the back of my head touch my back as I stared up at him. I could see my own stunned reflection staring back at me in his glassy eyes.
I thought that I detected green and scales, smelt burning embers that somehow reminded me of clean wind just above the clouds, but I was most entranced by these smooth yellow eyes. I sunk into them, for as I said, I could see myself as he saw me, a nervous woman stunned by a creature she had only read about, but I could also see my form as the world he came from would see me.
I was blue and purple, a nebulous shape that was held together only by the tiniest strings, like blowing scarves stuck to a clothesline in spring. In his world, my flesh had already fallen, my colors were already singing.
Seeing the mixture of confusion and wonder in my eyes, sensing that perhaps the neighbors would begin to feel that something was amiss, somehow telepathically as nosy neighbors can, he cleared his throat and a few fiery embers escaped his jaws as he opened his mouth.
I shifted attention from his eyes to the tiny bits of flame that rose into the night like orange fairies.
“Excuse me for that. I am here for the writer’s meeting. I am Maurice. I brought some of my work. I hope I am not to late.”
For a moment my mouth would not move, I must have lost control as I voyaged into his world. Coming back into mine, I could feel my tongue was stuck somewhere behind my teeth. Pursing my mouth together, I found the little bit of moisture that remained.
The underlying sweetness of his voice echoed between us, as clear and bright as the doorbell had been. Like Isabel’s voice on a green hillside.
We met eyes once again, “Oh yes, come in,” I managed to say, using my best hostess voice. Opening the door wider and stepping aside, he crossed the threshold, forever entering our tiny world within a world.
As he passed, coming from the night into the daylight we created, I looked down at his hands, where hands would have been if he were human. What he had were scaly green arms that ended in long yellowish-white claws that doubled as hands. Using both claws he held onto a thin manila folder, the kind used in offices around the world, which I assumed contained his written words.
It was only a few steps from the door to the living room. As I followed his thin trail of smoky air, I saw the stunned looks waiting in their chairs, looking the same as I must have.
“This is Maurice,” I announced. “He’s a writer here for the meeting.”
Several people nodded obediently, taking the information in, the lifelong schooling in American social politeness not failing them yet.
“Maurice, I’m going to get another chair from the kitchen for you.”
Stepping away I could hear the awkward silence beginning, though just as that void opened, it was filled with the steady voice of Chester, perfectly timed to avoid any crash in energy.
“What do you write Maurice?”
“Mostly poetry. I just started writing really.”
“That’s ok. Everyone is welcome here.”
I walked back into the room with a slightly worn metal folding chair in my hands, seeing polite nods from the gathered writers as the encouraging statement reverberated around the room.
“Here’s a chair for you. Let’s kind of... rearrange the chairs so there’s still a clear circle.”
We took a moment to do this.
I could feel slight tension in the room, more palpable than just the usual bit of nerves that seemed to accompany all the writers that came to our house. Jen slipped me a nervous look, her eyes were questioning, perhaps looking at me like I understood something that she didn’t, wondering, most likely, what a dragon was doing in our house. I had no answer, I looked away.
“Ok, thanks for coming everyone. For those of you that haven’t been here before, we take turns reading our work, or someone else can read it for you if you like. Afterwards, we discuss it. When you make a comment, try to give your impression and reactions. Talk about the way it made you feel or if there were any parts that were confusing. In general, try to avoid saying if it was good or not. Stick to how it made you feel. Ok Jen, do you want to go first?”
“Sure. This is the second half of the story I read last week.”
She looked down at her lap, to the story that was already sitting there on neatly typed pages, and began to read. Her words went into me. The same flowing, evocatively descriptive work I was used to.
Interested in reactions, I looked around the room. Maurice sat with his eyes closed. The scales between his eyes were ruffled as though listening intently. Small bursts of steam shot out from his nose in intervals, growing more steady and thick as the tension in her story mounted.
I looked up and noticed Scott was not watching Jen reading either. His attention was on Maurice, watching his recurring bouts of steam and hiss, entranced as I was. Scott’s eyes were wider than usual as he watched steam evaporate delicately into the middle of the room. Looking up suddenly he caught me watching him, his eyes full of questions. I was as surprised as he was.
When Jen was done reading, I snapped back into writer’s meeting mode, listening as each person gave their reactions. We went around the circle, taking turns. Maurice opened his mouth to speak and more orange embers escaped.
“I felt like crying when the baby was drowned by the crashing waves. It was beautifully described. I could really feel the emotional pain.”
There were nods from those around the circle.
Chester went next, reading in his barely accented voice the short story of one sunny afternoon in his childhood. Maurice did not close his eyes this time, he stared at Chester, his yellow eyes growing wider as the dialogue unfolded like a sweet smelling flower. Smoldering smoke came from his ears, slithering up into the air in quiet movement. Jen coughed, reacting to the extra smoke in the room. Chester coughed every once in a while, giving Maurice a curious look every time he did so.
When it was Maurice’s turn, all eyes turned towards him.
“Ok, this is a short poem I wrote a few months ago. I have it memorized.”
There were nods all around the room. I felt my heart begin to pound as he readied himself, that uncomfortable feeling in my chest when the energy has mounted and soon we will be at the cliff’s edge.
He closed his eyes, his wide bulging lids seemed to be made of a thin green skin, though I thought I could detect the yellow of his eyes glowing beneath them like little lamps.
The room was quiet. The skin around his mouth began to move, twitching as though out of his control. It went on like this for half a minute and we exchanged nervous glances, for we were not used to silence among us.
Then the scaly skin on his nose began to twitch as well, joining he erratic bursts of his closed mouth. A grumble came from deep within him, somewhere in his gut, though it sounded like a call from another world. He opened his mouth and several deep and extended syllables emerged, through none of them sounded like the English he had spoken to us all night.
I craned by neck towards him, hoping the gesture would bring me closer to understanding. Just as I did, I was met by a wall of pure fire. I could smell singed carpet, I saw the black spots of melted nylon.
I looked at Sophie who sat across from Maurice, her long blond hair now singed to the ears. Maurice opened his eyes. One final burst of steam rose from his ears.
He looked around the room.
“The fire comes out involuntarily when I get into a sort of trance state. I am so sorry.”
“No. No,” said Mike, “I could see that you were really into it. Must be very emotional work. I have to say though, I didn’t really understand it.”
“Yes, it is not really meant to be understood, just shared. Perhaps you know what I mean.”
There were nods once again all around the room. We held another moment of shared silence, taking in the truth of what he had said.
Chester coughed once and then cleared his throat.
“Well, thank you everyone for coming. We’ll be meeting here again in a few weeks. Everyone is most welcome to come,” he looked right at the dragon.
We rose, stretching our limbs. We all shook hands and I grabbed Maurice’s cold claw as we said goodbye.
“Thanks for coming, hope we see you again.”
He nodded with a smile, “Yes, possibly.”
The door closed, everyone was gone. The smell of smoke still remained.
Saturday, September 1, 2012
playing with the spiders that hide in my thoughts
out comes the rain
washing me out.
pools and puddles
all that blackness reminding me of the leaky drain
wash me away
every part that answers when they call my name
were it easy
were it easy
were it easy the rain might
when I looked into the moon
and saw them kissing.
We sat in a café as the bright silver plate filled the sky.
And then it rained and I came
Driving through puddles
The freeway was just a long river towards
Blue eyes and a sea hidden by clouds.
I thought the spiders would slip out
But more came in
You pushed them inside me
On those rare occasions.
You pushed them inside me with all those
Cigarettes and the tiny little lies that turned into mountains.
You pushed them inside those places I let you carve.
When you went away
The pools felt like they would not end.
When you went away the clouds lifted
When you went away there was joy
When you went away I opened for the first time.
Caressing the wounds, I let you fade.
And then today- your birthday.
I had almost forgotten.
Has the rain found you
and all those spiders you sent?
I am hidden in the clouds,
may we never meet again.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
She guided the cool plastic steering wheel with her left, ungloved hand, turning it expertly as the road curved just slightly to the left, and then a moment later, to the right. On her left was the Alemany farmer’s market, which she knew started very early.
It was 7:30 and already there were groups of two or three middle aged Asian women crossing the street, leaving with heavy bags of produce and vegetables she could not name. She surveyed the sea of white canopied tents from afar as she waited for the light to change. When it did, she was off, scanning the road for potential hazards, as Mr. Dutton had taught her in driver’s ed.
She went underneath a freeway overpass and was once again delighted to see the mural on the large cement pillar that held up part of the overpass bride. It was bright, with all the rainbow represented. The painting wrapped around the wide cylinder and there were huge purple and yellow flowers that guided the eye smoothly towards the predominant subject: the torso of a smiling black woman nearly enveloped in foliage and colors.
She hit another light as she emerged from the shadow of the bridge. She sat, watching the various lanes of cars take turns moving through the intersection. A Beatles song came on the radio and she sang along with the lyrics.
“Jai Guru Deva. Om... Nothing's gonna change my world.”
She noticed the vacant lot on the corner edged with wild fennel over five feet tall. Where some of a fence remained, scrawled graffiti speckled it like bird droppings on a rusted car.
“Nothing's gonna change my world.”
She sang, and it was one of those moments, so early in the morning, when everything seemed perfectly in place. All the thousands of moments that had filled her lifetime, the people she had known- those that had been forgotten and lost, the moments she remembered and the pain that had etched itself into her story, everything at that corner seemed so delicately perfect.
It was now a familiar sensation that seemed mostly to come on these early morning drives, sometimes with a warm jar of tea in her hand and a sense of something at the edge of her skin and awareness more beautiful than she could ever really describe, a wonder that went beyond the knowable.
“Jai Guru Deva. Om... Nothing's gonna change my world.”
As a tear swelled up and pushed itself over the lip of her eyelid, she remembered that she had cried at the very same spot during a Beatles song just a few weeks before. The same song. The same moment repeated. She let the tear flow, letting the tiny river stay on her cheek tingling with life.
Breathe, she remembered. Her chest expanded as the light changed to green and she pressed on the pedal.
Later she would think about the corner- what was it about that spot, so early in the morning, that brought her to life? Later she would caress the edges of consciousness and marvel at the mystery of the recurring story.
But for now, before the human remembered itself, she sang and let the tears fall as they would.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
“We’re from Livorno.”
When the waiter was gone I asked if he had just made some names up.
“No! That’s where your great-grandmother is from. A lot of the streets are named after the family- Romero.”
It took him 25 years to tell me that.
“At most the family lived in Egypt for a few generations, but it might have been less than that.”
I looked around the small elegant restaurant, the twilight of the night seeping in through the plate glass windows. We were four stories up, the small tea light glittered over the white tablecloths.
I always felt like there was so much they kept from me- why 25 years to mention that the family was from Italy?
"Your grandfather’s people came from Israel- before it was even called Israel. They lived there before it was even Palestine.”
“What did they call it?”
He was silent.
My mom sat there quietly. She flipped through some of the free tourist magazines she got from the concierge at her hotel. She always seemed bored when it came to family history- for years she had deflected questions about immigration and national origin- I wondered if her past was too painful- the father that abandoned her, the other side of the family she rejected after her mother died when she was so young.
She abruptly put the papers down. They crinkled and we looked at her.
“Do you use your Costco card much?”
I nodded, stunned momentarily by the banality of the question.
My dad ignored her.
“I want to buy a book called The Jews of Egypt. It’s rare, someone is selling it for 150.00 on Amazon.”
“You should get it, it’s not too much for a rare book.”
“Your grandfather was a Zionist. The dream of the Zionists was to go to Israel and work on the land. Through history the Jews had never been allowed to own property- that’s why they went into certain professions, like bankers and doctors and merchants. But the Zionists wanted to be farmers and work the land and be in Israel.”
“Why did it have to be there? If they wanted to farm, why did it have to be on that particular piece of the planet?”
He looked at me in disbelief.
“Because it's where the Jewish religion started. If they didn’t go there, they might as well go to the moon! It was only place they could go. There was no Jewish population in Egypt until commerce and management brought them back.”
Later we stopped by their hotel room so my mom could get an extra sweater. My mom asked me if I had talked to any of the old girlfriends from high school.
“Not since I missed Aryn’s wedding.”
I saw a look of sadness go over her face and I realized I had said it only to hurt her.
I could have gone to the wedding if I had really wanted to, but when they withdrew their initial offer to help pay for the trip, I decided against it.
She lashed back.
“I don’t know what’s important to you anymore, going to a wedding, being in a relationship, starting a career…”
She trailed off. She had never known what was important to me, not in high school, certainly not now.
They were about to drive me home. My mom turned around and looked back at the room.
“You know, if there’s an emergency, we can ask the hotel to bring in a cot for you to sleep on.”
I nodded, my mind filling with visions of fires and floods as we walked down the carpeted hallway towards the shiny elevator.
“Tomorrow we are going to see Les, my old friend from college,” she said.
“You mean More.”
My mom looked at my dad with a smile.
“You’ve been saying that for years, his name is not ‘more.’”