Picnic post image

Oh let’s have a picnic
a picnic by the sea
no one there but angels
as the waves wash over me

Been observing all kinds of things lately. Had a birthday, end of summer, looking back again. Even with as much as I’ve done and all that I’ve experienced in all those years, it seems so short. Like everything that happened is a dream. Here I sit at the at the same pine-panel-on-Ikea-sawhorses desk I set up 30 years ago 2,000 miles away. Moths are batting at the window in the night. The native grasses I won’t trim are waving in the wind.

My wife keeps telling me to lighten up. That would be my mother’s disease. The dusty artifacts and unpulled triggers come from him. It seems like one should be alarmed, you know, yet everyone is perfect. Underneath it all we’re gods or part of one. That’s good because I can’t believe how old the bad boy is. Her hands are smooth and hot under the sheets. Hold me, she says in the morning. It has to be all right, right now.

All Out Here If You Look

cloud formation

Holy flies of universal revelation, Batman!

We took a splendid little road trip up to southern Colorado. It was a glorious, beautiful day with visibility clear to sharp horizons. I wanted to stop every quarter mile and take more cloud shots. Just before crossing the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, we saw a tight clump of half a dozen bighorn rams, and then there were the llamas, every now and then a raven or a hawk. I wanted to claim the nearest ridge and build a hut of lava rocks.

Lunch was out here where I took the picture. Afterwards I stood beside the car to take a whiz. Immediately out of nowhere came a swarm of small brown biting flies that crept up to the puddle before I’d even finished. An uplifting moment. Standing in the wind, flipping the last drops of sustenance to needy insects in the sun beside a dead volcano, I felt plugged into the universe.

We each have our own little path through the world, a wise friend told me once. This in the context of him shitting his pants under a North Vietnamese artillery bombardment and later walking away from a fancy job in Houston when his supervisor wouldn’t let him leave the building to see the first real snow in 20 years. I wonder where his hat hangs now or if he needs one.

What is it, what’s the one thing left on your exam, the vision that you never trusted but you can’t forget? For me it’s being free of fear. None of this was ever meant to be so heavy, all the bags are packed. Fear is what keeps me from the work. The work leads to the open door.

Dog Wreck


No martyrs and no medal

The small gray dog somehow wasn’t crushed but tore off into the bushes shrieking hurt real bad. The Volvo station wagon in the right lane pulled over to the curb and no one got right out. I don’t know if they’d ever even find him and did not want to be in that car.

I was driving into town to go to Albertson’s for a Sunday paper and cinnamon rolls. Traffic was light, the air was cool. As I slowed down for the red light at the hardware store, the dog ran out from a clump of trees, stepped off the curb, and did a little left-right-forward dance, confused. The Volvo wasn’t going fast and slowed down even more to give him room. The dog took advantage and tried to cross, but the traffic coming the other way must have made him turn around. The space behind him was no longer empty, though. Instead of stopping until the animal got sorted out, the Volvo had already started rolling again. The dog got tangled up between the front wheels and something nasty happened at the left one. To my amazement he still jumped up and ran the way they do before they die. Maybe it wasn’t that bad but oh the sound he made.

The light turned green. There was a millisecond of my going back to help, but my lane was clear and I went through with all the rest and off the rails because I knew… The Volvo owners must be Anglo and retired. Squeamish dealing with the blood and pain they’d caused. Afraid to see if there’s a collar with a number they should call. Not wanting to pay the vet bill. The aggravation of a broken Sunday morning. I was angry at the dog as well and at whoever let it loose.

Past the light and safe to look behind. I didn’t see the Volvo. The dog was probably bleeding in the sagebrush or already dead. A man or woman or child would worry all day long or cry and never know. Part of me was in the car between the wheels and dying in the brush. I heard the dog at Albertson’s, then thought of him again back home and wished I had another roll.

Coda Yoda

old adobe interior

Looking for the verbs

The palmist was known to me, the adult daughter of someone I knew as a crazy damn poet and writer in Austin when I’d hide out on weekends from my teaching in Wharton, where the sheriff had a deputy park in front of my house and opened my mail, about the time when the KKK blew up the Pacifica FM transmitter twice just outside of Houston and my favorite coffee shop in Montrose took to hanging cargo netting over the entrance to catch Molotov cocktails. I was less than a year away from dropping out and building a shack in the Arkansas Ozarks, where a state trooper crept onto our property late one night in a blacked-out cruiser looking for weed—rocks popping under the tires—because the old moonshiner who floated through the woods on his tall silent horse let out that we had a circular garden, not straight rows like granddaddy dug.

She was real and took no money. There was talk of overcoming fear and being wealthy later. I’m so much older now but I still make excuses. Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is to have a brain.

The Day I Sold Her Wedding Rings

canyon of the Rio Grande

Where the Rio Pueblo meets the Rio Grande

We found them after we locked her up and I could poke around the doublewide, two silver-looking rings with diamonds. There was money, too, stuck back in her bathroom closet. Actually I think my sister found them. (I recollect we divvied up some Benjamins.) A few years ago I had the rings appraised—now there’s a racket—the understanding being that they’re worth so much but you could never sell them. See? Ninety dollars down the drain.

I’d had them longer than I’ve had her ashes in the storage unit. That makes sense. I don’t know how long she was in the “secure memory facility” but we had time to sell most everything she owned and take her money in the end just like she said we would. As trustee I kept the rings. One was her original wedding ring, a simple platinum thing with tiny diamonds in a row, the ring of choice for over 50 years. The other was a more flamboyant white gold piece with larger stones they’d bought in Germany in the 1950s. I never noticed whether she wore it too because she always found a way to stick the dagger in and all I ever cared about was getting out of there. Be that as it may the time had come.

There was a jeweler down in Santa Fe. Not a strip mall “WE BUY GOLD” kind of joint but a professional establishment in the lobby of the La Fonda Hotel. The woman I talked to on the phone even told me how to clean the rings before I brought them in. I knew she wasn’t fooling and had not the slightest doubt that they would treat me right.

We took off yesterday to make a day of it in the big city. The sun was shining and the air was cool. The 70-minute drive begins with a thousand foot drop into the canyon of the Rio Grande just south of Taos. The twisting, curvy two-lane runs along the river below scary cliffs and hills for almost twenty miles, passing the spot where falling boulders killed three riders on a Greyhound Scenicruiser in the ’90s. There aren’t many places to pass, either. Right away we ran into the road work signs. One-way traffic ahead usually means alternating convoys but all we did was sit there. Every few minutes the line would creep forward about half a car length, which made no sense to me at all, while traffic sped by unencumbered in the opposite lane for half an hour. There were rafters splashing by and making better time. I was in good spirits though, never mind I saw we might be late. My curiosity for what the hell was going on was overwhelming and the canyon is an awesome place to be.

Eventually the line began to move a little more and kept on going, ooching up to almost 15 mph. When we crept over a rise five minutes later, crammed together on a narrow shoulder 40 feet above the rapids was an entire fleet of paving machinery and trucks. Good Lord. We’d been waiting all that time for the workers to park for lunch… I could barely make out the southbound end of the line a quarter mile away. There must have been 30 vehicles in front and 100 behind. Okay, but why were we still creeping?

It was the little red Toyota in the lead. When the highway straightened out enough I saw it, followed by a pickup camper pulling a boat and several other silly people too afraid to pass. The cowards were bunched up bumper-to-bumper, leaving no room for braver souls to pull in safely if they passed and ran out of road so no one tried. For the next 15 minutes until the four-lane opened at Velarde, the herky-jerky convoy bucked and braked as everyone went mad, never topping 30 mph on a road where I go 65.

After being bottled up so long, everyone went speeding through Velarde except of course the red Toyota, still doing 35 or less but thankfully in the slow lane now. I noted the Utah license plate and awaited my turn to honk. The driver was a little old man wearing a baseball cap and he was pissed, turning to glare at me and honk right back. I wondered if he’d ever get as far as Española, where he wouldn’t even have to brake.

Velarde marks the end of the canyon. The rest of the way to Santa Fe is more developed, hilly, scenic. Mountains in the distance all around and four lanes to the end. Past Pojoaque you can even cruise at 70 mph if the traffic’s not too bad. We hit the exit for downtown Santa Fe and pulled into the parking garage on San Francisco Street with less than 10 minutes to my appointment. The La Fonda Hotel was three long blocks away through crowds of tourists. My wife hung tightly on my arm and didn’t yell about the way I dragged her down the sidewalk. God I love that woman. Finally the lobby, scores of leather chairs, and someone there to help me. Time to pee and find the jeweler. Santa Fe is like New York compared to Taos. Maybe Paris. The cool efficiency of cultured civilization was a shock but I was so relieved.

The woman I talked to on the phone was cool and confident and didn’t waste a minute. Knowing how to melt down precious metals might account for that, I thought, or maybe there’s a gun behind the counter. I told her that I’d left my appraisals in the car but that I bet she didn’t need them. (Understatement of the year.) She noted that the lesser ring was platinum and badly worn. Whatever else my mother was, she’d played her role and worn it every day with pride. There was a strength in that I’d hardly noticed when she was alive, as if the pain inflicted late in life had roots in motherhood turned upside down. Something in the observation slipped between my ribs. It’s all right, I told myself, keep going. Inside of 90 seconds later I was folding up the check to stick inside my wallet. Three hundred dollars for the two of them was more than I’d expected, fair, and probably a gift. My wife was quite elated.

We drove immediately to a favorite brewpub. I felt looser than I had in months. Sitting outdoors at “our” table up against a giant aspen in the cool bright air was marvelous. I watched the city people, ate a meatloaf sandwich on Texas toast, and got wasted on my seven percent IPA. I’m a little tipsy, I said as we walked out to the car. Oh dear, she said, and laid a smooth warm hand on my bare arm, but everything was fine.


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