The Road To Zzyzx And Down The Boulevard Of Dreams

BlvdDreams

I wrote a version of this post several days ago, before I went to this Place of Healing, before I walked along the Boulevard of Dreams.   After the visit, I deleted most of what I had written…and began again.

Yes, I began again when I made the right turn off I-15 and took the road to Zzyzx.  I was taking a drive that thousands of people took, from the mid-1940’s until 1974.  Me? I was going to write about arriving at a ghost town of a health spa, a place of healing.  I was going to describe how I felt the need to wash away the sins of my youth and expunge the guilt of my impure and sin-laden thoughts.  I am Irish and raised a Catholic…I carried my guilt like a biker’s tattoo.  I find the idea of “cleansing” of body and soul, an interesting concept.  The ritual of washing away impurities and rebirth is a very ancient practice.  The Christians have Baptism and the River Jordan.  The Hindu have the Ganges River.  The Native American’s have the sweat lodge.  The Jewish people, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, gather for the Tashlich, and symbolically cast pieces of bread into flowing water to atone for transgressions.  As a former teacher, I simply erased the chalk board to begin something new.

But, my problems were not the kind that would draw me to this mecca in the emptiness of the Mojave Desert, to be cured of my aliments by a supposed man of God, a self-described healer.

Preachers and healers, hucksters and quacks, gurus, life guides and snake-oil salesmen have fascinated me for a long time.  I sometimes wish I lived in the days of Billy Sunday or Aimee Semple McPherson.  I wanted to hear the real Bible-thumpers who, sweating and strutting on a wooden stage under a circus tent, would tell me that Satan had my soul and my impure thoughts would send my soul to bake and fry for all time.

I accepted this guilt/burden for many years.  But, I never fully understood, until I was well into middle age, that instead of being a path to freedom, those kinds of beliefs can keep you from growing in countless ways.

After a bumpy ride along a blinding white salt flat called Soda Lake, I saw the palms a few miles away.  This was Zzyzx.  This was my destination.

This location, in the heart of the Mojave Desert has been providing water for travelers for over a thousand years.  The indigenous people would stop here on their journey across the desert to fill their gourds and rest.  One Chemehuevi woman is thought to be buried here.

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But something troubled me.  I was merely a tourist here.  I arrived with a notebook and two digital cameras.  I did not arrive the way that most people did, for several decades, clutching a Bible in their hands and a prayer in their hearts…and a tumor or a case of TB or nervous exhaustion or a void where their soul used to be.

I needed to rethink the reason for my pilgrimage.  I needed to get inside the mindset of a true believer…a true sufferer…a desperate human being hoping to get mind and body repaired.  I didn’t want to be a mere tourist…I wanted to feel the dread of fear and the elation of hope that the pilgrims of the mid-century, had experienced.

I had to get imaginative…I had to get creative…I had to invite into my heart and mind, the suffering of thousands.

These were the real people who came, praying for their own lives or the lives of a loved one.  For many, I’m sure that making the journey to this health resort with the strange name, was their last hope for a cure or a blessing from the founder, Curtis Howe Springer.

RoadSignZzyzx

He named his establishment Zzyzx Mineral Springs. Why Zzyzx?  The story is that he chose the name because it would be the last word on a list of geographical destinations. Is it the last word in the average dictionary? Not in my copy of Merriam-Webster. The last word in my book is zygote.

They heard Springers voice on the AM radio station, broadcasting out of Mexico with 50,000 watts of power.  The sick and the lame could hear him in Los Angeles.  You could hear him in Chicago.  You could even hear his reassuring voice in Bangor, Maine.

The main avenue leading to the bath houses, cabins, meeting room, dining hall was the Boulevard of Dreams.  I stood at the base of the sign and began the walk, past the old pond that once had a spraying fountain.  Now, the fountain was a mere pile of rocks.

PondZ

[The Pond with the broken fountain]

blvdofDreams

[The Boulevard of Dreams]

I let my mind drift back to 1953, or 1959, or the year I was born, 1947.  I put myself in the mind of a pilgrim seeking a cure.  Maybe my mother was seriously ill, perhaps my wife had a growth in her breast, possibly my father returned from the war in Europe with a changed mind.  I began to feel the power of hope.  What lay ahead of me, the baths, the healing waters, the relaxation…the great white plain of Soda Lake, blinding in its glare from the Mojave sun…what lay ahead of me would save me or someone I did not want to lose to the shadow of death.

OriginalRooms

[One of the many original apartments…now in ruins]

Hidden behind a grove of palm trees was the original bathhouse.  Everything was empty…cracked and broken cement and peeling adobe.  I stood over the individual “tubs” where the ill could soak themselves in the briny solution of desert minerals.

MineralBaths

[The old mineral baths]

I poked about the old buildings.  Some structures have been restored and are now part of a Desert Studies facility of the University of California.  A few students strolled past us and went onto the parking lot, got into a black Taurus, and drove away.  Now, Mariam and I were the only people in the area.  I stopped at an old table on the Boulevard and looked up at the old bell tower.  I assume this once rang to call the patients and guests to prayer or a meeting or to a meal.

BellTower

[The bell tower.  Original part of the structure..??]

Were we really the only presence here?  I began to feel that we were not totally alone.  I felt that the ghosts of patients and preachers, children and adults, the sane and the insane, were walking among the palms alongside us.

No, we were not alone here.  Too much energy, pain, prayer, hope, loss, death, disease, promises, disappointments, grief and joy dwelt along the Boulevard of Dreams.

We drove away, leaving the little settlement to the rightful residents…the spirits of those who came with only a plea for life.

 

 

 

The Snow Moon Over The Mojave

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Last night the Snow Moon rose over the Coxcomb Mountains of the Mojave Desert.  It’s the fifth full moon we have watched since our journey began

There will be one more to witness before we are home again.  Will we see the Warm Moon from where ever we will be in the third week of March?  I’ll bet a finback that it will be a cloudy night.

That’s the reason I miss so many celestial events like meteor showers, aurora and eclipses back home in the Adirondacks.  Cloud cover is a way of life when you enter the states east of the Mississippi River.

Out here, in the dry clear air of the Southwest, the skies have been spectacular.

But, my pleasure is mixed.  I feel enchanted and mystical when the full moon is lighting my night-time environment in the soft glow of paleness…like a lingering campfire or night-light that is bright enough, just enough, to illuminate a book or allow me to walk without a headlamp.

This post is celebrating the full moon, but I should be writing one, in two weeks, that speaks to the awesome and dazzling population of stars and planets that a desert sky displays on nights that are moonless.

Last night, I could barely make out the belt of Orion.  I could hardly see the Milky Way…but I could read a poem.

Last night, the giant globe passed by Jupiter (which sits near one of the feet of Leo) and rose high and proud.  The goddess Luna, was strutting her stuff and her act could make you halt in your steps and look up…look up and think sublime ideas.  Think romantic thoughts, poetic phrases and sad memories.  Sit on a rock and look up, look around you, look inside your mind and soul.  Remember someone you loved once…or still do.

I have had many conversations with Luna, the Roman goddess of the moon.  Sometimes she sends her Greek sister, Selene to sit with me and talk of melancholy things.  I’ve been reminded that I’ve been alive for approximately  825 full moons in my life…and I still don’t fully understand how the human heart works and why it’s so fragile and why the moon plays such an important role in our thoughts and beliefs.

I think I need another several hundred lunar cycles to fill in the gaps of my own nature.

“Drink in the full moon as though you might die of thirst.”

–Sanoben Khan

 

 

 

 

The End Of The Line

PalmDesertSunset

Like, wow…I can’t believe we’re in California.

What a magical and special state this is.  It’s no wonder that all the famous people live here.  It’s the “land of opportunity”, where an anybody like me can become a somebody like…George Clooney.  We weren’t here an hour when I drove to a service station to get a bag of ice and fill the tank.  On a whim, I bought two $2.00 scratch-off lottery tickets.  Would you believe I won $25.00 from those two tickets?  I was elated and felt that my time had come, until I paid for the gas.  When we filled up the tank one afternoon back in Tucson, AZ, it cost me $1.43/gal.  I nearly spilled my Starbucks Latte when I saw the California price (at this particular station) was $2.79/gal.  I thought there were oil wells out here??  I think I saw a Clark Gable movie once and he got soaked from the gushing crude from a well.

Maybe that was Texas…I can’t remember.

lottery

[This probably isn’t legal to post winning lottery tickets online, but I’m from New York…]

This is as far west as our journey is taking us.  If you’re a faithful reader and you’ve paid attention and taken notes, pick up that Rand McNally Atlas that’s sitting on your coffee table…the one with coffee stains and rings left by the condensation of the Bud Lite cans during the Super Bowl.  Turn to page 15 (I’m using the 2013 edition).  We are at the Emerald RV Resort located on the map page at coordinates “15/SJ”.

I feel so…so important being here in the Golden State.  Our RV Resort is located on Frank Sinatra Drive, which is separated from Dinah Shore Drive by Gerald Ford Drive.  (If you don’t believe all this, just Google this place).

We had a long hard drive behind us today.  We left Yuma in the late morning warmth of 88 F.  We sped past the western part of the city and I glanced at the Yuma Territorial Prison…the topic of my last blog.  Ok, maybe misery, murder, death and forgotten graves may not have been the best choice for a Valentine’s Day post, but we were having WiFi issues and I needed to get something out before things got worse.  Note to those planning on RV’ing any serious distance all: Whatever the Resort tells you about how strong their signal is, don’t believe it.  There are some days you can forget email…you’d be better off mailing a letter through the USPS.  Nearly all my posts were composed and posted from Starbucks or McDonald’s (say what you want about the Double Cheese Macs, their WiFi smokes!).

We attended a real rodeo while we were in Yuma and I intended to write something about how excited I was to finally see one in person, for real.  I have to admit that it was impressive.  I’m including a few photos just to prove that we were really there.

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[This guy rode like the wind.]

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[In case you’re confused: The Happy Camper is on the left and the bored Miss Sonoran Deserts Queen is on the right.]

RodeoYuma1

[Woman rider]

Just across the California-Arizona state line were the Imperial Sand Dunes.  I parked in a kind of base camp for the dune buggy people.  I took a picture of one of the beautiful dunes and made it even more stark and raw by filtering it through my Instagram app.

B:WImperialDunes

[A lonely bush in the Imperial Sand Dune National Recreational Area]

After a few miles along I-8, we turned north on Rte. 86 and drove through some of the agricultural (and highly irrigated) parts of Southern California.  We passed truck loads of carrots, groves of date palms and vineyards.  I also caught glimpses of the smiling happy faces of the migrant workers as they leisurely picked cabbage and turnips.  They were so fortunate to have such jobs, out in the open fresh air, getting a tan…instead of being stuck inside some awful office building or factory.  I was tempted to stop and pick a bushel or two just to get the exercise, but we had places to go and I couldn’t see any convenient parking places.

So, is this the end of our trip?  Have we reached the farthest point from our home?  Well, no and yes.  The eastern slopes of the Rockies are still between us and home.  The prairies of Kansas are still ahead of us. (The last state in the Lower 48 I have yet to visit).  We still have to get home…and there is a place I must visit.  It’s not far from here and it is the magical and mythical destination of the trip…for me, anyway.

I’ve been dropping hints about this place since I first started posting these blogs.  It’s a real place.  Thousands of people came there to get healed…to get clean…to wash away sins, ancient and recent, that have darkened souls that were pure as snow at birth.

Water has been a healer for thousands of years.  Spas and hot springs have saved the lives and repaired the souls of countless individuals.

Now, it’s my turn.  Sometime next week, I will arrive at this strange place that has a strange name…and see if anything remains of the healing waters of seventy-five years ago.

Will I find sage and tumble weed and cracked concrete in the old pools.   Or, will the ghosts of those who came to find succor still roam about in the weedy driveways and dying palms?  If the spirits are walking around the now-empty fountain, will they take a moment to tell me their stories?

I’ll tell them mine.

Unfortunate Souls

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One afternoon, in the late 19th Century, the fifteen year old brother of Maria Moreno complained about the way she was dancing.  She got angry.  His response was to say: “So, shoot me.”  Maria, who was sixteen went into her house and brought her father’s rifle.  She shot and killed her brother.  He should have let her dance anyway she wanted.  Maria was convicted and sentenced to the Yuma Territorial Prison.

One evening, again the late 19th Century, Elera Estrada, found out that her lover was being unfaithful.  She cut his heart out and threw it in his face.  She claimed in court that he fell onto her knife.  The jury didn’t buy her story.  Elvira was sent to the Yuma Territorial Prison.  Excuse the graphic description, I’m just writing about what I read.

EleraEstrada

[Not your everyday crime]

ElviraEstrada

[An everyday crime]

On Saturday, February 13, I parked our red Ford Escape and Mariam and I paid a small fee to tour the few buildings that was all that remained of the infamous prison.  I tried to imagine what a newly convicted person would feel like when we entered.

They would not have passed through a gift shop that carried hand lotions, lip balm, dream-catchers (made in China), post cards and books of the Wicked Women and Outlaws of the Old West.

They would not have entered a courtyard that was planted with blooming flowers and palm trees.  Inside the museum, there were display cases exhibiting the stories of the more colorful and interesting inmates.

There was a photo and story of Pearl Hart, a misguided train robber who teamed up with a guy named Boot.  They robbed one train and took away $421 in loot.  Both were captured and sent to different prisons.  Boot escaped and disappeared from the history books.  Hart went on to try her hand at acting.  She failed at that as well.  Her revolver was on display behind glass.

PearlHart

[Pearl tried her hand on the New York stage.]

This must have been a dismal place to serve time.  The cells, each holding six inmates must have been unbearably hot…Yuma is a very hot city.

There was the solitary confinement called the Dark Cell.  One poor soul spent 120 days in this room without light.  He emerged a “model prisoner” and never gave anyone any trouble after that.  My guess is that he had lost much of his reason inside this hellish enclosure.  That’s just my guess.

DarkHole

[The Dark Cell]

I tried to write down the names of the unfortunate souls who committed a crime, some hideous, like murder, and some that are not serious enough to require incarceration, like adultery.  I tried to look into the eyes of these men and women who suffered for what they did.  If you’re a religious person, consider that they paid twice for their sins, once in Yuma and again in Hell.  The two were the same if you looked deep enough into the eyes…those dark, wet, frightening, scared and pitiful eyes.  The eyes of people like Barney K. Riggs, Trinidad Verdugo, Henry Wilson, Donald Waters, Daniel Morin, R.L. McDonald, Jennie McCleary, Georgie Clifford, Pearl Hart and Frank Leslie.  There were too many to write down…too many to remember.

FrankLeslie

[A woman wrote to him while he was in prison. They married.]

The prison was opened in 1876.  The first inmate was William Hall.  In 1889, Manuel Fimbres gave birth to a child while a prisoner.  In 1899, Pearl Hart was behind bars.

The prison closed in 1909.

I stood in the court-yard and tried to imagine the conditions…but it just didn’t get inside me.  Nearby, the truck traffic on I-8 drowned out any chance for quiet reflection.  A lot of traffic was crossing the Colorado River (what’s left of it) in and out of California.  On a nearby hill was a casino.  A bike path wound its way alongside the river.  The parking lot was half-filled with SUV’s…most with out-of-state plates.  Ours was one of them, easy to spot because of the two bikes mounted on the roof.

We drove down a small road (perhaps a hundred yards) and walked to the Old Prison Cemetery. Here are 104 small mounds, most are covered with rocks.  None are marked. These are the unfortunate souls who died up on the hill, inside the stone walls, of Tuberculosis, snake bites, murder, suicide and executions.

I stood and took a photo, noticing my shadow falling across the graves.  I looked to my right and noticed my car with the bikes, sitting in the hot sun…alone.  There were no visitors to this part of the prison exhibits.  I wondered if anyone ever came here to visit a distant descendant, take a pebble as a souvenir, read the plaque, swat the flies, apply SPF or to mumble a prayer for these unfortunate souls whose bones mixed with the sand and dust beneath the baked rocks.

MyShadowonGraves

[The Prison Cemetery]

CarAtGraveyardYuma

[In the distance: A Ford Escape. Irony?]

There certainly was death beneath my feet, but there was also death in the eyes of those in the haunting photographs.  Those eyes.  Look at those eyes.

For a moment, they were forced to look at a camera…and in a sense into a society they mostly rejected.

But, for whatever despicable deed they committed, it occurred to me that each of them was born of a woman who loved them, for however briefly, before they grew up and found out what terror life can hold.

For a short time, they were fortunate souls.

 

 

Mix Mesquite, Sage, Fire, Oil And A Dash Of White-Line Fever

WhiteLineFever

You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst.

You shall wander far in safety, though you do not know the way.

–From Be Not Alone, a hymn commonly sung at funerals.  Words by John Michael Talbot.

“Somewhere on a desert highway, she rides a Harley-Davidson…her long blonde hair flying in the sun…”  These words were written by Neil Young.  I was riding on a desert highway, but there was no long blonde hair and no Harley.  Just a red Ford Escape pulling an R-pod.

Deserts have always intrigued me for their power, lines of sight, clearly defined horizons and the emptiness.  Sometimes they’re referred to as The Fearful Void or the Empty Quarter.  It’s no coincidence that the three major religions of Western Civilizations all had their roots in the sands of the Middle East.  Sand is not known for its quality of holding vegetation, but these gods of Islam, Judaism and Christianity all have very deep roots.

NearPecos

This was the ideal environment for the “Desert Fathers” to retreat and contemplate the meaning of life and death.  It is a place where a man can hear God’s speaking from a burning bush, or be forced to listen to one’s own inner voice…and confront the truth about his or her own soul.

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[Image: Google search]

The desert attracts mystics, loners, drifters, outlaws, survivors, fanatics, preachers and cheaters.  In these modern days of RV travel, it attracts the casual tourist.  Once it attracted those who had nowhere else to go.  It was the last stop for the pitiful souls that lived their lives on the edges of society.

It’s kind of a rule, I guess: Outlaw mystic bigamist simply don’t have time to shovel snow or put salt on the ice of their driveway.

There are towns in Texas with names like Bug Tussle, Ding Dong, Muleshoe, Spunky Flat, Mudville and Wink.  None of these would we pass through, however.  We’d have to settle for Austin, where I learned to do the 2-step.  San Antonio, where I finally walked through the door of the Alamo.  We stayed at Junction.  Drove through Sonora to Ozona where we parked in a nearly empty lot that was ringed by pre-fab houses.  No office.  No showers.  Just a few rusted Maytags and a few new dryers.  It was there that the owner/manager came to pick up our check that we had dropped into a black lock box.  Her husband sat in a pick-up truck while we chatted about life in these parts.

“Don’t stay over in Pecos,” she warned.

“Why?”

“It’s an ugly place, with ugly houses, ugly stores and ugly people,” she said.

We settled for Fort Stockton instead of Pecos.  I confess I was disappointed.  The pure romance of the name, Pecos, was enough to tweek my interest.  At the Old Fort Stockton Cemetery, I stood amid forty or fifty graves, marked only with iron crosses painted white.

There were only a few names.

Our RV park in Fort Stockton was on a rise on the west end of town.  I had a fantastic view of the four lanes of I-10, paved straight as a ruler to the west, the point of convergence seemed to be beyond the horizon…at the very ends of the earth.  White lights came from the cars heading east, the red tail-lights were the cars and trucks heading into the unknown regions beyond El Paso.

Where were they going?  Who was in those cars?  Were they heading toward a dream and away from a nightmare (or the law), or was it the other way around?

I wonder about these things.

As we drove north from Fort Stockton, we passed through Pecos.  We crossed the Pecos River…the stuff of cowboy movies and pulp westerns.  It wasn’t as bad a place as the woman who held our $35.00 check in her hand…in a laundry shed in Ozona had said.  It was in Pecos that I gave up counting the number of a certain store, for I have found a place more ubiquitous than McDonald’s or Wal-Mart.

I found the most common retail store in North America…and it’s the Dollar Store or the Family Dollar.

FamilyDollar

We drove north on Highway 285, crossing empty stream beds named Cayanosa Draw, the Salt Draw and others that I forgot.

More rivers, more draws…more nothing.  Here was a sign for Odessa.  There was a sign for Alpine.  One for Saragossa, one for Pyote and one for Wink.

It was not a hot day, but the strong winds tore the car door from my grip.  I stopped to take a photo of an abandoned liquor store that probably sold its last bottle of cheap Tequila in 1963.  A semi sped past me at 80 mph, kicking up a cloud of dust that penetrated my tightly closed eyelids.

Once more, I stopped counting the working oil pumps.  The levers rising and falling like a children’s teeter-totter.  I thought all the oil in Texas was gone decades ago.  I was wrong.  A minor boom was driving the economy of half the state.  Dozens, perhaps hundreds of such pumps stretched off into the distance.  Several wells were burning off the excess gas vapor, the flames whipping in the wind like giant Satanic birthday candles, all roaring without a sound for me to hear.  The wind blew away the noise.  These wells were miles away, but I could almost feel the heat

BurningOff

It was a Dante-like landscape.  Fire.  Dust.  Empty.

I wondered if a sinner went to a place like this if a stain remained on their soul when life departed?

The flames reminded me of orange Chili peppers.  I felt hungry but not enough to brave the numerous burrito shacks that lined the streets.  With my digestive history, I knew I’d pay a dear price for eating the real thing.

I knew sooner or later, I wanted to taste the genuine burrito, not a Taco Bell version.  But, I had many miles to make this decision.  I’ll get brave.  Maybe I’ll manage to dance the 2-step again before we arrive at that odd spa in the Mojave Desert that I’ve been telling you about…you remember, the place that healed many bodies and souls…and hopefully mine.

But, that place is many miles from where I sit and type this post, here in the common room of the RV resort.  I’m looking out of the window, a cactus plant blocks some of the view I have of the pale blue sky, high clouds and the occasional car and truck a half mile away on Highway 285.

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[Image: Google search]

A Silent Eulogy: Late But Heartfelt

B:WFlowerSteve

Is it possible that a eulogy can take forty-one years to deliver?

The dreaded answer is yes.  I know because I spoke that eulogy…silently, silently so that only I heard the words.  It was a rambling prayer over a heart-breaking death.  I knew the young man who had died.  In truth, I was with him when he passed away, away into the unknown world that we all dread…whether we admit it or not.

He is interred in the soil of his hometown in sunny and warm Louisiana.  His soul departed on a snowy trail, on a cold night in the mountains of the Adirondacks.

I’ve talked to him, about him and prayed for him for four decades.  Our conversations weren’t all one-sided.  I felt his presence.  I felt his answers.  I’ve felt his forgiving words when I find those occasional moments, when the moon is rising and the air is crisp and the snow is five inches deep…just like it was that night in November of 1974.

Once before, many years ago, I stood over his grave.  I remember that day.  It was unbearably hot in the southern sun.  I thought then of how I was so near him in such an opposition of environments…from when we last walked side by side.  Now, I’ve returned with time heavy in my arms and dried wildflowers of the North Country in my hands.  Now, the temperature is at a mid-point…from that night to this day.  It’s 55 degrees.  There are pine cones on the ground…not a flake of snow within five hundred miles.

Yes, I’ve talked to him and relived our friendship when I stop to recall memories, those sweet and terrible memories.  I’ve spoken to a few people about him, but I have never, until now, written a word about my friend.

I’ve waited too long and kept too many recollections lock away in my heart and brain.  I need to share these with you.

We met in a hallway at the college I attended in Louisiana, or perhaps we met at the Pizza Inn where we worked evenings to earn a few extra dollars.  I have never encountered a more curious individual.  He picked my brain for hours about what life in the North was like.  At the Pizza Inn, we were often left with the task of closing for the night.  But, we wouldn’t simply clean-up and lock-up.  No, after the lights were turned off, and before the ovens were shut down for the night, we would make a pizza, the likes of which was never seen on the menu.  We’d lock the front door and find a booth in the back dining area.  And there, by the light of a single candle (we didn’t want to attract the police who would be checking the locks on the doors of the businesses along the avenue), we would drink beer, eat pizza and talk for hours.  We’d argue.  We’d laugh. We discussed the philosophy of life.  We talked about women.  We talked about racism. (He was the farthest thing from a ‘redneck’ I ever encountered in my years in the 1960’s South.)  More than once, when we left for our cars, the eastern skies were getting light.

Time flew for us when we had important matters to ruminate about.

A few years later, after I graduated and moved back to New York State, we kept up our friendship through letters.  We had a chess game in progress for months, sending moves to each other on post cards.  I don’t remember whose turn it was when our game ended so abruptly.

He was curious about life outside of the South so he moved to Binghamton, where I was living.  He got a job.  I moved to Pennsylvania to begin a career of teaching.  He wanted to join me on a hiking trip to the Adirondacks over the Thanksgiving break of 1974.  I said yes.  I wish I hadn’t.

I will place this humble bouquet against the headstone.  My wife will stand at my side.

I will say a prayer for him to a God who I feel has been too quiet for too long.

My private prayer for the dead will start with his name.

I will say: “Hey, Steve.  It’s been a long time.  Sorry I’m so late.”

O, Southern sun, shine warmly here,

O, Southern winds, blow gently here,

Green sod above, lie light, lie light,

Good night , dear heart, good night, good night.

[This is not Steve’s epitaph, but it could and should be.  I found in on a gravestone of a nine-year old boy named Addison Foster, Jr. in the City Cemetery of Natchez, Mississippi]

HandAt Steve's grave

My Grave Nightmare: A Halloween Story

SpookyImage

Was it a day in full blinding sun or a night in deep gloomy shadows?  Was I asleep?  Awake?  I don’t remember.  No, it was both.  I wandered about in my dream with my eyes open, my dream that quickly became a nightmare.

What I looked upon were reflections of my darkest thoughts and fears.  My sub-conscience was trapped in the dreaded landscape of the land of the dead–the churchyard, the cemetery, God’s Little Acre, the lawns and fields of the departed.

AngelOverlookingGraves

The angel stood on the rock and watched over the mute stones.

“O, What has come into this world that these once vital souls, who lived, loved and danced and sang must now repose until the Day of Judgement?”

I stood watching a man mourn the loss of his wife, lover, child, parent or self.  He cannot bear the loneliness of existence.  He pulls at the door.  It is solid and firm in its closure.  The door is thick bronze.  I touch his shoulder to offer solace.  He, too, is bronze.  It’s all metal and stone except for the dust that lies within.  He will remain in this torment until the acids of the rain reduce him to molecules.

BronzeAtDoor

I walk on.  I don’t know why I do this.  I know what awaits me behind the next tree or over the next hill.  I walk into the trees.  Roots have begun to ensnare a gravestone.  The trees will absorb the crystals in another century.  Then, who will remember?  Where will the flowers be placed?  Where will the tears be spilled?

RootedGrave

The only comfort for my eyes are the green and living leaves, mosses and lichens.  Objects with life hold firmly to the ultimate symbol of death.

True irony.

I leave the dark trees and stand to meditate the monument before me.  I read the inscription.  It’s not an epitaph–it’s a promise:

Somewhere in Mexico–when you were hurting and in despair, I sent my angel to comfort you.  You are not alone.  I will be with you even unto the end of the earth. 

ComfortAngelCaption

There is an old house with an open door.  I grew up and passed from childhood into manhood in an old house.  I must enter.  I walk into the foyer and along the hallway.  There she is.  The transparent image of a long-ago lover.  Or is she the sister I never had? Or is she my mother as a beautiful youth?  Or is she someone unknown to me–coming to hold my wrinkled hand and place her young cold lips on my warm cheek.

Instead, she passes through me and ascends the stairs to meet another shade–someone her own age to play with–someone as spectral as she.  I watch her ascend the stairs and experience an overwhelming sense of melancholy.  I wished to know her in life.  I probably would have given her my heart–the heart she would break when she passed away.  My heart breaks as easily as ancient Oriental porcelain.

SpiritGirl

I leave the house to her spirit.  I whisper a prayer for her restless soul.  Does anyone hear my words?  I walk on into a monochromatic world.  There at my feet is the grave of a man who is holding…is it his own face?  The head of someone he is longing for?  The visage of a family member?  I walk by and he continues to stare, without terror or anger into another pair of eyes.

HoldingHead

I have seen too much for a living and mortal mind to comprehend.  I want to be awake.  I don’t care if it’s just past mid-night or if the sky in the east is becoming pale.

Pale!  Enough pale! I want to be amongst the living and the breathing.  I want to mingle with lovers who embrace with a terrible passion for life.  I want to walk along flowered paths rich with bees and insects and birds singing for the company of a mate.  I want to help a lame farmer till his field, an old woman with arthritic joints knead her bread, a teacher tell his students the truth about life, calm a couples angry words, write a song a child will love, write a book that will make a man weep, kiss a wanton woman, drink a dark ruby wine, eat a mushroom in a desert, draw a picture that a blind person could see, dig a grave, speak words at a burial, pour Holy Water on an infant’s forehead, stand on a mountain peak so very sharp and pointed that the highest crystal pierces my thick boot soles and makes my foot bleed so that red stains on the heather will guide a lost soul to the low meadows.

I can feel sleep falling away.  But, I sit up in bed, still in a deep slumber and see my last vision for the night.

It’s the Angel of the Fog.  But is she fading away or growing more real?

FoggyAngel

I rise and boil water for tea.  I wrap myself in flannel.  I rub the Sandman’s leftovers from the corners of my eyes.  I am fully awake and fully alive.  I will use and live this day to its fullest.  I will live with faith and hope.  As I slowly stir a drop of honey into my tea, I begin to wonder…

What will tonight bring me as I put my book down and let the dark envelop me?