Out in the veld there’s a large painted white rock that she likes to hug her body on, face down. The youngest child in the family of eight, when she can sneak away, wades through the high bush to the rock. To her it's a ship of amity from her family, her mother, her father, her school teacher, her brothers and sisters, the maid. She presses her small body against it; her arms splaying out on either side to hug the earth. The coolness of the rock from the white paint reflecting the sun alleviates her asthma, her lungs resting on the cool mass. There is nothing else around out there in the empty fields of outer Johannesburg and the child likes to close her eyes in the vastness of it all and listen to her wheezing slow. She can breathe here, resting. When time’s run out and she has to go back she shuts her eyes and braces herself for the steep payment of this small fortitude. Every time she lifts herself off the rock pushing up, she moves her small ribcage against her lungs. It is as if there’s broken glass scratching the inside of her breath and she squeezes her eyes every time. It is the price for her tabula rasa all alone in the sweeping wilds.
I am a ghost of glee dancing silently, unseen but through mirrored glass. Tucked in jungle cabin surrounded by crickets and Cohen, boar and Borges and outside it’s black as pitch. Three geckoes chuckle as they congregate on the screen to feast knowing as long the light stays on this won’t be their last. My ghost face mirth is bright as I spin, my toe on a square of sheepskin slippery against the bamboo floor. Layers of white cotton I bought in Milan twirl out to here and I am a wedding cake with plumeria petals of confetti dancing down the house. My euphoria grows as I spin, a blonde dervish in rapture, shared solely by the largest crane I’ve yet made. Brown wax packing paper. Soon we swoop backward onto the bed together, that crane and I, in a wing-spanned swoon of bliss.
Kukicha tea brewing in the glass tea pot, the twigs hitting the sides. When I’m not dancing on it, that fleece square is what I sit on to meditate, do puja on. I use my left hand to wave incense, to move energy, my right hand up too. I usually wear things to remind me of people and tonight I wear a broken watch I found in my father’s drawer. It hangs against my wrist bone, tapping it every time I make a circumambulation with my arm. I am a joyous ghost in this nonlinear plane and this cabin is my playground, my house of mirth. The watch doesn’t keep time but this makes sense in the rolling foothills of the Wailua Mountains, where there is only the rooster to wake you and the rain to rock you away.
Two waves meet body-slamming the other. A loud slap! And like an ignited TNT strip they rip across the water sending salt spray surging, spume tossed high into the air. Bodyboarders ride the backwash into the oncoming wave and pull stunts as they’re catapulted like flying acrobats. Soon, the two waves dissolve into one. Not-two is peace. Momo and I are like these two waves. We don’t know it but we are running straight at the other. But we are the same. Like Rhiannon and Jane from Blue Saturday, we are the same person.
Years later, I have a dream about the women who made me pull this sentiment from fiction characters and apply to a real person with breath. In the dream we are having tea and catching up and talking about what happened that drove us at one another. We never met in real life, but the dream is more real than real. It is relief. We are now a lake. No ripples. A small pond. No Narcissus. No anything. And now dried earth, crumbled back into soft silted soil for replanting.
17 Mile Drive. I stayed out there for most of the day, watching the ocean heave and suck in its low to high. It was melancholy, restless beyond my own, knowing her life was going to end soon. Not that I wanted to sit around predicting it. But some things we just know.
As told to me by Ritch, August 6, 2013
They visit Sam at Agnews State Hospital. It’s a long drive from Carmel and Ritchie carries a goldfish in a plastic bag to show him.
His Old Man is a water color artist and doesn't always stay in this reality. The boy is scared but wants to show him that the goldfish is bright and orange and mysterious with its extraordinarily round eye balls.
The boy becomes worried as he walks through the parking lot with his mother and brothers. He worries that the fish may not have enough oxygen in the water. The boy thinks the fish may not be getting what it needs to live. To breathe. The fish needs attention. Carefully little Ritchie opens the bag to let the air in, but it slips! The water spills out.
The sprinklers on the state hospital lawn are shooting water every which way. Whirring, whipping water on the dry California grass. The boy runs into the water storm and refills the bag while the fish is in it likely bewildered. Ritchie only cares about the bright orange goldfish and showing his Old Man the extraordinary eyes of the fish. The boy watches the fish eyes as he fills the bag with water pellets, all the while ignoring the shouts from his mother. He is determined that this fish see Sam so Sam can see his orange shimmering body and bulging happy eyes.
My friend Rik is explaining to me the project triangle. The tree points on the triangle are good, cheap and fast. Pick any two and the third is an impossibility. So if it’s good and fast, it can’t be cheap. Cheap and fast; won’t be good. He’s talking about the triangle in reference to independent movie making but I begin equating it to everything as I sit there on the ombre couch of our coffee shop; expensive health food, clothes from Forever 21, LA’s lack of feasible public transport, people who play at good.
There are certain simple things that make me feel wealthy. Paper towels. Hitting the perfect ratio of milk in black tea. An open lane on the 10. Satisfaction, the mirage of infinity. The cushy feel of new tennis socks excitably white, tight against the arch and ankle. In a passing vision there’s an origami rhinoceros hanging like a party lantern from a tree in a backyard within the nameless grid of Hollywood.
I meet Laura to hike Runyon and she wants me to look over her thank-you letter for a trip she’s taken with a museum. It’s too cheerleadery, too nicey nicey. Was it truly the most incredible journey you’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing? I love the emotion of dubious. A little self indulgent. People are suspicious of too nice, I say. It reeks of hidden rage. I do what my Libran father unknowningly taught me; I deflect and tell her a story about someone else to equate. Take the pressure off. We puff up Runyon Canyon and check out all the beautiful men jogging by as we talk. As long as I live here I’ll forever be a sucker for the beard. In this town all that scruff is as refreshing as a country lake. I talk about the alpha dog. How the whiny pack animal is hated, demoted for the threat it implies the rest. Genuine isn’t fast or cheap but like recognizes like most of the time and circles are formed.
Near the top of the mountain the rage finally comes out. That Laura was on the verge of losing it on that trip she took, that everyone there upset her. She laughs when I say she should put that in the letter and I laugh too at how refreshing it might be for the museum chancellor to read about the real dealio. Even when it hurts. People like the truth, smell the truth. Despise the lowest common denominator, the weakest link. Good Company, project triangles explaining failed indie movies, men jogging by with scruffy, sweaty beards, being direct. I drop L off and as I wind down through Spaulding to Melrose to Oakwood, toward Beverly to buy something good and fast at Erewhon I glance briefly at the window and there it is: a large rhinoceros piñata hanging in a tree.
South Africa 1959
They took some nerves from the side of her head. Drip. Drip. Drip-drop, drip. Keep the beat; it keeps a beat. Washing dark black feet, the whitest of white teeth, the hospital workers in tune with the beat. The sink faucet in the old farmhouse outside Jo-berg, that primal African gait seeping. One bath, water heated in pans, all five children taking turns. Running, yelling, beating. Drip, drip, drip-drop, drip. Her eldest, but eight, knows they’ll got to the orphanage if she dies. The smell of the veld, the flies landing on their legs and arms. And so far from here Celt silos being hit with rain. We are all connected. Fairbairns and Armstrongs gone colonial like spreading ice on a winter pond, looking for opportunity to cover this open earth. The girls first, then the boys, then fresh water for him. How they manage to balance the cloth and the food in perfect harmony; she too presumes this graceful gait.
She finds his white work shirt sitting on her side of the bed after getting the children tucked in. Without thinking she picks it up and begins to fold with hospital corner precision.
No, he says. Look at the neck. The ring of dirt around the collar; the other men don’t have this on their work shirts.
He stares at her.
She apologizes and assures him she will get it out but as she gets into bed she is fearful she doesn’t know a cleaner that will get it out. As she falls to sleep this is where her mind goes.
The next day she washes his shirts, scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing but it won’t come out. She lets them soak with the new cleaner she’s bought and moves on to the linen. She washes so much linen her hands crack and bleed from chaf. After the sheets she tries her luck again. Up and down the washboard, pale and burning in the hot South African torch of summer. She has a maid but they are poor and this is what she’s to do. She works downtown at the makeup counter of Helena Rubenstein where people stop and tell her she is lovely—so fiery—and did you ever see such beautiful legs and eyes dazzling, but this is what she also does. She cannot get these stains out and he is going to be furious with her. Her red hair and alabaster color, even in this melted prairie.
She grips the spinning clothesline wheel where she’s hanging his shirts, the stain not completely out. Her hands are bleeding and her dread is building and she needs to wrap her hands so she doesn’t get blood on the laundry. Oh this is not what she thought when she came here across the ocean, no it is not. She grips the line and leans back, closing her eyes as she prays to god for a break. She needs a break.
For just that moment the sun catches her backward hanging face, her persimmon hair falling. Her stature, her willingness; it is known. Her eldest daughter home from school sees her mother from the side of the house where’s she’s coming out to help. She stops in the track of this rudimentary awakening. How angelic her mother is in this moment. A pale female Christ hanging on the laundry line, stigmata from her palms, how serene that smile before she topples backward.
She stays at the hospital three weeks. The doctors aren’t sure she will live during those weeks. Her eldest, but eight, learns gravitas in her gait during this wait. They don’t know if it is a stroke or palsy; she is so weak and they put a steel plate in her head. The right side of her face paralyzed permanently. The IV drips like the faucet and the clock, keeping her heartbeat. Drip, drip, drip-drop, drip. She knows that if she dies her children will end up orphans and so she cannot die. She is 36.
Dropped by prop plane in remote Alaskan wilderness a man named Jay Larsen paints reality with the ochre form the rock mixed with linseed oil. Sleeping in riverside cabin, only the bright stirs him with occasional stars. A month ago a book fell off the shelf and landed at his feet but he didn’t bring it into the wild, didn’t get the drift.
The man awakes one night to the valley river flooding and he wonders if the cabin will sweep away. He is stationed right on the water. The deluge swamps the valley and for days he holes up inside hoping the water does not rise. There is nowhere to go.
A prop plane comes to check on him. That water is going down now and he has to keep painting reality. Seeing that he is all right, the plane drops down a box of food and staples. Inside the box is the same book that jumped down from the shelf. It is called Illusions by Richard Bach and it’s the story of a prop plane driver.
After summer in the wild, the man returns to Seattle with his lover. Bach’s symphony is in the man’s head now and when he opens the morning paper the only advert he sees is that of Bach again, for a book signing. On the way to the book signing to meet the conductor of his personal opera, the man walks into the bookstore next door. It is Dawn Horse Bookstore.
The man is writing a paper for his thesis called Science and Sacred Culture, so naturally he picks up a book called Science, Sacred Culture, and Reality. The Author is someone named Da. Life is waking on him now and he feels the thunder cracking. The man and his lover soon move to an island called Lopez Island and unknown to them this is where both Bach and Da reside too. Prop planes continue to fly as the symphony gets louder.
Inward and outward the spiral in the gyre turns. Illusions, waved into being. The Divine is perfect. This man Jay, who was Wild, and still is quite Wild, now resides on another island in another spot circled by art, he told me to read this Bach book a decade before I actually read it. It happened the same way it happened for him. It just suddenly appeared on my doorstep. Yes, Richard Bach, thank you, you said it perfectly. White seagulls are cranes, too. This man Da, who is beyond Wild, also resides on another island in another spot circled by art that one can only get to by prop plane or boat. Circle, pattern, books of truth. When I read Illusions by Bach there was so much in it that felt like Da.
I am charged and not sure what I might do. Nothing makes sense and this is more accurate than I’ve ever understood life to be. See, it does make sense. Which means the rest up to now has been half-watt. My body quivers and my heart rattles like a snake in warning.
I don’t hear them as they hug me and put a sweater over my head even though it’s sweltering. Watanabe acknowledges that I know and Kana nods while his auntie hands me taro wrapped in ti. Satomi hovers behind my left shoulder. She tells me to go into the fields and get away from all these crazy people.
Mt. Wai’ale’ale looms like an apocalyptic tidal wave and the moon is so bright the lawn's like a stadium. There’s a rustle and a squeal as a family of boar run away into the bush, startled by my footsteps through the grass. My heart is broken, on fire, singing, and exploding all at once; I don’t know how what she’s said is possible.
Further and further into the orchard toward the cliff edge to the steep waterfall below. The river of the ancient royals--protected by the kapu--carves a cliff path on which I stand. I wind through acres of citrus, avocado, papaya and banana. I disappear behind a large lychee tree and a thicket of bamboo. Completely mesmerized, I walk deeper into the thicket toward the direction of the cliff’s edge, furthest from the house. Spider webs multiply in fingers of moonlight and the faint path hides in shadow. I have just been face to face with death and I have learned that you don’t really die when you die.
I stop at the cacao fields. Their large yellow and red pods as big as footballs, some coming straight out of the trunk and hanging heavy, five pounds each. I see a machete leaning against a spicket and pick it up like I know all about machetes. I snap off a pod, whack it clear in half and sit down on the wet grass to eat the insides. Kana’s pit-bull has found me and stalks around in a circle before laying down near the cat acting as a guard in this wild darkness. Her eyes reflect the glint of the moonlight and I am happy she’ll stay nearby. I can’t do humans right now. I wouldn’t even want Esmé.
Even though the beans are bitter I eat the entire pod. Some people are convinced that eating the fruit raw is akin to taking a form of ayuhasca or peyote and that there’s a spiritual transformation that will enter one’s life after eating from the yellow pod, but I know if there’s any sort of spiritual transformation it will be from talking with my dead grandmother.
The theobromine and dopamine are flowing. I sit straight and cross-legged with the cat at my side and we listen to the river rushing below. I buzz with the night elements. Even though it’s been less than 24 hours my Los Angeles life seems as if a dream drifted out to sea and broken into fragments of driftwood, headed for a channel that will carry them into the deep blue. She was saying something in the guess what’s. Guess what, she was saying. Guess what.
Guess what. You’re already dead. Guess what, you’re already dead! She is laughing at me now.
Silly child. You’re dead. Listen to the night when it’s speaking to you. Remember who you are.
She’s whispering in my ears, all this way, she’s come and found me. She is in the wind and in the grass and inside of me.
Guess what, little mochi-cake? She’s inside my head.
I blink and become a half-sphere.
You’re already dead.
title of post from quote by Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee Nation
Boise left me dry with its alpine glow and a giant blow-up elf deflating in the middle of Shenandoah Drive. It left me filled with the screams of a deaf girl bouncing on her trampoline— her dolls flying up and down with her, she obviously possessed of the Christmas spirit, her apparition bobbing over a wooden fence like a jack-in-the-box. We were lost in the suburbs, trying to find good Christmas lights to stare at.
I walked my cousin’s bichon and kept looking for one of the recently-spotted cougars, feeling guilty, and all the while I’d never heard such an almighty silence in those hills. The only sound was from the rotating heads of mechanical reindeer creaking against the cold in the neighbor’s yard down the hill. I thought I had poisoned their dog when it ate the entire box of chocolate-covered macadamias sent from Hawaii. Animal Poison Control assured me if it wasn’t already dead then it would only puke later and so I was on a walk to make peace with Sparky’s stomach. I sighed into those rolling hills and watched the alpine glow for signs of the Second Coming. When was it going to come?
I wanted Jesus to come back and I wanted Joseph Smith to come back too. I wanted to have a meeting up there in the hills at Table Rock, a plateau with an erected eighty-foot cross overlooking all of Boise and discuss this thing we do when people we love die. Why not meet there and put our heads together.
I was there long enough to know Hope is waiting to die . She has given up all of it, hope and faith, in exchange for the comfort of “ashes to ash and dust to dust.” She wanted to talk spirituality withme, but only to push it over and stomp it out. Devout Catholic her whole life, and then Methodist, even when she had to sneak to church. But now, not so much. So maybe Jesus and Joseph can help her figure out what the problem could be. What’s the hold-up she wants to know, what’s the dealio; she wants to go.
I was there long enough to watch the cougar stalking me as I sat behind the glass on the hillside with bubble lights, Veuve Clicquot, and rotting Mogan David pudding. Outside, she paced back and forth on the cold stone pews that had been carved into the side of the mountain and her courage impressed me. I approached from inside where she couldn’t see me and I don’t know why I did this but I breathed onto the glass in front of her. Feeling my heat she backed up and wound down to the old penitentiary that had been converted into a drive-thru Christmas light garden. I watched her retreat, and wondered what she did when a member of her pack died. I was marking my territory.
The following day I climbed to Table Rock with the Dire Straits. When I reached the top there were no cougar sightings and I meditated on the city.
Later, I went with my mother to a 3-D Imax movie. The small child next to me knew every single word to “Our Lord Jesus” and my mother kept trying to catch the snowflakes as they fell on our noses. I wondered if Hope was ok by herself and wanted to leave this predictable script. I felt it was all the more important I talk with Jesus. I wanted to feel it at the heart. After the movie we stopped at WinCo for more food. While my mother was pushing a super cart I waited in the car. And that’s when Jesus and Joseph walked up to me.
“Hey guys. You’ve finally come.” It was all pretty normal.
They handed me some coupons for Fuji film, for my memories they said. They went up to the next car to distribute their coupons and put them under the windshield wipers.
I cried until my mom came out with about 100 rolls of paper towels and a four pack of rice chex.
I was there long enough my last day to hold Hope up and tell her she was never alone and only full of love. I laid her back down against her bed pillow and she wept, saying that her body was done and she was done. I didn’t want to leave her but I felt like the cougar outside the glass with death breathing on it from the inside. I didn’t want to stay either. I wanted to wander into the bush and not feel it all too much.
I was dropped off at the airport and sat at the gate for the next four hours until they un-cancelled the flight. Next to me was a man who drank a vodka tonic and we smiled a lot and told each other of our woes. When we’d landed back in California and it was over we did the shrug, the empty goodbye smile. And through all of that, the only thing I am sure of was the wild deaf child dancing with her dolls in the middle of the freeze.