There’s a sound that a pick-axe makes when it’s plunged into the earth and dragged back out again; it’s the sound of metal opening the history of our lives, slamming into our powdery souls with a thick ferocity of hefted weight and muscle and sinew and limb…a stretching of cloth and skin in the arc toward the heavens of the steel head and hardwood handle singing through the air…and the slight visceral grunt as it lands with that freighted slice and drive through soil and rock, echoes cleaving the dust and clay that is ourselves and then…
there’s a sound that a saw makes when its teeth rip through the fibers of wood and brush; it’s the sound of a serrated blade slicing into our fingers or hands, driving through the cells of meat and unto bone…fine or rusted edges of metal rending our woody flesh, tearing it neatly into pieces that we hone and fit and hammer back together into other forms that cover and shelter us against the elements and gods; we take it with our hands and break it into pieces that will warm us or feed us, sometimes with the muted, wet splaying of green wood that wouldn’t break cleanly…like joints pulled backwards against nature and form…or with the sharp echoes of cracking branches and bones that flee into time and then…
there’s a sound that a scythe makes when it passes through grass and the wheat of the field; it’s the sound of an icy razor lifted and throwing light back at the sun, of muscles on shoulders and hips swaying in a life-rhythm and a whisper through the air and a shhhhhh through the grass as cell membranes burst against the blade and green it in its passing, dust and skin and grass and stem, seed-heads swaying in the breeze of man and his motion, aloft in the sky and a shhhhhh to the ground, the echoes of sunshine and air falling on the riching earth and then…
there’s a sound that flesh makes when it tears in that moment of thrust and climb, of muscle pounding into a hallowed cave; it’s the sound of hinge-less doors opening beneath a fusing flood of life and stranded helices, recombinant forms and particles charging, of a new pulse rising in a hidden place, one cell beating and beating…becoming…that time draws forth as it rips again, that sacred fleshy vault, echoes of life and death in a moment’s strain…and then…
there’s a sound that a house makes when it no longer harbors life within; it’s the sound of a derelict wind stealing through empty window panes and hollow echoes fading into the oblivion of lost time and then, memories disappearing like vapors drawn, weak flashes in smiles and tears, images forming and fading as sunlight passes through dust motes hanging…and when the moon finds night-time corners…sliding feet on worn boards, oil from hands on banisters evaporating molecules at a time, riding the ether of ever and gone, echoes of laughter and pain, no longer anchored with heartbeats away…echoes no longer anchored with heartbeats away…and then….
***Photo used with permission by Gary D. Bolstad at Krikitarts. The photograph was taken along the side of the road somewhere in Minnesota when Gary was returning home after a vacation in the woods. I encourage you to visit Gary’s site to share in his beautiful photography that demonstrates his love and fascination with our natural world.
I woke from a troubled sleep, an uneasy rest, a mid-day slumber after a morning of hard work. I didn’t remember how I got to where I was when the fog of sleep left me, but I felt as though I had been transported somewhere, to some other place and odd. My body sensed that it had been enveloped and moved, taken whole from a place in my past and brought into a place new and unknown. My eyes opened from their unrest and I beheld strange objects, both near and far. The sun was askance and out of its normal place, for shadows moved and danced and were moving still as I stared about and they weren’t in their regular place, either, the shadows weren’t, and then.
I looked around and rubbed my eyes and heard and felt a thing above me, like a thing there and not. It was a presence almost, an electric whir, an electric hum, a tingling somehow and a scattering in the air. “Someone is there,” I said, and “Hey…hello?! Hello?! It’s me; yes, I’m here! Hello?!” I heard myself say those things in my mind, but didn’t hear them with my ears. I did feel a mighty presence, like I said, something or someone more powerful than I, something that caused the air about me to move and swirl, to sing almost in a whooshing Hey. It moved and was gone; it moved and was gone; it moved and….
I wanted to move, too; I wanted to rise and walk around, but something held me fast; it was tight and across my chest and the light was bright still from the sun and sun and it reflected in a prism-like glare as though it was shining through cracks and splinters of glass and then. And that thing was still there, too, that presence and moving something that made me feel small and raised the hair on my neck and charged the air with a static pulse and pulsing.
Was it Him, was it that childhood thing, was it that mover from above, that ever-present something that stirred within, but came from without? I didn’t know; I didn’t care in those moments there; I only wanted the next moment to come so I might be away and awake and alive and somewhere else.
As I tried to rise again, I felt the earth start to move beneath my feet, from deep within the ground maybe, or not so far as that, but close and still. I felt the ground start to quake from beneath my soul, from beneath everything that I knew and that thing or someone was still above me and then a scream crashed through; it was sharp and severe and it screeched into my bones and my brain and I screamed out loud, “Yes, I am here, and here, and what do you want…?” as the thing screamed back at me and the earth shook and still and the thing moved above me and whooshed in a feathered crush and hard and rough and then it moved again and the scream again and the earth moved beneath and within me again and the cells of my bones rattled and I closed my eyes and tried to hide from that unknown thing that I didn’t know, but felt in my soul and body core, that spirit, that god, that reckoning thing, that thing that screams and has no mover…it was the end of time, maybe, or even the beginning, too, I didn’t know.
I rubbed my eyes again and looked around again and shook my head and turned around and around as much as I could again and I was still held there and was taut or tied or something. I looked for anything I knew, maybe a person, too. I strained and saw near and behind me a little face with rounded cheeks and gray-green eyes; a little man or boy, and smiling at me…and he pointed there, out and away from me, from us…and he said…
“Hey Dad, look at the train!”
Occasional experiences, figurative and literal, they sometimes populate our dreams or the written lists of goals that we hope to achieve one day, they are our aspirations, and our inspirations, too, as we live and strive and keep reaching toward that other end.
It rained again in that place where memories are stored, where the synapses fire and storm and lay things waste and then they are gone again or whole again and the images and sounds and scents live in the memories where we laid them those years ago, where they got tucked away somehow and have been waiting, if memories can wait, for us to rekindle them to their cogent prescience, for us to make them live again.
Those pictures lived, then, they were images and words wrought together with footsteps down hallways, belts rattling into their drawer at the end of the day, a rough hand on a cheek, the smell of gum and tobacco smoke, and the image of a big yellow car slowly easing itself into the driveway,Vitalis in his hair and the shuffle and hitch of the arm or hand into his waistband, keys and coins rattling and black-framed glasses surrounding the dark, sad eyes again…and the gift of a shiny red pocket knife…and after sand through the glass, a car in a time of need, a gesture, an attempt…what can I do? Moments and years and two or three lifetimes and the breath stops and the cheeks are tucked into place with clay or toothpicks or whatever the embalmer uses, and a little smile lives and holds that rictus shape until the crematory’s fires take it away. He was an old man early, and gone, limiting his life by wanting to live only so long, so that’s what he did, just for so long…testify, prophecy…. And I wonder what he really wanted, what he really desired and didn’t quite get. What dream remained unfulfilled, what heights weren’t reached? I don’t know. I have tainted memories and the taste of ocher, but that was my experience…what was he to someone else, what was he to his friends, what redeemed him when nobody else was around, or when he was in some others’ eyes, and not mine? What unconfessed sins tormented his soul, or what happiness lived there, even, beyond others’ eyes and mine? I don’t know what made him happy, or sad, or what left him feeling empty, what defined loss for him, or love…what stranger did he long for, what living or dead person didn’t fill a void that he needed filling, what or whom did he mourn, or caused him to smile when nobody was watching? Did he really believe in a god, did he really believe that he was going to live with a heavenly father when he died, that he would walk on streets of gold up there when his life was informed by asphalt and broken concrete…was that going to be his reward, really, did he actually believe that…did he have to turn off a part of his brain to do so, or did it just come naturally, did he like flowers or football, or what about weeds and wild grasses that grow along rushing mountain streams? Did he love his father, or even know him…or forgive him…or sin against him and not forgive himself after all those years? I don’t know…and at the end of it all, it’s for naught anyway, the deeds are done, the tears fallen, the regret swallowed and poisoned the body to the marrow, and maybe the only redeeming truth is that he didn’t know how to be what he was, didn’t know how to be what he wouldn’t have chosen to be, and he had no guide along the way to steer him out of the footsteps that had been laid before him….
And it rained again as the thoughts fired upon themselves as the fingers tapped the keys and as the neurons kicked themselves and rocked themselves and curled around their own shadows again and shot again into the void, into the primordial abyss of eternity that ranges in the wasted spaces between the fibers and strands of the cerebral mass.
Why are you crying, Daddy?
*neuron activity photo found via google at www.darkgovernment.com
In the age-old conversation about work and life, are you one of those lucky or fortunate ones who stumbled upon or pursued and captured the job that drives your passions, or is driven by your passions? Did you have that childhood dream become a reality, and now, in your adulthood, you wake each day and can’t wait to get to your job because you just absolutely love it…because it so fulfills you, rewards you, or gives you the satisfaction at the end of the day in knowing that you participated in something that was so much bigger than yourself, or that you touched at least one life in a way that will be felt positively by that one life for their life’s duration? Or did you wake in the night and rise to embrace your creative dream and not stop until you were famished and your strength gone as you beheld the object of your creation and were able to say “Yes, I did that, I made that, I created that…and the world, or my own corner of it anyway, is all the better because I did so”? Is that you? Is that me? Or are we in the middle of a muddle where we just get up everyday and go to our jobs, walk the walk, go through the motions and maybe even have moments where we actually care about what we’re doing, maybe only to be rewarded every other Friday with a few more bones, or many more bones in our checking account? Or worse, are you in a job or place that you can’t stand, but you’re too numbed by your personally dissociated indifference to do anything about it? Is your job killing your sense of who you are or want to be? Have you resigned yourself to the daily grind and live only for the paydays that finance your weekends and postponed or neglected dreams? How do you live then? How do you do that? How do you surrender yourself so completely to someone else’s bidding? For the money only? Are we whores, then, when we resign ourselves to such a life, sacrificing our bodies, health, our minds, dreams, or our very souls, for that paycheck? What would we trade or willingly sacrifice, to have a job that we love, so that it is no longer work, but actively living and flourishing in ourselves and our dreams as we participate in that “making a living?” What would we sacrifice so that we don’t have to surrender…and what do we become if we don’t?
What stories would you tell? What memories would you trust to your readers, to the world? What dreams would you confide? What sadness would you share? From what soap-box subject would you shout? What fantasies would you indulge? What sins would you confess in the name of another? What other life would you live? What unwritten books in your mind would you open for the rest of us to read? If you would speak here….
Two years ago, I came to your country looking for a new life. It was my desire to make things better for my family, for my children. In these two years, I have learned many things about people, yours and mine, and about living, or trying to live, in your country. These things have not been easy for me, but I have learned them, and I will not forget them. You see, I have read your newspapers and I know that some of you despise me and my people. I know that you do not want us here, in your country. I know that you are angry, for I can feel your hateful stares; and while I respect your feelings, I must ignore them. I must look beyond your intimidating glances and keep my mind’s eye on what my dreams hold for me and my family.
My name is Isabel María Hernandez and I came here from a river-town outside of Juchipila, which is near the middle of the state of Zacatecas, Mexico, roughly six hundred miles south of your Texas border. I was born into a very poor family, one that had nothing. My father was a farmer of corn, but the land was not his, so he had to give most of the money from the corn to the dueño. After my father paid the landowner, he would give the remaining money to my mother. She would then go to the mercado and buy what food and supplies we would need for the next several months. If you saw her walking, every time she went there, you would see my mother’s lips moving; nothing could be heard from her mouth, but you would see her lips moving, silently praying with each step that there would be enough money to buy what we needed; but there never was, and somehow, that did not keep her from praying the same prayer each time she went there. So, we had nothing.
We were only four children with my mother and father. I had learned from my tia, my mother’s sister, that there used to be three more children, but they had died before I was born. A fever had gone through our village and had taken many children with it when it left. This made my mother very sad. It was said that she did not speak for almost one year after they were gone, and I think she was still sad, even when she had the rest of us. You know, my mother’s sadness, her despair and emptiness, it was like the fever. It spread from house to house in the village. It touched everyone’s hearts and lives. Echoes of her misery were heard everywhere, even across the river where the Ocotillo had made their forest. We thought that the land itself held my mother’s sorrow.
When I was seventeen, I met Juaquin Gutierrez, the man who would begin the change in my life. He came to town with the rest of his family, all of them crammed into an overloaded pickup truck. They were heading north, going to the United States, where, if they worked hard and proved themselves diligent to their task, they would find a new life. Juaquin said there was work for the asking, and supposedly, they paid well. Even if it was not well by their standards over there, it was probably much better than it was in my hometown.
I wanted to leave our valley. I wanted to leave because it was filled with the sadness. There was no life there, only sadness and the remaining shadows of death. Can you blame me for wanting to leave? Can you blame me for wanting to escape the history of nothingness, for trying to start anew, for desiring to forge a new shape to my life and the lives of the children I would someday bear? Do you blame me?
If you are a mother and you dream for your children, do you dream that they will become corn farmers who know only hard times and unhappiness – or do you dream of better things? If you see a chance to take hold of a possibility for a better life – do you not reach out and pluck the opportunity before it flees, not knowing when or if it will return? I think you would. Then you ask me, “What about your country, your history and traditions, why do you leave them behind; why do you forsake them?” And now I ask the same thing of you: ‘What about them?’ Do you want to go there? Do you want to take your children with you and try to live? Are you willing to give up your comfort, no matter how temporal or long lasting it is, to go live where I have lived – where I was born? I do not think you would go.
Some of your newspapers and opinion polls say that we do not work in your country. They say that we only come here to bite into your system and see what we can get out of it without putting anything back. You say that we are taking your benefits and public assistance dollars when your own people do not get them. Have you never taken time from your very busy and important lives to see that, yes, we do work? Have you never seen that my people do the jobs that your people do not want to do? Do you remember the men who built the wall around your yard, the men who built the walls around all of the yards in your neighborhood? What about the men who bent the metal bars that now hold your swimming pool together? They were of my people. Did they have to beat-up someone to get those jobs? No. You say that there are laws that make your companies hire some of my people – so their quotas can be met. Very well, maybe there are some laws like that. But, I can tell you, there were no long lines of your people trying to get a job when the companies hired us to plant your vegetables or to harvest them and deliver them to your markets for you. We did not have to shove people out of line to empty the garbage cans in your hospitals or office buildings. Maybe you are too good to pull the weeds from your beautiful hotel gardens. Maybe you are too proud to wash the dishes from which your own people eat. Can you not wash out your own toilets or vacuum your own office floors? Or what about that nice little restaurant where you eat lunch with your friends every other week, talking about your new car or pool while my brother, not yours, scrapes your half-eaten meal into a garbage can? What about all of this?
Can you remove your eyes from staring down your noses long enough to see that your own people abuse your system the same way that you accuse my people of doing it? Can you see that? They did not risk their lives on troubled, dangerous highways to get here; they did not spend many sleepless nights wandering the desert trying to find the right path to take them to their dreams. These people were born here. These people just decided to take a ride on your system of benefits – they have taken the benefits – when a better life is all around them for the making.
My people and I are not asking for very much, we only desire a little help. If we are allowed some assistance, you will see that we will end up helping you and your rich country. You will have our children, my children, when they are older. They will help your country grow – become richer. Our children will serve in your armies and help defend your right to live where you want to live.
What do you dream for your children, that they will go to college and become big lawyers or doctors; become presidents of corporations or mayors of your cities? These are wonderful dreams. You are comfortable in your houses, dreaming these dreams. I am trying to become comfortable too, living in my home, dreaming much simpler dreams for my children. I dream that they have enough food to eat every day, and that they will be able to wear clothes and shoes that fit. It is my hope that they will be able to have enough food for their children when they grow up. I want them to be happy. When they have these things, then maybe I will be able to share your dreams, maybe then I will be able to see our children together, becoming doctors and astronauts and such.
Years ago, your country was built by people who were not born here. Ships used to dock in your harbors, full of people whose nationalities and languages would reach the hundreds in diversity. You, yourself, are probably born from a family who came from one of those ships. Yes, you say, but that was a time when the industry and commerce needed the immigrants to work in the factories and peddle the goods in the streets. Those people, your ancestors, you say, were responsible; they learned the language and contributed to society. So, now, years later, you see the benefits of those people coming here. If you will but give them time, you will see the same of my people.
Things are different now. Your country may not need my people, but we have been coming here in recent years because things have gotten worse in our homeland. Your ‘high-tech’industry and inventions have allowed us to know what better lives we could have in your country, the place that is still the land of opportunity; the one nation that still offers a better life, where my children can grow, can better themselves and our people as a whole. Your own Declaration of Independence says that all people are created equal and all are blessed by their creator with certain rights that must not be denied them. These rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These things are available in your country – they are not so available in mine. When I was studying about your country, I read of your statue, The Statue of Liberty, and the poem that is written at its feet. The last verse of the poem says:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
I cried when I read those words because they so described me and my family…and I cried because I wondered where the people had gone who felt this way about my people. Are the words of this poem still true? Are we still welcome here, in your country, to breathe free, to find a home where dreams can be fulfilled, where our children can grow strong and live? Are we not welcome here? If you turn us away, where will we go, where will we make a better life? Where will my children be able to have a blessed life of opportunity…like your children?