Genehouse Movie Review: “Bone Tomahawk”

“Bone Tomahawk,” the first film of director/writer S. Craig Zahler, is one of the greatest westerns ever made. An unlikely ensemble led by Kurt Russel (sheriff), Richard Jenkins (addled deputy), Mathew Fox (vengeful gunslinger) and Patrick Wilson (his wife is among the kidnapped) head out to rescue some hostages being held by a band of unnamed Native Americans.

This quartet reminded me of those John Wayne films like “Rio Bravo,” with Wayne as the sheriff, Ricky Nelson as the gunslinger, Walter Brennan as the addled deputy and Dean Martin as the drunk seeking redemption. The difference is “Rio Bravo” and its stereotypical ilk are scrubbed-clean fairy tales whereas “Bone Tomahawk” is so historically accurate it grabs your emotions and twists them into knots—of horror and art. “Bone Tomahawk” reminds one of no less than Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Filmed entirely just 30 miles from Los Angeles and on a shoestring budget, you will believe that you are in the desert wilderness, and you will be scared.

The terrifying unnamed Indians (all native actors), covered in chalk and bone decorations, are based on theories of the annihilation of the Anasazi nation. Recent caramelized bone evidence revealed that the Anasazi were cannibalized by an unknown invading force, most likely Central America, forcing individual families to split from the tribe and flee or be eaten. White settlers in the West, mindful of Andrew Jackson’s vision of Manifest Destiny, nearly exterminated the First People. There was savagery all around. The British introduced scalping to the New World; the Indians learned well.

The sheriff and companions set out for a three-day journey into hell. They lose their horses the first night and walk on—and talk. A Richard Jenkins’ monologue as he waits to be eaten, about flea circuses (are they real?) sets the tone. The men face death yet chat about the news. It is their way of life. There isn’t a “God bless America” character in sight. The searchers of “Bone Tomahawk” sweat and bleed and accept their fates as inevitable.

Contrast the Wayne westerns where the characters’ costumes are grossly inaccurate and the horsemen are always noble and clean, there’s always a bad actor pop star breaking out in sappy song, and there’s always comic relief from gimpy Brennan or Ward Bond or Barry Fitzgerald as the drunk Irishmen.

I have never seen Richard Jenkins play so out of his comfort zone. His great films, “The Visitor,” “The Shape of Water,” and his TV work in “Olive Kitteridge” and the wonderful series “Six Feet Under” make him on of the greatest character actors in the history of cinema. Kurt Russell was born to play this sheriff, as opposed to the Wayne-like Wyatt Earp in “The Gunfight at the OK Corral.” He is noble, cranky and decent, and scarily pragmatic as in “if you die, you die.” Patrick Wilson is astounding, as the crippled husband in danger of losing an infected leg yet keeps on walking, to save his wife.

These men and the men they are pursuing have no illusions about life and a certainty about death. The film is billed as a Western Horror movie. This is not a teen slasher flick, though the last 30 minutes will make your bladder weak. Unlike actual horror films, the horror here is human beings.

“Bone Tomahawk” is out on DVD. If you let your kids watch this film, be prepared for nightmares and a Bad Parent of the Year Award. If you love good acting, westerns, genius storytelling and Hero Quests on a Kurosawa level, you will enjoy this thrill ride in the ultimate unamusement park.

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The Sound Was Sounds

It was the middle of the night. I was dreaming; I thought the sounds were part of the scene. My first impression was that a puppy was in trouble: high-pitched whines coming from somewhere. I came to. The sound was sounds. The house was surrounded. Circling sounds.

I looked out the living room window. Four or five coyotes were romping around. Then they were on my side porch then the back yard. Around and around they ran. A much larger shadow loomed, spilling from the forsythia bushes. The mother. Eventually the kits gathered around her, and she cuffed them and licked them then settled onto her side and the kits suckled.

The afternoon before, I had stopped on the River Road and watched four immature bald eagles. They were perched like heavy ornaments in a small tree, the branches sagging. Eagles don’t waste energy. They spend their lives perching mostly, taking breaks to fish or soar. The river was alive with activity: herons, egrets, pelicans, vultures, falcons, hawks—the opposites of eagles—hunting, fishing, feeding the children, seemingly never resting.

Like eagles, we mostly rest. Unlike eagles or any other living thing on the planet, we control it all. Religions believe that mankind is God’s miracle. The Old Testament scribes who wrote that, as philosophy and law, were narcissists, self-interested, fatally flawed in scientific reasoning, utterly devoid of introspection about the teeming life around them.

It took 4,000,000,000 years of evolution to create the earthly paradise our ancestors saw, a mere 500,000 years for us to rape and render it poisonous.

The United Nation’s latest Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem report: “Earth is losing plants, animals and clean water at a dramatic rate… Scientists meeting in Columbia issued four regional reports on how well animals and plants are doing in the Americas; Europe and Central Asia; Africa; and the Asian-Pacific area.” Conclusion after a three-year study: “Nowhere on Earth is doing well.”

Translation: Our grandchildren are facing catastrophe.

Not only is it absurd to sell off national park lands in the name of greed, the lands we have are not remotely enough—unless half the planet’s humans die off in a cataclysmic event. Unless our children, our grandchildren die off in a cataclysmic event. There is a lottery far more skewed than are the state lotteries of today.

The millions of kids marching yesterday—so inspiring. But far greater marches, on behalf of the Future, are called for. The truth must be spoken in classrooms around the world. We must act—we should have acted.

The sound was sounds. Circling sounds. I am so grateful to have heard them:

Sounds that might not be heard fifty years from now: herons, egrets, pelicans, vultures, falcons, hawks—the opposites of eagles—hunting, fishing, feeding their children, seemingly never resting. My loved ones, Bekira, Taliana, Amanda and all children of earth: I want them to hear sacred sounds.

Eugene Jones Baldwin is at Joe K.’s Restaurant, eating lunch.

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I Swear

Along the river,
great white pelicans glide in the air
hundreds of them forming and reforming
into ribbons and tornadoes, gleaming pearls
 
They land in the shallows of the Mississippi
and form fishing nets
and close in and feast on fleeing minnows
and a band plays jazz I swear
 
The peregrine falcons at Blue Pool
have mated and are nesting
god help the owl or hawk which stalks the nest
peregrines the smallest predators
are the fiercest parents
 
The nature photographers at Blue Pool
line the highway
point their long lenses at the falcons
the fashionable falcons pose
 
Crocuses bloom butter yellow
and trees are budding
you can hear them pop I swear
wild onions sway in abundance and radiate scent
the spongy soil smells of rain
the air smells of fecundity and birth and sex
 
Tonight I hear a barred owl sing from the back woods
I walk outside to listen more clearly
the owl is the soloist
the chorus on a winter night in February
are spring peepers
a million of them I swear
I think of all the sleepers in houses around me
missing the miracle of peepers the rhythm the pitch
the owl hears and responds with recitative
This libretto I swear
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Poetry

I have been in the artist-in-schools program of the Illinois Arts Council since 1984. In 1995, I got a call from a middle school in Winnetka, Illinois. Would I be interested in doing a poetry residency with their students. Yes. But, Mr. Baldwin, we need to interview you in person. You may not want to take this on.
 
A week later, I visited the school and met with the principle, a social worker, and a couple of teachers. They were nervous. Finally, the principal said, Gene, do you remember Laurie Dann?
 
***
Seven years earlier, Laurie Dann, a babysitter, had a total meltdown. She had been a sex outlet for the boys at several Northwestern University fraternities then rejected.
 
In May of 1988, Dann drove to the fraternity houses and delivered boxes of poisoned Rice Krispy treats. She then picked up two kids for whom she babysat and drove them to their school. She told the kids to wait in the car then she entered the school and set off a fire bomb. She drove the kids back home, put them in the basement of their house and set the house on fire. No one was injured.
 
Dann’s next act put her in the history books. She drove to an elementary school in the town of Winnetka, armed with a .22 caliber pistol and a .357 revolver. She entered the school, waving her guns, and kids and teachers took shelter. She entered a boy’s restroom and shot a kid dead, in a stall. She kicked open the next stall and pulled the trigger on another kid. The gun jammed. She walked out, shooting five other students in hallways.
 
Laurie Dann left the school and drove to a family home, stripping naked and wrapping herself in a plastic garbage bag. The family inside the house was held hostage for some six hours. A twenty-year-old man in the house tried to talk her out of killing them. She shot him in the stomach. Then she walked upstairs, stuck the .357 in her mouth and killed herself.
 
One little boy died, six others were shot, and one boy, cringing on a toilet seat, stared at the gun aimed at his head, heard the trigger snap—only to watch the shooter leave him and walk out. The communities were devastated. The North Shore of Chicago, enclaves of well-off people, wasn’t supposed to be unsafe.
 
***
I nodded at the principal. Well, he said, the little kids who survived that shooting are now in middle school—this middle school. The boy who lived when Dann’s gun failed to fire, is here. Some of the kids are alright, others are still reliving the tragedy. We don’t want you to encourage the victims to write poems about being shot, but if a kid wants to write such a poem, so be it.
 
I took the job. I think I was in the school for a month. Nothing dramatic happened. Most of the kids wrote poems about love, or puppies, or flowers, or moms. I easily identified the kid from the restroom—he wrote about it. He wanted to talk. So, I listened.
 
That’s it. Except, I haven’t slept for a week. I watched on television as young Emma Gonzalez courageously expressed her outrage over losing seventeen friends. I watched that contemptuous, right-wing NRA mouthpiece in stiletto heels as she talked down to parents and kids. I cried. In truth, I hope those kids have started something and won’t let go. In truth, I think the issue will go away.
 
The kid in the toilet stall is a man. I hope he overcame his fear and grief and is having a good life. I hope.
 
Don’t bother to tell me that Laurie Dann used a couple of guns, not an assault rifle. If you’re contemptuous over the national pain, don’t talk to me. If you’re can’t or won’t understand the intent of Second Amendment, if you believe in your house that you are part of a militia that will start a revolution, y’all are completely deluded.
 
Just yesterday, I read some jingoist on Facebook: I didn’t own slaves. The blacks should get over it. My opinion: the gun argument is really about race. People who cowardly conceal-carry are really scared of African Americans. My opinion.
 
Gun nuts: your time is over. Evolution has produced a generation of Asian and Latino and black and white mouthy kids. I’m proud of them.
 
Emma Gonzales and compatriots, I love you. Gun nuts: think of mouthy kids as ants. Shoot some, but there’s you and infinite ants who are going to swarm your body and eat you to the bone.
My opinion.
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Forget Me

Rain and more rain. Crocuses poking through the black soil. The river splotched with contrails of thick fog. Redwing blackbirds trilling along farm fences, the American Bottom. It is February, it is spring. I’d feel easier if these portents were in March.

February, fecund, febrile. Forget me not.

The patrons at the songbird bar and grill. Hummingbird sightings to the south. Cloud chains like train cars lumbering along. One eccentric magnolia tree ready to bloom.

My name on the bottom of Carol Allen’s sneaker. She wrote my name, Eugene, in marker, she loved me. Keith Nesbitt and I followed creeks to their upstream origins, bumped into an electric wire strung across the water, zapped and falling.

The light. The sunlight through cloud light field light through cat’s eye light. Rain and more rain, ice storm tonight, they say.

And that field covered in cow parsnip, we were dumb enough to run across it, stinging barbs in the skin and shallow breath, the bright red rash on our legs, the terrible itching, the vomit, the falling.

Paul yells: Kiss her, goddammit: and she smashes her braces into my lips and she runs inside her house, and I am sixteen spring fire.

Rain and more rain rills the streams cold tea steeped in autumn leaves–

she loved me.

 

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Brothers

This afternoon, in the grocery store parking lot, I saw a tiny mouse huddling and shaking next to a car tire. People were making jokes, along the lines of how to eliminate it. I knelt and picked it up by the scruff and petted it then I carried it across the highway to a wood and let it go.
If the hawk catches it, that is Nature. If a person kills it that is human nature—a pale stepbrother of the way of the wild.
 
Two afternoons ago, while driving home, I saw a stunning red-shouldered hawk perched on a dead rabbit in a field and tearing it into bites. On either side of the carcass stood two vultures, like guards, waiting patiently to clean things up. The next day, there was no record of the ballet I had witnessed.
My pal Ranger L., acting on a tip, raided a home on the Illinois River and discovered eighty stuffed, dead great-horned owls lining four shelves along the kitchen walls. The owls were killing the man’s fish in his pond—so his story went.
 
Nature versus human nature
 
The only animals on earth that kill for fun are chimpanzees and us, their DNA-linked cousins. Chimps wage war and deliberately kill rivals. We cousins, over half a million years, seeking ever more efficient means of killing our own, advanced from clubs to stones to swords to primitive muskets to rifles. . . to machine guns.
And now well-meaning people work at upheaving evolution, as if any human can go back “to the garden,” and now some people, armed with those machine guns, just plain like to kill other people. The kid in Florida, the man in Vegas: brothers. Our brothers. The first whites to invade this New World and bring along their slaves (“Slavery is in the Bible”): Brothers. Our brothers.
 
My brothers steeped in blood, your brothers steeped in blood. Our brothers Andrew Jackson and George Rogers Clark, red with the blood of destiny. The modern killers even have a union fighting for their right to kill other people. No other animal on earth is in any way devoted to killing its own, subjugating its own.
 
The deaths of teenagers are no more or less tragic than are the deaths of the elderly lined up and shot, in Cambodia, in Germany. The synonym for “human” is “killer.” If you believe God made us in his image (some patriarchal humans wrote that treacle—of course; the whole damn holy, full-of holes book is written by humans for humans about humans), then prepare for war. And stop bitching about it.
 
Nature versus human nature. Not an alliance, not even an unholy alliance. A war between two truths. One and only one of them will win, one by will, one by instinct. And yes, you have to choose.
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Cray-Cray

My fellow fellows, run while you can, gather in groups and make soup and tremble. Cement your mancaves shut and brew your own beer and eat roots and berries.
 
Scientists have discovered a female saltwater crayfish which clones itself as opposed to bumping uglies with male crayfish. Thousands of these girl crayfish have been discovered around the globe, and they’re uh, spreading.
 
We’re talking Aunts from Aunts from Aunts from Aunts. Uncles will soon be human dodo birds. Small wonder women are marching all over the globe, proclaiming that It’s Time! A secret report, written by a gleeful Gloria Steinem in the 60s, described the female crayfish clones, ergo the manless future.
 
The report was printed at a black ops site and dispersed to girls as “homework assignments,” to women as “women’s health advice,” to Miss Manners who has been writing brainwashing advice in the guise of etiquette, to Dr.’s Phil and Oz who were neutered at the black ops veterinary clinic, to Oprah and Ellen who have been disseminating wealth to crazed women all over the world.
These are not lesbian crayfish, guys. Don’t get all hot and bothered, fantasy-wise. These are underwater lady crustaceans who are duplicating themselves without needing men. It brings a whole new meaning to “go fuck yourself.” They have no male DNA, they’re ladies all the way. And it is but a few steps from crayfish to mammals, and then men won’t be required to sire.
 
Have you noticed the current generation of high school students, the girls of which travel in friend packs, the boys of which are softening year by year, the… new virginity trend? Remember the other night when you entered your daughter’s bedroom without knocking and she slammed her tablet shut? You were worried she was showing naked pics of herself to ravenous boys on Snap Chat. Bad news: She WAS sending naked pics… to other girls-in-cloning!
 
A friend’s son told me that the word “penis” has been banned from Alton High School, not because of the old “boys will be boys” culture, but because the word “penis” is no longer recognized by kids. Boys now refer to their penises as “water pipes” because their female Sex Ed teachers called it that and the Sex Ed book, written by one Gil Sanders (read Gloria Steinem in code) refers to “outdated mating methods.”
 
Is it any wonder why frustrated, disenfranchised teenage boys are eating Tide pods? Why Republican men are paying for sex? Regular guys are not getting any, and they won’t be getting any… unless, say an undersea volcano wipes out the March of the Cloned Crayfish which.
 
Consider: Israeli actress Gal Godot as “Wonder Woman.” And now King James versions of the New Testament refer to Jesus as “Gal.” “Gal wept.” “Gal said unto the mousey, mannish disciples…” Gal was betrayed by a jerk slut shamer named Judas and crucified. Men: do you know Gal Godot’s real first name? Shirley! And Shirley Godot isn’t “Waiting for Godot,” she is EATING Godot AND Vladimir AND Estragon with a side of fava beans.
 
I finally get the Conceal Carry movement. Men are becoming loving fathers to their boys not because they have evolved. Men are packing heat because their lady friends and wives and daughters are staring at them the way a guy stares at a cold beer. They’re retreating to the wilderness and building survival compounds because WOMEN ARE EVOLVING TO REPRODUCE WITHOUT SPERM.
 
Thirty pounds of frozen crayfish arrived at Genehouse this afternoon. I had ordered the thirty pieces of crayfish months ago on Amazon, and now my freezer is full but my heart is empty.
 
I surrender. Tonight, I will thaw the lady crayfish, and I will lie on the floor in supplication, and my lady cat Scout and her crayfish gal pals will eat me. I deserve it. I’ve been groping girls since First Grade (sorry, Susan Schmidt). The chickens have come home to roost.
The lady chickens, that is. The rooster crowed at the break of dawn and the farmer’s wife shot him dead and cut off his head and testicles with a carving knife for good measure.
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Late January

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.

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Stormy

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.

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Song for Sunrise-Girl Child

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.

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