BootsnAll Travel Network

Archive for October, 2006

« Home

St. Sebastian, Holes, and Choreography

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

What a weekend! Sao Sebastiao, as I saw him in Guimaraes on my birthday, continues to smile in my bones. Swan Isle Press, in Chicago, sent me (at Christopher’s instigation, I’m sure) Christopher’s book about Salvador Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca—entitled wonderfully, Sebastian’s Arrows. Christopher writes tenderly that for Dali and Lorca, St. Sebastian was “a symbol of poetry,” of “the poet’s vulnerability,” “deliriously content with his punctured state.” The book arrived Thursday and took me more deeply into St. Sebastian’s territory: transcendent bliss, despite the “punctured state,” despite the “holes,” no: because of the holes. Once again my head spins from so much evenement, from the conjunction of ironies, miracles, and large and small joys. [read on]

Death Row in Texas

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Today John and I got a letter from one of the prisoners who was in our writing workshop for two years. That prisoner has served many years and is due to be released soon, but he was recently moved to the prison where death row is located, in Huntsville. From his cell, he can see the protesters who gather with signs every time there’s an execution. He says there’s a Subway Sandwich shop right behind where the protesters gather, and he notices both the protesters and the people buying sandwiches, going on with their lives. He’s on the “grounds keeping crew.” He says their job is to cut the grass, move furniture, plant flowers, and dig graves and bury prisoners who die in custody–both those who are executed and those who die of what the state calls “natural causes.” He writes, “We bury on average three or four a week. At the cemetery sometimes there are family members who show up. I used to think myself hard, not moved by other people’s feelings. Now I look at those family members and feel tight in the throat. Worse, sometimes we go out there and drop three or four coffins in the holes. No family to say goodbye, nothing.” Others in the workshop have talked or written about what it’s like when someone dies in prison. Within minutes the body disappears, and before a day has passed another prisoner is assigned to that bed. Death doesn’t scare us; invisibility does. Being ignored, forgotten, treated like a disposable thing, instantly replaceable: that chills us, makes us feel “tight in the throat.” We want our passing to be noticed. Yesterday I saw the film Paradise Now, a work of genius that takes us into the minds and spirits of two young men who decide to become suicide bombers. When one of the “martyrs” makes his final video, delivering his speech to the world and his farewell to his family, the camera doesn’t function properly, so he has to say his farewell speech all over again; the second time he delivers his speech, it comes off just short of absurd, and two of the “crew” stand by, calmly watching and munching on the lunch his mother prepared for him that morning.

The Fruitful Darkness

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

One of the four places I’m exploring as the site of the rest of my life is Upaya Zen Center, in Santa Fe, NM, where Joan Halifax is the abbot. I wanted to know more about her, her beliefs, her values–so I ordered a copy of her book, The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom. She’s an anthropologist, she worked with Joseph Campbell for a time, and she’s the ex-wife of Stan Grof, the breath-man, with whom she wrote a book. She spent years studying shamanism; at a point fairly early on, she stopped being an anthropologist and became a student: in west Africa, in Mexico, in the southwestern USA, in Asia. Then her charmed life took her to some of the great Buddhist teachers: Thay Nhat Hanh, His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself, and some powerful Korean and Japanese teachers. She’s an eclectic learner, like me, and reading her book makes me feel better about my own wanderings, my own thinly-spread and widely-encompassing quest. She’s also a skilled writer whose prose reads like poetry. [read on]

Reasons to Live

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

The assignment for the writing workshop Thursday night is to write about what we love, using the “toys” of poetry: line-breaks, rhythm, alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme. I’m ready:

Reasons to Live

wet loam and waist-high weeds breathe
on a Texas morning after a hard rain

turnip greens and pot likker soak into cornbread,
cream splays out over hot peach cobbler

aging lovers spoon to Cleo Laine and a sax
while leaf shadows dance on the bedroom wall

Carolina snow-melt tumbles over stream beds
in a shower of shell-pink mountain laurel blossoms

intense yellow dandelions fleck a lush green meadow
loud with crickets in the south of France

bougainvillea flings a spray of super-saturated
crimson over a blue tile wall in Guanajuato

a tabby cat in Georgia rolls on his back and arches
against the red earth, purring for a belly-rub

in wool socks and plaid pajamas, she strokes her
pregnant belly as snowflakes float past a street light

fat brown toes sink into the sand caressed by
the foam on a beach by the Indian Ocean

in an autumn fog, five silver geese
honk for the dawn in New Orleans

an old woman, arms aloft, dances to the beat
of a base drum in the ancient city of Braga [read on]

Meeting Paula again

Monday, October 16th, 2006

When I was in Portugal in July, in what seems now like a former life, I stumbled onto a not-yet-opened exhibit of photographs by a woman named Paula, with testimonies of women who, like herself, had been political prisoners in Argentina. I wrote about our meeting with great joy, because in the midst of my pilgrimage, meeting Paula was in some ways like walking through a mirror. Not that I mean to flatter myself. She she is younger than I by more than a decade, beautiful, brilliant, confident, successful in her art and in her life. None of that mirrors anything to do with me. But we hum to a similar frequency, and she shows me facets of myself I couldn’t see clearly till I met her and saw her work. Her pictures of walls, stairways, grills, barriers, stains, pipes, and rags explore a prisoner’s landscape. Her pictures are landscapes of trauma and violence, landscapes of survival, walls we build to protect ourselves, walls that, once constructed, are difficult to take down. I spent Sunday afternoon with Paula again, as she has come to Houston in connection with the next Fotofest, scheduled for March, 2008, by which time I will have gone on to whatever comes next in my life. [read on]

Great night in prison!

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

The creative writing workshop in the prison tonight was exceptional. John, who co-facilitates the workshop with me, had left us last week with a reading by Mumia and the assignment to write about violence. For the first time in a year or so, John wasn’t able to come to the workshop because he’s in Cape Cod for a meeting (poor thing), so he missed his harvest tonight. We had a short story, a couple of essays, a piece that defies genre, a series of ten Haiku, a rant (from me), and two poems. I think I’m about to share some of that bounty in this blog. The guys in the workshop are preparing to launch a new literary magazine to showcase the work of people in Texas prisons. They’ll be the editors. It’s called The Midnight Special, for the Hudie Ledbetter song, for the way Odetta sings it, and for the legend: we’re in Sugar Land, Texas, right near the railroad line that runs alongside Highway 90. Every night we all can hear the echoing harmonium of the train whistle as we lie in our beds. Since the turn of the twentieth century, there have been prisons here, and the legend was that if the light from the Midnight Special should strike a man in the eyes as he lay in his cell, he’d be going home soon. [read on]

Rich with possibilities

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

I have now received warm, welcoming, encouraging emails from HKF and Sravasti, and I also got info from the Chamber of Commerce in Spokane (60 miles south of Sravasti), which slighly allays my fears about the winters at Sravasti. Maybe the winters are less long and severe than those in Massachusetts. On paper it seems so. Every time I pick up a book, an essay, or a dharma talk by Thubten Chodron, who has built Sravasti from a vision to a solid place on the earth, I am drawn to the teacher and the teaching like hummingbirds are drawn to the blossoms in the hanging baskets on my balcony. Then I play one of Bo Lozoff’s tapes, and I lean back and smile with his easy, laughing wisdom. Then I think about Joan Halifax and her wonderful work for prisoners, for the planet, and for the dying, and I think Upaya, in Santa Fe, is a great place to toss my small energy into the mix. The least logical place, because the only thing I know they do is gardening, and I am no gardener, is Green Gulch, but I can’t get its beauty out of my heart. Is it not astonishing that there are four such places, that all of them might take me as part of their community, and that the world is completely lit with possibility! Oh brave world, that has such people in it. [read on]

A swirl of life!

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

Lisa is having a baby as I write this. Manko has come home for an overnight, and that has gone well. On the world scene, it begins to appear that a significant mass of Americans now see what a disaster the invasion of Iraq has been and are perhaps wanting a change of government, though it is very difficult to see how to make the mess in Iraq better for the people whose lives have been ruined. Great emotion wells up in me for all of that. Speaking of great emotion, I showed Shakespeare Behind Bars at the prison on Thursday. Seeing it with John and that group of men was deeply moving, and last night I finished Alexandra Fuller’s Scribbling the Cat and sat weeping and wrung out for about an hour before I fell asleep and dreamed it. Last weekend I visited Guillermo in the prison he has recently moved to, and this afternoon, after I take Manko back to her dorm, I will visit Odus in a different prison. Plans for the summer, which are actually plans for my future life, are shaping up, and this morning as I walked on the trail, smelling the late summer grass and listening to the crickets and cicadas, watching dawn color the Texas clouds shades of pearl and rose, I felt as if the stillness in the very small me is surrounded by a swirl of emotions, changes, activities, and possibilities in the greater silence that holds everything. [read on]