The sky has given over its bitterness. Out of the dark change all day long rain falls and falls as if it would never end. Still the snow keeps its hold on the ground. But water, water from a thousand runnels! It collects swiftly, dappled with black cuts a way for itself through green ice in the gutters. Drop after drop it falls from the withered grass-stems of the overhanging embankment.
In 1970, my air force husband who had been stationed in Taiwan (I think), was transferred to Holloman AFB, Alamogordo, New Mexico. I was happily into my second year in college at East Carolina University, living with my sons in a student apartment in Greenville, North Carolina. New Mexico was to be our new home Don said and I, imagining life once again on an air force base surrounded by a desert full of roving tarantulas, was not happy.
The drive from Greenville to Alamogordo was somewhat grim, at least from my perspective. But then, after two days and nights on the road, I came out of road-trip stupor in Valley of the Fires State Park just north of Carrizozo … and fell instantly in love with the ‘enchanting’ state in front of me.
Twenty New Mexico years would pass happily and productively before, for a variety of reasons, I left for greener (literally) pastures in California and Minnesota. I always missed my New Mexico life even while living in places I overall preferred. So imagine my surprise to find myself back in Albuquerque in January 2000. It was clear early on that shinier aspects of that old enchantment had tarnished… probably from the endless sunshine.
That was twenty years ago. Now it’s July 2020. There are things about this state and city I still find…if not enchanting…at least desirable. The blueness of our statehood for one. I also love that we really are multi-cultural in our everyday lives and in our arts. And the Sandia mountains turning all rosy with the sunset. My New Mexico family and friends. My work and our little art center over on 4th Street.
But. Not. The. Climate. I am, I keep declaring, a pluviophile. I love rain. How am I supposed to think big thoughts, dream big dreams…or even small ones without the sound of raindrops in the background? How to enjoy melancholy time…and please don’t tell you don’t like feeling melancholy now and again, without clouds and thunder and lightning and rain? How to have to live every experience out in the unrelenting glare of high desert sun?
My goal here is not to write prose of which I’ll later be proud…oh sure that would be nice but right now I can barely remember the alphabet. My goal is to keep track of this never-to-be-repeated year in my or my children’s or grandchildren’s lifetimes. Hopefully. A couple years from now I want to leaf through my blog book for 2020 and say ‘you know that wasn’t so bad…I learned x or accomplished y or, at the very least, read a lot of excellent books.
Today is today. I did work on my book (currently being called “Window Seat”) awhile and then went to a lab for blood tests (regular thing because of my unpredictable stomach) for a longer while. And it was actually just a little hazy today which nearly made me happy. True happiness would have required clouds and rain and the blot-of-trump wiped out of world history.
Tomorrow I’ll write an anti-sun piece. I’ll have to stand outside and take pictures of the thing to include in a post I suppose.
For today just some photos from the walk Steven and I took last week…before covid entered the family and threw us a bit off track. Granddaughter Sara is fine and apparently no one else in the family contracted the thing but between the governor’s tightening up last week and Sara…it all feels like it’s closing in …
I can’t have actually lost my mind, right? I mean it’s still here with me, if not in my head or somewhere else in my body, it’s surely around the apartment somewhere. I mean this apartment is pretty small…really small in fact…smaller every day. It must be here.
I’ve been fine…since March 13, 2020 I’ve been fine. Busy. Generally optimistic. Exercising some. Eating reasonably healthfully. Communicating. Watering the plants. Showering now and then. Reading books. Watching a few 24-season series. It’s been okay.
Now. It. Is. Not.
It is so very fortunate that alcohol makes me sick or I would be getting really drunk right this very minute. How about a pain pill and ‘sparkling probiotic drink’ instead? Poor substitute I say.
I mean really. Here we are. This giant rudderless country just wobbling along from day to day. No real direction. No voice of reason. (I should note that here in New Mexico we have a great governor who’s trying her damndest but any governor’s voice can seem pretty small in a sea of lunacy.)
Doesn’t it feel like we’ll wake up and some semblance of what they (you know…parents, teachers, politicians) told us this country represented will still be there/here/somewhere?
So my 21-year-old granddaughter Sara has tested positive for the virus. She’s sick but not horribly so at this stage and we’re sure (pretty sure) she’ll be fine. Her parents went into smart mode immediately and are testing negative and since I’ve only been around my son once in the last two weeks and that was masked and outdoors I’m fine. It’s just that this virus is so sneaky with after effects and how it gets around that it’s like living with a member of the Trump cult…the evil can escape and damage anything and everything around it.
Because of closing in of the virus and our new state regs I’m going to avoid even my healthplex gym this week and the walk with my son and tea with my friend. I’ll only go down to the Center on Friday to organize what will … in better times … be my new office when no one is there.
Actually… while writing this I’m feeling a bit better. Maybe this is a sign…for the next couple of weeks every afternoon I sit down at my kitchen desk with my plants within touching distance and a fresh pot of coffee and I just write nonsense and attach a picture and send it on to you.
Cheers…let’s see now … what can I take some new photos of……..MY IMMEDIATE WORKING SPACE. You see with the vastness of my apartment (800 sq. ft.) I need a kitchen office where I blog and pay bills and eat lunch, and a bedroom office where I write great literature.
If we were zooming you would just see the nice plants and I’d have on my zoom shirt…but here in more intimate detail is an up close and personal look at me here now.
Day before yesterday was the Fourth of July. Never my favorite holiday. Dedicated to noise. But what if it’s 2030 and life’s memory stash is all muddled…what if I need to remember July 4, 2020? I’d better make a post for just that eventuality.
But what about?
Black Lives Matter; rampant racism; out-of-control cops; dt shooting off his pouty smarmy mouth, and fireworks on sacred Native American land in environmentally-dangerous circumstances; oh yeah…and there’s the virus. Let’s hope—in 2030—I’m not looking back on this year as ‘good times.’
Saturday was going to be great: small (socially-distanced) gathering of good friends, burgers, “Hamilton.” Turns out when I awoke, my previous week’s little cold sores had turned into swollen burning weird lips. All is well now but needless to say one does not go visiting in these times looking unwell.
But there have been and are good times this year…so please view the following photo album as proof. There’s a selection on my gym life just before the virus closed us down…and I am an awesome planker. There’s my brotherly-love album, proving that last year’s grump-in-pain was once a delightful little boy. Although big sisters rarely find little brothers ‘delightful’ I suspect.
There’s more…plus the odd sentence or paragraph.
Best of all for 2020 though have been my Bosque/river walks with Steven. Early morning cool, trees and more trees, rambling feet, rambling conversations, perfect. Hope we will keep these up even post-virus.
Oh yes…my GYM is open again. Presbyterian Healthplex…where I’ve been going since about 2002 which is why I can leap tall buildings in a single bound…or at least slowly walk a rocky path in Tajikistan. Now the machines are spaced and masks obligatory but when actually tread(mill)ing I’m allowed to breathe. And I’m listening to Judy Collins memoir/autobiography which is perfect semi-paying-attention material. So here are some pics from shortly before pandemic times.
My poor knee-stricken brother who was miserable with pain and suffering all winter finally had his surgery on his birthday, July 1st. He is sounding like a new human being. While neither he nor I are exactly perky jolly types, he’s usually pretty interesting and enjoyable to be around…but last winter he could easily have served as the doom and gloom precursor of the pandemic.
The last weeks, planning with a few of my co-workers (even though we’re actually volunteers at the present) how to reopen the North Fourth Art Center (when the time is right) and continue to serve diverse communities with arts activities and events. Of course we are anxious and we alternate between enthusiasm for future possibilities and psychic exhaustion; but doing rather than waiting is always good. The N4th Theater and Gallery and classrooms will be back in business eventually; there will be performances and art classes and gallery shows and music and fun. Yes. There. Will.
What else? Have been ‘distanced’ from my Albuquerque granddaughters but I know they’re just around the corner and always ready for a phone call. Interestingly I’ve been more in touch with the Californians than usual in some ways. Teresa in San Francisco and Steven and Ashley in the Valley…we zoom. Don’t like zooming in groups but for just a few people and especially for one-on-one it’s nice. And Steven is a master of great conversation about world affairs and politics. I think of him as a future governor of California. He’s smart and progressive, a thinker and arguer, and actually kind and decent. Maybe he could be president should the country ever decide that those qualities are more desirable than stupidity, bullying and bluster.
I am managing my budget better than I ever have…probably something to do with how long my working life can continue (once North Fourth opens again). And the fact that Sara, Celia and I ARE going to Africa summer 2021. Better an extra night in a breezy room overlooking a hippo pool than a bunch of streaming channels I rarely visit or buying potatoes at Whole Foods instead of Albertson’s (although shoppers are better about wearing masks at WF).
My sun-blocking window treatments. Only thing keeps rain-loving, sun-averse me sane.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I am determined to come out of this an ever-so-slightly better person than I went in as…more exercise, better money management, maintaining a cautious optimism…when possible, limited whining…
Sara and I were in DC for the 4th in 2011. There was a human in the White House and the fireworks looked good. Scroll on down to the last pics for the fireworks.
My fortunate grandchildren have first-rate parents and just the right mix of grandparents. The one with the pool, the one with the lake, the one who made all of the special party decorations and the one who especially encouraged sports and studies. And then there’s me. Trying desperately to infect them with the dreaded ‘travel bug.’
This is my first big trip with Sara, 12-year-old honor roll cheerleader tumbler tweenie. The trip began with a meeting in Boston and a few hours to get a bit of a feel for one of the places where it all STARTED—the United States of America that is—on to NYC for a day and a half of where it all IS and finally here in DC for a Capitol Fourth—just Sara and me and half the rest of the world celebrating who we imagine ourselves to be.
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How to love New Mexico again…with the passion I felt for this place the first years I lived here. Sometimes it’s easy. Yesterday morning for example. Steven and I walked from the river crossing above Rio Bravo south to Rio Bravo and back. Five and one-half miles. Started just before 6 am and winding up at Modelos for a burrito and pineapple Fanta breakfast. Perfect. The bike path going down, right along the river returning. I loved New Mexico and my river and trees and kid and burrito and life.
I looked for some poems about the Rio Grande. Here’s a nice one.
el rio grande
The Rio grande flows from the continental divide like a golden thread, taking the loneliness out of the Colorado mountains. The eyes of dead apache warriors express their sorrow with silent renegade war cries, as the Rio grande meanders through New Mexico.
Tooh-ba-aadi is an ancient Navajo word for a south flowing river. It flows through Tejas like a carancahua red cloth, it cuts through chihuahuas, coahuila, Nuevo Leon and tamaulipas like an Anasazi arrowhead.
The Rio grande is an ancient river that was flowing before all things were given names and the universe had a song in it’s heart. The Rio grande was here before a box of holy relics was bestowed upon an heir by three wise kings. The Rio grande was here before cathedrals, monasteries and chapels were built to cage the gods of man. The Rio grande was here before man enslaved man, a freely flowing river emptying it’s burden into an ocean claimed by no one.
The Rio grande is 1800 miles of blood, sweat, fear, hate, greed, envy, avarice, mercy and grace. The Rio grande is the bridge to the heart of my people and expresses it’s beauty everyday with its brown muddy waters.
And I remember you rio grande, when your strong undercurrent pulled me into your embrace. I remember you rio grande when my cousin drowned at your shore. I remember you rio grande and all the people who call you freedom, and I will remember you every time I close my eyes, clench my fist and raise it high into the air as I pray and mourn for my people.
My friend Bob and I were going to be at the Other Bob’s concert last night. Damn virus. Since we’re all playing ‘Shelter From the Storm’ these days as a wishful-thinking exercise…here it is.
Shelter From the Storm
Steven’s the younger brother, the baby of our family. He just had a birthday, one of the many that are turning him into an aging baby…still the youngest though, and you know how they are…the babies/little brothers/littlest kids…really cute but spoiled, right? And sometimes you wonder if they’ll ever grow out of a certain amount of coyness…
Steve, I didn’t want to bring this up on your birthday but… about that toilet training issue….. You always approached it rather oddly and now seems like the time to share your unusual approach to life with the world.
And finally, as your mother I want you to know I appreciate your somewhat dubious form of playfulness.
Happy seriously belated birthday…youse is a good kid…and I’m very proud of you…in spite of all those idiosyncrasies mentioned above.
I’ve been baking bread lately and thought you would enjoy some photos of my fragrant golden loaves. A poem about bread was needed to accompany them. It turns out the bread poem I liked best is about Beirut, Lebanon by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Which led to me being sidetracked in this no-travel year, going back to a post I wrote some years ago about visiting Beirut.
This post then is part new poem and part the re-telling of a travel story with my new bread pictures thrown in for good measure.
Bread by Mahmoud Darwish
From early dusk the day was inscrutable
The sun shows up, lazy as usual
A mineral ash, eastward, blocks the horizon. . .
In the veins of clouds
In household pipes
The water was hard. . .
A desperate autumn in the life of Beirut
Death spread from the palace
to the radio to the salesman of sex
To the vegetable market
What is it wakes you now?
Exactly five o’clock
And thirty people killed
Go back to sleep
It is a time of death and a time of fire
Ibrahim was a painter
He painted water
He was a deck for lilies to grow on
And terrible if woken up at dawn
But his children were spun of lilac and sunlight
They wanted milk and a loaf of bread
Inscrutable day. My face
A telegram made of wheat in a field of bullets
What is it wakes you now
Exactly five o’clock
And thirty people killed
Bread never had this taste before
This blood this whispering texture this grand apprehension complete essence this voice this time this colour this art this human energy this secret this magic this unique movement from the cavern of origin to
the gang war to the tragedy of Beirut
At exactly five o’clock
Who was dying?
Into his hands Ibrahim took the last color
Color of the secrets in the elements
A painter and a rebel he painted
A land teeming with people, oak trees, and war
Ocean waves, working people, street vendors, countryside
And he paints
In the miracle of bread
My Story. Beirut 2009
I am sitting on a curb in Beirut in the working class neighborhood at the very start of the Green Line, that famous division the Christians and Muslims of this city used for so many years as their bloody ‘line in the sand.’ I am a wanna be history nerd and curious traveler, spending my last day in this city exploring. Walking through the maze of streets, semi-lost for the last couple of hours, I finally ask someone with a bit of English for directions, he says “Yes, yes…Green Line,” nodding vigorously and pointing. But first a falafel shop entices me to pause in front of a window display of those wonderful crusty brown balls of chickpea delight and the men assembling the falafel sandwiches beckon me inside. I’m too hungry to resist and with sandwich in hand I move across the street for curbside dining just in front of a typical Beirut building—shot up and abandoned!
There are only men out and about here. This is usual, even in relatively liberal Beirut, once you get away from the city center and into a Muslim sector. It feels lopsided. The men treat me with great respect and share pleasantries because I’m too old to threaten their standards of womanly propriety, but still I feel denigrated on behalf of my hidden sisters.
It is hot, but bearably so, nice here on the curb in this quiet street, with tahini running through my fingers, feeling grungier with each messy bite. But a falafel sandwich tastes very fine after an entire day walking the streets of this strangely pleasant, accommodating, bullet-riddled city. I’m tired and hungry and very happy exactly where I am at the moment.
I’ve always been fascinated by Beirut and its civil war. I guess it’s the surreal quality of a bunch of Christian and Muslim militias, resembling LA street gangs more than anything else, destroying “the Paris of the East” for the hell of it. Seeing with your own eyes something you’ve read about but couldn’t quite fathom, feeling righteously tired from serious street tramping and assuaging your hunger with the middle eastern version of a good burger—it is a perfect travel moment.
The guys going in and out of the falafel shop stare at me briefly before deciding I’m a harmless eccentric and moving on. Otherwise it is so peaceful here. I try to picture what it must have been like back then. I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of bullet holes today, most notably at the multi-story shell left after the 1976 “battle of the Holiday Inn” and at the Place des Martyrs where the bronze statue of the martyrs could better be described as the bronze lacework of the gunmen. I sit here thinking of what I’ve seen today. All those bullet holes from all those men shooting, shooting, shooting in the names of God and Allah, but really for power and money, or because they are too damn dumb or terrified to stay out of the game.
On a street not far from here, men and bulldozers are busy rebuilding a section that resembles Rodeo Drive in LA in terms of exclusivity; obviously expectations of peace and prosperity are high. I think about the toys of our little boys; in the sand boxes of the world they tear down and build up and crash and dig. I know I am stereotyping and I know I am not saying anything new, but there does seem to be something true about boys not really growing up—but rather trading up—for more dangerous toys and powerful playthings as they age. Beirut is a world-class example of what happens then. Sorry. I’m mad. You can’t NOT be mad at men in Beirut.
Silly me. Philosophizing on the curb when I still have to walk the Green Line before catching a plane to the normalcy of Uganda!
Covid-19, in addition to sickening and killing us, could be classified as a bipolar disorder, couldn’t it? The highs and lows, ups and downs…. Day before yesterday, I was strong and positive, saying to my friends ‘here’s how we come out of this, better than we went in.’ Today I’m sick (not Covid-sick, just regular sick) and doubting.
When my powerful-persona has the upper hand, I do things like put up notes that say, ‘must do everyday—something that always makes us happy.’ It always makes me happy to write so here I am, 5am Sunday morning, writing. With nothing worthwhile to say—being sickish and ‘low.’
What about a poem? My friend Bob and a Coursera poetry class aroused a latent interest in poetry a few years ago which means there’s something to turn to when words and other books fail. So I went to the lithub website and The 32 Most Iconic Poems in the English Language to make it easy to capture something of this morning’s mood.
Being determined to prevent the evil virus from stealing too many hours of my last vital years (and a little fearful of just that many mornings) I thought to once again share Dylan Thomas’ Do not go gentle into that good night.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light