A Strange Day on Planet Earth

Walking Broken Hearted into November


I haven’t read the news in many weeks. This after deciding that hum of anxiety that had become a steady chorus, pulsing through hours waking and chasing me into my sleep—until I was waking with an already throbbing heart—should probably be listened to.  October was there and waiting, and I walked silently into her arms of golden leaves and crisp shadows.  The apparitions are so bright and fleeting now, short hours before the nightly curtain falls and I am left standing in chilly starlight, skin still craving sunlight.  A month of worshipping yellow and tracing the descent of leaves and standing again and again, humbled and hushed, in the presence of mule deer: they startled from their grazing and I startled from my walking, two species staring across a void both mysterious and familiar.  Sometimes a tail flickers and they gallop, and sometimes a doe stands steadfast, ears stretching wide, staring at me incessantly as if to ask, “Who are you?”  And I don’t know the answer.

Weeks of just hearing headlines from other people, and still I cry every day for the knowledge of those and all previous headlines. I have accumulated more bad news in the past year than I would rightly be able to process in a lifetime, not to mention everything that came before. The backlog of mourning seems to stretch from here to the nearest star, and yet for some time I continued in a grim trance of plucking more headlines to cram in every corner of my head—until it was hemorrhaging information and statistics and grief.

I don’t know how to live with the knowledge the oceans are dying. I don’t know how to live with the knowledge of runaway climate change. I don’t know how to live while millions of children starve. I don’t know how to live having read the true story of my own nation’s inception, of torn scalps and stolen children and lies and lies and lies. I don’t know how to live with its ongoing imperialist thrusts, the constant numb awareness of drone bombs and severed limbs and a mother being comforted by her dying eight-year-old daughter.   I don’t know how to live with the knowledge of old forests tortured and rivers suffocated, of fish packed in fetid aquafarms and sows unable to turn in their cages. I don’t know how to live with the knowledge of sweatshops and coltan mines and “child brides” and shredded clitorises. I don’t know how to live knowing of scalped mountains and the corpses of bee hives and 60 harvests left. I don’t know how to live knowing I may be one of the last generations of my species to do so.

I wasn’t taught how to live with these things. I wasn’t even taught these things. I just pulled back the curtain and instead of a bumbling old man, found a very sophisticated sociopath, whose abuses are now so normalized and pervasive they are hard to name. But we have named them with some degree of success: Patriarchy. Capitalism. Ecocide. Human supremacy. White supremacy. At the core of each, a hemorrhaging wound. We call them economies and social arrangements and even religions, but in essence I see illness, fatal illnesses of spirit that spread through trauma, rippling through generations and across continents.


I don’t know how to be well here, truly well. I only know to survive with some integrity I must return to the mountain and listen to the nonhuman voices. To remain somewhat well I must cry a lot, and give thanks, and journey to heal my own ancestral line, and try to find an answer for the mule deer. My mind finds this insufficient but my heart does not. This heart that told me to delete Facebook and burn sage every night, the heart that always returns to the mountain.

I lay on her rocks and listen to their memories; I caress her furry mullein leaves with my fingers; I talk to her trees and overhear their whispers with the wind. I don’t know how to live with the knowledge of the human story, but I still know how to do these things. My cells know. My feet somehow remember. My throat sometimes starts to form an old song with a meandering melody, as I walk among the chamisa shrubs that are now pale crowns of seeds that cling to the trail of my scarf.

And I cry again because I know so little, and my heart is so broken, and no one taught me how to live; and yet in these moments I have everything, and more than I could have imagined.  At the center of the wound is that which is deeply shattered, and yet beside this lives something forever intact.  Not even the human species could break what is most intact, though for some reason many have tried.  At the center of the wound, the Earth still waits for us; the tears pool and wait for a moment to fall; those things our cells remember call out to be remembered.  None of the headlines in all the world will tell you this, though they might bring you here.


Up and Down the Mountain Again


On the mountain the chamisa is glowing, this shrub Gaia here wears like an encompassing sweater in every direction. It thoughtfully blooms in riotous yellows just as the summer wildflowers begin to fade.

The little snakes are more prolific, basking in sunny patches and swooshing away when they feel my footfalls. Some days the stream is dry and some days swollen, and I cannot understand the trickery by which the water comes and goes without correspondence to the rain. The sun sets ever more quickly and dramatically. And then in starlight I wander the surrounding roads as the land writes a love letter afresh night after night, in choruses of crickets and katydids.

Down the mountain, there are bombs in subway stations and presidents with advanced signs of dementia writing very bad haikus called “tweeting” everyone then works hard to either decipher or to believe. I continue to feel I am living in two different worlds, one sane and one that does not know what sanity is. The strange thing is that these worlds exist on the same planet—or more accurately, that a terribly silly and dangerous human simulacrum somehow sprouted on this mystical being called Earth. We remain hypnotized by our own species and its endless speaking, we who sprung so late in an evolution that had been dancing itself for billions of years.

We knew the rhythm, it seems, for some hundreds of thousands of years too. It wasn’t so long ago, perhaps 6,000 years, that the Indo-Europeans hatched a disease called patriarchy. One feature of this disease is an intense desire to spread it. It spread through war and conquest and rape and ethnic cleansing and trauma. It spread so far and so deeply most of us now call it “human nature.”

The mystery is that the disease could ever thrive here, surrounded by so many wise ancestors—be they towering pines or the blossoming, majestic citadels called mullein flowers.  Nothing else is insane.  Only us.  And feeling the contrast is the most insane thing of all.

mullein closer.jpg

Re-hearing Jane Caputi talk about the symbolism and blood rights of patriarchy tonight, it occurred to me that the contrast is integral to the design. Of course the system bludgeons one with such unremitting inanity and crudity, as it could never work otherwise. Against the choruses of crickets and katydids, nightly and faithfully calling us back to ourselves, it needs 24-hour cable news and fluorescent lights and cement blocks and drone bombs and endless wars to keep us in a sufficient stupor. As Gaia, even after so many years of bludgeoning, still wields the power to draw us home in a single breath.

It works with women the same way: they have to keep the pornography and talking heads and sexual harassment churning like so many coal plants, lest for a moment our cumulative self-knowing catch its breath and strike back with the force of a million vipers. So I suppose the unbearable unbearability of everything is somehow a reflection of the intense beauty of everything that came before, which the dominant powers must work tirelessly to suffocate out of us and our living memory. I could never understand why patriarchs are always so nervous (see how they react to even small protests) when they already own all the weapons and monies. But in the scent of their fear is the same knowing that we know too, of the right order of things.  It is always pressing to reassert itself, like a seed seeking the crack in cement.

For a shivering minute recently, on this mountain, I held the gaze of mule deer.  Mule deer primarily move by prancing, which more serious people call stotting—and I dare anyone to not feel dizzily euphoric when they witness it. Am I naive to think the system would wither if everyone had access to a mountaintop with swooshing small snakes and prancing mule deer?

The dangers are all around, the sister species threatening to reawaken the wild  slumbering in our cells.  So cue televisions in waiting rooms and cue traffic fumes and cue schools built like prisons and cue private property and cue the mafia euphamastically called private health insurance companies and cue monosodium glutamate and cue aspartame and cue roundup and cue twitter and cue debt and cue militarized police and cue nuclear waste and cue Paul Ryan.  Cue insanity.  Cue manufactured insanity dripping round the clock, more than one person could ever track.

So, my society is insane.  It considers disease to be health. It preaches that the ones still standing with money in the end will “win.” It hands obnoxious people with dirty money awards.  It hands rich people with dirty money more money.  It glorifies a certain image of Man while disgracing his mother, his sisters, his brothers, and all his relatives. It hates women, the most unreasonable proposition of all.  It seemingly hates pure air and water and the original peoples and all good things.  It bombs anything that might puncture the empire walls.

Meanwhile the light has a golden edge in these pre-Equinox days, and the stars have a stronger pulse on these moonless nights, and the trees speak constantly, waiting for someone to listen.

So I pray to remember what health is. I pray for the mule deer and the mullein flowers and the tiny succulents and the grandmother pines. I pray everyone meet a piece of land that keeps them honest.

cricket edited


Up the Mountain, Down the Mountain

Walking the side of a mountain after a thunderstorm, I have never seen the high desert so green.  As the sun disrobes from a block of gray clouds, wet leaves preen in the returning light.


Yet to even think the word “green” at this moment feels a lie, a stunted word to cover a universe of throbbing photosynthetic bursts, each deserving of its own word, in need of new libraries and temples of words.

I almost forget how to think for a whole hour—or that thing we call thinking, a compulsive recitation of pasts and futures and credit card balances.  I almost forget, or is it remember, swept into this universe of beings with other preoccupations so much more interesting than my own.  I feel myself a stupid infant here, stumbling along in thin skin among ancestors that calmly absorb each raindrop and plunge deeper: and for a moment I can feel the triumphant thrust of those roots.

The wind sends cascades of latent raindrops onto my head and soaking into the fabric my shoes, those shoes made of materials I cannot name, knowing not where they came from or where they will go.  Nor do I know the names of most of the relatives I pass here, a consequence of spending most hours locked in a monoculture of human thoughts and human deeds and human offenses.

But they do not shove me out; it’s not in the nature of a plant to be stingy, this much I know. Even to these unseeing eyes they show off each impossible curl, whispering my dulled senses back to feeling, speaking the sleeping animal within me awake.chamisa.jpg

I forget several human lies and I remember the original truth: in this exchange we name carbon for oxygen there is a deeper bond that can never be entirely muted from knowing. In one popular story they say God breathed into Adam, a strange cover for this superior miracle in which the plants breathed into and gave us life.  This afternoon my cells remember, the very DNA seeming to coil anew in pure gratitude, resinging its place in an ancient chorus, a small note in a song that preceded and will surely continue us.

Caught up in that ancient melody, I almost forget the thing called thinking.  Almost.

After a time I crawl back into a metal beast burning gasoline in its belly and go back down the mountain.  For a time it stays with me, the knowing of the rightness of it all, the feeling of myself as a small organism in a universal web, the web which is my home.


But then there are parking meters and intersections and strangers … the shock of strangers in their strangeness, the strangeness I only feel in presence of my own species, which is the strangest thing of all.  The men I pass look at me in a certain way and all the subtle senses that had just been aflame begin to shut down one by one, like a line of switches inside me firmly pressed down.

I am back in a world of rectangles, and I have never been so aware of how unlovely it is, a temple built via the sinew and blood of a million species just to worship money, that god made in the image of man, that god that breathes through an unholy spirit called cement.  This cement didn’t grow, it didn’t even come from here, and as if in its own silent revolt it is inclined to tear and bubble, always needing to be smothered and smothered over again.  I can’t remember why I’m here or what I do here; I can’t remember why I must come down the mountain and rejoin this sad story of money and cement … I only know that long ago they took away my knowing of how to live outside it.

In the metal beast I listen to a podcast about psychedelic plants, but it isn’t for knowledge: it is a desperate attempt to regain the feeling of being at home in the web. But the more furiosly I grasp at the thread, the further it unravels.

I am back down the mountain now, in a rectangular room looking at pictures of the mountain I took on this thing called an I-phone, another rectangle made through some bad magic.  The pictures are rectangles and reflect nothing of myself in the web, the feeling of my DNA coiling around my own center.

My ancestors are buried far from here, across different lands and across oceans.  The place I call home is rented out by the month, with money as profits for a man I will never meet.  When I look out the window I see flourescent signs from a strip mall positively glaring at me, as if they too resent being left on, wanting an evening’s respite from their own light. When I open the window I hear the unhappy roar of more metals beasts … the metal beasts that seem to breed in silent cement lots, annually producing what they call another “generation.”  I can’t remember why we live like this, but I also can’t remember what came before.

I am back down the mountain now, in a rectangular building with its own letters and numbers: if I typed those digits into this cobalt-laden rectangle people across the world could pull up its latitude and longitude—with pictures!—on Google Maps, just like that. … Right here I am, so tirelessly chronicled and counted, but then I have no idea where I am at all.

Walking in March


Walking this path with the sun a few inches from the horizon.  Were there people?  Mostly there seemed to be dogs.  They strain their leashes, and the people shout.  And the dogs shout at each other.  And then they shout at the dogs in the surrounding houses, and then the dogs in the surrounding houses start shouting at each other.  Also children, squealing, straying.  And bikes.  And joggers plodding by, seemingly seeing nothing as they gasp for breath.

But if you walk long enough you will see the dogs and their people leave, and the children vanish, and the joggers dissolve, and the bikes become intermittent, until each is a whirling apparition of lights.  Even the west wind dulls to a tender whisper.  And if you keep walking still, you will meet the object of your desire: twilight.

trees with peter (1)-2.jpg

I have been a nocturnal creature so long I do not feel the earth going to sleep here in the final blush of daytime, but waking up.  There is stillness, yes, but do you feel the pulsing all around?  It is the atoms of the air crying for starlight.  We have all stopped talking to the sun: instead now only deep listening to the moon.

It is March and twilight in March in the high desert is its own universe, one that should fill mouths and dreams and imaginations for generations.  The earth is still brown and in direct light looks brittle, but look again.  Ostara is walking, and at twilight I hear her siren call until my blood is pulsing in time with the melting mountain snow.

I am her student, her disciple, her devotee, her child, her shadow. I feel the pressure inside the swelling buds in my arms, I memorize the shape of every blade of grass in its thrust, I impress the smell of melted snow into my cells.  Nothing has changed, and yet everything is new, and old, and new again.  Even under cement, the soil sings and swells, and tells me things I cannot transcribe.  And as I drive home I weep for the beauty of it, and for all we have forgotten, and for all I still cannot hear.

Love and Honey

honey 4.jpg

After a fraught week, I was resuscitated via drinking a salted margarita and watching the third season of Chef’s Table.  It takes itself rather seriously but I don’t mind, as I also take it seriously and am inclined to cry at the climaxes of its so-serious cinematography.

I am left thinking: Perhaps we should never have appealed to the hearts of the capitalists, but their stomachs.  For surely, if they had any normal lust for food, we could never have gotten here?

There will be no layered honey cakes without honey, and no honey without bees, and no bees if we continue to dump pesticides about like dishwater.  There could be no perfect kimchi without cabbage, which is inclined to taste better when grown—as Jeong Kwan does—next to a forest, in amity with the billions of neighbor insects.  And nothing at all without fecund soil, the soil that is being stripped so quickly the U.N. estimates we have only sixty harvests left.

So they don’t care for women, or men who aren’t rich, or winged species and the sister bacteria encasing it all.  But if only, if only, they cared enough about food, perhaps we might have been spared this sixth mass extinction?

Yes, if Scott Pruitt and Charles Koch were sufficiently glutonous, I can’t believe they would be conspiring to kill the soil and the trees and all the rest of us.

If only for a love of honey.

Image: modified still from Chef’s Table, created by David Gelb for Netflix



2017 opened with a thick fog enveloping my little city.

I stood on the balcony with my mother, the surrounding apartments oddly quiet and dim.  We burnt away the excesses of 2016 on little slips of paper, then grabbed each other’s arms as we heard a distant firework, jumping in unison and shouting, “We made it!”

For all our mutual dread of the coming year, we shared an unspoken understanding it would be ingracious not to greet it properly.

I didn’t predict the election, but perhaps my body did: having spent the preceding months enveloped in hives and increasingly mysterious physical dysfunctions.  I avoided the news November 8, thanks to the luxury of voting early and a loathing of media spectacles.  But I did hear a dog across the street, which has never made its presence known before or since, howling miserably and incessantly through the early hours of the morning.   I had strange dreams and woke with a pang of uncertainty.

I have ridden the media merry-go-round many times since then, always getting off somewhere further from understanding.  The most urgent stories were the innumerate flaws and vulnerabilities of voting machines, and the suppression of voters and recounts, but these headlines weren’t for sale.


First stage of grief: Denial. The most persistent forms emanate from the left, which decided it is some sort of moral act to deny racism and sexism in their compatriots, damn the evidence.  There is an odd sanctimony with which these pronouncements are issued, while accusing other urban liberals of having thrown the election solely through the powers of their luminous urbanity. David Roberts nicely summed up reality:

“Somehow, vouchsafing the innocence of white people takes precedence over holding them responsible or protecting those who will suffer as a result of their choices. …. If you can elect an authoritarian who ran on racial resentment and have the nation’s elites respond with gushing displays of empathy … you may be white.”

I am awed by those who were able to  counter this global disaster, as began unfolding immediately on November 9, with such incisive writing.  For myself, the election only made me more prolific in crying.  Having so many of my worst fears come true in swift succession rather stunted the nicer parts of my imagination.


By the end of the year I was too sick to go outside and the arrival of my mother appeared salvific in nature, some small, hardy figure to boil bones and rub my head and make the world seem less insufferable.  I can’t quite fathom that the earth holds both her spirit as well as the president elect’s. But reality being irrational, and overrun with vile men, it is his voice that fills the airwaves.

So in this age of vile men and their unceasing propaganda, I have resolved this January to be as accurate as possible with words. Including:

The GOP: A domestic terrorist organization.  Which has imbedded itself into the American government from the cellular to national level, through illegal means, in order to cipher public wealth to the global elite.

Living with fear of losing/being unable to afford healthcare: Terrorism.

Defunding Planned Parenthood: Terrorism.

Debt: Terrorism.

Poverty: Terrorism.

American elections: Public spectacles, controlled by party interests and intentionally corruptible machinery, with unverifiable results.

The media: What media?

If not now, when will it ever be time to tell the truth?  Perhaps accuracy won’t stop the known world from burning down: But it at least saves us the indignity of our last words being, “Is that smoke?”  As the left determines to be nicer and talk less about racism, and the right becomes more racist and organized, and my body burns with hives and unknowns, truth—however bitter—feels at least palliative.

This may be a year of unpleasant truths, if you can find them. And a time of heroism and intuition, for those who can stand it.


Image 1: from Art Gallery ErgsArt on flickr

Image 2: from Etienne Mahler on flickr

Image 3: from page 64 of A Crown of Flowers, being poems and pictures collected from the pages of The Girl’s Own Paper edited by C. Peters, 1883, via British Library on flickr

Image 4: from page 127 of Winter Pictures by poet and artist [Selections in verse from various authors] With engravings by Edward Whymper, 1881, via British Library on flickr


Closets and Vertigo


Moving.  I’ve lived in over 25 apartments in some 15 years, but this is the first modern one.  There is a closet in the kitchen, two closets in the living area, a closet in the bathroom, and a closet in the bedroom.  I keep walking around opening and closing the closets, counting them.  This is a novel sensation.  The materials are rather cheap here, but the fact everything is relatively new and works—without any apparent entry points for rainwater—is giving me a high.

Tragically no garden dirt for anyone: we all have tiny cement balconies.  When I walk through the whole complex, from beginning to end, I start to get vertigo, thinking my little home is just one cloned block among hundreds.  I do this as little as possible.

Men and Walls

prison from Art Gallery ErgsArt.png

This was shared anonymously on Facebook yesterday:

Today, I talked back to a man who touched me in the street without my permission. It doesn’t matter what I said. What matters is that he grabbed me by the back of the head, called me a whore, and threw me into a wall. … The details are irrelevant. I will tell you that this happened in the middle of the afternoon. I will tell you that there were onlookers who did nothing to help. I will tell you that as I crawled around on the sidewalk, feeling for my dropped glasses, nobody came to help. I will tell you that as I walked away, shaking, bleeding from my mouth, nobody offered to walk me home. … I will tell you this isn’t the first time.

The angriest I have ever seen grown men is when I have talked back to street harassers. The crooning voice and narrowed eyes instantly morph into shouts and bulging faces, their shoulders expanding like a mast. Men are so loud when they shout; even when I shout back, I hear my voice higher and smaller, and I cannot project enough to cover that embarrassing ring of fear.

I never spoke back because I thought it wise or prudent or bold or empowering for anyone: It was not a thought at all, just an overpowering sense I could not take it one more fucking time. In the moment, I feared if that bludgeoned part of myself was walked over again without a fight, it might never rise again. And the terror of becoming unknown to myself, in those pulsing seconds, overcame the dread of external violence.

These are the “choices” women have on the streets: To speak and confront the violence, or stay silent and interiorize the violence. The violence will be with you one way or the other, pick a poison.  And I was lucky, that beyond the shouting and posturing, and that one wiry man who continued to circle me like a cat for several minutes—that the violence remained in their voices, remained in the postures, remained in the compressed air that followed me home, as I cut a strange pattern of streets, walking and trembling until I could be certain I was not followed.

Recently this woman spoke back and the violence did not stay a posture; it shoved her against a wall and bloodied her mouth. She says: “I expect to get hurt again. I expect to be hit by more men in my lifetime. I expect to be called names and threatened. I anticipate it. It has happened enough for me to anticipate it. And still, I was not prepared.”

But one cannot be prepared, unless only leaving home in full defensive gear, never smiling or stopping to admire the rosebushes, just waiting for the next ambush. That is, assuming you have the physical capacity for that pose, and no children or strollers, and also no grocery bags or library books, and no inclination to wander along deserted sidewalks enjoying a long phone conversation with your sister in Pennsylvania.

Alternately, walk with a man who could be perceived as a threat or your lover, or preferably both. Alternately, try to pass for a man. Alternately, spend hours researching whether a knife will make you more or less safe, before making a decision you will forever doubt. Alternately, get dropped off directly at the door. Throughout, shut up or prepare to taste blood in your mouth. Or if none of this appeals, don’t leave your house. Assuming you have a street address, and aren’t one of those homeless women who hides from street violence so effectively that you are also uncounted. We have nothing to say to you.

So here in this 16th year of the 21st century, as people increasingly applaud “choices” for women, I would simply like to ask where these choices reside and how precisely I can access them. Because speaking or muteness, anger or depression, pepper spray or Uber: I do not see choices, only coping mechanisms. And as long as the threat of male violence permeates our minds sleeping and waking—as present as the atmosphere encompassing this planet—there can only be the “anticipation of being hurt again,” the angling to get a better view beyond the bars. Squint enough, run hard enough, turn the headphones loud enough, for a moment you can pretend those shafts of steel are not at your elbow. But speak up to the next man getting off at the sight of your fear, and you will remember that cement wall was never far from the back of your head.

Image: Piranesi, “Prisons,” via Art Gallery ErgsArt on flickr

The Patio

patio wall

I moved to the desert.

Or more accurately, a “dry continental climate bordering on a subtropical highland climate.”

Also known as the “high desert,” here ringed with lumbering mountains still tipped with snow. Glimpsing the mountainline is like glimpsing the moon: every time I fall still and silent.  Every time is like the first—some things refuse to become familiar, even with repeated viewing.

I have been surprised by how gentle this high desert feels.  Even when winds whip up cyclones of dust, even when rain is visiting in sheets, I sense an underlying calm.  The sheer number of sunny days seems to create a comforting regularity, an inner knowing that everything will soon return to baseline.  Everything will return to blue.

In the register of sky-blue days, I would like to name the past two as some of the bluest, goldenist, crispest, and sweetest to ever visit planet earth.  When I most needed a rest, the weekend blossomed into a cloudless bastion of warm hues and sharp shadows.  Curled in an armchair outside, I remembered how much my skin likes the sun, and perhaps even the sun likes my skin.  It left a mark—and in the suddenly odd-looking light of the bathroom mirror, I find I have grown a shade darker.  Or perhaps just shed a winter skin, revealing the summer child waiting within.

Also with seeming suddenness, the evenings are not so cold.  I can remain in my favorite perch on the patio, watching the sun sink away behind the northwest wall (rudely ignoring my petitions to please stay a bit longer), until I am sitting under the authority of the constellation Cepheus.  Then the moon swims higher and higher from the east: and I fall still and silent.

may 24 2016-8