Aug 26, 2005

The last time

My brother and I would truss up the first four birds, in the morning, slipknot-noosed legs hanging from a fence frame in a line of upside down and slightly swinging grass-fat, grub-fat chickens. We’d lay the knives out side-by-side along a table and look at them, debating their merits and classifications according to weight and shape and sharpness.

And then we’d choose. One each.

I’d stop, for a minute, and stand there knife in my hand by my side. I’d check to see we were ready. I’d look at the chickens hung up and the chickens in the pen. I’d smell the dew drying off the eucalyptus leaves lying in the dirt. Alright, I'd say.

My brother would left-handed grab the bird by the head, stretching its neck down and bringing the knife up sharp to its throat through the feathers sliding, slicing flesh through bone joints and off. Blood gushing warm, always a surprise how warm the blood was hot over his hand as he severed the head and held it, palmed it, then dropped it into the garbage can.

The chicken thrashed out against the rope until dead, swung out, back and forth swinging, neck feathers turning red around where the head was missing.

Dad took the bird down from the noose and dunked it in boiling water, pulling handfuls of wet white feathers from the loosened skin.

When I got the bird it was naked. When I got the bird it was as naked as birth, in death. When I got it the bird was dead, the first dead of 80 free-range birds to be beheaded, plucked, cleaned and frozen by mid-afternoon.

I bent back the crackly yellow legs, knife catching the joint and cutting through. I held them in my hand, a pair of chicken legs disattached, now strange and looking strangely like they had a purpose once. I threw the feet in with the heads.

On butchering day the yard smelled like dead chickens, smelled of blood and plucked wet feathers and dead flesh and our sweat. We sold them frozen, in zip locks, dead and plucked and gutted and clean and looking somehow not dead, but like meat.

For lunch I’d fry up the giblets that no one wanted. The pale heart and purple-red liver and the tail we called a nose.

The next year all the birds died from some exotic disease brought in by the song birds and the year after that they were all eaten by a bear that left us only a few feathery legs scattered by the shattered side of the coop and two tail feathers caught in the long grass. We never butchered birds again.

Aug 24, 2005

We now have a phone. 517-437-2960. I'm all moved in, which mostly means the book shelves are all set up and my laundry's washed.

I'm registered. Still waiting for loans to go through and all, but I'm registered. Taking 3rd semester latin, intro to psych, golf, anchient philosophy, seminar on Wittgenstein, my philosophy thesis on a possible linguistic solution to the mind/body problem, and an independant study on death of God theology. Mostly Tuesday - Thursday classes. I'm also applying to grad schools - I'm thinking Memphis State is my first choice - which means the GRE and comps and the application process and that this will probably be my most intense semester.

Every electric appliance in this house picks up the radio station across the street. I just heard the ball game on the microwave.

Aug 23, 2005


The too gaudy color of the jewelry in the Southwest where the Indians would sell it on the side of the road, between the town of Two Guns and the town Two Arrows. In their fake costumes and fake teepees, where the women were all "Squaws" and all the men were "Tontos," the pieces spread around as a tourist attraction, bracelets and earrings and necklaces, in a brilliant mottled turquoise.

Like the turquoise of the towers, the steepled domes of copper colored that variegated green, topped by crosses and shimmering in the morning while I sat there alone. Perhaps for the first time totally alone and sitting on the grass of the closed-up bus station in a closed down town scared and shaky and waiting, watching those domes.

Those domes like the domes of the Spanish church we saw from a few blocks out and I said I had to see. The church was old adobe, painted white, and I stood at the door and looked in to the priest proclaiming the mystery of faith. A dozen men squatted on the steps waiting for it to be over, sitting outside as Catholics who went to church every week but never went in. Across the street an ice cream truck was playing music.

She would say those domes had always reminded her of pond scum, algae growing slowly ugly and stagnant in the sun. For me, they’d always remind me of a turquoise sea, of St. Mary of the Sea, and of the American desert.
Dear Mary,
In this troubled world, we are never quite satisfied.
        - Abraham Lincoln, April 16, 1848

Aug 18, 2005

BROTHER ROGER, who was founder of the first European Christian ecumenical and monastic community, who was dedicated to the work of prayer and the living out of the Beatitudes, who welcomed thousands of young pilgrims and was a spiritual heir of Bonehoffer, died Tuesday at the age of 90 after being stabbed three times in the neck by a Romanian woman during a prayer service.

May he rest in peace.

Aug 15, 2005

I'm in. 187 N. West St. Hillsdale MI 49242.

Aug 6, 2005

Piss, vinegar, and a plane ticket

I’m on tour again, for a week or so. Seattle, where the sailor wearing whites look to me like they need to be beat up, Newark, Philly, or really Ambler, Phoenixville and Paoli and probably an assortment of diners, then Hillsdale. I’m going to the wedding and then I’m sitting on the porch to read for a week.

I got two going away presents, a jean jacket from my parents and a kukui, a Samoan party nut necklace, from my boss.

If feels good to be packed again.
60 years ago

The thing is, we never considered not dropping the bomb. As if they searched the whole country and couldn’t find even one luddite.

Hiroshima, I’m sorry. Nagasaki, there’s nothing I could even say.

Aug 3, 2005

Like a one act

"Good night man."

"Take care guy."

Aug 2, 2005

Oppenheimer's face

He looks like the man from Grant Wood’s American Gothic recast with a floppy hat and a cigarette letting off a feather of smoke. His eyes are pinched, his nose subtly crooked and his face, above all things, is plain. Plain and even austere, looking sorrowed around the eyes and along the cheek bones and determined in the jaw, in the clench of the cigarette.

The say he stood there, after it went off, like the sheriff out of High Noon. He had done it, this feat of physics, this physics of fighting fascism.

They say they were terrified, standing out around the desert of the Journey of the Dead Man, thinking something had gone wrong and the world was on fire. They say they were nervous before and terrified after, as the wave of the blast blew dirt clods past them and the thunder from their explosion went up and down the hills, the purple cloud billowing into a mushroom.

Someone laughed, a few people cried, and most of them were silent. He stood there, looking down at his explosion, and he had changed the face of the world. He’d struggled with nature and the weather, with the government and the spies. He was J. Robert Oppenheimer. He was the father of the Atom Bomb. And maybe he strutted, for a moment, in his triumph.

Then he paused. We’re all sons of bitches now, he said.

Aug 1, 2005

Where the vultures roosted

Then I thought about the buzzards, for no real reason, about how awkward they looked settling down on the eucalyptus branches. There was no buzzard smell, only the trees smelled and so I would always think that death smelled like eucalyptus. The trees were planted out as a wind break, shallow-rooted, weak-wooded and fire prone, planted along the California coast and foothills and along our fence line leaving a perpetual litter of decomposing leaves and shattered limbs.

We didn’t call them buzzards, though. They were Turkey Vultures. I don’t know why I remember them as buzzards.

The first buzzard I ever saw was circling over us after we crossed the barbwire fence under the No Trespassing sign into the field and over the edge of the ravine. They think, one of the older boys said, that we’re dead, so we ran around and waved our arms and yelled like little boys very much alive, but the buzzard still circled. He was undisturbed, idle in a way that scared us, that seemed to say he knew something sinister, or that he saw the future and there we were dead in the long grass where we weren’t supposed to be and he was circling down, to clean us away.

In the comic books, the vultures appear in the desert where mirages lead men to wander after their own footprints. The men move in circles and the vultures move in circles and by the vultures the men know they are lost. I’ve never seen vultures in the desert though. I’ve always seen them by eucalyptus trees. Maybe it was the trees made me think of them.

They were big black birds, blacker in the dusk, with naked turkey heads. They came in a flock, 50 or so in a gliding community or carrion-eaters, each picking out a branch along the east fence line and dropping down heavily, trying to fold in their wings and legs and heads to nest for the night. They were ugly, they smelled like crushed eucalyptus leaves and they looked, mostly, awkward. That’s what I remember.
AL HELD, an American abstract painter after Rothko and Pollock who knew nothing of painting's history or masters, who worked with murals of geometric designs, who believed his work was to show the worlds and universes of science, died Wednesday at the age of 76.

May he rest in peace.