The TV is on late at night, playing through the darkness of the house, playing with my sleep. A new war dawns over and over and over on the screen. An explosion thousands of miles away illuminates the living room. I press the mute button. Why listen to the noise, when peace for me can be accomplished by simple silence?

Immense sums have been invested to camouflage our soldiers against the new death, which is the same as the old death, but not to armor them against the enemy’s ubiquitous homegrown ingenuity. A simple gaze across history shows that the number of boys who are allowed to become men is limited by old men, who pretend to know nothing about it. For reasons of equality this population reduction now includes women, and those eliminated by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq arrive in my living room on C-17 transports, or so I am told by a reporter, since they only descend to earth after midnight, in deep secrecy.

Our fighters have been cautioned to stifle expressions of pleasure in successful killings, because a war without emotion is held to be clean and just and good. We are better than the enemy, for whom the act of mass murder yields a collective religious exaltation. Do the victims care? Shoot me kindly, shoot me for a righteous ideology, or don’t shoot me at all.

The human body is less aerodynamic than a potato: a potato is ejected from a mud house that has just been shattered on TV by an American rocket, a house that was somebody’s world: not a big fat American world, but somebody’s world.

“We got that sucker big time!” escapes from the soldier who called in the air strike. None of the body parts, bits of a radio, plastic tubs and buckets, nor a thin mattress land in the darkness of my house, but the debris collects somewhere in that bottomless pit called television, where hundreds of thousands of dead bodies go. It’s the New Hades.

The dog lies with her head on the pillow. She watches a video loop that leads up to the destruction of a tank whose price is unknown to those of us who paid for it. Fated to die a thousand deaths on the news channels of the world, its passengers shared stifled fear and stale cheese whiz without humor mere moments ago.  Did they suspect that the old men of the Meddling West, sent them to redistribute resources that do not belong to us, including our children’s futures? At the moment of their obliteration, will they understand that the men who run the show in Washington, D.C., don’t have the skill to decide what necktie to wear to a press conference? Will it dawn on these baby ducks in warrior wear, that the old males who have sent them to wander aimlessly in the world’s ideological vortices, don’t give a fuck what happens to them?

Americans are hampered by religious instruction that has never actually been clear to them. “Thou shalt not kill,” is not, and never was, a universal call to disarmament and nonviolence. God simply reserves murder, especially mass murder, for himself. In modern legal terms, the taking of life belongs to The State. The State is composed of old men, who are the true gods on earth.

Citizen shoppers interviewed at a mall send support to our dead troops. They say, Thank-you for killing bad people of a different religion who live somewhere on a map that is utterly blank to us; thank-you for dying so that we no longer must fear dangers that do not exist.

Fighter jets land in my living room, as if the carpet is the deck of a spacious aircraft carrier, docked under a blue sky, somewhere in America. Kids tie yellow ribbons to a chain-link fence, as did the youth of Rome and Carthage. We insist that lies protect children, but when and how do we switch from telling lies to telling the truth that war is neither necessary nor praiseworthy? The trick of war is to produce suffering on a level that is unendurable for civilians and enemy soldiers alike, and to keep it up until the other side gives up, but inevitably, we end up doing this unendurable thing to ourselves.

A WWII veteran dredges for anecdotes that will please the media. Weighed down by the knickknacks of war that oppress his sunken chest, the old man mumbles that the Good War years were the best of his life. Nostalgia penetrates the ether like honeysuckle scent, and I know I’m being told that today’s ruinous war will be remembered with deep affection by future television production companies. “We got those slant-eyed suckers big time!” the old soldier tells America. He adds that the shock from bombs falling near his foxhole burst his eardrums; that bullets from a Japanese fighter that strafed their foxhole made his buddy’s body dance like a rag doll; that a third buddy survived, but spent the rest of his life rotting in a VA psycho ward, very far off camera.

The war was wonderful,” the old man says. “My memories help me to sleep.”


Essay / “War Helps Me to Sleep”



AUGUST provides that sliding feeling, down into winter. This year it’s a sly slope. It’s hot, so hot, the climate changing, revving up like a global fireball. The afternoon heat is a drug that drags the eyelids shut; the body is heavy and limp, the brain cooked and confused. The garden is sad and lovely, the sedums happy, the bachelor buttons itchy, dry, gone to seed, stems cracking, bending, blown to the ground by the nuclear winds of the sun. The wild prickly pear made their big play back in June. At rest now, they snore behind their barbs, their fat pads safe from every agent except my shovel. Divide and conquer: jab at joints, pull drapes of hairy roots from the sand; dump in the trash can. Relinquish the yellow summer corpses to their destiny as nutrients for next year. The garden is lovely but sad. Summer slides away into a few paradisial hours of fall and then winter crashes down like scenery struck from a stage, the curtain dropped, color gone, the land colorless.

AUGUST is the time of weeds. A sci-fi end-of-the-world month, quiet beyond normal, normally quiet, our town is not much more than a roadside stop in the wilderness. There are two wildernesses here, two dimensions of The West. The desert is nature’s wild child, the other wilderness belongs to man. My house is barely a house, furnishing  a hot shower, a cooking stove and electric lights. It’s an old lady camp, with laundry burning on the line, burnt dry, smelling of ozone: purified. The dog creates an animal rhythm in my house. It’s a barefoot house, both winter and summer. My feet love my house.

August, Paleolithic

August, 3 million B.C.E.


Wild Brain / Prose Poetry

Journal Wyoming

IMG_0475wpA written biography necessarily begins at a specific point in time, but a real life may accumulate like snow until it moves forward slowly, as a glacier will. Another life may assemble like a jigsaw puzzle, the result inevitable whichever piece one begins with. The front door to my house stands open and cool, but comfortable air moves through the screen door. A bell rings at the middle school up the street and fleetingly, the image of a child runs into the house and calls me Mom, but there is no puzzle piece that shows a child.

Small tasks become precious ways to gather time. When  pulled, a thread makes emptiness into a pretty ruffle.

Our desert might be all there is to the world. Wheel tracks laid down like yellow ribbons wander hills where brush and bunchgrass grow so uniformly that ant hills and their territories form welcome interludes. There must have been citizens who were drawn by the distance from Rome into small lives like mine, believing that to find the center of things they must go around the world the wrong way. Consciousness may be the basis of material desire, but happiness remains an invisible relationship between the human mind and what it finds – a union of time and place and person that is so very different from membership in a family or a society. I never wanted what other people offered, as if the art of living is as simple as shopping for a dress.


This is a road map of Wyoming, for those Americans who think that Wyoming is  a foreign country or part of Canada, perhaps. Believe it or not, this is a common assumption of Americans.

Journal / Biography Begins

essay, Everyday Wyoming

Two yard sales are located conveniently uphill (and upscale) from my house, in a neighborhood of brick houses with attached garages that have real doors. My neighbor’s house has a two-car garage, but they have hung blue tarps over the entrances instead of doors. Some bright entrepreneur ought to print tarps that look like garage doors.

The tables at the first yard sale were piled with baby clothes and Made in China knickknacks; of no interest to me, but across the street, attached to a fence, was a sign for Free Puppies.

I forgot about pots and pans and Christmas ornaments, dodged traffic to cross to the house where black and white pups were being held prisoner inside a large cardboard box. A pup, only a pup, I thought, lifting a tiny male and drawing him to my chest. A fragment of nature, one more extra mouth, and on the scale of things, unimportant in this big world. But he was a wisp of something innocent and beautiful in my arms, against my chest, in this crummy world.

Poor me, enraptured by his puppy smell, attached to him instantly with the glue of the heart’s nucleus, his soft little body, all white with black speckles, in my arms, to stay, so instead of kitchen towels, rusty planters, or used garden tools, I came home with IT and the resident canines were furious.

The Invincible Madams

The Invincible Madams

The puppy was thoroughly, indecently sniffed by my two females, who barked at the speckled boy as if he were a snake that had dared to slither onto the kitchen floor. Miss Piss the Elder, refused to share even a small space with him and left the room as soon as he crawled within six feet of her, but eventually she returned to watch the abomination through the doorway. The younger aunty was a bit more congenial, watching the invader from close up, but she jumped into the air with a yelp whenever his little nose reached out to touch hers. Number three (counting me) in the household, she is not about to yield one pat of attention to a spotted pup.

Apparently there is some doggy time limit within which an “invader” is expected to disappear: the ladies began hyperventilating in my direction, demanding that I evict the object that had trespassed into their home, although they were doing a fine job of it themselves, confining him within a tiny space on the floor with astonishingly meaningful growls and bared teeth.

Poor little pup – transported from the safety of the litter; helpless, and yet bold enough to face a beast whose head loomed like the Gorgon over his small body. Nature has sent him into the world immune to the poking noses and bared teeth, the cacophony of rejection. He is determined to be embraced by the tyrannical madams. Why do they not relent??  The two ladies didn’t care how much I wanted that tiny speckled boy to join our home. Why should they?

After hours of expressing their indomitable will, I had to confess that I was unwilling to have my days and nights made into snarling hell, and to break the aunties’ hearts by disrupting our satisfying triad. The house is quiet again and the dogs doze in the yard. Do they dream of the speckled boy? Have they encoded a shared myth of the time they repelled a repugnant outsider, forced on them by their beloved, but fickle, mistress? Has my flagrant disloyalty hurt their loyal hearts? Having forcefully reminded me of the duties of leadership, I returned the speckled beast to where I found him. I will be forgiven. They are dogs and could do no less.

The pup’s scent lingers here and there on my jacket, on the edge of the water bowl, on the kitchen floor. I strip off my clothes and toss them into the washer. His smell must be washed away, for my benefit, as well as theirs.

Journal / Unwelcome Spotted Dog


Who I was Supposed to be.

The Dreaded VBS

My cousin Bette hated her curly red hair, but her mother and the other females of the family told her that her hair was beautiful and that she’d love it after she grew up, but they lied. Women lie constantly because they think doing so will make their children feel better. My mother was the only one who wasn’t lying. She loved Bette’s impossible hair, but regretted having given birth to my fence-straight bob. The lie didn’t stop Bette from shrieking and whimpering whenever my aunt yanked a comb through her Orphan Annie halo, or whacked her with the hair brush, a stroke of love which was supposed to stop her tears. The result was that Bette’s adult life was wasted in a sad quest to have someone else’s hair.

My cousin’s hair had nothing to do with an unexpected event that changed my life, except that it occurred during our yearly visit to my mother’s relatives. I don’t recall the version of Christianity her family followed out of the thousands of micro brews available. My uncle was a little Scotch bastard, so they may have been Presbyterians. Fortunately for the rest of us, he  disappeared on Sundays in his black and red Mercury convertible to play golf.  It would have been like him to demand that the family go to church while he drank scotch at the country club bar. My relatives’ place of worship didn’t hand out ‘Get-out-of-Hell-Free’ cards for a weekly donation, and the congregation didn’t stand, kneel, or sing much. In lieu of wine, grape juice was passed through the pews in small paper cups like the ones dentists used to provide, followed by trays of white bread croutons. My mother, who was a fan of high religious frou-frou, was scandalized. How could materials available in any grocery store be expected to turn into the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ? From her I learned that if one is dressing God’s play, one had better provide quality props.

My mother was paid to sing at weddings and other church-hosted events before she married my father, a vocation that exposed her to a range of worship styles. Based on this early market research, she chose to ally our family with the Episcopalians, who dressed well and sang the beautiful songs that she liked to sing, plus she got to share coffee and donut holes with exceedingly prosperous people, a ritual that helped her to push aside her childhood poverty for a few minutes. My mother never questioned the church’s edict that women must cover their heads in the sanctuary; poverty and abuse had prepared her to accept shame. She and the other women did subvert the prejudice by turning the ban into a fashion hobby. I liked her multitude of fancy hats, regardless of the complex sociology involved.

“Wear the Donald Duck hat,” I would say when she couldn’t decide which one to wear and we were late. Dad, the engineer, believed that Newton’s laws were as applicable to human psychology as to aircraft design, so instead of wasting energy opposing  mother’s inertia, he sat at the kitchen table like a big dog waiting to be taken for a walk. The famous Donald Duck hat was shaped like a pancake with a projection in front that resembled a duck’s bill. My mother adopted my nickname for the hat, which pleased me. Too often she took offhand comments to be criticism. My mother badly needed to lighten up.

I might have developed into an acceptable American had my mother heeded my plea for lenience regarding Vacation Bible School that summer. “School? It’s supposed to be summer vacation.”

“Your cousin Bette is going, so you are going.” My mother had noticed a reluctant streak that appeared whenever I was asked to participate in group activities like Brownie Scouts or school plays. What would be next, a boycott of beauty pageants? The previous year she had shoved me in front of the cameras, and shockingly, I became the local Kiwanis Club’s Miss Peanut. When shown my idiotic picture in the newspaper I seethed with embarrassment: had my parents been aware of such things, they would have recognized that their female child was the reincarnation of a stodgy old Roman whose core directive was gravitas, but they weren’t. The thought that I might fail to socialize in the accepted feminine way caused my mother to push back sporadically, while my father encouraged the trend, probably because she made him wait for everything. My mother recognized that she had given birth to a child that she didn’t like and it made her furious.

Bette’s older sister, who was soon to depart into an embarrassing adult life as the wife of a bigamist Venezuelan deep sea diver, dropped us off at the church, where we were seated with other kids our age at a table set on the lawn. Adult supervisors handed each of us a blue felt board and paper cutouts of Jesus and several loose sheep. Jesus had those spooky Sunday School eyes that look nowhere and everywhere, letting kids know that like Santa Claus, he knows if you’ve been good or bad. The sheep gazed upward with unmistakable religious fervor. It was just too obvious.

Spooky Jesus

Spooky Jesus

The adults instructed us to press the paper figures to the fabric until they stuck. I looked to my cousin and the other children, expecting one of them to ask why we were doing this, but they were busy making decisions: should Jesus float high above the flock or should he take an egalitarian stance among them? I tilted my board to study the symbolic problem. An errant breeze caught the paper cut outs, which fluttered momentarily, then fell onto the grass. Cousin Bette and another girl began to shriek. “Look what you did! You let Jesus touch the ground.”

“Hurry! Hurry! Pick him up.” they screeched, as if the three second rule applied to images of deities.

“Stop shouting,” I told my cousin. “It’s just a piece of paper.”

“No it is not!” she screamed. “It’s Jesus and you let him touch the ground and you are in big trouble!”

“God is gonna punish you,” gasped the other girl, who apparently expected a bolt of lightning or other crude Biblical barbarity to take me out in front of her very eyes.

A bad feeling passed through me, a feeling that would become familiar; a sinking feeling, as if a scary universe had been substituted for the familiar one. In this other universe grape juice and crackers turned into blood and 2000 year-old human flesh was eaten – ordinary people volunteered to be cannibals, and this was supposed to make them happy. The discovery that religion wasn’t a harmless piece of theatre made me question the motives of adults. Everything they presented as absolute truth was suddenly open to discussion. Bette and the other children had been taught that pieces of paper had the power to hurt them.  What was worse, they believed that a small girl deserved to be punished because the wind blew a picture of a man onto the ground.

How I Became a Renegade