Sunday, April 23, 2017



FRIENDSHIP


There are two towns named Friendship in the hills of Jamaica.

One Friendship is where the fried chicken is, a little stop-and-go where you smell the chicken frying from a mile off on the Junction Road that takes you to Kingston. On the road back at night you might see a rock-stone, as they say, burst into flame. I saw it happen once.

The other friendship is even more mysterious. If you go there and meet Mrs. Pet, you will have your palm read like a newspaper and she will call the saints and re-balance your brain and you will go home hungry and sane, and you will see duppies and mermaids.

Some years ago I left my heart in Jamaica. I left it in the hills of St. Mary, the same Parish where Zora Neale Hurston left her heart so long ago. She said St. Mary was "... the very best place to be in all the world."

Sometimes I smell the fried chicken of Friendship and see the candles of Mrs. Pet burning in the darkness, and I wonder how many friendships there are in the world, too many to count, like the numberless stars, like the saints of the night, like the peenywallies of a summer eve winking on the night breeze, like the salt crystals of the sea at Blue Harbour, like Mike Gleeson's endless stories, Sweet-Sweet's songs, Mr. Denzil's coffees and sugars, Roy's hugs, Mackie's deep voice, Raggy's ragged laughter high on the top of Firefly hill where Noel Coward once blew his blue smoke within sight of the coastline and the John Crow Mountains.

Ah, but once you have lived in Jamaica, Friendship is always coming into port, no matter where you are or what you are doing. Friendship, a town in the heartland of the heart.

Shadow box by Mariah Fox

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Moments of Truth

Back in the sixties when I was a college student at Highlands U. in Las Vegas, NM, I had a professor who was bright, funny, offbeat, and sometimes brilliant in the way he dealt with problem students. I learned as much from him about teaching as I did about poetry.

Once, I remember, he asked us, my soon-to-be-wife, Lorry, and me, to a Simon and Garfunkel concert. It was by no means a class trip. The prof whose name was Bob drove us in his old Ford station-wagon from Manuelitas to Albuquerque.

Before the concert, he asked us to help him load an enormous oak door he was bringing back to his home in the hills. Then we went to the concert. I still remember someone in the front row throwing a cowboy hat to Paul Simon, which he gratefully accepted and wore for the rest of the night. It was unusual seeing the classic New York folksinger, under that too-big hat.

Right before the drive back home, Bob said his feet were hurting. He took off his shoes, and socks and then blew a breath of air into each sock before putting it on again. He said that refreshed the socks and the feet, and he claimed he learned the trick from WC Fields.

Bob seemed his funny, quippy renewed self, and spoke passionately about ee cummings' poetry, an adobe wall he was building, and how he was planning a "Happening" at the university. A happening was usually a spontaneous outburst of talent and protest against the ever-present "system".

We bore on into the moonlight heading toward Santa Rosa and then cutting up in the direction of Las Vegas. Why that drive is forever etched in my memory is not surprising to me. We had to shift a lot in our seats because the enormous door slid with every pothole. I sat on one side of it and Lorry sat on the other side, and the hatchback was wide open because of the length of the door. It started to snow and the road got tricky.

The years have turned that snow-blown drive into Toad's wild ride from The Wind in the Willows. Bob drove fast, then slow. He turned the wheel a lot and the huge, hand-carved Spanish door bashed into one or the other of us. Bob told stories, Zen tales with no beginning and no end. Finally we made it to our doorstep. Yet even today, after almost 50 years, my bones remember every bump and grind on highway 84.

Not too long ago I was doing a presentation at a bookstore in Corrales. For some reason I chose to tell some coyote tales.

But whenever I mentioned the word coyote, someone let loose with a loud howl. And the audience cracked up. So did I. Later when I was signing books, a man stepped up and bought a few and when he set them before me, he howled.

And so there he was, large as life, full of fun and pranks, and not looking any older. It wasn't until he gave me his business card that I realized that professor Bob had switched careers. He was now a horticulturalist. His business card said in embossed print: "Don't Let Your Plants Go Down."

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Shine, Perishing Republic



SHINE, PERISHING REPUBLIC


While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily
      thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs
      out, and the mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the
        fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness
        and decadence; and home to the mother.

You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good,
       be it stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:
       shine, perishing republic.

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance
      from the thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster's
        feet there are left the mountains.

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a
       clever servant, insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught -- they
       say -- God, when he walked on earth.

--Robinson Jeffers


This unusually great poem was in my mother's handbook of modern verse, circa 1924.
She was fond of Jeffers and his love of nature and his fear of man. It seems like the bitterest
of aspic, the toughest of thistle, the poison that finished off the Roman emperors. But Jeffers was a devoted father, loving husband and friend of humankind and his poetry shows that he was one of the deepest thinkers of his age and now our own. I read this poem aloud to an audience in 1965 and it was thought to be a current poem by a Beat poet. Today it reads like a critique of the election results.       



Thursday, September 1, 2016

Running White Canyon with Dan

I remember our daily runs in the summer of 1983. We were in Southeastern Utah running the canyons. Often barefoot. Swimming the rock walled sink holes. Eating red meat over red embers. We outran a flash-flood. Burned our skin in biting dust. Soothed it cool shadows of willow. Dan and Fred were the runners, I was just glad I could keep up some as we went along and I scribbled my notes, following the path of Big Wanderer, the wolf of Navajo myth.

Now -- in a sudden moment -- Dan is gone. But I keep him close; always have, always will.

This is a celebration of his memory.

Running White Canyon With Dan

How far to the bridge? I ask
You can hear it, he says
How beautiful the canyon wren
At five hundred feet
Playing the flash-flood
Like a bowstring 

Canyon Lands, Dan and Mariah, 1984
 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Self-portrait, William Saroyan


Writers of the Purple Rage




"We are all men of letters waiting for the mail." --William Saroyan

I once stopped writing and vowed never to write again. The reason was that I had received a 10 page single-spaced letter written by a man who claimed I'd killed his mother. She was found dead with a copy of one of my books in her hand.

I wrote the accuser back saying that the poor woman had actually died of boredom. The book she was reading happened to bore me as well, not to death, you understand, but to the point of distraction.

So for three years I stopped writing. What a vacation ... from myself. But then I started getting more letters. Curiously, it seemed that those people who weren't dying to finish my book really liked it. I was in a quandary because quite a few begged me to write another book on the same subject -- cattle mutilations and alien space abductions. I went to my unread letter file and found that I'd tossed a bunch of letters into it. All of these were written to me during my so-called writer's vacation. There was a letter from a guy in prison who said my novel was "liberating." Another from a librarian in Ohio who begged to know when the second in the series was available. Still another from a woman in Alaska who said I had written in "the true vein and spoken to her people." Lastly, a Hawaii native who praised my book and said, "If circumstances direct you to write back, then we'd be happy to get your letter and we'll take it from there!" There followed an inscription in Hebrew and some indefinable codes.

Saroyan used to say -- in addition to the above -- that real writers get letters. They do, they surely do. And I am happy to say that I have actually completed the cattle killer book and it was sent off to the publisher.

I await the next accusation, implication, condemnation and infatuation. I am here. I don't expect any dead ravens, as George RR has received.

Maybe just a hamburger or two.



Friday, January 29, 2016

My Old Ford F-150








I saw a man in the parking lot of a school I visited and he was bent over staring at the bumper of my 1993 Ford F-150 pick-up truck.

"Nice truck," he said.

"Gets me around."

The man sighed, shook his head and laughed. "Just look at that bumper, solid metal." He banged it with his knuckle. "All metal and chrome."

I nodded. "You say it gets you around? Where to and where from?"

"Well, I said, "It got me out of a mosquito ditch I was in."

"How'd it get in there?"

I laughed, remembering. "My best friend drove it into the ditch."

"What'd he think it was, a flying horse? Any more?"

"Well, it was in a hurricane and made it through but my neighbor across the street, well, his RV got picked up in the air and when it came down it flattened his mom's caddy."

He smiled. "What else?"

"Well, let's see. My wife gave it those racing stripes. They were made by our farm gate."

"Took it a little close, eh?"

I nodded.

"Well I'll tell ya," the man said, "one day you're going to thank this old gal for saving ya when someone backs into ya."

Yesterday in the parking lot at Publix I was remembering that funny old guy when, right then someone backed into my F-150.

A loud grinding, jaw-clenching crash.

The driver couldn't see out of his back window because it was all steamed up but that didn't slow him down any.

When I checked the damage the score was Ford F-150 one, blind driver zero. His back end was crunched so bad some of it fell off in the parking lot. "It wasn't my fault," he sputtered, "I was just let out of the hospital, and now look what I've gone and done."

The old gal, my Ford F-150 didn't have a mark on her even though my jaw was still quivering from the jolt.

Old Gal, God bless you
and Henry Ford too!


Friday, December 11, 2015




If Roger Zelazny were alive today, and I tend to think he is, at least in the spiritual sense, for he never doubted that himself. He believed that books were more than books. And that humans were beings of light. I was thinking about Roger last night when I heard that Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for an award for his performance in a film based on a novel called The Revenant.

How does Roger fit into all of that? Well, in 1992 he and I wrote the novel Wilderness, which was the first historical fiction about two forgotten historical figures from the 1800s. Hugh Glass was one of these and John Colter was the other. Colter, pursued by members of the Blackfeet tribe, was chased 150 miles. He was barely clothed (some historians say he was only wearing a breech cloth). Hugh Glass was left for dead, some say buried, after a bear attack.

Colter ran, Glass crawled.

Colter ran for his life. Glass crawled for revenge.

So goes the ancient tale. Nobody knows for sure how much of it is true and how much is fabulous fact rendered into imaginative fiction. In any case, Roger and I collaborated on the novel about these two adventurous souls who left their imprint on American history.

Now it is a very visceral, imaginative movie which, in a very real sense, puts you there. Rivets or nails you there.

Our novel, I am grateful to say, has run (and crawled over the years, but it has never gone away. Perhaps it is just as N. Scott Momaday said of it: "A valuable and stirring evocation of the American West and of certain original souls who inform its history." Rocky Mountain News called it "A dazzlingly poetic book, a rare reading experience -- reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's prose."

Beyond the reviews the novel received, my favorite praise quote came from an actual descendant of John Colter who said to Roger and me at a book signing in Albuquerque: "You told it straight, got everything right except for one thing: the ears!" Roger and I laughed. "The ears?" The lady went on to explain that Colter's ears were large, just like hers, and she took off her cowboy hat and showed us.

Over the years Wilderness has survived, just like the mountain men who left their mark.