The further adventures of Plank.

Suddenly I’m back in his good graces, but that’s mostly because he needs a third person to play house. He and Plank have become inseparable. “Let’s go climb trees,” he’ll say, and go rummaging about for a long rope so he can haul his buddy up with him. Other times they go down to the road and watch cars go by. Some of the drivers honk and wave, but I’m not sure he ever waves back.

I’m usually napping when he comes home from school. “Boy!” he’ll shout in my ear. “I thought I told you to mow the goddamn lawn.”

I’m not a boy, actually, I’m a girl, and theoretically he knows this. But any attention is better than none at all.

“Supper’s on,” he’ll call, and sure enough, there’s an old door up on blocks with plates and glasses and everything. Plank is already seated when I shuffle over. It’s wearing an apron, and it appears to have gained several new layers of red crayon around the mouth. I gather it’s not a boy any more. For all its immobility – being just a board and all – Plank actually has quite a bit more flexibility than the average companion.

“What is this?” the boy asks, picking up his empty plate and tilting it back and forth. “My God, it’s still moving!” he says in mock terror, and drops the plate. Then he takes a sip from his glass and starts to choke. “What are you trying to do, poison me?” He swings one arm against Plank’s face, knocking her and the chair backwards onto the floor. “Can’t you do anything right?”

With unsteady hands he raises the glass again to his lips and very slowly takes another sip, then another. I can smell the alcohol. “Ahhh,” he says, pretending to enjoy it, and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Then he starts to cry.

“Why don’t you get up?” he burbles, and tips the chair upright. Plank smiles fixedly. He cries a little more, interrupted by hiccups. “Boy, finish your supper!”

I press my long tongue to the empty plate and give it an exploratory taste. It’s not too bad, really, once you get used to it.

Cibola 34

This entry is part 34 of 119 in the series Cibola


Reader (4)

In all the land and kingdoms of Cí­bola, which includes many regions,
constituting a great country more than three hundred leagues across, reaching
all the way to the South Sea, all of it quite populous and containing an
infinitude of nations, there is not a single idol or temple to be found; they have
naught but to adore God in the sun and in springs of sweet water.
Apologética Historia Sumaria

The Zuni polity would appear to be heterarchical, indicating a lack of
unidimensional hierarchy and a presence of multiple and noncongruent sources
of power . . .
“Leadership Strategies in Protohistoric Zuni Towns”

In the first period of the conquest . . . marvels were attributed to America’s
plants. . . . For the Indians, herbs speak, have sex, and cure. It is little plants,
aided by the human word, that pull sickness from the body, reveal mysteries,
straighten out destinies, and provoke love or forgetfulness. These voices of
earth sound like voices of hell to seventeenth-century Spain, busy with
inquisitions and exorcisms, which relies for cures on the magic of prayer,
conjurations, and talismans even more than on syrups, purges, and bleedings.
Memory of Fire, Vol. I: Genesis, translated by Cedric Belfrage

The living human or animal body is referred to in Zuni as the shi’nanne (literally ‘flesh’), while the life force, essence, breath, soul, or psyche is the pinanne (literally ‘wind’ or ‘air’). So, although breath is ultimately lodged in the heart and is thus a body-soul, under certain circumstances – such as during trancing, curing, singing, and dreaming – it can behave as a free-soul and leave the body. . . . Although the pinanne . . . arrives at birth and departs at death, it is never solely possessed by the individual during his or her lifetime. Rather, it remains closely connected to the sacred power suffusing the ‘raw’ world from which it came and because of this constant contact it acts as a strong moral agent.
“Zuni and Quiché Dream Sharing and Interpreting”

Crane fly

“I feel as if I’ve said pretty much all I have to say,” I said, & then felt the opposite.


Why I like being a writer: every morning it’s back to square one, just as if you’ve never written a single line.


An enormous crane fly is sitting in the middle of the ceiling above my writing table, as if it weren’t the middle of winter & the so-called law of gravity didn’t apply.


For a really good starter, my friend told me, use nothing but wild yeast & feed it only on the most refined flour.


From going too long without talking, I had grown contentious. Evolution and progress have nothing in common, I said as the new subdivisions sped by.


Are children still allowed to go off in the woods by themselves & play with old bones?


“Night soil” is such an evocative euphemism! It was, of course, neither soil nor the exclusive product of nighttime visits to the outhouse. But people liked to think of it in a kind of future perfect tense, with the carts already having made their nocturnal rounds, the composting over, the fields heavy with the harvest.


The absence of leaves in the winter woods is felt most keenly by a boy walking home from school with a runny nose who is tired of being made fun of all the time for using the sleeve of his coat.


Jello never stays still – the nine-year-old girl explains to her little sister – because it’s made from wild horses that they catch out west.


Every creature follows its own route to dissolution; to generalize is to bludgeon it with a gray & implacable Death.


I would like to tempt Fate, but first I have to figure out just what she finds most tempting.


All day yesterday the noise from the interstate came over the ridge so loudly that I didn’t want to leave the house. In any case, it was raining. The patches of bare ground grew & merged. Little clouds of mist kept rising off the remaining patches of snow & hurrying away toward the quiet farm valley to the east.


The picturesque village survived the 20th Century with everything intact except for its link to bygone days, which were never as picturesque as they seem to be now.


Post-traumatic stress is not a disorder, I’m thinking; it is the working heart’s response to the profoundest kind of disorder. We drive ourselves as if we were horses, but our bodies are more like camels, or stubborn donkeys. The rider sits facing the tail & berates the poor beast for running in the wrong direction.


My stomach mutters breakfast, breakfast, breakfast until it begins to sound like the purest poem.


I am that man in the little crooked house that you heard all about when you were small.


I am attached to this half-broken plastic wall clock in the same way that a hair might persist in sprouting from the tip of a beautiful woman’s otherwise perfect nipple.


When she was sick & couldn’t get out of bed, I remember holding a tissue to her nose & telling her to blow.


If I saw them again, those flowers with their unknown names would doubtless prompt the same mysterious yearnings.


In the blues, they used to talk about working from sun to sun, as if the sharecropper’s day were just another, larger portion of darkness.


Even with the Andes, even with the Himalayas, this world would be smoother than the youngest lover’s cheek to any humungous deity’s figurative touch.


Suppose the morning star hadn’t been there to return his suddenly penetrating gaze – would the Buddha’s right hand simply have kept sinking deeper & deeper into the earth?


When I stepped out into the cold fog at dawn, a bluebird was singing.

Cibola 33

This entry is part 33 of 119 in the series Cibola


Marcos (1) (conclusion)

He took him down, the Indian’s bloody
emaciated frame sprawling across his shoulders
with a strange weight he wouldn’t
soon forget. Cursed him
in the name of the Holy Trinity
for the first & as it happened
final time: Francisco gave up
the ghost sometime before midnight.
Hard to tell, the way he kept
his eyes open & teeth still bared,
the skin from too much fasting
already shrunk back against the skull,
like Death personified in one of those
chapbooks the beggars used to hawk
in front of the cathedral:
Death & the Maiden . . .
Death at the Banking House . . .
Death Goes on a Picnic With the Greedy Friar.
Who pulls his hat down against
the vastly more greedy sun.

Somewhere in the next dry riverbed,
he knows, his escorts are already
preparing the midday meal.

With some relief he notices
the sudden stillness: behind
as well as before & all around him
an almost otherworldly silence,
his own footsteps now the only sound.

Though this desert–he muses once again–
is never empty. Each bush,
each ground-hugging cactus
& flowering thorn tree sits apart
as if planted for a special purpose.

Here, one’s feet seem naturally
to fit the sober measure
of a pilgrim’s gait:
no ring-around-a-rosie.
No lost running in circles, thank God.
No tarantella.


Reading a poem by Jean Follain this morning, I remember my dream about a garden. Or should I say the garden? Because I feel as if I have dreamt countless variations of it throughout my life. A virtually forgotten act of casual gardening months earlier has taken root, it seems: I find the fallen-down exclosure in the middle of the field and there, miraculously weed-free, the dark, loose soil is stippled with rhubarb and the pale yellow flowers of what might be salsify, the root that tastes like oysters. It all comes back to me, now. Those radish and carrot seeds I found in a bottom drawer – what happened to them, I wonder? A neglected row of broccoli has gone to blossom. Tomato and squash vines snake off into the tall grass, a tangle of exposed veins for a love child’s grotesque and amorphous body.


Lately I feel as if I’ve been saving my best thoughts for the comment threads of other people’s blogs. Which is fine, of course, except that it doesn’t leave me much energy to write here. But then, reading itself should be an active, first-thing-in-the-morning activity; I cheat myself of considerable food for thought by using that time to do my own writing. How much more do I really have to discover about my own thoughts? After almost fourteen months of intensive blogging, I feel as if I’ve said pretty much all I have to say. But it’s like keeping a garden, isn’t it? Once you start cultivating, you can’t stop or the weeds will take over. Though perhaps that image would be more appropriate for folks who battle comment spam…

Back when I used to garden for real, I got to the point where I rarely turned the soil at all, just kept everything heavily mulched. It was a great time-saver. The only problem was, I liked to dig.


Here’s one of my oldest poems still remaining in the “keepers” pile. It was already in existence in some form by the fall of 1983, because I remember doing a prose version of it for a Freshman English assignment. The speaker is female. I’m not sure about the geographical setting – somewhere in the Andes, I guess, judging by the emphasis on potatoes.



It’s true, i was careless,
that one i was always shadowing–that
little light of mine–it gave me
the slip one night.
I’d thought i could allow myself
one unguarded dream, woke
to the baying of dogs & the beating
of a hundred pairs of wings–pigeons
with their automatic laughter.
I had to go live among the graves,
where no one looks for a wife.

It’s been months now.
Years, even. Time again
when night turns the crests
of the mountains white
like the hands of God on the horizon,
his bared knuckles.

One morning the vines lie limp & dark
six months after setting the one-eyed
lumps in the furrow. And just
now, my long-fingered rake
lifting a clump of dirt
has uncovered a miniature cry,
a voice coming out of the ground
right at my feet.
Do earthworms or beetle grubs speak?

On my knees, plucking
the stones from their beds
i’ve unearthed a half-size infant’s foot
& grasping it around the ankle with
a gentle tug, look–
i’ve rescued a tiny naked girl
the very color of clay.
She lies in the crook of my arm
& returns my gaze
like the cistern where i draw water.

I’ll take her back to my charnel house.
She will grow fat on boiled potatoes
& teach me how to interpret
this ceaseless buzzing of the dead
who are said to sleep.

Religion Bestsellers of 2005

Jesus told me that the following titles will have dominion over the Publisher’s Weekly Religion Bestsellers list by year’s end.

1. Your Second Best Life Now: Seven More Steps to Living Your Full Potential

2. Baked Beans for the Soul

3. The Prayer of Jezebel: Breaking Into the Blessed Life

4. Thou Shalt: The Power of Positive Commandments

5. Left Behind: How to Spot a Godless Liberal From the Rear

6. My God Can Whup Your God

7. Driven By What’s Inside: Ancient Secrets of the Subaru

8. Never In Vain: Using the Lord’s Name to Heal Anger and Spread Righteousness

9. The Lost Gospel of O™

10. Sacred Heart: Spiritual Wisdom of the Aztecs

Cibola 32

This entry is part 32 of 119 in the series Cibola


Marcos (1) (cont’d)

So now (he murmurs) if I still lack
the equipoise of an elder–the requisite
wisdom of a presbyter in the Order–at least
I’ve found a sort of key to one
small puzzle: why Francisco seemed
so elated there at the end. Lent,
the season when a true Christian
should mourn, especially
with all his fellow villagers dead.

Hadn’t he been shunned when Marcos
first arrived? Hadn’t he kept
his medicine bundle (as it turned out)
ensconced under the altar, complete
with the friar’s long-lost mirror
& little tufts of hair
from each of the corpses they’d buried?
Sentimental, Marcos had thought
at the time. But now . . .

The village had followed Francisco
into baptism, as if afraid to let
him keep that grace to himself.
And their loyal servant
of Christ–Ha!–still ready to believe
he’d truly helped save
at least one soul–however
he might dislike the man–
                                            right up
until Good Friday morning,
when he entered the chapel & found
Francisco hanging, God (or the Devil)
knows how, from a new cross
in front of the altar,
crimson teardrop-shaped
flowers sprouting from his brow,
& more blossoms–yellow,
white, violet, blue–festooning
the arms of the cross, clusters
of thorns impaling wrist & palm.