Wednesday, February 16, 2011

All Things Zapata

The story ends with an ancient tree in the rain forest, a tree the people understood a god to live in its upper branches among the clouds.  The people visited the tree often, made pilgrimages to the tree, left offerings and prayers and scattered the ashes of their dead at the base of the trunk, understanding that the spirits of their ancestors nourished the tree as the tree nourished them.  Shamans knew its medicines, its power, administered slivers of bark for fever and pain, and on occasion, made tea from the leaves to loosen the poison that grips the bones of those possessed by greed, sorrow, and longing.  For centuries the people made ceremony about the tree, and when necessity lured some to distant places they kept the tree’s image in their minds as a way to know the world and keep the world intact.  
The building of the road into the forest caught the people unaware.  They did all they could to stop the construction, and when that failed, they fought to keep the tree from being harvested.  In the end, as we’ve come to expect, the people could not save the tree.  And with the loss of the tree the people dispersed in ten thousand directions and disappeared.  We call this assimilation.  And while a few of the “assimilated” were able to keep the tree’s image engrained in their psyches, most were not, and having lost the tree they lost the land and the ways of land and the medicines and the magic that the land holds.
I tell this story as I heard it.  Admittedly, the killing of a tree, a few thousand indigena, the loss of language and species, is an abstract concept for most of us.  Keeping a distance is to be expected; it isn’t easy for the human heart to carry such burdens. Besides, how much responsibility can we take for the actions of culture, of civilization itself?  I’m not responsible for you and you’re not responsible for me.  That’s the way it is.  Still, on the other side of things, in a world where all living systems are understood to be connected, there are those among us who feel the wounds so deeply that they cannot help but to stand fast for the earth and the people of the earth, this house of flowers and blood, and because of it face their own inevitable crucifixions.
The stories of assassination, execution, and massacre are numerous and equally terrifying.   Emiliano Zapata’s is one such story to carry close to the heart.  Zapata was Indian, a man who fought for indigena, for the rights of the poorest among us to subsist off the land as they had for centuries, as they had before the Conquest, before their land was appropriated under the violent hand of Manifest Destiny. Zapata was killed in the small town of Chinameca, betrayed by those he smoked cigars with the previous night.  Zapata fought for nine long years against a regime supported by land barons, as most regimes happen to be, including our own.  Today, the saying Vivé Zapata is painted on walls from one end of Mexico to the other, and I happen to share the hope, thin as it might be.  
It is midnight for those who fashion themselves poets, teachers, artists, publishers, photographers, journalists, lawyers, freedom fighters, activists of all blends and colors, all together and all very much alone. Let us not mince words: power structures are built to value economic production over the process of living and life itself, and it is nothing new for the powerful to exterminate those who threaten profits.  Personally, I don’t want to be executed.  I don’t want to be killed for speaking for the indigenous self. I’d rather drown in the river than be killed by nameless thugs.  The river makes sense to me.  Death by a coward’s bullet does not.
Still, for my own good, it’s important that I assert myself.  I’ve come to believe that one thing I can do is walk.  I’m speaking of pilgrimage, of course, of walking out of and away from the mechanized world.  Walking is a means of travel, for sure.  It’s also a gesture.. From Whitman and Thoreau to Gary Snyder and Terry Tempest Williams, there is a long tradition of those who understand that to walk is to connect to our primitive selves, that the part of us that walks is indigenous. If this is true, as I believe it is, it’s also true that in the rhythm of our heartbeats and between our steps exists the part of us that can’t help but love and respect the earth enough to fight for it, no matter what the cost.  In this sense we are all potential revolutionaries.  It only makes sense that the business elite go to great trouble to keep us hogtied to a car.
In Mexico there are trails everywhere.  And there is the endless story of revolution. Bound to these stories, I head to Chiapas, to San Cristóbal de las Casas, a comfortable town, find a hotel for eight dollars, begin writing a novella about gringos who disappear in the Mexican desert.  Three weeks later I finish the story, celebrate in a bar, drinks ushered to my table by youngsters with eyes the color of midnight, braids to the middle of their backs.  They’re like brothers, they’re very kind to me, watch over me as I drink. In daylight I see them in the plaza with their guitars.  Their women friends play guitars also, beat the drums, dance.  
Three days later I’m walking out of town, moving against a flow of people heading toward the cathedral where, on Sunday, Father Samuel Ruiz will return to offer mass in this town he helped make famous, after which will follow a demonstration in the plaza that will be closely monitored by the military.  I walk through Chamala where an old woman prays before a statue of St. John the Baptist and breaks a chicken’s neck and squeezes the head until blood drips from its beak into a cup from which she drinks.  I turn right up a canyon just before San Andrés, where the accord by the same name was debated in the mid-nineties, where Commandante Marcos and his Zapatista brothers and sisters, with the support of Ruiz and his liberation theology, put up a good fight, making it clear that they are a self-determining people, and have the right to choose their own economy, practice their own spirituality, live within their own culture and system of belief.  Land tenure was chief among their concerns, as was liberty, democracy, justice, and peace.  It still is.  
The road into the Tzotzil country is narrow, winds through villages and fields, up one mountainside and down another to a valley, by a stream, into Chenalhó, a government stronghold controlled by a few local landowners.  From there it’s all up hill to Pol Hó, the Zapatista settlement, then to Acteál, where in l997 forty-five people, mostly women and children, and all Zapatista supporters, were massacred by a death squad funded by said landowners, such a crazy thing .  
The people were gunned down running out of the church, and that’s where I want to go, that’s where I want to be, to feel the mother screaming as she hits the earth carrying her baby who is to die in her arms, to feel their dying, the mother and the child, the father and the grandfather, to feel their terror so I might know my own, yes, and so I might be able to speak, to tell the story, to keep it alive, to pass it on.  I head for the church, past an open shed along the road where a boy, without looking up, rips a plank with a handsaw.  Chickens scatter on the road, and in an opening in the trees below is a school and a gathering of women.  An old man steps through the bushes onto the road, carrying sticks on his shoulders.  He’s dressed in traditional white and has a machete as long as his leg tied to his waist.  His face is deeply wrinkled and his eyes clouded by cataracts.  He lifts his chin and whistles, starts up a path on the other side of the road toward the ridge. They are everywhere, these trails, climbed for a thousand years by men and women hauling wood and water and grain.  
I’ve been walking since midnight, I am thirsty and burned by loneliness.  I see the church on the hill above me.  My heart beats with anticipation.  As I start up the trail to the church I’m intercepted by a soldier, he shakes his head no.  I’m not surprised, only disappointed.  He leads me to a small hut on the side of the road where the Major wants to speak with me.  The interrogation lasts an hour.  The major has questions, lots of questions.  Why I am here?  Why am I walking this road?  What interest do I have in the church?  Am I a Zapatista supporter?  Where am I staying?  Where am I from?  What do I do?  Am I married?  Do I have children?  Am I a Zapatista supporter?  Do I understand the problems of the country side? Do I understand that the government is doing everything it can to help the indigenous.  “We are for the Indians,” the Major says.  “I’m Indian.  We’re all Indians.”  And I think, yes, he’s right, we are.    
It is the most beautiful landscape, these Chiapas mountains, rolling hills and long sharp ridges, wide swaths of a hundred shades of green against the old turquoise sky.  Logging has been extensive, for sure. Corn and coffee are grown on every slope where trees once stood, dogs sleep in the road and burros are tied to fences, pigs to trees.  I stand on the road across from the church and try to sense my way into the heads of those who murder.  I don’t do a very good job.  In Chinameca, in the small plaza where Zapata was killed, I stood against a wall, closed my eyes and ran my fingers over bullet holes made that day, April 10th, l919.  What’s amazing about Zapata is that for a brief moment in history he brought the ruling elite to their knees.  He didn’t do it on his own, but without him there was no revolution at all.  The deep sorrow here is that the Zapatistas in Chiapas today are fighting the very same creed of destruction Zapata fought eighty-five years ago.  And it is not out of the question that our grand children will be fighting the same system eighty-five years from today.  If only we could walk away from the shallow and the dull and the already dead, if only we could avoid them and the part of ourselves that is the same, if only.  It doesn’t seem possible, not in this life.  And so it is, if it is true that I am responsible for my own actions, it’s also true that I must act. 
The fact is, that no one, not even Zapata, can go it alone.   
On my way down the mountain from Acteál I sit in the middle of a small field of corn.  Exhausted, I lie on the earth and face the sky.  The sun goes down and the sky darkens.  Creatures of earth leave their holes and gather at my feet and head.  Some bite and poison me, others sing in my ear.  It occurs to me that the Major could’ve had me shot and nobody would’ve known what had come of me.  I’m amused at the thought of stories being told of my disappearance, satisfied one would come close to the truth, that one of my friends would intuit an execution and be motivated to query more deeply.  With the threat Zapata posed, he knew he had it coming. And so must we all.  And what better place than a cornfield in Chiapas to practice.  And that’s what I do, close my eyes and imagine that I have just been shot through the heart, that I am dying, the terror has passed and I am dead.  
Strange thing is, it is in the practice of dying that I realize I’m not.  At least not for the moment.  I stand and knock the dirt from my pants. I swat mosquitoes from my face.  From here it’s a long night’s walk to San Cristóbal.  If I walk steady and hard I can make it to the plaza by dawn where people are gathered to hear Father Ruiz inspire with his prayer.  I’d like to think I can make the plaza, and if I do, that my friends with the long braids and clear black eyes will be happy to see me, and greet me with guitar.  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Innana's Bed

Nogales, Mexico, dusky border town built on the remains of walnut groves. Brick and mud houses perch on hills above a murky strip with a hundred wistful shops selling woven blankets, tequila and pills.  Nogales is a crossing place, the streets are busy with those making the move, and I follow.  A few blocks off the strip at the end of a pitted road is a mesh of neon-lit cantinas, open all day, all night, no clear distinction between dusk and dawn, no clock clicking down, this, la zona roja, the red zone, a row of decrepit houses, doors and windows open to the hazy air, a child squeezing the skirt of a woman diapering a baby, a pile of dog shit steaming in the road, and to the west the unlikely view of the sun hovering over dry mountains, that glorious burn of orange.    
The prostitute, I don’t know her name, never asked. My mistake. Let’s call her Patricia, a strong name, paternal, decisive.  Patricia, whore and queen mother, a cousin of Mary Magdalene and Inanna-Ishtar, Goddess of Love.  Fertile and ripe, open and vulnerable, hard and unpredictable, Patricia gives herself to strangers.  Patricia who wears her stained blue dress tight across the ass and belly, who sits on my lap, says, You like me, no?  In the bar, at the table, in my lap, a sales pitch, a question, lipstick and  deodorant, she asks, You like me?  Or, a declaration, You like me.  Or incantation.  You like me.  You like me.  You like me. 
Yes, I do.  I like your body, it frightens me.  I’m fascinated, repulsed and attracted to the skin I touch, the brittle hair, the cold orifices, the rolls of dicey flesh, all that yes, no doubt, and the symbol I fall into, the hermeneutics of appetite and fear, what this life is made of, and who I am, and who you might be, and how we come together and depart.  
Patricia was a few years older than me, probably in her early twenties. She led me by the hand through a dank courtyard to a tight windowless room behind the cantina.  The room had a concrete floor and smelled of tepid milk, the same smell of so many of Mexico’s puddled riverbeds. I was a sun scorched, blue eyed, puberty stricken boy, all bony ribs and sunken chest.  If I was bored I was bored properly, and if I was a failure it was because I was never the man of your dreams.  In the hollow shadows of a cheerless room, that’s how I undressed Patricia, as a failure, took off her shoes and kissed her wavering leg, the sweet-scented flesh above the knee. 
I wonder about Patricia.  Was she amused, exhausted, bored?  Did I remind her of other boys who had made such a crossing, or was she worried about children of her own? Did she think of her mother, her grandmother, the priest, the man she worked for, the man she loved, the man she planned to kill?  Maybe she thought about scavenging the market, buying a new dress, picking up medicine for her sister’s diarrhea. Maybe she looked in the mirror to see a hungry face.  Maybe she was numb and thought nothing at all.  It was eleven in the morning.  I gave her five dollars and she laughed and asked me a question I didn’t understand.  Perhaps it had something to do with being self-determined.  Or maybe she wanted to know my mother’s name, Pauline. 
I have a question of my own: how does a sixteen-year old approach the borders of self?  How does anybody? 
Now I follow dirt trails up canyons and swallow parched air and look for Jimson weed, datura, the velvety-leaved plant that grows on the lips of overgrazed washes, narcotic cousin to morning glory, good for visions, the seeds can also blind or kill.  I understand now these two trails, one to the prostitute, the other to the sacred plant, both ruled by poison, are intrinsically, spiritually linked.  Bodies darkly perfumed, both bitter, both deadly, both open in surrender to a traveler’s feverish embrace.
Walking the earth, I accept the possibility of communion, that the body leads to the indigenous crow, to rock, to fiery processes, to the melt, to transformation, to resolution, you, me, all of us, if only for a moment, if only by chance.  We converge, huddle, plan, hunt, trap, kill, dance, make love.  We learn that some teachings are outside dogma.  And if the earth has a core, which I suspect it does, it’s just a matter of getting at it, of perception, a gathering of the senses and pursuing them to their end.  When I visit Patricia, it’s the smell of milk. Hence, I follow the drainages to an opening and descend.    
In drought, the sun is fierce, my lips are cracked and the heels of my feet bleed.  I am desiccated, thirsty, hoarse.   The streams are low and the ponds thinning.  War encompasses the planet and rages within me too. I’m watching the divides, the fences, the walls, the dams, how the world is railed in, pocketed, corralled, confined.  No need to moralize.  To be confined, enclosed, at times, to shelter and be sheltered, a good idea.  Drop into the crack, find shelter, tunnels, caves, mines.  In the desert, for sure, and near rivers.   And the city has thousands of holes into the underbelly.   I find one between boulders in a pile of rocks not far from my house.  The hole is what you’d expect, shadowed, moist, a space of quickened breath and dim.  I am a typical worshipper; I open my arms skyward. Dropping into dark holes is a collapse.    
Critters swarm in moist places.  Spiders and insects, demons both mythical and real.  Insects bite, gnats and flies feed on flesh, and after swatting a few thousand, it’s time to give in, surrender to the exhaustion of killing, to death.   From the beginning we are made of death.  Lost, I close my eyes and the pain disappears.  The crack in the world, the moldy dripping spring, the icy crevasse, the dusty fissure where the rock is hot to the touch—ah, Inanna’s lusty bed, a feverish head of hair, the caress of loins.  Innana perfumes her hips with ointment, and when she leans to the west, at just the right angle, her skin shines bronze and holds the warmth tight as a knot.  It’s difficult to drop out of the light. Who has the strength?  To strike a match is to see the open pit below.    
The earth’s crust is littered with bones. Likewise, we are microscopic jungles containing lizards and crows.  Fall into a rabbit hole and it smells of blood, a link, a wisdom, a gaping underground river intersecting the body, a pumping heart penetrated by voices, by sound, down to the belly, through the bottom of the feet, to the ever shifting center of things.  Dante journeys down, enters the wound, moralizes, names it sin.  I don’t see it that way. Not entirely.  I find the burning a delight, the part of me that meets the sun straight on, an open split in the timber, the alchemy of music, the burden of a lonely guitar.   
Up from the transforming fires, out of the great dry earth, between the matted pelt and frozen crust, out of a natural dungeon, through a crevice in the rock, we stand on the earth enveloped by night and the beautiful things night carries.  Someone quotes Rumi, says, “The world began in time, but eternity will inherit it.”  Another says, “I only know what I see.”  
We dust ourselves and stand straight.  We practice tantra, reuniting what has been divided.  Warned against the murky figures of gods and demons, we have no truck with mysticism.  This is the earth’s surface, rivers and hills, its history the primordial taste of the wild flesh we eat in silence, washing the last bits down with melted snow. With salt between the teeth, we move on, skirting churches and banks, finding an alley, a quiet spot beside a dumpster where we exchange rings, touching, joining—I’m all over you, we lose ourselves in that.
A friend calls and wants to borrow money.  If I give him twenty today he’ll give me twenty-five tomorrow.  My friend believes in tomorrow, and tries to convince me that I should too.  You can make five dollars, he says. I’ll pay you tomorrow.   
Heraclitus says, The river where you set your foot just now is gone—those waters giving way to this, now this.  
Some people say that Buddha and Christ reside within us. I say, Buddha’s the part of me that reaches for you, Christ the part that yearns to make love.
Our hands touch.  We sit face to face, knee to knee, talk.  You say, if we bring what is taboo to awareness our hearts will open to the moment.
I say, let’s do it now. What good is it to wait for a better life? 
Heraclitus says, The earth is melted into the sea by the same reckoning whereby the sea sinks into the earth.
I ask, would you think me foolish to drive my car into the heart of Mexico?
You ask, what of God?
I say, God? 
You say, I believe God smells of jasmine.  God smells of musk.  God smells of tree bark and chimney smoke and antelope sweat.  I see God when I look in your eyes.  When I look in your eyes and forget about you.  Can I tell you this?  I like you a lot. I’ve liked you a lot for a very long time.
We hug and cry.  We know the past is impossible.  And the present, right here, the now and the between, in everything we say and do, here, our words, here today, the beat of our hearts, some kind of opening, branches in snow, our radio songs, those songs that ask us to dream of the future and dwell in the past, ice on window sills, nightfall, the present, the thick filthy air, a failed test, the monkey off your back, here and now, an argument at Smith’s, a fender bender, a bowl of vegetable soup, a new dress for the dance, an eight foot cedar plank, a barking dog, a stalled car, a broken shoelace, my love, the color red, our jealousy and joy, white and orange and yellow, I go with you, today, now, in this moment, I reach for you as sun breaks across a field below the pinions, the hawk spots the rabbit, there’s an explosion in Iraq, on the Gaza strip, right now there’s a bomb going off, in Colombia, Brazil, Istanbul. Right now, as I reach for you, as I yearn and dream and pray, there’s an explosion in Guatemala, there’s a dead man on the bus. A heart attack, a swollen pancreas, the end of the line.  There’s a child dying right now.  Right now, right this very moment, connected to my breath as I speak, in all courage, to the touch of my hand upon your chin—ah, love, in this touch, in this moment belongs the last cry of the last diseased child, the last call, the last gasp for breath, all future at the end of our fingers, the child is dying as children can and always will as long as children wake to breathe and reach for yet another breath.  
We’re dying, I know we’re dying, we’re being born and giving birth, there’s nothing to be done.  All of us die alone. And all of us don’t.  
You say, to be alive is to be not dead.  You and me, us, all of us, this moment, you say, crossing paths, sharing stories, in the aspens, a bird, a single whistle, lovely whistle sing, sing down saint, sing down. You say, I am your lover, I have no threshold, no beginning, no end. Take me, enter me, stay inside me, and I will enter you.  I will touch you in all places and I will be you and you will be me.  Love, why wait to sing, sing now.  Sing now.
I was raised Catholic.  Baptized in a fountain at St. Joseph’s Church on the corner of Craycroft and Broadway, Tucson, Arizona.  I was seven years old when I received my first communion and confirmed when I was ten.  Those were hot days for me, the rituals, the memorized prayers, the long doctrine, the ambiguous nuns.  I was enamored by the church, the building, the holy water, the sign of the cross, the confessional’s hard wooden bench, the small eerie screen separating confessor from priest.   And following confession the low slant of light falling through stained glass over the pews where I knelt before the horribly wounded crucified Christ, eyes eternally sad and turned to the earth.  Yes, God was everywhere and always watching and had me on the edge of my seat.  
Prayer.  I prayed because I was a boy of prayer, because I was conditioned to pray, because prayer was part of my breath.  I prayed to Jesus, to God, I prayed to the Holy Ghost.  Yes, the Holy Ghost, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, the feminine at once distinct from and consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the poetess at the heart of the Church’s spiritual mystery, this Holy Mother Ghost who haunted me then and haunts me still.
 I returned from Patricia and the border, went straight to my room and stood in the doorway.  My mother slept across the hall, breathed heavily through her nose, in a few short years would be dead of emphysema.  I closed my door softly. I could smell Patricia on my hands and when I closed my eyes I envisioned her flat brown nipples and wiry sponge of pubic hair.  Her flesh, her smell, the taste of her had become embodied in my own, and I was sad.  I never consciously turned away from the church; it just happened that one day the church was gone.  
  As committed to the earth as I am, I feel myself reaching still.   A part of me is always asking to leave, to dive upward, to move like a hawk into a sanctified aura of celestial beam.  Rhythms of the forbidden drum push me along, the conjunction of body and music, one solo flight in a chain of many, life found and embodied in restless improvisation toward the goal of complete nothingness. It is through prayer, through open song that I become a force, a life created that exceeds itself crossing into the mystic, away from earth, toward the rim of the universe, where, at the violent edge of zero, we are seduced by the tender hum of light.  This is the story of exile, the saddest part of which is the leaving behind forever, the cutting off from roots, the break from tradition, from the past, from all predictable passion, only to reconstitute in those vast heavenly winds, the ocean of emptiness, through the black nebula to a stargazing galaxy where the earth appears a dim wanderer in an endless field of burning stars.  By design, we desire to kiss God, all matter disposed of, all devolving into a sea of bliss, the sublime.
And following the kiss, destroyed, we make the journey back.  We must or our people will die. 
For now, it is by chance that I walk these hills.  Datura grows at the cave’s entrance and I go there and lie down on the stones and put my ear beside the plant and listen for my mother’s breath.  The Huichols are said to call datura Kieri, the plant spirit who anthropomorphizes into a shaman.  Some say he’s evil, others believe a prayer to him will insure rain and good crops.  Datura is a nightshade, a distant cousin to tobacco.  The Aztecs used it for a pain killer.  I meet datura in my dreams.  To bend beside it, to touch its soft leaves, is to bring my dreams to the flesh and blood world.  I ask a question of datura and whatever happens next is part of the answer. I rest my face in the white flowers and ask for a dream, for an open door.  I close my eyes and see spots of time, vagrant memories, Patricia unrolling a black nylon up her calf, over knee and thigh. If I listen closely I can hear the rosary turn on the bones of my mother’s poor fingers, her voice imploring mercy from an ever so distracted God.  
In a saddle on the ridge I stop at a tree. It’s a lone tree, a tree I visit often. A large branch has recently split from the trunk near the ground.  I rest my hand on the break, caress the splintered pith, the loin of Innana, remember how, out of fear, out of the need to dominate, out of pure appetite, her temples were destroyed by the priests, her sanctity crushed, buried, and nearly forgotten. The sun is hot, my skin is burned, the earth is cracked, the tree is dying. The bones in the earth’s crust are many.  It is no surprise then that from the break in the tree I feel a rush of dark heat, a throbbing up from a vast system of hidden roots the ripe smell of decay, the sound my prayer makes when it meets the wind, a tongue flush with salt, and in ways I can’t explain any better than this, the bitter healing kinship of a whore.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Train Manifesto

On Tully's deck, looking over autumn city night, the lights, the lake, the Oquirrhs, a drift of slim clouds, final drift of day, for some the first day of life, for some the last, the last beauty, the last threshold, and for Tully and me, we ask what to do with it, and then we hear the train.  A train passing through, we listen to the echo, inspired, dream the beginning of things, where things begin, the original night, and toward this we go into some kind of pulse, some kind of blue shadow, as in blue night, blue skin, blues singer.  Into song, following lines, a track to be measured, spoken of, a stretch along the way, a map through the country, crisscross chant and dream aboriginal. We take the dog.
It's a quiet night before the first snow, a fifteen minute stroll from Tully's house to the railroad crossing, four tracks, one street lamp, the capital building lighting the hilltop east, the air damp with still.  Across the road is a mattress factory, on this side the railroad maintenance yard, parked work trucks saturated in oil, a shopping cart tipped in the dirt by the tracks, the city is sleepy, lonely, and Tully, dreaming, speaks to the dog and she sits.  Something's up with Tully, the whites of his eyes bend to other places. He stands on the tracks.  Landscapes widen and blur.  Blue Night, a lovely title for the soundtrack, something Tully could play on the guitar.          
       "It makes sense," Tully says, and kneels beside the dog, the dog licking his mouth.  
        I don’t know what makes sense, but there you have it.  He’s standing on the tracks, we hear the train, the engine's light bobbing through black horizon.   
I tell Tully he should get his ass off the tracks. Tully drops his arms, steps beside me.  We wait for the train, watch as it eases through the crossing and halts, blocking the road, sixty flatbeds and tanker cars, the stop signal flashing, the train humming and rocking. Tully rocks with it, speaks of his parents, growing older each.  He speaks of his wife, they are going through a thing, he’s confused.  
       I think about what it would be to lie under the train while it's moving.  I’d like to ask Tully to lie under the train with me, wonder would it mean, to lie below a moving freighter. I feel liberated imagining Tully crossing the tracks to a Union Pacific boxcar, placing his hands on the cold steel slider, bowing his head in some kind of trance, slowly he lowers himself to the ground, and then, more clumsy than a person needs to be, he crawls between the wheels, struggles over the tracks and finds a place to rest between them. Under the train and lost to the shadows, I imagine Tully staring at the grim under-bottom of a tanker.  If this were to be, his dog would go crazy on the end of the leash, and when the train started to roll she'd give chase, pulling the world behind her.   The train would pass and disappear as trains are meant to do, but would Tully be okay?  Would I?  This is always the question: how far to push in search of fresh meaning, how deep into blue before it turns to sacrifice?
Beauty train. Beauty.  Bellus, fair, bonus, good.  Beatus, to bear, to bless.  To believe.  To hold dear.  To become train.  Anatomy of life, fluid mind, lights and shadows flicker past boundaries, near perfection, love. Lethargy of sleep, locomotive per chance. What is blessed. Intoxicate by root, baptize by smoke, blessed be thy name, train, the murmur swift as light, rolling across this tragic land.

Every city in the world has a train story.  Salt Lake City has a story.  The trains made it easier for the Saints.  Before the trains the Saints crossed the great plains in wagons, and at one point they pushed handcarts up steep pitted trails.  The carts more often than not fell apart well before the group made it to the Salt Lake valley, and when they did the people carried what they could on their backs, in their pockets, in their arms.  Through bitchwork and sickness, the Saints pilgrimaged for the Holy Land and some died in the crossing and those who didn't were met at the pass by Elders and they were led into town in a parade, heroes all.  They were happy heroes. They were happy together. In those days the Saints drank wine in celebration and they celebrated their new home, and they bowed in reverence and prayed for the living, yes, and for the loved ones buried along the trail.  They were strong, and at their core, they were deeply saddened and bereft.  
      When track was laid across the plains the Saints came into the valley on trains, and that changed everything.  For the Mormons, the trains marked the beginning of the end of their wild crazy romp with nature, and the people, now settled and under the strict hand of a father, grew tame. And tame, like all common people before them, they decided it best to tame things, just as all of us try to tame, and they dammed the rivers, just as all of us dam rivers, they warned against the dangers of curiosity, just as all of us are afraid, and they poured good liquor to the ground.  Of course, try as anyone might, the wild can never be tamed, and to this day, as most of us are numb to the sensuous earth, there are more than a few Mormons with that old raging native river in their blood. You can see it in their eyes, you can hear it in the frosty edge of their song.   

Trains, of course, brought the gentiles, the drinkers and the poets, the gamblers and the prostitutes, the artists and the actors and the thieves, the musicians and the melancholic, those who dance in sorrow on flat toes, my people, people of the birds, the pagan mystics, the inebriated visionaries, my aunts, my sisters, my mother who, like the wild Mormon, walks the hills barefoot and bares her thin breasts to the wind.
As always, there are historical congruences, parallel lines and crossings.  While Brigham Young was building his roads and the great temple on the valley floor, Thoreau hid in the eastern trees, walked the woods and listened to the trains choking the hills, carrying cargos of lumber westward. The night is black, and Thoreau, an abolitionist, said, "I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock. . . ."  "Life consists with wildness," he said.  "The most alive is the wildest."  On the daylight side, Brigham Young, a man of high noon morality, in an l859 discourse on slavery, characterized the Africans as descendents of Cain, as "uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind." Young was not alone among evangelicals or secularists in his belief that black was wild and wild was bad. What Young had somehow ignored or failed to understand was that Joseph Smith was the most wild, and every bit as black as he was white.   
A century later while the Mormon leader Ezra Taft Benson boarded a train to Washington D.C. with an endorsement for the John Birch Society, in San Francisco Allen Ginsberg sat with Jack Kerouac in the veil of darkened railyard, the tracks entangled in mummied roots, the rusted box cars symbol of industrialization and bomb, and beside the tracks Ginsberg saw a sunflower poised against the sunset, remembered Blake's sunflower, that self-same sunflower that appeared to him as he masturbated on a bed by the open window in a New York City apartment while reading Blake, and with his prick in his hand he entered a vision and heard a voice that he described as "unforgetable because it was like God had a human voice, with all the infinite tenderness and mortal gravity of a living Creator speaking to his son."   
Kerouac himself worked the rails to a fine tragic inebriation, steam everywhere flocked up by winds, world swirling, early morning train to San Jose, crates of Del Monte fruit, forgive me Lord, this our prayer.  Neal Cassady, Kerouac's hero, Kesey's bus driver, grew up by the tracks in Denver, cruised Larimer Street, a six year old, slept on the warehouse floor in blankets beside his drunken passed-out snoring father, there, at 3am, he was awakened by the train, and then he heard some angry voices in the street below and he snuggled closer to his father who tossed an arm around the boy.  Ah, the old man loved his son and together he and the lad hopped a moving boxcar, and the young Cassady did it just right, only problem while lifting himself up into the train his hands mushed the fat of raw chicken and he had to sleep with that stink about him for a couple of days.   Of course Cassady, who spent his adult life looking for his father, died on the tracks in Mexico, walking from a wedding party, heading toward Celaya.  High as he tended to be, he made it a couple miles under stormy sky before falling to the tracks, froze to death that rainy night, l973. 
Coltrane rode the train, sat alone in the back carving his reeds and humming the "H" blues.  Some say beauty is form, and as the form migrates, fuses.  Coltrane writes the soultrain, The Trane's Slo Blues, lush life, this life, Blue Train, this algebraic blue, this livid leaden flame, this sorrow, this intoxicated skin, ah blue hills, blue heat, blue smoke--kiss my blue lips blue baby true blue, blue black, blueberry, bluebird--she wondered how she could go on living so blue, blue blood, sangre azul, aristocrat--I am blue-eyed, blue mountain, blue beat, ska, common twill twill twill twee twill, bluegrass, blue collar, blue healer--come into me, enter pigment, the eros of melancholy blue, blue hawk, blue gown, blue pill, mercurial waters, gospel bluing, sudden hellish outcry, it is never enough to sing out the clear sky, the desert, the indefinite distance, the unknown, God.
What's this story about, you might ask.  I could say it's about trains, and that would be right.  I could say it's about the last beauty, and that would be right.  I could say it's about Tully, how he composes music, how he loses himself in his work and how he is saddened when he puts it aside.  This is what the story's about.  It's also about getting off the train, walking three miles across town to her house and knocking on her door, she invites me in, we speak a while, we make love, and then she has to go to work.  "Should we talk about it first?" she says.   I say, "We could try."  And that's what we do, we try talking.  "Do you desire me?” she wants to know.  "Yes," I say, “yes, I desire you.” There's much more to say, but of course, she must go to work, and I head toward the town square, her scent still about my hands, I feel sad and peaceful walking into the market where I sit on the edge of the fountain and watch children throw seed to pigeons.  I ask you, how much beauty can a person bear?  The blue of sunset, the passing of dreams, the fragrance of old mountains, cinder cones, and in the distance, the sound of train leaving the station.  
And there is this separation:  I love you.  Believe me. I look at you sleeping, and think, all things end.  Some believe we meet the beloved again in the next world, in the future.  Father, now gone, what can you say to me from the other side?  Are you hanging out with old friends?  From this side of things, the world is cracked, and in some way even forbidden.
And later, alone, it's raining and the night is thick, hard to cross with any semblance of nuance or finesse. The hill is steep.  I remember you, how you were wild at world's end, you dazzled and refreshed and left me in suspense.  We do not ride the railroad, it rides us.  Exiled, we point to the rooftop and say, "That would be a good place to make love." And then the image is gone, just like that, we are memory, traces among the spheres, then all together gone.  Eternity is more fragile than the skin of a strawberry.   Mouth to mouth, we carry it on our tongues. 
Some say the human form is beautiful.  Adorn it with jewels, cap each tooth with a diamond. Train hard to get in shape, find the perfect fit. Contours. Angles. Holes.  Listen to the train, smell the train, taste the train, lick the train, eat the train, shit the train. Rejoice the symmetry of that.
I sit in a car in the middle of the train, a seat at the window, I have a gift from you, a half pint of Crown Royal that I share with an old man with a toothache.  Pain and pain relief.  I see you out the window.  And my own reflection in the glass.
All the separations, mother from daughter, lover from lover, friend from friend--there are moments of great longing.   But not always.  Sometimes it's all ecstasy to see you go.  You bore me.  Or you work me too hard, you want more than I have to give, you want devotion, you bleed me dry, you annihilate.  Train, take me out of here.  Take me through the mountains. Five minutes down the track the burden is released and I don't remember your face.  Boston, Aberdeen, Winslow, I can hitchhike out from here.  It doesn't matter, I'm free to go, I'll find a trail and walk.  Nothing left behind.  I am a father of myself, I am the going forward, and as I go I'm not alone.  Not at all.  Look down the length of the train.  From every car, from the sleeper, from the dining car, the smoking car, the flatcar, the freight, look at them leap by the dozen from the train.  Look at them fly through the air, angels all and everything we seek.
We each have our train stories.  The more the better.  Stop and listen in this very moment and hear the train.  Listen to the train.  Take it for what it's worth. My first train, New York City, to Yankee Stadium.  Then, many years later, in l973, the same year Cassady died, during a snowstorm, exactly one dollar in my pocket, hopped a freighter in Winslow, Arizona, the car just barely moving, rolled up and landed in the dark flat, protected from the storm in a cold dark cave, womblike, rolling along watching the storm, heading towards Flagstaff and then L.A., happy to have done it, hop a freight, and at my back, all those years leading to a train ride through a snowy night, splendor of frostbite, gazing ahead like a newborn calf, let there be no ravaging of forests, let us not expose the roots of trees. 
Tracks cut the land and lead somewhere--ah destination, picture that.  Follow the tracks.  Boot tracks, deer tracks, trails.  Stop in Winslow Arizona, try that.  Stay for a week.  Rent a motel room near the tracks, listen to the trains all night, yes, and the trucks on I-40.   Watch some flickering T.V. soap operas.  Read Gideon's Bible or a romance novel found under the bed.  For one day, don't leave the room, watch the sun cross the sky through a crack in the plastic drapes.  Keep an eye on the woman who cleans the rooms as she crosses the frosty grey parking lot, curling her lip.  In the morning, after a night of restless sleep and waking with a stiff neck, find a cafe down the road past the fuel storage tanks, eat some eggs and bacon.  Drink thin coffee, feel bloated and greasy in the face.  Tip the waitress.  Walk to stretch the back, walk into the sun, past the school, the trailer houses, the sleeping dogs, the crying babies.  Step over the tracks and into the sagebrush and out of town.  On the flats, feel the wind on the calmest of days. Taste the dust.  Feel the heat through worn shoes. Chew on a sprig of sage, hang out with cows, scuttle north into the drainage of the Little Colorado. Carry water.  Bring a lover, walk the dry mud with a lover, watch the storm approach, shelter in the rocks, light a fire, grow naked, make a bed out of shirt and blouse, touch, kiss, exhilarate, dampen, conceive.  Go for it.  Suck on dry roots.  Celebrate.  Pray.  Glimpse and paint and message.  Go for it.  Go to a bar with a lover in Winslow Arizona--hang against the wall, feel the building crack against the back.  Drink hard stuff, drink cheap liquor, drink Jim Beam, pay for it. Stare in the mirror behind the bar, see a face, a lover's face, how old, how lonely, talk to the man drinking at the bar while the lover goes to the bathroom.   Smoke his cigarettes.  Listen to him talk about guns. About women.  About work, about lost souls, about Indians, about whorehouses and war and Denver and building wooden shelves.  Listen to him talk politics and get in an argument.  Talk Reagan and Central America.   Ask his religion, talk it. Insult him. Do it.  Call him white trash.  Challenge him to a game of chicken, challenge his manhood, his ability to father.  Put forearms together and drop a lit cigarette in the crook, see who flinches first.  Look for the beginning, the mythic center, the moment of creation.  Get in a fight in Winslow Arizona.  Have a cheek punched, a jaw broken, a flattened nose.  Land on an arm, break a collar bone, hurt.  Leave the bar with a bleeding face and a boot track on the ribs, find the alley and stumble along with an arm in a sling.  Make your way to the tracks, wondering what happened to the lover.  Notice lingering figures following the tracks.  Sit through the night at the rail yard with a broken collar bone and a black eye.  Sit for one entire day in the rail yard. Look toward Albuquerque, toward LA.  Trains pass, stop, switch.  The wind comes from the west, the workers hold their hats to their heads. Watch the sun cross the sky and pass through dim-blue clouds.  Imagine landscapes.  Imagine the Mogollon Rim, imagine Tuba City, imagine the Hopi buttes.  See the San Francisco Peaks, imagine how they came to be called sacred.  Imagine terrible sacrifice. Kit Carson torching the magical peach orchards on the floor of Canyon de Chelly. Look for a father in those charred stumps.
Walk the tracks in a dust storm in Winslow Arizona and go there and feel separated from the world, the flux of life, feel cut off, severed, hammered.  Meet the separated.  Find body parts on the tracks.  Find arms, find the arms of a man who laid under a train, on the tracks find fingers, hands, legs, heads.  Find a man's head.  Severed.  Separated.  Bladed.  Guillotined.  Separate from the world.  Do it now.  Fall into machine, like Henry Martino, 24, while trying to jump a moving boxcar, both hands on the floor of the open boxcar, running along with the train, pushing up exactly like the book says, but, as is bound to happen, lose concentration, lose balance, kick a foot to balance, and when a foot catches in the wheel know that the tragedy is near an end, know the next moment will be the most violent, and after that there will be no pain.  Find fingers.  Find bone.  Lots of empty shoes on the tracks between Winslow and Holbrook.  Remain in Winslow for a full week.  Suck the raw beauty from that.  Speak the last beauty.  Take the train to wherever the train goes.  Pay for it with cash.  Pay for it with a swollen rib or a lover's migrant song.
Tully, what do you see on the bottom of the train as it passes?  Is it possible to truly understand the underside of things?  When you play the guitar, do you see the face of a man, do you see your father?  A mustache?  Do you hear his voice, is it deep, is it scarred?  Does he saunter and work with his hands?  Does he build cellos and mandolins?  Is it him, at the end of things, this last beauty?  Is his skin black, is it tinted amber, do they call him by his first name?   Is he made of bone or is he a space to enter?  Is he an invented thing?  Tully, tell me, how naked are we beneath our clothes?
Fireweed grows through the ties.  The womb so much like a river, from the river to the tracks, the breeze is cold.  A cool blue moon, this train rolls slowly, at first creeping, then building up speed.  Anatomy is destiny, and the sign at track's end says, “Enter Here.”  And trained as we are, we do as it says, we enter, we stumble, we sleep.  In this moment, everything and all surrounds us, the beauty of it all.  Dream down what meaning may come; the sky if full of sound.  It is in the wind, fellow, the end of the day is forever upon us, now speak.