Monday, September 17, 2007



It was in that dark they talk about just before dawn, when I turned off County Road 2382, out of St. Jo onto the dirt road that led to Coker Cemetery. It wound around, constantly encroached by brush and grass and overhung with old Oak and creeper and Juniper. Then I saw the graveyard fence, stopped the rental, got out, opened the gate and drove the car up the dirt ramp of the entrance, stopped it and left it running with the lights on pointing slightly uphill.

Two three foot by twenty foot splintered halves of a lightning blasted tree rose up, stark white in the headlights, and behind them a row of tall sentinel gravestones. These were the graves of my ancestors, people who came out from Ireland, and then the South, where they had been farmers, and settled here to continue farming. They knew nothing but farming and the Bible. One of them used to pee off his front porch and joked to a young man that he wouldn’t pay him because he was working on the Sabbath, WHICH HE’D HIRED HIM TO DO but…God’s law was God’s law.

My brother thought that bit of sophistry was hilarious.

I walked up to the stones and put my hand on one. Their last name was my first name, “Dennis”, “Dennis”, “Dennis”, “Dennis” the stones said as if to chastise and bury me a hundred times and still keep burying every other reincarnation I could muster, or like this was one of those endless sequences where everybody in the dream is you. I saw,


my grandparents, together in death as they were not in life, after menopause when her paranoid fog rolled in, and he sat in the car, outside her new house in Lubbock, with me pestering him with a small child’s questions, and he, staring moodily at his stained calloused hands and the stub of his cigar, replying,

“No, I won’t go in unless she asks me.”

His dying was just part and parcel of the magic of the moist air and smells of the earth beneath my feet, it was all one living breathing intelligence then and we could never be out of it , that was in the big time and big self of childhood before we started drawing little lines between us and them, good and evil, body and soul, work and fun, nothing and something, sex and religion,

----and life and death…..---

I walked around looking for an open grave where my mother was to be buried that morning at 10 a.m.. There was nothing there, not even indications a funeral was to be held. The gravestones gradually got more legible as the first light came up in streaks over the trees through fog and scattered clouds.

Getting there, the last twenty miles, the air had felt more and more dense with humidity and smells of plants and wet soil. Trees constantly hung over the road like semi friendly monsters in a children’s book. I’d pulled off into the tall grass beside the road to try to grab some sleep, but kept waking up. I got out to take a leak, picked off a sprig of Juniper. It was sticky and stinky, I dropped it, wiped my hand & went back to the car. Everything felt dreamlike and too close for comfort. I drove back to town, through fog so dense I couldn’t clear the windshield either with heat or A/C, wandered in to the Dairy Queen at 4:30 a.m. and found a circle of farmers seated around a large round table, satisfied people, with a deep sense of place and belonging, and owning, and entitlement, and we’ve-always-done-it-this-way…that I call Texas Hold-Em. It had always made me feel like a stranger. I looked at the two at the next table for some kindred aloneness. The statuesque one in the cowboy hat nodded to me and smiled as if to say well, yep, here we ALL ARE….so I asked him,

“How do I get to Coker Cemetery?”

A man at the big table pulled rank on him and answered, “Go down this road here…” he gestured grandly to the narrow street right outside the window.

“I did that. I got to Brushy Mound Cemetery road.”

“You need to go a little farther, about twelve miles from here.”

“Oh. OK thanks.” I started to sit down, then thought better of it. They were friendly enough, I just didn’t belong. I was antsy all morning that way.

I stopped at a large steel building with a lowboy flatbed parked beside a Mack semi with a FOR SALE sign in the windshield, and asked the man sitting on a tree stump at the doorway.

“Where’s a good place to eat around here?”

He got up, laughing uproariously, spewing pieces of doughnut,

“There ain’t but ONE place to eat around here, Mister, and that’s the Dairy Queen! I wisht there WAS! That’s why I went to the grocery store and got this!”

He waved the hand holding the pastry in a piece of wax paper flapping and flashing the first light of day with his motion like it was an emergency semaphore. I couldn’t break the code but I got the message.

---that’s all there is here---

I started to ask him how much he wanted for the Mack, but just said thanks and went on--.
----What the hell is wrong with me? There’s a kindred spirit, he’s half mad with boredom, needs someplace to go and something to do and somebody to talk to just like I do. Or is that what I’m here to check out: WHAT IS kin, kind, kindred?.----

I could still see him grinning in my rear view mirror, a little too close for comfort.

I couldn’t get a signal on my cell phone in the graveyard. It didn’t look like there was any way my brother and I could arrange to meet there. I got tired of reading gravestones, forgot why I was doing it in the first place, and drove back to town again, found the mortuary but it was closed, went to the town square, parked, put the seat down again and slept. I woke up when my brother drove up. When I got out he said,

“I wouldn’t have recognized you.”

It had always been a problem, but ten years had complicated it, my face had eroded into badlands, and I’d gotten tired of watching my hair gray and fall out, decided I didn’t need hair anymore anyway, so I just shaved the damn stuff off. We went to the mortuary together.

---me’n my little baby bro who came to rip me down from my throne, this man who looks down dark and angry, his Christian love somehow oppressive, couched in generalities and absolutes that become their own reference. Why do I keep on meeting these big shot alpha preachers, who conflate the power of God with their power, whose gifts just keep on taking? Am I gonna die with him standing over me as Trust Manager?

---he got that anger from your old dad. And HE got it from HIS angry preacher father, & his saint of a mother who took the first money he made as water boy for the railroad and gave it to a ministry student, so HE became an atheist and a scientist…

---which turned me inward and dreamward….---

A large friendly man came out & shook our hands.

“Do you want to see her?” he asked.

----No! At least not any representation you have made…with makeup, cotton balls, formaldehyde, guts and fat sucked out, lips stretched back with thread, Geisha-like in all the grossness of this physical medium we swim in….but this is her deal, this is what she wanted, just like scattering his ashes with no ceremony was what dad wanted. That was closer to home, but this isn’t about me.----

So I went in.

My brother’s wife left him looking like a cartoon:.....this fierce warrior for the lord, a large man with graying black prophet’s beard and large silvery tie over shiny oversize shirt holding the leash to her lapdog dachshund....while we went in.

“She was a great lady.” She said, in that childlike voice a lot of people with abusive childhoods have, and smiled. “I enjoyed working with her.”

It filled a void for her, but not for me. Not the way mom was, especially not in the last years, with brain damage from Alzheimer’s. I knew the drill: tell yourself to lower your expectations. Just like I told myself when I was doing the community mural for the developmentally disabled. It worked great all during the day but when I got home I felt like I’d been beating my head bloody against a concrete wall. For the last seventeen years she hadn’t known my name. I didn’t even seem familiar to her.

----at what point, with people and animals, do we assume there is still somebody and something there? ---

My head had also felt bloody & bruised from trying to talk to my sister Janice who had autism and schizophrenia. All of Mom’s work for Janice and all my work had come to this face with eyes closed and rouge and powder and perfect silver hair, motionless in this unreal, underwater light.

We drove out together to the cemetery. A dump truck pulling a flatbed with a big backhoe with a bucket, four feet wide, on it, was parked beside the graves. We walked around looking at the names and talking about family history.

Or more like he talked, about how J.C. Dennis came North from the South in the eighteen hundreds to avoid being conscripted into the Confederate Army. He had a bunch of freed slaves who worked for him.

Either he or one of his sons got a black woman pregnant. She showed up on J.C.’s doorstep with the baby and said, “Please take care of this baby. I can’t.”

The child was named “Nig”, probably short for nigger. He learned to play fiddle and somehow got hold of a Stradivarius, which he played for dances. The Stradivarius is still on display at a local museum.

---and that’s where “Nig” stayed too, safe and loved inside his little prejudice bound display box.

---and don’t each of us have a little box like that in the minds of those who love and form us up?

---comforting, protects us from eternity---

Granddad never tolerated any prejudice. I guess Mom got it from the ambience.

“Dennis, don’t go outside without your shirt on, you’ll get black as a nigger.”

Which put Dad in a black rage. But she loved me when he didn’t, and when he cut in to me she defended me and vice versa. They were stuck with each other…in the myth of the happy family…submerged issues boiling for years under pleasantries…..until finally it didn’t matter anymore because it was over anyway.

I remembered dark pictures of men in a circle of light in them, in long black coats, dark hollow eyes, granddad and a cousin all dressed up on horseback smoking cigars, showing off, aunt Mandy in her cabbage patch, worn out and thin, face and body hollowed out to nothing, a ragged dress on, Janice as a tiny, skinny child, hardly anything to her, looking up at the sun thru thick glasses, smiling, conscious, whole, at least that once before all the electroshock, drugshock and side effects hit the fan,

I heard Mom and Dad screaming at each other, I heard her cries at night. I still hear her, and Mom’s sister Vida who died of appendicitis when she was eight…..lots of babies, children, and wives died it seemed in the dark of Texas.

And kids had been here, were playing here just like Mom did when she was a child. They left messages in chalk on the cement floor of the funeral gazebo:

“We came to help but nobody was here.” They also left

A drawing of a rabbit.

Granddad Dennis had a farm near here. Dad used to make fun of him because he dry farmed with mules and horses. Now his style is coming back because it has to because we’ve tractored out the land and sent the water table to new lows.

“Did Dad get along with granddad? Because he didn’t get along with very many people.” Barry asked.

----Neither do I. I’m just as irritable although he beat me down enough that it turns inward. He used to say,

---“You don’t have to be so sensitive.” But I did, and he did, and we shared, if nothing else, the resulting aloneness.---

---“I am a PHILOSOPHER!” he screamed in response to Barry’s proselytizing, and I continued his independent seeking in ways he couldn’t abide. Price of glory, I suppose---.
“Did anybody tell Janice?” I asked.

“No I was afraid it might upset her and start her on another schizophrenic episode.”

I disagreed. Regardless of the consequence, she at least had the right to the personhood involved in knowing her mother had died. Not knowing just continued the nightmare she’d lived in all her life. But it was no use bringing that up again, trying to make her or my brother know things they didn’t want to know.

---Yeah but in the last years she hadn’t even asked about her mother. She didn’t care.---

---How do you know? What do you REALLY know?---

“You’re all decked out!”

Charley, a retired minister from Abilene Christian College said, reaching into my chest to hold the bolo tie I made out of a black shoestring and an old leather hatband inlaid with turquoise and silver….

---Jesus Christ, why does he have to put his hands on me?

---too close, like the plants, like everything else here.---

“What is that stone?” he asked

“Turquoise.” I said

“I didn’t know it could be that dark.”

----You silly son of a bitch!---.

“It matches his hatband.” My brother said.

In the frantic days before the flight, playing catch up with the customers of my maintenance business, with no time to think, much less talk, I dyed some levis, socks and a shirt, black, and borrowed a dark pin striped vest and suitcoat and black felt hat from an old costume, bought a bottle of shoe dye and colored my high top work shoes black The zipper lock was faulty so I had to keep zipping up my pants like some sartorial Freudian slip.. I did the best I could to pass for a regular person, a member of the community, and now it looked like I had done too much.

But women smiled at me,

----“The first time I saw you I smiled too.” (haw haw haw)----

and a good looking woman dentistry student in the plane seat next to me struck up a conversation. I mentioned how much of a difference it had made to me to get my broken front teeth repaired, and how the smile and other facial expressions, as catalogued by Darwin, were universal throughout the animal kingdom, bringing to mind British biologist Gregory Bateson’s catalogues of evolutionary symmetries….she was going to a Christian college, but was interested in my idea that evolution was neither random nor designed. Those were just words, neither of them owning enough territory to describe the improvisational dance between DNA and environment. And then she got off in Midland. THAT dance was over, before it even began….leaving a question she almost personified…

WHY does the intelligence of nature, as expressed by sex and all its directions to us to respect certain forms and symmetries, grant so many dumbasses the aura of greatness and oppressive power over us?

----these people, this land, this history and all its mistaken identities and simplistic politics? What am I supposed to DO with this?…

--- how can I even get on the plane with all this shit hanging off me?…

---the universal need for religion….where does it turn to dogma? and Granddad’s and his neighbors’ relationship with the land….where does it turn to the holding on that keeps us from letting go to go on, where does history and the healing power of memory turn to the sickness of stuckness?

---moments vs. the stream of time, it’s not just semantics, it’s also an emotional problem, ballast vs. baggage…the WANT that stores up symbolic comfort until there are only worn down dusty old paths in the mind to walk between it…

---like my bro going down to the county jail, to preach, in spiritual generalities, to a captive audience & rob their souls to save them---

---you agreed on feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. And you were part of that culture once---

---that came over here from a continent it had befouled with its separations, lines it drew between body, soul, earth, heaven, spirit, matter, told the natives they were doomed to hell, preached god & devil to medicine men who could visit the dead & make the eagles come to the medicine pole…and then, with all their Christian rhetoric and sanctimony, stunk up even the holiness of the wind off the tallgrass prairie…why the fuck did I come here, anyway?---

---because its a human thing to need to know where you come from. All children need to know. The same way the parents of a murdered child need to know the exact time & manner of its death…the same way you need to understand THIS death. The same way a child needs to see a criminal father in jail---

---but how much does it DEFINE him? can I go now?---

I couldn’t go, not until the words of the ceremony finished their insect like drone and a lone brave woman with an annoying vibrato finished singing, without accompaniment, those same old songs that go round and round your brain like commercial jingles….

And then the equally mechanical roar of Cicadas would start over in the trees beyond the clearing and suddenly soar overhead and then behind us in the other direction…

---they’re just like us.---

“I come to the GAR DEN A LONNNEEEEE while the dew is STILL on the ROSE IS”

I could see the microbes start to eat her body from the inside out.

”annnnnd he….WALKS…with me and he…TALKS… with me and he TELLS me I am his OWNNNN….”

I couldn’t look at the singer. I stared at the chalk drawing of the ears of the rabbit beneath my thinly disguised work shoes. I imagined variations on “That Old Rugged Cross” and “Sweet Hour Of Prayer” and “ I Come To The Garden” like they were played by those fearless and inexhaustible hard driving sax and trumpet quartets on the all night jazz station coming out of Dallas in that fast little Chevy with the stiff suspension that grabbed the road with all 20 digits like it was making love to it the first sweet time, the highway whine and semis roaring on either side and interchanges soaring loop de loop overhead, busy tiny lights moving ant like across the darkness above and beyond all I could see and smell and hear, like stars you could always almost reach up and touch, but nothing, nothing, nothing you could ever hold, but ah, sweet Jesus, just DRIVE man, just like they do in Hollywood, even for global warming, DRIVE out of it, just get in that car with some beautiful spoiled rotten sulking filthy rich bitch beside you, tits bulging with the promise if never the fact of nurturance, and just DRIVE OUT OF IT! And the incredible faces and voices going by ground up in the music.

It was such a fast descent to come here, to this rote recital-ritual binding time, fear, love and community itself together, falling from the plane and the incredible views of sunset clouds, the striations and mythical figurings of commerce, towns and cities below, gargoyle faces in the other seats, Dallas, Albuquerque, the airport…. get on the plane, sit, watch people, watch the landscape unfold its familiar but untranslatable language below, watch the wings flutter in turbulence, fall four feet…


sit, wait, take on an extra ton of fuel to circle around thunderstorms if we can get off the ground with it. Deplane, sit in terminal with terminal mental problems, eat bad food don’t eat bad food get dizzy & disoriented either way, use the bathroom, check boarding pass, find gate, watch people, look at women, feel old and stupid, look at more women, feel even older and stupider, go to sleep dream about women, wake up look at women, rent a car, get speeding ticket by officious cop so full of himself he can barely walk, think about women….

Like falling into a hole…mistaking 35W to mean THIS IS instead of YOU CAN TAKE, and ending up whirling around Denton like a marble in a pinball machine operated by High School kids who go from café to café glowering and snarling,

“We gotta get outa this place!” while they wait for the body to decide to go or stay.

And I got a ticket because my body wanted to go faster than the social body said was safe.

“Lesson learned?” the raging beauty at the bank asked, smiling “Yes” while the ring on her finger said, “Never & especially not with you”.

“Maybe” I smiled back.

----Depends.... on how much you value passion, and song, all that which you sit at your counter & die daily for lack of.

---but what do you expect, when you take a ground down serviceman out of a clunky old ton and a half utility truck he’s herded around town for too many years, give him a shower and some clean clothes and turn him loose in a strange city in a race car with jazz on the radio and speeders on either side of him?----

---but fly high as you want, seems like it always comes back down to those towns so small you blow through them four instant lifetimes before you see the city limit sign, and those little white houses with tarpaper roofs and white clapboard siding and dark windows, full of ghosts forever mute, leaving us to only guess the dull grit, grime and daily horror of their stories. Come to this. What we must be here to know. Like a light fallen, crashed and burned in the skies over Muenster, Bulcher, Gainesville, and St. Jo…

---and then they put their hands on you and take you down…

--- to all the joy and heartbreak of common ground, earth in hand and land underfoot, and walking the same paths through an old house, hollow eyed and sleepless in the daily grind…..but I still remember….old with my hands tied behind me, with a rag stuffed in my mouth and invited to speak….but I still remember.

---from those same paths worn into the floor and the ground matching the ones in your brain. Same old, same old, like this sermon cutting me down from the big time and big self of childhood. This land, and all that has grown from it, including these people, one intelligence after another from some inexhaustible supply from the community of nature, combining cruelty and love in ways we can’t understand, the only community that endures…

---so WHY do I have to reach back to that highway coming out of Dallas for something less deadly dull? Where was SHE when HER intelligence left? Where did she go? If an Alzheimer’s patient has a soul, what about animals? In that daily life with all its predictable paths and mechanisms, WHEN was somebody there?.

---“Dennis, close those blinds, the neighbors might be peeking in.”

---she once called me and, not realizing, at least not consciously, what she had done, started mechanically reading the intro spiel to one of those surveys she was always doing,

---“Mom, wait! Stop! It’s me, Dennis!”

---“Oh. I’m sorry.”

---I felt a person there when she liked that I dared look beyond the norm, when it wasn’t too threatening. Threatening like the time I brought a girlfriend home to meet the parents and she wouldn’t let her stay the night even in a separate room. .

---“At least you’re honest.” She said, once while comparing me to my brother, the master talker and politician, who could dead reckon the lay of the land like it was a chessboard and tell the truth the way the pleasantries lied.---

---"Don't be a writer. Don't be an artist. Your uncle Melvin was an actor and he never had a penny."---

---ah the honor would have been too great.---

On the table stood several pictures of her, lined up like masks, each one intimating an identity beyond: a young girl, teenager, woman, mother, some of them reduced or blown up so she looked like someone else….

---who are you when you are lost to all joy and anger and worry and anguish, made up and motionless, your face coloring the whole world autumn? where are we now, and how will I get home?---

“She’s gone back to God almighty” the preacher said….

---WELL…guess that takes care of THAT.—

And what is there to say? Madness ran on dad’s side of the family too, in the form of fear and anger. It took four men to hold Aunt Ethel down when she had her rages after her divorce. She had a lot more than the floor to beat her head against, two daughters left to raise, and a job at the five and dime that made her feet and her soul hurt really bad. She wanted to quit but her boss said,

“But where would you go? Who would hire you?”

----“O she’s always complaining about her lot in life.” Dad said, ever swift to judge and find wanting.

---each person dreaming its own dream

---Janice screamed at Mom the way Beethoven screamed at this pianist who said he wasn’t physically able to play his concerto. Janice thought Mom was intentionally not understanding her. For the past sixty years Mom could have screamed at Janice for the same reason, or I could be screaming out loud instead of silently,

---stop. THINK what the HELL you’re DOING---

But I endured...was polite...said over & over they were just doing the best job they could with the tools they had, but wishing they’d just shut up and let the silence talk, or just talk in their normal voices about things they knew and loved, just remember together, common things that were common to them, why all this pomp and ceremony?.

---like they were afraid to admit they just didn’t know very much, and were small and helpless….

---or something like that?---

I liked when the preacher talked in a quiet voice about all the work she did raising us and then raising Janice for fifty more years. It was comforting to think that she had played in this beautiful place as a child, had come of age here, had developed those same dark intimidating sultry looks that had silenced me before other women. She’d gotten her master’s, taught school for ten years, and then stayed home with us. She understood the holiness and sad old habit called duty. I remembered her and dad going to a Laundromat when I could still ride on his shoulders, and doing laundry on wringer washers, with tubs of water below them to soak and rub and poke the clothes with round wooden sticks gotten feathery on the ends from being in soapy water so long. I remembered Harry Truman talking on the big upright console radio in the dark farmhouse, pleading with us not to hoard the things our boys needed over there while I sat in Granddad’s lap, and couldn’t see thru the darkness surrounding that tiny, uninsulated, white clapboard house, how in the semi lust of intentional stupidity, we were entering the definition of terrorism (before it got such a bad rap) when we firebombed Dresden and cremated Hiroshima and Nagasaki…..

---and washbasins that you emptied by hand, the milk jugs in the sluice box behind the wooden water barrel, the sound of the sucker rods in the windmill going thunk, thunk, thunk thru the well casing

---and Old Roan neighing and stamping out in the barn. He used to laugh when I’d cry when he said he was gonna send Old Roan to the glue factory. I used to ride him bareback around the farm, he always said he was gonna get me a little saddle, but I didn’t care…

---and there’s a big commercial co-op barn just up the road from here.

---“I helped build that barn.” He told me solemnly. I did my community service. It made me feel like somebody.

---how come I did my community service and it made me feel like nobody, unfulfilled in the service of collective stupidity? How come nobody ever let ME talk or even have a vote on it?---

And here I was paying one last visit with a flight bag still full of notebooks full of gibberish. Still trying to figure it out. Just like grandma Dennis used to say,

“Look at him, lookin up at me with those big round sad eyes! Goodness gracious! I don’t know what it’s all about EITHER honey!”

---that was after she went mad, thought granddad had time, working that farm from dawn to dusk, to be cheating on her,

---“And him over there slobberin over that other woman like an old boar hawg!”

---And after the divorce, she’d get in the car at 3 a.m. and just drive, man, hundreds of miles, just trying to keep her family together, she said, but it was her that was falling apart. And I still don’t know how to hold it together. At least, Mom, I said, I’m doing my own laundry now.

----“Big deal. I don’t know how I could have raised such a selfish, inconsiderate, self centered son.”

---Don’t be so hard on yourself Dad, it’s not your fault, probably just recessive genes, atavism, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, you taught high school biology, you know that stuff upside down.

---Don’t patronize me...

---"Do you suppose you're ever gonna amount to anything?"

---"Not in your terms."

---"That could be..."

---he never liked me much until he was dying, so on this sad occasion & on this late date I guess that’s all the meaning we can leave here, and I COULD almost leave it ALL here....I feel free somehow...but history isn't a place you leave OR get's a search, a constant approach, like lips, like joy, like love...

---Like traffic?

---Yeah, like traffic.---

He read the scripture from John which my brother liked and was my least endurable example of cultural and personal hubris:

“I am the way, the truth and the light. No man comes to the Father except through me.”

---No….don’t go there, man, that’s a death trap, a cross of cross purposes---

They were having trouble getting the backhoe in through the graves. It was a huge backhoe, too big for the job, just the kind I woulda bought, driven by a large tall man whose gut hung down over his belt like an umbrella all around him. The tires kept sinking into the soft moist soil, leaving tread marks across other graves, and they had to back it out and circle around and come in from another direction.

----A desecration.

---Yeah, but compared to WHAT?----

Red clay came up, and I remarked on it and my brother talked about how you could watch from a plane as the soil turned red as you came out this direction. And I told him Adrien Heisey built his own ultralight so he could take pictures of similar color changes in the four corners area. And he said he thought that was an unnecessary risk factor, just like he told his rock climbing stepson he was just asking for it.

---So all that talk about trusting in Jesus is just crap? You don't really believe we're all in God's hands, you believe in holding on for dear life with your own sweaty little palms....

---and, like it or not, I’m right in there with you ---

He never did seem to get it that the general odds don’t count our individual chances, and risk factors aren’t the threads our lives hang by. But did I get it?

The backhoe driver asked if we wanted him to move the backhoe out until the service was over. I said if it will save us from having to shovel that pile of dirt back in you can leave it. Charley laughed at that and touched my arm.

“Yeah save you some work huh?”

---So now we're all in this thing together, are we?---

---O he’s just insecure.---

---Well so am I, so just tell him to just fucking get over it.---

After the ceremony I said I’d like to wait & see the casket buried, but if I did I didn’t know if I could catch my flight or not. He said he’d see that it was done right. I could see the backhoe, insect like, scraping the dirt back in the hole and then backing out through the damp sinking clay with the great hulk of the driver wobbling like a bobble head above the wallowing bulk of the machine as it left more tread marks, and the helper replacing the stones they took up to get in,

---Another desecration.

---and what is there to say…and who’s to say it?---

The coroner gave my brother and I each a single flower. This is your mother now, don’t look back. It was the same elements as most cultures: flowers, talk about the dead person’s life, philosophize, moralize, pretend you know more than you do…

At granddad’s funeral they had us walk a gauntlet into the church, where his second wife, whom he’d met when he was in the hospital with diabetes, wailed and carried on. For a few months of marriage, she was getting half the farm. Even a twelve year old could tell she was trying too hard to cry. And the preacher said he didn’t know if granddad could go to heaven or not because he hadn’t gone to church enough.

----OK fine. Then I’ll just stay out here with him, and you can all go take a flying fuck.---

---Mom used to tell us not to send her flowers because it made her feel like she was dead. I hope it’s OK now.---

She’d always been a worrier and this is what comes of all worry

All the worry of my life came back on me.

----“Look at this silly thing telling ME not to avoid the issue!” WHAM! Then I saw stars, lay in bed seeing the walls turn to blood.----

---the anorexia bulimia which was about food allergies and fears of not being good enough in college, the denial of my application for C/O status,

----his scorn of me for that,

---“Why were you such a coward you didn’t join the army?”

---“I wouldn’t claim kin to him.”

---He sort of joked to the guys he worked with at The Caverns----

---sweat running down from my armpits to my elbows at the Army physical in Abilene, worry about being put in prison by the FBI for being in The Resistance in the sixties,

----for which he praised my brother, and told me he still thought I was a coward.

---and in a world of black and white and only two dimensions to any human intention he and my brother would be absolutely right…

----until they fell off the page…or the edge of the world…and when Dad cut into me….

---she defended me.---

I looked at her face again, and saw the worry in it, and thought of all my bitter nights and days, and all that internal drama that hadn’t improved my character one damn bit, it was so much nothing….

----I kno a few things its ABOUT grandma: clouds, their shadows moving on the mountains, butterflies,

---Keep an eye on ‘em. Make sure they don’t go the wrong way.---

I walked away.

---Just keep on walking, until you find the distance that can make you whole.---

They say you can’t take it with you, but I did take some of it with me. I keep it in a little box and open it up sometimes, on dark nights with no moon, on the kitchen table. There’s a picture of my mother in there, her face surreal, made up, motionless, just the way she would have wanted it…with all its worry left back there in that red moist clay, under those quiet old trees.


Dallas by day with no jazz on the radio is just miles of emptiness and hot air not rising. I kept turning the dial surfing for some relief from preacher after preacher with way more wattage than anybody else is ever given on this earth, screaming at me, off balance, WANTING something… not even any REAL Country & Western music, just Country & Suburban Soap Opera.

--- PLEASE! All of you, preachers, singers, announcers. PLEASE! Do not try to articulate your thoughts! I’d rather not put you to all that trouble on my behalf. Really, I’m just way too stupid for you to bother with.---

So finally I turned the radio off.

---to hell with humans, I’ll listen to the silence, and the little voice on the GPS saying,

"Prepare to turn left on the PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH EXPRESSWAY.”---

THEN I knew I was really lost.

Ever since my brother called at 3 A.M. his words,

“Janice died.” Kept echoing in my mind and I’d feel an uncomfortable lightness. She was supposed to have lived to dance and sing her gibberish over my grave. Now that she was gone I was suddenly responsible for using whatever time I had left to do my real work, so late in the game it almost didn’t matter anymore. Seems like life, nature, or whatever, just loves these little ironies and cruelty jokes.

On the road to the cemetery, under a grove of bare branched trees, a flock of buzzards had turned a roadkill Armadillo over and were eating its guts like it was a clam on the half shell.

---and so begins our hero’s journey into darkness.

---human mouth, bird beak, fish fin, pause and then begin again---

The white spars of the lightning blasted tree were shorter by daylight. The gravestones no longer loomed over me. Small, lost, and sadly ordinary, they hardly even rose above the moist, red clay soil into which they were constantly sinking.

The last hour of driving I could barely keep my eyes open. I was asleep in the car when my brother appeared at the window, again, a large burley man with a salt and pepper beard, and an eager look in his eye, ready to call it a game, cash in the chips and walk away from the table, like he’d been planning for years while I was always saying,

“There’ll be plenty of time to think about dividing up the properties after she dies.”

And now there was no time, and no way to be totally fair about it. We walked over to the gravesite.

“This grave wasn’t dug by hand.” I said.

He grimaced,

“I ran into some opposition.”

He obviously didn’t want to talk about it so I just assumed it was now less respectful to the dead to dig graves by hand than with a giant backhoe that could do it with one swipe of the bucket, probably just struck somebody as too personal and undignified as opposed to doing it with a machine, cleaner that way, like dropping bombs from 20,000 feet instead of murdering somebody with your bare hands, getting your meat in a white package off a supermarket reach-in freezer instead of going out and doing your own dirty work.

Can’t go there.

It was supposed to have been forty degrees and clear, but it was closer to twenty and overcast with a stiff wind blowing. A tall fat man was standing beside a casket pulled a little ways out the back door of the hearse. When we asked him what he thought he was doing, standing there in his short sleeves, he just grinned and said,

“I’m well insulated.”.

I never was.

I was shivering as I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out two gloves with which to carry the casket. Both of them were left handed. I put them on anyway and my brother made a joke about this happening because I was too far to the left politically, the kind of crap you have to put up with when your relatives have bumper stickers like


on their cars.

The other night I dreamed there was a story in the paper:

“Dennis Williams, (and here pinned me to the wall with the number of years I’d wasted on this earth) died yesterday while carrying a case of medications up from the basement for his mentally ill sister” I saw dark glass, fragments, and my dead body on the stairs.

---naked…surrendered all my promise and possibility to the numbness of those numbers---

I’d wake up missing Janice, missing the burdens, missing the time of my life I dedicated to research on her disease, feeling rage against my brother for ignoring that research

---that constant anger, that was supposed to be a solution to some little ego problem, I suppose---

like the time I found that one of her doctors had been disciplined in his last job for

“…contact with a patient of a sexual nature involving the use of drugs.”

He said he’d make sure she was never alone with that doctor. I wanted that doctor GONE!!! immediately, instead of waiting until he left town, the way he did, with no explanation. The doctor who presided over Dad’s death, became her doctor, making more poignant the argument we had about him giving a blood thinner instead of a thickener, after a heart attack, because he didn’t do a simple test….which he just told me about, matter of factly, as we stood by Dad’s bed…..maybe I don’t know enough and then again, maybe he didn’t, maybe nobody does, and it’s a lack of humility I’m complaining about. There was the time she had to go into the hospital because she couldn’t breathe or control her gag reflex, and four of her symptoms exactly matched the side effects of the drug she was on, and only then, after years of my protesting, did the doctor change the medications to the ones I’d been begging for, the ones that had worked in the past. But by then it was too late, by about fifty or maybe more like a thousand years.

And I had to rage against myself for trying to make her be someone she could never be, missing everything I put off, all the dreams deferred for her sake, as an excuse for being too lazy to face my own self and its fears, just like the way I put my real work off for the sake of the customers of my maintenance business.

---Honor demands it.

---Well fuck honor.---

Not to mention the way I’d neglected my real work because other people didn’t value it, glad I didn’t mention that, and I was idiot enough to have trusted the judgments of those same old sad, misshapen people throughout history who’d looked at the world through headlines and private little hardons. I had been responsible for seeing all the-willful-not-wanting-to-know of the world and keeping a record of my work in spite of it. And I had failed. The business of making a living finally had its way with me.

Sometimes I’d look at other women, just ordinary looking, halfway competent women, who could say something back, at least meeting you halfway when you said, it’s nice weather isn’t it? And I’d think, this could have been my sister. Except it couldn’t have been. That wasn’t my or her fate. And it wasn’t a big pain, but it had just been a kind of persistent dull ache in the “WE” of “ME” for the past fifty three years.

And there was my part in all the ignorant harm that had been done to her since she was eleven. After the first run of electro shock and drug shock she was even more scared than she had been those nights when she’d wake up terrified because Mom and Dad had been screaming at each other or she’d gotten a paddling the day before. Mom would say,

“Dennis, you understand her, go and get her and put her in the car. She needs to go to El Paso for another treatment.”

She’d run around behind the washing machine and wail,

“No, Dennis, no Dennis, you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know what you’re doing.”

---how could an eleven year old girl know so much?---

And I’d lead her to the car, and she’d come. And what was REALLY horrible about it was she came because she sort of TRUSTED me. And, even though I was just a kid myself and couldn’t have known what I was doing, it still hurts….that I trusted doctors and their so called discipline more than her very real fear and misery.

---but no more. Never no more.---

When she came back she was no longer the little girl who used to play hide and seek inside a stack of old tires, she was unbearably sad and frightened, and then I was sad because she lost even the capacity for being sad. Things we didn’t know hurt us all that way. Dad turned to me one time when we were driving home from the El Paso Airport,

“I always feel a little remorseful, on this road.”

What difference did it make that we didn’t know what we were doing? Couldn’t any criminal have said the same? And things people refuse to know, questions they refuse to even ask? Don’t those hurt worse than things we just don’t know?

I miss her still. Why? Who was she ? The last representative of the female principle in our family? Now it’s just two grizzly old white guys who don’t much like each other, o well.

The coroner said,

“She was happier than we are.”

But he never knew the raging river of anxiety that ran through both sides of the family and roared behind her nightly episodes of smearing shit on the walls, piling furniture against the door and in the middle of the room, refusing to put on clothes, shouting at and hitting people.

Then the preacher said,

“You don’t know why she was mentally ill or why she died when she died or how she suffered.”

Then he started shouting,

“You cannot know the mind of God!”

---YES….SO?… WHY are we still TALKING!? I think the world is the mind of god, and I also think I’m sitting here, shivering in the cold, keeping my mouth shut, again, for the benefit of those for whom this ceremony means something, and I just came here to pay my respects and see her and say goodbye one last time. And my sister is dead. And this idiot is HOLLERING at me, the same way other idiots hollered at me every time somebody else close to me died.. This has been going on since I was six years old and it’s really starting to feel kinda sore. His wrinkled hand is waving a limp book of 800 gold edged, onion skin pages and not one good joke in two thousand years, suggesting that maybe some grumpy old prophet dudes might have been taking themselves a little too seriously?

---I liked the way she used to laugh at serious people……like me.---

And maybe it was taking myself too seriously to think anyone would miss any of my art but there were those pieces that just refused to die gracefully, that came back to me at night and cried incoherently but unmistakably in the voices of children of neglectful parents. It had to be some cosmic crime, how I got trapped in the idea of being my own boss in a maintenance business that slowly but surely had turned me into a machine fixing other machines, my mind somewhere else (if I was lucky) and my self becoming more & more estranged from a social body where everybody was too busy chopping wood to build a better stove…and then add to that the self effacing, deferential laziness of the dutiful child, that kept me from standing up and asserting my own values to the universe instead of family and “Palin/Country first”.

Those were good enough values, guaranteed by the Mafia, but there were still responsibilities like “to thine own self be true” and the rest of the human and natural world they left out, because?: WE’RE more important, focus on the family, isn’t that what Dr. Dobson and Dr. Laura say? If I was helpless to do anything else, couldn’t I at least have exerted that first and last act of will: to be moved from that place where things are happening to us to the place where we are WATCHING things happen to us? O yeah, that first and last coulda, shoulda, oughta, woulda. But it is what it is so now I am what I am. No more bargaining. It’s too late in the game and it just increases the misery with the torment of false hope.

After the sermon they opened the coffin lid and my brother just shook his head as he walked in front of it, pacing toward and away, to the left and right, with something somewhere between grin and grimace. I saw that gesture in the hospital at Las Vegas, N.M. . One of the doctors there , closing his eyes, slowly shaking his head, while he said,

“That schizophrenia!”

It wore out one caregiver and nursing facility after another, drained them of compassion and competence and left them grasping for feeling even for themselves, defeated all his Christian moralisms and exhortations, all his holding on to the tried and true and tired and blue,

just as it had defeated all my research into new meds, and Linus Pauling’s Orthomolecular Therapy, David Smith’s allergy research, Eva Edelman’s “Natural Healing For Schizophrenia…”and Geoff & Coyle’s glycine therapy and their studies of the switching mechanism of the gene for NMDA receptors that went beyond that failed concept to which the doctors still clung with the faith that comes of ignorance: the seratonin/dopamine theory….all of that was a day late and a million dollars short for her and the drug companies. .

The last scan of her brain they did, they said it was abnormally shaped.

---o aren’t they all?---

The hardware wasn’t there and we’d been pumping in drugs and vitamins all this time to a facility that couldn’t utilize them. Nature is beyond us, you can’t make the wonder of a brain out of spare parts and bailing wire, you can’t make a whole person when the genetic code is broken and some doctors in the fifties have done more than they understood already.

---why doesn’t anybody know anything? My ex wife told me once I used to tell her

---“the world is best explained by the incompetence of everyone.”

---but by the time she told me that I was no longer competent to remember having said it---

Then it was my turn to look, at her balding head, the little imp grin, the squashed tiny nose, her lumpy pear shape crammed into all that pink satin. She looked so small and motionless and vaguely familiar without all that insanity raging through her body. After all those years of fear and trembling, struggle and misery for her and everyone around her, how could death be just so much nothing? And then we’re all dead, like nothing ever happened except this wind and the trees and the dead winter grass and the hills beyond.

---The Enduring Community. It always seems like it knows more than enough to resolve all our little squabbles.---

Fifty odd years of drugs had changed that skinny scared little kid into a fat, balding, hemorrhaging woman, unable to breathe, uncoordinated, trembling. off balance…tardive dyskinesia and metabolic acidosis…words they fling at it and at us that sound more dignified than,

“We really just totally screwed up when we developed that drug, sorry about that, but the banks told us where to do research, and the market told us what would sell. And we had to do what our authorities told us.”

---goodbye little sister, thanks for acting out all our anxiety, brain damage, retardation, autism and mental illness and all the not knowing and not wanting to know of the world, and thanks for the memories of our physical desolation---

---and thanks for acting out our magical thinking, like when you said your adult teeth would grow back when they fell out, like when we think we can fix nature up after we stomp around breaking things, like the way these stupid scientists think when they add global warming feedback loops with grade school math in little boxes like the ones we all live in, and the way politicians talk about decreasing an INCREASE in greenhouse gas emissions like that could stop even ONE much less thousands of feedback loops, that we choose to see as not connected……so this is the way the world dies, because we can’t see it whole, and the way we die because ditto---

---so now maybe I can go home again and go crazy just enough to make it work for me---

---yeah, good luck with that one.---

Then the coroner closed the coffin lid, squeezing that god damned teddy bear in with her. Every Christmas and Birthday that was the only thing you could give her, year after year, no matter how hard you tried that was as old as she could grow. Her bedroom was always filled with stuffed animals.

I ripped open a Teddy Bear once and found there’s nothing in there, buckets and buckets of nothing, the same nothing as death is. I did not come here to praise that teddy bear but to bury it along with all my art that for its sake was stillborn. I came only to speak of crimes against consciousness and all the wonder of the world of others and othernesses beyond us if we’d just LOOK…

---Teddy Bear…..what good would it do to take hers or his away?---

I gave my brother the titles to the rental properties, a five thousand dollar check from my reserves, and some other documents and just drove off, leaving that old emptiness that had always been between us ever since he found God and left the fear and trembling which I considered the real religious awakening which we’d both experienced as one kind of rebel or another during the sixties. Then he codified it and got comfortable with Jesus and I wandered off into acceptance of risk and the world as church.

In his own mind, that took the word of god and the word of man literally, he was being generous. He couldn’t agree that the mortgage I’d have to get to pay him his share of an otherwise undividable asset, was a cost of liquidation and a burden we should split between us. The numbers had spoken, and they said everything was fair. And the numbers say the numbers win. He’d be free and clear and I’d have two mortgages, more debts, in a bad rental and sales market. But I couldn’t complain. One more time, alone, against overwhelming odds. The person who cannot or refuses to understand has the reins.

---truths we’ve agreed to recognize and those we haven’t, and after that’s done, dead & buried what’s left except the leaving?---

---this holding pattern called love….and family…and that sad old kiss of habit called self---

The way it had been through 12 years of trust management. And what difference did it make? I’m a dead man anyhow. Everything is temporary. Ego is a time based concept. I AM being cheerful about it. You should see me when I’m depressed.

When we settled dad’s estate I got a car and some tools. Every tool turned out to be dysfunctional in some essential way. There was a trailer with no springs, two electric saws and a sander with bad bearings, the teeth were dull in the pipe wrenches and broken or inconsistently angled in the pipe dies, the car worked ok but it was hard on gas and useless as a service vehicle so I sold it to someone who didn’t get the title switched over. That “someone” did that on purpose, wanted to remain a “someone” because he was using it to haul drugs and then the people he had driving it abused it. I got a letter from a junkyard in Casa Grande saying they had it and it would cost a few hundred in storage fees. Some friends helped me go up and get it. It blew all the radiator water on the highway home. A cop came by and said if he’d SEEN me driving it he’d of given me tickets totaling over a thousand dollars. So I had to have it towed to a mechanic who turned out to be an alchoholic. He said the repairs were more than the car was worth so I told him to just junk it & sent him a check for his trouble and the extra liquor it would take to see him through.

I could see those Mexican drug mules veering off the road with everything I got as an inheritance and tearing out across the desert in some desperate attempt to escape from the laws of man to the laws of nature and finding them even harsher, breaking the lower radiator hose on rocks, cactus or deadwood and driving on and on until the head gasket blew and the engine heated up and almost seized.

But all investment, even in life, is a gamble. The house always wins and anything we can walk away from the table with is a lesson in gratitude. But HIS life was always about security. Mine had everything at risk. And I guess I wanted it that way, because any art that wasn’t improvised in some way was to me just a bunch of symbols stuffed with straw, just like T.S. Elliot said. But maybe if he wasn’t so typically British he wouldn’t have had to be so hard on his neurotic self.

But if you look closely enough into family to find the place where nothing’s personal, you need never feel lonely again, look at the collective lies the winners write and call history and your obligations to god and country are somewhat diminished, look at the warts and idiocies of the alpha males and females who’ve been chosen to guide us and that myth called mass has squandered its credence, and look at the works critics and the media and the great mass of men call great and you need never feel oppressed by any audience again. Look at who gets recognition and who doesn’t and The Banality Gang always wins but WHAT DOES it win?

---So now it’s your job to go back home and JUST PLAY!.. and never take anybody too seriously ever again, including yourself.

---Ah you really know how to hurt a guy dontcha?---
Leaving the graveyard, the dirt road wound around through a few things I’ve come to know about the mind of god, trees and undergrowth, gently rolling hills rising under gray winter sky, a few birds.

---The enduring community. And you just keep on letting go to go on, and someday you get there?

---on a good day I could almost believe that.

---like a friend of mine, dead now, once said,

---“Into the community of love it all returns.”---

I happened to look up and noticed a wind farm, located in an alley between the hills, huge blades rising and falling, like hands reaching up from the horizon and falling back down again in the rhythm of oil pump jacks but without the noise and nasty odor of crude, just turning in the wind and asking nothing from nature and just maintenance from us, nothing dug up out of the ground and burned or radiated to add energy to the whole system.

“This is beauty.” I said,

representing the dawn of a new age in which intelligence no longer had to serve stupidity, because we could all be more whole by being more in touch with the world and therefore with ourselves and each other. But I would have to go back home and keep on working on dirty technology.

----do I have to or is it a choice? Haven’t we heard enough sad stories already about good soldiers fighting bad wars?.- --

---isn’t it all the same technology? And the same community? Isn’t all service honorable?---

---who do you think you are? What do your think you know? service to a stupid, empty community is stupid, empty service, didn’t Nuremburg establish that?

---I think you can say all that and find you cannot refuse service to anyone because you don’t know enough to discriminate.

---I think there will always be paradox and conflict between the immediate community and the one beyond the tribal campfire

---I think you can refuse to fight in their stupid wars for greed. I think you can say,

---“’There is some shit I will not take. I will not kiss your fucking flag.’ (he said)”.

---I think you can say, “I’m not going to be an ant or a bee, or an unthinking warrior killing real people for abstractions and lies and rationalizations invented by posturing millionaire preachers and politicians too stupid to even know they’re hypocrites.”

---I think you can say “I’ll serve the greater, more intelligent community.”

---Defined by?

---Outreach, a motion OUTWARD, opening borders, COMMERCE, all other connections to the world outside.

---I think you can say all that, do the best you can, and still be trapped….

---I think I think too much.---

---“… cannot know the mind of God.”…why is there injustice and suffering and insanity?---

---clouds moving across the trees … the lakes of Dallas flashing their secret code beneath the clouds beneath the wings of a plane I just happened to be on this morning….real beauty has to be beyond intention---

---and o god, now, in all this chaos, what can sanctify?---

---the knowledge that the community doesn’t end at the city limit sign, and choosing consciousness, at least there’s that.

But if you could get a handle on it, wouldn’t that be boring? Our bodies themselves, being made of series after series of beautiful springs and arches, suggest there will never be anything real for us, except letting go to go on.---

Was it accident or fate that I left all my Irish relatives from that area to eat dinner at the Dairy Queen in St. Jo and ended up at the Tiggin Irish restaurant just across from my departure gate at Dallas International?

---DAMN…chewed off three of my legs and still in the trap.---

I asked the waitress if I could have some of that chili that the guy in the cowboy hat with the good looking woman across from me was having. She said,

“That’s actually tomato soup.”

(and the woman was just a manikin, I suppose), and she smiled and looked upward with her big dreamy eyes and said,

“But this WOULD be a good night for chili, wouldn’t it?”

It would have been, especially for me, with her for desert, because I was cold inside and out. But it couldn’t happen because it’s like insurance, you can only get it if you don’t need it.

And on the other side of me, these two adventurers were talking about flying helicopters in Africa, and how if you’re looking up at the sky and an object is getting bigger it’s probably going to fall right on top of you, and how things can change rapidly when you’re looking into the mouths of volcanoes.

When the plane lifted off, part of me was not lifting off or letting go, the other part was flying off the face of the earth with no controls. I felt weak and vulnerable and impoverished. It will take some time to realize that strangers are just more obviously my family now..

---just like that conversation with the old hobo I bought dinner for long ago intimated:

---“thinking about (Marilyn) Monroe (her suicide) what do you suppose that was, just time?”

---“ever seen a monkey at a zoo when a crowd comes by, how he hides?”

---“yeah, I seen that…but with me I guess it’s just time. I’ll always work when I can but I’m getting a little old for it anymore, got something wrong with my foot, doctor says I got heart trouble.”

---“everybody does.”

---“yeah, that’s right, reckon they do…but people don’t want an old man like me…anymore… rather have a kid like you…course…I guess you’re not a kid any more …must be a man by now…you been to college?”


---“you goin back again?”

---“it got to be too much of one thing.”

---“O…I think I know you…you’re a citizen of the world…don’t belong to this country, or anybody’s country…belong to man.”

---“O I don’t know….”---

and I still don’t know, how an old bum could be saying things like that out of the blue, while gasbag politicians made speeches over flag draped coffins, or how nature can waste quadrillions of seed and we can waste nature and everything we are given and her intelligence still inheres and coheres and goes on,

but I do know all my lost time and work and my own death somehow, in some way I can never quite grasp, have to just be my own little ego problem.

And so it all still does go back to that silent empty place, that old sun faded, worn down, two lane blacktop highway snaking its way through chaparral, prickly pear, yucca, tumbleweeds and dirt beside the infinite enigma of an abandoned WW II Airbase, and it disappears into the hills that rise just before you come to the Guadaloupe mountains, and a little girl is walking there, in the dark, lost at 2:30 A.M., not knowing who she is. It’s 1956 and there are even fewer doctors in the darkness of this year than wherever you now may be in time, fewer people of any rank who even care enough to try to rise above their own problems, (and even fewer who understand that her problems are our problems) to help us with the mystery of her dilemma. The stars are so bright it’s like they’re inside your brain, and the sky and clouds hang over her, putting all the things we don’t know that hurt us, big time, all our brokenesses, and all our understandings together into one endless, inconsolable, silent cry. It combines all sadness and all joy into something only the wind could say as it whined thru the cracks in our barracks and banged the old faded, flaking, bone white screen door. I can’t translate it into any known language, but no matter where I go, I can never leave it behind.


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