5 April 2005 San Felipe, Chapala Motel
Night in a motel room with the sounds of a midway in a vacant lot behind
it. I was standing on the toilet seat with my head out the window watching
the twister's counterbalancing arms swing slow up to a balance point, fall,
rise higher on the far side, fall, rise higher again, and so on until they
stand balanced together like hands at twelve o'clock. Then part and fall.
And next time make it past and around. It's a small midway with Mexican
music and a lovely light. I could see down into the carrousel where along
with the flying horses there were camels, peacocks, elephants, a few small
children being held round the waist by a young teenager, all in a mild sweet
light diffusing from many bulbs in the round room under the canopy. I watched
on and on.
It's a dense sound, many fibers, little screams, a fan, a concertina,
shouts. It's thick and pleasant. A cool night. Night being celebrated as
The tide is far down the sand, fish boats beached, sometimes a rocket
set off and jetting up above the unlit water, exploding into sparks. Why
did I think of Stan Brakhage then. I thought of my father earlier when I
was crossing the street, his string ties and cowboy hat and his stranger's
eyes looking at Mexico.
The sun has just risen hot gold on the horizon above the sea. It's warmer
A perfect night that woke me at first light. I dreamed I was at some
sort of workshop. It was the afternoon session. I was there with no pants
on and asked a woman sitting at the end of the row to move over one so I
could sit down more quickly. The woman teaching the workshop began by singing
something in a native language. At the second stanza or repetition young
people in the audience sang too, they had learned it somewhere else. They
began moving their arms and hands as if to imitate the gliding flight of
a bird. Some stood swaying and moving their arms. It was as if they had
gone into a trance of watching or flying with the bird the song was about.
The birds I saw yesterday were sandpipers, terns, gulls, doves, herons,
turkey vultures, pelicans, and just one completely black bird who rode the
air steadily north along the coast, not moving his wings once, the most
elegant of beings. The pelicans are beautiful in their motion in formation,
very sleek the way they follow the same curve as if it's drawn by the first.
Yesterday's night tide woke me at midnight running sideways on the sand.
Last night it came and went and I slept on.
The blue of the shadows on the page - a porous dark blue. Now that I
look, the whole page is like a snowy slope with humps and wind streaks.
What does 'spiritual' mean to people - a contrast with daily concreteness
- that yearning for something - it's an indefinable emotional matrix - based
in early love and its freedoms and terrors - for many it seems to have to
do with making efforts to improve oneself, taking oneself as a task - it
is imagined in terms of 'consciousness' - taking willful control of conscious
states - something like the sense of self as a journey, having a beginning
and an ending and adventures that are consequential - the sense of event
consequential to the quality of being - sense of quality of state - that's
mine - sense of gratitude and dependency - that's early love - there's elaboration
of defenses around a vulnerability - the vulnerabilities felt by creatures
who know they will die - there's experimentation with state - there's exploration
by means of change of state, exploration of 'reality' usually thought of
as other than the concrete - there's wanting to feel sublimity, mystery.
- early love
- being stoned
- sublimity, mystery
- death denial
- Susan supports my soul by risking her own, by giving me the company
- By seeing me beautiful and giving me that.
- By startling me.
- By a rhythm she has taken care to learn from the best.
- By newness. By fear.
- By beauty she insists on.
- What I am seeing in her packets is the way her neuroticism is the matrix
of work. She sustains it as the fluid of pain and fright in which beautiful
lines can set.
- What is it I'm so avid for in Susan's notes.
- Her polish in language.
- The way she said o/ as if.
- And oh y aussitot.
- Her venturous selfness, the way she could tell her story of kneeling
behind the man and setting an energy bridge into him.
- Her greed to love.
- The way she said, You flew me like a kite all week.
- The way I'm met.
- She's not a moral dependent hanging off my rigor as both Louie and
Tom do. If anything am I hanging off hers? That's something.
- She takes her own risks.
- She has wrong modes, an intellectual one for instance.
- But she works hard. She's a working mortal.
- She can feel my humor, which is quite inexplicit.
- She evokes many of my people at once, Jam in her intellectuality, even.
- Rhoda in her physical polish.
- Nellie in her lesbian community past.
- Cheryl in being that kind of mother.
- My earlier self a lot - its passion and secret sophistication, devotion,
- She way she quotes me, good bits.
- And is reading Edelman even, Talmy, Oyama.
- April 18
Said if I were a grasshopper I'd be rubbing my hands at some of her phrases.
That she can set a phrase so it goes tuk like a pool ball. She basked
and was up until 2 replying.
I am so bratty with this packet period, so reluctant.
There I lie down and try to feel what it is. Hungry, aching. Wanting
all day to put something in my mouth. Wanting to be contained so I can let
go of something, into some heart state. Addictive craving but without object,
nothing I have will satisfy it. Wanting what I used to have, Joyce, my house,
the garden. When I began the doctorate I was a young woman, when I ended
it I had become an old one. Now there's nothing I love.
I say Now there's nothing I love and tears come into my eyes.
I don't know how to go on to the end of my life without love. I'm afraid
I'm dying. I look at my hands wondering whether they look like death, whether
I can see death in their color.
Then the book reminds me it is a memory. It says, Hope, do you have a
hope? Yes that someone will come for me. There it was.
The moment when I was twelve or thirteen? - sitting at the kitchen table
watching my father walk toward the barn, seeing his shape for the first
time, broad shoulders, narrow hips, beautiful, a beautiful man.
Did he ever see me looking at him that way? I think it was always unconscious.
I think he kept it dark and kept himself divided. The truth was there was
a charge between us and it was mutual. I was his dark soul. I was the closest
to him. I was what he had in him to be. He could see my distinction. He
could see that it hadn't failed. And I could see the way his had not. And
yet there was his whole blind cranky orthodox surface. What I'm feeling
now, at this moment, a questing young alertness, there's no way of saying
it, that's me, that's him. And I made a man with Ed in him, I kept him going.
Something in Luke I mean.
What I see above is that I still have the story of Ed to tell. There's
a shine around him.
It's morning. Clouds close in, too bad, no rosy light on the pink rock.
I was asleep and woke to a lot of light seemingly flashing onto the ceiling
of the jeep, light from more than one direction. Sat up still waking and
there was a man shining a big flashlight into the side window I had open
4" for air. Just one of you? he says. Young nice American voice. There's
another light being shone into the back window from about 10' away. Are
you the ranger? I say. No, ma'am, border patrol.
There are two sets of headlights on the far side of the mudhole, double
sets: they have roof lamps. A lot of light.
They go back to their vehicles and seem to be checking the edges of the
stream with their flashlights. Are they looking for footprints?
Then one after the other they surge through the mud and pass me. Identical
Wranglers with hardtops. After a while they return from the other direction.
I'm nearly falling asleep but I see four Mexicans standing on the road
the far side of the ruts, men and women in a sort of lit darkness as if
I have night vision. It startles me awake and then I'm nervous. Put on socks
and boots and get out and lock the liftgate.
Last evening I heard some kind of noise, lifted my head and saw a coyote
standing on a boulder in the meadow, large and very finely marked with darker
legs and shoulders - was it? He felt my gaze and trotted away among the
oaks, not hurried, very dignified.
Looking at the Dec-April journal seeing the way it's a story of working
with two students. Seeing that made me interested in transcribing.
Telling the story of the semester wd be a series of emails. What wd it
be called: embodiment studies at [my college].
Now it's 9:30, lamplight, Karina Gauvin singing Mozart, the peace and
ownness of this little room. Jeep mostly packed. Tomorrow I'll carry down
my pillow, bathroom stuff, the blue cup, the milk, journal and credit cards,
money, pyjamas, the trash. Bring the bike inside. Take evaluations and packages
to mail. Come back and write the lecture paras (wrote Susan's eval today),
post them, and then take I8 to Yuma and from there drive north through Arizona.
Quartzite Arizona, Yacht Club Motel, a collection of trailers with clusters
of pilings supporting steps covered with Astroturf. It's run by a slattern
with very tanned long breasts. She says 116 degrees today. The boys, my
neighbours, have likely gone to bed, they're miners, she said.
Page, AZ, just this side of the Colorado and the Utah border. It is too
hot to camp, forecast is 97 tomorrow. Long ago this morning - I'm watching
a movie about ballet in a large room, very large - real dancing - long ago
this morning I left that decrepit trailer and found an empty road. The sun
rose. There was a glitter on the pavement. What is it, I thought. A long
snake flowing through a glittering Z. Sonoran desert, saguaro, matilija
poppies knee-high on the roadside.
Since Page it's been beauty, soft red and green, buttes like Navajo skirts,
layers of buff, orange, rust, maroon, soft wide land between them, sagebrush
and juniper, sometimes a small burst of yellow, sunflowers on the verge.
Hardly inhabited, the easiest of roads, every once in a while a car, headlights
in the mirror miles away. Small animals smeared on the pavement, many of
them. Morning light pink on pink. Perfect travel though I'm watching my
eyes. Should be wearing sunglasses but they spoil the color.
I'm traveling in the big cargos and one of my orange singlets, blue shirt
for appearing among people, red tennies, the old ones.
Steak and eggs and rye toast.
Was up at 5:15 and out the door, clean pants washed in the tub last night.
Get on the freeway, 40 miles to Salt Lake City. There isn't going to be
a sunrise. Dark overcast. Abrupt mountain to the east, city and lake in
a murk. There's traffic but it thins after the suburbs. Then 15 is two-lane,
speed limit 75. Left foot on the gas. I drive 80 or sometimes see it has
edged up to 85 which is the last number on the dial.
Sweet hills with alfalfa yellow on the benches, grass green in the draws,
dry and worn off on the ridges. (Even here in town, walking across the parking
lot to the café, I can smell hay.) There were spits of rain. The
windshield wipers smeared the glass. About three and a half hours later,
210 miles, trout and eggs for breakfast in Astro's town.
Anything to tell from yesterday? Kanab. I liked Kanab. I could live in
Kanab, which is Paiute for something about willows.
"There wasn't many people out there when we's out there."
Where am I, Salmon Idaho. The man speaking is 65, tight jeans, small
rump, big belt, white hat, light blue Sunday shirt, worn cowboy boots with
The men talk, the women are silent. There's a graceful teenage boy who
works in the kitchen, earring, shaved head, come out in his black apron
and shamrock green runners to talk to the boy eating with his folks. There's
a juicy waitress, a goldy-skinned blond, carrying her breasts high and round.
Oh my arms are tired, shoulders.
93 turned out to be good. I had to drive 70 miles west to catch it, and
minded those miles, but then there was a wide valley with smooth mountains,
grass, silence, all those miles of visible silence. I stopped to take a
picture of a clump of scarlet penstemon in the grassy ditch. Further on
there were clumps of blue flax along with them. The Lost River Range.
No way to describe that stretch along the Salmon River, that had cliffs
and bluffs so complicated in form and color and texture, so diverse, so
much too much I knew I wd remember nothing, having to manage the curves,
no place to stop. I was looking as hard as I could, seeing the cut and lie
of hundreds of thousands of shards of stone, and in among them was it three
or four colors of plant sorted by condition - yellow-green bunchgrass, silver
sagebrush, something bright green, and scrub juniper almost black. The sagebrush
grows alone where the rock has fallen in a single-color scree, oxblood sometimes,
that manzantita dark red-brown. Oh the order.
My good jeep, at 70 or 75 it settles into a deep strong throb like a
577 miles today - really - I'll be in Alberta tomorrow.
There was a bear of an Indian man in the Chevron station at the edge
of Missoula, which I'd been aiming for determined since I got onto 93. He
was taking money from an ATM and I was looking for a map of Montana in the
rack next to it. I said, Do you live here? Do you know what part of town
I should go to to find the older motels, less expensive? He said his sister
was the housekeeper at the Ponderosa, and unfolded a map of Missoula and
showed me how to find it. He'd been to Grande Prairie, he said. He was a
steelworker. He began to refold the map with his big paws. Let me do that
for you, I said. And here I am at the Ponderosa Motel watching Harry
Potter and the sorcerer's stone. There's a large dry hill looking down
through my window.
The motel in Provo, Idaho yesterday said Up-town Motel on the roof and
Budget Inn on the sign. My room looked through green trees to a mountain
with snow. I liked seeing my pants hung on the balcony rail drying in front
of the mountain.
Today there's sun. It's the first morning I've made tea. I'm on my nice
bed in 323 in the Ponderosa, a pink cinderblock room with deep orangey-red
carpet and two dusty-rose wing chairs on either side of a plywood-topped
I'm thinner. Have been buying only breakfast and eating half of it.
It has taken until now but I'm in myself. I'm happy. More than happy,
a pressure in the chest. There are a lot of travel stresses and yesterday
I'd come through them.
I came across a mountain pass, hairpin curves at 20 mph, in a hard squall
of rain, front and back wipers whacking, nervous especially downhill on
the far side. That was some kind of threshold - it was the Montana border
but also some kind of emotional threshold. And then the bear man because
I pressed on strongly and wouldn't refill my tank until I got to my goal,
though I was watching the needle. And then this big room and a tale of a
small marked child who is raised by ugly people who hate his giftedness.
I was watching it as the intervention it is, liberal propaganda certainly,
Christian conservative kids will recognize the shut-downness of their parents
in Harry's aunt and uncle, the muggles concept implanted. Hermione is a
confident non-pleasant know-it-all. The antihero is a smooth-haired butter-blond
boy with aristocratic pretensions. Harry has the right kind of quiet smile,
alert and bemused. I loved the marvels. The chocolate frog that jumped out
the window, platform 9 3/4 found by running at a brick arch, the goblin
bankers, birds dropping the mail, the dining hall, the portrait that asks
for a password, the shaggy giant who comes for Harry. I also like that this
so pervasive magic was devised by a welfare mother and not an Oxford Anglican.
Alright. 8:30. I'll unpack my passport and take 200 over to 15.
And then I hoped I'd recognize the turn-off, and did, and there was the
road where I met the groundhog and the place around the corner where Jam's
little car and mine were both in the ditch, and then at the corner, is there
still a track? Barely, but it doesn't go through to the house, which now
can't be seen from the road. I drive up over the summerfallow to get as
close to the house as I can, then have to push through grass to my waist.
There's no longer any kind of gate in the spruce, which have grown tall.
The house isn't white anymore. The south face is weathered almost to bare
wood. The porch rails have fallen. The chimney has collapsed. The kitchen
floor has buckled and there's a hole at the foot of the stairs that someone
has covered with the stair door. Someone has been throwing whatever there
was to throw, the pantry cupboard, the red chair. The front porch pillars
have broken off. the wallpaper is down in sheets. No shard of glass is left
in any of the windows. Squirrel shit everywhere. The little desk I built
upstairs broken off. But there on the wall I painted night sky blue I see
my own handwriting in white chalk, perfectly fresh. What was it I felt about
that, wordless, something - in so much ruin my mark's duration unspoiled
for now. I loved a time. The place is spoiled but my love is not.
I was sad, I was struck hard, but there was also what I have always been,
that wishing to know what life is - so this is what time means, so this
is what happens.
Peter's black figure. I was coming up the path behind Theresa, who was
talking about a bear. We were passing between young poplars and there ahead
of us among the leaves was suddenly a black figure taller than a human being,
one of Peter's watchers, burnt black - charred wood - holding himself with
a straight back and his chin lifted. I like that figure best, here, because
it's human and more than human, as if also bear and land and tree and native
collectivity, standing on large feet with lifted ribs and tender belly,
in an attitude of attention but also blind, without eyes or features, like
a post, attentive inwardly or with the blind senses.
In the laundromat at Hythe a native woman in her fifties, strong eyes,
was looking at me. Do you know a woman called Brigitte Horseman I asked.
She'd known her from a baby. "She has three or four kids now, but she's
into drugs. The chief at Horse Lake supplies them and he just got re-elected
for another four years." She herself is from Kelly Lake - the woman
says - and it's not so bad there. "I live for my kids." She says
it again. She has brown hair not black, meaning she's Métis, and
her granddaughter is another part white. She doesn't look me in the eye
when she talks. I like her, I like her eyes and her big bearing, but I could
see we were unbridgable. She packed her two double-loader loads wet into
garbage bags. "I'm going to dry these outside" she says. "There's
a wind" I say. Helmer and Brigette and Ellie The End.
I'm here but I've done just about everything I've got to do. I'm forlorn.
I don't know what to say. The moon is growing but it's like breaking of
strength, so much is gone.
Myrtle. What was it about her. There was a grandmother in pink pantsuit,
large wire earrings, brownish burgundy fingernails. When she came up the
path I didn't know her and never did see anyone I'd known in her, but loved
her for some reason. Sane clear heart.
A lot to say at once. A sweetness about the event. First, the place where
it was, an established farmyard with a lot of space in it and then so much
space beyond it. The fields, standing barley, miles of it. There was rain
earlier and then the evening opened into perfection - the long evening.
It was still evening when we left at 11:30. A ring of chairs around a big
fire pit. Walter Pol who was a wall-eyed runt, now a large comfortable farmer
on 14 quarter-sections. Raymond Gilkyson white-haired and very like himself
but two heart-attacks later. Bernice - plain and responsible - rooted in
the yard her father founded in 1911, her kids continuing there. Gail - Princess
Gail - in streaked contemporary hair. She told her son's story with a kind
of fixity and was drinking a lot of wine. Her husband Ross had been important
in various international jobs and was there with a big belly and a sort
of wonky intelligence lurking around being interested in things. Dorothy
Connell a skinny small thing with smokers' creases (though I didn't see
anyone smoking). Allan Heidebrecht a stout old man, the oldest of the men,
white haired, very bulky, kindly, farming his dad's place. Joe Farnsworth
a millwright, flourishing - hooked up with Dorothy after her two marriages,
she running the liquor store in Sexsmith. A lot of these people had been
elsewhere and now are back. Edith Janzen who'd been an ugly mouse of a girl
was there the image of a sexpot, tight little ass in fancy jeans, ash-blond
shoulder-length hair, tense speedy manner fixing me with her eyes - tight
thin skin - is that what a face-lift looks like? Fay Walle a bright unaged
small thing, very pert, with a good Olympus and Photoshop 7. A lot of false
teeth at the gathering. A lot of them, it seemed, retired. I was the only
woman who doesn't dye my hair.
It seemed to me, though maybe only for the event, the old distinctions
of status had been dissolved - they had been very sharp - and everyone was
there in sweet equality. People had made their way. Everyone had traveled.
Peoples' kids have dispersed into all sorts of distinction and fruitfulness.
Some of us had died, Henry of an electrical shock, Wayne Moodie of AIDS,
Freddie Warnecke of cancer I think, last year, but there we were around
the fire with the lovely polishing light on the shelterbelt spruce, on the
miles of fields, on the towering cloud at a distance. We'd eaten and drunk
together and told stories and not been ashamed of ourselves.
And there was Luke in his blue and red soccer jersey affable with anyone,
helping to clear the tables, standing at the edge of the field talking on
his cell. Luke Epp it said on his nametag.
When we drove home the sky was, he said, grapefruit pink to the northwest
at midnight. There was a moose in a canola field west of Valhalla.
When I was driving with Luke through Sexsmith and down our hill and up
the road, there was something I've never seen, just this side of the bridge
a doe on the road. It was lovely life in the place I had mourned and it
was there when I was with Luke.
It was a beautiful event.
I loved Luke's company in it. We were in bed in the cabin, firelight,
talking about it in our sleeping bags.
There was the muddy blue jeep parked in a line with all the other cars
and pickups, with its California plates.
Monday morning. Luke went back to sleep. I'm on the wide half-log in
a breeze with my tea.
I wanted to say something about what it was like for me in La Glace,
and I did, to Myrtle. I said I'd had a hard time until about grade 7 because
of my leg. I'd been isolated and sad. There had definitely been outsiders
and insiders. Maybe the insiders didn't know they were insiders, but they
were. That was when Myrtle said she'd never felt anything but acceptance.
What am I feeling. A little sharpness at heart because it's over, they
are all gone again. I hadn't finished being with them. The completeness
of life in childhood, no matter how sad or isolated. The parts are all together,
still, like a whole landscape with its copses, fences, fields, paths and
vistas eternally in place.
I was telling Gail I remembered her beautiful pleated skirt. She didn't
remember it, and I didn't remember the color, but Dorothy beside me said
it was blue with green and white, not white exactly.
This morning what's drawn on the side of the tent is wild rose vine,
slight dropping cables with leaves and twigs angled upwards, all swaying
very gently. There went a bee-shadow. In the dark green band that runs up
from the floor, sturdy unmoving blades of grass, a dandelion leaf.
Was I dreaming because of the trains, the locomotive's very loud voice
and the rustling-past of the cars. I wake and go back to sleep. It's alright.
I'm not talking about Dorothy and David, the way I shy off writing about
people when they're in the house. Dortie, he calls her sometimes. She has
sweet corners on her mouth that turn up - she's so, so old. A tiny crook-backed
frame but she'll put her feet up on the bench like a girl, and slouch back
in the sofa looking at the tulip tree, watching the bush tits. She asks
questions and listens carefully to the answers - who, anywhere, does that?
Her face is yellow and blue and creased like a dried fruit and yet she's
pretty. She wears longish skirts, red or blue, and green velvet slippers.
And David - he's just David. He is kind and affectionate, stands at the
stove cooking. Saves bits of wood, brings me things to read.
Vermont 19th August
The viewer visualization. A being is looking at you from whatever direction
or distance you choose. Feel what it feels like to be seen. If it wasn't
a look you liked, now imagine a different being who is looking at you with
complete comprehension. It can see everything about you, and is looking
at you with utter pleasure. How does it feel to be seen that way?
Now step into the viewer's position and look at yourself the way that
viewer was looking at you.
- I neglected my students for the lectures.
- I had only one session in which they talked about study plans.
I'm looking at the lake of meadow grass beyond this shelving bank where
two nights ago was it I set these two adirondack chairs and smoked a cigarette.
What a glamorous idea.
There are spots of pink, a few, joe pye weed. These dark stalks of some
dry weed. Tansy where it meets the mown edges. Goldenrod. Dry grass. Burdock
American Spirit tobacco. Held the smoke under my palate and felt it hit
my brain. Boom.
Pines and apples on the shore.
Here it is 6:43 in the morning. The eaves are dripping.
Sumac on the deep roadsides - let me comfort myself - leaves in the soft
air - they like this kind of day probably - restful to them - they don't
have to work hard at devouring light, they don't lose water or fight not
to, they're being quietly washed.
I'm reminding myself that stupid people are needed to do the kinds of
things I don't like to do. That's in relation to the man with a party having
breakfast across the room, whose cell phone plinked out six loud bars of
a tune before he got it out of his pocket.
Caryn said she liked hearing my travel journal. She got points for that
because it was undramatic.
The evening Susan and I drove up the hill and saw wide land with blue
hills banded in the distance, sun a spot of cherry red at the horizon, goldenrod
yellow in green meadows. There was Susan next to me in the driver's seat,
a scrap of a creature. She was turned away looking out the window and when
she turned back to me her face was flooded with tears. She was protesting
that I'd said terrible things to her. I didn't think it was a moment to
argue. I was disarmed, I guess, a pretty small creature in tears.
What else - the moment in the deck chairs at night, holding the cigarette
above my head like a banner, watching it stream into the blackness, big
dipper a bit to the right. The quiet night and shaven grass.