Archive for the 'Root Story' Category



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.



It was just about time. I came apart like a toy watch when it hit. I’d pictured myself with both feet planted firmly, standing up to the tsunami, standing up to the raging fire, standing up to the oil spill, standing up to the pandemic, standing up to the last wisp of smoke at the end of all of everything.

When it came, though, I crumbled like cornmeal. Outside of my window I saw that things were going wrong, but when I looked for my backbone, I found it hidden in the warm, smoggy day. The smell of burning oil, the smell of old cooking grease, the grey spongy matter washing up against the shore – these sat just outside of my small sanctuary, and I sat looking at the calendar. When will I go home, when will I go home, when will I go home?  rolled through the circle cage in my brain. I thought this was the Peace Corps; this is not the Peace Corps, this is the Piece Corpse, hunks of former bodies, bayonets, screams of animals and people. Next thing is a series of flashing lights and darkness, and hunching under a blanket in an open truck that smokes, and staying silent as a sack of potatoes. The day approaches and shortly before it arrives another man comes, short and soft spoken, to take us to the airport. Already I am picturing myself sending postcards, buying stamps, writing letters, soaking in the long deep tub at the quiet old hotel. I picture the postcards when I sleep, placing the stamp, opening the mail box, the little worried thrill that I’ve dropped the wrong letter, the one I never meant to send, the one you should only open if you hear that I died in that jungle.


I am standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, waiting to see what this day will bring. The wind is sharp, the trains scream, the trees rattle their heads like women mad with grief. Fortune, in her shift and change of mood, is fickle as wind. It lashes, it pricks, it tricks me into submission and I board that train knowing that it is fortune driving, not me.

“It’s one o’clock, boy, is it not?”

I am leaning against the open car and watching, hand shielding my eyes from the blowing sands. Looking to my left, I see him, the man with the heavy mustaches, the man with the cards and the guns and the reputation. His foes are so enrooted with his enemies, so enrooted that it seems the tumbled ground would open and swallow him directly to hell, where surely he is destined to go.

“Yes. The train leaves in ten minutes,” I say. I don’t look at him. I don’t say anything that might invite him to join me.

He takes out his pouch and rolls a cigarette, making the ironic face that men with heavy mustaches adopt. He offers me one. I turn my shoulder away from him.

I will unfold some causes of your deaths.

Deaths, say my ears, deaths, plural. I feel my breath catch in my throat and I turn toward him, making eye contact and holding it. The train makes a sudden heaving gasp and jolts forward. The wind spins through the open car, the sound of steel and air keens and I am deaf, deaf and lost, on this train to god knows where.

Do not trust this history, reader, or my observation in this matter. This is only the story as I can tell it, truth or fevered imagining, I can’t say. Is it only this morning, only these few hours, since I left the warm body of Annabel, before these winds began?

Local hero

Local hero falls in well; collie saves hero just in time for wedding.

Collie, calling “black hole, black hole” all over town to no avail, eventually leads the Korean police chief to the well, where local hero Fox Jagged had fallen in due to an excess of chocolate and walnut liqueur. Fox thanked Police Chief  Tang-O sincerely for the help in getting out of the hole; a community celebration was held, with band and tacos and kim chee and special occasion foods.  The band, “Contraband Cranberry”, played Argentinian polka until three the next morning, with an occasional breakout Mariachi piece, and a screeching migrainy music that turned out to be Bjork. The bride and groom will make their home in Korea Town; not far from family. The collie will live with the couple, who have named him Holly.

Belva Sparrow

(Prompts: taken from six books, chosen randomly. Write for 15 minutes.)

Grammar of justice, syntax of mutual aid. Drawing us from tree to tree toward the time and the unknown place where we shall know what it is to arrive. Not one by one, but in passionate clusters, we pressed the grapes to our lips. The room is small, the table plain.Later and older, now we had supper, a little. A grayish bird, the size, perhaps, of two plump sparrows.


Two plump sparrows sat on a limb on a tree on a cold winter day. The first sparrow, a philosopher, mumbled continuously about an unknown place.

An unknown place, he grumbled. An unknown place.

The other sparrow, whose name is Belva MacDonald, is given to homilies and humming.

“We shall know what it is to arrive,” says Belva. She sings a soaring and ratcheting song that tells all the songbirds where she is and what she is about.

In passionate clusters, the birds gather in the winter air, feathers inflated and steaming with fast, hot bird circulation. With an average resting heart rate of 500 beats per minute, the finch, the sparrow and the towhee compete for craving; which small bird wants the rose hip enough to take it out of the mouth of others?

Inside the small grey house, there is a window. In front of the window is a small table with two chairs, a salt shaker and a basket of walnuts. The walnuts smell musty. Belva pushes a walnut across the table with her beak, making a concentrating sound, click-click, ticketa-tick. The walnut falls to the ground and she lifts off and lands on the floor with a rustling of wings. The walnut, stubbornly remaining whole, rolls easily but does not give up its fruit. After a while, not very long, but long enough in sparrow time, Belva gives up on the walnut and returns to the table and from there to the window. She looks out the window, which has been closed for an eternity, or it may have been 15 minutes, in the life time of a small brown sparrow in a winter house with drafty corners. She sits, alone at first, but gradually, as the day warms, the other birds stir and join her, up there on the window sill, with the grey winter fields and the slash of mud where there’s been a frost and refreeze not three weeks ago.

Nkebe de Argentina

Clover comes in three colors: pea green, pale yellow and a bright unbelievable crimson – the crimson is only seen in Argentina, and even then only rarely. The national dance of Argentina is currently the hokey pokey, which seems to be a regional joke about politics and culture. The Argentinians are famous for their humor and their dancing, at least in their own minds. The tango was the first dance that provided enough leverage for the Argentinian culture to make the trip to western civ and back again, dressed in silk ruffles and Spanish combs. It was the tango that brought redemption to Argentina, helped break the country loose from the prison of poverty, with its frequent outbreaks of leprosy and the midnight elopements of girls marrying Greek immigrant gauchos, who carried them over the Argentinian pampas, living on hard tack and beef jerky. The saddleback mountains of northern Argentina are often enveloped in smoke, smoke and fog, that provides protection for a cloistered bunch of ornery old monks, Tibetan refugees hiding from the Greeks and the Argentinians alike. They are whimsical, deeply religious monks, and have ceremonies in the monastery that are magical and arcane. These they advertise by the hanging of prayer flags, scattered at intervals throughout the rocky terrain. Over the years the Tibetans have taken other lost Asians into the order, with monks eventually from Bangladesh and Calcutta, as well as from the Congo, some of them picked up during colonial safaris and sold for silver or bananas, but all of them ending up eventually in Argentina. One of these, whose name is Nkebe, jumped off a truck to keep from being sold and discovered. Nkebe had been on an involuntary road trip to everywhere, and everywhere made a point of having noxious grooming, with loud raspberries, farting and many vulgar comments about nose hair. Anything to keep the men on the road from seeing her as something other than one of them. She smoked and rambled and spit without regard, scratching herself in the back seat or the front. When the monks finally taught her how to write, finding she was bright and quick, she revealed herself to them. They ejected her from the monastery immediately, leaving her to live alone in the smoky foggy mountains and to write these stories that we will share with you now.


I expired on the day of my death. It had been my aspiration to move others, to lift their eyes, their voices, their hearts. At times I may have failed, and I may have succeeded at others. It is not my place to make that judgment.

My death.  I was talking about my death, wasn’t I? Leading one to question my presence here, on this page, letters crawling across the screen from a dead man. There are certain things that are hard for me to perceive, from this side of the expiration. For instance, whether or not my typing can be heard. There is no physical keystroke, you see, no finger pads, no fingerprints. I have no fingerprints. I find that wondrous.

I hope and pray that the little ones on the other side of that thin membrane that separates us will continue to learn, will continue to do right because that is what is in their hearts. I know, of course, from human experience, that the will to do right begins as a set of rules and gradually becomes a part of the body and mind, bred in the bone, as natural as breathing.

It does not matter now, wherever now is, but I was not an old man when I died. It was my job to hold still, as an old man does, to listen and to offer what solace I might. The church gave me the means to learn this, and the living, and for that I am grateful.

There is a lingering part of me still hovering there in that stone building, listening to the choir, preparing the sermon. I even imagine that I can feel the polished wood, smell the incense. There is an echo in dying; I did not know that, and I listen to it repeat, reverberate, and dissipate gradually in this timeless place. I wonder if timelessness has no beginning or end. I wonder that even as the sense of time falls away from me. The children will be singing now, in the fields where the bluebells wave in the damp green grass. A song I taught them, to comfort them, to fill their lungs, to give them all the breath they might need to live well, with or without me.


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