Archive for April 29th, 2007

I was listening to NPR early Saturday morning on the way to a meeting. The journalist was interviewing a soldier from Wisconsin who had been shipped to Iraq for another tour of duty. In his cache, the soldier had illegally stashed a stack of books, including a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. He said he had read it as a young man and it inspired him.

Thinking he would get in trouble if anyone discovered his bivouac library, the soldier seemed pleasantly surprised when his superior was happy he had packed the literature. They now regularly swap books.

At the end of the interview, the journalist asked the Wisconsin soldier how he reconciled reading On the Road in the middle of a raging war with the Beat Generation’s anti-war sentiments. The soldier responded, “War is hell. But I’m a soldier and this is my job. It’s what I signed up for. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

When I got home last night, there was a program on PBS about the Blue Star Mothers of Minnesota. The Blue Star Mothers of America, an organization that originated in 1942 in Flint, Michigan, is a support group of mostly women whose sons and daughters have gone to war. If their children don’t come home, they become Gold Star Mothers. No mother ever wants to become a Gold Star Mother.

I watched with sad tenderness as these strong women told their stories. It reminded me of when I was about 12 or 13 and the 22-year-old boy, James, who had just married my young Aunt Emmalyne, was killed in Vietnam only months after he’d left South Carolina for the front lines. She was pregnant with a child that would never see his father. The impact on our family was immediate and devastating.

I later lost contact with my Aunt after we moved to the North. But in my 30’s, I happened to be in Washington, D.C. when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by Maya Ying Lin, was dedicated. There were veterans milling around everywhere – some decorated and in wheel chairs, some in civilian clothes, most in fatigues strolling the grounds solemn and teary eyed. It was a rainy afternoon. When you walk in the mist, you get wet.

I walked the 246 feet of black granite until I found my Uncle’s name. Then I reached up on tiptoes, placed the rectangular paper over the 9 letters, and rubbed a graphite pencil across the granite. After I was done, I placed a red rose at the base. It was very powerful. The paper is tucked away with my keepsakes.

War is a horrible thing. And families are stuck in the middle. How do they keep supporting their sons, daughters, husbands, and wives in the face of the adversity, deceit, and media spin that flies at them every day?

In Taos last year, a woman in the writing retreat wrote about her two sons preparing to go off to Iraq. I think that’s when I started to see how none of this is black and white. From an emotional perspective, there are no winners. There are losses. And more losses.

I don’t support this war. I don’t support any kind of war. I believe in working toward peaceful solutions. But I do have a new empathy for families and friends who go off to fight for what they believe are the right reasons – individual freedoms. And I support every person on this planet being able to celebrate the richness and freedoms I wake up with every morning. I take them for granted. I don’t want to do that anymore.

I want to remember my Uncle James and every sentient being who has ever perished in war. My way of doing that is to write. And I know of at least two soldiers who are reading another writer, Jack Kerouac, in their downtime in Iraq as a way to lift their spirits. So this is for them.


Jack Kerouac

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19. Accept loss forever
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You’re a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

Read Full Post »

When I was little I had a horse
It was a stuffed horse
I pretended I could ride it but I never learned
In my dreams I am riding the horse bareback
I feel like a boy again but I am still a man

Man on Horse

Read Full Post »

Poor Dee. I go into her room, shake her just so, just so I can wake her up. She has a horse show today, and it’s early. Early for a Sunday morning. I don’t want to wake up Em, or Jim. We all went to bed late last night. I wiggle Dee about, she’s probably dreaming about being on a ride at the carnival, all this shaking, or maybe even being on her horse. I take my hands and cup her chin with one, her cheek with the other. She finally opens her eyes. Dee, I whisper, time to get up for the horse show. Noooo, she says back. Shhhh, I say and leave her to pull herself out of her cocoon.

I like the quiet of a Sunday morning. I have turkey sausage links cooking in a covered frying pan, on low. I have a cup of heated milk and coffee, my morning drink. The only sounds I hear are the quiet sizzle of the sausage on the stove and one of the dogs barking. Dee just now asks me if they called. “They” are our neighbors up the street. They’re the ones who board Dooley, Dee’s horse. She’ll head up there in about fifteen minutes to wash Dooley and get him ready for the show.

I always wished I had a horse as a kid. I wanted rabbits, too. I spent a few summers at Grandma and Grandpa’s. They had everything. Hutches with rabbits, two pigs in a pen. Sheep, cows, chickens. Uncle Pat had race horses he kept in Trinidad, Colorado. Now known as the sex change capital of the world. But then it was just a place over the Raton pass to drive to and watch Uncle Pat’s gorgeous race horses with their spindly legs and long necks.

I couldn’t ride a horse back then. The one time I tried, I slid off its backside. I’d been sitting on the back of my friend Sylvia’s horse. We were in her driveway, talking to her sister who was sitting on the hood of a car. We were just sitting there on Lady. And somehow I slid off, in slow motion. I fell on the hard concrete, looked up at Lady’s mass above me, her hooves like weapons she might use on me, and I bawled. I must have been six or seven, and I went through the rest of my childhood in awe of horses, desirous of a horse, Please just let me have a horse. If I could have one I’d learn to ride it, master it like Sylvia did and never be afraid of them again.

And now the timer on the oven goes off. Dee is leaning against the couch, still sleepy. Dressed in jeans and a pink Western shirt with pearl snaps. Just like they’ve always worn at horse shows.

Read Full Post »