Archive for the 'freewrite' Category

Afar

wintercorn

It is the stability that makes it all so bearable. Never having to decide. My sacrament runs on established lines. Trinities. Bells ringing at predictable intervals. The bowing. The smoke. The painted snake runs along the inside of our mudded holy place and then out and around the building into the golden rows. The snake becomes the labyrinth within which we seek meaning. What is in the center of god’s heart? How far do we walk to find the center of that maze? The maize that grows in the fields feeds the children who laugh without knowing god nor snake nor sorrow. The maize raises its head to the sun until it falls over dead and feeds the cranes while the children sit inside drinking atole, hot liquid corn sweetening short cold days. It is the stability that makes it all so bearable. The stability of the dance that raises the children and buries the elders, the stability of the harvest, the chanting and the secret smoke that talks to the great ones, the ten generations who came before and will come after. Snake does not ascend. Snake lives here, on earth, with us. Like snake, we feel the sun on our backs, and we are warmed from afar.

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Plant

Maru bought a carnivorous plant at her local nursery and named it Seymour (ha ha ha ha, she said to her 12-year-old son and her neighbor, Phyllis, who grew tomatoes). The carnivorous plant never did learn its own name, which was something Kenyon, her son, could never understand. He stood in front of Seymour three times a week and misted him and gave him ground earthworms from a resealable vacuum pack. But maybe Seymour does know his name, thought Kenyon, maybe it just doesn’t show he knows it because Seymour does not have eyes. He went to the Party Barn and bought plastic stick-on googly eyes and affixed these to Seymour’s widest leaf. The carnivorous plant’s google eyes bobbled along with an amiable little bounce, but it was never clear that the bobble eyes actually looked, actually saw. Kenyon was worried that Seymour was looking in some utterly other direction, so he removed the googly eyes. Now the widest leaf swayed gently on its sturdy stalk, gently and rhythmically, contemplative. The ground earthworms disappeared overnight, regardless of which side of Seymour Kenyon placed them. Maybe he has eyes all round, thought Kenyon.

One day, Kenyon made a trail of ground earthworm that started at the buried roots of the flytrap pot and trailed along randomly through the greenhouse and out the greenhouse door. When he awoke the next morning, the flytrap was gone. In its place was a trail of root bits and mud dragging along the shelf and down to the ground, out and through the greenhouse and into the open field. The field was full of corn and sunflowers. The business end of Seymour settled into the cornfield and waited, biding its time til the corn was ripe and the children of the village came looking for it, for the legend of it, that no one ever believed in anyway.

Lina Jean

This is the true story of the spontaneous combustion of Lina Jean Morrow. She was the type of girl who was all legs and buck teeth at seven, all blonde glamour at thirteen, and all ashes and crispy burnt skin before she was 19.

Lina Jean Morrow’s life was short and bright and hard. There were few things Lina enjoyed more than sunning herself like a lizard in the spring air, which made the family laugh when she was their baby girl but made them mad and maddened as she grew into those teeth. She was a tall girl, a tall girl with a habit of looking over the shoulder of whoever she was talking to, causing many people to turn around and look behind themselves to see who she was addressing.  It was just Lina Jean’s way. The way she talked was slightly foreign, an accent that was not exactly refined or delicate, but satisfying and exotic, the way other people’s family dinners can be. Familiar but not family. That’s what Lina’s cousins said, when they talked about the conbustion.

Before she combusted, the cousins had a regular comedy routine of walking behind Lina, walking her runway walk, sticking out their teeth to imitate her bucktooth pouty lip ways. Most of the time, Lina ignored them, but once in a while one of them would pull on her hands, throw themselves at her feet and beg her to marry them, while the others punched each other, laughing til they fell down in the dirt. Lina kicked a cousin or two, and once announced, over her cousin Ned’s shoulder, that if he was her husband, she’d shoot his dick off, which should have been funny but instead caused a whole lot of cousins to stay away from her for a few weeks. Ned said he had dreams about that, the way she looked over his shoulder, like she was looking for the knife, he said.

One day, Lina was sunning herself like a lizard on a warm rock on a spring day and her baby toe caught on fire. A little trickle of smoke appeared and she looked at it, like she was admiring a pedicure or thinking about what color of polish to put on. The smoke turned to a bright red flame and traveled up the top of her foot and along her thin shin bones and from there spread suddenly, and the cousins said the heat could be felt two counties away. Ned, who was across the state line looking for work, turned his head and looked back over his shoulder. He could see the line of smoke turn oily and black, and he felt Lina Jean burn white hot, watched her skeleton soften and emit a fragile ghostly crunch. He has blisters on his face to this day to prove that he witnessed her last moments, and no one in Stitch County has ever doubted him.

When in …

“Foresight may sometimes mean going to Rome, you know. And then doing as they would, you know, do in Rome. Which is to say that, sometimes, an absence of foresight leaves you stranded in Rome without a clue as to what the people around you are saying or doing. If that has ever happened to you, I hope you will forgive me. Because I stepped into the situation so freely, so utterly without foreknowledge, that you might say I could plead innocent, although I cannot plead not guilty.” He waved his hand vaguely at the stack of old magazines, the letters, and the photos, as if to say, here, here, this will explain it all.

“It was, as it always is, a time of war, a time of intrigue and excess,” he continued, and he poured an inch of cognac into my glass. I do not like cognac, particularly, but I do like the burning at the back of my throat, and the melting of the bones, and the reflection of firelight in the glass. I stayed in my seat, and he told me a story that hovered in the air, heavy with bombs, spies and codes. The night seemed to hold steady, like the flame on a candle in a still room, and his story wound through the war and through the endless night. There was a big war, and a silent generation, and a woman who stayed close but invisible as the enemy moved between them. Here, in this telling in this room, there was nothing in the war but sickness, depravity, and she was beautiful. She was beautiful, angry, and secretive.

“If you really loved me,” she would say, “you would live.”  The first time it happened, it meant one thing, and then the second, another, repeating again and again through all the war years, which were her romantic years, her forever darkened sense of love, sitting inside her body, waiting for one more explosion to carry her down in the rubble, planes, rain, smoke, and loss.

Mr. Meek’s calling

It is not right to call the vice president the spare tire. Mr. Meek did not know much about politics, but he knew something about manners, good and bad, and this was a clear case of bad manners. He’d also heard the vice president called bad seed, the Dark Lord, Satan, Pure Evil, and so on. But the one that bothered him the most was the spare tire. Mr. Meek did not know much about politics, but he knew that a spare tire was one that was rarely needed, dead weight, so to speak, and this sat wrong with him. One Sunday after the morning news shows, after months of thinking about it, he got into his Ford Focus and started on a road trip to talk about bad manners. Not about politics, which Mr. Meek did not know much about, but about ways to address one another. Even if, he reasoned, the vice president were the bad seed, the spare tire, Lucifer or the King of the Damned, it was still surely not politic (in the sense of not being polite, you see) to say so and to say so so repetitively.

Mr. Meek’s road trip took him through many towns, cities, states and regions. He’d thought originally of having a rally, if he could gather with him enough people of like mind, people who did not want to batter and chew on the heads of states or on anyone else, people of mild and sensitive dispositions like himself, and so he started by interviewing people in parking lots outside of grocery stores, malls, movie theaters and quick oil change garages. He asked as many questions as he dared, but found, to his disappointment, that people didn’t want to answer many questions.

In Lima, Arkansas, he found that he was lonely, driving through the American freeways night after night, and so he stopped in a pet store and bought the first of what was to be a long line of iguanas, which he raised in a terrarium in the back of his Subaru Forrester. Each night he brought the terrarium in with him to the Holiday Inn Express or the Comfort Inn, and each morning he returned the iguana to the back of the wagon. Iguanas do not like to travel, but they do like warm window seats in the sun belt, and this first iguana, as with all the others, liked to stretch out on the back of the back seat, basking in the bright American sun. It was inevitable that she would lose the tip of her tail to negotiations with windows and hatchbacks, and this too, became a feature of his road trips, from town to town the minstrel of modern etiquette, trying to find the standard by which we might be known, whether it be rustic but well-meaning manners, or polished but insincere, or some hybrid of the two. But what he found, in town after town, was a pattern of disregard thicker in the heartland than corn had been in his father’s time. He started to think of it as an accident, somehow, like the windows that snicked off the ends of his iguanas tails over the passing years. Something had snicked off the civility in public discourse, and it was almost rude now to say anything nice. If you can’t say something nasty, don’t say anything at all, he said to himself in an over-staffed car lot in Phoenix. The iguana bobbed her head and lay down in the sun, admiring Phoenix, admiring the back seat, and iguana had no rude thoughts at all.

Divinity and meringue

I put the poor darling in the cozy aperture behind the confessional, where they used to hide priests or Jews or maybe it was women accused of witchcraft. Anyway, there is an aperture there where a tired, scared, worried, overwrought man, woman or child might be tucked away quietly and given a cup of tea to settle down from whatever it was that startled them.

Surprising how many struggles there are in each and every life. Imagine them lined up end to end, the dominoes of human struggle reaching into the distant past, moving away into the future, a regular Doppler of worries. Money, sex, power, hunger. Picture our poor people right now, malnourished, obese, undereducated, overstimulated, and imagine their troubles, if you can. Or if you’d rather, the troubles of a queer jester in a king’s court in a renaissance time, clever and secretive and bold and headstrong, hiding his juice, his sweet wicked dreams from pope and papa alike. Or imagine the startled response of the dancer to a fall, a broken leg, a shortened femur, a lost career. My imagined dancer lost her career and went into sales instead, selling fiesta ware and revere ware and that rabbit wine opener in the kitchen department of a large department store in a city in the Midwest, where she was from originally but had not intended to return until the leg shattered, until her stained glass sunlit wishes sank, tired and disappointed, and then nothing.

Surprising how many struggles there are in each and every life. Imagine them lined up again and I see the snake, the venom, the secretions that come from the apple, the tree of knowledge, the rich tart taste of temptation making my mouth water even now as I sit and hand cups of tea and Kleenex to this overwrought woman who is sitting in my aperture, in my gentle little Church of the Divinity and Meringue, where I’ve been selling specialty candies, crème brulees and books from independent presses ever since I cashed in my retirement fund to make sweets instead of deadlines . Occasionally I make savories as well, perfectly ripe tomatoes and avocadoes stuffed with surprising flavors or decorated like edible Mr. Potato Heads, hair made of sprouts or carrot ribbons, and these are mobbed at the counter every time.

The pews are a great place to sit with tea and comforts, whether these are sweets or crumpets or little meaty bites. The church is a recreation of a 13th century cathedral, planted without ceremony in the middle of this pragmatic city between a strip mall and an Octopus car wash. I get a lot of customers who come in while their car is riding through the tropical rainforest next door, but not often weeping women who need to hide behind the confessional. When I first opened the shop, I put the cash register on the pulpit, where it dominated and distracted, and then moved it into the confessional, a silly whimsy on my part, but it was just the right size and gave customers time for quiet reflection and privacy, while they chose the baked good that spoke to them most tenderly, most forgivingly.

It is surprising to me how many struggles there are in each life, lined up like sad shoes in a clearance rack, like hams hanging in a butcher shop, like children standing in line in their kindergarten class, like men and women waiting for to pay for their pastry, to make their confession, to climb into their clean car with the fresh pine scent and drive away from here to somewhere else.

Bottom feeder

another giant squid

This is what it’s like to be a bottom feeder. First of all, we love ink. Ink is invisibility. Ink is darkness. Ink is what we write our history with. Look out there, out there into the vast whiteness. It has nothing to say until the ink drops into its wide open. No turning back once the ink has been spilled.

You want to tell your history, that’s fine, nobody’s stopping you. You want to tell someone else’s history, that’s different. There’s danger there, smells like sulfur, smells like burning cactus, smells like the brushfire or the war that can rush in and wipe out an entire clan.

Once I was playing cards in the back room of a little trailer house in Four Corners and I heard the wind pick up suddenly, and it was like I could see them even from inside, tumbleweeds rushing across the black night and suddenly igniting, igniting like monks in red robes, self immolating and taking down the fragile open country and everything that lives there with it.

I understand the meditative life of the tumbleweed, I understand the need to move, to feel the wind catch and carry us somewhere new. I knew about that even before I left Navajo country after the fire. I found my home on water, water green and blue and dark, almost black, where I fell in and never went back to dry land again, not for more than two, three days at a time. Long enough to find myself lurching when I came back to dry land, feeling the hitch and pull of gravity and rotation more strongly than I felt them on the water.

My family’s been landlocked for hundreds of years, most of them. My sea ways made me foreign, weird and unrecognizable as a giant squid, coming up from the deep only rarely, with gifts for my sister’s children, and then her grandchildren, until I am the only old salt on the Navajo nation, bringing seaweed ristras and monkey balls and painted tentacles. I stay a couple days, give them the salty sweet taste of my bottom feeder’s life, and then I leave again, leaving behind nothing but a trail of ink, and a history they can fabricate from the secrets hidden in the bright open sky and the black mesa reaching in the four directions around them.

For me, I add two more directions: straight up into the heavens, and straight down, into the cold, dark waters, where the wild shy ones live, where I feel most at home.


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