It rained last night. My blood was stirred. This morning’s air was sharp and fresh and fragrant. Fog as thick as oatmeal held in the sounds and compressed the echoes. I stood outside and breathed and listened to the chickadees and titmice scold me, for being late with the bird feeder. What do these tiny balls of color and song make of me? Gift giver? The god of birds?
The ground perspired, and the sun burned through and the sky became blue-gray and I was grateful to be alive. The golden remnants of last year’s corn harvest gleamed. The cellphone tower three houses east up the highway hosted six perching turkey buzzards, huddled together at the top of the tower and waiting for the slightest exhaled breath of wind.
I walked across the road to the neighbor’s house and freed Ruby Puppy from her pen, and we romped north across the fields, Rocky Fork Creek winding just below and full of ghosts of black folk escaping from slavery. And I heard the Song of Langston: I do not need my freedom when I’m dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.
I held the squirming herder dog in my arms, and I wept.
The cozy, drowsy cat on the afghan, ears pointed at my mouth. The box of breakfast cereal sans bowl and milk. The oval framed photos of Great-Grandfather Homer and Great-Grandmother Selinda hanging on the walls. A small rectangle of wood on which is etched “Mr. B.,” a gift from a former student. Indian artifacts and fossils filling shelves. This single room holds three hundred million years of animals turned to stone, twelve thousand years of stone points. A cup of cold coffee. A framed poster of “Moonlight Daring Us to Go Insane,” my second play, the story of my Grandfather Red Jones standing in church and brandishing his pistol, refusing to let mourners bury his dead, drowned baby son.
Below the bluff top, barges could be heard chugging east and west on the Mississippi.
Kestrels hovered over the field, ready to drop unannounced into a birthday party for mice. A red-tail hawk perched in the notch of the Kentucky coffee tree. The woods behind my house were being drilled by red-headed and red-shouldered and pileated woodpeckers. In the roots of trees, tiny frogs stirred in their sleep. The den of ribbon snakes in the dirt underneath my shed flicked their tongues and dreamed deeply.
Thawing January soup of drips and puddles, a murky, fecund bullion of soil and roots and bark and leaf rot, wild onions the seasoning and soon dandelions and violets and asparagus the meat. The coming sun-warmed feast, the choir awaiting the conductor.
It rained last night. My blood was stirred.
Guess who got a $130,000 check just before the 2016 presidential election? According to the Wall Street Journal, one Ms. Stormy Daniels, porn star (so I read), was the lucky recipient of the money. Michael Cohen handed Ms. Daniels the check. He is a head Trump organization lawyer. He says of himself, “I am the fix it guy.”
Since I am not cynical like most of you, my first thought was that Michael Cohen did the nasty with Stormy, and that he was protecting his most famous client from embarrassment. Turns out, Stormy Daniels met Donald Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in 2006, the year after our leader married Melania. Michael didn’t row the Republican boat ashore, Donald did.
It could be entirely innocent. Stormy might have made a hole in one, the bet was $130,000, and the Donald lost the bet and uh, paid her. She might have bought a set of Trump Golf Clubs, with gold shafts, which cost $130,000. Sadly, for those good friends—the porn star and the soon-to-be President—there were holes and shafts, alright, according to other golfers who were at the tournament. Stormy, observers said, was more “licky than “lucky.”
Remember the character Preacher, in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath?” When our hero Tom Joad meets up with Preacher, he asks if he’s still preaching. No, replies the broken man. He used to drive women into a religious fervor, and when they’d fall on the ground, speaking in tongues, he’d look at those writhing women, God help him, and he’d lower himself on them.
Fundamentalist Christians, all Erskine Caldwell “Tobacco Road” and humping like bunnies, are the most oversexed Americans. Which explains why they love Mr. Trump, warts, shaft and all. Jesus God, Republicans are randy.
Other porn stars at the golf event in Lake Tahoe said Trump touched them inappropriately. Other porn stars? At celebrity golf tournaments? Are there no wives at these events? Certainly, Melania Trump wasn’t there. I’m not satirically outraged, I’m full blown outraged, that rich men get to, uh, play, uh, golf.
Moral depravity has set in. And since the evangelicals won’t rise up—well the women won’t, anyway—I will. I hereby invoke John Paul Sartre’s “Credo of Existential Malefaction Entirely Not Titillating,” or CEMENT (see-men-t). My motto: If I can’t have Stormy, you can’t.
Sisters, will you join me? Will you sit across the dining room table tonight and glare at your husbands? Will you bury their golf clubs in the cold, cold ground? Will you spit out the word “stormy” with vitriol and venom? Will you whisper, “I know what you’re thinking?” And watch the hubby squirm with guilt.
The rich don’t suffer guilt. They buy. They burn. They bandy about. They ogle teens. They ooze oil. They orate and obloquy. They disgust me.
Unless one of them sends me a check for $130,000 and arranges a date for me with Stormy D.
We buried Xach’itee’aaneh T’eede Gaay sister of Beringia today at our summer camp she could not breathe we took her lifeless body from her straw bed and laid her in ochre and stone points The Mother’s bosom and covered her with dust her spirit journey unfolding even as we wept
All of us take the journey skybound from the Upward Sun River it is one thing to know quite another to grasp when the loved one is a horripilate child SunriseGirl-Child we held at night from Sabretooth from cold from Brother Wind.
11,500 years the teachers from the future say our girl was First Child from genomes born and passed to Athabaskan and Algonkian peoples of the south the Valley of Water born of the Valley of Ice and teeming life and Xach’itee’aaneh T’eede Gaay loved birdsong
I carved my daughter a flute from reed and taught her to blow her sweet breath across the mouth hole and she played for the owl with horns and teased Bother Wolf until the cay echoed with cries and calls and Crow joined in until the perfect silence of Grandmotherset
Sunrise Girl-Child’s tiny bones minus her heart returned the ochre had protected precious arms and ribs and skull and there was reverence of the finders for First Child she heard their whispered awe the mothers among them fighting back tears we came from you Flute Girl sister
Xach’itee’aaneh T’eede Gaay Sunrise Girl-Child of ancient Beringia of First Firerainsnow the New World the Old Asia the frozen journey the thousand stories around campfires the dances beneath Coyote Moon and Grandfatherrisen night star oh
We loved you.
I stopped in at Orville and Quilt Queen’s house, for coffee and homemade cookies. They glanced at each other. Something was wrong.
“You best sit,” Orville said. “Reba died last night, in the pole barn. I went out to feed her and Ruby Puppy, and Reba had crawled away from the heat lamp—to die, I guess. Her body was froze stiff. Ruby was pawing at her.”
The three of us sat at the kitchen table and wiped tears from our faces. Orville had dug a grave in the nearly frozen ground, carried our dear Reba and laid her in the hole, and buried her.
We did find some humor in the situation. Acres of voles, moles, snakes and mice could rest easy, as old Reba, who daily in spring and summer caught those creatures—tossing them into the air and swallowing them whole—was gone. But Ruby Puppy had completed her apprenticeship, so rodent safety was temporary at best.
All the best things in life are temporary: young love and lust, tomatoes, wine, starlit nights, wilderness, wild things, music. The millennial generation seems to me to be more obsessed with taking smart phone photos of beauty, rather than immersing themselves in beauty. Our best fiction is about characters breaking out of mundanity and diving head first into beauty, into sin, into flesh, into depravity, into all fruit and nectar of the world.
Quilt Queen said she wanted to go that way—freeze to death. Orville opined that fire was the way to go. Many of you know that I came within minutes of freezing to death, in 1985, as friends and I walked across the frozen Illinois River on a twelve-below-zero night, and the ice broke, and three of us plunged into the river. It took over an hour to pull me and the other guys out. I lost all feeling and sank into a deep sleep, my eyes freezing shut, a light glowing and pulling me to it, to my mother who was sitting on the ice in a summer dress and holding a wolf on a leash.
“Oh, to be a dog,” Quilt Queen said. “Reba didn’t know about death.”
I saw my father cry but two times: on his deathbed (he was terrified), and when our family dog, Candy died. I was only thirteen, and I watched this man of men sit on the basement floor and press the lifeless animal to his chest and sob, and I was fascinated.
Ruby Puppy and Reba are a hundred yards from my house. I have full run of the farm and permission to set the dogs loose and run with them. Reba has placed countless bodies of critters and songbirds on my shoes, for my approval. She has rolled in decayed bodies and dung of all types and then embraced me.
And now she is gone.
And now Ruby will run in the pasture at sunset, and she will follow her nose to the newly dug grave, and she will smell her loved one, and she will lie still and quiet. And one day she will be laid to rest in that field. And, so shall I lie. And, so shall you.
In a field of stardust, in Milky Way, riding the next wind or terrible storm to the stars and back again. And all around us are the story tellers, keeping the dark matter, which is memory: alive, fiery or frozen, still or leaping, drenched in tears, drowned in laughter.
Warm, so mother’s breast warm and perfect, is memory.
This summer, Madison County Sheriff John D. Lakin appeared at a democratic rally in Alton. He seemed direct and empathetic. He told the crowd to call him personally—personally—should the need arise. When deputies refused to charge a man for punching my car’s hood at the Nature Institute, I remembered the invitation and I called my Sheriff. Tried to call. Subordinates asked, why do you need him? I was put on long holds. I was reconnected with the deputy substation in Godfrey. John D. Lakin, it seems, was just kidding. For whom does he work? And that’s just a local lie.
This morning, a gleaming and triumphant Congressman Paul Ryan appeared on camera. We won! When asked by “The Today Show,” what about all those billionaire CEOs who said the tax plan is crazy, Ryan shrugged. He said the CEOs didn’t read the literature. When asked to comment on billionaire Republican Mike Bloomberg’s op-ed piece denouncing the tax plan, Ryan said Mike doesn’t get it. When asked about a huge majority of American voters opposing the plan, Ryan talked down like a school superintendent to his district teachers: I know something you don’t know. No, he doesn’t. He is a comfortable liar. Mrs. Ryan, take note.
A few years ago, beloved democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, on his way to a tryst with Mary Jo Kopechne, accidentally crashed his car on a bridge and let the woman drown. He did manage to make it to shore, to tell a lie, to pay no price for killing a ‘nobody,’ because he was needed in the Senate, to be a voice for Progressive policies, to be revered for his courage at overcoming cancer, and to die with honor and accolades.
Lying to one’s self is a category of lying. A lot of priests and preachers and self-proclaimed evangelicals denounce the ‘sin’ of homosexuality then are found with underage boys in motel rooms. Bigoted cake bakers call themselves artists so that they can refuse to serve gay and lesbian and transsexual people. You just know what those people would have done to black people a few years back. All in the name of God. Not all in the name of you or me, because we would quickly deny them their excuse. But patriarchal God, Zen master that he is, keeps his mouth shut while his flawed constituency spouts bigotry and hatred.
Now, facts are lies because Bannon, Trump et al, relying on uneducated, unwashed white zealots, have not heeded the wisdom of George Orwell’s “1984” (originally titled “1948” until the publisher got cold feet) and invented a whole new reality. The truth is bigotry crowd got their start with rightwing windbag, Catholic and ‘Jesus is a White Man’ proclaimer Pat Buchanan. My father nearly shit himself with joy when he found a TV outlet for his hate, in Pat B. and his sister Bay. Hate became legit.
Patriotism, jingoism, nationalism: these are the ‘last refuge of a scoundrel,’ essential to slavery, Manifest Destiny, mass slaughter. A few notable scoundrels: Andrew Jackson, George Rogers Clark, Henry Kissinger, Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, Blackwater Inc., the KKK, Idi Amin, Augusto Pinochet, Father Charles Coughlin, Pat Robertson, The Crusades. The current nutjob sycophants: Sara Palin, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachman, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Trumps, Kennedys, Bush’s. The list is endless.
Now we find we can’t even trust the people we vote for. We have endured a year of selfish, lying, hypocritical, rich sons of bitches who give not a flying fig for what Steven Colbert snidely calls ‘ordinary people.’
My fellow ordinary people: what are we going to do? A lot of people my age say they don’t really care—they won’t be here for the coming chaos. They won’t? So, their grandchildren aren’t their responsibility?
Excuse me while I touch the lie.
Dear NBC: This is your president writing for a friend—I know, you’re honored to hear from me. My friend likes to watch TV—eight hours a day. Except for your fake news programs. Believe me. Rachel Maddow can kiss my friend’s ass, and he’d like her also to know he would never grab her pussy, that Lesbo with the thumb in the dyke. Please pass along my friend’s good wishes to the cast of “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.” Those shows are about true heroes, not filthy Antifa protesters in Virginia. “Hannibal” is delicious—so funny! Please cancel “The Voice,” as it is a black show—even the white people are black—and does not reflect True America. According to my friend. Sincerely, Donald tRump
Dear CBS: This is your president writing for a friend—I know, you’re honored to hear from me. My friend likes to watch TV—eight hours a day. Except for your fake news programs. Believe me. Believe me. Stephen Colbert can kiss my friend’s ass. My friend has written to the FCC about the lame fake comedy Comrade Colbert spouts and the shucking and jiving of that brownie band leader Jean Baptiste. “Blue Bloods.” My friend loves the Blues and the Bloods. “Mom.” That is so funny, even if that Libtard Allison Janney is the star. My friend wants me to order wiretapping on Janney, Janney Kiss My Fanny Hole. But I will not abuse my power. I could, believe me, but I won’t. Sincerely, Donald tRump. Heil Hitler! PS Love the boobs on those “2 Broke Girls.” My friend loves the boobs.
Dear ABC: This is your president writing for a friend—I know, you’re honored to hear from me. My friend likes to watch TV—eight hours a day. Except for your fake news programs. Believe me. He does wonder why you have so many programs about uppity Negroes and Jews. He loves “Dancing with the Stars,” especially that girl who wears skimpy cowgirl costumes that show off her camel toe. My friend would like to hump that camel! He’d also like to have that Jimmy Kimmel hit. I can order a hit, believe me. I know a guy who knows a guy. Then Jimmy’s little baby with the bad heart can grow up an orphan. But, believe me, I’m not ordering any hits while I’m in office—I promised my lord and savior Jesus H. Christ. Sincerely, Donald tRump. PS. My friend would like Sophia Viagra’s autograph, if possible on that left “cantaloupe” of hers.
Dear FOX: This is your president writing for a friend—I know, you’re honored to hear from me. My friend likes to watch TV—eight hours a day. Including REAL NEWS. His favorite is your show “Lucifer.” Boy, that is one bad hombre sack of shit—my friend says—not me. And you’re showing that “Christmas Story” musical live! Talk about a white Christmas! Boy, he loves that “X Factor” show. The English gal gash—what’s her name, Gillian? My friend would like to put his X in G, if you get my drift. And by the way, his X is huge! Hey, they should do an episode about Steve Bannon and his pal Al K. Hall! They’re scarier than any alien. Thank God, says my friend, for “Fox and Friends.” That Judge Napolitano—that is a hanging judge a bit swarthy, maybe. My friend is begging you: Please bring back that old pussy hound Bill O’Reilly. I’ve seen—my friend has seen—old Billy slide his hand right up a slit skirt—. Sincerely, Donald tRump PS. It can’t be wrong if it’s Right! My friend says.
Dear Disney Channel: I would like to invite the girls from your “Liz and Maddie” show to the White House for a two on one with your president. Such inspiring girls, so wholesome and winsome, believe me. Maybe they could help me decorate the Oval Office for the holiday! Sincerely, Donald tRump
This afternoon, Farmer Orville and I worked on re-wrapping Scout the cat’s scratching post. She had torn it to shreds over three years, but this morning I saw her start to scratch then change her mind then walk to the couch and look longingly at the arm rest. There is no reasoning with or punishing a cat. I knew my Aristotle: I had to take an action.
(Scout the cat has three other scratching posts, none of which she will use. No, it had to be Old Scratchy or nothing.)
I bought some sisal and some nails, and I joined Orville under his carport. Good news: We wrapped and nailed the sisal into place, and Old Scratchy was as good as new.
Orville’s wife Quilt Queen drove up. She’d been out shopping and visiting friends in nursing homes and spreading good cheer. She climbed out of the pickup and told us to join her in the kitchen.
There on the counter was the first batch of homemade Christmas cookies—peanut butter. Quilt Queen always makes cookies in a certain order, and peanut butter is always the first. We ate cookies and drank coffee.
“Thank you, Orville,” Bev crooned, “for my Christmas present you bought me this morning. Look at me you guys, and tell me what’s different.”
She twirled her head from side to side. Her husband looked at me and crossed his eyes. Finally, Bev ran her fingers over new gold earrings.
“They were on sale,” Bev said. “Down from five hundred dollars to two hundred fifty.”
“Of course,” Orville said, “it you hadn’t bought them at all, you’da saved five hundred dollars.”
Orville knows his math. That didn’t stop his wife from pointing out that, in the fifty-seven years they have been married, she had scrimped and saved and raised three kids and cleaned and farmed and cooked, and gone without nice things.
“Why won’t you let me buy anything?” Orville looked at me again: touché.
“Because, old man, you never want anything.”
“I want me a gold nose ring.”
“Oh yeah, I can see you wearing a gold nose ring. Wouldn’t our church congregation love that.”
Talk turned to a local possum which broke into a liquor store, tipped over a bottle of whiskey, lapped up its contents, and passed out drunk as a—well, possum. The owner let the critter sleep it off, and today the hungover marsupial was relocated.
“She’d like to relocate me,” Orville said.
“Well, I would if you start going crazy like Charlie Rose. Or our president. Trump better not grab me.”
That is how I left the happy couple. I drove home with the refurbished Old Scratchy. Scout the cat nearly cried with joy. She stood up and started ripping the sisal with renewed vigor.
The cat got Old Scratchy, the possum got Old Granddad, Quilt Queen got gold earrings, Orville got plenty of nothing, I got peanut butter cookies.
Cookie Season is long and arduous and requires much practice. I made a note to myself to go to a local workout place and learn some hand strengthening techniques and stretches, for maximum cookie efficiency. The next time you hear from me, I will be buffed and ready to go.