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Heading West Again

1 July 2018

San Angelo, Texas

The usual adjustments to the possibilities of freedom balanced with finding a place to write. In San Angelo, notable for not being on an Interstate. Thought about staying here a few more days, but I want New Mexico under my feet. Headed to Roswell. A lot of cheap rooms there. Decent library. Of course, all of the tacky alien kitsch. I think it was Kundera who said Kitsch is the denial of shit. I get the sense he’s never been to Roswell. I’m excited to get back behind the mule and speed the plow. 

Thunderstorms rolled in this evening, cracked the sky in half. Beautiful. It’s all big sky out here.


2 July 2018

Leaving San Angelo, headed into New Mexico.

Waiting on a state of mind while I am in that state of mind, spinning up a story to convince myself it doesn’t matter which state I’m in - but still moving to another in an eternal calculus that never reaches its destination. 

The Poet says, "Teach us to sit still."

But he also says,

"And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss..."

And I have no desire to forget. I fear that I may forget “these matters” and, after that, will have no forgiveness. 

My language has been documenting a journey through an interior landscape for the last five months or more. As I am moving outwards now and through that selfsame landscape externalized, the words turn themselves inside out. 

The river of blood that was rushing madly through my mind now madly rushes out of an enormous wound in the world, blood having carved canyon and cliff and pulsed silent through deserts. I have been watching the shadow theater, standing close to the internal fire at the heart of my skull. Now the sun burns so bright in this big sky world, even the shadows are overwhelmed and evaporated. 

I pull over to the side of the highway and write my words in the dust and dirt collected there from a million passages. 

***

Adjustments to solitude and freedom. Glimpses of a discipline and control. But it was out of this systematic derangement of the senses that I was born. I have always been addicted to the Dragon’s Breath.

Waiting on a state of mind while I am in that state of mind, spinning up a story to convince myself it doesn’t matter which state I’m in - but still moving to another in an eternal calculus that never reaches its destination. The Poet says, Teach us to sit still. But he also says,

And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss...

And I have no desire to forget. I fear that I may forget “these matters” and, after that, will have no forgiveness. 

My language has been documenting a journey through an interior landscape for the last five months or more. As I moving outwards now and through that selfsame landscape externalized, the words turn themselves inside out. The river of blood that was rushing madly through my mind now madly rushes out of an enormous wound in the world, blood having carved canyon and cliff and pulsed silent through deserts. I have been watching the shadow theater, standing close to the internal fire at the heart of my skull. Now the sun burns so bright in this big sky world, even the shadows are overwhelmed and evaporated.  

We are all of us just tracings in the dust of a dead world, ghosts long since gone, and what we know, what we think about when we remember our selves are only the fragments of ancient memories that an alien inhuman wind has cast together under the stone. Hope is born from sorrow, from the tears that fall into the dust of our being. What we do: make soil and tell stories.

***

I had to fight the urge to shave my hair, eyebrows, entire body tonight. Undergoing 40 days of transformation, isolation. I’m not in tune with anyone else's dramas (sad as they are), only my own.

I don’t know. A friend of mine was just down on the border, helping asylum seekers reunite with their families. It made me feel I’m heading the wrong direction. But I’m not losing sight of the book. There’s nothing more important to me. So 30 to 40 days to get up there. I’ll run out of money in 20, so I’ll have to figure something out. Writing all day in coffee shops, all night in motels. Rest stops. Gas stations. The door remains behind my eyes. I just keep waiting to open my eyes and see it there before me. 

***

I’m here in Roswell. Everywhere I go, the virus of mass culture (oxymoron), the cult of comfortable sameness, has infected the landscape. The hope is for the land to endure.... this fabled enchantment. 

I asked the woman that ran the El Patio Inn in San Angelo where I could find a cup of coffee that wasn’t Starbuck’s. She was puzzled. Told me: “I guess, you can try the McDonald’s”. I’m not on any elitist trip here. The idea of a local coffee shop doesn’t make much sense in San Angelo. Life’s hard enough without having to be political about coffee. But I still drive slowly through downtown like Diogenes looking for an honest cup of joe.

A sign in a town near the state line declared itself to be “somewhere between enchantment and an entirely different country”. For an instant, I think they mean Mexico. But the border is too far south. They mean Texas. 

The state highway from Hobbs to Artesia cut through massive oil fields. Three coal black thunderheads dropping rain in grey veils in the distance. Brueghel landscape: black gas shunt pipes rising periodically all capped with flames, pump jacks as far as the eye can see, like a fascist robot army. To the west in the storm black sky lightning arcs to earth over and over, as if the heavens are trying to defibrillate a long dead carcass. With each arc light strike, it seems every pumpjack pauses for a moment like a great congregation of vultures warily lifting up from their feeding. 

I know all of this. I’ve been witness to it as I have traveled for the last year and more. But the trailers and rusted out cars are buzzing with meth and opioids. The rural atmosphere is as ugly and vicious as a mad dog that’s been abused until it barks and bites every thing with no discrimination. Parents are disciplining their children with gunfire. The small town faces don’t meet anyone’s eye.

Outside my cheap motel room I can hear what I’m assuming are early fireworks. I look out the door. No sign of any explosions in the sky. Squeal of tires. Cars accelerating. More fireworks, I wonder. Kafkas Silence. Then: Sirens in the distance. Ulysses at the mast... listening and listening.

Through all of this, I am listening to an audiobook of Don Quixote. Edith Grossman translation. Quixote has just acquired the Helmet of Mambrino, which is actually only a barber’s brass basin. Sancho makes the point, to which Quixote responds:

“Do you know what I imagine, Sancho? This famous piece of the enchanted helmet, by some strange accident, must have fallen into the hands of one who could not recognize or estimate its value, and not knowing what he was doing, and seeing that it was made of purest gold, he must have melted down one half to take advantage of its high price, and from the other half he made this, which resembles a barber’s basin, as you say. Be that as it may, I recognize it, and its transmutation does not matter to me.”

Here’s my aspiration of enchantment: to recognize it, to see beyond this transmutation of the land, to ignore the cost, to not care what anyone will pay for it, but to honor the poetry of it, what’s left of the poetry (what a word here: poetry). A Sonnet for the End of Days, composed at a forgotten table in the back of the Denny’s. 

21st century Quixote refills my coffee as Sancho buses the tables nearby. 

I’m headed to Albuquerque tomorrow, which will only be worse. But after that, I’ll be in the Chama River Canyon. 


3 July 2018

Albuquerque

Been working steadily since February, living and breathing the Word. The Book is like a fractal dragon, the deeper I go in, the more complex it becomes. If Joyce intended Ulysses as a sort of poetic Wunderkammer of Dublin, the Jonesiad is a kind of natural history museum diorama of the death of the gods, with skulls as large as cathedrals and bones the size of trains. It’s a book filled with madness, blood and enormous laughter. 

This turning back around and heading West, revisiting again the landscapes I’ve been writing about for the last five months, feels as if I am traveling deeper into my own mind. Maintaining the practice of writing regardless: in motels, cafes, public and university libraries, rest stops, parks and campgrounds has been rewarding and strengthening. Nevertheless, I look forward to the Chama where I can hammer words as hard as I like with no fear of shattering anything but my sanity.

I also look forward to talking with you about ecstatic language, the novel as an invention to replace the absence of god and the haunting sense that words, which originally functioned as mnemonic tools, have replaced the essential meaning of primary memory. General Semantics: we remember the menu but not the meal. 

***

For so many years, I have felt not up to the task I set before me. More: there was an anxiety about being too precocious to authentically stand beside my words. Like a twenty-something with a Sinatra hat and a pipe singing old blues songs, I caught the odor of pretense in my language. It was just enough doubt to make it all seem hollow. However, finally I feel up to standing beside the words, of being able to drive them along and keep any from straying too far. (Cows being driven to slaughter analogy is perfectly apt.) And it’s a beautiful experience to write with no doubt, with no suspicion of hollowness, to hammer the language like a blacksmith on an anvil and not like a bull in a china shop. 


4 July 2018

I like the analogy of the substance and the solution. The Universe is like a vast ocean, a solution, and we are these concentrations of substance - physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. When we die, it is as if our substance is dissolved in the solution of the universe. But not everything dissolves, some remnants or chaff of our physical self remains at the bottom of the bottle (so to speak). Whether this be bones or ashes or empty shells, whoever was once attached to them is long dissolved into the solution of the Universe.