Sunday, November 1, 2009

What Now?

“What kinds of things do you write?” asked Martha...
”I’m not exactly a writer,” Sam corrected her. “I’m a listener. I’m listening for clues about day-to-day life on the planet.”
“But do you write things down?” asked Jessie.
“Of course,” said Sam.
“Are you writing a book?” demanded Martha
“No,” said Sam. “I’m saving stories. So a hundred years from now people will know how it was with us…”

---Nancy Willard
Sister Water

I have finished writing She Bets Her Life, the book on women and compulsive gambling. Seal Press accepted it last Tuesday to be published April 2010. In some ways, I put a year of research and nine months of writing into it; in other ways, fourteen years of my thoroughly enjoyable gambling addiction carried the book more than any of my discipline or effort.
I loved playing slot machines. I wouldn’t have quit except that my body told me, “Stop. Now.” After seven months of being clean---it would have been a year and a half except for an anger-driven episode in a Yakima casino, an episode marked by rapidly escalating boredom and rapidly de-escalating numbers in my savings account---I know a little more about the chimera of the thoroughly enjoyable.
I look back now and see that while my casino time was mostly childlike bliss, the days between my binges were not. That is the nature of addiction. A real addict only feels normal when they are using. In between my casino runs, I was a deeply irritable, mean and ungrateful woman – a woman terrified of her aging, a woman longing for the childhood she barely had.
So last week I finished the book, the press accepted it and I waited to feel the rush. There was nothing. Then I remembered the nineteenth of the twenty questions Gamblers Anonymous asks its members: “Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?”
Yes. Always. For fourteen years.
Not this year. Instead of grabbing my slot cards, twenty $5 bills and driving to Reno, I ate as though I’d just lived through a famine and played video games till my fingers ached. It didn’t do the trick. I turned off the computer, walked out to the front stoop, looked up at the cloud-veiled stars and said, “What now?”
“What now?” and “What the fuck.” are the addict’s mantras. But, this time I asked the question not of my addiction, but of toothy Mahakala, the ogre deity who eats everything and gives much. I knew it was time to do nothing.

The next day I felt bleak. I haven’t felt depressed in years. Panic is my m.o. I moved slowly through the day, planted poppy seeds for the Spring, re-potted an avocado, opened the freezer door at least five times to contemplate the Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream and closed the door firmly – it was what my pal, Michael and I call a yuppie crisis.
I waited till late afternoon to walk downtown. Bend’s hub of local shops and restaurants lies adjacent to Drake Park, a beautifully designed haven of grass, flowers and pine trees along the Deschutes River. I mailed my letters, stopped at Dudley’s Bookstore to talk with my friend Terri, the owner and took the side alley to the park. I hoped sitting by the river would remind me of what matters – and if it didn’t, there would be the silvery water and ducks laughing at the setting sun.
I walked across the grass toward the steps that go down to the river bank. A woman was on the path ahead of me. She walked slowly, not with the stroll of a desperately laid-back tourist, but with the careful steps of a person whose joints were stiff with arthritis. She had pure white hair. She wore a black sweater, gray slacks and beige walking shoes. Her back was straight as a young dancer’s---and she carried a long-stemmed orange carnation carefully in front of her.
She came to the steps and started down. I held back. I am a woman who walks alone at twilight and midnight. I know what I feel when someone comes up behind me. She reached the dirt path at the bottom of the steps. I started down.
The woman stopped and stood at a railing between the path and the river. She looked out over the water. The white hair. The black sweater. The perfect orange carnation. I walked toward her. She turned. We smiled.
“What now?” came into my mind.
“May I tell you something?” I said to her.
“Of course.”
“I saw you up above. I wondered why a woman would be walking the path this time of day carrying a carnation. I thought to myself, ‘There is a story there.’”
“My son died here.” Her face and voice were gentle.
“I’m so sorry.” I touched her arm. She didn’t pull away.
“He was on an outing with his church group,” she said. “He came down here to be alone. He loved it here. ‘It is so quiet,’ he always said. There were three young men. They wanted money for drugs. When he wouldn’t give them any, they beat him to death.”
She paused. “I don’t live here in Bend, but my daughters do. We always come here each year. They were both busy so I told them I would go to the park by myself. They were worried, but I told them I wasn’t afraid.”
I didn’t ask her the logical questions. There didn’t seem to be any. “How old was he?” I say. I imagine a boy in his teens or twenties.
“Forty,” she said. “He left behind a wife and a teen-age daughter.
“At the trial, my grand-daughter stood up and faced the killers. ‘You took my father from me,’ she said and she read a piece she’d written about her dad – about how they would go camping together and how much he loved the quiet places. I was so proud of her.”
We looked out over the water in silence for a few minutes. I said, “You are going to put the carnation in the river, aren’t you?”
She smiled again. “I am. It’s for him. You see, we never know how long we have – with another.”
We embraced. She turned back to the water. I walked along the dirt path. The light had gone silver, the water dark. I listened to the rowdy ducks. I wanted the light and cold air and the ducks’ laughter to last forever. I thought of how I cling to everything, how I would capture every sweetness if I could.

A few hours later, I made my supper. I read while I ate. Nancy Willard. Sister Water. I found the words I hadn’t known I was looking for and understood that capturing is what a writer does, for as long as it takes to witness, remember and record. After that, there is only this:

“…look over there,” said Sam. “A turtle.”
The turtle was making its way slowly toward the water like a man exercising for his health.
“Oh let’s catch him!”
But Sam made no move to catch the turtle. He kept on paddling in dreamy circles around Stevie. “I wonder if he’s carrying a message,” he said at last. “He’s headed straight for us.”
“Let’s catch him,” said Stevie. “Come on, Sam. Let’s catch him.”
“If you catch him, he can’t do his work.”

Sister Water

Monday, October 19, 2009

Grape Popsicle

This is her story. I barely know her. We met at a gem and mineral show in the Little America hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona at least fifteen years ago. I bought a raw opal from her. She gave me two more for free. She had dug them from her little claim in Australia.
The sun fire opal was a rough blue cylinder no bigger than the first joint of my little finger. The surface was matte. She had chipped off a sliver so the gleaming interior was visible. “Put it in water,” she said. “That way you’ll see the fire.”
The second opal was the size of the nail on my fourth finger. It was a puddle of glint and pale blue against rough brown. I can’t remember the nature of the third opal. I think I gave it to some one – a gift beyond measure.
The brown opal is also gone---stolen, I suspect, by an unfortunate visitor to my cabin in the Mojave. The sun fire opal is here with me. It is time to put it in a vial of water. It is time to see how it holds and gives back the Central Oregon sun. The delicate flicker will bring her to mind.
Two days ago I received an email from her:

Mary, thank you for sharing your beautiful dispatches with me.
I am sad to tell you of what is the speeding up of the beginning of the final journey we all must take. I was rushed from Australia in direstraits...inoperable pancreatic cancer stage iv so am here in texas with my two sons and all my grandkids. We are in a large 3500 square foot house...rents are cheap in texas. and am laughing with them daily and resting some from chemo...a light chemo...hoping to give me a few more months.
I ate a magnificent grape popcycle the other night in the dark hospital room, with curtain drawn wide open so as to catch the thunder lightning show and the sheets of poring rain cascading over the glass as the grape jusce cascaded over my sore throat instantly soothed by the wonder of it all. I am wishing you well in your new start. I am so glad you own the black opal nobbies that I mined so many years ago. May it be your companion on many new adventures ole gypsy girl you.
Love, BVM a aka Eskimo Nell

I wrote her back and asked her if I could use her words in a new Dispatch. “It is gorgeous and others need to read it.” She wrote back:
Yes, dear Mary, Feel free to use it. I write and all writers want to be read. I treasure our brief meetings too Mary. Regards, Barbara
Here, Barbara, are your words. And, you can know that you are being read. You are on my mind. And today, the sky is gray and the Oregon light is opal.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


We know who we are. We are those who are willing to not know much of anything else. And still we let tendrils from within us coil out. Sometimes they take hold of another. Sometimes they tremble on the air.
I am most interested these strange and tawdry days in what comes my way. My friend Tony Norris, a bone-deep Flagstaff writer, musician and story-teller, sent me the following words this morning. They are written by Tom Russell, a man who knows and is willing to not know. He makes music.

The Locusts Sang

"It was not a luxury for me to write, it was a necessity. These times are very difficult to write in because the slogans are really jamming the airwaves - it's something that goes beyond what has been called political correctness. It's a kind of tyranny of posture. Those ideas are swarming through the air like locusts. And it's difficult for a writer to determine what he really thinks about things. " Leonard Cohen

The novel appears to be dead. Dissolving like a rotting cadaver in the quick-lime of post modernist droning. Authors are boring. Thus their characters. The radio air waves are filled with posturing; swarming with locusts full of the poison and "the tyranny of posture." New folk. Bad folk. Weak folk. Poetry's coming back, after Bob Dylan virtually killed and overpowered it as a relevant genre in the 60's. Every hack college lit professor knew it was doomed back then. Poetry is coming back because of the huge gap out there; for anything resembling literature or lyrics or scribed emotion. The yen for something which imbues lyrical passion. We are a nation of old junkies going cold turkey on very bad drugs. Word drugs cut with borax, false bravado, and insincerity. Tattoed babble. Watered down love and greeting card rhymes. At least Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison and Merle Haggard are playing to full houses and selling records. As the maestros should. People are hungry for anything vaguely real….but there are few new songs. No "new generation" of folk writers. As Kerouac said: "There is nothing new under the sun. All is vanity. Pass me the chalice, wifey, and there better be wine in it….."
I was leafing through two great books of letters: those of Martha Gellhorn, and another collection from William S. Burroughs. I realized there's not gonna BE anymore of these collections, because no one WRITES letters now. Just cryptic emails and cell phone messages. Slogans again. A nation of housewives in SUV's ranting on the cell phones as their drive toward nail appointments. The word "love" has become a slogan. The last good song I heard was probably: "I Don't Want To Go To Rehab," by Amy Winehouse. Dig it. Or maybe it was a John Trudell recitation called "Happy Fell Down." ("Love is blind; when it opens it's eyes it can disappear.") Or maybe it was Gretchen Peters' "This Used to Be My Town," inspired by a young girl who was abducted and raped. Jesus. And Nanci Griffith's new record is pretty damn good. Simple truths. Well told. With passion. Rolling Stone dismissed it with two stars. We don’t expect anything anymore. Running scared. My friend; London Observer journalist Peter Culshaw, stated, regarding journalism: …"the age of the drunken hack with a heart of gold buried under a cynical exterior is gone and the papers are run by terrified bureaucrats and guys who never leave their non-smoking, non-drinking offices where if you flirt with the secretary they haul you up for harassment..." Joseph Mitchell, A.J. Leibling and Hunter Thompson are rolling over in their graves. Little Stephen addressed the masses at South By Southwest music conference this year; told the audience that young musicians are not doing their homework, paying dues; not learning to write good songs. (My friend Alec asked me if I wrote the speech.) I'm sure 10,000 thumb-sucking networkers from around the world stood there and smiled; nervously fingering their access badges; twittering like parakeets at the Place of Dead Roads.
What's left, to cite Flannery O'Conner, is to "push hard against the age that pushes against you." And so, under the guise of taking out the trash at night, I sneak into my painting studio and blast out old Dylan and Ian and Sylvia records (like Fritz Scholder and T.C. Cannon before me.) I need that fix. Bad. And I paint Indians and plot new lyrical ways to push against this culture.
Well, hell, into all this great void; this fear driven mess; I toss my record. Blood and the Candle Smoke. 12 songs. Missives from this agave-choked wilderness. And I stand behind it. And you, dear reader? What can you do? Listen. Or not. Maybe buy two or three for your friends and get on the internet and invade a dozen chat sites and let 'em know. Call radio. Toss one off the Empire State building. Go out and create that internet tsunami…or don't. But I'll stand behind it. If you don’t think the record is 100% there for you or honest or "good," or if there's any false passion or bad lines, then bring it to a gig and I'll trade you two different cds back for it. Or give you 20 bucks. That's what I can guarantee you within the so-called music culture of today. It's all I have at present. I believe in this record, and I don't believe in much else.
And now it's time to shut up and tour. I hope the carnival is coming to your town…all the dates are up, and the ponies are being saddled. Amen.

"Words lead to deeds…they prepare the soul,
Make it ready, and move it to tenderness."
St Theresa

Friday, July 31, 2009


A moment of happiness
You and I sitting on the verandah,
Apparently two, but one in soul, you and I…

…The stars will be watching us,
and we will show them
how it is to be the thinnest crescent moon.

You and I, unselfed, will be together,
Indifferent to idle speculation, you and I.
The parrots of heaven will be cracking sugar
As we laugh together, you and I.

And what is even more amazing
Is that while here together, you and I
Are at this very moment in Iraq and Khorasan.
In one form upon this earth
And in another form in a timeless sweet land.

---Rumi, 13th c. Persian poet

Last night, the moon a chunk of tarnished silver, gauze-pink clouds, the osprey perched next to her nest, guarding, watching, hunting. The air smelled of rain. Thunder rolled in the south. For a moment, I was not afraid of death.

This morning I opened up the NY Times on-line and found this, "Living in Tents, and by the Rules, Under a Bridge".

You will only understand what I write next if you read the story. Community is everywhere. Loneliness is everywhere. The campfire that glows on the faces of those without a home is not the same as what shines in our safe houses. And still, at this very moment, we breathe the same air.

In the same edition of the NY Times that The Story appeared there was another story about bailed-out banks in NY giving out huge bonuses. I call on an army of parrots to come to us and crack the bones of the insatiable in their powerful beaks. It is good to remember that the moon is sometimes a scimitar.

Friday, July 17, 2009


I'm ready to begin working with one-on-one students again. I love working with those of you who have been meaning to write and haven't yet begun; with those of you who began and stalled out; with those of you who have been steadily writing and know it's time to go in with the scalpel and the embroidery needle. More than anything, I love working with writers who know that if they don't write, they are half alive.

You can contact me at Let me know how you might want to work. We'll shape a connection that will honor the writing you carry.


Two dear friends are both astrologers. They work far beyond what passes for sky-reading in the popular press. Their signals come back to us from those great distances with clarity and mystery.

Deborah O'Connor:

Cassandra Leoncini:

We are, you know, made from the same particles that make up the stars. We are moved, as they are, by forces far beyond our imagined will-power. That's the bad news---and the good.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I write from a little house in Bend, Or. I have everything I could need: prayer flags ripple in a cool breeze; a cord of wood is stacked along the fence, a gift from a friend of a friend; there are three pints of loganberries and marionberries in my refrigerator; all four cats are alive and well; and there is a door on my bed-room, which means that for the first time in twenty-six years I sleep without being waked by cats jockeying for position.

I just finished working on a book with a dear friend to the north. We both feel as though eighty pound packs have slipped from our shoulders--and the hike was up a steep trail at least a thousand miles long. We've emerged at the top even closer than we were when we began. That's the nature of the real work.

I'm in the middle of writing She Bets Her Life, a book on women and gambling addiction. Believe me, I am an expert---not just in casinos, but across the boards. My new novel, Going Through Ghosts will be published by University of Nevada Press in Spring 2010. It took me twenty years to write it, twenty years to learn enough to be able to write about love that is not obsession.

Down the road, m

Dudley's is an almost indecently comfortable bookstore here in Bend. There are two floors of used books, couches and chairs, meeting tables and now--a piano. There is always good conversation. The owner, Terri Cumbie, writes her own blog. Check it out. Dudley's is the real deal. It almost, but not quite, soothes the ache in my heart that has been with me every since Flagstaff's Aradia Bookstore was killed off by a rich landlord's greed.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


“There was a rebel who kept transmitting,” Yates recalled in a whisper...He kept on transmitting for years after the program ended, even though no one answered.”
“There was no world afterward,” the hermit declared in a thin, haunting voice. “We had to make do.”
The words brought Yates out of his trance. “No world?”
“Down below were all those Chinese, destroying everything Tibetan. On the other side of the mountains were all those who had given up fighting, who were becoming new kinds of Tibetans,Tibetans as Indians, Tibetans as Nepalis. If we wanted to stay the way we were, we had to become invisible.” Dakpo rose and reverently dusted the top of the radio with a rag.
...”I thought about telling old Kundu that the Americans were gone, never to come back, that he should stop the transmissions.”
...”But he didn’t?” the American asked.
“Not for years.”
“What would he say?” Shan asked after a long silence, when he transmitted on the radio?”
“The first few years, he stayed on the run on the mountain, using a sleeping bag from the Americans, saying his mission now was intelligence...he would watch the highway, watch the Chinese army, then come up and report the movements...For a while he decided the Americans had changed the codes, or frequencies, and so he would turn the dials and repeat his number, announcing again and again that he was a sergeant in the Tibetan resistance army. In the end he would talk about the weather or read sutras*.”
“Sutras?” Shan asked.
“Eventually he realized it wasn’t the Americans he was trying to reach. He said it was something people didn’t always understand about radios, that even if the Americans stopped listening, the heavens always heard.”

---Eliot Pattison
The Lord of Death

The restaurant is a delight. There are sturdy pine tables and huge windows. The pizza comes with a scattering of fresh basil across the top. I sip my organic iced coffee and try not to dive into the pizza. My friend is late. I don’t care. It is enough to be in this sunny room while softly cool air drifts in through the open doors.
My friend hurries in. “Life,” she says, “detained me.”
We laugh. She is a poet, teacher, environmental activist and the mother of a twelve-year old,. She knows my story, knows that forty years earlier, I was so detained by life I didn’t think I had one.
We eat and talk about our work, magic, and our mutual senses that the brittle surface of our comfortable American world is crazing. “Windshield glass,” she says. “One second there was that little ding in the corner; the next second, you can’t see.”
But the basil is fresh and pungent, the coffee is the same, so we toast our good luck and move to different topics.

That night I read Eliot Pattison’s new novel, The Lord of Death. It is set in occupied Tibet.. I read about Chinese practices that have been refined far beyond waterboarding---electrodes clamped on nipples and testicles, injections of mind-twisting drugs, beatings administered until the detainee is almost dead. And, for those who are particularly recalcitrant, there is “cerebral pasteurization” in which holes are drilled in the Tibetan’s skull, electrical wire inserted into certain pocket of cells and the ON switch flipped.
All of this is occurring now.
I finish reading the book, go to the computer and find the website: There are photos at the bottom of the home page. I go to the photo album A Great Mountain Burned By Fire and click on a picture of Lhundup Tso, lying curled in fetal position on a stone courtyard. She was sixteen when she was killed when Chinese police opened fire on unarmed protestors in Ngaba. I think of the recent outcry over Neda, the young Iranian woman shot by Iranian “security” forces. There was no international outcry when Lhundup Tso was murdered. Not from a failure to give a shit, but because the photo didn’t go viral.
I click through other photos. One word occurs again and again. DETAINED. Jamyang Kyi, writer, singer and broadcaster - DETAINED. Norzin Wangmo, who spoke on the phone or internet about Tibet - DETAINED and imprisoned. Lobsang Kirti, 27, monk, who printed and distributed leaflets--DETAINED.
A dear friend wrote me recently. He was concerned about my work load. He wondered if I shouldn’t concentrate on the deadlines for the two books I am writing, and let these weekly Dispatches go for now.
I wrote him back. “Writing the Dispatches is my life-line to my real work.”
They are my sutras. Help them go viral. More than the heavens need to hear.

*sutra - an ancient teaching--not a sermon, but a conversation The Buddha told his listeners and students to question and to test his teachings like a jeweller would test yellow metal.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


you never read anything again in your life, read this.
If you catch me whining about my privileged plight, send it back to me.

I'm so lucky.

love, me

Terry Pratchett's Alzheimer's Speech in Full
this is ^ | March 13, 2008 | Terry Pratchett
Posted on March 16, 2008 11:56:20 PM PDT by Hetty_Fauxvert

My name is Terry Pratchett, author of a series of inexplicably successful fantasy books and I have had Alzheimer's now for the past two years plus, in which time I managed to write a couple of bestsellers.

I have a rare variant. I don't understand very much about it, but apparently if you are going to have Alzheimer's it's a good one to have.

So, a stroke of luck there then!

Interestingly enough, when I was diagnosed last December by those nice people at Addenbrooke's, I started a very different journey through dementia.

This one had much better scenery, interesting and often very attractive inhabitants, wonderful wildlife and many opportunities for excitement and adventure.

Those of you who's last experience with computer games was looking at Lara Croft's buttocks might not be aware of how good they have become as audio and visual experiences, although I would concede that Lara's buttocks were a visual experience in their own right.

But in this case I was travelling through a country that was part of the huge computer game called Oblivion, which is so beautifully detailed that I have often ridden around it to enjoy the scenery and weather and have hardly bothered to kill anything at all.

At the same time as I began exploring the wonderful Kingdom of Dementia, which is next door to the Kingdom of Mania, I was also experiencing the slightly more realistic experience of being a 59 year old who finds they have early onset Alzheimer's.

Apparently I reacted to this situation in a reasonably typical way, with a sense of loss and abandonment with an incoherent, or perhaps I should say, violently coherent fury that made the Miltonic Lucifer's rage against Heaven seem a bit miffed by comparison. That fire still burns.

I want to go on writing! Admittedly, that means I have to stay alive.

You can't write books when you are dead, unless your name is L. Ron Hubbard.

And so now I'm a game for real. It's a nasty disease, surrounded by shadows and small, largely unseen tragedies.

People don't know what to say, unless they have had it in the family.

People ask me why I announced that I had Alzheimer's.

My response was: why shouldn't I?

I remember when people died "of a long illness" now we call cancer by its name, and as every wizard knows, once you have a thing's real name you have the first step to its taming.

We are at war with cancer, and we use that vocabulary.

We battle, we are brave, we survive. And we have a large armaments industry.

For those of us with early onset in particular, it's more of a series of skirmishes.

My GP is helpful and patient, but I don't have a specialist locally.

The NHS kindly allows me to buy my own Aricept because I'm too young to have Alzheimer's for free, a situation I'm okay with, in a want-to-kick-a-politician-in-the-teeth-kind of way.

But, on the whole, you try to be your own doctor.

The internet twangs night and day. I walk a lot and take more supplements than the Sunday papers. We talk to one another and compare regimes.

Part of me lives in a world of new age remedies and science, and some of the science is a little like voodoo.

But science was never an exact science, and personally I'd eat the arse out of a dead mole if it offered a fighting chance.

Fortunately, I have the Greek Chorus to calm me down

Soon after I told the world my website fell over and my PA had to spend the evening negotiating more bandwidth.

I had more than 60,000 messages within the first few hours.

Most of them were readers and well-wishers.

Some of them wanted to sell me snake oil and I'm not necessarily going to dismiss all of these, as I have never found a rusty snake.

But a large handful came from 'experienced' sufferers, successfully fighting a holding action, and various people in universities and research establishments who had, despite all expectations, risen to high places in their various professions even while being confirmed readers of my books.

And they said; can we help? They are the Greek Chorus. Only two of them are known to each other and they give me their advice on various options that I suggest.

They include a Wiccan, too. It's a good idea to cover all the angles.

It was interesting when I asked about having my dental amalgam fillings removed.

There was a chorus of ? hrumph, no scientific evidence, hrumph???., but if you can afford to have it done properly then it certainly won't do any harm and you never know.

And that is where I am, along with many others, scrabbling to stay ahead long enough to be there when the cure, which I suspect may be more like a regime, comes along.

Say it will be soon - there's nearly as many of us as there are cancer sufferers, and it looks as if the number of people with the disease will double within a generation.

And in most cases you will find alongside the sufferer you will find a spouse, suffering as much. It's a shock and a shame, then, to find out that funding for research is three per cent of that which goes to find cancer cures.

Perhaps that is why, for example, that I know three people who have successfully survived brain tumours but no-one who has beaten Alzheimer's???although among the Greek Chorus are some who are giving it a hard time.

I'd like a chance to die like my father did - of cancer, at 86.

Remember, I'm speaking as a man with Alzheimer's, which strips away your living self a bit at a time.

Before he went to spend his last two weeks in a hospice he was bustling around the house, fixing things.

He talked to us right up to the last few days, knowing who we were and who he was.

Right now, I envy him. And there are thousands like me, except that they don't get heard.

So let's shout something loud enough to hear. We need you and you need money. I'm giving you a million dollars. Spend it wisely.

Burn This

The news is heavy...there are beasts loose that make the long walks,
Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Bhopal and Chernobyl pale in comparison.

---Barry Lopez
from his eulogy for Edward Abbey, 1988

...When we first moved here, pulled
the trees in around us, curled
our backs to the wind, no one
had ever hit the moon--no one…

From our snug place we shout
religiously for attention, in order to hide:
only silence or evasion will bring
dangerous notice, the hovering hawk
of the state, or the sudden quiet stare
and fatal estimate of an alerted neighbor.

This message we smuggle out in
its plain cover, to be opened
quietly: Friends everywhere--
we are alive! Those moon rockets
have missed millions of secret
places! Best wishes.

Burn this.

---William Stafford, 1993
from the Move to California

We begin with thanks—to Bob Katz for the Lopez quote and to Scottalatyl for the Stafford quote. We continue as “we”, because it is imperative at this time that we understand we are not alone. We are in the company of countless others---creatures, plants, minerals; we are not at the top of the heap. We are dispersed throughout a divine and temporary mix. We remember we are dangerous.
Last week I walked through rose-gray light to the Deschutes Public Library. I went upstairs and took a seat with perhaps sixty other people lucky enough to live in Bend on this particular June night.
It had been ten years since I had last seen the compact man whose hair had gone gray, whose face was gentle. Barry Lopez stepped in front of us. “Thank you for coming to hear me,” he said
He read a story remarkable for the mysteries and hard wisdom hidden in its its austere elegance. He read of a marshland in Northern Nevada and violation and the failure to listen to the old knowledge of the people who have lived here long the colonizers.
When he was finished, he called for conversation. I’d brought two tapes recorded at Edward Abbey’s Memorial Service. I gave them to Barry and told him the bones of information the Hopi elder, Ferrel Secacaku had given a few of us in Spring 2008.
Barry listened. Then he spoke of watching Barack Obama receive the elders of the Civil Rights movement---and young African Americans born a decade after those battles. He spoke of Obama as an agent for transition.
My turn to talk was over, so I did not tell him and those around me that the Obama administration had recently opposed the Supreme Court reviewing the case of thirteen Southwestern Native American tribes vs. the Snowbowl ski resort. The ski resort had been granted permission by a lower court to make artificial snow from treated wastewater on one of the San Francisco Peaks. The tribes were hoping to appeal that decision at the highest level. They know that the act of making snow from wastewater on their sacred mountain is equivalent to pissing on the main altar at the Vatican.
I did not stand and tell those around me that the San Francisco Peaks are the holy of holies for the Hopi tribe. Their Katsinas live on the mountain. It is there that the Holy Ones make rain and snow. I stayed in my seat and I listened to Barry Lopez call for deep community, for listening to the old knowledge of indigenous peoples.
I thought of that which was loosed among us twenty years ago, and how the beasts have devoured so much. I studied Barry Lopez’ gentle face and, behind him through the huge windows, the delightful downtown of Bend, Or. I understood that it was hard from that vantage point to see the cracks continuing to open out in what we might believe is our world---and the beasts that have come through them and are with us.
Burn this.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Heading North

Despite the best efforts of the Mojave to hold me fast with its beauty and dear people, I leave today for Bend, Or. Thanks to my son, Matt; and my beloved friend, Fred K., every object I own is in a 5X8 trailer and my Vibe.

I carry with me the silhouette of the Joshua Buddha, 395 sightings of the moon; pressing my face to the rough bark of the old Joshua west of my cabin and breathing in its fine scent and the kindness of friends and strangers. I carry, too, the solid joy of knowing my second novel, Going Through Ghosts, will be published by University of Nevada Press in Spring 2010; and being half-way through writing, She Bets Her Life: women and compulsive gambling.

When I came to this medicine desert, I was one month away from my last casino bet. I was in the grip of recurrent opthalmic migraines. And raw terror. And no hope. I knew it had something to do with the withdrawal from the gambling that had had become my refuge and my reason to live.

I found a group of gamblers who didn’t gamble. I listened to their stories and heard my own. But they said little about the ferocious nature of gambling withdrawal. I hunted the internet, ordered books, but nowhere could I find information about the terror I was walking through.

I began writing She Bets Her Life. Slowly, my pain began to ease. Slowly. I came across information that made sense of the fear that at times had seemed a descent into psychosis. Slowly, I found the women of Scheherezade’s Sister occupying my thoughts and emerging on the page. The Sisters are a circle of women who meet once a week for Double Decadent Brownies, good coffee, talk and listening. Each of us, like Scheherezade, tells stories to save her life. We grant ourselves a reprieve of twenty-four hours, no more, no less---again and again.

I take the Sisters with me. They are becoming as dear to me as my Mojave friends, D. and D. I owe them and this desert for my life. I owe them this book.

My email stays the same.

Up the road, m

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


...and I lift my glass to the Awful Truth
which you can't reveal to the Ears of Youth
except to say it isn't worth a dime
And the whole damn place goes crazy twice
and it's once for the devil and once for Christ
but the Boss don't like these dizzy heights
we're busted in the blinding lights,
busted in the blinding lights

---Leonard Cohen

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

---The Guest House
Jelaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks

I woke this morning from a strong dream. I took my coffee out to the back of this cabin. There was a waning 2/3 moon above the old Joshua tree. Doves and sparrows swarmed the bird feeder. I opened my notebook to write the dream.
I heard my son yell. "Coyote!" The young black cat was hunting lizards. Coyotes hunt young cats. I looked up. Coyote ambled from east to west about twenty feet from me. The beautiful arrowhead face. The calm gaze. The deliberate settling into the shade of a blossoming creosote.
I began writing the dream. "I am in a dark interior. I know the place. It is the old city, an old life and an old love..."
Twenty minutes later, I wrote the last line: Oh," she says, "I was with him two years ago. That's over."
I look up. The coyote is gone.

Tonight, the uneaten black cat is curled up on a red cushion. I am back from a long sundown walk. Nighthawks had hunted in the soft air. My friend called as I walked. She told me of speaking river to a committee of drought. I headed west as she told me the story, my eyes on the ground to avoid the sun’s blood glare. Something shone in the sand. I stopped. It was a perfect owl feather.
I crouched and picked it up. "I just found an owl feather," I said. "You are Minerva."
She laughed.
“It’s yours,” I said.
The signal began to break up. We said goodbye. The nighthawks arced around me. Nighthawks. The merciless surgeons of twilight.

I cut away. Three bags of what once seemed indispensable go to the Joshua Tree Hospice second-hand store. I throw away pages of thirty-year old writing---warnings about our cruelties to each other and the earth that have turned out to be oracular; the epiphanies and sorrows of a woman waking to the reality that she had regarded herself as “less than” for most of her life; calls to awakening, to knowledge, to action. I tear each page in half. This is a ritual annihilation.
There will always be more words. As long as I draw breath. The words come through. I release them. Loss is the essence of a sending.

I go forward. North. This desert has been demanding and generous. There have been no work and few friends. There have been glare and molten heat. There has been nowhere to run from loneliness, inexorable aging and the imperatives of the only true teacher---the body. There have been Deborah’s open gaze; the good silence of the Joshua Buddha; my youngest son’s intermittent presence, and constant wit and kindness; dawns and twilights infused with mineral light. Through all of that, I have come home to imperfect shelter and been grateful.
Next Wednesday I drive north alone. I will go home to a little one bed-room house in downtown Bend, Or. There is a wood-stove and a half cord of lodgepole pine. Forests stretch to the south. I will live in a city---and the company of tall dark trees.
I am already lonely for the hard Mojave. But, that is the nature of a sending.



One week of intensive addiction treatment for free. I was poor. I knew it was time to take a break from main-lining my favorite drug. The clinic was famous. It was the favorite place for more than a few You Know Whos to dry out. I was one of the Who the Fuck Are Yous.
I drove south from Flagstaff on a brilliant June day. My drug-of-the-season had written from Algiers to say that It wasn’t working. Though our age difference wasn’t a problem, the generational difference was. “You’re horrified by political and cultural crap I just take for granted,” he wrote. “Hey, I grew up with it.”
My heart went hollow. Nothing new. That organ should have been not much more than a cicada shell. So, when the invitation came for a week of free shrinkage, food and shelter in a desert town, I thought Why not? Hardly the thought of a woman who had reached, as they say, bottom.
I found myself sitting in windowless rooms with people whose hearts were far more dessicated than mine. It occurred to me that being addicted to the millisecond when the guy I wanted bent in to kiss me for the first time, was a luxurious misery. I looked at the other drawn faces, the earnest eyes of the therapist and wanted only a window through which I could see the desert---in which ocatillo were blooming like slender torches.
After we had all cried and raged and earned a little temporary peace (call me a cheap date), I left before the free and intolerably fat-free dinner. The temperature had dropped to ninety-five. I walked out a paved road till it became dirt. A dry river-bed lay to the southeast. I dropped down into it and stopped. Shadows had begun to ease in. A boulder that might have been a two-ton garnet lay ahead of me in the shade. I sat down.
The river curved to the east. I lasted a few minutes on the boulder before the mystery beyond the curve, as always, drew me forward. There was the root-lace of a young cottonwood, snake tracks, a shredded 4-inch-high heel gold-lame sandal. And a few hundred feet downriver, there was another curve in the bank. I went.
And went. Around curves into the fading light, into gray-blue shadows pouring across me like mercy, into forgetting why I had come there. It was growing dark and yet there was always another curve.
I moved forward. There was a patch of damp sand. The scent of monsoons under a dry sky. A tiny pool reflected what was left of the light.
The Hassayampa River runs above and below the Arizona desert. You could take that as a metaphor, I almost did. Then in that instant of seeing the sky shining in the sand, I understood that metaphor was drier than the boot-tracks I’d left behind me. I bent to the tiny pool, traced its edges and ran my wet fingers over the stream of loneliness that ran from my throat to belly. An arc of silver rose just above the eastern mountains. I stepped into my footprints and walked back to my motel.

My road pal Everett and I sat in my beater truck in the parking lot of a Salt Lake City Circle K at 6 on Easter morning. Rain sluiced down. I’d picked Ev up in the SLC bus station twenty minutes earlier. We were fueling up before we took off on a six day casino and desert roads trip.
He turned on the radio and handed me two donuts and a big cup of near-useless coffee. “Hard to believe the Mormons made it out here without drinking decent coffee,” he said. “They must be...” The mellow sound of NPR cut him off. “Here goes,” he said. Bob Edwards brown-sugar voice said, “And, here is Susan Stamberg with NPR commentator Mary Sojourner.”
Instantly I knew I was hunkered down in one of more than a few intersections of heaven on earth. I listened to Stamberg interview me about my short story collection, Delicate and I figured I was one of the luckiest women in the world. I’d self-published the book. Her interview guaranteed I’d sell a few. And kick some corporate butt, since I’d vowed to sell the book only in independent bookstores. How much more could a carbed and caffeined woman want?
The radio voices faded. I started the engine. “Forward,” Ev said, “into the gorious unknown.” A few hours later we touched down in the Rainbow casino in Wendover. By the time we’d gambled until our eyeballs spun, snarfed down three plates of the all-you-can-eat Spaghetti Special@ $3.99 and listened to Damien and Natalie Lowe tear up the lounge with old Jackie Wilson tunes, I figured I’d landed in the second intersection of the divine and the corporeal. And, knowing there would be more seemed almost than I could bear. Almost.
Three hundred bucks and a scant night’s sleep in our hypothetically free room later, we headed west and north on the second most Lonesome Highway in America. Ev drove. I rode shotgun, which meant hunching over the topo map, tracing lines we knew were dirt roads and saying gleefully, “Turn here. Turn here.”
There was the abadoned double-wide near Montella and a battered kitchen table full of polaroids of dark-haired people with Basque names. There were mountains named Ruby. There was the joy of mutual nickle dalliance in Jackpot and the misery of three rotting Blue Grouse carcasses at the end of a dusty road. And then, we were headed west to the north portal to the Black Rock Desert.
We spent two days in the Black Rock. We saw two other trucks and almost no planes or contrails. We wondered if we had fallen into a crack in the world. Then we knew we had.
We’d been checking out the dark seams in the eastern mountains. We had long ago learned that In a landscape that seemed too dry for life, what seemed to be shadows on a mountain’s flank were often the entrances to water and lush green and tiny pale blossoms that seemed more light than flowers.
The dirt road faded into a two-track and was gone. We parked, hoisted our day packs and headed toward what we could now see was a hidden canyon in the low range. “Check this out,” Ev said. He pointed just ahead at what might have been a shadow in the sand. “Water.” Not quite water, but a patch of damp sand. And trickling into it from the mouth of the canyon, a tiny stream.
“It’s under us somewhere,” Ev said. “Let’s go see where it starts.”
We followed the stream up into the little canyon. There was a big cottonwood, rusted-out bedsprings of an old camp and the stream racing wild as any bigger river over cobbles and twigs. Ev went ahead. I crouched by the water and remembered an old lover Dead Bill teaching me to read rivers, not on the water, but by watching barrow ditches after a hard desert monsoon. “Look, there’s an eddy, there’s a rapid, there’s the smooth stretch.” We had tossed leaves into the brown water and watched some of them make it, some of them sucked to their end in a killer hole.
Ev called back to me. “You won’t believe this.” I came around a curve in the canyon and found him pressed against a water-fall no wider than his out-stretched hand. “This is it, this is where it all begins.”
“Yeah,” I said, “the Beginning.” He laughed. “Grooooovy.” We both knew that my cosmic take is stronger than his. He stepped back and I leaned back into the cool water. Ev looked up.
“No,” he said, “I’m wrong. It all begins up there. That’s an easy climb. I’ll let you know what I find.”
He spidered up the canyon wall and over the edge. I heard his delighted laughter. He looked down at me. “Who knows where it all begins,” he said. “The stream runs across a bare stretch where it shouldn’t be possible for water not to dry up. There are little flowers. You’d love it. Too bad your back is fucked. I’d spot you but there are a couple tricky moves.”
“Thanks,” I said, “for the pep talk.”
He grinned and backed away. I took off my shorts and shirt and sat in the damp sand beneath the waterfall. I don’t know how long Ev was gone. I don’t know if I drifted into a small dream or not. There was a hawks’ cry. There was something scritching in the rocks behind me and I was completely without fear or longing.
What I remember most is that when Ev returned we walked back down the canyon and followed the stream till it was gone. And that whole time, we were quiet. What was between us didn’t need words, only shadows and shifting light, only watching the color of the sand go from umber to pale gold.

Now, fourteen year laterI know more about how a dry streambed might be in the aftermath of a flash flood. I know there is a way a woman can be stripped down to bare grit. I know that she can survive, pick through the debris left by the flood and keep what didn’t kill her.
I live in a cabin on a mesa in the western Mojave. It is early March and seventy degrees. An old Joshua Tree rises behind the back of my cabin. I moved here in June. My first act on coming to the cabin was to free the Joshua trunk from a snare of rusted barbed wire and brads left by a previous ingrate. My second act was to stash groceries in the fridge. My third was to head out into BLM land five minutes from my front door.
Mountains rose in all directions. The sand was red-beige. I moved through clusters of Joshua Trees and skirted the openings to burrows. There were plastic bags waving from the creosote, moony pebbles and luminous desert lilies. There were rusted-out truck chassises and kids’ school papers dated 2005 and, though it took me a while to catch on, there were watercourses lacing through all of it. And no water.

For three years it had seemed there was no moisture left in me. I’d been abandoned by every drug I’d ever loved and some I hadn’t. There was to be no more gambling, no ghost of a lover, no shelter in work, no shelter in my illusions that I was an honorable woman, no shelter in my own body---I was driven frantic by unpredictable frequent migraines. All my fixes had stopped working, a more absolute dead end than if I’d been simply soldiering through not using them.
Ev and I had parted. I couldn’t blame him. A consuming affair and binge gambling had toppled the living architecture of my brain as though it was a row of dominoes. What had been left behind was a mean and boring woman. Nothing inside. Almost nothing outside.
I walked the desert every late afternoon and evening for 245 days. For months I carried a brain I wanted to tuck into the hollow in a Joshua stump and leave behind. There were no mirages. Just sand and rock, sky and wind. I’d run clean out of metaphors. I kept walking. Slowly, slowly, I began to see more and more. Rain fell four times. There was a blizzard and eighteen inches of snow. I kept walking.
By the third rain, a gentle rain, the delicate silver the Navajo call female rain I could smell wet desert. After the snowstorm, I found shining puddles and new channels in the dark sand. A stream of pure color ran down the north side of the highway - opal and rose sky running into the the wash below. A boulder held a pothole. I touched its surface and traced the lines of my face.
Last night I walked out to an old dead Joshua. I visit the tree most every evening. As you step off a dirt road and head southeast, you see what appears to be the gray shape of a hooded monk. I stopped and spoke. “I’m back, I’m glad you’re still there.” I moved forward. The Joshua Buddha did not move. Powerful concentration can be like that. Stillness. Only a soft breeze moving across your face.
Sometimes the transformation occurs within a hundred feet of the monk, sometimes sooner, sometimes later. Last night I was within thirty feet of the quiet figure when it became a bare stump jutting up from downed trunk of the Joshua.
The western light had gone saffron, the eastern mountains were pure dark. I bent to the stump and pressed my face to its rough surface. “Thank you,” I said. “You know.” I sat on the big fallen trunk. There is a deep crack in the bark. In it lies a tiny spine, the white bones perfectly articulated. I touched the spine, no more than a whisper of my fingers. “Glad you’re still here,” I said.
I drank water. The light cooled. When it was time to find my way back, I walked toward a sliver of waxing moon. There was just enough light to see dry watercourses and the lace-work of my own tracks. It happens everytime. No matter what new unmarked path I take across this desert, there is the moment when I move down into the dry bed of a tiny wash, find my footprints and follow them home.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

She Knew

...kiss the snake so that you may gain the treasure...

My mother, in her deepest heart, was a jazz pianist. She had perfect pitch, could learn by ear anything she heard on her cherished records. Satin Doll. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. Oscar Peterson. Marian McPartland. “The best by the best,” she’d tell me.

She made music everyday, but I never heard her describe herself as a musician. My mother played only in the living-room of our home in small-town Irondequoit, New York, most often to an audience of no-one. Or to me, who couldn’t stay on key if her life depended on it. My father was a man of his time and did not want my mother working outside the home. She came to believe it was better that way.

I’m way outside the home. I’ve brought my notebook to the open cocktail lounge overlooking the Reno Hilton Casino gambling floor. It’s ten a.m. I left the breakfast buffet, ready to either gamble or write. The little cocktail tables and big soft chairs made my decision.

I open my notebook and hear piano music. A shiny white baby grand sits on the veranda just above me. The piano bench is empty. And, the piano is playing. Under a chandelier made of gold birds and purple globes my mother would have found atrocious.

The piano begins to play Misty , Errol Garner’s classic. My mother’s favorite song. I go to the empty bench and sit next to the invisible pianist. I watch the keys move, remember my mother’s small, sure hands, a cigarette burning perpetually in the ashtray next to her. Morning or evening, bright sun or shadow, she always wore dark glasses. Back then all that was missing was a blue spotlight.

A tall young woman walks by, pauses and looks at my hands folded in my lap. She grins, “You play very well.”
“Thank you,” I say. Misty was my mother’s favorite song. She died five years ago.”
The woman nods. My tears are easy, an old knot in my heart loosening. “My mother,” I say, “was a jazz pianist.”
“Wow,” the woman says, “lucky you.” She walks away into the slot glitter and jangle.

The piano plays on. I consider putting my hands on the keys and don’t. That was her gift. The words, and the empty pages in my note book are mine.
---White Piano, 1999
Bonelight: ruin and grace in the New Southwest

Dear Mom,
Thank you for playing Misty and Lullaby of Birdland and I’ll Be Seeing You. Thank you for teaching me the names of your saints: Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington; John Steinbeck and Louisa May Alcott; Martin Luther King and Marian Anderson. Thank you for betting on death and insisting on life. Thank you for teaching me how to kiss the snake.

I have filled 320 pages of that empty notebook. I wrote at the roll-top desk that once reminded you of your father’s. I wrote on the battered back porch of the beloved cabin that is now a shell. I wrote on the shore of the Colorado River; on a basalt ledge near Wendover, Nevada; on a sandstone boulder at Muley Point in southeast Utah. I wrote in casino coffeeshops as I slammed down a comped breakfast that I had earned with five hundred bucks of deliriously joyful slot machine play.

If your soul hung around after your death in 1995, you must have been smiling as you watched me. There would have been a conspiratorial gleam in your eye. You might have whispered again what you told me on your death bed: “The biggest sorrow of my life is that the fucking depression kept me from mothering you and your brother the way I longed to.”

I know. I carry your genes. I move my fingers and make what is necessary and what is beautiful. More often than not, at best, my brain and I are in uneasy conversation---at worst, nuclear annihilation. You know.

So when I received the phone call a few days ago that told me that my second novel, Going Through Ghosts had been accepted for publication at University of Nevada Press---with unanimous approval, I felt the ghostly touch of your gifted fingers on my head. “Yes,” you said. I saw you as I had seen you an hour after your death. You were somersaulting through the air. You were laughing with pure joy.

Dear reader,
If you can find Errol Garner’s or Marian McPartland’s Misty, it makes the perfect soundtrack for this love letter.
It took over twenty years to write Going Through Ghosts. It took every moment of using whatever would blur the wars in my brain, of using what was killing me---and it took every moment of not using.
The body and the word have great importance. It is through their support that the true nature of mind can be realized. It could be said that, in a way, the body and the word are servants of the mind.
---Kalu Rinpoche

On May 27, I’ll drive north with a trailer loaded with what’s left of my belongings. On May 28, I’ll pull into the driveway of dear friends in Bend, Oregon. My work in Washington State softened the scars that were left in my heart and body. Without them as a carapace, the brilliant heat and glare of the Mojave are too harsh.
I go toward green and mountains and basin-range desert. My mother’s wise-ass smile watches over me.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Time Ball

When Hemos Johnson (hereditary Hahwannis chief of Kingcome) was an old man visiting his daughter at Comox she took him to Elk Falls, a place he had heard much about but had never seen. He stood where he could behold the raging torrent in all its splendour, gazing in silent wonder at the majestic sight and when he came away he announced, "It gave me a new song."
It had all come to him there, the words and music straight from the Master of all harmony - a song that would always be his alone.

---Mildred Valley Thornton
Potlatch People: Indian Lives and Legends of British Columbia

In the past much of the Yakama tribe's history was passed down from generation to generation by the women of the tribe using an oral tradition known as the time ball. New brides used hemp twine to record their life history starting with courtship. They tied different knots into the twine for days and weeks and added special beads for significant events. They then rolled the twine into a ball known as the "ititamat," which means "counting the days" or "counting calendar." The ball of twine grew in size as time passed and as events occurred…
When the women were very old, they could use the knots and beads of their time balls to recall not only what happened in their lives but when the events occurred...When a woman died, her "ititamat" or time ball was buried with her.

---Bonnie M. Fountain
Using the Yakama Native American Time Ball Oral History Tradition to Tell the 1965 Selma-Montgomery Voting Rights March

My friend and I finished his book a few days ago. It is not my book---nor even ours. Though I worked with him, the book belongs to him and the eagle Hanble Okinyan. It came to them from the Master of pain, loss, fear and loyalty. It is a song that has never been sung before.
My work is done here. My eyes and fingers are tired. I like the feeling. This is the weariness of hard labor faithfully done. I am ready to go home.
This is my last night in the Dutch Cup Motel in Sultan, Washington. This place has been perfect shelter for the month of the work. The owners know that the planet’s resources are being stripped. The towels, cleaning products, shampoo and hand soap are all organic. Hand soap is in a squirt bottle. Toilet paper, the telephone instruction card, the stationery are made from recycled paper.
The desk clerk cleans rooms. The owner mends what is worn out or broken. He takes in the chairs from the deck when there is a high wind. Each worker was unfailingly kind and creative in dealing with the few blaring television crises.
This morning I began to pack up my charms and amulets: the Dave Edwards postcard of the Tuvaan shaman and her words: Keep your line and don’t be afraid.; my friend’s photo of Hanble taking a joyous bath in her pool; the little raven drum I bought at Raven’s Corner in the Makah village of Neah Bay; my writing altar on which there is a new stone from a beach at Puget Sound. I will take the pot of rosemary to my friend’s partner Lynda.
There is little left to do. I write my friend:
We did what were brought together to do---for now. The Yakama women keep track of their lives with a time ball. They spin fiber and tie a bead into the thread at each important moment of their lives.
March 30 to May 4 will require more than a few beads---they are weather and mineral. One is azure for the sky outside my window right now; one is moonstone for the sky outside my window yesterday; one is garnet for the blood the talon leaves; one argyllite, one the green stone the Northern people use in their art. One bead is mist from a Cascade waterfall. Another tastes of salt from the waves below the point at kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx. One bead is shell, one is cedar, one is the exact color of my eyes, one the exact color of your eyes as we go gaze to gaze---to more easily follow the threads a wounded eagle weaves. The brightest bead is made from laughter.
When we look back on these four weeks, we will hold a length of braided cedar bark in our hands. We will let the beads tell us the story. It will be a story that is ours alone and for all who read it.
It is a story that belongs only to the future.

Veils 3

You must leave your home and go forth from your country.
The children of Buddha all practice this way.
---The thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices

I stand firmly on the ground on the other side of the Veil. Here, loneliness is transformed to honed and solitary awareness. Here, longing is transformed into the path to my own door. Here, places are re-named. A people reclaim themselves.
My friend and I head for the Olympic Rain Forest. We never arrive. Somewhere around Sequim, he feels the northwest pulling him as far as it will be possible for two humans to go. Beyond that point there are cormorants and orcas. There is a blue-black horizon and light fading down into the sea. There is air vibrant with salt.
We stop along the way to the last stop. I go down to water’s edge. I scoop handfuls of liquid mineral. I touch my forehead, my heart and belly with my wet fingers. I take away my cool wet touch, and a gray-white pebble flecked with mica.
At the Makah Cultural & Research Center, I learn that the people regard the knowledge in that place as “a canoe” carrying them and a “war club” shattering assumptions and prejudices. I learn that their real name is kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx which means People who live by the rocks and the seagulls. Makah is a name given to them by another First Nation. It means Generous with food.
My friend and I walk through the exhibit that is a canoe and a war club. Much of the weaving and pottery, toys and weapons, cooking and burying objects were found during the excavation of Ozette Village. We look into the cases together. We say little.
We sit in a reconstructed cedar longhouse. It is dark and fragrant with cedar. There is silence except for soft chanting from the hidden stereo speakers. Later, my friend says, “I was there.” I nod.
We drive out to the trail that will take us to the furthest northwestern point of what never really was The United States of America. We walk through prisms that break the gray light into particles of green. Then, we stand on a cedar platform a hundred feet above dark sandstone and silver spray.
You will not find the kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx name for this place on any map. You will find, instead, “Cape Flattery” and when you research the name you will find this:
...on Sunday, March 22, Captain Cook saw, between a low cape and a steep island just off the cape, “a small opening which flattered us with the hopes of finding an harbour”. The hopes lessened as the ships drew nearer. Cook decided that the opening was closed by low land and turned the ships away. He named the point of land Cape Flattery...
...Cook’s activities at Nootka actually had a far greater impact on the future history of Washington than his brief excursion past Cape Flattery. He and his crew were able to trade with the Nootka Indians for sea otter furs, which were highly coveted by Asian and European merchants. When Cook’s expedition finally returned to England following his of the wealth available on the Northwest Coast inspired the fur trade that brought many more Europeans and Americans to the Pacific Northwest.

I look down on the dark fingers of sandstone, on the cormorants gliding in and out of the darker caves. There is a dwarfed cedar to my right. Salt spray beads on its boughs. I know I will write about what I see. And I know I will write that the fur trade brought genocide. I know I will not be able to call the place “Cape Flattery.”

The day after we return, I e-mail the Makah Cultural & Research Center. I ask to know the kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx name for the furthest northwestern point. A woman writes back:
I hope I understood your question right and that you are asking for the word in our language that describes or names Cape Flattery. If that is the case, the name kwih dich chah uhtx IS the name we use to loosely mean the area of the Cape. ---Vickie B.
The people and the place have the same name. The people and the place are the same.
You must leave your home and go forth from your country. The children of Buddha all practice this way. The kwih dich chah uhtx go forth from “Cape Flattery”. They travel in a great canoe. They carry war clubs of knowledge. They circle out from “Cape Flattery” and back into their home. The kwih dich chah uhtx come home to kwih dich chah uhtx There is more than one way to practice.

Note: When you look down from the furthest northwestern point in kwih dich chah uhtx, you might see this:

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Veils 2

It is one thing to step through the veil. It is another to take my place on the other side. There is no turning back. Those of you who step through know. If you try, you see that the veil is gone. Only a new world that seems to be the old world surrounds you.
And then, as you move into this new lost world, you are shaken by what has always been around you. Inside you. Hidden.
The licorice ferns grow from the bark of the red cedar. An eagles’ nest sits in a tree at the edge of the Skykomish River, perhaps a half mile from the four-block Monroe strip mall. A brown bat circles above me on the trail at Wallace Falls. The greens are not more green. The rill of a stream is only the sound of snow melt moving. The bat is not a messenger but a creature hunting food. I have been open to all of this for years.
What I have not been open to is my huge loneliness on the other side of the veil. I’ve blurred it for five years---with anger and compulsion. Here, on the other side of stepping through, I live each moment with the steady physical ache of having not been touched for every day of those five years. Yes, there have been the rare comradely embraces of my brothers and sisters. Yes, those have been the only touch. Yes, they are not enough.
I talk with a friend about my loneliness. He listens and he says the perfect words, “I’m sorry.” There is no pity in his voice. He gives no advice. Later I write him: Thank you for your response to my loneliness. So often well-meaning people (especially those happily partnered) either give useful advice on how I can meet a partner or regard me with ill-masked pity. Loneliness is an honorable emotion. It has been relegated to shameful in our world and times. It is far too honorable to be pitied or fixed.
I send this same message to my oldest and closest friend, M. He calls. “I’m sorry you’re feeling so sad,” he says. “Loneliness is not fixable or dishonorable. It’s a condition of being open.”
A few days later, I talk with I. who is my true sister. (I am not writing Rasta here, I only protect my friend’s privacy.) “Loneliness,” she says, “is crushing. You and I seem to find it often. I think it is an edge from which to explore. I hate it.”
Grace to have these friends. Grace to know that not only the single are lonely. Grace to be on the other side of the veil, refusing to blur or fix the ache. My efforts to not feel what I was feeling had nearly killed me.
So, for you, one request. Honor my loneliness. With it and without it, I am a woman blessed.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Where there is no doubt, there is no understanding
Where there is little doubt, there is little understanding
Where there is great doubt, there is great understanding.

---Buddhist teaching

My friend and I climb to the top of the old stone tower on Mr. Constitution. I look down. Orcas Island lies below me---cedars and fir, mottled green, oval patches of cobalt water. The San Juan Straits are malachite, the other islands lesser green.
I am barely present. I feel as though I stand before the veil into a new world. My friend seems to be on the other side of the veil. I cannot imagine how it would be to be him, to move through life with trust.
My friend laughs. “There’s one,” he says. I know he means an eagle. He is a man possessed. Eagles come to him.
I’m a different bird. Ravens have accompanied me for days, but from here I see none. They were with me on the road, looping in each time I had thought This is a mistake. What if the charm that held my friend and me is undone? What if the task of fitting my words with another’s is impossible? The ravens would streak across the road, turn somersaults, arc against the light and disappear.
My understanding should be great if the Buddhist teaching is correct. I am a skin sack of doubt. Still I manage to watch the eagle spiral in great curves up from the tree-tops. Two others rise into the air on the east side of the tower. A third joins them.
My friend gazes past me toward the south. “There are two more, three, five, six.” I turn and look up. My eyes are older than his. The sun glares through the cataracts. Cataract. Veil. I see two eagles, no more than that.
I feel damaged. Inept. A woman much nearer exponential losses than her friend---though he has lived through a cancer that might have taken him all the way into nothing. A man from my past comes to mind, a man who became necrosis.
My friend watches the people below us. “They just don’t look up,” he says. “They’re missing so much. Why don’t they look up?”
“Habit,” I say. “Fear. My last partner could not look up…or maybe it was me who couldn’t.”
My friend looks past me. His eyes are cool. “They’re gone,” he says. “All those eagles in the south just disappeared.” He looks at me. I’ve not seen his gaze this intense. I look South. There are no eagles. I know in that instant why the eagles are gone. I believe he knows. I feel ashamed. I want to descend from the tower. I want to go home.
I manage to stand my ground. Something greater than shame holds me in place. I shouldn’t have talked about that man,” I say. I breathe hard out into the cool bright air. “There,” I say. “That’s finally out of me. Never again.”
I’m turned away from my friend, but I hear him laugh. “The eagles are back,” he says. “They just reappeared from nowhere.”

Later, we talk for a long time. I tell him that I had believed he was chastising me for being careless, and when I stood my ground to find my own knowledge, I understood something about him and the eagles---and a great deal more about myself.
“I went through a veil,” I say. “I have come up to that crossing again and again in my life. I’ve never crossed over till now. I still don’t know exactly how to be here on the other side. I won’t know for a long time.
“I do know this: you did not judge me in that moment. You were only telling me what was important.”

Even later, I open my e-mail and find the daily message from Word-A-Day:

1. Transparent, light, or delicate.
2. Vague or hazy.

From Latin diaphanus (transparent), from Greek diaphanes, from diaphainein (to show through), from dia- (across) + phainein (to show). Ultimately from the Indo-European root bha- (to shine) that is also the source of beacon, banner, phantom, photo, phosphorus, phenomenon, fantasy, and epiphany.

I forward the entry to my friend with this message:

In Vietnam during the American war, one of the most feared weapons was burning white phosphorus. It would char down to the bone.
I think of our book as I write this. It will be a book with more than a few words that will char down to the bone, written so subtly that most will never smell the smoke.

Friday, April 3, 2009


I rarely take photographs. I tell my students that using a camera short-circuits the pathways that fix an image in my memory. And, a picture cannot bring in sound or scent, taste or dawn warming my back as I pray: For the furthering of all sentience beings and the protection of earth, air and water. I trust what surrounds me. I trust I’ll retain what I will someday need for the Work.
Not all memories make it into writing. Those that do rest dormant until a cue from the imperative to write brings them out. Here is how it works: I walk out the dirt road to the Joshua Buddha. Much streams in through the body into mind, loops through the heart and down the arm to the fingers on these keys: Sunset clouds, rose-gold herring bones against the blue dark. Soft air. A small wind brushing my skin. Saffron light just above the mountains. Coyotes screaming in the east.
I stop near the broken dry well in which lie more than a few of my words. One pewter-light day in December, I carried four journals to its rim and dropped them in. They were the record of a time when “much” was code for love, a time when I didn’t know that code is not necessary for love. I am learning. Clouds, light, wind and coyotes come into that emptied moment.

In four days I will begin a drive north. In the last two months, my life has spun into a new location, a new book and new hope. Jeff Guidry and the eagle Hanble Okinyan touched their story to mine and this circling began.
Come with me. Jeff took the photos of Hanble in her bath. He is a living camera. How else to explain water exploding off the jubilant eagle into spirals and auroras and splinters of diamond ice?
Jeff flies to Denali tonight. “I’ll send you pictures,” he promises, “I’ll have two cameras with me.” I am a camera. I think as I listen to him. So many gifts. I think as I imagine him standing on the glacier. He’ll be wearing old work boots. Standing on the glacier with all your heart is work. Being a camera is work. Light and pure cold and the glacier’s voice will be streaming into him. He’ll raise the camera to his eye and capture. He’ll leave the camera in his pack. And capture.
Later, we will swap stories. I’ll see his words. He’ll see mine. They will stream into our minds, loop through our hearts and emerge in the book we are making. The eagle, Hanble Okinyan will keep us honest. She demands beauty.

By then, I will have driven north on Route 395. I will have stepped into Warm Creek, felt the sand shift under my feet, crouched where the hot spring bubbles up. I will have parked my car at the base of Glass Flow and pressed my hands against the sun’s touch on the brilliant obsidian.
I will have met a friend in Reno. As I come into her presence, my mouth will be dry, my heart pounding---because I will not have brought myself into the presence of neon as brilliant as a Mojave sunset, and jackpots as elusive as a desert mirage, and the descent into what I still long for so often. I don’t know how I will drive past the casinos. Perhaps I’ll be a camera, nothing more.
Then, there will be the dirt road to a low butte. There will be obsidian needles shining in the sand. I wonder if I’ll take one. I have learned a different way to capture. Pages in the bottom of a dry well, clouds become a radiant fish, love shaping and re-shaping itself. Michael, A., Chris and Chris, you know.
Two days later, I will arrive at an unfamiliar house I can already see. My friend has sent me photos. He will step out his front door. He will have seen me from the window of the upstairs room in which he has been making his half of our book. I already know what will be in our eyes.
Laughter. Friendship. And the willingness to go further into the mystery of making.

Lightning Glass

I began to see that, when it comes right down to it, we are nothing until that nothing becomes so dedicated that it
is like a vessel through which good things can move, an instrument for receiving knowledge and sharing it with
others who might be in need.

---Bear Heart, with Molly Larkin
Bear Heart

Eighteen years ago, three trucks drove up the dirt snake of the Moqui Dugway. The road rises 1100 feet on a 10% grade. The ascent can take your breath.
The first time I had driven it alone. It was 1982, I was forty-two and it was the first time I had spent longer than three days alone. A new friend had given me directions. You approach from the south and drive across flat desert toward what seems to be an impenetrable cliff face. Keep going. I followed his instructions. Suddenly the road curved east and I had no choice but to go up hair-pin turns, cliff-face on one side, drop-offs on the other. I remember keeping my foot steady on the accelerator of the rental car and thinking, “If I can do this, I can learn to do anything.”
Eight years later I was passenger in the lead truck. I was not alone. We were perhaps a dozen women and men and we were friends, lovers and strangers. Our trucks were loaded with river gear. We were headed for a trip on the San Juan River.
We topped out and headed West. As abruptly as any human change of heart, thunderheads moved in. There was no rain. The man I now think of as Dead Bill---no longer with rancor, but with affection---drove. I sat in the passenger seat and opened his beers for him.
Lightning slammed down into the pinon-juniper a few miles ahead of us. A thread of smoke rose. By the time we came to the strike, there were no flames. Only smoke rose from the little juniper. Some of us jumped out of our trucks, walked to the juniper and began to pile sand around its charred base. We waited till there seemed to be no more smoke. A soft rain – the Dine call it Female Rain began to fall. We climbed back in the trucks and went on.

It would be years before I would learn that sometimes a lightning strike in the desert makes glass. By the time I looked into a desert museum display case, saw a non-descript chunk of jagged glass labeled fulgurite and found it far more beautiful than the slab of emerald and cream malachite to its right and the wine-red chunk of garnet to its left, I was no longer the woman who had piled sand around the base of a smoking juniper. Had that woman known that there was lightning glass, she would not have asked the group to wait while she searched the ground for a glittering shard. She would have deferred instead to her lover, to his need to get back on the road and to his beer.
She is gone. He is gone. The group is gone, not so much dispersed by lightning, but drifted away on currents of alcohol, pot, betrayal and lies. The woman would herself disappear for five years, carried deep into loneliness by her own addictions and lies.
She would once have said that the disappearances were nothing but loss, and that our behaviors were cruel and tragic. Now, I understand the nature of juniper, lightning, smoke and glass. I see that addiction, lies and betrayal may be no less alchemical than the action of unearthly heat and sand. Now, my favorite chain of words has become: I don’t know.
I don’t know has transformed me from a woman who once would have googled lightning glass and ordered a piece from an on-line store, to a woman who walks the abundant Mojave, under skies from which lightning rarely descends, her eyes often on the ground, hunting for a glint of nondescript glass, knowing she may never find it.
I don’t know moves these words out of what sometimes feels like nothing, a nothing that is both frightening and welcome. I am a vessel formed by dedication, a vessel made from lightning glass.

Friday, March 6, 2009


"We don't so much create threads between ourselves and others, we find that existing threads have become luminous." A friend once told me that. In the last few months I have been granted illumination from connections to the Northwest, to an eagle and the man who both loves and is loved by her.

Meet Freedom and Jeff. Click on Eaglewalker in my links.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Now Is

Temple Cats

Americans are obsessed with the notion of control. The control is just an illusion.
---Lee Barnes, writer

Bean, the 10-month old gray tabby, is possessed to leap up on the old dresser that serves as the center for my faith in what little I know of Tibetan Buddhism; and all I am learning about the nature of impermanence---a knowledge both unwelcome and irresistible. The dresser top is more accurately an altar - a flat-topped block used as the focus for a religious ritual, esp. for making sacrifices or offerings to a deity.
There is no demanding god here. There is no religion. There is only the sacrifice of most of what I once believed was permanent. There are offerings, not to be consumed in flame or carried away on a river, but objects and images to remind me of what matters. Each reminder has its own place, its own proximity to another.
There is a book of Tibetan photos and words. Behind it, a picture leans against the mirror: two Chinese soldiers walk away from the body of Kelsan Namtso, the Tibetan Buddhist nun that have just murdered. She lies in the snow. The only color in the picture is her saffron robe. All is else is the snow, gray boulders and the black figures of the soldiers.
There is a postcard of Tibetan Buddhist monks singing. A Black Hat dancer wears a ceremonial apron embroidered with the terrible and gracious visage of Mahakala, the deity who eats that which is in the way of joy---if you regard joy as knowing you will most certainly die and, therefore, this moment is the best in your life.
Two books of collaborative art and poetry (made by poet Gail Wade, his students and me) lie on top of a photo of the black and white crippled cat Stretch. He is not the only ghost cat on the dresser. There are tatters of brindle fur that once belonged to my good cat Harold. Rumi, my a 12-step book, the Witches’ Almanac, and my journal lie in front of the collaborations. Beneath them is the 1948 edition of the Classics Illustrated Arabian Nights, the comic book that opened my way out of dark cave after cave after cave; below lie more photos of my beloved dead.
A gray pyramidal rock with a black dot in one side, and a Northwest Raven medallion hold the Tibetan book open. Today’s reading from Sogyal Rinpoche: Why, if we are as pragmatic as we claim, don’t we begin to ask ourseles seriously: where does our real future lie?
There is more on the dresser: a baby spoon engraved with Mary, a broken heart-shaped dish my mom gave me, a lace agate shaped exactly like a woman’s yoni , a tape of chanting by the Gaden Shatse monks, a photo of beloved Harold (who was eaten by a coyote eight months ago). There is the wristwatch that stopped on 9/11/01. There is the grooved rock in which I put a chunk of cookie for Mahakala when I ask his help in ripping out my hard heart.
Mr. Toad from Wind in the Willows sits on top of the mirror. He wears a red-striped frock coat, blue pants and a blue bow tie. My velvet prayer beads bag hangs below him. It contains the string of twenty bone beads on which I count my morning prayers: for the furthering of all sentient beings and the protection of earth, air and water.
I murmur the prayer as Bean mounts his ninth assault on the dresser. He tries to capture Toad. I go toward the dresser. Bean leaps off. As soon as I settle back to my prayers, he leaps in my lap and grabs the beads.
We both hang on. In that instant, I imagine a temple altar. The monks or priestesses or rabbis or imams responsible for the altar believe that in order for the Holy to be present, the sacred objects must be placed and aligned with precision. The work of tidying and arranging the altar has just been finished. All is ready.
A mouse races across the shining tiles of the temple floor. One of the temple cats is within paw’s reach. The mouse scurries up on the altar. The cat follows.


What Falls Into the Absences
---for M.

The only sure antidote to oblivion is the creation. So I loop my sentences around the trunks of maples, hook them into the parched soil, anchor them to rock, to moon and stars, wrap them tenderly around the ankles of those I love. From down in the pit, I give a tug, to make sure my rope of words is hooked onto the world, and then up I climb.
--- Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put

The Invisible guitar
Fullerton train station
guy playing guitar
with right hand
withered left hand
from very visible was
playing to a
chair covered seat
and a bench
covered blanket
Invisible audiences
listening to a distant

had been written on the back of a Vanity Fair subscription card tucked into a copy of Delicate, a collection of short stories I wrote in the early Nineties.
Delicate was inscribed:
I “met” this
woman thru NPR radio
She writes about real
women on real journeys.
Enjoy - Janet

There was also a 3X5 file card in the pages. On it was written todolopuedo.ina.nel Password EBIZ I googled todolopuedo.ina.nel It does not exist.

A few days later, I walk east across the desert. The setting sun dusts the creosote with gold. Shadows are gray, then purple, then indigo. A jack-rabbit startles out of a tangle of downed Joshua branches. I follow my footprints from the day before. They carry me past the white couch that is settling back into the earth and the backless shelves my son and I left next to the couch. Each day I put something on the second shelf that I am ready to lose. Once it was how I scare myself, another time it was imagining I have a damaged brain---there is a theme here.
My footprints disappear from the road and curve through more creosote and Joshuas and groves of yucca. I follow. I stop at a yucca which has split into three equal sections. I press my hands against each section, then link the broken pieces with my splayed fingers. I have no idea why I do this. It just seems right.
I reach the old Joshua Buddha just as the light goes rose-gold. I bend down to the stump that is also the form of a seated Buddha. I lean my head against it and I say, “I’m back.” I touch the tiny white spine tucked into the bark of the fallen trunk and sit next to the delicate bones. I plant my feet in the sand. There are dark mountain ranges in the northeast and perhaps a mile away, the county land-fill.
Gate gate paragate. Gone gone gone to the other side
I remember my most recent talk with M. We spoke of aging. We spoke of loss. We spoke of what has fallen away---and what hasn’t. I told him that I no longer was able to destroy myself. I told him I came to that inability not by my own choice.
“I don’t know why I had to give up what I loved so much,” I said to M. “There are layers and layers of emptiness in me now . It’s not time to fill them...if they can ever be filled.”
The sand is no longer pale gold. The shadows fade. I drink what’s left of the water in my bottle, touch the Joshua Buddha stump and head home.
I’m a few minutes away from the light that burns outside my cabin door when I see a sheet of paper caught in a clump of dried grass. There is writing on it. I pick it up and carry it home.
I wait till after dinner to read it. The words are carefully printed in a child’s hand on lined paper.
Dear Isaaih,
I hope you have a merry christmas and may all your wishes come true. Thank you for playing games with me.
When we play monopoly we have fun. Monopoly is one of favorite game. Hve you ever played monopoly video game. It’s fun, isn’t it.
When I grow up I will keep you in my hart. When both of us grown up we can both hang out.
Love, Angela


A Murder

When you pass through the fire
you pass through humble
You pass through a maze of self doubt
When you pass through humble
the lights can blind you
Some people never figure that out
You pass through arrogance you pass through hurt
You pass through an ever present past
and it's best not to wait for luck to save you
Pass through the fire to the light...

---Lou Reed
Magic and Loss

Rain for three days. Heart-shredder wind. This morning dawn is soft and clear. A winged shadow moves up the tangle of Joshua branches. A raven follows. The bird drops to the top branch. She, he, it, shakes out a wing. The breast feathers ruffle in what is left of the banshee wind.
Dawn reflects off the shining black beak---or a crumb of corn chip from the handful I scattered last night for the resdent coyote. More ravens soar and dive above the dirt road to the west. One, two, a dozen, a murder of them.
The raven at the top of the Joshua Tree watches, lifts and takes off. The shadow follows and is gone.

In the last week, I have found myself beginning to drift from the path I have been making. Imagine you could step by step move to the side of a trail of your own footsteps, a trail that is not easy, but a trail that carries you in and out of beauty, in and out of fear, in and out of wonder. Imagine that you imagine something glowing a little off the trail, something that you know might draw you toward damage, not of the material, but of the spirit. Imagine that you imagine that the damage might be worth standing in the glow...and maybe this time that sweet light would never fade. Imagine you take one step in that direction, then another.

As you pass through the fire
your right hand waving
there are things you have to throw out
That caustic dread inside your head
will never help you out
You have to be very strong
' cause you'll start from zero
over and over again
And as the smoke clears
there's an all consuming fire
lying straight ahead...

I called trusted friends. “It’s happening again. He is so like the one before. Where did he come from? I didn’t ask for this.” I wanted to be amazed. I wanted to be better than the rules. I wanted to believe that Something that most resembles a huge raven or a desert twilight or the bark of a dead Joshua Tree has given me a second chance at Big Love.
My friends reminded me that in one crucial area, “he” is so like the one before---he is not free. I wanted to smack my trusted friends. I wanted to smack my own trusted knowledge.

They say no one person can do it all
but you want to in your head
But you can't be Shakespeare
and you can’t be Joyce
so what is left instead
You're stuck with yourself
and a rage that can hurt you
You have to start at the beginning again
And just this moment
This wonderful fire started up again

I ran my sales pitch. “But, he is this and this and this...and I felt as though we had known each other for centuries and he feels the same way and and and...” My most long-time friend listened. “Yeah,” he said. “It is such a good drug.”
I didn’t smack him. I felt how stale my words were. There was something about my long-time friend’s perfect responses and how we laughed that pulled the pin on the potentially rhinestone-encrusted (little Zappa there)grenade.
I slept with nothing but the banshee wind. When I woke, I was grateful for my long-time friend. We had always referred to our drugs as toys. One time, one of us had lost a bundle on the slots. “The toy is broken,” we said. This morning I wrote him: “I/you can always try to fix the toy or get another one. But when the toyness goes out of the toy and I know that another toy might be fun the first time I play with it, even the second or third time, but ultimately the toyness will go out of the new toy---then, the gig is up.”

When you pass through humble
when you pass through sickly
When you pass through
I'm better than you all
When you pass through
anger and self deprecation
and have the strength to acknowledge it all
When the past makes you laugh
and you can savor the magic
that let you survive your own war
You find that that fire is passion
and there's a door up ahead not a wall...

I wrote my friend: I feel grouchy and gray this morning. I read the newspaper. The comics and the pop horoscopes. The important stuff. One of my horoscopes says: ‘Knowing when you have had enough might be important. Think carefully about a decision that could impact your daily life. What you feel could possibly be wrong. Give yourself the gift of time.’
And a second horoscope: ‘Your artistic mind is keen, your creativity set to fire off at any moment. You are in the right place with the right tools to enable you to capture the kind of fleeting moment that you wish could last forever.’
And I had already had---before I read the horoscopes and wrote you---a fleeting moment I wished could last forever Here it is:

A Murder

Rain for three days. Heart-shredder wind. The early sun this morning is soft and clear. A shadow moves up the tangle of Joshua branches. A raven follows...

As you pass through fire as you pass through fire
try to remember its name
When you pass through fire licking at your lips
you cannot remain the same
And if the building' s burning
move towards that door
but don't put the flames out
There's a bit of magic in everything
and then some loss to even things out.


Lightning Glass

I began to see that, when it comes right down to it, we are nothing until that nothing becomes so dedicated that it is like a vessel through which good things can move, an instrument for receiving knowledge and sharing it with others who might be in need.
---Bear Heart, with Molly Larkin
Bear Heart

Eighteen years ago, three trucks drove up the dirt snake of the Moqui Dugway. The road rises 1100 feet on a 10% grade. The ascent can take your breath.
The first time I had driven it alone. It was 1982, I was forty-two and it was the first time I had spent longer than three days alone. A new friend had given me directions. You approach from the south and drive across flat desert toward what seems to be an impenetrable cliff face. Keep going. I followed his instructions. Suddenly the road curved east and I had no choice but to go up hair-pin turns, cliff-face on one side, drop-offs on the other. I remember keeping my foot steady on the accelerator of the rental car and thinking, “If I can do this, I can learn to do anything.”
Eight years later I was passenger in the lead truck. I was not alone. We were perhaps a dozen women and men and we were friends, lovers and strangers. Our trucks were loaded with river gear. We were headed for a trip on the San Juan River.
We topped out and headed West. As abruptly as any human change of heart, thunderheads moved in. There was no rain. The man I now think of as Dead Bill---no longer with rancor, but with affection---drove. I sat in the passenger seat and opened his beers for him.
Lightning slammed down into the pinon-juniper a few miles ahead of us. A thread of smoke rose. By the time we came to the strike, there were no flames. Only smoke rose from the little juniper. Some of us jumped out of our trucks, walked to the juniper and began to pile sand around its charred base. We waited till there seemed to be no more smoke. A soft rain – the Dine call it Female Rain began to fall. We climbed back in the trucks and went on.

It would be years before I would learn that sometimes a lightning strike in the desert makes glass. By the time I looked into a desert museum display case, saw a non-descript chunk of jagged glass labeled fulgurite and found it far more beautiful than the slab of emerald and cream malachite to its right and the wine-red chunk of garnet to its left, I was no longer the woman who had piled sand around the base of a smoking juniper. Had that woman known that there was lightning glass, she would not have asked the group to wait while she searched the ground for a glittering shard. She would have deferred instead to her lover, to his need to get back on the road and to his beer.
She is gone. He is gone. The group is gone, not so much dispersed by lightning, but drifted away on currents of alcohol, pot, betrayal and lies. The woman would herself disappear for five years, carried deep into loneliness by her own addictions and lies.
She would once have said that the disappearances were nothing but loss, and that our behaviors were cruel and tragic. Now, I understand the nature of juniper, lightning, smoke and glass. I see that addiction, lies and betrayal may be no less alchemical than the action of unearthly heat and sand. Now, my favorite chain of words has become: I don’t know.
I don’t know has transformed me from a woman who once would have googled lightning glass and ordered a piece from an on-line store, to a woman who walks the abundant Mojave, under skies from which lightning rarely descends, her eyes often on the ground, hunting for a glint of nondescript glass, knowing she may never find it.
I don’t know moves these words out of what sometimes feels like nothing, a nothing that is both frightening and welcome. I am a vessel formed by dedication, a vessel made from lightning glass.