Archive for the 'storytelling' Category

Wuxi to Wuhan

The smashed banana plant in China made banana mash for smoothies manufactured and bottled in Cleveland, Illinois. The mash machine, a banana macerator, took in up to 1500 pounds of banana in a single open mouth gulp, emitting banana burps that hovered over the ancient city on the Yang-tse River. The banana peels were spit into a vat 20 feet high, which gradually came to a very high heat, releasing a continuous vapor. The banana peels eventually became a viscous substance that was compressed into long flat sheets, cooled and then cut into panels, which were sold to kitchen remodelers in Portland Oregon, who repurposed them into environmentally sound faux marble countertops with customizable colors.

The shaking of the banana macerator made an awesome sound, one that flavored the dreams of every small child and old man from Wuxi to Wuhan. The sound of squids walking, the sound of tree roots squelching through mud, the sound of moths wiggling out of their cocoons, amplified 100,000 times. The sleep of the people from Wuxi from Wuhan was both sweet and uneasy, and when they woke, they wiped banana vapor out of their eyes and had rice for breakfast, with dried fish and salty plum. The smashed banana plant on the Yang-tse River gave jobs to the people from Wuxi to Wuhan, but after the first generation, no citizen of either city ate bananas, and after two generations, many of them left, unable to stand the smell of bananas for even one more minute.

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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.

Sailing

I was alone for 15 years or so, alone the way we are when we are not children. How is alone now, what is the shape of alone, do you know? I shook a stick once at alone and it hissed back at me, a snake, a goose, a small cat with big green eyes. I have shaken my solitude so hard that all of its fruit fell to the ground and lay there fallow, lay there unseen for year after year. Little nuggets of solitude, little nuggets of loneliness, they lie there in an orchard, an orchard of past stories, stories from before the travels that took me away, away from hearth, from home.

I left in the winter of my 15th year, as is traditional. I rode a small horse with a fine Arabian head. Not the horse of the nobility, nonetheless a horse that suggested connections. I might be an important bastard, said the horse, I might be a well placed clerk in a prosperous, powerful and dangerous religion. Religion being, then as now, a dangerous and dishonest pursuit, was very appealing to second sons. I might have been a second son, that was generally agreed upon, or a bastard, again, that also was agreed upon. 

I left in the winter of my 15th year, leaving my lady and my lord in disguise, to travel and claim a kingdom for my own in lands far away. Once taken, I would return to tell the king and queen, my mother and father, about my acquisition, and then they would name me heir and bond me and mine forever to them, in spite of my bastard status, in spite of my feminine nature, in spite of my brother, the king’s first son, who was more of a bastard than I was ever likely to be. In spite of his mother and father’s marital status.

I left in the winter of my 15th year, as is traditional, riding my horse with my man to the edge of the sea, where I left both and boarded a ship with an uncle, who agreed to allow me on board as long as the secret was kept, but who could not guarantee my safety if ever all was discovered. This uncle was a first cousin to my mother, a man named Thomas Wilcomb, and he let me onboard at some personal risk. I came aboard as first boy, and looked after his parrot, kept his books, and ran away as soon as ever  I could, so that I might seek my own fortune, and not simply add to his.

Concatenation

I come from the island country of Concatenation. The commonwealth of Concatenation was named by the state poets and accountants who were held responsible for balancing the books, booking the best artists, poets and musicians; and the doctors, who raised the technology of health care to a single point of light. Every citizen of Concatenation was entitled to unlimited hair removal, dermabrasion and cold laser therapy. They were uniformly smooth, soft and silky to the touch, but unfortunately utterly unable to tolerate touch of any kind, and so the pedestal was actually invented in the commonwealth of Concatenation, a little known fact that has nonetheless shaped the past and future of the Catenates who first migrated to the island in 1846 from a small atoll on a deep current that passes Concatenation during times of climate change.

There was a heavy wind that day, I remember distinctly, with a sunset that was mango colored and shot with clouds. There was a ringing in my head, and a sense of warning, as of shipwreck, the shipwreck that is in the bones of all natives of Concatenation, the one that brought us here, and threw us away, stranded, on foreign soil.

Standing on the prow of a sailing ship is a young boy, or a young girl, no one ever knows in these stories, but whoever or whatever he is, he stands tall and looks far as the ship tosses. Only the very young can be tossed like this without severing an artery or rupturing a disc, and so we know that the young boy or girl is rubbery and ripe for the hard action of adventure. The slim bare feet are dirty, the kerchief ties the tangled brown hair back and away from the face, which is both brown and mischievous. This child, regardless of age, stature or gender, has been traveling like Pan on the seven seas, and here has come to the island of Concatenation, where the adventure changes suddenly from swashbuckling and overt to spicy, mysterious, and internal. I saw the child there, hanging onto the ropes, nearly falling into the wash, and I saw my future. Pulling against my mother’s skirts, I tugged away, away from her brush and her braiding, away from the skin, hair and nail care that made up my predicted path, and ran into the foaming waters at the edge of the sea on the island of concatenation, where I heard the sea birds ringing in the changing of the season, tintinabulating, sang the birds. And so what, you may ask? That was the first day of my life as a pirate, is what I say back to you, the me who is little and wild and still hairy as might be. Saved.

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.

Moonlight and nightingale

 

The moon is hanging in indecision. A nightingale sat on a low-hanging branch. He sang a love song to a rose in the moonlight. The rose turned her face away from him, up toward the eavesdropping moon.

I do not shine brightly enough, said the nightingale and hid his head in shame. A beam of moon reached down through the night sky and touched the nightingale lightly on his shoulders, stroking the strong wings, soothing the dark feathers. The nightingale lifted his head and looked at the moon. She was smiling at him, a simple half smile that suggested something not quite specific. He flew, with a light heart, from the lower branch to one at the top of the tree and sat there swaying on the highest, thinnest branch. A light breeze came to dance with him, and the moon wrapped her white light around him. This was the happiest nightingale had ever been and he opened his mouth to tell the moon about adoration and love and soul and so on. He opened his mouth and out came a song so brilliant, so trippingly and thrillingly embellished that he almost fell off the branch. Sitting there in the moon circle he was fully visible to every bird for miles around, his voice carrying from tree to tree, from tree to meadow to forest to river. Every bird began to sing back, to the glory of the moon, to the calling of the nightingale and he sang with a thousand song birds, a few hundred crows, and one or two sparrows who couldn’t sleep well for one reason or another. Their song shook the leaves, who began to dance, and the water, which began to jiggle and percolate in the wide shallow river. Someone turned the volume up high and they all danced together until the early hours of tomorrow, until the dance and the day was done.

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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