Sunday, October 15, 2017

Wanderings: Still in Santa Fe

Meem Library - St. John's College - Santa Fe, NM

Still in Santa Fe. Anticipate being here until the end of October. I may spend the winter here. Writing a lot. Been spending my days at the downtown public library and the Museum of New Mexico, researching, as always, the sonnets and the history of the Piedra Lumbre Land Grant - which encompasses the Chama River Canyon.

About 50 years after the Salem Witch Trials, there was an outbreak of "witchcraft" in Abiquiu (1756-1766) and a subsequent series of Witchcraft Trials. In truth, the native peoples, the Genizaro Indians, were merely practicing the ceremonies and rituals of their native religion. Of course, to the zealous catholics, this was witchcraft. It was also a convenient excuse to disrupt the native peoples' settlements and lay claim to the land they occupied. Nevertheless, its a fascinating history of oppression, religious sublimation, syncretism and supernatural belief.

I recently have moved from the downtown area out here to the Meem Library at St. John's College just east of Santa Fe, not far from the SF Institute. I've always thought I should've gone to St. John's. With their rigorous focus on the Liberal Arts, deep engagement to the primary and foundational texts of Western culture, I think I would've been a fish in happy waters. Considering it's size, around 65,000 volumes, it's an excellent resource; an elegant selection, balancing the beauty of curated secondary material and depth of primary text, in original language and translation. It's also much more conducive to long term study and meditation.

The downtown public library is a welcome refuge for the homeless and stereotypical Santa Fe characters: that guy with the silver pony tail wearing an Indiana Jones hat purchased at Urban Outfitters, a tie-die t-shirt, Bermuda shorts and huarache sandals, talking at full volume about his "vision quest" in the "sweat" where he attained a "oneness" with the "First Peoples" and now believes himself to be more of "pure-blood Navajo" than "colonially tainted unwoke White Man."

At the end of the month, I'll be in Northern Arizona, Four Corners area, then will head south to Tucson. Jennifer is there for a month or so. She's heading back to Austin / Dallas to live and work. I may head down there. Trying to get a sense of which way the wind will be blowing.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Wanderings: Durango to Santa Fe

Red Rocks - Hwy 84 - Near Abiquiu

Headed out of Durango early, expecting heavy weather and traffic. Sparse traffic on 160 into Pagosa Springs, "the place of bad smelling waters". Didn't bother with any waters. The further along I drove, the more I welcomed the landscape. As soon as I turned south onto 84, I had the road to myself. Dense grey thunderheads gathered in the east, but no rain. Listening, as always, to Frank Muller perform Moby Dick. Several hours of sweet driving ahead of me.

There is always a distinct change in tone of the landscape whenever I have crossed over into New Mexico. The last time when I was traveling out of Amarillo as I passed over the line, there was a subtle alteration in luminosity, as if the world had become slightly brighter. That this arbitrary line demarks not only a geographical but a psychological change of state is a mystery to me. This time it felt like a warmth of recognition, reverse nostalgia, the cessation of a chronic sorrow or ache for a home. By the time I got to Chama I was unaccountably happy. This sense of well-being only grew the further along the road I traveled. 

Highway 84, from Chama to Santa Fe, is one of the finest drives in the country. Just after Tierra Amarilla, when it enters into the Piedra Lumbre, "Vally of the Shining Stone," the land becomes sublime and deeply resonant, winding deep into my own personal mythology, intersecting with the ancient Pueblo Peoples, Anasazi, Conquistadors, Cabeza de Vaca, Seven Cities of Gold, Coronado, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, The Witch Trials of Abiquiu, Spanish Colonialism, D. H. Lawrence, the Ghost Ranch, Georgia O'Keefe, The Monastery of Christ in the Desert, the Manhattan Project, the Atomic Bomb, Trinity, Oppenheimer, Roswell, Thomas Merton, Solitude in the Desert, the Desert Fathers, Hermits, the Devil and daemons, the Traces of the Fugitive Gods, God's Bones and the Cathedral of God's Skull. 

I pulled into the small rest stop just below the Red Rocks, got out and hiked up the highway to take a few photos of the vermillion finlike formation. Got there just before the approaching storm clouds shadowed the sun. Climbing high up on a cliff to the south of the formation, I had a panoramic view of the Valley, the Perdernal sitting dark in the distance to the West, a portion of the Abiquiu Reservoir below, its pacific waters covering ancient massacre, ruin and grave, the Chama winding towards it from the north, carving out the canyon residence of the Monastery, the Ghost Ranch and the surrounding colored cinematic cliffs, the highway snaking through the center into a hazy vanishing point. I've stopped here often enough that the view is iconic, an archetype of The Road. It is a perspective I never tire of, that I never "get used" to. 

As always in Espanola I search for the phantom bus station where I was given shelter in the Drunkard's Room. As always, it seems a phantom of memory, shifted from a physical locale into a spiritual one. 

On down past the Native American Casinos - surreal abominations / retributions of a Native American Dream. They all are cliche. To think about them is cliche, resistant as they are to any new poetry. 

Driving into Santa Fe is, again, a homecoming. Feeling grounded, centered, these familiar roots. I wonder if I can finally finish what I started here so long ago. 

St. Francis Cathedral - Santa Fe

At night, I walk through the empty streets of downtown, conversing with ghosts, updating the sentimental maps of memory. A few pints of Dos XX at Del Charro, a couple of shots of tequila. Later in front of the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi. The keystone arch burning with the Tetragrammaton. A refulgent moon over the right tower. I breath in the sweet air, searching for pinon and juniper, not finding them, instead scenting an indescribable essence of being, as if smelling my own skin. 

Skulls for Sale - Santa Fe

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Wandering: Grand Junction to Durango - Red Mountain Pass

Red Mountain Pass, Colorado

What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.
- Rene Daumal, Mount Analogue

Headed out of Grand Junction to Durango on US 550, the Million Dollar Highway, through the Uncompahgre Gorge to Red Mountain Pass, 11,018 feet above all human concern except one: to not veer one foot to the right and fall 1000 feet.

Considering Lao-Tzu (Laozi) and Yinxi:

The third story in Sima Qian states that Laozi grew weary of the moral decay of life in Chengzhou and noted the kingdom's decline. He ventured west to live as a hermit in the unsettled frontier at the age of 80. At the western gate of the city (or kingdom) [Hankao Pass], he was recognized by the guard Yinxi. The sentry asked the old master to record his wisdom for the good of the country before he would be permitted to pass. The text Laozi wrote was said to be the Tao Te Ching, although the present version of the text includes additions from later periods. In some versions of the tale, the sentry was so touched by the work that he became a disciple and left with Laozi, never to be seen again. In others, the "Old Master" journeyed all the way to India and was the teacher of Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha. Others say he was the Buddha himself. - Wikipedia: Laotzi

Booming thunderstorms as Van Winkle's men of the mountains play at nine-pins. At least, I have the hairpin highway to myself. There are no guardrails. Just a painted line to the right, a few feet and a the precipitous drop into the Abyss. I creep upwards, surprised at the magnetic pull of the steering wheel to the left. There is the overbearing presence of the hovering cliff wall on the other side. The narrow ribbon of the highway seems an optical illusion, hanging insubstantially in the sky.

Finally up on the roof beam if the world, driving through thick cloud, listening (again) to Frank Muller reading Moby Dick. The sublime beauty  and terror of the Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck:

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event-in the living act, the undoubted deed-there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike though the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who's over me? Truth hath no confines. Take off thine eye! more intolerable than fiends' glarings is a doltish stare! - Melville, Moby-Dick

Ahead, the highway turns towards Molas Pass, blasts of wind buffet the jeep. A rushing white Cloud River rushes beside the banks of the cliff's edge. The clouds break apart and, for a moment in that brief opening, an enormous mountain stands before me. Then it is gone. I get out of the jeep into a howling wind and wait for another break. Searching for the eye of the White Whale as it passes beneath the ship of the world.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Wanderings: Northern California to Joshua Tree to Grand Junction

Colorado National Monument

I am in Grand Junction, spending most of my time here in the library at Colorado Mesa University. It's an excellent modern library, three stories with a multitude of tables replete with screens and keyboards. I guess I'm an old school sort. When I first entered the library, I looked around for books. I asked a librarian where the stacks were located. She smiled and told me the books were on the third floor. And so I ascended. The books - which, for me, are the heart of any library take up about a third of the floor space of the third floor. They are all on a movable shelving system that is compacted together. Captain's wheels, as if from a ship, are located on the end of each set of shelves to wheel them apart. Often you have to move a half a dozen shelves to open up the section you need. I spend most of my time in the section that contains PR 2848: the sonnets. Their collection is adequate for a small university. Still the collection, overall, is helpful as a reference resource. Since I have a professor's log on, I can print out article from any scholarly journal online. Soon, I imagine, the physical books will also be removed to make room for some new technology. All this being said, I am grateful to have access and a place to sit quietly, read and write.

Colorado National Monument

I ran myself a ragged over the last month before arriving here. I am much much better now, feeling back to my "old self," if not in the process of encouraging a new beast of self to emerge from a strange womb. I think anyone striking out for distant lands and new territories - whether they be physical, psychological or spiritual - leaves the place he has been with a sense of having a door opened to a world of greater freedom. For myself, as you both well know, I left a world of great beauty and warmth, of a wonderful job, an inspirational group of friends to travel out into a world of smoke and fire, uncaring and inconsiderate strangers, with no security of where I might sleep from night to night, or no certainty of where I could find the hard and brutal sort of beauty that I was hungering for. Of course, this sort of difficulty was what I wanted. What I still want. But I wasn't entirely prepared for it.

Allow me to abuse and extend a metaphor here - hopefully not to the point of allegory - but my time in Bellingham seemed to me to be something of a prison. And I am fully aware that most people in the world would have been overjoyed to have exchanged places with me and live in the "prison" that I was in. It was a prison for me in the sense that I believed I did not have the freedom to be myself, this being a curious "blind spot" or personal weakness. As I expressed on several occasions, it was as if I slipped on the Scot Casey suit, zipped on the smile, and performed the role of Scot Casey on the stage that is Bellingham. And the part of myself that was underneath this persona, looking out from underneath the mask, developed a kind of resentment toward how I was living my life. This other part of myself felt as if he were in a sort or prison of self. I will quickly add that I think the character of Scot Casey is a pretty good role. I am comfortable and relatively happy being Scot Casey. In fact, the longer I am in the role, the more acutely I have to re-mind myself that this is not who I believe I truly am deep down underneath. Who I am deep down underneath... it is uncanny, as Freud would have it "strangely familiar," to be self-divided in such as way as to believe you are not who you are named and you are not the face you see reflected in the mirror. (Much of my obsession with the interior, shadow narrative of the sonnets is how they play with the idea of reflection and self, as Narcissus enchanted by the image in the water, or Dorian Gray gazing upon his portrait.)

I find it sadly amusing and too close to home that Sartre used the caricature of the waiter in the cafe to illustrate his notion of "bad faith":

I quote from Wikipedia as summary: "Sartre cites a café waiter, whose movements and conversation are a little too "waiter-esque". His voice oozes with an eagerness to please; he carries food rigidly and ostentatiously; "his movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid". His exaggerated behavior illustrates that he is play acting as a waiter, as an object in the world: an automaton whose essence is to be a waiter. But that he is obviously acting belies that he is aware that he is not (merely) a waiter, but is rather consciously deceiving himself."

Sartre goes on to say that the many who commit "bad faith" as a sort of "mental suicide" do so not so much because they are unable to find meaning in the world, but because freedom, the authentic freedom of being, is terrifying. In the face of such absolute freedom where everything is permitted, it is much easier ("bad faith") to follow an already established set of morals and/or codes of behavior than to invent your own. Yawn, existentialism, right? But nevertheless, eerie in how closely it approximated my mental state.

I left Bellingham in a kind of hungover daze of celebration for Scot Casey and well wishing, having just unburdened myself of most of worldly possessions and secured the understanding that I may not return for a long while. I unzipped (or thought I did) the Scot Casey suit and threw it in the passenger's seat to keep me company. I was out! The sudden freedom to go anywhere, to do anything, to be anyone was beautiful and terrifying in the cartoon Sartrian sense.

I felt like a dog that has been kept in a kennel for a long time and the door to the wide world is one day opened for him. He runs and runs in an ecstasy of freedom until he suddenly doesn't know where he is. Everything is new and strange. So, he finds his way back to the kennel and sleeps within his comfortable cage, ever cautious about his further ventures out. And I emphasize here with mystery and laughter: I placed myself in the cage. I was my own jailer. Goddamn me! Why did I do this to myself? Why did I willingly commit an act of bad faith? Why do any of us? Hinduism's Maya.

I am reminded of the Eliot lines from The Waste Land:

 I have heard the key  
Turn in the door once and turn once only  
We think of the key, each in his prison  
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison

Lassen Volcanic National Park

I drove from the oceans around Arcata to the mountains of Northern California as an electrified convict escaped and on the run, hoping to ground myself upon their massive presence, to throw my self against them, step by step upward, willing to blow out my heart in the sheer effort to stand at an utmost point. But then, there surmounted, only to sigh that horrible sigh, and trudge down again in the mind of a suicidal Sisyphus. Beside the fire alone at night, I would pull out the Scot Casey suit as if it were one of my dead mother's coats, still heavy with her scent like a living thing, not putting it back on, but just burying my face in it for comfort. And I just felt detached. Alienated from my self. This dog returns to the kennel to find the door locked against him.

I went a little insane then. Can anyone go a little insane? I traveled up the Pyramid Lake, which seemed a hellscape to me, a physical manifestation of the Great Absence. It was a bleak day with black clouds in the skies, sterile with no rain. There were few cars on the road and when I looked into them, they were filled with faces out of an Edvard Munch painting. I pulled into the parking lot at the marina, got out and the air was full of the desiccated odor of piles of corpses. There was no living thing around. The ground seemed ready to break through under my feet. The pyramid rocks I had hoped to see were far on the other side of the lake - or I imagined they were. I was filled with a vague sickness in my head. I just got back into the car and drove into Reno.

It was there I thought I might shock myself back into a world with meaning and hope. I took several doses of LSD. I should've known better. Famous last words to be found on my tombstone. But too late, I realized the cheap motel where I was staying was infested with drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes. In the chlorine blue light of the pool, all of their faces seemed leering and ghastly skulls. All of my doubts and fears manifested around me like St Anthony in a Hieronymus Bosch landscape. I made it back to the dubious security of my room to lay on a bed that reeked of desperation, sorrowful sex and cigarettes; laying there, eyes closed, sweating through one nightmare after another for 12 hours, contributing my part to bleak palimpsest of the bed. The next morning I turned on the TV and saw that Trump was due to be in Reno later that day. Somehow wretchedly poetic and a clear sign to leave town.

I traveled deeper and higher into the mountains, the High Sierra, to which King's Canyon is the gateway. I seemed a mad man to myself. I was some form of a daemonic entity going through the motions of being a sane human. Without being able to wear the Scot Casey suit, I was just a protoplasmic mass of amoral energy with just enough awareness to badly fake its way as another human being. The monstrous image in Dorian Gray's portrait stepping out of the canvas into this world, killing Dorian Gray, and then foolishly attempting to impersonate him.

Upon reflection, it's not cynical or even surprising to say that it is relatively easy for a monster to pass himself off as a human being in this sad fallen world we live in. People rarely look beyond themselves or see through the superficial projection they cast over the other. I hiked into the mountains only to find it populated with more people than I expected. Families, children, young couples. No other solitaries. I got as far away from others as I could, built no comforting fires at night, sat through the night haunted like the Ancient Mariner, gazing upon the stars which seemed only to be mocking me with their ghostly dead light. Perhaps, I thought, all the stars have gone out and all we are left with is this ghostly presence. Someday, maybe sooner than we thought, there would only be a blackness, an absolute darkness, in the heavens at night. And I could not distract myself from this way of thinking. That I was on a Death Trip became an idée fixe , which would end sooner, much sooner, than I expected. The nights were long. I thought only of death. I couldn't sleep for more than an hour at a time. And so I hiked out and left for the deserts around Joshua Tree and the Salton Sea.

I found an old man. David,  who hosted a traveler's refuge at his house. He lived between 29 Palms and Joshua Tree, down a dusty dirt road and around a few burned out homestead houses built in the middle of the last century, rusted bed springs and busted pot bellied stoves, broken spoked wheels and piles of bottles and cans, detritus of the American Dream. David would let you pay what you could to stay there. I think he could tell I was in deep waters. Told me no one else would be around for the next week. I was welcome to stay in one of the rooms. No AC, but a swamp cooler. It was 110 in the day. I took it, unloaded a few things to mark my bed in case anyone showed up. Headed up to the park.

It was in the strange prehistoric landscape, amidst the sparse forests of those surreal trees, that I first recovered / uncovered a sense of what might loosely be called my sanity. But I felt comfortable and human again, if not entirely myself. I walked far into the desert up there, until after the sun set and the first stars began to appear. Like hope, I thought. And laughed for the first time in weeks. A good joke.

Most days I was in Joshua Tree I woke up early and drove up to the Park before it got too hot. I tried to figure out what it was about the place that made me feel so much at home. Because it was so hot, there were not many other people around. In the early afternoons, I often saw no one for hours. One afternoon at the height of heat, around 108, I perversely hiked up to the Lost Horse Mine. Only a few miles, but as I walked through that High Desert world, it felt entirely the opposite of Pyramid Lake. And I looked at myself as a different person, who instead of being a passive alien and unwelcome presence in the world, was an active Pulse of Will. I felt graced and fortunate. There walking in the middle of nowhere, walking towards a Lost Mine, it was exactly where I had always wanted to be. In other words, when I imagined myself out in the world when I was in Bellingham - or even in younger days - it was as an old man walking along a path in a place exactly as I was now.

As I sat in the Joshua Tree Saloon that evening, I knew I needed to find a sanctuary where I could process what had been going on with me since I had left Bellingham. Not a tent in the mountains or the desert or a room in a cheap motel, but a small room near a good library or a university. I wanted to be silent and surrounded by books. I remembered my friend who taught at CMU in Grand Junction and sent her a text. Within the hour, she had found me a tiny garage apartment for a great price and offered full use the library.

Before I headed to Grand Junction, I ventured down south the the Salton Sea. On a day that was nearly 118 degrees. I drove to Salvation Mountain where the intense heat made my phone turn off after 10 minutes of photos. Then I wandered over the make shift community of Slab City, where I had once considered stopping for a while and staking a claim. I wasn't there long. Long enough to again recognize the lost and desperate, burned-out face of America, the bloodshot glazed-over eyes of trivial avarice and broken, shattered to dust, dreams. The toothless smiles and gravelly cheap cigarette tainted voices full of pathetic little white lies.

As I drove back to Joshua Tree, a bit of the previous weeks' insanity crept back into me. Even though it was late, I drove up to the park and sat in the jeep, windows open, the engine ticking, reconciling my visions of all of these sublime trees having died off in the next 100 years - which they will - with the sweet and simple fact of their presence now. The next day, I drove out of California into Utah. And then straight across that surreal state to Colorado. I could come back to Utah.

Once I got settled here in Grand Junction, I established a set of daily rituals. Therapy. Not just going through the motions, but a discipline with which to move onwards, to build a new monster self.

I found a good deal at a local gym, where I go first thing after I wake up. Then, I come here to the library, write for a few hours. Then walk around campus doing memory work. Back the the library. Back to the room, where I read until I go to sleep. After a week of this, I feel, unsurprisingly, like a new man. Or maybe an older man. But I realize, with much greater clarity, where I am going and, more importantly, who I am now and who I want to become. Thanks to all the dead gods haunting the sky! I hasten to add: I haven't found any great answer and don't even consider the last few weeks to be an extraordinary experience. When I think back on where I've just been, it's all a great foolishness in my mind, an unfortunate waste of valuable time.

I remind myself of one of Blake's proverbs of hell: a fool who persists in his folly will become wise. And then I also remind myself that I am way too old to be engaging in the profoundly foolish behavior that I recently persisted in. I imagine myself as an idiot Ulysses who is retracing his journey from Troy to Ithaca, not with his crew, but entirely alone. Forgetting Circe's advice regarding the Sirens, he does not bind himself to the mast. Hearing the Siren's song, realizing he is in dire straights, he rows his boat along a madman's meridian, insane from the singing desire for death ringing in his skull. At a point of utter exhaustion, he finds himself thankfully in the midst of the relative safety of Scylla and Charybdis.

It has been the un-covery of these simple rituals of body, mind and soul that have saved me, bound me to the mast, and continues to provide clarity and meaning, passage through, this insane nightmare of a world. Ha ha. Another good one.

I will be here in Grand Junction for another week, working to make some headway on my funhouse mirrors analysis of the Sonnets and some other creative work. Then I will be in Santa Fe, hopefully to house-sit for a month through October. After that, I'll most likely head north to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert and the Chama River Canyon.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Wanderings: Arcata, Humbolt County and Klamath, California

Graveyard at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Chama River Canyon

Down from the backwoods mountains of Humbolt County. Worked a week at a farm. Not entirely my scene. Also farm work wasn't necessarily the first thing I wanted to do just coming out of a year and half of work in Bellingham. But it was rewarding and I was able to spend time with an old friend.

I enjoy hard work. But I want there to be more poetry in it. I'm not asking for long discussions of Pagnol's Water of the Hills and Thoreau, but I think of Wendell Berry saying there are only two things human beings are meant to in this world: tell stories and make soil. Blood and bones and soil.

My Tent at Flint Ridge

Now I'm at a free hike-in tent site, Flint Ridge, up on the coast in the redwoods overlooking the Pacific. Just south of Klamath. Beautiful. Will be here for a few days. While I'm alone, I'm still searching for a deeper sort of solitude. I imagine it's up there in the High Sierras. Someplace inhospitable and desolate. Difficult with that kind of beauty that seems as if it wants to annihilate you, like one of Rilke's angels.

Moonstone Beach 

Moonstone Beach 

Moonstone Beach 

The quality about many of the Greek tragedies that has always surprised me is the sense that human beings are an alien, even undesirable, presence in the world. The gods play horrible games with Oedipus and Antigone and Ajax - or what to us seems horrible or a game. Perhaps there is something to the notion that those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

Buddy on the Beach

I've always reconciled this with Koestler's gloss on McLean's analogy of our triune brain: we are evolutionary mistakes, lacking the necessary mediating structures between the reptilian, paleomammalian and neomammalian, that we are, essentially, crocodiles riding horses carrying machine guns.

The "gods" - however they might be defined in terms of western culture - are completely justified in thinking of the human as an unwanted presence. We are creatures capable of appreciating the beauty of a Chopin nocturne performed in the evening by musicians who will be sent to the gas chamber the next morning.

Beach Shelter / Shrine - Ecola State Park, Oregon

This world inside my head doesn't match up with the chubby families in RVs and old couples steadying each other on the trails down to beach, the young girls unselfconsciously taking endless selfies and young boys that run into the ocean full of energy and joy like wild colts. Even the burnouts and tweakers, the wannabe pornstars, aging dancers and 9 mm posturing pimp dealers seem sadly sweet and soft, pearlescent tender catfish underbellies of the American Dream. There's nothing Greek out here at all. There are no gods, no chorus, no pro or antagonists. It's all a mumbling grey crowd huddled together in The Waste Land. Eliot as an Old Testament prophet. If men were hollow in 1920, how much more empty are they in 2017? Ephemeral congregations of second hand smoke, of dying breaths, of long 70 year long anal exhalations. No, there's nothing Greek out here. I don't pretend to understand any of it. My language makes less and less sense.

But I do believe - insist - in a real presence, a transcendental ground upon which hope can stand - no matter how violent such a standing is. It's worth living for. It's worth dying for. I contemplate this difference with an increasing sense of equivalence.

Road to Flint Ridge

In this way, I entertain the idea of this being a Death Trip. I'm certain with my hunger for increased isolation and deeper solitude that the risk of something life ending happening to me is much greater than it's ever been before. But it's not an accident that concerns me. I think each of us has an unalienable right to end our own life, in any way that we see as being proper and fit and righteous. I've seen too many people I love die like sad creatures, shivering sacks of flesh draped over shaking bones, hooked up to tubes and sensors in sterile hospitals. Who wants such an ignoble death?

But you never get to choose. Disease and disability creep up on you and leap upon your surprised frame when you least expect it. And then you are sunk, trapped like a creature imprisoned in a skull, no cask of amontillado waiting within. I'd rather go buy a dozen steaks and a gallon of honey and walk into the woods wearing it as a dripping meat suit to enchant death out of the shadows. Let me be devoured by a bear or wolves rather than a health and human service worker with a fixed frown of pitiable empathy or the hundred sad pats of affection from distraught friends come to bid the tearful farewell. Give me the fanged roaring mouth of a grizzly as he gnaws my brains from my skull. Or the wolf ripping the laughter out of my throat. Extreme. Unlikely.

Banana Slug at Flint Ridge

But, there is a hallowed sanctuary up the Chama River canyon, where others have been buried, I think it would be a fine and private place to slit my own throat and bleed out under a dying sun.

There's no cause for alarm. There's time. Even if this is a Chama Canyon Death Trip, there's much to do before I get there. I've got some spiritual currency to spend before I make that last hike up into the canyon.

But it's liberating to know death is not so far away and will meet you at the time and place of your choosing.

For now, it's a sweet old world. Like the Lucinda Williams song. There's a poetry to things, an aura of myth. I wish I were as strong as those that are able to be immersed in the antic hay of the daily drama and still spin gold out of it. I'm not strong in that way. But out here (as he un-ironically writes upon the sapphire glass of an iPhone), it as home as home get for me: displaced, nomadic, unhoused, strange, lone (not alone), breathing pure freebased uncut freedom.

Bones on the Beach

I'm sure the gods have a horrible game for me to enact. Maybe for all of us to enact. I tune the inner strings of my soul to the mythic travelers: Odysseus, Orpheus, Aeneas. There's a difficult, dissonant chord to sing to. With complete and utter amor fati, sitting here beside the fire above the Pacific, I figure what lies before me is a sort of underworld. I'm sick to death of all of this. But I'm addicted to the beauty that is unsealed from the sorrow and the mystery of what has been unsaid. I'm hoping to meet a Sphinx out here, out there, somewhere in the High mountain passes or under the burning sun of the desert. I've been close before but never really was ready to die.

Così la neve al sol si disigilla;
così al vento ne le foglie levi
si perdea la sentenza di Sibilla.

Even thus the snow is in the sun unsealed,
Even thus upon the wind in the light leaves
Were the soothsayings of the Sibyl lost.

- Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, Longfellow Translation

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Forgotten Words: "With emptiness all around"

There's something of Orpheus here. Orphic mysteries embedded in the mid 20th century repressed white teenage dreamscape. But the gods are made of mud. Voodoo totems and effigy worshipped and burned in the cult of celebrity possession ceremonies. While the man behind the curtain retreats into a terminal Graceland fantasy. In the end, the voracious American maenads sit before the profaned effigy of the cannibalized King burping up melodic chunks of mystery train and calling for feral hound dogs, ritually flensing the babyfat face off the next innocent child star and nailing it to the skull. Long live the King. The King is dead. Rust never sleeps. The mask slips again and again. And whosoever puts it on is fated to be ridden down by the old gods.

It was a low point. But revelatory. The Pythian Priest babbling in tongues is the Mystery of the Blues. The Great Translator, Robert Johnson's rider is the loa, Papa Legba, Met Kalfu. Watching Elvis spit pieces of bone out of his mouth is watching those old gods hollow him out from the inside. Elvis paying the Orphic price for making the long snake moan. Delphi. Memphis. Tupelo. Mississippi. Incantatory spells.

You lied when you said you loved me
And I had no cause to doubt you
But I'd rather go on hearing your lies
Than go on living without you
Now the stage is bare and I'm standing there
With emptiness all around


Don't you know I'm caught in a trap?
I can't walk out
Because I love you too much


Well, I'm so lonely
I get so lonely, I could die

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Dream of the Maldive Shark

The bonds shared by those predators and their diminutive pilot fish posses has been a source of fascination for ages. A book about sailing published in 1832 even remarked about what appeared to be a sense of loyalty between them:

“The beautiful little fish called the pilot-fish, which always accompanies the shark, has been known to follow a ship for six weeks after the shark to which it belonged was taken!” - Source

Before I went to sleep the other night, I was working on memorizing Melville's Maldive Shark. Somewhere in the night, I started "dream memorizing" it - which happens every now and then. In a sort of half-awake, not wanting to fully awaken state, I will recite a poem to lull myself back to sleep. As the words echoed, I wondered, once again,  if Melville intended the shark to be an ambivalent analogy for what goes in the great blank for the word "God", in the same slippery-fish manner as M. Dick. In the dream, it was suddenly and undeniably obvious the human role with regard to the "pale ravener" was that of the pilot fish, all of humanity shared in this, we were all servant ministers to this lethargic and dull dotard deity, obediently leading it to it's prey, taking shelter in the port of serrated teeth, the charnel of maw. I awoke like Archimedes and quickly scanned the written poem for verification, but the "undeniably obvious" radiant solution to the mystery of the poem had vanished.

What in the dream seemed the Key to a Great Mystery, the discovery of a great treasure hidden behind the wall of one of Melville's poems - as if the occult face of a being beyond our world was looking up from the inside of the poem as I was looking down from the outside - now, in the light of day, was merely a curious literary insight. These mysteries in dream that defy remembering frustrate and fascinate me. In the dream, I am wielding a burning sword of fire that can cut through the fabric of reality itself; when I awaken, I am only holding the pencil I fell asleep with the night before.

For in the dream of the Maldive Shark, I knew where to lead the Pale Ravener. I knew what it fed upon, what satisfied its insatiable appetite. I knew what it was and where to find it.

About the Shark, phlegmatical one,
Pale sot of the Maldive sea,
The sleek little pilot-fish, azure and slim,
How alert in attendance be.
From his saw-pit of mouth, from his charnel of maw
They have nothing of harm to dread,
But liquidly glide on his ghastly flank
Or before his Gorgonian head;
Or lurk in the port of serrated teeth
In white triple tiers of glittering gates,
And there find a haven when peril’s abroad,
An asylum in jaws of the Fates!
They are friends; and friendly they guide him to prey,
Yet never partake of the treat—
Eyes and brains to the dotard lethargic and dull,
Pale ravener of horrible meat.