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28 January 2015

Sonoran road trip

Farm-faced wispy boy,
faded rough pick'em up truck,
breakin' all the rules
bustin' out for the big lights,
just like all the rest.

Tumbleweed scrap soars
above the highway,
reached cruising altitude,
lofted by a cheeky breeze;
just truckin' along, truckin' along,
alone as all the rest.


I really saw a scrap of a tumbleweed fly over the highway. It had to be 20 meters up, just coasting, not losing any altitude as it went. It was cool.


That's all for today.


Edited because: Aww, crap. I forgot to share the link to the imaginary garden, where I posted this. So here's that. 

26 January 2015

desert river divine... and stuff

The topic for the Pagan Experience this last week was "deity and the divine."

I already wrote a response to it, but then I didn't realize this was actually the same prompt, so I wrote another response. Because I'm organized like that. Then, as I was considering editing this - since I'm all rambly lately - I thought, hey, this is starting to sound just like that one post I did. Hm. Maybe... yeah, I need to check on that... Oh damnit. And it turns out the post I was thinking of was a different post, which was about the San Pedro River but not about deities. But whatever. This is another perspective on the topic/s. Or another way of looking at the same perspective. Anyway, it's different enough that I decided to go ahead and post it. Can one spam ones own blog?


The other day, somebody Awesome (okay, it was my tai chi teacher and most excellent friend, whom I shall name Awesome) was commenting on the nature of the divine, and she described it as those natural things that stand out to you, that reach out and touch your soul somehow. These things, these places, have a power of their own that speaks to us. These are the divine.

That's not a quote because my memory sucks and I can't remember her exact words. But that's the gist. We were talking specifically about the San Pedro River, and how it flows through the desert valley, a plainly visible strip of life even in the winter. The river itself is surrounded by cottonwood trees with silvery bark in the winter, and the lightest green leaves the rest of the year. It's a brilliant bit of desert enchantment, and it's most of the reason I ended up living in southern Arizona.

I was sent here for training while I was in the Army. When I got out of the Army, I wanted to come back. The land pulled me back. I'd never felt a place so full of masculine energy, so devoid of the womb-like energy of the forests where I grew up.

But this place, this desert, is not barren; it is full of life that thrives on struggle. The river epitomizes this concept, and functions as a focal point for the energies of this place. That is how I imagine deities: they are the focal energies of places, things, and intents.

When I say a prayer to Hel, I'm recalling the energies of transformation and bare-boned truths; when I seek Odin, I acknowledge the energies of sacrifice and knowledge. Sometimes these energies seem to move through the world in ways that draw my attention, like the river San Pedro does.

I was thinking, while we were at the river this weekend, that this is a place that brings all four elements together: the water reflects the sun's fire as it tumbles between the earth and air. The pull here is so strong it feels almost sentient. Or maybe it's beyond sentience. Who am I to say?

22 January 2015

hungry beasties, or "a morsel"

I prefer "hunger" to "hungry" -
one sounds low and throaty and full of need,
the other like a brat-spawned whine.

I'll take your craven necessity
pitiful mews,

your rasping ache
untried wistful wants.

I'll take you, though your hunger won't survive -
the beasties are so hungry,

you won't last long at all. 


Well, that was interesting. Where did that come from? 
Blame Mama Zen and Edgar Allan Poe. Their hunger and haunting got into my head. 
They're hanging out in the imaginary garden with sixty words or less. 
I got 57. 

17 January 2015

a walk at the San Pedro River

I went for a walk in the winter.
The river was low and sweet.
Dead grasses bent bowing
to the floods of last summer
snap crisply neath my feet.
Sentinel cottonwoods
soaring silver-tipped filigree
across the blue crystal sky.
Their stone pillar trunks take no notice
of the child wandering by.


This poem was inspired by the San Pedro River Trail, the imaginary garden, and a warm sun in January.


We don't get a lot of what I grew up thinking "winter" was, here.
I grew up in western New York, surrounded by the deciduous forests of the Adirondacks' foothills. We got a lot of snow and cold, there.

Now I live in the Sonoran desert, up in the mountains. We don't get a lot of snow - though we'll occassionally see a flake or two, and they might even stick for an hour or so - and the warm sun makes January days feel like late spring or early fall. Or rather, what I imagine late spring and early fall to feel like. Winters here mean putting on your jacket once the sun goes down. It means the San Pedro river is nearly dry, though the boundaries of the summer floods are still obvious. Today, it had to be in the 60s (F) when I went for my walk. It was a beautiful day for a hike with friends.

15 January 2015

the Widow Basquait

I'd seen Basquiat's name in my art history books. I didn't learn how to pronounce it. His work never spoke to me, then. I was looking for something more ephemeral, something more fitting to my adolescent pretentiousness.  I forgot about him, somewhere in the next chapter.

I chose to read Widow Basquiat: A Love Story, by Jennifer Clement, because it looked more interesting than the other options.

Because of that, my perception of our world -shifted- just a little bit.

I flipped the book open when it came in the mail, and read a page. There was a big heading: LESSONS ON HOW TO BE A WOMAN. This is a two-page passage. It describes how art critic Rene Ricard hired Basquiat's long-time lover, Suzanne Mallouk, to transcribe his poetry. During the employment, Ricard gave Mallouk advice on being a more glamorous woman. It's all interesting advice that deserves its own review, but this is the key phrase: "he tells her to study the drag queens because only they know how to act like women."

I'll let you chew on that, because that isn't what this book is about.

Technically, this book is about Suzanne Mallouk, focusing on her relationship with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Literally, this book is about two people, the 1980s art scene in New York City, and addiction. It's a coming of age story for Suzanne, as much as it is a love story for them both. And even though the book is from Suzanne's perspective (more on how the author uses that, later), Jean is the one who captures the reader, much as he captured the art world in life: by burning like a firecracker and laughing at our blinded eyes.

I read another review of this book, that ends with the phrase, "Unfortunately, Clement never interprets or judges, but the book still provides insightful clues for Basquiat enthusiasts to decipher this '80s art legend." The reviewer calls Basquiat a misogynist, and I can see why, but I disagree. On the other hand, I agree that Clement doesn't interpret or judge, and disagree that this is an unfortunate thing. I always wonder, when reading biographies, what the real motives were for the subject. In Clements' work on Basquiat, he is allowed to speak for himself. Of course, that means it's the reader's responsibility to get it right.

I could have this wrong, but I don't think Basquiat was a misogynist. He seemed to treat all his lovers in about the same careless way, and they weren't all women. Jean and Suzanne treat each other badly at times, like lovers sometimes do, but I suspect that even their worst moments had more to do with all the coke they were doing than anything else.

Perhaps it's all about perspective. From a monogamist's perspective, Jean's constant infidelity might be reason enough to say he was a terrible person. For many, his nonchalance about non-familial relationships - be they sexual, romantic, or platonic - might be reason to call him insincere. I didn't see it that way. His behavior was consistently non-committal; he was free of such fetters as social norms except in the ways he mocked them. But I don't think he disliked people. I think he loved them - individually, that is, as opposed to in groups. I find him absolutely fascinating.

A note on the style of the text: it's brusque and charming, it's a tale told in snippets, and it speaks sometimes in the third person - this is Jennifer Clement, holding the spotlight to events, no photoshopping allowed - and sometimes in first person - this is Suzanne Mallouk herself, speaking from her journal. It's not nearly so jarring as it sounds, reading these two perspectives side by side. In fact, I suspect Basquiat would have enjoyed the dancing way the two narratives engage each other. The reader is never bogged down by, well, anything. Each passage - I can't call them chapters - is no more than two or three pages. Most are two or three paragraphs. Some are less. The story jumps along, just as Basquiat seemed to jump through life.

And along the way, I learned some things, about art, about love, about the wounds we think have healed, about racism, about humor, and about manliness.

I see his art with new eyes.

For perusal:

1. "The Radiant Child" - an article by Rene Ricard, the first written about Jean-Michel Basquiat. During the interview, Basquiat was high and naked. Rene complimented the beauty of Jean's penis.

2. An excerpt from Widow Basquiat, page 73; the regular font is Jennifer, the italics is Suzanne:


Jean-Michel's favorite soap is Black Tar Soap. He uses is every day. It makes a gray lather. No one else can use it. It is his joke. Jean-Michel draws it on his paintings.

Everything was symbolic to him. How he dressed, how he spoke, how he thought, who he associated with. Everything had to be prolific or why do it and his attitude was always tongue-in-cheek. Jean was always watching himself from outside of himself and laughing. 

find it

I received a free copy of this book from, so that I could do a review.
I'm so glad I did. 

14 January 2015

where I find god

In the rush of thoughts to fingertips,
in the clatter of keys; 
In the percolating furnace,
in the sighing of my sleeping son. 

In the fish-breath of my old dog,
in the memories of all the cats I've loved;
In the coursing awareness of my seedlings,
in the cool frosty glass in my windows. 

In the smattered red wash on the highway,
in the torn bits of fluff on the shoulder of the road;
In the chilling breeze that sets a timer on comfort,
in the sharp thorns that caught me dreaming.

In the tender silken thread that is new life,
in the cautious coming forth of each new day;
In the words we trade, for better or worse,
in all the ways we weave,
togetherness is god. 


This bit of consciousness is brought to you by... well, me. But I was inspired by a writing prompt (at the Pagan Experience) asking about our gods. I'm an all-out animist. I thought about penning an essay about that, but that's been done. Y'all probably know what animism is - and if not, you can google it - so I thought I'd just express myself a little more directly. Because poetry is, in fact, more direct than an essay. 

11 January 2015

Spiritual what now?

This weeks' prompt over at The Pagan Experience asks us to describe our personal spiritual practices, favorites and daily.

Do I even have any daily practices?
After giving it considerable thought, I've decided that I do have some things I could call practices. I take care of my plants. I hang out with my pets. I go on hikes (not daily, but often). I keep living in a way that is increasingly good for my soul. ...I'm not really satisfied with that answer. It just feels incomplete, or maybe like I'm not answering the right question.

The other day, I read a piece by Jeffery Pierce over at Old Ways that described paganism as a way of life, as opposed to a specific religion. He says: "To me, you can’t start separating pagan from who we are or pull it out of any area of our lives. It’s our baseline as human beings." That's the nail on the head, for me.

When I think about what my daily spiritual practices are, first of all the question feels awkward, ill-fitted. And at first my conclusion was that I had none. I rephrased the question and asked myself what is it about my way of living that reflects my spirituality. That was easy: all of it. Even when I'm not doing very well at living, the effort is still a reflection of my spiritual path.

But that wasn't really the point of the original question. So I rephrased again: If I were outside looking in, what parts of my way of life would appear to be entirely spiritual? Well, maybe none. I do maintain shrines in my home, though, which might throw my visitors off if they realized what they were. Mostly, I think they just look decorative, but their meanings are clear to me. They serve as visual reminders of all the parts of my soul that I hold most dear - my ability to create; my connection to and safety in my home; the strong bond between me and my charges (my pets, my plants); and my best memories. These are the things that keep me trying on those hard days.

I can live with that answer. 

08 January 2015


like scattered souls
blinking in the night,
as frozen as deer
(in headlights).

Who can see
what we've become?
Who can say
what we've measured?
Can we know
the distance of our moral

Can the shaken stars
see our patterns,
see our horrors,
make animals of

When it all comes falling -
crumbling - slamming - down,
Who will watch us fall?
Will they see us sink
and make a wish?
Or will they see

(a waste)?

This is an old one, but it came to mind today, as I was thinking of my earlier post about the Iraq War. I wrote this in Baghdad, in late 2007 or early 2008. 
Here's the original post
I'm sharing this for the imaginary garden.
And now I'm going to bed.
Nighty night.

07 January 2015

excerpt, and the mindset against Others

He was thin and his flip flops were broken. His wife was a school teacher. He liked that she wore high heels. His brown eyes lit like bonfires when he talked about his three children. He wanted to write a book one day, but he doubted anyone would read it. He had black hair, and like most men in that place, it was beginning to show salt. He'd been a Colonel in the Iraqi Army, before the Fall. Then we came, and he helped us hunt the bad guys with a GPS and a radio. Now he was a detainee with a number for a name. The orange jumpsuit was dirty and it didn't fit him well. He never looked discomfited by it. He treated the guards as his honored escorts.

At the first meeting: The interrogator is a soft young woman in uniform, dark blond bun pulling her face tight. He's not sure he's speaking to the right person at first. Where is the interrogator he asked for? He has been asking for so long. What took them so long? Are there so many requests to speak with the Army? He is caught off guard when she says she doesn't know why he hasn't been seen earlier. Six months is a very long time, longer than she has been here, she tells him. I'm still trying to understand all this myself, she says. There are not so many requests such as yours, she guesses, and he knew this already. "Nobody knew what to do with it, probably - you know how armies are, I think? Maybe that's why they gave it to me. I'm the new guy." He's quiet for a moment, expecting to be interrupted, to be asked questions, but she waits for him. So he speaks.

At the third meeting: Her right hand is red; there's a cut between the last two knuckles. By the end of the meeting, a galaxy of a bruise envelopes three knuckles. There's a strain in her smile, but her manners are intact. "I am Sheik Imad al Juburi," he said, with his head held high. Then a twinkle appeared, and he added, "but you may call me Abu Thabit."

At the last meeting: "I hope to read your book someday, Abu Thabit." She shakes his hand. "Ah," he responds, "who knows what might happen? It is in the hands of God."


I'm considering writing a fictional memoir of a US Army Interrogator, based loosely on my own experiences. Mom's been after me for  - well, since I redeployed in 2008 - to write about what I experienced in Baghdad. I doubt I'll ever be ready to write about it the way she wants me to, full of my feelings and thoughts. Today, though, this idea popped into my head. At first I wasn't thinking about writing anything military/Iraq-related at all. A title showed up in my thoughts and scattered whatever else I'd been thinking about.

The title was this: A Memoir in Case Studies. Then I thought I could write the life of a counselor or psychologist, through the eyes of their clients/patients. The realization of just how much research that would take - since I'm neither of those two professions, despite my academic leanings - was enough to squash that idea. I decided to make a note about it, anyway.

Then I realized I have, in fact, done work that would fit into that structure: I was an interrogator. I functioned as a counselor whose goal is to find out all they can from the client, no more or less, and certainly no caring or counseling unless it was a farce to get the interogatee to say more. I wasn't very good at the not caring bit. I wasn't even good at not offering advice. But I had a caseload of people I interviewed, and their perspective is one I wish more people had heard.

...I've just realized what I'd been thinking about before the title came to mind. I'd read an article about a US soldier, a sniper, who had written a book and is apparently somewhat famous. He died quite recently, the article said, when he was accidentally shot at a gun range (I'm really working hard to avoid commenting on the irony, just out of respect for the dead and because it really is tragic, but damn really?). That wasn't the focus of the article, though. Oh fuck it, I went and found the damn article again. Here ya go. Chris Kyle was the guy's name. Maybe you've heard of him. It'd be easier to be respectful of the dead if this one weren't so damn ignorant and, well, anyway. I don't want to get all swear-y.

Here's what stuck with me after I read it: In “American Sniper,” Kyle describes killing as “fun” and something he “loved” to do. This pleasure was no doubt facilitated by his utter conviction that every person he shot was a “bad guy.” (That's a quote from the article, I'm just too tired and cranky to go reformat it so the quotations marks are right so I just italicized it).

There's our human tendency to categorize and rationalize.
I'm so very tired of hearing people rationalize the Iraq War this way. I mean, we have a variety of bad rationales for this war to chose from, but this - this idea that Iraqi people are less of a mix of good and bad than any other person on the planet, that Iraq is full of 'bad people,' that Iraqis are bad people, even - all that shit, is shit. And I'm so sick of it.

It's so easy to dehumanize people who are unfamiliar to us; we do it unconsciously (mostly) and immediately (often). But familiarity breeds comprehension, which breeds empathy and then compassion.

So I'm going to tell this story.
I'll do it my way, without a lot of me in the story.
It'll be fictionalized, because I don't want to argue with the government. Not like that, anyway.
I'm not promising this will happen soon. I have other projects to finish first, but this was in my head today. 

04 January 2015


I don't really have a strong connection to the New Year's Eve holiday. It's secular, to me. On second thought, I guess it's secular by definition, but it seems to be pursued almost religiously by most of the adults in the country. Well, it's not that big a deal to me. What's really the point in celebrating the random day the calendar ran out? The year turns on Yule, as far as I'm concerned - that is when the switch from getting-darker to getting-lighter happened. Any other day they chose to end the calendar with is just that - a day someone chose. I mean, the New Year's Eve party itself is fun, if I'm with the right people, but any party with the right people is fun.

Maybe it's just the resolutions tradition I don't feel a strong connection with. I'm one of those who makes changes as the necessary changes make themselves known. That could happen on New Year's Eve - it is a day, and things do happen on days - but there's 364 or 5 other days in the year on which things happen, too. So there's a 1/365 or 6 chance. It doesn't even go up all that much if I count the whole New Year's week.

Anyway, I don't feel the need to change something on New Year's Day just for the sake a making a change. If it ain't broke, I don't fix it.

There are things I'm doing, and changes I'm in the middle of making. Can I just count those? The New Year's Resolution Fairy won't mind, right?

I'm going to finish my Bisbee Deportation project, and I'll be shocked if it takes me more than a month or two.

I'm slowly shifting my diet over to something that's not gluten-free or vegetarian, but maybe gluten-lite, and meat-lite. That wasn't a decision, really. It's just what my body is craving these days. Or rather, what my body really doesn't want these days are heavy breads and a lot of meat. It's a bit odd, since I've practically lived on those two staples most of my life. They just don't appeal to me now. Meh. Maybe I'm reading too much, and my appetite is taking notice. Either way, I'm feeling better - less depression, more energy, more focus - since the shift began. That can't be bad.

I'm doing two activities with weekly regularity, and really working to improve myself in both: tai chi and horseback riding. A new love, and a lifelong love. It's good.

There I go, leaving the world behind.
(My friend took this picture of me.)

I totally forgot to add that this post was inspired by The Pagan Experience, a new pagan blogging thingy (I'm tired, please forgive my utter lack of vocabulary). You should check out all the other entries, too. 

Flash Fiction 55: "Man, you gotta go"

Four letters, infinite power: move. One pair of boots, colored by hard ground, treading the old road's dead-grass track, thrust dirt ahead of their scuffs. All the steps behind had faded into days, uncounted, known only for the cold shade and thawing sun. All the steps ahead were lovely, in the heart above the boots. 


Inspired by the imaginary garden with real toads, the lure of movement against my own stagnation, and Abraham Archer, who has been tracking through my thoughts lately.