Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Dangerous Question

"In it to win it," announces the bumper sticker  that is right next to the "Viet Nam veteran and proud of it" sticker that is below the monster of an American flag attached to a tall pole so that it will loudly fly from the back of a jacked-up pick-up. This giant of a vehicle could serve a whole village of peasants in Viet Nam, the place and conflict at issue here. I have to think about the mismatch of material wealth and military might between us and them. Just what were we trying to win there? And was that cause worth all the death that we acknowledge on this day of remembering, Memorial Day? Weren't the Vietnamese trying to achieve what we achieved when we revolted from England in our own revolution? Weren't they just trying to make possible a better life with more food, better homes for their children, a taste of comfort? And why were we so set on meeting that desire with immense violence and huge casualties? Today, as I honor those who have died fighting for the goals of a very wealthy, powerful, and, sometimes, unwise, nation, I have to question whether or not our ends are blind to the humanity we hold in the cross hairs, finger on the trigger.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The System

Whether or not it matters depends on where you stand. If you're under the wheels, you definitely care about the weight of the crushing pressure. If you're driving, what the heck? It's just scenery. Privilege is like that. Comfort is directly correlated to your need to speak up. That's why you have to get up and walk out. If you don't you'll become another zombie staring at the screen. Nobody is forcing you, but the call to creature comforts and the dopamine delivered when someone likes your stuff in that virtual prison can blind you to what's actually going on. They don't want you to see that or to think out of the box too much. That's why they chant that this is all there is; so sit down, drink your beer, and shut out the nattering questions that some hungry part of you wants to answer. But going after the answers might hurt. So get ready for the real deal if you turn your ear to the voices calling you to the work waiting for you, that thing called justice, or recognizing that the they down there beneath the wheels is you. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


As the defining features of my identity -- place, work, people, routine, physical strength, mental acuity, and "stuff" -- dissolve and disappear in the rear view mirror, I have to wonder what it is I can hang onto. (Simone the cat is not happy about the new arrangements, but I want her to come along for the ride.) What I find is simple, and, to some minds, a tad trite. The first truth I find is that all I have is right now, the present moment. (This has enormous implications if you think about it. Everything that is past -- all the habits, the stories, the noise, and self-imposed limitations -- do not really exist unless I buy into them.  And, yes, the past is persistent, and,as Faulkner says, it isn't "dead." Old habits die hard.) The second is that the highest state of being is joy. The third is that I know I have to act on what I believe, and that doing so requires that I dig so deep into my courage that I can escape the gravitational pull of fear. So, today as the all that is familiar slips over some past horizon, I carry on, one breath at a time.I have to see a way through and around the habits, the old clothes that I no longer need or want.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Clear Head. Good Day.

You won't be getting out of town today as planned. The plumbing done sprung a leak and the the hours required to fix same left you undone with time up. Oh well... That's the way it goes sometimes, maybe all the time. So the day that would have had you on the road and out of Tuc has you here trying to make sense of the list of chores and responsibilities. Where did all these things come from, anyway? Food, phone bills, mortgage payments, transportation, medical stuff, gear for just in case, and the chance to touch a still-hot dream all have you booked and giggling. Damn it's been an interesting run. Broken Achilles tendon two years ago, pneumonia too, dead father, dead mother, dying career, foggy brain, broken heart. What a ride. The day is young, chico. You'll be on the road tomorrow, Gob willing. Seal the deal today and leave it all on the field of deep blue secrets. The lighter the load, the further you'll travel.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Smaller Comforts

You know it is coming and you try like hell to get ready, to trim it down. The load that is. You are clawing your way to the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy: bare necessities. You will take a sleeping bag, a pad, some kind of primitive shelter, a tiny stove and cup, and enough clothes to keep you from freezing when the wind blows and the rains come down without mercy or regard for what the hell it is you want. You know that you will miss the recliner, the TV, pillows, hot showers, cold beer, and the security of a house. But you move toward the brink anyway. You force yourself to plan, to pack, to set in motion the conditions that will launch you off into what you don't quite know or understand. All you know is that your comforts will diminish to the degree that you invite contact. Contact. Wind. Sun. Stars. The road. Undeniable concrete need will come rushing in and you see how much you want to carry on while trying not to snivel. (Okay... while trying not to snivel too much...) You have to discern the difference between luxury and need. You have to quiet the voices of want and envy. You can turn toward gratitude for what you carry. At least you have the small comforts, you say, a fine boundary between you and the live, naked wire of what is.

Monday, May 14, 2018

For Those Who Do the Work

He is darkened by days working under the Arizona sun. His skin is also powdered by fine dust. In his hair, there are mesquite leaves, palo verde blossoms, and pollen from all the flowers of late spring. He is on tip-toe, on the top step of a ladder, wielding a chainsaw, trimming trees. The trees are scattered tastefully throughout the parking lot of a shopping mall that caters to the wealthy part of town, the foothills. Mercedes, BMWs, Land Rovers, and other luxury cars pull up to the coffee shops for their expensive drinks. Drivers sit behind tinted windows in air-conditioned comfort. They smell like after-shave and body wash. They are worried and have problems of their own. He sees that in their faces as they drive by and he knows the day is young, that he has hours to go before he can rest, get home to his family. He will take the bus to the other part of town, where there are many like him who travel to the big houses to clean, trim, sweep, haul, attend to the needs and comforts of those who have so much they have forgotten, lost contact. They will complain about him, find fault with his work, threaten to fire him if he asks for more, for fairness. The trees will look good because of him. He notices how the trees grow, and he trims them in ways that will allow them to heal quickly. Like a surgeon, he cuts cleanly at the bark collar, the place where growth is most vigorous. He sees a truth in ordinary movements, in the cycles of the day. He thinks about his children and leans into the work of being a better man, father, companion, human being. He does the work of noticing, of being mindful of his actions, his thoughts, what it is he is called to do. Without him, these branches would die and crack and litter the holy ground of those who pull the strings, those who take home the chips in a rigged game.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Open Letter To Chuck Bowden

Dear Mr. Bowden –

You likely did not remember me as you slipped away from those of us who remain. We met once or twice and talked a bit about writing. You read some of my work and called it weak and wordy. I didn’t disagree.

But I knew you from your words. A man or woman can find comfort and friendship and kindred spirit in the words of someone else. That’s what I found in your writing. Stubborn love. Love of sun, wind, freedom, possibility born of emptiness. I saw you.

For one thing, you stared.  You saw the open, empty, shimmering expanse of desert for what it was: a reminder of nothing. In that you had some sparse company, but more than you may have known.

You wrote from direct, lived, sometimes harsh experience. You were not a writer of abstraction, though there is much to admire in your ideas. You were one of the few writers who did not turn their backs on unpleasant facts, and, like a good firefighter, you ran toward the flames of them.

Instead of writing an abstract argument about migration through the Sonoran Desert, you and Bill Broyles, in your essay “Blue,” got blisters walking – in June – through the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge. Your account, told in the clipped prose of the seasoned journalist, brought the harsh beauty to light. “Everything is blue,” you wrote, “luminously blue.” You ruminated on aches, on physical decline, lost love, mortality, and the cold finality of dehydration where there is no back-up plan. You saw the steel walls, what we academics call the “militarization” of the border, but you dodged the trap of well-trodden arguments, the loops of the ideologues. You walked where others had died, through a land of shadows, in the company of bats, owls, nighthawks. You put yourself there and you listened, observed, felt, imagined. You got thirsty, sore, and hungry. You got a taste of what it is to walk oneself to an end with no way out, no way home.

That was a theme, that no-way-home thing, the edgy domain of a mind strong enough to entertain brutal and beautiful reality. Yours was the role of the kick-starter, cage rattler, alarm bell. You called us to wake up to streets on fire, to lives hanging in the balance. If it were you, your work said, you would want someone to tell the story, to record, to broadcast the urgency to do something.

I wanted you to take a side, to be one of us who lobbied on behalf of refugees for sanctuary, but you stuck to your independent, curmudgeonly guns. “I have no interest in Central America,” you said.

I see that. It was not your way. Yours was the way of action, movement, names of places – Tacna, Lechuguilla, Tule – and people, always people, unguarded, unpolished.

You were no bleeding heart, no hand-wringing potted plant.  

Your nature was not the Emersonian, benevolent, healing eyeball, but one that could and would hurt you. You courted that and lived with a rattlesnake you named Beulah in “Snaketime”. You kept her, like some of your demons, close enough to goad you on, close enough to keep an eye on, like one’s enemies, because it was peace you wanted. Even if she was dangerous, her life was worth the risk. Her presence brought you some relief from the abundant sorrows of hot, dry, indifferent places and wounded hearts.

You did not come in from the light or sun or heat, but pulled down your hat, refilled your glass, that always ready glass, and turned your eyes to what mattered, what needed to be said, even if some didn’t want you to say it, or others didn’t want to hear it.

You brought us the news. You did. You bore witness. That unvarnished honesty felt cruel sometimes, but I saw between the words a deep and abiding love. Yours was not the un-crafted, irate rant of knee-jerk outrage, but the study of how to make shadows beautiful. You put forward the best of your words, the ones drawn from up from the cold, deep well of caring. You paid the price for not looking away, taking the easy path.

So, thank you for your damnable persistence, your gift for precision -- for the right names for things – for the vivid, hard-to-swallow, and impossible-to-digest, truth.