Monday, April 6, 2015

Two poems

Spring Declaration
They line the road, stark and graceful,
Black or silver against a hazy blue sky.
Outlined in green, their shadows curve along the adobe.
I did not see this yesterday.

When did this happen?

It seems this is the day the tree sap rose up, saying,
"Let the leaves burst open their tight buds and rejoice in the sun.
I will course through their veins, the heart of spring will beat
As I slowly climb the trunk."

Or perhaps this is the day I finally opened my eyes.

The change is swift:  one must be vigilant to catch
That soft subtle moment between winter and spring.

If I listen carefully, I too can hear the sap.

A Farewell
On Easter morning, I write to my friends:
"Meet me at the Kosmos, we'll listen to Pergolesi and rejoice."

Silence, both expected and deserved.  It is a last-minute thought,
Born of a conjunction of time and space.  Here am I, there is the music.
I write out of my lethargy: if they say "yes," I'll have to go.

They do not say yes, and I find my concert in the Bosque,
In the call and response of the birds' sweet and  liquid warbles.

But then I come home to the message, heart-stopping, unexpected, and undeserved.
She had died four days before, on April 1st.

Cruel fool, senseless prankster:  why did you come?

I am not angry, I cannot rail against the unfairness, the wrongness.
All I can see is those deep-set bright eagle's eyes, the hawk nose, the salt-and pepper crest.
Is this what the ravens have been telling me?

I have been too complacent. 
I thought I had all the time in the world
To grow a nascent friendship. 
I forgot that every moment is precious, never to be retrieved.

As I drive home, I see the electronic road signs:
"Watch for pedestrians...Pilgrims on the road,"
And again, "Watch for Walkers."

Shall I park my car, walk down that ramp, make my pilgrimage to the Sanctuario?
Whom would I petition, and how?

The sandstone cliffs gleam ochre and red in the late afternoon light.
I watch the raven soar,
And I can't help myself. I smile.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

In Just Spring

I was driving to work last week and suddenly realized that the trees lining the road were covered in a green haze of new buds.  The leaves had not yet opened, of course, so one could still see the outlines of trunks and branches, some graceful, some spiky and knobbly from relentless prunings or parasites.  Their graceful shadows striped the road and snaked up the adobe walls, curving with them. The fields and ditches and arroyos and fields were a blend of golden willow, beige stubble, silver-grey trunks and dark tangles of bushes, plus that bright new green.  It seemed to have happened overnight, and I cought my breath in sudden recogniztion:  it's spring!

I thought of the ee cummings poem, "in just spring, when all the world is puddle-wonderful..."  No, this is not the wet East, this is high desert:  there are no wonderful puddles.  There is some mud-lusciousness near the river, and, as I caught a glimpse of the lamb suckling its mother, I could almost hear that little lame balloon man's whistle.  But not quite.  I can delight in the sudden signs of spring, the yellow dandelions and daffodils, the tender newness of everything; but I'm driving to work, exhausted from my three-weeks-and-counting bout of respiratory virus.  The roads are dusty, and the gale-force winds stir up the dust and juniper pollen, covering my car in a thin layer of brown and making me sneeze.

I think back to my old spring rituals:  walking to the pioneer cemetary in Monmouth, looking for the hillside of violets; driving to Tryon Creek State Park in Portland to see the trillium; trimming the pussy willows in my yard and arranging the shoots in large ceramic vases.  Now the ritual is going to the Botannic Gardens in Albuquerque, or visiting the bosque and watching the cottonwoods burst into green, almost as I watch. I still color the Easter eggs, last year with G, this year with V.  And I sing the hymns as I drive "Praise to the Lord, the almighty the king of creation."  I may not believe in the deity (the jury's still out on that), but I believe in the joy, and am grateful for the ever-new, ever-timeless growth and change.

I think I hear that goatfooted balloon man.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


I know this is nothing new, but I've been thinking about connections and the Internet and my choices. Being sick has something to do with it: I have nothing to do but force liquids and process thoughts.  The thoughts are routine, as are the conclusions.  I am learning nothing, creating nothing worth communicating.  But, the urge to communicate, to write, and to share doesn't care about quality.  That urge is about connection, and it will not be denied.
We are so disconnected, with our virtual lives.  We can't sing together over Facebook, we can't hug.  Emoticons don't sound like love or hurt or joy or righteous indignation.  Clicking on an email envelope icon does not have that lovely crackly sound or give that feeling of anticipation. The email travels instantaneously over the airwaves, not through the air, through hands, through human agency. There is no planning, no effort in its transmission.  It is usually about news, and it is usually created casually, impersonally.  It is not savored over a cup of tea or saved in a bureau drawer. 
Of course, no form of letter takes the place of personal connection.  But something tactile is so much better than something electronic. I've re-learned since SC was incarcerated what a treat it is to open my mailbox and find a letter instead of bills.  It's like a birthday present, like chocolate, like hearing a favorite song, like Carbon greeting me at the door.  Like love.  I do miss going out to the mailbox with the expectation that something wonderful is waiting for me.  And I have started writing letters in order to give that pleasure to others. SC cannot get email, and E doesn't remember to, but I'm sending letters to others as well.
Don't get me wrong:  I'm immensely grateful for the immediacy of the virtual connection.  I don't feel so alone when I see a name on a post or a note in my inbox. This past week, when I have been so ill, the Internet has been my lifeline.  I check for messages.  I post photos and haiku complaints and receive pity and good wishes in return. I text V, asking for a grocery run, and she brings me home-made chicken soup as well.  So, the virtual connection keeps me from total isolation and, in a lot of ways, the sound bite nature of it works better for my energy levels. My responses can be written quickly and I don't have to worry about my penmanship.
In fact, I wonder if I really do miss the physical connection?  As I mentioned in a previous post, living with E taught me that I am indeed an introvert.  I have fought all my life against the deep exhaustion I feel when the inertia of staying in pulls against the desire to be social.  It's like trying to pick up a cat that doesn't want to be picked up.  It's heavy with resistance, limbs and head hanging lifelessly, almost impossible to move.  So, I have scheduled myself and made commitments to force the issue.  The consequence seems to be that  I  regularly get sick and collapse.  I didn't get this extended sickness the whole time I was with E.  It might be because I wasn't working with the public then, but I think it's because I need stay home with my books and my music and my time wasters.  A 40-hour traditional public-contact work week is anathema.  How much of my physical response is caused by depression, I do not know.  I don't feel depressed:   I am aware of serenity and sometimes joy.  The discontent seems to come more from the "shoulds" than my actual feelings.  I "should" be active and productive and social and creative.  I "should" get out and exercise.  I know that I'll be glad I did.  But I felt those "shoulds" up on the mountain, too.  Was it because my activities had to be severely limited and rationed that they did not overwhelm me?  Was it because my normal day was spent cooking and eating and doing crosswords?  E at 99 was more active than I at 55.
There is the contradiction. I like being alone.  But I miss my friends.  I like zoning out with my knitting and my pictures and my books and (god help me) my Netflix reruns.  But I miss the activities and connections.  In fact, I recently received a text from S, who is visiting Portland with his Seattle girlfriend, and I peppered him with names of restaurants and theatre groups.  It was so hard to decide which to fit into one short weekend.  I was so excited for them! I was virtually with them, and it felt great, but....lonely.
I don't know why I don't just move back to Portland and my tribe, but somehow all my choices keep me here with the dry air and the circle of juniper-clad hills, with the huge bowl of sky upended over the sage-filled fields.  Early in this week of illness, I walked out to get the mail, and a raven soared silently overhead, huge blue-black wings outspread, each feather distinct. (Did it follow me from the campus? What is it trying to tell me?)
There was nothing in the box.

Not orange or black, but dusty maroon

We got up at 8 so we would reach Grants by 9:30.  It had been a late night, with M driving down from Colorado, picking me up in Taos, and then stopping off in Cerrillos for a fantastic concert of Early Music.  We didn't reach the house in San Antonito until 10:30 pm and were both exhausted, but slept well.  We had breakfast with P and I fed Zeus the cat and told him we were going to visit his Mom that day.

It was a glorious day, warm with a bit of a cool breeze.  After the preceding week of snowstorms and closed roads, it felt like a gift of early spring Since it was a Saturday, there was not much traffic on the road, which was a good thing:  M was still getting used to the size of the Tundra. We drove through the badlands, which are a jumble of huge broken lava flows and bubbles and tubes protruding through sage and surrounded by red and ochre mesas, which are cut into canyons by the arroyos.  A long train passed through the landscape, green and blue and maroon rectangles bisecting the fields, pointing towards the mesas in the east.  Another train passed when we left at 3:30, and that time the golden late afternoon sun cast the train's shadows.  It is a lonely landscape, but a truly lovely one.

 We had to stop by a bank to pick up rolls of quarters for me (M had already purchased his in Colorado).  Turns out that's the only thing we are allowed to bring with us into the visitors' room. No knitting, no food, no jackets, no sunglasses.  Just two rolls of quarters and the clothes we stand in (and no sleeveless tops either.)  We arrived at 10:15.  The building is long and low, with narrow windows.  It is surrounded by the traditional barbed wire and empty fields.  It's a typical government installation.

M was a nervous wreck, trying to make sure he did everything right.  He had to go out to the Tundra to stash my sunglasses and his wallet, which they would not keep at the desk. They gave him the wrong set of keys, so he had to come back again.  They did allow him to bring in the vitamins that he needed to take at 11 am, since visitors are not allowed to return once they have left.
There were two young women waiting in the anteroom, and they were called to the visiting room while M was out at the truck. Then it was our turn to wait while SC was being "processed" for the visit.  The walls were covered with posters and regulations, which I read carefully while I awaited M's return from the parking lot, and the ceiling was low, with square, covered fluorescent lights. The waiting room was approximately 300 sq ft, with the desk and scanner and gate to the left as you enter, and institutional chairs lining the walls facing the entry and the desk.  The chairs were separated, so M and I had to push them together to hold hands comfortably while we waited.  I kept hoping that it was legal for us to do that. 
The dark stocky young man behind the desk was actually quite nice about M's jitters and my questions about knitting.  And he was even nicer when I set off the alarm going through the gate scanner.  Oh, yes, my rings are metal.  Alarm again.  Take off shoes, recheck pockets. Nothing.  Alarm again.  Man, that thing is sensitive. All we could figure is that the bra hooks were setting it off.  The guard scanned me with the handheld scanner and let me through.  We walked down a short  concrete-block hall.  Everything was  beige-white: floor tiles, walls, and ceiling tiles. The lights were bright and yet somehow dingy.  The walls to our left were covered with posters about caring and proper treatment.  The walls to the right contained doors to restrooms and a private room.  The women's restroom had the eyewash symbol, too.  We stopped at a gate that was top-to-bottom bars.  We could see double doors ahead and a windowed door to the left.  That was our destination. We pushed the button to the right of the gate, and it parted and slid open towards us.  Another button, and we were in the visitors' room.  SC was coming through a door to our right.  She was wearing a dusty maroon jumper, purple eye shadow, and clogs, and she gave me a long hard hug.  Then it was M's turn. 
The CO (Correction's Officer) was a young woman, with nicely bunned hair, delicate features, olive skin, and a slight build.  She pointed out the chairs that were ours:  two small plastic blue chairs facing another plastic beige chair.  There were approximately 10 of these arrangements, set in loose rows between the CO's desk and the vending machines.  The chairs to right and left of ours were filled, and there was another group or two towards the back of the room.  Everyone seemed comfortable and calm.  Conversations were quiet, smiles frequent. The atmosphere was clinical rather than penal:  it was like we were visiting hospital patients in a particularly uncomfortable waiting room. 
The CO brought a small square beige plastic table/stool to sit between us and made me move my chair so the camera could see me.  She also took my jacket and hung it up on the wall behind her desk. The guard had warned me that might happen, but fortunately the temp was okay. The CO's desk was large, with a high narrow counter surrounding it on three sides, and a window behind it.  It held a phone and the CO's lunch, but not much else.  The view from the desk commanded the entire room.  Visitors faced the eastern wall, which held the restroom door, the meshed-filled windows into the phone room,  and the door through which inmates entered.  The phone room contained 3 or 4 stations, unseparated.  It was long and narrow, and was currently empty. Through the phone room window, we could see a door into a hallway that led straight east.  Another hallway apparently led north-south, behind the phone room.  The door from the hall into the phone room remained open, and around noon we could see inmates in green and blue shirts and slacks filing past, watching us curiously.  The CO eventually got up and put plastic cling sheets on the windows so the light came through but the inmates could no longer see us. I'm still trying to figure out why they didn't just close the door and cover its window.
There were several visitors, but plenty of room for more, so I wasn't worried about being asked to leave before the 3:30 curfew.  To our left, closer to the CO station, a woman in her fifties with a protruding chin faced the two young women I'd seen in the lobby.  They left after a few hours and she told us it was her daughter (and a friend) whom she hadn't seen in 8 years.  She was proud that her daughter could see her clean and sober:  she had been so for over a year.  I'm still trying to do the math:  is it really possible to be not clean and sober in prison?  I guess I'm too naïve.  SC told me that the letter I had written with calligraphy pen and ink was considered "suspicious" and was withheld for that reason.  Apparently drugs can be put in the ink, and the inmate then eats the letter.  For the same reason, the authorities have withheld the crayon missives from her grandkids.  They take photocopies and let her read those, but won't give the photocopies either.  Seems odd, but I guess I should be glad she was allowed to read the letter.
There was a small area for kids, with carpet, toys, books.  It was surrounded by a short wooden fence with a gate.  Later in the visit we went in there to get a group photo taken by the CO:  the only time outside of the greeting and farewell hugs that we were allowed to touch SC.  Otherwise, the only contact was visual and verbal.  She wasn't allowed to go to the vending machines, either.  We had to take our rolls of quarters, examine the wares, and ask her what she wanted.  She wanted a lot, because it was a treat.  Soda, candy, burgers with chili, burritos:  the usual vending machine fare for the usual vending machine prices:  $1.25 for candy bars, $1.75 for drinks, $3.50 for burgers.  We probably spent close to $30 on SC and on ourselves.  I felt sick afterwards.  Why couldn't we bring in our own food?  But it did give us something to do, someplace to go at intervals in the conversation. 
The plastic bottle drink machine was fascinating:  a robot arm moved laterally and vertically from the bottom left corner, positioned itself in front of the selection, caught the bottle as it moved forward, moved again in precise jerky motions to the deposit chute, and dropped the bottle in.  Sadly, it didn't always work.  If it wasn't positioned perfectly in front of the bottle, nothing happened and it returned to the starting position.  The machine did give back the money, at least.
The microwave was to the left on the machines, and, again, could only be used by the visitors. We had to bring everything for SC to the CO desk.  After I returned to my seat, SC was allowed to go to the desk and get the food.  Thus, no sharing of chips, no handing over anything.  I did notice that the girl on our right was allowed to play Scrabble and card games with her visitors, so there was some possible exchange.  SC didn't want to do anything but talk, though.  So we talked.  M talked about his travel trailer and plans, SC talked about her job sewing and other bits of daily life and the audit that the Corporation was undergoing.  (Rumor had it that they were caught shredding documents.  I don't understand the rumor mills:  where does the info come from, and how is it disseminated?  SC says the guards are the source, and I guess that's it, but it still doesn't make sense to me.)  I talked about my job and Taos. Towards the end we talked about her legal situation and her relationships.  As I suspected, D's speech in court devastated her:  she sees her father's influence in every word.
It was so difficult to just sit for 5 hours in those hard plastic chairs.  It was so difficult to not be able to hold her when she was upset.  M spent much of the visit holding my hand, rubbing my arm:  was it because he couldn't do the same for her?  In that sterile environment, touch was what we wanted, and what she needed, and what we couldn't give.
There was a restroom for inmates only:  twice I had to go back through the door and the gate to the one in the hall.  Again, my naïveté:  people pass things in the restrooms, apparently.  It's not all about metal, you see, and the detector cannot catch everything.  For example, another inmate asked if her daughter could buy some quarters from us:  she had a $5 bill.  Since this was the inmate who had the bed next to SC and was apparently threatening her, I wanted to be accommodating.  I asked the CO about it, the CO said it would not look good in front of the camera because no one is supposed to bring in ANYTHING except a roll of quarters (and M's sanctioned vitamins.)  I'm still trying to figure out how an exchange of money between visitors could constitute a risk of contraband.  I'm still trying to figure out why SC could not take off her clogs.
I asked about the maroon jumpsuit.  It's the special visiting outfit.  Usually she wears a green T and pants.  The God Pod wears blue, and the high risk pod wears read.  No orange to be seen.  As per usual, the TV show gets it wrong.  I'm not sure what color the fleece (which has still not arrived) is.
So the hours passed and it was time to leave.  Another long hard hug, and we all filed out the door, while the inmates waited in the room.  The anticlimax was discovering I'd left my jacket in the room (one of the colorful Marketplace India ones):  I got back through the gate and knocked on the window.  I pointed to the jacket and SC went to the wall where it was hanging and brought it to me.  I hope she didn't get in trouble for it.
We drove home through the golden late afternoon light, met SC's friend F at the 66 Diner for an early dinner, and talked some more.  My mind was a jumble:  M's traveling plans, F's moving plans, SC's legal plans.... everyone talking and doing and trying to make things better.  But SC is in prison for 8 years, in which anything can happen and all plans can go awry.
I just wanted to go to sleep.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Today my lunch path took me around the campus on the paved walkways and roads:  didn’t feel like putting on my hiking boots and slopping through the muck.  There are a few places where one can get pix of the encircling mountains and the huge sky, sans buildings, without the need of getting into the fields.  As I walked, I looked into the blue blue sky, and there was a huge raven, wings outspread, soaring overhead.  There are a lot of them around, but for some reason, this one struck me as meaningful:  like he was right there for me to see against the sky, accentuating the blue and the feeling of being in the center of everything, my own wings outspread in the cold wind, my own eyes looking down and up, seeing how the world is encircling me, how the air is holding me.  I don’t think my totem is a raven, but this one certainly spoke to me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


I'm spending a 3-day weekend with E:  her replacement caregiver was fired last week, and the next is not available until later this week.  It is wonderful to be here again, watching the birds and the snow and the clouds.  I got up at 6:30 this morning to take sunrise pix,

and now I'm watching the white fluffy clouds floating behind the mountain silhouette, with bright New Mexico blue accentuating (or being accentuated by) them.  I miss this, but I don't miss the boredom.  The last two days were very snowy, and I wanted nothing to do with the roads.   In fact, I made a break Thursday afternoon, in between blasts, when the pavement was dry.  There were several inches of snow in Taos, and the University was closed Mon, Thu, and Fri last week.  Interestingly enough, they don't tend to close the campus when the sun goes down and we night workers have to drive home in sleet and ice.  But, if there is snow falling in the morning, they close up.  The weather usually calms by noon, and the roads are fine by 1.  That was the case on Thursday.

However, once I got to Cerrillos, the snow took over,

and there was nothing to do.  I built a fire in the casita on Friday (and totally smoked the place out).  We spent the afternoon doing crosswords and reading and basking by the fire, and we made dinner (pasta with olives and tomatoes and garlic, chicken pounded with chopped nuts and fried in garlic and olive oil, with capers and lemon juice added, salad made by E.)  And by 8 pm I was long past ready for bed.  Same thing on Saturday.  I chopped kindling for the casita and C/M's pod, and that was about it.  I was in bed by 7, and cancelled my 10 pm tutoring session.  C called me, and talked, talked, talked, and I kept nodding off, and he kept saying "K? are you there?  are you awake?" and I'd mumble, yeah.
What is it about this place that makes me want to sleep, sleep, sleep?
I guess that's why I didn't accomplish much during the 18 months I lived here.  I focused on domestic activities, doing Tai Chi Chih, walking (with and without E), shopping, cooking.  I read, took pix, practiced some music.  But the pace was very slow, and I didn't really do much except heal.  Now that I'm back in the swing of DOING things (even though it's still not much), I'm aware of how little happens here.  No wonder E feels like her life has halted.  No wonder she wants to return to the more active lifestyle she used to have. 
I think about my friend SC, who is in prison for the next 8 years.  She calls me regularly (since I can't call her and we can't e-mail), and her life is boredom personified.  She's read 20 books in the 3 months that she's been in.  She has several books of her own in process, but she has to pay for paper and pen and can't use a computer, so that's a slow process.  In fact, the whole system is set up to actively discourage any productive or creative activity, and to destroy any connections with the outside world.  It seems counter-productive to me, although I guess the idea is to make it so unpleasant no one will want to come back.  But, recidivism is rampant, and I think it's because the system slaps down the impulse to improve one's life.  So, it's difficult for anyone to acquire the skills that will take her someplace positive when she leaves the system.
In fact, since it's a for-profit agency, the prisoners are exploited.  They have to buy the necessities, and many of those necessities are "out of stock."  For example, my friend still has no washcloth:  she uses her underwear.  We can't send her paper or stamps or warm sweaters.  We can put money in her account, and get charged an extra $7 per transaction for the privilege.  If we want her to call us, she has to queue up for the phone, and we have to put money in that account, too.  Often, when we are talking, the call is interrupted:  a random lockdown on the holiday, a call for her to meet with someone, and one bizarre time when the monitor thought I had initiated a third party call.  (I hadn't.)  Even when things go well, the calls are restricted to 20 minutes, and if we want to continue talking, she has to call again.  There are TV's but no sound:  she has to buy a radio and earplugs to get that, and guess what?  it's out of stock. 

She is feeling a little more productive now, because she finally got a job sewing, which is a step up from sweeping the "pod."  She gets 20 cents an hour, with the chance of increasing to $1.20.  This would be outrageous in any other society, but I guess she should be glad she doesn't have to pay for her room and board as well as her necessities and communication needs.  And, there's the possibility of another job that will give her access to a computer.  Woo hoo!

So, I think about her situation, and I wonder how she is managing to keep her spirit, her sense of humor, and her creativity.  Even setting aside the reason she is there and the legal fight for which she is gearing up, she has plenty of cause for depression in the institutional boredom.   I look at her and marvel.  Could I do the same?  I don't have any reason to fall prey to boredom in my situation:  I am free to walk outside, to take pictures, to write, to work at a good job, to see my friends. I can surround myself with beauty. I can make music.  I can cook a healthy meal. She has none of this, but she continues to take her meager possessions and make the most of them.  The other day, she concocted a foot scrub out of food bits (I can't recall the details.)  In other words, she is not just surviving, she is thriving.  I wish I could say the same for myself.  But even now that I'm off the mountain, working a 40-hour week and building community, I don't seem to have the drive to create.  I am so tired.

Have I created a prison?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Why am I still here?

The other day I heard from my friend DH.  She's been visiting her son in Florida and is seriously considering selling her Portland house and moving eastward.  She was calling me to hear just how difficult it was to leave my home and friends of 30 years.

I said, I would never move to Florida full time.  The summer heat is like an assault.  Why not live part time in Portland and part time in FLA, rent the PDX house to a Reedie?  She'd have the best of both worlds. That's been my dream, and I still think it's a viable one.  I went on and on about it, but that wasn't what she was interested in hearing. 

What, she said again, was it like to leave Portland?  I paused and thought.  "It was devastating," I said.  But, I was so exhausted by the failing marriage, I did not know which was the more devastating, leaving my home or losing my love.  She understood that pain.  Most divorced people do.  But it was beside the point.  I thought some more.  Why am I still here?

Thinking back over the past few years, I realized that I have not thought clearly about anything since at least 2009.  I have been reacting:  I didn't want to hurt D, I wanted to get out of MCL, I wanted to find a job after I was laid off.   Then, I moved to ABQ, left D, and started healing.  There were so many decisions, so many changes.  But throughout those changes, I never seriously thought about moving back to Portland, even after I left the ABQ job, even after I started burning out on my caregiving job.  I've been sending off the odd job application to Oregon, but I haven't seriously planned to move back.  If I wanted to move back, I could have gone back.  I could have healed there instead, surrounded by the people I love, a 2-hour drive from the ocean.  Instead, I stayed here and slept and healed and started to build a new community.  Now I've started over again in Taos.  My brain is clearer, and I want to know:  why am I still here?

While I talked with DH, I was walking on the trail behind the parking lot, surrounded by sage fields. My hair whipped in the breeze.  Mountains ringed the horizon.  The sky was a blue upended bowl, edges meeting the mountains, clouds painting swirled and striated patterns.  Two ravens winged their ways overhead.  I could hear the wind in their feathers.  I could hear a far-off caw, see them circle around each other, and then watch them fly steadily west towards the mountains. I had that feeling of serenity and grounding that I get when I walk along the ocean's edge or in a mountain meadow.

Is this where I'm meant to be?