Here are cables of fables, a recollection collection, zip-line expeditions across time and space. Swinging through a 4th dimension on vines of green and flowering Life, arm over arm over yet another arm—a chronicling octopus-monkey with a pen scribing in each hand—muscular ap-pen-dages, dense with memory.

Greenham Common was a USAF base in England, and the first full-on occupation of a nuclear weapons base by women, though it wouldn’t be the last.  This memoir is my first published book, and I’ve included an overview as well as a few chapter fragments.

My interview for the 40th anniversary of the peace camp, 9/21.

Website to find all the interviews and loads of info about Greenham Common.

Older website, maintained by The Guardian, packed with many cool videos of life at the peace camp.

Backstory/ Herstory

There was a time in the history of our resistance when womyn came together from around the world to encircle a first–strike nuclear weapons base. A time when 30,000 womyn tore through razor wire walls, regularly ripped down barbed wire fences, and trespassed in protest of nuclear weapons and war.
A time you’ve probably never heard about, that lasted a total of 19 remarkable years, and changed the way we imagine protest, and the way we imagine the power of womyn. Greenham Common Womyn’s Peace Camp has been mostly left out of mainstream histories, media coverage, and retrospective programs on the 20th century.

Once upon a time, I lived with a tribe of womyn. We were wild and fearless and free. We were thoroughly disobedient and disloyal to civilization. A subversive, creative and ever-shifting clan, we broke the laws of men to live around a fire in the rain. Our surrounding landscape was a dystopian amalgam of ancient oak and beech forest, military traffic highways, and an American nuclear weapons base. We lived outside in Nature, pressed between the earth and the rain, in a culture of our own making. Without leaders to take us there, we went wild. Impossible beings, we lived an unchartered revolution where our daily business was to stop the business of war, to reclaim this land from military occupation, to bend men’s courts and their laws to earth with the weight of our disruption. I was there, and it changed my life, permanently.

In 1985, I was an anti-nuclear activist, twice arrested in the U.S. for protesting nuclear weapons. Ronald Reagan’s regime was sending non-violent nuns and priests to prisons for twenty years for their symbolic anti-war Ploughshares actions. When Reagan was re-elected, it was time to move. I’d heard delirious rumors of protest encirclements and on-going occupations at NATO nuclear bases far away in Europe. Those were my destination. After visiting camps in Italy, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands, I made it to Greenham. 

In l1984, Greenham Common was nine miles of raped and ruined forestland, into which were shoved American weapons of war and three armies protecting the first 96 intermediate-range nuclear missiles based in Europe. They called this time The Cold War, a designation of those years spent threatening and preparing to launch a hot war.

On the outside, Greenham Common was also a womyn’s peace camp, radical shrine of the international womyn’s peace movement. Womyn came to Greenham to wage peace against the biggest, richest war machine the world had ever known. For 19 years, womyn squatted on reclaimed common land, brewing up a female warrior culture to cure 4,000 years of deranged masculinity. At the peace camp I found womyn dedicated to leaning into the blade of resistance and anarchy. Every night, we slept on straw on the cold, wet ground. Every day for years we were evicted. Weekly, we were arrested in continuous attempts to interrupt and sabotage the military’s preparations.

We’d  cut tunnels through nested wire fences to feed the seed of insecurity that hides inside the concept of national security. Complexities brought us together, but there we got simple. Living outside on the earth between the highway and the nuclear base fence, we danced on the edge of the wedge of extinction. Our tents dripped, our boots were always wet, and our belongings regularly confiscated and destroyed in evictions. Our days flew by in an endless stream of storytelling, action planning, and continual civil disobedience, broken only by arrests and jail time.

Every month, the nuclear missiles would leave the base and drive in a hundred-vehicle convoy for 40 miles to play strategic holocaust games, and every month, our work was to stop them. Surrounded by 300 police, we’d stand eyeball to gunbarrel to blockade the gates of Greenham, build huge fires in the road, and sneak onto the stolen warfields of Salsbury Plain, past police and soldiers in the dark, to perform rituals against the military. Life on earth, no compromise, was our vow, through night times and prisons and steel fences coming down.

It’s true that womyns’ work is never done. We poured instant rice into radiators of jeeps and nuclear control vehicles, stuffed big English potatoes into the tailpipes of launchers, dropped ping pong balls into military truck gas lines. We super-glued door locks of police vehicles, jail cells, and airplane hatches. We sewed miles of banners, wove incessant messages into the fences, spray-painted every official sign for miles around, and we guarded our bolt cutters and spray paint in dilapidated baby carriages.

Our days spent laughing their fences down, our nights of dancing their missiles impotent. We sang songs, painted and knitted, learned astrology and guitar chords, played in creative, passionate resistance while toast burned on smoky fires. We visited, drank endless cups of tea, and turned slowly before the flames to dry ourselves.

Always a fire. Always a circle. Always the rain. We slept with hot stones in our bags, spray-painted bombs and runways, published newsletters and traveled around Europe speaking of our lives at the peace camp. We lay in the woods, and made love, and made art, and cooked soups, and quit looking in mirrors. We argued and processed and analyzed every possible political and social issue of the times, and we slept in the glare of the runway lights, the throb of generators, and the looming menace of Armageddon.

In response to our protest, the U.S. military began, in 1984, to “zap” the camps with electromagnetic weaponry. Designed to control and immobilize protesters, these frequency weapons caused nose and ear bleeds, headaches, nausea, epilepsy, sunburns, and debilitating psychological distress. The zapping increased during times of large actions, and whenever the convoy went out. I became quite sick from the zapping, and finally left the peace camp, crawled away to the countryside in Cornwall with a lover to nurse my wounds and heal and begin to write this book. (Now, in 2021, zapping is finally in the news—we hear it called Havana Syndrome, and military men are experiencing it. They say it damages the brain. The badass warrior men are taken to Walter Reed; they say they’ve never been so scared in their lives.) Symptoms of the zapping live on in me, still.

In 1991, an Intermediate Range Nuclear Weapons Treaty was signed by Mikael Gorbechev and Ronald Reagan. So began the process of removing the missiles, and de-constructing the entire base, tearing up runways and buildings, planting trees, and re-making the space into a Nature Preserve. Greenham women were responsible for the political and military defeat of these weapons, proving that the state is ultimately powerless against the persistent, creative actions of civilians determined to resist. 

I lived at Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp from 1985-1988. The ordeals and transformation I experienced there generated a political, spiritual, physiological and emotional meltdown and reconstruction of my life that changed me and charged me, forever. My memoir—Trespassing—distills the raw reality of daily peace camp life as I experienced it.

I said farewell to Greenham after three years, but it never left me. The peace camp, and womyn's land shaped me, forevermore. After returning to the states, I lived for another 5 years on Womyn’s Lands throughout the U.S.  These days, I have no respect for any patriarchal institution, and I find that I’m not afraid of anybody. Thirty-five years later, I still move through my life, indelibly marked by that miracle, forever awakened to my power, my rage and my love, and I circle strong on the courage of womyn as I live to tell the stories.

Getting arrested continues to be an act of profound love and power to call attention to a great injustice. It's an exceptional sacrifice that protectors make for all of life that's threatened.
I hope you enjoy this book, in the spirit of joyful defiance in which it’s offered. As a social service from a public dreamer, a public defender and retired barbarian, I welcome you into the hidden herstory of a mythic-real wasteland of the modern world’s most powerful military, and the women resisters/ protectors of Greenham Common, who dared to say NO.

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Morning Ritual 

Morning. A constant negotiation with fate and luck. A series of small and available thresholds open up before me like a floating chain of ephemeral bubbles. One small ritual step after another, linked circus elephants, trunk to tail, each small miracle dependent on the one before, each one with a wild mind of its own, but trained to follow. The culmination—The Great Morning Ritual Of The Face-Washing. I’ll use a wet, still-warm teabag to first cleanse my hands, washing each finger of the grease, paint, mud, food and assorted filth that yesterday’s peace camp life has spackled onto me. I’m like a Jackson Pollack in progress, and an incubator of evidence. My hands looked like a 2 year olds’.

It has to be first thing in the morning. There are uncountable obstacles to cleaning up at night time—the convulsive darkness, the chaos of daylight’s disintegration, the promiscuous teacups, the lips and hips of love, the chords of her guitar. And so, I wake each day to begin to move towards my goal. To get that warm wet bag of possibility for this one tiny, tidy glory pulsing through these dirty morning hands, I play a mental accordion, inhale/exhale, stealthy, driven like a subway rat on an instinct search through a multitude of hiding places. Playing a silent tune on the inside, a heretic’s prayer, my dirty hands finger keys, buttons, and bellows.

Exiting the tent, keeping my hooded head down to avoid having to speak to anyone this early, I shove my feet into sodden boots and squish through muddy ruts that suck each step, through splattering puddles in search first, for the wood pram.  Building up a fire in the early rain after a night of rain requires wood, fire-lighters, newspaper, matches, and most of these inanimates mock my efforts in their soppingness. Stinking now of petrol and wood-smoke, more layers of grime, I’ll locate a section of snipped fence, a kettle, and one of the great battered water containers, lift it and fill the kettle, bang it on top of the greasy, horizontal fence grate atop the finally-flaming fire to bring the water to boiling. Score a clean-ish cup, wipe the wet residue off with  my grimy sleeve, find the pram-full of food, and dig within the mystery therein for a teabag.  

Each of these thresholds a tiny liturgy, a string leading me to the next prayer bead, and the next flaming hoop. I’m nearing the goal of a hot splash of water in a cup with a teabag, ducking through the gate of time ticking on without me. Time is meaningless here; I haven’t known the time in years. I’m locked in my warm fantasy, the hot water filling the cup, the drinking that warms me, and finally, the warm bag in my paw squishing in tiny gushes, rubbed and worked into the grime of these hands until my fingers at last scrubbed dry on the kerchief kept clean in my pocket, I’ll wipe out a small pot or a bowl and fill it with a bit more hot water, and finally, I will rinse this face.

It keeps me feeling right with the world, feeling human in this barbarian existence. Maybe it’s an inheritance from my Orthodox Jewish mother, who never would have understood living like this, at war with Cossacks. It feels religious, washing up in the morning first thing. Feels like a cleansing of my spirit as well as my flesh, greeting creation fresh and new. It’s a lifeline that connects my existence here to my ancestors’ differently rough lives, yet each day starting like this. Water poured into a basin over a fire.

Except we are afflicted with evictions, an eleventh plague to add to the list; evictions that come at all hours of the morning, that roar up, sudden as an attack, it’s always an attack!  Men screeching up in trucks, shredding our early peace through the rough grater of two police cars and a garbage truck, five bailiffs, four cops, and every woman up and awake here must skid to a stop in her muddy tracks, or wake bleary and too soon to scurry like a rodent from her nest and grab everything we own, all of us heaving together in a hundred more coordinated ritual movements, before the men can have a try at grabbing it from us, the physical content of our lives, and wrecking it all to gone forever.

Some mornings, just as I stepped into the sodden boots, or located the cryptic firelighters, or the clandestine teabag, or worse, today—just as the blackened kettle is beginning to rock softly to it’s boil, me squatting there beside the small fire, anonymous in the rain under my hoodie, armed only with cup and  teabag, and a clean-ish handkerchief at the ready, they screech up, sending a tide of mud-puddle skyward, and the call will sail up in an Amazon voice echoing wildly through the camp—“Bailiffs!”  

And I freeze reaching out my dirty hand for the kettle, gloved in my filthy, shredding sweater sleeve. I’ll close my eyes. Inhale. Exhale. Inside I feel stained, feel my breath solidify to rust, my mind shut down in desperation and piercing disappointment. Come on, you bastards, just three more minutes!  Eyes shut, locked in a fierce column of smoke, I feel them insisting on supremacy, swarming menacingly closer and I want to scream and so I do—“Fucking Bailiffs!”

My cry floats, hangs there for a water-logged rainy instant as the old man who always carries the rubber water bladder with the hose attached rudely shoves between me and our old kettle and douses the orange fire to a whoosh of hot steam. The time that had no meaning stops, dead. The fire, killed. Both of us standing there, inches apart, leaning over that dead fire floating in a char pool with ashes stuck to our lashes and brows. Both wide-eyed; one astonished,b the other victorious.

Inhale. I wipe the smoke from the eyes in my dirty face, lean my head back, exhale, and yell to the clouds above, watch the vapor rising, ethereal. It’s ghosting up over the fence, up into the rainy sky as mist to mingle my fury with dripping oak boughs high above the camp, and for just one amazing moment I feel every cell rushing up to meet that dramatic exhalation. My shout following my form, I rocket up, out of this small body to flow free, suspended in an immaculate hawk’s vision of the camp below, surrounded by warm steam and the whole base sprawling, the green fields, the villages, all of England and the sea beyond, opening, opening to another world, filled with space and oxygen, love and patience and peace and hot running water, before piercing the echo of my own voice and plummeting back into this body with a jarring thump, separated from everything again, stuck as the mud to my boots, pissed off, at war, and filthy dirty once more.

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Convoy In  

This is an excerpt from a chapter in PDF form. The background of this tale is the background of our encirclement—the convoy that every month carried nuclear missiles on giant trucks in a 100-vehicle convoy, escorted by police along closed roads for forty miles to play strategic holocaust games. They’d leave in the dead of night to avoid clashes with peace protestors, but Greenham womyn kept watch through the fences for signs of their deployment. Every month, faced with 200 police, we’d try and blockade them. We blockaded them with banners, we’d lie down in the road, make great fires in the paths, or climb onto the launchers. A group called CruiseWatch monitored their movements once they left the base, and there were always countless blockades along the route. 

Download and enjoy at will.

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Welford Action

Part One
This is the first chapter of the Trespassing memoir. It was the night after the botched-bombing of Libya. Welford was the largest bomb storage base in Europe, just eight miles from our camp. The American bombs that had missed their target and killed civilians in Tripoli had been based here. We went to cut the fence and spray paint the rest of the cluster bombs.

It had taken a long time to find the fence into Welford. We’d slogged on for ages in the rain, through thick, muddy fields full of stubble and puddles, miles it seemed from where we’d hidden Rebecca’s Mini on a wet country lane. There was no moon. Crows flapped huge from bare, black trees, making us gasp, then giggle, high on danger under the misty half-moon. Nerves tightly strung, senses tingling. 

RAF Welford was operating under red alert. We knew this much from listening to the BBC for days. Two days after the war began, all bases in Europe– probably all bases on earth engaged in this Cold War –were on red alert, with a three-minute warning for all nuclear facilities. Red alert for the war– a small war so far, but burning hotter– and the bombs and the bombers, the men who make the bombs, guard the bombs, drop and maintain the bombs– all on global standby– radar scanning, troops deployed, the planes and the battleships, the guns and the generals, the command headquarters and all the masses of bloodless computers red alerted. Adrenalin pushed us on.

Rebecca and Lorna had been inside Welford five times before, and they’d never been spotted. Each time they snipped their way in to investigate and prowl about, making maps that grew more and more detailed, spying on the security systems, discovering the easiest places to cut the fence, photographing the different types of bombs stored there, and getting the timing of the security patrols. Hogan’s Heroes all the way. Welford was an easy in, we’d reckoned. It should have been simple and fast, unlike Greenham where the peace camp had kept those armies of soldiers and police sharpened and on edge, hunting us ruthlessly with big dogs, mending and guarding that fence day and night, ceaselessly policing at great cost to the public in an effort to control vast and shifting numbers of womyn who they could never quite manage to contain. Those boys were practiced, you had to give them that, though they couldn’t have done it without us.

That night, on the brink of the latest attempt at patriarchal self-destruction, security was real heavy at Welford, and the notion of an easy-in blew away on the dark, stormy winds. We watched from the shadows that held us, armed guards patrolling, squaddies on foot with dogs and machine guns, and scores of vehicles slowly circling the perimeter fence.

We hid for a long time on a steep, mud-sodden slope just below the patrols, shadowed from the span of powerful arc lights that lit the fences. We listened to their radios crackling, the spinning of jeep and truck tires on gravel, and the heavy, booted footsteps. We stared into each-others’ faces, time running with the rain, and I wondered about getting past them all, getting to the bombs we’d come to paint and then getting out again. I wondered about turning right around and hitching back to my sleeping bag at Yellow Gate, but I didn’t wonder out loud.

Finally, seeing a break in the rhythm of surveillance, Rebecca looked at us, nodded, and crept to the fence to cut a circle knee-high with her bolt cutters. The steel blades snapped each small, diamond shaped link in the fence loudly, all sound magnified with the night, like our thudding hearts. We waited again as the next shift of squaddies passed us, then, single file we crawled though that first fence, and Hershe cut the next rough hole, pinging each thick wire quickly, and then we were past the final fence and running. We held our paint pots and spray cans tightly, racing through the shadows, crouching or crawling when we were in the open, sliding on the slippery ground as we pressed across the flattened land towards the bombs, deep inside the base’s perimeter.

In the dark and pissing rain, I felt the enormity of Welford, knew I was running blind, but I trusted in Lorna and Rebecca to know where we were. A woman would hiss, “DOWN!” whenever she saw headlights or heard footsteps or an engine’s whine, and we’d dive and lay hugging the earth as white lights approached, passing us easily– we were totally mud-camouflaged by then.

Crawling, then running at the chance, we sprinted, scrambling up and sliding down the steep, man-made hills flat on our backs, hills we suspected held bunkers, like Greenham’s, that housed nuclear weapons. We neared the cluster-bomb storage area, five womyn, side by side, closer and closer. We pulled ourselves up the last few hills on our hands and knees, sliding flat on our backs and spraying mud. My glasses were streaked and splattered, my hands numb, my broken rib and pulse and brain were pounding. Nothing grew on the land inside the base. The season was anyone’s guess in here. All the earth was scraped raw, or laden with concrete, lights and generators.

At the top of the last hill we stopped, pressed to Welford Action the earth at its crest. The sound of our breathing filled the saturated night. I looked down. I was staring at dark stacks of bombs, piled high in the rain just below us. The mist made faint rainbow circles around the high beams of arc lights. There was an eerie silence.

Jude broke first. “They keep the bombs out there, in the open like that? Always?” She couldn’t believe the sight. I lay there, shocked in the fine rain, feeling Hershe stunned and motionless beside me.
“Yeah. Those are the cluster bombs,” Lorna pointed, indicating the rows and rows of shadowed steel stacks on the west side of the huge field full of bombs.

“Those are the ones they dropped on Libya.” The stacks were 20 feet high. They covered the field, as far as I could see, sinister, absorbing all the light in the world, marching their intent on towards eternity.

“I’ve never seen a bomb before!” “Holy shit.”

More silence.
“What’s that?”

“I don’t hear anything. What did you hear, Hershe?”

“I think I saw a light flash over there,” Hershe pointed.
“Let’s just wait a bit and catch our breath.” I suggested, panting and in pain.

The vision stunned me—all those bombs, thousands of them just lying out there in the rain, rusting. Waiting.
“Goddess! I thought they’d be inside warehouses or bunkers, inside something!” Jude said. We continued to stare, fixated, at the shadowed stacks below us.

“Well then,” Rebecca began, ready to get down to the night’s business, trying to pull us three naïve Americans into a functioning group, “Shall we split up or hang together?”
“How about two groups?” Hershe suggested, “That way we can get more space covered and no one has to be alone.”

“I don’t want to be alone down there,” Jude muttered, still awestruck at the sight.

“O.K., consensus?” We all nodded. Rebecca continued organizing. “If either group gets caught, the others can carry on painting, get out when they can. The keys to my car are under the front left tire, and whoever’s not been nicked can drive round to meet the others at the north side. Where we cut that hole. Remember? Can we all find that hole? Alright?” Rebecca was ready to head down the hill.
“Wanna be my buddies?” Hershe asked Jude and me.
“Sure thing, sister.” No way I’d ever find that freaking hole.

My breath was a bit easier now and I could feel myself getting ready, consciousness shifting to the action at hand. The Americans had killed innocent womyn and children with those bombs two days ago. We were here to file an official protest in resistance, to cast our vote in the most direct way we knew how, or to count coup. I felt all three as possible motivations every time.

We slid down the last hill, creeping from shadow to shadow as the spray cans rattled in our coat pockets and we tried to keep them still. Stacks of bombs loomed higher and higher as we approached out of the gloomy mists. At last, we stood, staring up at them, great towering mountains of metal and megatonnage. Rebecca and Lorna nipped round the corner and disappeared. The three of us stood, silent and rooted to the ground, looking at the steel hills of offense they called defense, knowing the misery, poisoning, and poverty they cause.

“It’s like a fucking penile fortress!” Jude broke the spell, and then we were painting, fast and quietly, just the familiar sound of muffled rattling as we shook the cans, covering the cartoon-like green metal cylinders with red words and symbols. I sprayed “MURDERERS” and “TERRORISTS!” and “BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS!”, and moved on as the crimson paint slid down the rain-slick sides and dripped, lower and lower, covering the pyramid slopes. Painting and moving on quickly down the stacks, noticing as I went that the bombs were about the size of the kids they blow to pieces.

We’d graffitied both sides of six rows, and Hershe had run out of spray paint and begun to brush messages onto the asphalt runway opposite the bombs from a tin of orange paint she’d carried. I moved over Welford Action to join her, when suddenly, a harsh male voice split the night and our courage wide open.

“Hold it right there!” We froze where we stood.

“Put your hands up!”

In reflex, all together and wordlessly, we zipped round the corner of the nearest stack, hiding between the neatly filed piles of bomb hills. Moving slowly, the soldier tracked us by ear through the darkness, through those steep canyons of green metal dripping in wet red paint. We moved when he moved, listening on the other side of the wet, dripping row. I glimpsed him briefly, in the arc lights, rounding the corner, as we all turned together, one mechanism, eerily attached.

He was young, Black, American by his uniform, and he held a gun, a huge gun, raised in hunting position. What the hell are we doing?! I thought, the paint sticky on my hands, my ribs aching like a knife was planted there. We’ll never get out of here! I fought the rising panic. I heard dogs barking closer, more male voices approaching.
“Come out and put your hands up!” he commanded again.
And then Jude popped up and shouted near my ear where I squatted between her and Hershe—“Don’t shoot! We’re Greenham womyn!”

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Seventeen years before their deaths i became my parents’ power of attorney. And then in 2014, broke, indebted, and enfolded in a blur of dementia, I brought them with me to live in the town down the canyon, where I could see them everyday. In their wheelchairs, diapers, psych meds, they lived for another few months. When they died, I buried them on my land. This was the hardest, and most triumphant accomplishment of my life.
Here are some selections of a memoir-in-progress, the last years of our time together It’s entitled Strands of the Rope, which is the translation of Chezar.

What Shall We Do?

July 2014

How to begin? What first chapter do i want to tell you about my the three of us? Our name, Chezar, means ‘strands of the rope’, a second or third cousin of my dad’s told me. I give a tug from my own last, fraying strand. Nothing tugs back. It’s been seven years since they died. How will I ever de-strand? How is my identity tied to them, besides this bonded, filial, three-way trip-hammer heart?

A parent can be a mirror, a fencing foil, a sheltering tent, a prophesy. I’m an only-child—so, what have I been? I’m an only child, and the three of us lived, enmeshed and on top of each other for 18 years, sewn together but separate. We lived together in our separate columns of branching bubbles with such diverging realities. It’s like that opthamolgist’s machine with all the lenses to choose from. And there we are on our tight line of three chairs choosing lenses.

I’m an only child, now an adult orphan, for life. No witnesses to my childhood left, and only unreliable witnesses, ever. How accurate is my child’s memory? What did i make up? What do I think I remember? How much of memory comes from photos, or stories adults told that I memorized as fact? My parents did not always tell the truth. I grew up in a house of secrets. I’ve read that a family of secrets births a detective. Who were these people?

I play a game: three words to describe your parents’ personalities. My mother’s—Kind. Willing. Haunted. My dad’s—Fun. Sweet. Angry. Both were seductive. Both were great story-tellers, and very funny. Both were devious, controling, and secretive. Me, I’m prone to confessional over-sharing. I’m still trying to build an army of witnesses. This need of mine for connection is so old that every circuit of possible kinship begins to smoke, threatening combustion.

My mother’s secrets were sourced from shame and denial. My father’s from pure deception as a natural con-artist. She loved with an industrial-strength doting; her nervous habit was a heavy hovering. As if she only had us to keep her upright and alive. Daddy and I were her whole world. Her tiny family defined her. Maybe this is the way with mothers and wives. I wouldn’t know. But here’s where she stood out from my friends’ mothers—she didn’t drive. She didn’t work outside the small apartment. When we left each day, she cooked and cleaned, walked to and from the store—ten city streets away, her arms full of shopping bags, and she waited for us to come home. Having abandoned her own self for ours’, she’d strip-mine us for stories of our days that neither of us wanted to share.

I was a wild child, even as a baby, rebellious and too smart for my own good, as she’d say. I lived inside the bouncing hole at the heart of a whirlpool of undiagnosed A.D.H.D., and was generally out of control. Not knowing what else to do with me, Mama took me, daily, in my stroller and later by the hand, to The Bronx Zoo. It was a nice walk, just across The Bronx River Parkway and Fordham Road, and I was calm there, enthralled by the animals. It set me up for a lifetime of preferring non-humans to people.

I was overwhelmed by her attention, the smothering gave way to mean-
spirited consequences—habitually slamming doors, roaring “Leave me alone!”—As a teen, my life was governed by scams to escape that cage. Early on I was deeply into drugs, into sex—anything that could lead to temporary transcendance from the bonds of being held that tightly. My whole life, I realized much later in therapy, was about not being Her. She would pull me close and tell me, for as long as I would hold still, “Nobody will ever love you as much as I do.” It was a spell she draped over my life, unknowingly. A curse and a prophesy, as when she would say, furious with my wild behavior, “You should have a child like YOU!” And so, no children for me, and no great love. Fulfilling the spell she’d cast. I never wanted to be loved that fiercely, that totally ever again.

She was a great storyteller, and could be very funny, but mostly what I knew of my mother’s identity was that she was a love artist. I used to say she had enough love in her for 15 kids, for a tribe of children and grandchildren who might love her back better than I could. And yet, I am the closest thing, the only chance she had of leaving something of herself behind. I’m not young or a mother, not immortal, but I remain.

She was a Pisces, this love artist, and a deeply emotional woman. She’d worshipped her mother, who never gave her much love back, and was haunted for her life by the secrets of incest perpetrated by her alcoholic father. I called her Mama and she called me Mama. I never met my grandmother, and wish I could say the same for her husband, who fucked with me too, until i told Mama, and she never left me alone in a room with him again. “He’s sick”, she would excuse him, “He did that to all your girl cousins.” She unwillingly enabled him always, and nobody talked about it, ever. She never said what he’d done to her. She just forgot it in a crippling disociation that resulted in O.C.D. and a constant fear of men, the nighttime, anything out of her control. It was only in therapy, at the age of 76, that she remembered, but didn’t name my grandfather. Not to me or anyone. She’d learned to keep secrets in this way.

It wasn’t a household of books or paintings. Neither of them went to college. She could have been a brain-surgeon, a judge, a professor—she was that smart. But she held herself back, for his sake, and raised me with the warning that I should never be smarter than my boyfriends or my husband. The culture that surrounded me growing up was popular cuture of the 50’s—so bland, but for the exception of Mama’s strict religion. She was a traditional Jewish woman, bordering on Orthodox, and her practices were unquestioned. She lit candles every Friday night, consulting synagogue calenders for the exact time of sunset, every week. She kept Kosher, fasted fastidiously for the high holidays. This and shopping for used antiques and bargain clothes was her culture.

For his culture, my dad preferred Sinatra, handball, and infidelity. He was like a member of the Rat Pack—dressed like them, talked like them, was a womanizer like them—he wouldda fit right in. Mama knew about his cheating, had him followed, checked his pockets, interrogated him mercilessly. I heard it all—she told me everything when i was way too young to deal with it, and I never forgave him for making her so miserable, so nervous and heart-broken, confused and a little crazy. He was a player, and she was a virgin. He was the only man she’d ever had sex with; she never had an orgasm in her life and she told me that too.

Other than blaming him for all that she suffered as his wife, I completely adored him. All the kids did. I used to think of him as the Pied Piper, and I was jealous of the attention he gave to my cousins, and then their kids, to his friends’ kids, and to my friends. He owned the room, a natural comedian who made everyone laugh. And he was my best buddy for years. My dad was a handball champ at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, and he played every weekend in The Bronx, at Shorehaven. Crowds would gather to watch him slam that ball; as my mama sunned herself, gorgeous and covered in oil on a lounge chair, he hit the hard, fast, tiny black ball with his gloved hand. He ran and sweated and killed it. A champion.

And I always imagined that he wanted a son—but all he had was me, and so he taught me all his favorite sports—sledding, skating and bike riding, swimming, diving, and hitting balls, hard. When I was only six years old, I was infected with horse fever, which would last for decades. We lived in an urban wasteland, but he searched out and found all these weird little stables in Queens and in Brooklyn. He would drive me to one or another every weekend, wait and watch while I learned how to ride.

And now, most of what I remember was the years of their end. How she stood, hair blowing in the tropical breeze, eyes on the parking lot, waiting for  me, every time, until she could no longer stand. There she, grinning on is on the third floor catwalk of their Florida condo as the shuttle pulled in. How she wanted to feed me as soon as I walked inside. How she stood in the same spot again, accompanying me as far as she could when the shuttle returned to pick me up for the airport in Ft. Lauderdale. How I’d cry for the whole drive, quietly. And on the plane too, as the green landscape of the American Tropics became the dun fields of the midwest and then Colorado. How he waited for me too, smiling dressed in the clothes she’d lay out for him.

And later, for the last two or three years, when they lived horizontal, beside each other in bed, all day and all night. I would let myself in then, and how she still smiled with her whole beautiful face when she saw me. “God bless you, Sweetheart” was their greeting to me when i arrived and when I left them. How we all cried. How she would tell me, over and over again—“You’re my favorite person in the whold world, and you always have been.” For years I went there for one week every month, fuelled by a complex swirl of obligation, guilt, and love that still overtakes me with tears, even now when they’ve been gone for seven years and every cell in my body’s been replaced by a new one.

Strange that caregiving means the same as caretaking. And that both are just forms of control. Being their caregiver, or whatever I am, feels like being burned at the stake with wet wood. What can I control—I can make a cup of tea. I can open and shut windows. I can fetch water for the beloved garden. Oh, to think about sinking into a garden where I could drop this heavy burden of seeds, at last.

Modern people live too long on hanging bridges, swung way out over vast regions of time, strung out on pain, meds, and promises from the medical-industrial-complex that death is just a failure of medicine. All trying to die as slowly as possible.

I was in charge of my elderly parents’ deaths. I  never wanted to be in this position,  responsible for another human life. Making such intimate, urgent decisions. What do I want for them? Only that asteroid—oh, the asteroid! I dream of it!
Asteroid, blazing out of heaven, glittering blue and crimson. You out there in the darkness orbiting, rolling those cosmic dice. I call you to come—in the dream I am Mistress of Asteroids. Send them off on their missions to Republican Party Headquarters, Exxon, Monsanto, the Pentagon. 351 Keswick C, Century Village, Florida. Here are the coordinates. Go gently. Go strongly. They'll never see you coming. There are my parents, in their beds, breathing deeply, sleep sprinkled, softening and mumbling, surrounded by photos of dead people, and me. Holy asteroid, you decide, hovering briefly over the golf course, shooting sizzling sparklers. See them there, 3rd floor, terrace with the metal slats. Consider this target. Go! The sudden flash, a compassionate, quick ending, together.

If only we were born in test tubes, it would be so much simpler. No struggles with individuation, neurosis, guilt. Nothing inherited but breath. Just put me in a clean silver and white room, on a high shelf in my petri dish.  No inheritance of trauma, no ticking danger of minefields hidden in my soul. No hovering Other to hold my ankles as I make for the door. Or the spout. Born in a test tube. An efficient, simple delivery system. Families?—Why? If only we had instincts and strength enough to be born and crawl away clean.  If only there wasn't this trap, these chains called family, obligation, culture. The only culture would be what's lining the petri dish. Like yogurt. One meal and slide on out of there, creamy, yummy, and bye-bye. Moving on cleanly to the life that is mine and mine alone.

Once upon a time, there was a space
not warm, not safe
and a kite that had chewed thru its string
to run wild among the stars
and sometimes she wrote it down
but mostly things happened and she forgot them
because life was enormous
it was endlessly windy
and there was no tether
and she dreamed of rooted things
of being saved
tied down with heavy stakes
or sprouting wings
to fly home to peace.

Once upon a time
there was a weird paradise called Florida
and in her mother's house things can be so soft and lulling
the bedding, her mothers’ skin, the way time flows
but its’ a trick
she learns to duck and cover from the jagged edges
and so misses the authentic softness
when it comes
when it comes, she is not there
she is a suit of armor
a sort of anchor
a red light flashing in
and out of consciousness
she hasn't breathed for days.

My dear ancient fierce terrified demented parents, condemned to a nursing home, by my own hand. It's fucking Shakespearian. I live up here on this mountain without plumbing. They can’t join me here. And how i plot their daily lives, their daily deaths, trying to smooth all complications, to fix them, when it is what it is. Therapist says Today is Wednesday. My mother is dying.  Both these are true. Just love. Just love. Pokin' around in a hole that doesn't really need fixin', because, there's nothing wrong here. Nothing wrong.  Just gotta be strong enough to stand it.

I know I’ve swallowed the hook, caught in the exhausting emotional realms, and a tangled net that keeps me so on the edge of all things. I leave it to metaphor, and to superlatives—the drop so sheer, the fall so steep on the so-sharp stones. I want to stop being a drama queen. I am the daughter of a high-drama queen. Maybe i can be demoted to drama countess or dowager drama countess.

Mama calls her husband lazy. He was, for their whole lives, but now he’s just demented. Stopped taking care of business when he retired at 66. Well, but really she is the one who paid the bills, took care of all the paperwork,all the bank balances and all their little shitty investments. He just made the money and signed everything. Him with all his big shot connections, his rich pals with all the answers—he never made a good financial plan, never got great advice from anyone about the future. And then, he just disengaged at fucking 66! She did what she could until she couldn't anymore, and then haunted by insomniac nightmares of debt she too—depressed and despairing, broken hearted and shrunken minded, retired from the world and the work of her life. And life shrunk.  

The neighbour, Annie says, "I feel so sorry for them.  They don't talk to nobody. Nobody talks to them."

Annie's one of those energetic Italian New York women, who, like the energetic Jewish NY women, like to worry.  Who take it on. She thinks I should write to their Republican Senator—about the insurance that wouldn’t pay for the hurricane damage and how they were forced to take a 2nd mortgage on their paid-of apartment.  So now they have no equity and a huge mortgage, and their long-term insurance plan, which paid for aides for five years, will end in 6 weeks and the aides will then cost $11,000 a month. There’s no way to do this.

"It's a disgrace, these old people, how they get taken advantage of!" Annie says they call her Tornado cos she's such an action figure. I love her—she's a little crazy but it’s good.

Fishing for future intel, I spoke to a realtor. We met in Annie’s apartment, hiding it from my parents. It’s September. He says do it and do it now; He says this building is the most valuable of the hundreds here, yada yad. This is the season, right now to put it on the market. Maybe sell it by winter. So this is possible, my plan is becoming more real. Maybe that’s why they call this guy a realtor. Bada-boom.

I’ll be home in four days. The days are weird beads that grow teeth when i try and domesticate them to a simple string, a necklace of solace. Simply strung along, i am the bead in the center, the only one not demented. I hold all the cards, the string, the beads, the phone, the magical numbers to ineffectual strangers who slide me complex mixed messages all day, down long-distance strings on a terrible phone connection.

Late at night in Florida, I stand over their sleeping, soft geezer bodies. All curled up like pieces of letters, bits of broken sentences. Tuned and spooning at a great distance in their separate dreams.  Reminiscent of pods, drifting in time— she is the pea and he's a beat up old chili pepper. Their sleep-curved forms in the ghost light. Their twinned breath turns, twining these walls, remembering better days. Still, they are happy, often. They are in love in a simpled-down peace. They are pared back, they are paired up, and I, the singularity watching them sleep, feel a little jealous. I always have. This kind of love, the long-time belovedness of my fantasies blooms here, in this warm soft bedroom that's not mine, where I can glide in, lie down gently next to her soft curved form and let my quiet tears fall into a still-damp pillow.

Here we are. Here where she embraces me in her frail soft fierceness.
“You're mine! Nobody can take us apart.”
She begs me, childlike, to stay with her, and I say
“Come to Colorado. We can be together forever in Colorado.”
Just love. Just love….

Early morning. I go in and there's the Haitian aide bending over Mama. Iveny says she has passed out. Has the blood pressure machine on as she wakes, pale, soft her face an apple doll. Ivenny is pulling her up—Drink juice, Mama—we pull her up on the bed. Oblivious, he lies beside her, his back to her. She points towards him, croaks out, ‘One day they'll tell him I'm dead and he'll say Who?’  He asks me how she feels. ‘Turn over and look at her I say. Ask her.’ He sighs. His sighs sound like "Wow", sometimes "Pow", puffs of air, such a big struggle emits from him, but always he says he has no pain and nothing's wrong. "WOW!" he pulls himself up on his left side. I put in her hearing aide and she starts to lie. "Nothing’s wrong. I'm fine." She's crying, softly. The fan turns slowly overhead. The day turns to mush in the front of my skull.  The sign that I wrote myself last night is propped up on the tea kettle reading "Go to the Beach" drifts under fresh waves of the fan.

The lawyer, the doctors, the insurance company, the home health care agency, the Jewish Services social worker, the Catholic Hospice, the bankers, the accountant, the FedX driver, the FAX machine. The glittering ocean, rising and sliding home. Who could we three be if everything truly was Perfect? I ask the sea, and all she says is "SSHHHHH.  SSHHHHH."  Cos probably we both have better things to do than drown in these questions on this perfect day.

My brain is an open vein that pours out bloody stories.  This is my life, beaded by planes and countdown days, tugged here like the sea, yanked, dizzy with force, insisting against my muscular struggle to mark out one fixed place, and stay there, making a life that’s my own. Here we are. Pay attention. Clear salt waves and churn of sand. Here, wanting buoyancy.

Here, trespassing on this hotel beach chair, waiting to be evicted by the scruff of my skinny neck, by the collar of my wizened life, I'm a tough old thing, but there is so much more tough ahead. I grow more muscles, while she faints upon waking. I say Mama, what if this is just a doorway through to something like perfect bliss? What if you fearlessly step through that door to be free of pain and anxiety. Just be a bead on a salted string. Just forgive the future, and forget to worry about the past— just slide it away like that bead on abacus.  The string is strong and can hold everything, Just be NOWNESS and I will too, without stabbing pitchforks to poke you all sleepless night long, without longing because you have ARRIVED. What if i believed that myself?

At the Pool. Here we are. I walk to the edge of glistening turquoise, tighten my toes, and dive into space and then the soothing wetness. The water is so holy! So holding. How did I not know this? And I swim, flip, back-kick, burst to the surface and burst into tears. I pull my shoulders up at the deep end, hang there sobbing. No one is here. I can cry. Pools are great to cry in! Also I didn't know this. You can wipe your sobbing face off, you can flip upside down for a good rinse, you can scream underwater silently, watching the bubble, and you can blow your nose clean too. The blue of this tropical sky is a perfect crayon. The palm fronds are lit, kissed with some electric charge and drooping like huge feather dusters. My mother and father are dying in Paradise—there's a memoir title.

In the middle of the sleepless night, I check on Mama and she's not in bed. Squinting through the gloom, I see her on her hands and knees, crawling over Daddy. I wake her, not easy without her hearing aide.
“Mama, go back to your side!  MAMA!”
“But there's all those other people!” she insists.

I get her settled while she complains about all the others in her bed, kiss her goodnight, go back to my mat on the floor, and restlessly check on her in a little while, and she's gone again. I find her in the bathroom, rubbing the hell out of her eyes with the terrible tap water. She has cancer on her eyelid, her eyes so swollen. I lay her down, find her eyedrops, find ice and washcloths, then I lay with her for an hour while she thrashes, trying to rub them.

I imagine the ‘other peope’ crowding her in her bed, swarms of ancestors, never-known beloveds cuddling close, not helping me hold her here, but welcoming her over. Here we are. This portal. This parallel world. This gentle hiss of green trees on that golf course, netted with happy hunting dragonflies, where I walk twice a day to feed myself to the mosquitoes. Sacrifice for what you hold to be Sacred. This emerald flowing fountain of gleeful hibiscus, ficus, banyon and rubber trees that shimmies every bit of love towards me, right now, being here.

“It's not fair!” she groans, so sad and exhausted and in the bed at last, but not sleeping. She never sleeps anymore.
“She’s in bed 18 hours a day”, I'd told Ira, the visiting rabbi.
She is indignant. Doesn't want it to be true. It doesn't seem true.
“And she has no one to talk to here”. I tell him, “She’s depressed and lonely and tells me she goes to bed for the day cos there's nothing else to do, no one to talk to.”
Iveny glares at me.
“Nope, Mama, it's not fair.”
She adds—“And no one to help us out financially. What happened to The U.S. of A.? Where are they? I thought they were supposed"
and her imagined nation-as-savior patriotism hangs there a moment in the chill of the air-conditioning.  

“No Mama, they don't help anyone anymore. Just corporations and millionaires.”
“Well, who's going to take care of YOU?” She asks me.
“Nobody Ma. It is so totally not fair!”

Mama, clowning on the catwalk, Florida 2013

Laughing at dementia, her last year, Florida 2013

Here We ArE

Late July

   “Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over  what you don't.      Worrying is meditating on shit.”

In the Land of the Lost Chezars, it's crazy time. I try to remember that this whole trip is about love, and that it's a pleasure and a privilege to serve my parents. Washing their laundry, cutting their rnails, cooking them dinner, solving small problems. Tossing out bills when they’re not looking—save her some stress, why not? This is love.

I told told them, first thing in the door that I’m taking them to Colorado with me, and how and why—I tell them everything, watch her wanting to argue immediately—
“It's not Fair!”
And then she sort of relaxes back and curls into the chair, like a drug hit her and I keep talking until she and Shelley are both fast asleep sitting up in their kitchen chairs. Afterwards, we cuddle, and I bring my big red stuffed dog, 'Girlfriend', and Mama says in a three way cuddle with me and the stuffie, “Get me one of these.”
“Sure, Mama.” 
And she says “I'll take it on the plane with me to your goyishe homeland”.
So she WAS tracking me earlier! Maybe this will work after all. I vacillate but less and less, spend more time acting as though I believe this huge shift move is possible. I go into the other room, lie down on the floor to sleep. The smell of urine softly smothers my thoughts. I will bring them home to Colorado, to the love. I will stop leaking energy, go forward only.

Shabbas. Candles she can no longer light. I hold her small, trembling hand in mine and light them. She prays, looking like she always looks praying over the shabbas candels—face covered with her hands, her whole body rocking. She rocks so far out, she alwasy has, but i go to stand behind her just in case. She's so agitated tonight. Officially out of her mind.

Lying with Mama in bed. Maybe I can just cuddle like this, wordlessly for the next nine days. A pleasure, I repeat, a privilege. Try to sleep.

Nights in Florida are like this—I, watcher in the phantom light, sleepless night listener. I squeeze into the softness to stroke her calm, press all this love into every crevice. I would rather breathe her sleepless exhalations than lie on the floor alone under that incessant slow ivory blade. Out of her mind, but so sweet; totally deaf and it's funny. You can't argue with her or tell her anything—she's standing backwards, lost in the closet, stuck facing the wall in the dark, she's putting on 5 pairs of panties, she's turning all the switches on and off, leaving the water running in two rooms at once, talking so loud to Daddy, but she can't hear that he says he hears her. Just love.

5:20 a.m. Just love, and Indica cannibis flowers, inhaled deeply. And my List of Lasts grows longer. No more candle-lighting starts the tears flowing. No more freedom for them, their stolen soverignty. The nursing home is arranged; they can’t live with me. I have no plumbing, and the altitude is way too high. I hate the idea of a nursing home, but they need the support. They’ll never live alone again. I’m nostalgic already for ficus, banyon, rubber trees. The great cosmic hand starts to wave goodbye. Palm out, painted in groovy symbols—cosmic irony. A slow hypnosis.

There are so many ways this could go. So many bad, bad ways. Lying next to Mama, her 20th hour of sleep, spooning her tiny butt. I’m crying softly onto the pillow. Just love, I pray. Say aloud to no one awake, Here we are. July 20th, 2014. The beginning of the end. One more bump on the trail to eternity. Where are we again? It’s contagious, I too am losing my mind. What to do? Go out in the moonlight to the deserted golf course. This one banyon tree reminds me of us, connected and dropping her roots like wishes, like plans from the sky to the earth. Walking so slowly, on. Twined by shaky lacy vines that swoop and struggle upward to the tippy top, then wave, blind and nimble as a pea vine to find the next thing. I feel like that. I stand still underneath the tree, one finger extended, wanting touch—to be taken up there into the canopy of calm green, trembling.

I need something to help me relax. Mama has so many pills, and all the bottles look alike. I tear through the  medicine cabinet wanting a sedative—playing endocrine roulette.

Remember this, through the soothing drugs and the jagged trauma. The fall of sheer creamy drapes, hypnotic pulse of the big ceiling fan, the mama's breath, death scented, how she could not speak, her eloquent nods nodding off. How sweet the needle in my heart pierces. How I wet her pillow nightly with warm salt tears. How I cannot stop crying, like a faucet she would say if she could say anything. 

To wake this sad, one more morning in a row of them, to the sorrowful, stunned heat. July in Florida. Oh, remember this—the problems compiling conspire to piles that crush me in the piano-dropped sun. The accents of the aides changing daily. Gravity holding us all in our places like a tragedy play. How I sat through ten years of therapy to prepare me for this, and can remember absolutely none of the skills I learned. How faithfully I wrote them down. How nothing can ever prepare me for this.

Pre-pare—To anticipate the slice. The cutting away, the excising of her breath from my own. These internal landscapes. The touch of her softness. The dimming colors of already-fading memory like a sunset. To wake crying at dawn. To sob before rising, to move toward this day of freshened hell, to feel this lost and sorry for myself at the tenderness of my own heart. How the sound of my crying is just like hers’ to my ears. Gotta hold on, but I wish someone would hold me. The slow dissolve, the good wood supporting me, freefall off french provincial cliffs still holding her gold and diamonded hand. Soft as this landing cannot be. Soft as a field looks before poking through. Soft as a rainbow draped over a granite mountain. Hold me like that for just once more.

Their sleep-curved forms in the ghost light. Their breath turns, twining these walls, remembering better days. Still, they are happy, often. They are in love in a simpled-down peace. They are pared back, they are paired up, and I, the singularity watching them sleep, feeling a little jealous. I always have. This kind of love, some childhood belovedness that’s haunted my dreams blooms here, in this warm soft bedroom that's not mine, where I can glide in, lie down next to her soft curved form and cry.

Pushing a wheelchair over the golf course, the sand traps are the worst. It's 100 degrees and a million percent humidity at midday. Borrowed the wheelchair from the clubhouse to take her to the neurologist, where she is furious with me because the doctor only talks to me, only listens to me, and she is deaf and it sucks. I push the wheelchair, wanting to meet her suffering half-way, take it on, dilute it with my own.

But it gets way worse when I bring her back home and try to take him to the bank. Same borrowed wheelchair. He needs to sign a form so I can withdraw their funds. She flips out. Culled from the herd, left behind, counting for less than nothing—“I'd just like to be asked to manage my affairs!”
Fine, Ma. Do it. You're out of insurance, Iveny costs $11,000 a month, here are the car keys—go to the bank with Shelley and fix it!
“You don't know what it's like” she says, “wait till you're 140 years old and nobody wants your opinion and nobody talks to you.”
Together we hold on and cry.

Mama just cannot fall asleep. She wanders through the house, hallucinating. I too am awake all night, worrying and herding her back to bed. Last night I had to lie to her about a valium.
“It's a B12”, I said, and then I shoved it into her mouth. She spit it back at me. After a few more moments of near-wrestling matches with her, Ivenny steps from the shadowed doorway, pulls me out of the room. “If you keep being with her, like this, you will get sick.” Is this a warning or a Haitian voodoo curse? 

When I shoved the valium into her mouth last night, she was so surprised. I was too. We struggled awhile , and then she sat up and opened her mouth to show me it was gone. She had palmed it. I took it out of her hand and stuck it into her mouth again. The second time I shoved that valium into her mouth last night, she swallowed it. Shaking her head, furious. Still she never slept, shaky as hell but up all night. I gave up at 3am, put in earplugs, swallowed a Xanax and smoked pot till I passed out. This morning, Ivenny says I was the only one who slept last night, and suddenly I appreciate the fucking hell out of Ivenny.

Time for me to leave, alone for the airport. She's been asleep now for 2 days. I cuddle next to her—(is this another last?) I can't stop crying. This softly dim place is the magnet to my heart, my one true north, the best place because She is here, but I’ve got to get back to my job. Follow the trail of this one tear, across the bridge of my nose, spilling down my tilted face. Follow the drama-filled narrative of Daddy’s sleep talk— “Mumble mumble seven minutes! Mumble mumble, bullets!”

I’ve been home on my mountain for four days now. Thoughts of Mama do not stop. She's hallucinating her ass off. I'm struggling not to call, because I can’t hear her and she can’t understand what a phone is for. Ah, Mama. Tangled veins and shared blood and holy patterns all flaunt my escape intents. My unconscious commitments chase me in circles as I deny them, all day long. None of these nursing homes I’ve spoken with on the phone want to take Mama because she’s on so many heavy-duty psych meds. This makes her a flight risk.
“She’s not!” I argue. “She weighs 91 pounds and can’t move her own wheelchair.  She’s totally docile; she’ll be good.” She just has to—you HAVE to, Mama! Again, I am fiercely committed to something impossible for me to control.

Time to tour the actual nursing homes with my pal, Jan. We walk, side by side, and she holds my hand, passing through long corridors of other people's destinies. The smells there. The ubiquitous, caged birds in each nursing home lobby. Who's idea of comfort are the tiny, bright and beautiful caged birds? Who's idea of a good ending to a long life is this inevitable shit at the end; so many of these people trying to die and not being allowed? Life. It's like this awesome gift we receive that turns ugly and terrifying over time in our wrinkled, spotted hands. It's like the smell of pee overwhelms the smell of springtime. I think sixty-six, this is my perfect exit age. I think, take me before it gets so lonely, so broken, so desperate, scary and stubborn—hanging onto a cage that shrinks while you’re at the mercy of aches and unending anxiety. The tiny birds flit and crash softly into the glass.

Death waits for his assistant, old age, who’s coming. At every party, all my aging  friends seem to speak of is diagnoses, medication, surgery, complications, dying parents. On the classic rock station, all the commercials are for vaginal rejuvenation, viagra and botox. Oh, I am preparing to be done with preparing to be done. I don’t want a plan to meet old age. I want a better plan. I take myself by the hand, slightly spotted, but still pretty, and turn from that moving walkway. I will be in charge of it, by my own peaceful hand. 66 years is so much! My life’s been so long, so full of adventure and transformation compared to my Mama’s 94 years. And when I die, bury me naked, standing up, with a banyon tree planted on my head. And set all the caged birds free.

When I get back home there’s a phone message from her aide agency.
“We had to take your Mom to the hospital.”
The world teeters. The stranger’s voice says something about dehydration. i know that’s the least of it, but still, I feel like at least she is safe.

Mama's in the hospital, and when I finally get through after 12 minutes of listening to the ubiquitous recorded message about how much they care and how great the quality of their care is for my loved ones, I reach her, and she’s utterly freaked out—
“Where are you? Where's Daddy? Where am I? Who's phone is this?!”

I just spoke to Daddy, alone in the house. He says “Soon as Mom's out of the hospital, we're coming to Colorado.”
Bless him. He remembers. At home, I try to stay busy, to stay helpful. I call the airline while she is tied to the bed, tearing through another unmapped and unmappable day. I am so full, I cannot move fast for the sloshing. So, carry water. Pour water. Moon baying full at the window, clouds pass over her face to remind me of change-making, all things freshened continually promises the river. Tomorrow I go to Florida at midnight.

She sits in a wheelchair looking like she's had a stroke, all droopy shoulders, mouth and eyes. She's talking to her therapist when I burst through her door.
I hear her say, “I'm a strong individual. I just keep telling myself that.”
That’s a more coherent sentence than  I’ve heard from her in awhile. Maybe it’s going to be ok. The rabbi from hospice comes and tells me in the hallway, that she’s dying. The hospital diagnosis is Terminal Alzheimers. I can get her on hospice at last with this diagnosis. I get her discharged to my care.

She comes home in an ambulance.
When we are all together again, she says to us, “Oh honey, you missed it! I was in a parade! Everybody was watching and cheering from their balconies as i passed by, and I was spinning around inside the red flashing lights!”
And then the illumination in her eyes dies, and that’s the last thing she is able to say for a long time.

Watching Daddy deal with her not putting him in the center is something. Welcome, Copernicus. And I too, so used to her attention, feel so scared when she gazes, slit eyed, past me.
Shelley greets her at the door: “Hi, Lil! Hi Sweetheart! How are you feeling?”

She won't look at him. I roll her out to the hot porch to do what she loves so much— watch the storm coming in warm and soft and wild. She wants out of the draft. Pulling at tissues and the neckline of her housecoat has become way more interesting to her than focusing on us. She is retreating to what’s inside. Way more interesting than us.
She finally looks up and says, “Do you ever get the feeling that everyone is looking at you?”
She's still funny. She shakes my hand and says “Sholom Aleichem.”
I go to unpack my suitcase. Again.

Maybe all her relentless plucking is her unconscious way of removing a lifetime here, physically tugging it off her body, and pre-paring. I sit in the storm on the catwalk, smoking and watching Ivenny cook in the kitchen. Watching Mama in front of the mirror. The wheelchair has become a part of her profile now.

Love: we claim each other. We are here for each other. We belong to each other. That's the deal, I tell them both. I remember love. It’s in my body now, memorized forever.
Love is my mama's softness, and me growing patient enough to tolerate her putting on 4 pairs of panties, hallucinating for 3 nights in a row.
Love is my Dad and I talking, and him showing up so beautifully, asking out of the dementeted blue: "When are we going to Colorado? I can't wait!"
Love is remembering what a great pal he was to me, how sweet our connection was when we were best pals, when i was a tomboy and he was an athlete and we loved each other simply.
Love is the beach on a sunday, when I finally get away to stand, hip to shoulder with a crowd of strangers in water up to our ears and be bounced as a crowd, as one, by the tide. Love is banyon trees and ficus trees and grapefruit trees in a crazy feral golf course, netted with jeweled dragonflies.

Daddy’s’s in his tv chair when I wheel her into the den. After trying and failing to get her to smile, or to look at him, he whispers to me, “Do you think she even knows who we are?”
He thanks me profusely each time he sees me, and this morning as I climb into bed with them he whispers, his voice bottled in a strange anxiety “Not today, right?”
I don't know what he's asking. If she's going to die? If we're going to move to Colorado, but I just say, “No Papi. Not today.”
“Thank you, honey. It's been a wonderful visit.”
“I just got here, Daddy.”

On the other side of this bed, she trembles mightily for a moment. Papi has started pooping his pants and the bed. Mama turns over for another flake, another slice of sleep. This morning, the hospice chaplain called, the social worker too. They delivered diapers, and Sandi reserved a car. She comes in late tonight to support me. Here comes the wheelchair and hospital bed.

Ivenny just quit. Holy shit. It's 5 pm and Friday. What will the agency do to fill her place? They say they don't know. Why? She won’t say. Just that she’s done. I’m eating Ivenny's Haitian cumin salmon. I sit alone. Daddy doesn't want food and went to bed. I’ve never seen this before in my lifetime—the man is an eating machine! Ivenny won't sit in the kitchen with me and won't let me sit in the dining room with her. It's very lonely in the Land of the lost Chezars. I cry with my back to her, eating the good salmon.

Mama is currently auditioning for a lead role in Awakenings. Yesterday brought a new aide, Mary Beth, and that magically changed everything. Mama walked into the kitchen with her walker after ten days in the wheelchair. She sat in her chair and after eating three tablespoons of boost yesterday, she ate a bagel and cheese and three cups of juice, tea, and then asked for peanut butter. She walked back to her room and then did it again for dinner.

“Wow—great job, sweet darling! How do you feel? Tell me something, Mama.”
She says, slowly, carefully, “It's a wonderful thing to open your eyes.”
She stares at MaryBeth, “They had me locked in the coffin, did YOU get in here with me?”

I am trying to just give love. Learning to relax in the dragon's mouth. Find peace inside the haunting bright blue flame of the dragon's lips, curl up to sleep tucked into the wicked jab of the dragon's teeth. Cos this is life on life's terms. Black and blue iv scars, shit-stinking carpet, Ivenny leaving us, all of it.

Been here one week now. I wake, heart pounding this morning to a doubt that Grand Canyons my soul. She's not going to make it. She's on one of those manic downward tears. She's not slept in three days and now she will sink down and sleep for two or three in a row. How can I leave now? How scared is Daddy, and what to do with him?

My cousin tells me, “Listen, don't let her die next to him.”
And I think but they’ve both been dying next to each other for 25 years. But I need to talk to him. I need to help him through, if I can. I’ve swallowed an Ativan already by 7:30 am.

End stage dementia means I can hold your soft grey head against my face and you don't know I'm here. Means you tug and pluck incessant and slit eyed at fluffy nothings and meaning recedes with speaking and orientation and walking till there are just these small motions signifying everything that was ever you. The moans, the rocking, the brave struggles to rise.
Norma says on the phone: “She's traveling across the veils and that's her journey. It's not your journey. And we get crazy when we can't tell the difference. She's doing exactly what she needs to do. Go home.”

Go home.

This is my last night here. I go sit with Mama, who is slack-eyed and vacant. Daddy, as always, sleeps softly. I tell her I love her. I cry, quietly. I go off. Come back in a few minutes to stand in the dim doorway and wave to him across the darkened room—tentative—not sure if he’s up or will see me. But he waves back. I go over to him.

“How you doing, Daddy?”
“I'm alright.”
“We're all going to go to Colorado soon.”
He smiles a little. “I love you, sweetheart. God bless you.”
“I love you too, Daddy.” So hard.
“Not without pain” says Sandi when i collapse  next to her in the other bedroom to weep.

Grief is private property. It's a gated community. This grief is particular to me alone. No one asks or wants to know, really. I see it in my friends' eyes. I am trying to de-construct my reactive brain. Feeling the tiny silver fuses popping in my throat and chest, the rev of fear in my belly; I’m slowing down, breath first, to keep from leaping into reaction. Facing the uncontainability of the unknowable. Facing the tsunami of that and living to describe it only to the page, and so, to myself.

I do this one easy thing once home. I water the plants. I do the next. Fill the jugs from the big purple barrel as clouds mass in the sky. Carry water into the house. Thunder coming now. Rain will fill the barrels and the cycle of life without plumbing will be restored. Weather revives us, like the moon. Restoration—what is left? I am so full of all our lives, I cannot move fast for the sloshing. So, carry water.

    Exit, Stage Left

Went to 2 support groups today in Boulder—for Alzheimers' ,and for Caregivers. By the time this is over, I will have both their social security numbers memorized, as well as phone numbers of doctors, neighbors, insurance agencies, lawyers, & elder care agencies. Also, all the data of their mortgage, Medicaid, insurance policies (Medicare, Part B Part D), their banking practices, his retirement pension, their medicine dosages, their vital signs and my own blood pressure, as well as relevant instructions for faxing, scanning, and documenting every piece of perilous paper ever signed with the name, Chezar.

Here is life, levitating between a rock and a hard place. Here am I, head down to the winds, feet pointing steadily downstream. “Please”, I beg Manor Care, “just Take Them!” 
And at last they say yes, they say Come. I leave day after tomorrow on the red eye bound for Florida for the last time. The crank begins to turn for real on the impossible-seeming plan, to stay four days, and bring them back with me on Friday. The Great Chezar Westward Migration begins now. The lists, the organizing, the outrageously tough work of the past year and a half paying off. This the cherry on top of my hip replacement and the flood. 

Here we are. Mama and I are lying in bed, snuggling, and I tell her that my cousin and her husband are coming tomorrow. I don’t say that they’re coming to distract Mama and Daddy so I can empty out their drawers, their closets, and somehow pack stuff up. This is a big secret plot, like the asteroid, but more grounded. She’s so excited to have company, says we can bring food in.
I tell her I’ll go get Entenmanns.
Her eyes flash open "There's still Entenmanns?!"
I have to get up and write this down.

There’s so much stuff! I’m running all evening to cram the contents of closets, drawers and bedrooms into the tiny incinerator, into the darkness i race back and forth as fast as I can. Being stealthy, in the deeps of night while they sleep. Trucks-full of their lives—shoved in there, ruthlessly tossed to be burnt up garbage. Overwhelmed, imagining all the energy, the money and desire that they’ve spent collecting an identity, making life beautiful, only to have it all culminate in some overwhelmed only child burning it all down. Gotta fight off another panic attack.

Tonight, Hilda down the catwalk, with her walker and colostomy bag says to me “Your dad musta been a real player.” In her heavy Brooklyn accent. And I think oh yeah, at 92 years of age, he’s still hitting on women. The cross my mama has borne which made her so crazy, over something so elemental that is Shelly. Instead of making peace with it, or leaving him, she took a big hammer to the circuit board of her fine mind and smashed and fused and sparked the circuits towards this one response— jealousy. Fear. The reactive brain. Control. Suffering. Oh, teach me these lessons, the wanting to suffer, the stress and the worry as evidence, as a a cryptic imitative form of Great Love, when truly, suffering is optional. And here is one more great message of This Time.

One last really long fucking day of packing and getting and bringing and dumping and dealing and driving. Then more wild dumping extravaganzas—between diamonds and gold and garbage and raging, and looking for all the cash she has lost in this place over the years. The aides have reported over and over that she goes to the bank with them, withdraws a bunch of cash, and then the next day, it’s gone. But i never find any of it. Bet she flushed it.

I will be haunted for years by the tons of material world objects, taken by gravity’s shoot and loudly crashing down the steep sides of a dirty incinerator to be gone. Somewhere. I’m hypnotized by my tasks, in a trance, then shaken to a halt by photos—all familiar as stories that I swallowed, as pills that I swallowed, and who are all these sepia faces? Russian Jews, dead strangers, ancestors who’s names i don’t know. And exotic trips taken, and my more—my face in so many iterations, familiar cousins, and so many dogs—I throw them all into suitcase, take every single one, and albums of cards and love letters. I throw away so much, but not these.

Mama lying there, fuming “What are you planning to do with us?” Daddy, yesterday inviting the cousins to come to Colorado to visit, still the big-shot, bless him, saying he had a furnished room for them. I imagine Manor Care, imagine what it will be like to have them inhabit that particular tiny cage. I think that it's up to Daddy. Mama will place herself as she does, totally at the mercy of his actions. Oh sunset sky, fill me with love and flow, ease to fade, one cloud at a time. We're almost there.

In the Sky
Here we are. Holding onto a tired twined rope, hanks fraying as we go, winged before death, holding our breath. Holding hands and hankies. Chugging through varied, random schlepping, a crazy rush-job as we say in my tribe. Tribe of three. Ativan all around. I have  Haldol too, and doctors’ instructions from three doctors, for her psych meds.

We checked in under a spell of so much grace from every person we had to come into contact with. I have a card that reads— The person I’m traveling with has Alzheimers. Please be kind. They were all lovely, all these strangers. Everyone’s got a demented beloved it seems. My head a buzz of last nights’ sleeping pills, Ativan, gin, and Ativan. Atta-girl! Falling through and rising on tiers of blue. We’re on an airplane! This is truly fucking happening!

Me in the middle seat, Mama at my right hand in a babushka, and both of them in their softest blankies. Bald and deaf and age-spotted, in diapers and wheelchair-bound, Colorado-bound—The Dream. And Sabrina on the other end, circling Arrivals in her car with water, Gatorade, fresh love. Paul’s in his car too, waiting to grab luggage—there is so much fucking luggage! Paul will take Papi to the toilet and be the cabana boy. I feel lighter than I have for months, but I know in a segmented somewhere how hard this next piece will be. Piece and then piece and then peace, a quilt of next nows building.

I tell each other them, separately, that we’re doing this for the other one.
Telling Papi, “Sure— we’re going to my house. You can stay as long as you want. We need to get rehab for Mama”.
To my mother I say, “Daddy’s P.T. sent us here so he can get stronger and get back on his feet.”
Oh god, I wish these lies were true.

After sleeping through much of our morning trip to Ft. Lauderdale, all of TSA and boarding processes— now, as the four hour trip begins, and after a dropper of Haldol each, they’re wide awake. He reads a magazine and she runs her fingers over the soft blankie on her lap. Suddenly, she has to go to the bathroom. She’s wearing 2 diapers, but she insists, loudly. I somehow get her down the rows—practically carrying her—and we can’t close the door because she won’t sit down on the seat, and I have to hold her around the waiste as she hovers over it, and she can’t pee. I pull up the diapers. We trudge back. She’s curious, alert. We have two hours left.

The next piece is coming—getting them to Manor Care and then leaving them. How will I ever just leave them there? And it’s all happening, but too fast. Rescue Remedy, heavy thrum, motion  mattering more than anything has mattered as we zoom west into the next now. I am recalling heavy stones, placed by backhoes, one at a time to hold up the ruined roadbed through my destroyed canyon after the flood. Stone by heavy stone, the ease and flow of the river below. One step at a time. I am becoming a solid wall of stones. I splash as river, easily meadering below, free at last on a fucking airplane. For now.

My nervous system is carbonated. My nerves clicking husks vibrating like cicadas. My belly lurches all day in tune with tasks and ringing phones. They said it would be hard. By now I’ve left the tip of the iceberg and am heading into for-real iceberg territory. I’m surfing the cold density of iceberg, I climb down the sides of the iceberg, hand over hand under heavy dark waters, kicking for some sunny shore, weights tied round my feet. My heart.


Boulder Nursing Home                                                

Well, here we are, the three of us together, finally. Unpacked, upended, rear-ended, sacked out, acting out, outrageously confused, fused to loving me, gravity-defying final act of the Land of the Lost Chezars, Boulder Edition.

Nursing homes. Sad places, surprise studded, freedom denying, death defying, impossible dreams and where they come to lie down on the seeded cage floor of gorgeous & exotic tiny birds who symbolize nothing better than wired marvels but soothe nevertheless. My father, open mouthed before them.  My father, who at 8 pm demanded the car keys, cash and to go gamble. My father, the least of my worries, insisting he has a car and a game set up, the fellas are waiting for him.  

"Whaddaya talking about? Of course i have a car!"

Supper freaked him out, surrounded by old people in wheelchairs, just like him, he hated it. He's never been good with sick or suffering ones, and he started in on my mama, "Come on, Lil, let's go." She was lying down, exhausted after the plane ride that i don't even remember, the details mushed with the packing and the cleaning and the immensity of the act of moving them.Me on Ativan. Attagirl! Get through. Only this.

"Come on, Lil!"
"Daddy, where are you going?"
"We're going home. Come on, Lil!"

The aid is trying to distract my dad, to calm him down and to protect her.

But, by now she is struggling into her shoes, struggling to focus her eyes.

"No dad, home is 2,000 miles away. We flew here on an airplane for 4 hours. Remember?"
"Whaddaya talkin' about? Where's my car?"
"You don't have a car anymore, Daddy."
"Whaddaya talkin' about?!"

And on it went  on and on, Mama sitting up, lying down, till the nurses separated them. Took him to another room and parked him there.

“Lie down with me, Baby. Let’s cuddle.” Says Mama.
She went right to sleep. I held her. Hours passed. I wandered outside, smoked a bowl while she slept the long trip off.    

Manor Care is a big circle, lots of open doors to rooms like hospital rooms,  the iv's, gloves and masks, the machines beeping. Nurses and aides. Folks sleep in hallways in their wheelchairs. Herds of dozing oxygen tanks. I was looking for my father, spying round corners, not wanting him to see me.

He was a hard-core wild man. I figured if he grabbed a wheelchair, he could run with it. When i finally found him, he was watching a black and white Jerry Lewis movie on a big screen all alone in a big darkened room. I went to him.
"Where's your mother?"
"She's resting daddy"
"Did she go home?"
"No, she's down that hall." i pointed.

"Oh...I thought she went home.” Dreamily, he says, “I thought I would go to New York to look for her. Go to the places where we used to hang out."
"Daddy, that was 50 years ago!"

"Yeah, it wouldda taken some time, but I'd have found her."
“You love her so much.”
“I sure do!”
"This is a pretty nice place, Daddy"
"Yeah it is." He looked around.
"We’re finally in Colorado, Daddy. I live right across that street and up the hill",  pointing vaguely again, lying a little about the distances.
"You do?"
"Yeah, and I'll come see you every day, Daddy.  I want you to be close to me.  I love you. Do you think you could stay here with mama and me?"
"Well.  I think I can try.  I'll try."
"O.K.  Come on; let’s go see Ma."

I told him she was sleeping and he needed to let her sleep. I wheeled him into her room. Her bed was lowered as close to the floor as possible, and there was a mat next it for if she rolled off, cos nursing homes consider bedrails "restraints", and won’t use them. They had had bed-rails for many years in their home, and this refusal would turn out to be a big problem.

He leaned over and looked at her dead asleep and said,"She’s not sleeping"
"Daddy, she's sleeping."
"That’s not sleeping. Hey, Lil!"
He lunged towards the bed, tripped on the mat and fell right on top of her.
"Oh sweetheart!  Oh, Baby!  I missed you so much!"
She's pinned under him and squirming.
"I really missed you!  Did you miss me?"
"Not really."

He lies down next to her clutching her, grabby and graceless, and she shrugs and lets him. The young aides fill the room, swooning at this dramatic display of love, as he kisses her fingers and tells her how beautiful she is. How he loves her and he missed her. They sigh and hold each other. The aides think this is so Romantic!

"How long were we apart for, Lil? It felt like weeks.  Has it been weeks? LIL?"
And she pulls herself slowly back to consciousness, tells him groggily that she was going to find the phone numbers of the wives of the guys he plays cards with and track him down like that.
"So.... didja win some money?"
Omigod she thinks he was playing cards!

Next day, both of them were confused and grumpy. When i left i asked her if i could bring her anything when i come back tomorrow.
"But you won't." she said.
"Sure i will, Mama, what do you want?"
Her eyes sunk into mine,
"A little poison."

Scorpio Full Moon

Chevra Kadisha is a beautiful Hebrew word. In English, it’s The Holy Jewish Burial Society. The volunteers who perform the final rites for a religious Jew— the ritual washing and dressing of their body while reciting the ancient prayers and verses from the Song of Songs. These strangers come, and they sit with the dead, with The Body. They’ll sit with you, Lil, from the time of your death till the time of your burial in the earth. Your casket won’t have any nails, they tell me, because metal is a weapon of war and war has no place here.

Full moon in Scorpio. Yesterday, Reb Patrice, a lovely rabbi-stranger stood over Lil and I held her hand and Shelly lay there, willing himself to sleep, and she said the prayers for the dying, Jewish last rites, and I’m becoming Jewish at last in this, and Lil stirred a bit from her struggles between the gateway before her, and whatever is keeping her here—gravity, entropy, fate— clenching and mumbling and wringing her hands.

I found out 2 days ago that I can bury a body on my land, if I have more than 2 acres in Boulder County. I wouldn’t have to lose her forever to be planted next to her father-monster in that terrible giant industrial cemetery in Queens where 5 million Jews are buried in less than 10 acres. Unimaginable.
I went to the mortuary, where a sweet man in a suit filled me in on the many details of the process of burial. What the hell do I know about burying a coffin in the earth? He had heard that it was possible for a body to be buried on private land—it has to be more than 2 acres—but he’d never participated in such an act.

" So, um, how do you plan on lowering the casket?" he began.
“Uuh, I dunno..”  
“Yeah…O.K., Well, how you going to fill in the hole?”
“Uuh, not sure…”
“Do you want a concrete cap or were you just planning to mound it?”
I had not considered any of these details.

Mike is a patient man, and kind. Turns out 6 strong folks with heavy-duty ropes, 3 on either side is traditional, but you’ve got to be careful to lower the ropes together so the coffin doesn’t tip, or we can have a lowering device.

Turns out you can cap the top of the mounded grave off with concrete to prevent it from sinking, or you can just mound it in earth and just see what happens. I like that idea—a mound—ancient, humble, submitting to Nature’s ways. Burying concrete in the ground is an awful thing. Bad enough to sink my Mama into the cold winter earth, alone.

He told me more about the Chevra Kadisha, mostly how they rip out the insides of his beautiful and expensive satin-lined coffins.  

Then back to the home and a visit from Sandi, and Lydia—the-golden-doodle who lay with Shelly in bed, his hand on her paw and her head on his hand, both of them conked out like little kids at a party, too full of sweetness to face the finality of it All. Mama slept, restlessly next to him. When i was alone again with them, I had just enough time to catch the hospice's magically-timed training about Jewish burials—and I learned a lot more about the mourner's path. It was all volunteers and social workers and me.

Dying is the background noise. I stand in the silence of it. I can barely handle being away from her now, it’s like a pressure pinching on me. I couldn’t sit there for long, apart from her still-living body, listening to a lecture about her dead-future-body, and I left from the front row in the middle of everything, mumbling an excuse, headed for the nursing home, but then it was just too hard to stay in their tiny room, ‘cos she was so restless, and so tormented, clutching her nightgown to her breasts and mumbling, 'Papa! No'.  

Her father had incested us both. She’d forgotten, even after I told her at 6 about my own abuse. She remembered hers’ at 76, deep in therapy.
“Papa, no!”

Later, their deaths would hit me in waves.  Not a flood, but water lapping steadily round my ankles. Mama, so frightened of swimming told me my whole childhood—“You can drown in a thimble-full of water.” Maybe grief was like that.

I had to leave when they started to turn her and prop her — it felt so disrespectful, like they are trying to comfort the family by keeping her skin from breaking down—for me, for themselves, and not for her who just wants to lie on her back in deathless torment, just waiting for it to come and save what’s left of her mind. They put her in hot plastic booties to protect her heels, and I took them off and then i split.

I left and came home under the Scorpio full moon, sobbing, wailing, the road a blur, my very spirit feeling stomped, burnt, all rumpled and torn. Screaming out exhale after exhale as loud as I could helped clear my head of the images, and the car rocketed through the darkness, tragedy reflected in the ruined canyon, stones vibrating to my voice, engine shuddering with my heart, an arrow, lost and shuttling through the cold, lonely night.

You're supposed to close the eyes and cover the faces of the dead because it's disrespectful to look at someone who can't look back at you. Mama can't look back at me now. People say she can hear me, but, I'm not sure about that. She is so lost in her final big bummer, she is so consumed, as she always has been, with her own suffering.

It’s a cliché that I’ll miss her, I’ve lost so much of her already, yet it’s true. I’ve lost the shining best of her—her sense of humor, her ability to chat daily on the phone—her capacity to talk to me at all—to recognize me, to love me, to hold me, to want my body pressed against hers'—our so-similar bodies, the shape of our skulls, the roof of our mouths....The last words she said to me as I tried to lay with her on the narrow bed in the nursing home: "Get out of my kitchen!"  
She’s so gone from me now, my heart stretched and broken with the distance as I try to release her and hold her at the same time. The greatest respite I have now is knowing that she’ll be buried, snug and safe in the dark earth of Laughing Bird, right up the mountain from my front door, overseeing all this beauty, witnessing me everyday, in all weather, living my life here.

At the Chevra Kadisha presentation they said that sitting shiva is all about structuring time, which is so unstructured in the experience of The Great Grief.

I had a backhoe dig my Mama's grave this morning. Now I’m here where she lays dying. Papi, less than 2 feet away, wrapped in his own silence, in memories, dreams, whatever holds him now, all the curiosity focused in the many framed photos of us there on walls, leaning in to see. This too-small room is The Land of the Lost Chezars’ history museum.

I return, in breathless despair, to my most recent memories of her, which are the most terrible ones of our shared lives. I’ve found a woman who will perform a ritual a release for her, Sandy—a healer who’s a shamanic Jew. Mama moaned and roiled and thrashed gently, like water in a tank—
"Papa. Papa!"
Sometimes she screamed, and her voice was becoming so ragged, so exhausted yet insistent, as she couldn’t be in life. Her anguish splashing all over me, wetting my cold feet. And I’m so triggered—this is so hard!

We prayed together, holding hands, Sandy and I, for a letting go of this suffering, for a disconnection from him forever, for a resolution that was good.  I prayed to be a strong, giant wind that would blow his soul into outer space. I prayed that he be totally gone from our black and blue bruised memories forever so we could both have peace.

When i can feel this, it will be fucking outrageous.

Now i am back here, sitting on the floor, spinning inside her suffering arena. Papi lies sleeping or pretending to right next to us.  Still she is internally thrashing, moaning "Papa, no! Papa, no!"  I’m huddled close to her, saying loud in her good ear, pressing on her attention, desperate to redirect, to save her again, at last—
"Just walk away from him Mama. You don't have to stay. He’s gone; he’s gone. I'm right behind you, let’s leave this room, forever."
I say, "You don’t have to suffer like this. Let’s just walk away.”
She starts to quiet. Just a low moaning.
"I’ll be with you. I’m going to take you home with me. You don't have to do anything. Just let go. Let it go".
She resumes moaning and thrashing.

It feels wrong to interrupt her process—maybe she needs to have this experience. Though why, I can’t imagine. Some mystical re-knitting; some warped version of release. Maybe she isn't suffering, maybe that's a story.  Maybe this isn't hard for her, maybe it just appears that way to me, through my filters of this event, this living that I’m sharing with her in the moments of her dying. 

I remember the 12th benediction of the Amidah, the central prayer of my childhood temple worship services—“May all evil be destroyed in an instant.” 
Walk with me Mama, please, hand in hand through this nightmare, like leaving a burning building from the top-most floor as fire consumes the walls. Plank after plank across the green room towards the closening stage door, the deep consciousness of winter taking us piece by piece.

I turn to Daddy. “How you doin’, Daddy?”
He always says he’s fine, but tonight he says he is not o.k. But he won't say more. 
"Daddy”, I tell him, “ Mama's really having bad dreams, about her father".
He closes his eyes.
Says "Go to sleep, sweetheart." Says,"God bless you. "

Once home, I realized that i have this story that if she is not at peace when she dies, her spirit will haunt me and everything in my life will be in danger of being slimed with the dark and dangerous vibes of my childhood..I’ve worked so hard to clear the toic memories, but Mama’s dragging the loaded sack of my grandfather's evil energy with her like a comet tail. Maybe when i bring her here, maybe he’ll follow right behind us and the two of them will continue this cosmic struggle right up the hill from me, forever. the thought sets off a fresh panic attack.
I sing a chant, over and over again, and I pray it like incense over her body—May all evil be destroyed in an instant.  

There, up there in the freezing rain of November, is her grave. Empty. Waiting. A big storm is coming tomorrow. Is this crazy? It’s going to snow all fucking week. And we need to bury her with shovels. Where will all these people and these shovels come from? I haven’t put out the call yet to my friends. Four feet by eight feet by six feet deep is a lot of dirt, but the backhoe dug out even more.

The petrifying story along with the enormity of what i’m about to do chase each other round and round inside me. He’s here, he’coming....he’s coming up.What the fuck am I doing? Nobody in my family’s ever done anything like this. I’ve never heard of anyone burying a body on their land. It's a dark,moonlessnight and very late and I'm so fried in my physical and my emotional body—I’ve just got to get home and rest. So torn between wanting to stay with her and getting the rest I’ll need for this next laborious doing.

Sunday the 10th of November  
Well, she almost made it through the weekend.  But, at last I know she would never haunt me, never bring him here to hurt me. I am her very favorite human and she will be delighted to be close to me. And maybe she fought him off so hard to shove him out of both our lives, forever. This was an epic battle. Oh, Mama! She is peaceful at last.  

Sandy did two sessions to release her, sent me out of the room yesterday, and when I returned, my belly twisted into knots of the final rope, the spell had worked!  She lay there, stilled, so relaxed and peaceful. Her fists unclenched, her lips closed over the terrible sight of her bared teeth. Her brow smooth, her heart calm as last. Comfort floods me in the face of the holy finality.  

Last embrace, Boulder, Nov. 10, 2014


The day that she died, I told him three times that she was dead. Each time I sobbed, even as I tried to hold it all back. Each time, he was utterly shocked and so terribly sad. It took a long time, but finally it all just went away. Dissolved into something like a softening demented acceptance.

Mama died at 7 am. The phone rang from Hospice. Joy drove and we rushed down the canyon through the thickening storm to the nursing home. I knew of course that she was going to die; I wasn't rushing for her—I was rushing to get to him.

We got there, and as we hurried towards their room, I passed the dining room, glanced in, and there was Shelly. I went in and knelt on the carpet beside him.
"Hi Sweetheart!"
“Hey Daddy, how are you?”
“I’m great, darling. Sit down, wanna eat?”
“Uhhhhh.........I'm just gonna go see  Mama. I'll be right back.”

I raced down the hall to their room. There she was in her narrow bed, dead. Holding the flower, the final hospice gesture, clasped in her thin, still hands. Her face is smooth, the hair brushed back.I sit with her awhile then go get Daddy.
“I need to talk to you.”
I wheeled him to her bedside. He didn’t look down, looked instead to me.
“What is it, Sweetheart?”
“Mama's died.”
What?! She died??” His face contorted with the shock of it all. She, who'd been dying next to him for more than a year now.
“Oh, my god! How terrible! Oh my God—I didn't know she was sick!”

Then he was wiped out and had to lie down. I helped him, both of us weeping, from the chair to the bed, and went to kneel by her side. There's this me-sized gap between their beds, where the home had forced them apart, over my still-live-but-in-full-protest body to separate them, and I was down there apologizing to Mama, and forgiving her—it's a Jewish thing, I read about it— and he woke up.

“What are you doing?”
“I'm asking Mama for forgiveness.”
“Because she died. It’s a Jewish thing.”
“She DIED???? Oh my God, she DIED? How? What? What did she die of?” He cries hard, he shakes and roars like a sea lion, and then he whispers in a frail voice, “I just gotta lay down. Oh, oh I'm so tired.”

Then the guy from the mortuary, who would lose her body soon for an hour or so, shows up to take her. And I wake him again, braced for it this time.'
“Daddy, do you wanna say goodbye to Ma?”
“Why, where's she going? Wait, I'll go too.” He starts to move towards the edge of the bed, bends for his shoe.
“She's going to the mortuary.”
“What?!  Why? Who died?”

And so, I said I will never fucking do this again, hurt this sweet man and make him cry, for nothing. What is even real? If i tell him and he forgets, does he KNOW? If he loves her and she loves him and they lose each other through some white lie in the end, are they ever reunited?  How is it that this shit works? If they lose each other having forgotten each other, is that the last goodbye?

And, does any of this even matter? To be alone, in the end—I have felt so alone in this life. And now, I have nothing but space. I am nothing but space. What I want is to tell him, to have company in this loss of our shared great beloved. But he never asked again. They moved him into her bed and moved a stranger into his bed, and still nothing. The photos of the three of us on the wall beyond the foot of his bed confront him all day and night long. Nothing.

A month goes by, where I see him everyday. Loads of time spent together. Nothing.
And then the other day, a terrible day I'd spent crying to strangers far away on the phone—repeating over and over again, “My mother died. My mother died”

To her creditors, the collection agencies, to the bank and doctors’ offices and hospitals, and then photocopying and faxing and mailing her death certificate, over and over again, each motion wearing me thinner. That day I woke him up, I always have to wake  him now, he sleeps constantly, and he said, “Where's Mom?”
“She's not here, Daddy. Do you want to put your shoes on or do you want me to put them on for you?”
And that was that.
For now.
If he knew, maybe it would be ok for him to die. If he knew, he would be grieving along with me. If he knew, I would feel less crazy and alone. If I tell him, it would be a very selfish thing to do.

One morning, I took him out in his wheelchair to a pretty spot overlooking the Flat Irons, and I tried to have The Talk.
“Daddy, what do you think about Mama?”
“Oh, she's so tired. She just needs to rest. But honey, she's getting better.”

I've told this story so much, and the other, earlier one, about how he was when they were separated that first night at the nursing home. In the repetition of these memories, in turning them into performance pieces I feel safely distanced from the terrible narrative playing on a loop in my actual heart.  

It is all in the air. All in the air. My heart summersaulting, then crashing like a kite in the air.
Yesterday i woke him up, and he smiled
“Hi Sweetheart!. Oh, boy, I have such a story to tell you.  It's a really big story! You're gonna love it!”
“Tell me now, Daddy.”
“Nope, i can't tell you yet cos its not finished yet. But i will tell you. And you'll love it!” He was so excited.
“Oh daddy, tell me, i can't wait.  Does it have a happy ending?”
“Oh, yes, very happy darling.  I'll tell you tomorrow.”

Later that day i asked him to tell me the story.
“What story?”
Of course he didn't remember. I wanted to squeeze him when he first told me, like a tube of toothpaste, and see what's in there. What is in there?

5  weeks later —
I’ve been sunk in grief for a long time now. Their anniversary passed with no acknowledgement between he and I, and 65 years swirl, peak and dip like that kite sailing over the topo map of their lives, wanting celebration. Last night I joined him in the dining room. He is so lovely, so awakened in my presence, funny and laughing with his full mouth, eating ice cream and ham together in a quiet, joyful and un-kosher enthusiasm. He keeps thanking me for coming to visit them. His gratitude is beautiful.  He has become pure love.

He says, out of the blue— “Mom's been gone a long time, huh?”
I say “Yeah”, so grateful that I don’t have to tell him again.
“How long?”
“A month and a half daddy.” I know to the minute how long she’s been gone.
“Nah. Jeez, it’s been much longer than that!”
“How long do you think?”
“Two or three years at least I think."
“Nope. Just a month and a half.”
“Where is she?”—He is so unbearably innocent and open. And he still doesn’t remember.
“She’s o.k. Daddy. And she loves you so much.”
And then I just stared softly into his eyes for a long time, his eyes that look so much like mine and I said
“She died, Daddy.”
And I brace for impact.

I’d only hesitated from the confession for one heartbeat. It’s like I’d ceased to be able to redirect or to lie—she’s in the shower, at her sisters’, getting her hair done—After the day of sorrow, I have no more strength for this game. Feeling the tears flood me, I still hold his gaze so he can see in our shared eyes how much I love him, how I just am there, right next to him. I take his hand, tears starting to fall down my cheeks.

“She did? Did i know?”
“Yes. But you forgot.”
“How could i forget that?”
“I dunno, Daddy.  It's hard to remember things when you get older. And maybe it’s easier to forget than remember.”
“But how did i forget That? Were you with her?”
“Yes, and you were with her too.”
“Did she die in Florida?”
“Nope.  She died right here, with us.”
“Did she suffer?”
“Just a little. But she'd been dying for a few years, Daddy."
“Oh, how sad. How did i forget?”
And then he blows my mind—“You were trying to protect me”, he says.
And we both cry together in each others’ arms, there in the residents’ dining room surrounded by now-familiar strangers.

“You know where she's buried, daddy?”
“Jeez, I didn’t even know she was dead. Where’s she buried, honey?”
“On my land. 40 steps from my front door.” I point vaguely west.
“What? A person can do that? That's unbelievable!”
“I know daddy. When you get stronger and the weathers good, I'll take you up to see her.”
He thinks for awhile. Smiles sadly at me.  

“Where did you think she was at for 2 or 3 years, Daddy?”
“I don’t know. The hospital?”
“I’m so glad she wasn’t in the hospital. She was right here with us.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Did Lil and I have any other kids?”
Shit. That one takes me down hard.  
“I wish you had, Papi, but no. Just me. It's just us now, Papi.”
“You're my best friend”—he says, and I take him down the hall to see the pretty Christmas tree and the gorgeous birds he loves so much. He settles. Enjoys. I take him back to the room where Sam, the roommate is being cleaned up for bed. They greet each other, two demented old widowers, sharing a slice of space, together, at the end of time and the world. I help him take off his shoes, wipe his nose, tuck him in, kiss him goodnight. I’ve done this every night since they arrived, and these days he has my full attention.

Outside, snow and frigid cold take the world away. I feel held by a shared truth, a shared experience. The last one I’ll ever have in the unraveled rope of us, and maybe the only one I’ll need. I can just breathe in, breathe out, and rest in the happening of time and life. This experience of letting go and falling deeply into truth, wrapped up in simple and honest grief, and falling in love with my Papi. Deeper, stronger, purer, higher than anything else.

Enough time has passed that Mama feels a bit more dispersed.  She’s not as dense and hovering any longer.  She’s doing what spirits do. She is traveling.  She is spreading out into the universe of all her desires. She’s palpably flowing past and through me, and I feel a lifting, a liberation from the terrible burdens beginning at last. A space from grief that really does feel higher, purer, deeper, stronger. And life turns on its golden hinges again.

Two days later, in the dining room where he’s just introduced me to his new pals as ‘my son’, he asks me again, “Where's Mom?”
This time i am ready. “Remember, Daddy, Mama died, 2 months ago.”
And we have the same talk again, but he’s less sad this time, and maybe it is sinking in.

Later, at dinner, he asks me, “So, do i have any income?”
“Yes, Daddy, you have social security and VA pension, about $2100 a month.”
“Oh, that's good.”
“Yeah, it goes to paying for this place.  Do you need anything i can get for you?”
“No.”  He smiles. “So, i guess i'll live here for the rest of my life?”
“Is that o.k., Daddy?”
“Sure”, he says, affably.

And on we go, like a couple of demented slinkys down a slow, soft staircase.

Catskills, 1960

  Sitting Shiva
        Adonai Womyn’s Land

First Day of Shiva

Shiva, they tell me at the unbelievably-timed workshop at Mama's hospice entitled "Jewish death and burial", is a container for unstructurable time, timeless time. Just to sit here and feel it all. I have been numb and running and terrified and sleepless. I've been shaking for so long now, maybe I've shaken myself out to some distant edge that's almost like a boundary. The strands of the rope never had boundaries, this is new.

Now, I prepare to re-enter to touch in with center truths, and close distance like a fan. You, up here, so close! Mama, So Close! It’s like a miracle happened to us, at the last possible moment, a happy ending.

If she had died in Florida, or in New York, this time would be filled with other mourners, coming to pay their respects, to bring food and comfort, to join me in remembering her in shiva, this timeless time. But none of her friends or family here, nobody knew her here where I live, except joy and Sabrina, and the remarkable thing is that 50 of my friends came up yesterday, in a ten-degree snowstorm, to help me bury her. Dayenu, say the Jews—it was enough.

Centering her coffin over the excavated grave

                          8 strong hands lower Mama on ropes

Is she here with me, hitch-hiking a second chance at a life fully-lived? Is she sharing my own gateway through obstacles and into true freedom, holding on with her bones to this wild ride, my eyes her eyes? Is she beyond he solar system? Is she free of her father? Is she en route to join her own mother in Heaven? Has she somehow bumped into the energy to flow along her own vast spiral of oceanic possibility at last, spreading out her Pisces wishes like an octopus or a starfish?

Soverignty of the dead and powerlessness of the living. On what continuum shall we meet? Where is my mother? In the ground, literally of course, but i think she may be less dead now than she was for most of her self-denying life. If my mama’s life wasn’t a total life, a true fullness here, then maybe her death won’t be final. Mama, I’m feeling you, thinking you. Fragments of colored glass held up to the light like my signal of love, flashing towards you. To say what it was in the oval language of tears. What remains.

“OK!”  she would answer to everything I suggested, with a mischievious lilt to the first syllable, and a happy one-should shrug—”OK!” Just so thrilled to be asked and to be in my company. Was i ever worthy of such pure anticipation? On what continuum shall we meet again, Mama? Strong as its memory, love never ends. She once told me she’d read, of daughters and mothers, that all a daughter has to do is survive, and her mother lives through her. That the mothers’ triumph depends on this. Her great triumph is her daughter. For as long as I survive, she’ll survive inside of me. And, just maybe you’ve learned at last that suffering is optional. Maybe i have too.

6:47 a.m.  Day one, Shiva
I’ve somehow survived her passing with much of my sanity intact. Wake to icy air, emptied and feeling just this silver-air, opaque frozen energies ticking at the windowpanes. Smoke a bowl of homegrown called Alpha Blue, AB—I begin alphabetically for one final nod to structure before getting stoned and letting it all go.

One puff, and Mama rushes at the windowpanes. Spirit tentative and gaining joy in the graduated glory of this great release. Wanna throw all the windows wide open but it's minus- nine degrees out there.  Mama, out there, circling the house—Mama—imagine circling the whole, round green and blue Earth! Her Spirit like a fledgling, like a baby bird, cracking a fragile shell—so precious and so brave. Brave as she could never be in life. Go, Mama!  I will be your cheerleader.

Wind and snow in the above world. Even the initiated birds hold back inside frozen stillness. Hide from great blobs of snow on their black bough perches. Inside the earth, another world. A dark world lit with your light as you grow stronger, purer, freer, deeper. Deep comfort presses back against you inside the pale wooden box. Beneath the Star of David, your body glows, wrapped in a white linen shroud. Earth from Jerusalem protects you—eyes, throat, heart, breasts, belly, genitals. Such protection!

Your god is Adonai, the warrior. Image of the one male solitary god who crushed the Great Goddess, who gathered a tribe around him of chosen people. Adonai Eloheinu, the enemy magnet. He who hurls armies and thunderbolts, who made Zeus his bitch, the lightening-eyed god of the Hebrews protects her.

This one god, who I have hated since Zada, because in my six-year old, sexually-traumatized mind, that guy looked like him. And then I learned more about this guy—You took the ancient Goddess—called Inanna/Ashera/Astarte— as your enemy. She was the goddess of all life, and you of death. Of death. You, fucker!—You protect her. You, who have no lineage behind you—no sisters, no wife, no daughters, no softness in your huge, furious, booming, righteous damn heart—You are here now, on my home turf, and I have your attention. Your symbolic son, Joseph Daly, banished, thank god.  Thank you Adonai, I guess. And so, you can stay. Dwell for awhile here with her on womyn's land. You be kind to my Goddess, man.

In my stoned early morning fantasy, They meet again, on the mountainside, on Womyn's Land, and the flow of their combined energy is love, pure love. Some sort of Sacred Marriage myth, resurrected just outside my window. A vision that overwhelms me with its divine and heathen beauty. This love between god and goddess, the son and the mother, such an ancient love, driver of myth, re-awakened to re-fresh my vision, so clouded by the lies of  greedy, insensate men who wrote the accounts. Over-writing, palimpsest. Burying the Goddess, yet still, that one mythic shot at unifying us all continues, unspoken but in fairy tales and the looming but invisible promise of every marriage. A healing of the brutal separateness that’s plagued us throughout patriarchy. A beautiful chess move, jumping over the whole board of bullshit to land on one happy ending. Queen me! All hope of The Sacred Marriage—symbol of reconciliation and wholeness gone from our world for 5,000 crumbling years. All but for this.  

Here, the two can meet again, Now, in the time of Shiva, the timeless time. He came from Her, and desert-dry men wrote the script to make him kill her and ruin the very earth in the name of delusional patriarchy, fear of the body, the finality of death, and their own projected paranoia of Nature’s power and beauty. But this morning, splashing up from some deep underground spring of human evolutionary consciousness, I feel their original love. Such purity, enmeshed with all things natural and luminous. The cycle returns, illuminated in the clarity of a clearing blizzard, and your new grave.

Unadorned in winter, thinking winter thoughts, they flow together like feathers, like lava, they dance and rise up and bless my mother's release with a kiss that melts snow in a tiny radiant radius for miles down beneath this land. Lil's bones sigh at the warmth. Joseph Daly cringes, singes, and is gone forever. The final smile on mama's face is a song to the rising day. Finally, Lil—a mother who has power! Finally, Layala — a father who protects you fiercely!

Inside that box, desert-dreaming, Israel-dusted, freedom-beaming Mama, child of the universe, considers her gorgeous options. You have options, Ma! Covered in white and warth, purified, sanctified, your feet facing east beneath the boughs of a great Ponderosa queen, and all the birds sailing overhead to teach you their weightless freedom flight. Fly into the beauty, Ma. Circle and circle again, never leaving me completely, but released from all your density, trauma, secrets and suffering and shame.  

                              She goes down into the November earth

Buried with you, the most perfect hawk feather, many glorious seashells from many different seas. Clay goddesses of the kind your god tried to forbid forever as false idols.Uncountable heart rocks. A stuffed wolf dog for love and family. A love poem from Shelly, some long ago valentine. Your wedding photo. A soft silk heart.The energy of many happy & beloved shovelers.

The enormous wings of The Shekinah open and fold, open and fold, again, slowly, over the whole of this land, like the atrial chambers of a winter dragon. I place a plate of birdseed on your grave. May the birds that live here kiss you with their lips of beak, their wilderness-marinated open hearts, and teach you fearless flight. At last, my essence is happy. Peaceful.  

This second morning, I sit with you, wrapped in blankets as the sun crawls higher, bringing a wonderful warmth, and I tell you about so many things I’ve learned in my own journey. About the hierarchy of feelings, about Happyland vs. Crappyland and how there's so much more glorious room in the airy top half, and the bottom is so dense and cramped, and how now you are above the line, forever above and rising into that limitless space. Maybe you can report back. Meanwhile, i am rising too.

Your wrists, ankles, neck graced by Hebrew letters shaped from shiny white ribbons. The Chevra Kadisha blessed you with such a wealth of unimaginable magical spells, sang over you for an endless day and night. Who ever imagined such riches? Who ever thought I could forgive your damn male god? But I have now, in an instant, for this. Corded to Adonai and Israel, Kali, Inanna, with visions of threads tying you gently to dragon eggs and dragon mothers, planted like a bright seed in the earth of Laughing Bird, the Shekinah soaring overhead, how can your happy spirit not rise and trumpet your great freedom, this fantastic transformation that is your release?

After such sturm and drang, bang and race—pulse race, foot race, full blown doom and panic pacing inside me, all the details, data, duty domination, the lonely-only drama, debt, decisions of the past days, years....years!  I get this time. Perfect flannel-and-feathers time, perfect fire in the stove time. Snow and weed and tea, blue-sky, perfect solitude, and a pen.

Day 3
Silent as sunrise, four crows glide
through this pink tube of morning sky
Sunrise, Mama!
Be here and name the colors with me—
vermillion. peach. cobalt. nectarine.
you are the nouns and the adjectives in my throat
i am the eyes in your head
as yours' dissolve into mine
beneath Jeruselem dirt and white linen
Sunk into this Rocky Mountain-side
this strange paradise
where i have planted you
like a bulb of precious healing garlic,
like a rare and gorgeous Persian tulip.

You, ageless Beauty.
you, passing like these wild colors
‘words that start with F’
said the therapist, testing you
for dementia upon your arrival
at the nrusing home
and you answered without hesitating—
Fabulous, you said,
and Flamingo.
That was the last time you cracked me up
a hundred years ago, or yesterday
Fading fabulous flamingo sky
rains glittering, eyes crying pink down on you
between the boughs of evergreens
shiny black feathers overhead
and the cape of the Shekinah,
her wings outspread still
untroubled in minus 12 degrees.
O' welcome home.
This is winter— do you remember winter?
take the plunge
nothing matters in the end
all matter in the end, dissolving
I let the dissolution carry me along
this is Shiva.

                                      Beloveds shoveling in 8 degrees

                  Shoveler’s triumph, whiskey-warmed and her grave mounded.

Day 4  
Good morning, Mama. Here it is laid out for you—the entrance, the welcome mat to the temple at the edge of life, unribboning into the peaceful and luminous center. This ever-shine, which you saw last at your birth—let it envelop you now again. Your death date is November 11th. My friend, Annie wrote me:  I heard the 11the minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is the Armistice hour—the moment of peace after WWI.  

Today is day 4 of shiva. This morning i wrote 19 haikus for Mama.

First sun on fresh grave
I lure birds to teach you flight
2 huge crows eat seeds

Gleaming black feathers
prepare to carry you on
muscular shoulders

Teacup in one hand
sun flares bless my inside now
Clock ticks you freer

Open heart moving
with this light there is no death
let go into it

The ever-shining
time of your liberation
Immortal, step in

Density, cold air
keeps me from kneeling in snow
watching out windows

Mama, here we are
fingers of light lick shadows
Another day falls

Enter the beauty
guarded here by Adonai
met with deepest love

Passing away is
shoving off from this landscape
knowing you are loved

This phase of Chaos
resolution for us all
surrender and pass

Begin it in snow
say: I was loved! I was loved!
Heart flowers blooming

Plane of the womb-ing
when you were newborn, you learned
recognize this light

All fear subsiding
Forever!- imagine that!
Now, you're an angel

At the edge of life
everything changes but Soul
enter the center

Return home in peace
releasing all your burdens
Hail the Traveller!

I bid you farewell
beyond last heartbreaking breath
transcendence and peace

This sweet love lingers
stronger, purer, deeper, free
as you travel on

Simple is best now
elementals hold me here
up there, you unclench

Clouds sail eastwardly
vapors of passing blizzard
rise and fly like that

Such gratitude now
Thanks for letting me love you
and for loving me.

back to list

‘Kairos’ means crucial defining moment. The chance of a lifetime, or a lucky break. I’ve been blessed with many such defining moments, where I was changed, where my work as a chronicling activist sharpened, or a question arose and shoved my heart and mind toward a new direction.  Here are a few transformative translations, revelations, and true stories all.

Take Back the Night  

Take Back the Night is an international event with the mission of ending sexual and domestic violence in all forms. Hundreds of events are held in over 35 countries annually. Asked to speak, as a professor at my college’s first TBTN, I read this piece.


My mother always told me not to out alone at night.  Not to wear short skirts, or go to parties without parents there, not to leave the shades open, not even a crack. I thought she was paranoid. I didn't know then that just ‘cos you're anxious doesn't mean they weren't also out to get you.  

My mother's father was a monster. He incested her, and me, her sister, all my girl cousins, and he brutalized his wife.  He was told by his world that we were his possessions.

She never told me any of this becasue she’d forgotten. As if a fine cloth had wiped something that happened to her body away from something that happened to her mind. At the age of 76,  she remembered incest, she remembered abuse in therapy, but not the perpetrator.

Five months ago, my mother died.  In the process of her dying, she fell through the ice of her life long secret, trapped in a three day long nightmare calling out from her tiny nursing home bed: “Papa, no! No, Papa, No.” Just her and me in that tiny cell together, and my father, pretending to sleep, and her father, deeply present, possibly the most solid energy in that room. And “No, Papa, No” was her metronome, her mantra for three days and nights while I tried to hold her tight, tried to winch her out of the ice water, tried to tie him down, tried to interrupt the terrible possession.

She was 94 years old. She lay there, semi-conscious, her tiny face a fist that couldn't hit, her bared teeth fierce and her hands fluttering like wild birds that had gotten trapped inside the breath of that space.  

Nurses and aides moved through the room, moved her body, moved around me, where I knelt, frozen for days. I lay with her in that narrow bed and whispered in her good ear for hours at a time: “Let's go, Mama, we can just leave, right now. We can just walk right out of this room, together. I’ve got you.”

Not knowing how to reach her, or where she was, I spoke on and on, desperate, “Mama, whatever's happening, you're safe now. I'm with you. Come on. Let's go. I'm right behind you. I'm right behind you.”

But I had ceased to register on her radar. I was gone. All she could do was thrash and struggle, panting. It was just her and him. It was just Me and him. It was just him.

After the second day, I called my friend, the Jewish mystic healer, to come and clear the evil out of that room, to exorcise my grandfather from my mother's ancient, dying body.

That day, nothing changed. Her terror mask froze deeper, and the panting of “No papa no” became her breathing. On and on she inhaled and exhaled that plea. That night I slept on the floor in the space between my parents' narrow beds like a loyal golden retriever, except I didn't sleep. I lay there, triggered backwards in time. I couldn't stop crying. The strongest person in that room was my Zayda,  and he'd been dead since 1965.

The next day, the healer sent me out of the room. When I returned, an hour or two later, Mama's teeth were unclenched, her grimace gone.  Her wild-bird hands were still. She was breathing deeply, asleep. She was almost gone. “Don't touch her”, the healer warned, “She's very close now. Don’t do anything to bring her back.” She was shrunken and shining and peaceful.

And when she died, the rabbi came and wove defensive spells, and the Chevra Kadisha— the Holy Jewish Burial Society, dressed her in white, tied white silken knots in the symbols of Hebrew letters of Heavenly protection— around her wrists, her throat, her ankles.

And I brought her home with me, buried her 40 feet from my door on my mountain, and Adenoi, the Jewish warrior god came along to guard her graveside. He's still there, protecting her with his flaming sword, and we are learning to tolerate each others' fundamentalism. His son, my grandfather, is banished forever from our bodies. We sent him—my mother, her god, my goddess and I, away, into the airless depths of outer space, far from the tender flesh of little girls.

She is safe now. Safe to the night. Safe to walk alone, to dress how she pleases, safe to open the curtains wide. Forever, safed. Dead, she is safe.

I am a survivor of incest. Of rape. Of Patriarchy. A survivor of the catcalls of rape, the vampire gaze of rape, the relentless fear of rape that all women know and most men do not see. How do women survive the paralyzing fear of rape, the invisible secret that haunts our days? I want to tie white silk ribbons around our hearts and all the tender places where we ache with what we know.

Last year, I was invited, because of my credentials as a women’s studies professor, to speak on a panel about rape. This was on a morning radio show, our local groovy station— KGNU. It was a call-in show. There were five of us. The moderator began with some data—the numbers of women who are raped. When it was my turn, I corrected her grammar, the agentless passive. “Women are raped. Women are battered.” You English professors know what 'm talking about. “Women are raped by men”, I said.

We talked for 30 more minutes, about the horrors of rape, women's fear of rape, rape culture.  Afterwards, the phone lines lit up, and the first 9 calls were from men who were furious at me for saying that men rape women, outraged that I had dared to state the obvious, and upset their morning coffee or yoga, or whatever. They insisted over and over that they do not rape. One actually said, ‘No wonder you get raped.’ This was KGNU, progressive bastion of Boulder. It was 8:30 in the freaking morning. Who the fuck were these guys?

This night is about women's voices. It's not about male bashing, but it's not about tiptoeing around the big secret of female existence. I know that not all men rape, but that doesn't matter much to me, cos the big secret of rape culture is alive and hardy in patriarchy. Men swim in entitlement and haplessness. We women drown in toxic acts and images of brutal masculinity and victimized femininity. We have ignorant legislators and right wing backlashers who only deepen women's hell.

All women are afraid of  being raped, of being murdered if they resist rape, of being blamed or disbelieved if they report rape. We worry about our future promised rapes—it’s a stone in the belly, a shard in the brain, and yet we're taught to abandon ourselves in order to protect male comfort levels. We don't speak of it to them, to you, the good men.  But what about the not-so-good men, of whom there are way too many? If you're too nice, you lead them on. If you're too honest, you risk violence. Either way, you're a bitch. We try to stand on thinnest ice, to not fall through.

Patriarchy. To not fall through the ice of patriarchy. The massive power differential between us, the sinister forms uncoiling, the relentless pattern of gender roles in our society.  We live in a culture, in a world steeped in the domination of women; we women circle the cold sucking drain of misogyny. Misogyny—the hatred of women. You've heard the story of the battle: the one who screamed and fought back and got away, the one who was roofied and did not remember, the one who was killed. The stories of the battles surround us, but this is the battle of the story. History paves over the fear women suffer. Who's gonna name the terror, who will narrate the dark streets and corridors, the beds and bars of battle?

I say it—patriarchy is alive and thriving. It's the very real stage on which we all perform rape culture.  It is the idea that a man has a right to have sex with a woman, regardless of her desires. It's the fact that his rights trump hers', or she just has no rights. Or she just has no voice, no place in the gender script except as an object to be desired and conquered and owned. This sense of being owed sex is everywhere. We owe them. They have a right. To us.

Because they need it, because life is hard and we are soft, because they bought us a drink, because rape culture keeps them in a constant state of aggression and arousal and because we are drawn as sexual delivery systems, objects, caricatures shaken like a red flag at a bull  to slake those out-of-control hungers. Our bodies plastered over every screen, over every street, over every pornographic ad.

The invalidity of the word NO. The danger of the family home. The workplace, the party, the college campus, the night.

And rape is still somehow such a controversial subject. And, to dare to name Patriarchy is to end all conversations in mixed company. It's not nice to talk about rape culture, there's no polite conversation to be had there—only jokes, only fetishized images. Patriarchy isn't even a real word that most college students can put a definition to, like fish defining water. It’s just Life.

To win the battle of the story, women must become both credible and audible.

Violence is a way to silence people. Date rape. Marital rape. Incest. Domestic violence. Privilege, domination, power, and oppression.

At the heart of the struggle of Feminism is a passion and duty to name and re-name the world. We have come to understand, through Feminism, that sex, while beautiful and wonderful, is an arena of power and that power can be abused. We have to resist being bullied out of our own perceptions and shamed out of our interpretations. We have to resist the story that women are not reliable witnesses to our own lives, and that the truth was never our property.  

And all the uncountable generations, the millennia of women who weren't allowed into the laboratory or the library or the conversation or the revolution or even the category called human cry out to us tonight to march, to change the world, again, even if it's just in a parking lot, because this is symbolic, meaning it's a ritual.  We march, we dare, we fight back. Yes, things have gotten better, somewhat, somewhere, but this is a war. Rape is a war. It may be the oldest war. I depend now upon younger women to say what you need to say and be who you want to be and go where you choose to go—unencumbered. Proudly. Safely. Even dangerously, because what could be more dangerous than our silence? What could be more deadly to rape culture than our voices?

This one night of womens’ voices in a world where space opens up for men, shuts down for women.  Where power is expressed in discourse and physical violence, and the world is still organized to silence and annihilate women.

We work so hard to rise up out of that annihilation.  My Mama worked so hard. She clarified her story in the fragile beaker of her body. She crossed the threshold of alchemy and became pure gold.  She did this for me, and for all her female relations. I believe she did it for All of us, and so I call her spirit here to march with us tonight, in our symbolic ritual to finish forever domestic violence, sexual assault, rape and incest, because my mother—Lillian Chezar would be proud to be a subject of this story in our battle, as we dare to take back the night.  

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Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival


Today, as all over the continent, womyns’ pussy cats are ignoring them and locals in the Midwest are mistaking dykes for men, while traveling dykes are mistaking men for cute butches in truck stops and airports. As bags are dragged up the stairs and dirty laundry dumped and fabulous prizes unpacked and we miss it so much we can’t wait for next August, Now, homo again, safe from the road, I sing the praises of womyn.

Michigan is just us together, is the first safe place we’ve known, is an experiment in truth and fantasy, is the one place where I feel conservative, is culture like they don’t let us make it if we could make it out there in the real world. If. Michigan is a breathing pulsating IF. It’s an in-your-face THIS. It’s a fizzy, giddy, all-consuming and costumed NOW. If. This. Now.

Michigan is girls who look more like boys than boys do. It’s lesbo sluts, baby dykes, square dykes, s/m dykes, hippie dykes, daddy dykes, recovering dykes, and granny dykes. Michigan is a rainbow going to dance at the end of the rainbow, a week-long pot of gold. It’s oak forests, giant ferns, ancient sacred land covered in tents and banners, and prayers for revolution and for healing. It’s 6,000 womyn in line for lunch. It’s fisting workshops next to goddess chanting workshops; it’s 200 womyn on African drums following Ubaka back in time. It’s prophesy, it’s archetypal memory, it’s a jukebox of dreams and projections. Michigan is hacking the sac to the setting sun naked, and rocking our beautiful perfect bodies to the rising moon. Bring your chair, your plate, your spoon. It’s tarps and porta janes and foot traffic through the wonderous green forest passing neighborhoods of  hammocks and coolers and womyn. Michigan is tattoos and piercings, high erotic costumes, and female creativity, claimed and reclaimed everywhere you look.

And do you ever look! Michigan is all about looking. You look at her. Look at her! She looks at you. She looked at me!  Womyn pass each other in lines of looking, we turn, look back in longing. Look at that outfit, that painted body, that ass! Look at that hairdo, that tattoo, those eyes. Look at me, look at me! Womyn know better than anybody how to awaken hearts and pussies through elaborate images. Look.

Workshopping in the tall ferns.

And it’s about listening. Strange, familiar voices grab at your ears for attention. Womyn roar like wildcats, howl like wolves, scream in The Twilight Zone (b.d.s.m. space) all day long. Womyn drum, sing, teach, come, laugh, deal, shop. We tell the stories of our lives or we make up other lives for just this week. We speak truth to power in our actions and the green world holds us, the call-and-return to circles within spirals.  

We feed ancient spirits with the theater of our lives, with imagination and un-bottomed invocation; we feed ourselves to unedited future-worlds as we dream up them in our power Now. We bow to the liveliest possibilities, and expand activism as we engorge desire. Here we’re connected by flesh, metaphor, and politics, and by our hunger to change the world we’ve been given. In the forests and meadows, the invisible world leans close—the ancestors, the future unborn beings, watching and listening with us— to what do we offer ourselves?

We breathe through shifting veils of light, we break through membranes of law and judgement, we open to magic. The air crackling with womyns’ visions—our passions bearing, our pulses sparking, flaming life into our new story. ‘Cos we need this. We need this story.

Because of this need and this now, imaginations dance to join our souls to time. We are sacred beings, endlessly branching like trees in the forest. We are a tribal stomp tickling someone’s gods to forgiveness of gorgeous potential  humanity. We make the holes holy and the battered sacred. We are the beauty and beast of it. The guiltless facts surround us and we swoon. We are all angels and demons and the world is both dying and perfect. We are all that we have, all that we need, it fills us to our brims and we make art out of that overflow.

Clouds shade the sun, sun breaks free to dazzle all our colors and sounds. My boss’s breasts, the parade of puppets, parade of redheads, parade of femmes, The Butch Strut. Stilt-walking workshops, addictions meetings, womyn-of-color-sanctuary, weight lifting, female ejaculation, stone healing, babies and dildoes everywhere you look. Warriors and vibrators, butches and femmes of kaleidoscopic definitions. A thousand naked womyn walking slowly, proudly in procession.

Three stages revolve in a kaleidoscope of music and theater. Ferron, Tribe 8, Ferron with Tribe 8, Amy Ray with the Butchies, Rhiannon, Edwina Lee Tyler, Marga Gomez. The Dance Brigade sliding through all that genderfuck on sheets of water, naked. Holly Hughes, Holly Near, Ullali. Chem-Free, Chem-Manadatory, too many cigarettes and vehicle exhaust on the wind in RV parking, too much fun to complain, girl anarchy, these trees! Over-40’s, over-50’s, over-stimulated. More hacking, more food lines, more schlepping ridiculous amounts of stuff through the forest, Leather dykes on some eternal patrol, midwestern dykes watching football, joggers from not-here, wheelchair-bound dykes from everywhere, more deaf womyn than any deaf womin has ever seen, partying down. The sign-language interpreters stealing every show, the brilliant girl children being Free, the quilt, the nipples, the raffles. We mine each other, harvest each other, provide for each other. We are all-out and sacred. We have, we shall endure. We shall, we do fly. And we fuck, you bet we do—we rescue the good words. We rescue the good world held hostage to manhood. We open the doors, receive the temple of ever was and ever shall be.

We’re snaking through the forest, past big striped tents and stages in meadows. We bear what is essential to us and carry our dreams on our heads. We say what is essential, we author our dreams. Look at her! Home two days and it’s still all there inside my head. Femmes turn butch before my eyes and butches turn to men. Fuck the society that would deny us these images! We transform gender modes and blow open unbounded potentials of identity. This tribe with our brave core spinning and sinning, so fluid, so endurant. This dance claimed. And this one, and this—we move through the smorgasbord of the possible human woman, womin, womoon, wimmin, womyn. Move insatiable and limitless through themes and genres, through regions, syndromes, diagnoses, we Be, spun into possibility,and the lies fall away from our skins and we breathe deeply. We lie in the sun, in the rain, in the stars, on the earth.

Me, bare-assed and kicking the sac at Festival in the early 80’s

The pivot, the fulcrum, the still point only and always is Love. Love is the quiet consciousness presiding over the chaos with patient attention.We are The Amazon Love Army. Urban, suburban, cuntree dykes together imagining Love into form, imagining and so creating acceptance, honor and grace. Imagining and so creating beauty, desire, permission. Imagining and so creating freedom and stories and cosmic applause for the glorious she’s-been-waiting-so-long Action that changes everything. This herstoric effort, the heroic devotion to our own final perfection. Devoted to the satisfaction and the hunger of our lives—lives no one has seen before.

Here’s a toast to our changes, our adventures, our labile fertility. To our shapeshifting selves. To our perverse and persistent yearning to be Real. To be free. To seeing you next year in August. This is our fairy tale, blaze up the old fire, Now. Taste this sweet howling drumming wet satin rooted indestructible YES! Let it carry you through.

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Occupy and Greenham


A seasoned activist, I’ve been called. Many, many seasons and still the same landscape, and I’m always hoping, if I hope at all, for some new disobedience under this sun. Occupy feels like hope to me, like a crack in the bell that calls us forth into the delusional trance of Amerikkka. I’ve spent the last 3 months, exactly one season, observing and participating, raising funds and my voice and my bottomed-out hope as the activists, the homeless, and the vast silent masses pour past, a nation of occupation creating a fresh territory on the streets of empire.

When I open my queer mind & spirit to the spectacle of Occupy, on the cusp of 2012, what strikes me most is comparison to an occupation that came before.    All movements rise out of the deep dirt of past actions, and I write to pay homage to a revolutionary experience of the 1980’s that changed my life and my trajectory, forever. This was Greenham Common Womyn’s Peace Camp, which was an occupation that existed non-stop from 1980-1999. I lived there for 3 years.

Since that time of living in occupation, I’ve continued my life as an activist and a performance artist; I’ve studied social protest and taught revolution. There’s a whole language to describe defiance to power. In the academic discourse of formal territories, claiming space is profoundly important. In discursive language, the naming of physical boundaries defines spheres of power and grants authority to the rules of engagement. “Transgress” just means breaking the rules. Transgressing these defined spheres of power, disobedient people can challenge a system, displacing order and power. It also can get you a seat at the table.  The symbolism of declaring an occupation, commandeering and queering public space, declaring common ground and moving into it is where identity politics gay-marries geographical realism.

Both Occupy Wall Street and Greenham Common Womyn’s Peace Camp are place-based protests, and both arose spontaneously out of defiance to authority. In both, regular citizens are challenging a place by acting out of place, and through their subversion, they are becoming empowered. How queer is Occupy Wall Street? Probably more than the requisite 10%.

Both movements were built on the notion of reclaiming the commons, and creating an alternative society, a more “primitive” society that publically rejects industrial civilization, much as Rainbow Gatherings, Burning Man, and The Michigan Women’s Music Festival have done. These others are quasi-political spaces; they all manage to temporarily challenge the power of the status quo without being a threat. And each of these gatherings has created a queer space to accommodate a counter culture within a counter culture. The thrill of those tribal gatherings are that “we” can step outside the dominant culture, and create an alternative lifestyle, a utopian presence. But, these all fall far short of social change movements, and each has particular glaring deficiencies as utopian communities. They are legally sanctioned. They cost money to attend. And, they have their own status quo —  mostly middle class, white, privileged, mainstream people having a cool vacation.

Occupy and Greenham Common Peace Camp are in a different category. People have staked their bodies out indefinitely, and illegally. People show themselves as joyfully deviant to the status quo.  How queer is the Occupy movement? I’m not sure. What would Occupy be if it was filled with gender bending radical homos?  Maybe more like Greenham was.

In 1984, when I arrived from Amerikkka, we had no internet, no cell phones, but no pepper spray either. There were 9 separate camps of womyn occupying each of the gateways into the base. The military called them “Alpha Gate, Beta Gate”, and so on, but we re-named them “Red Gate, Orange Gate Green Gate”, all the way around the base, staking out our rainbow. Yellow Gate was the main gate, where the road signs all pointed. And the signs, for 3 miles, in any direction, had been spray painted with womyn’s symbols, peace signs, anarchy symbols, and other declarations of war against the military base. Property damage was in full swing, and there were no discussions as to whether this constituted “violence” in 1984.

I was a political activist, a lesbian feminist who’d worked with men for years on nuclear issues, and was exhausted with continually defending my space and calling right–on-males out on their privilege or disrespect.  Separatism from men was the most radical thing I’d ever heard of, in 1984. Gender was fiercely demarcated for me;  I was a dyke- I stood with the womyn, and feminism stood in sharp, unappeasable contrast to masculinism.   I wouldn’t hear of crossing those lines, of the political movement of trans-consciousness, for 2 more decades.

In 1984, when I arrived there, Greenham Common was already separated, the peace camp from the base, cut apart by a mythic fence, a real fence that separated the forested commons from the military camp. Outside the fence was womyn’s reclaimed land, filled with ancient oaks and beeches, bluebells, violets and bracken. The base lay within the lines of the 9 mile oval fence, a great domesticated thing, sawed down and paved flat and surrounded by a fringe of old nature and wild feminists.  We lived our lives up against watchtowers, runways, huge generators and vehicle compounds. There were many buildings in there — barracks and classrooms — the base commander and his family, and soldiers of an American Air Force and a British one all lived in there. Children went to school in there, and wives did…whatever wives do in there. That reality was enclosed within the jarring geometry of 8 rows of fences, all topped by concertina wire. There was lots of concentration camp imagery, accompanied by jarring and ceaseless sensory assault. Jet planes — F16’s, F-11’s, and Galaxy transporters — were a constant screaming overhead, soldiers shouted at us all night, and powerful arc lights perpetually pierced the nighttime darkness. Passing cars chucked bottles at our undefended circle. We slept on a slice of mud between a busy highway and a nuclear weapons base.

And we were being evicted daily, by 1984. Men called “bailiffs”, who were the garbage collectors of the village, came every morning to try and grab our stuff. Police accompanied them to make sure we were dutifully evicted. Every day, in the morning, we were herded off our reclaimed slice of mud. Strangely, we could just cross the motorway with the full weight of our camp, put it all down on that other side of the road, and be left in peace. Then we’d move it all back. In winter this happened 5 times a day. We didn’t fight them, but we transgressed; we learned to be prepared, and figured out how to move as slowly as possible as they surrounded and harassed us. It was easy to ignore them — we were women and we’d spent our lives surviving male domination. We stored all our kitchen and sleeping gear in prams, big baby carriages that we’d roll across the 6 lanes of traffic. We had terribly abused vehicles that carried a ton of bedding and backpacks, instruments and tools and books. We slept each night under long scrolls of plastic sheets, tossed over the base fence and staked down with stones. Some womyn slept in the forest, building plastic sheeted “benders” around trees. Some slept in the vehicles.  There were no phones, no electricity, no running water, and, most importantly, there was no shelter.

It rained all the fucking time. It was cold all year long, and in winter it was dark. Dark. Cold. Raining. We lived under plastic and we circled around a fire. Our campfire had the power of a magical ancient symbol: endurance, hearth and transformation blended roaring in the rain. One lovely memory is of womyn, turning, rotisserie before that fire, clouds of steam rising off their wet forms as the rain fell. Each day the bailiffs would drench that fire, first thing, and try to grab all our wood. They took tea kettles, passports, guitars, backpacks, sleeping bags, everything they could grab. We knew that soon, it would all replaced by donations, and it was. We lived off donations. The camp had captured the attention of progressive individuals and peace groups the world over. Thousands of people supported us, and visitors filled the fire circles for years with the temporary warmth of their presence.  So many womyn came! In winter, we had hot meals brought to us every night. We had “night watches” show up from all over the U.K. so we could sleep, protected in that open space between the woods womb and the bomb tomb.

By 1984, 3 years into the encampment, Greenham had become a center of the international feminist movement. There were still a lot of straight, white, middle class peace campaigners around, mums and grannies, religious women and journalists, but now there were dykes, tons of Lesbians from all over the world who’d come to join this amazing experiment.

Since the 1970’s, womyn’s lands were springing up in parts of the U.S. and in Europe. These were communes in the country that women bought cheap and moved on to. Womyn’s lands focused on womyn as primary, they were about revolting from the patriarchy , creating magical liberation, and through collective and sustainable living, women produced and pollinated a womyn’s culture. Under it all, we believed we could live separate from the Patriarchy, that we could heal from male violence, that we could cut the hierarchy and domination right out of our lives. We were wrong, on some levels, but on others, this was a revolution that had been coming for 5,000 years. It was complete heresy. It was re-membered and reclaimed magic blended with radical social protest growing in a petri-terrarium, a culture of feral wildness, and it was unbelievably powerful.

The gender bending at the mores politically-radical peace camp was an expression of feminism.  Greenham womyn confronted the heart of gender oppression by turning the concept of “women’s place” on it’s spiky head.  While we were not all dykes, the peace camp evolved over a few years from peace campaigners peacefully and symbolically protesting nukes, to an army of defiant radical feminists and wild lesbians who came to rage against the institution of patriarchy, so aptly symbolized by the military. Womyn formed coalitions and caucuses. In the 3 years that I was there, there was an anarchist camp and a separatist camp. There were also many homeless womyn, and mentally ill womyn. There was drugs and alcohol. As far as I know, there was no sexual assault, except what threatened us in the dark every night from beyond the flare of our fires. Except what we carried deep inside us.

The metaphors of confrontation and duality were everywhere. You either saw it or you didn’t, but you got it deep inside, on an unconscious level of awareness.       There was the base, all concrete and steel and noise and lights. There were the underground silos that housed 96 first-strike nuclear warheads. There were the men, all soldiers and bailiffs and cops. There was the weaponry fortressed in there, the logical brutal consequences of our species’ separation from nature, the atom split, the matter of creation turned into pure destruction. That was our landscape when we faced through the fences. We were on the outside — outlaws, outcast — we were a physical female fringe around all that hardware. That fence taught me more about the conditions of the binary than any university full of discourse on gender politics, in 1984.

Contrasted to the gentle goddess circles, the gardens and folk songs, yurts and tipis and hand built houses of rural womyn’s lands, this was a theater stage of gender war. There were many rituals. There were actions every night. From our slice of mud, we reached in our fabulous deviance across time and space.  Living outside that fence, casting our lot with the forest, womyn cooked, danced, wrote songs and told stories, built fires and knitted, built beautiful ornate nests in benders. Outside that fence we spent our days visiting, playing, loving, raging. We were mending. That was one intention we agreed on, when we agreed. Creation of something better, something that came through us like a baby dragon, but bigger, fiercer. Women had decorated that fence for years, and weavings of spiders and serpents, paintings of earth goddesses and avenging goddesses, photos of grandkids, broken eyeglasses and crutches, messages for soldiers and love notes for each other formed a happy wall, a gorgeous vertical quilt. There were snipped bits of wire covering the earth on the womin side of the fence like autumn leaves.

Our actions were fun, unique and brilliant. Our actions made us feel huge and triumphant and ecstatic. In one of the most famous, womyn broke into the base and ritually danced on top of a missile silo for hours. Another time they dressed up as teddy bears and bunnies and climbed over the fence to hold a picnic on the base. In another, we greased our bodies with cooking oil, and ran naked through the base, and no men in uniform could grab and hold us. We spray painted runways, repeatedly attacked military vehicles in their nighttime compounds, blockaded tanks, missile launchers, and built 20 foot high fires in the middle of the road. Womyn entered the base and stole official documents, entered the base and used the phone to call the press, entered the base and hid there for days. We snipped a thousand holes in that fence with our communal bolt cutters. And we used pieces of the fence as our fire grates, suspending our tea and toast over the flames we stoked below.  

The presence of so many lesbians at the camp was disturbing to outsiders, and it added to the great heap of our transgressions of proper female behavior. Of course, we were called “man-haters”, and also, “hysterical”. This was because we lived a physical, mental, and spiritual resistance to the comfortable prevalence of the familial ideology. In local courts, in jails, on the roads and in The House of Commons, womyn were continuously challenging expectations about appropriate behavior and normalcy, both for females and for citizens of a participatory democracy. Why should courtrooms or government rules worry us when the threat of utter destruction hung over us constantly? Why should we obey madness? That was our constant question, and we used creative satire to mock power and the farce of law.

Back to a comparison with Occupy. Both of these encampments have been very successful in cultivating memes and spreading propaganda/information to the masses. Both created a spectacle that challenged the daily spectacle, and brought it to a screeching halt. The public spaces they claimed were both deeply symbolic spaces where behavior had been strictly controlled.  Both Wall Street and a Nuclear Armed Air Force Base are formal institutions, stabilized by certainty. They’re also both heavily symbolic of the landscape of patriarchy. Nuclear weapons are seen as the ultimate solutions to conflict. Bankers are seen as the sole arbiters of debt and wealth. Governments are seen as sovereign and democratic to the will of the people. If enough of us can, en masse, withhold our consent, if we refuse to agree to these orderly hierarchical scenarios, then we reveal the naked emperor for all to see.  And the more people pointing, the better.

Tugging away from my memories, I returning to the landscape of Amerikkka in 2012, there is Occupy, diverse and pollinating. I doubt that this movement could do lots of what the womyn at Greenham got away with doing. In this nation, in this time of the war on terror, (or twot),  protestors of Occupy who directly confronted empire with criminal damage and direct civil disobedient actions would be shot, they’d call out the cannons and tanks against us. The conditions of our struggle have changed, the cops are way more militarized now, Amerikkka is a more fascist nation than Britian was then.  We’re currently bombing 5 countries and we’re at war with a noun, and the media is more controlled now.

But the conditions in the world are even more dire than they were in 1984.  We’ve had years to imagine and to practice fighting back, we have decades of radical analysis to hold us up. I imagine that queers could really have a blast in Occupy, and like we did at Greenham, find playful, creative devices and loopholes and theater stunts and spontaneous attacks on real targets that will be successful.  At least we have each other. And we can occupy ports, oil facilities, foreclosure sites, courtrooms. We can occupy fracking sites, student loan offices, military recruitment offices, health insurance offices. We can occupy our representatives, the Supreme Court, the RNC and the DNC. ….the possibilities are indeed endless. All we need is a fire and the spirit to endure, and we can find our freedom and fly.

* The first Occupy protest to receive widespread attention, Occupy Wall Street in New York City's Zuccotti Park, began on 17 September 2011. By 9 October, Occupy protests had taken place or were ongoing in over 951 cities across 82 countries, and in over 600 communities in the United States.    *If you need info on Greenham Common, read my memoir.

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The Work That REConnects

I wrote these notes up from a 10-day retreat with my teacher, Joanna Macy, at Rivers’ Bend Retreat Center in Mendocino in 2014. We came to be trained to facilitate this work, and left as voluntary bodhisattvas.  Most of the words are Joanna’s. At 90 years old, she led 50 of us from daybreak through dinner with fabulous mini-lectures mixed with interpersonal activities. Some of it is my own journaling.

Joanna said she was giving this work away to us. I give it away to You. 

Driving through Nevada. Hot wind. Sage plateaus.  Who are we?  What if a photon was a character with consciousness who wanted to slow down and smell the roses?

In the side view mirror, i watch my face running beside the landscape. My hair is an antelope, freshly crowned. Windmills comb my spikes.  My eyelashes grow blue and swirl skyward. My neck lengthens to a swan, a heron.  I sprout grey and black and pin feathered, i arrow, face first, through the bright air.  I am the wind. These outrageous green alfalfa fields applaud me. I think basalt, red granite, railroad bed—one long plate nailed to the earth with spikes cut from redwood trees. The full and emptying earth.

Joanna — We've known each other for years. We've shared this path. Such grief for what's been lost, such a strong desire to be of use, to be together, to strengthen each other far bigger than our own separate selves. This intensive will be like being in a monastery, in a think tank, in a psychological laboratory, at a wild house party.

Meditation:  Life is breathing us. The immensity of interconnection. Breathe. This knowing that we can connect to anytime.

The sound of the harmonium fills the room.  Seventy people line up to set their altar objects. The little suitcase of harmonium opens slowly and closes and out comes the voice of god and we join in the wordless vocals.  Praise be.

The Spiral has 4 stations, which constitute the roadmap, the plot line of our work.

Are we preparing to go to war with Russia? When you hear a terrible thing, you can go through the spiral. For everything troubling, for every single aspect that occurs, go through the spiral.

1. We enter in the east, ground and give thanks.  In all root traditions, we begin with Gratitude. I'm here! I can breathe! I can see! This sense of wonder, which has been so trampled out of us.  Here are the words and practices that can summon it all back.  Begin with Gratitude.

How can you give thanks in a time of total destruction in ways that will last forever? What do we do this for? Because what we focus on expands. It changes the vibration. It is TRUE. It dissolves the abstractions and builds on actual concrete details. Honor what is GOOD.

Don't take for granted the creation that surrounds you— Gratitude is a Counterculture.

I know this because it makes me SMILE.

The giving of thanksgiving for life, and for the elements that give us life.

Today, Gratitude is a political act.

We install a needy, grabby, insecure mind into younger and younger children, so instilling anti-capitalist, corporate Gratitude is REVOLUTIONARY.  Gratitude is our birthright.

Then we can look at what we've been carrying all along, which  has been so repressed.  So much of mainstream thinking of the Industrial Growth Society teaches us to put a lid on the truth of what we see and feel and know. So, this gratitude gives us the strength to feel these terrible things that we usually PROJECT into the shadows, or pave over to help the Industrial Growth Society keep going.

2. We honor and befriend our grief for the world. This too is SUBVERSIVE. Our love for the world and our pain for the world are not opposite. This is the hinge in the work, the Turning Point. We are not pathological, not depressed, not neurotic. This anguish is not private. It comes from our deep interconnectedness. The immensity inside each one of us.

3. Seeing With New Eyes — flows out of THIS.  All the rituals, practices, ceremonies emerging here.

4. Going Forth — we consider our vows, and make commitments to the future of the Work That Reconnects us.

This system of punishment was here before we were born and will be here after we're dead, so there are no mistakes. Only opportunities to learn.

We are NOT SEPARATE. We impact and are impacted by each other's choices, by our own agreements.

Everyone matters. How deeply is our MATTERING. Exercise those muscles. Practice mattering.

Conflict and discomfort are gifts. We’ve got to distinguish between discomfort and harm. We don't know till we engage in relationship.

Annie: Practice being impacted first. Notice how and where you are impacted. Then distill what you need to speak. Notice your impact. Practice being self-connected before speaking and while listening.  Ask yourself, "What is my intention in speaking?"

Be impacted, then ask, or offer a gem. Just pay attention, with humility.

TRUST IN YOUR MATTERING.  We are all significant and precious. We need to show up and give to life what ONLY WE can give. So, trust in your great mattering.

Power — We either submit or we rebel. Pay attention to that particular default.

Is there a 3rd way?

Celebrate the I DON'T KNOW. It's the start of opening up space to figure it out. And we don't know, but we can ask for support to find the 3rd way together. "What we can plan and predict is too small to live." (David Whyte)

"I don't know" is the beginning of the conversation, not the end.  It's a dance between thresholds.  Ask for what we need and be willing to let it go. Practice being present to the fear and the anger and the sadness.

What's said here stays here.
What's learned here, leaves here.

Skillful infiltration of any group.

Joanna: Re-conceptualize speaking to the choir as “just a waste of our time”. From the systems point of view, that's not how nature works. You move from STRENGTH. You move from where it's working, from where there's power.  To go where you’re automatically misunderstood is a terrible drain of your power. With permaculture, when you want to restore a place, you go to where the native thing still survives and grow it out from its own fertility and complexity.

Gratitude.  The Elm Dance starts every morning. It's a song disguised as trees and mothers, but it's a call to resistance, the dance choreographed to bring forth intention and determination to carry out the choices that the heart has made. It was originally sung and taught to Joanna at Chernobyl, over one million deaths and counting.

The easiest Gratitude exercise: stand, shake, stretch.
Find a person and sit. Choose A or B by tapping the knee first.
Open Sentences for gratitude —
What do you love about being alive?
What do you love doing or making?
What do i really appreciate about myself?
A person who helped me believe in myself, or ways i've been helped in my life by other beings.
A place that was magical to me as a child.
What embarrasses me about my species?

When you're giving a talk, you can let people have a chance to speak in any size crowd, by turning to the person next to them and roll through these questions.  Or, use concentric circles that face each other and rotate.

Write with your non-dominant hand the answer to the question the dominant hand poses.
Do The mirror Walk.  Also, The Wheel of the Great Turning (p100)

We're not making things up to be grateful for. We're remembering what makes us glad. This is authentic and grounded in our lives and in the world. The voice people most need to hear from is the inner one. Deep inside, beneath all the petty neurotic complaint, we want The One Thing. Truth force, satyagraha—SPEAK THE TRUTH (Here’s why i hate the phrase "it's all good")

For a one-day facilitation, tell a few sentences about the work. Then do the spiral. Go right into gratitude. Gratitude is the ignition point of every one of the great religions.  

In Buddhism, there are 6.  Call to mind how rare and precious is a human life. Not superior, no. Just we have the capacity to CHANGE THE KARMA.  We have the self- reflexive consciousness, the advent of the capacity to CHOOSE.

With systems theory, the self is a flow-though. Who and what you are becomes visible through your choice making. This changes over time as responses mature. Your life changes your perceptions, your habits that limit choice making change with awareness. Who you are becomes apparent in your intentions and how you are GUIDING your life. Not just going with the flow, but you steer in the flow.  Being the rudder in the flow. Size that intention to find your identity.  Whatever’s happening, you can choose your response, We choose, in response to each others' choices. How do we talk to people about what's happening in our world when they don't know what we know.  

If you can, write a book to find out what you think.
If you have a choice, write a book with another person.  
We have a choice in how we see the reality of our time. There are different realities all going on at the same time.

The Three Realities
Business as usual,
The Great Unraveling,
The Great Turning.
These exist and are accelerating, but we can choose what we want to get behind.

1.The Industrial Growth Society, or “business as usual”,  is driven by industry, but the operative term is GROWTH. Growing what? Wisdom? Health? Happiness? Love?

Corporate profit is the only way we measure growth. We take everything out of the body of the earth; we make goods (so they don't last too long) and we make weapons.  This is all based on the constant depletion and unsustainability; we dump faster than it can be absorbed back from where we took and so we have contamination. But if you say that, you won't get elected in the U.S.

This story is costing us the world. Justice. Cultures. Weather. All of nature.

2. We call out from the 2nd story of The Great Unravelling. All systems end with unraveling. They lose their coherence, their resilience, they fall apart.  We hear this from activists, scientists, and ancient voices.

3. The 3rd story — The Great Turning. A transition to a life sustaining society. How do we live after coal and gas? How do we live without electrical power, without google and communications technology? How can we govern ourselves? How can we live without cops and wars? How can we come to our senses for what we NEED to endure?  Sustainability is a cultural meme now. That's encouraging.  The Great Turning- most of the people involved throughout the world don't know that term.

It's The Blessed Unrest.  Millions of grassroots organizations. Pachamama: "socially just, environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling". This is something we can be grateful for. This choice we get to get behind.

Things are getting better and better, worse and worse, faster and faster.
We can help people open their eyes to this in a workshop.

The Industrial Growth Society
It's not just human cognitive systems that are making these choices, but SYSTEMS of industry, military, and production that have taken on their own momentum.  From a systems perspective, it's unlikely that we will convert people who are controlled by and hostage to the Industrial Growth Society. They make short-term decisions. If they restrain themselves for noble reasons, they are out of a job. You gotta act fast and take it all for shareholders and profits.  

On the individual level, when we see that we're causing suffering (greed, hatred, delusion) we can choose to stop. But now there are the INSTITUTIONALIZED forms of greed (a consumer society), hatred (military and foreign policy and racism), and delusion (mainstream media and entertainment/social media distractions). Functionary individuals are expendable. If you reach one, they will replace him.

How do we challenge the conditions that support the institutional structure of systems?

How do we challenge POWER? Beyond our control, we have been given choice.  I can choose how i use my life. If i think i need to take care of myself cos i'm all alone and fragile and needy, then this becomes literalized and co-arises from my neurosis.

Give people ways to SEE the Great Turning as it's happening.

3. Dimensions
1.Holding Actions to slow the destruction down. These don’t address the source, but they can save some species, some of the gene pool for a life sustaining society. This is what most people think of as “activism”, and it’s the hardest, most physically debilitating part. The system can absorb that, so it’s important, but not final.  (This is so important to my understanding of the frustration i've experienced, and the refusal to go to jail again, and the burnout we all feel when we lose loss after loss.)

2. At the same time, you have to be building what will endure. Transforming the cultural and economic foundations of our common life.  How we do things: grow food, settle conflicts, make what we need, distribute it all, and understand and practice power.

Building another way of self-governance, currency, restoring the commons, protecting the earth.

3. These new forms can't sustain themselves unless we are motivated and have the courage and creativity to make it obvious and clear to others that OUR PLANET IS ALIVE. We can use science and spirituality. We can say that Earth is worthy of our reverence and gratitude. This shift in consciousness of the earth as a sacred entity is so important.  The power of indigenous voices, the most oppressed, can show us how. Remember that the Great Turning is the 3rd great revolution that we know about. The Agricultural and Industrial revolutions came first. When yr in the middle of a revolution, you don't know. These all changed our ideas of work, each other, god, property, identity.  This one has to be FASTER and it has to be CONSCIOUS.

And of course, we don't know.

We don't know that The Great Turning will work in terms of saving complex life forms on earth. we don't know if there will be enough diversity and resilience to keep going. Our attitude towards uncertainty is so important! Strengthened by uncertainty, we go on (recall the image of the 4 goddesses in the pool at Valley View)  If we knew it was a sure thing, would that bring out the courage and creativity?  If we knew it was too late, we'd just go get high (YOLO) This uncertainty thing needs to be celebrated, played with, storied.  UNCERTAINTY  FREES US! (Greenham exemplifies this)

At the intersection of these 3 dimensions is the Great Turning.

Open Space Technology- runs off 4 basic principles- when it starts, it starts; when it ends it end. Whoever shows up are the right folks. Whatever happens is the only thing that could happen.

Flow. trust.

The Law of Mobility- If yr there, be there; if yr not into it, go away. If yr not engaged, you need to leave or your presence will be deadening to the process. Only the host has to stay. You can cross pollinate like a bumblebee or you h=can hang out like a butterfly. the host takes notes. A couple of sentences to summarize.

Teaching Strategy —
When it's a sad reality, end with gratitude to bathe the brain in dopamine.

Morning silence. We pass and smile on paths to our mornings. I am porous: i absorb; i allow; i leak a little. I leak a lot. i share without effort.

Enter the space to 3 concentric circles swaying silently to the Elm Dance. Step back, sway, step forward, step in, sway, step back.  Fingers linked, hearts braided as the sweet music ribbons like elm branches sending to the radioactive sky. We remember through the soles of our feet,  thru the souls that we are, sailing flute takes us past genders and races, a blender, shaken and stirred, baby organism cooing the beauty, sobbing for all our pain for the world that slays me, forehead to the dance floor. Then a fantastic gospel song about freedom and we are jumping, stomping. An amazing arc of passion and color, vivid, to wash our pain and each other.


This is beyond what's happening in our personal lives, but a response to what is happening to the world, and to life. This is the feature of TWTR which we don't find easily, anywhere. It's the fulcrum, the hinge to how we're related, to each other and to the living earth.

She speaks again the Shambala Prophesy. (I almost have it memorized by heart.)

Compassion is not soft or sentimental. It takes courage, strength, grit. You need insight of the inter-being of all phenomena and you need compassion: cool and hot. You need to be fearless with the pain. Cry. Breathe. Touch the Earth.

The Truth Mandala.

So much racial diversity in this intensive: the most EVER. we talk so much about genderqueer, pronouns mostly,  and about racism. We all want to be in love with each other, and when someone's hurt, they can say OUCH! and the response is OOPS. It's a teachable moment, but people have to be willing.

In this culture, you're taught to have the right answer, so you could grow up to solve problems and fix things. With nukes, there is NO solution. There is nothing that would make it something that we can live with. What do you do when there's no solution? Learn that we can't fix some things. Our world is not like a broken down car. That fixing notion belongs to the cartesian mind that separates, that see clearly/ objectively.  That never was a good system.

And then there is the well of deep humility. Letting the very assumptions of who we are dissolve. Our institutions are also what needs us to let go...but how? It's in our language, it's how we were brought up.

Maybe the path is Confusion, Beginner's mind— What a thing to ask of a proud Western mind! The empty bowl in the truth Mandala. The caterpillar in the chrysalis. DISSOLVE like that. And the caterpillar of our minds says, "But i was so special! I did everything that was asked of me! I was gonna be such a good caterpillar! And now I’m GOO. We are dying in that way-- dying to old identities, dying to certainties. Might as well; it's gonna happen if you give a shit about the world. We gotta learn to love the confusion and the dissolve. What a beautiful journey!  It's death and resurrection! You don't wanna be stuck half formed, do you? So, we die a little. The I-Don't-Know-Mind.  We're goo.

Prayer before lunch for the food— Thich Nat Han— "In this food, i see clearly the entire universe supporting my existence."


Deep Time Exercise-
We slowly stepped backwards through inhabited time, moving from a review of this day, through yesterday and last week, to months, years, decades, stepping backwards so slowly as Joanna spoke us backwards, narrating the scenes we passed through. We were born. We were conceived. We moved through the lives of our parents, my 2 rivers of them splitting to 4 as the grandparent's lives came to us through our feet, stepping slowly backwards. All the people it took to make me: I had rivers! I had people! All their gifts and talents and terrors and diasporas, back and back through the history of humanity, the wars, ice ages, the hunger, the intelligence, all the way back to the savannah in Africa. To the beginning of our species, and then she stopped and had us reverse direction, reverse the journey through history up until now, until here, in full narrative detail.  it was so vivid! i cried through the whole thing!

And then she left us. It was late. She left us as we fell apart, caught by each other's arms, and Jaq caught me. They held me and loved me and sat with me and asked for one sentence. It was something like "I have always been alone, the Solitary, the lonely only, no sibs, no partner, no kids, no parents even. And i am the end of the line.”… it's like i've always known this, and it's always been a heavy, unspoken stone in my throat, my heart, my belly. But now i feel SEEDED, feel like a seed that grew from a specific gene pool, and i know that sounds obvious, but i'd never considered that scenario before. NOT ALONE.

And then we had brilliant puppy piles and songs with Anne hanging out being the mom, and so much energy! So many new songs! And we sang and danced and drummed and piled for hours till we couldn't any more.

And now i get it that these specific talents and gifts and proclivities that i have — making people laugh, being disarmingly charming, being able to write and tell stories that make people FEEL, to express my passion for justice, and even my rage, the tilt of my head and my pattern of eyelashes and my toes — these all came from other people who came first. These were my ANCESTORS. I have ancestors! How has this fact eluded me for all these years?

My personal history and human history combined. Amazing to experience myself existing in the actual flow of history! I have a place. I am a record of what came before. like a fossil. But alive and dynamic and full of free will and deserving of an ancestry and a story that forms this one, right now.

morning notes:  Dragonflies surround me.
Embodied spirits in the cool lake of the Navarro River where we talk story through the laughter and the drums, the flutes and harmoniums. Great reach of forest and we drift over the water. Wanting pen and tea.

I consider the 2 choices available to me of lover —Wanting to write back to Deb who is totally cracking me up, overthinking romance in a way that reminds me of me.  To Ynyra, who throws herself off every cliff in pure childlike excitement, who does not think but flows and feels and falls through ice shelf after trap door, exclaiming to the bruises of the beauty of the sky, and peace descending. Deb watches from above,  circling the sky like a hawk, like a transcendent god, separate and feeling that.  Hurls bolts of wry humor, holds a paintbrush, sits lotus, and nothing happens, and that's fine with her. Ynyra moves. She touches deals and wheels and butts her head and drags the whole resistant and strangling trajectory forward towards perceived salvations, jumping rope with traumas, covered in rope burns and a tightness in her exhausted face that never shifts except when i am fucking her to heaven. She is so pretty.  She needs me. She now says she wants to be a chamo artist--perfect gig for her. Deb's big green eyes take it all in. Her mind registers everything, said and unsaid, for further contemplation. She rolls ideas like marbles in the mouth of her mind. It takes time to image every mental possible outcome.  Ynyra doesn't measure by any standard i know of. She leans in, fully, anticipates the plunge, takes quick reading, sprouts wings from her holy holes, and flies. She flies straight towards me. Nothing to do but open up.

This morning, swaying to the Elm Dance, i felt myself a tree in the forest swaying in the center, drawn in closer, closer like a soft skin pouch on a silk string. There, hands raised and swaying we were the trees in the Chernobyl forest. The holocaust trees. The tears start early this morning, this fabulous morning, swaying as irradiated tree, surrounded and held, in and out by the forest.

Joanna: Conscious activism — the grief work, the truth mandala, the Bowl of Tears, the Chief Seattle sharing. Always a little broken-hearted and empty doing this work, always willing to be, and to be a little off center. "Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding" (Kalel Gibran.) and so we are back to the goo; the holy dissolve.


The fear of pain is the worst thing. It causes panic and paralysis--the 2 ditches on either side of the path as we walk this road. Paralysis- you're so scared that you enclose your heart.

Depression (twin sister) Addiction (another relative). All are about CHOOSING NOT TO BE HERE. On the other side, Panic.  Once the pain does break in, we blame, we project all our fear onto the target of our choice. Now, we don't know if we're on the path to the sunny future, or to the mushroom cloud. We hold each other's hand on the path. The pain of what's been done to life and to us, to our ancestors, helps us to recognize the pain in other people's lives. Our deadened limbs begin to ached with memory and blood flooding back. It hurts to remember what's been done to our body. It hurts to remember how scared you were as a little child. There's that pain. Then, what's being done to others in our name, by the very ones who claim to represent us for our benefit. The lies hurt. The ugliness hurts.

None of the Industrial Revolution could have happened without the slave trade. Today we are haunted by that, and by the prison industrial complex. And what does it do to the ones who turn the key? and to the American Psychiatric Association who's agreed to help with torture techniques? How much pain can we tolerate?

The practice of gratitude, deep breathing, watching and being with beauty, all build our capacity to tolerate the emotional pain. We have a job to do. We have to learn to do this. Our job is to keep our siblings on this path and not fall into the ditches. Our job is to tolerate the pain so we can help others to tolerate the pain. THAT'S THE WORK.  It's spiritual. By tolerating it, we expand our capacity in widening circles--family, community, humanity, the earth. We incorporate the pain by harvesting the gifts of the ancestors to save and heal our world. These are strategies for finding our strength and vitality and connection.

This work is so that people can become better activists, but more, it's so that when things really start to fall apart, people will not turn on each other.

We've got a job to do. this is just one path, with tools to be with what happens, no matter what happens. Be with it with an open heart, which loves. You're going to be a shelter and a guide, a comfort and an inspiration in the coming years. You will show up, listen, BE, and keep folks from falling into the ditches. People will know they are heard and that they belong, because of how YOU hear them. You will show up in your very vulnerability, in your laughter, show them that it's ok to laugh, to feel, in the storm. you will cradle the broken people in your arms. YOUR OWN GRATITUDE WILL GROUND YOU. Confusion will be ok. you will go far beyond the need to be right. "Why am i still doing this?" Joanna asks--"I can't hear. i need a stick to walk. I'm old. but, There's no where else i want to be with. Just you people." What you want more than anything else is to be with  your brothers and sisters, and that's why i can't stop doing this work.  

So, let's step back with our microscopes and telescopes; fuck the cartesian eye that sees from a distance and objectifies. It has a place, but we got stuck out here, seeing the planet as something to use and exploit..(see drawing of world and eye at distance, then world with eye within, crying)

Thich NH says "We are the planet seeing itself".

This is Recursively —a non-linearity that pulls us back in. Our universe is constructed to that it can KNOW ITSELF. Our earth is US. Not dead. Not a sewer. Not a stuff pile of goods.

We re-enter just at the moment when we are poised to destroy it all; we wake up to see the blood on our hands, the tar sands, just at this moment where it is perhaps too late, we realize our true identity.  And in our grief, we come home to our true nature. We hear within ourselves the sounds of the earth, crying.  We are So Not Separate, so inter-existent, that what's happening to the planet is calling to us all the time.  Don't shrink! Don't want to be guiltless or to filter any of it. We can use the pain of feeling guilty to let that fuel compassion for everyone.

Joanna finds a bodily practice to stay with the pain:

BREATHING THROUGH. Picture your breath as a loop that connects you with the web and send it through your heart and back out to the web of life. Like the dance/prayer of the Elm Dance, name the pain that is there. Like granules of sand, breathe it through with the stream of looping air; take it through your heart. Don't keep it! It already hurts a little, but the heart is not an object that can be broken. It can hold the whole universe. This counter-acts the initial response where we're conditioned to be separate or to be in denial. When you get information like this, take it in like this. Take it in through the heart.

  1. an activist speaking about the issue
  2. 180 degree turn to a voice speaking in opposition to the activist voice
  3. a non-human creature about the issue
  4. a human being 200 years from now (7 generations)

This is how we get away from Descartes. We exercise and open to the mystery of unlimited consciousness and our moral imagination.

Day 5 is silence: i go to the redwoods and the sea.
"In the end, all i want is stretch marks on my heart."

My emotional heights are climbing me up the ecstasy ladder, heart-first.
My intention on the silent one-day: to love myself as i love the world.
Remember that HOME is as close as the next breath.

We're into the 2nd half- the juicy stuff. Look, she says, you all showed up again after sharing our pain for the world.  After that piece, this is the moment of harvesting in the spiral. Before we move into Seeing With New Eyes. Also, it is comparable to the 2 weapons of the Shambala Warrior. Compassion- not being afraid of the suffering; it takes courage- its not all mushy-hearted.

Poem by Jennifer Wellwood —"Fear is alright: otherwise how do you know what to be brave about? So scare me!"

Emptiness and fullness require each other.

Exercise — We are asked to share a story with a partner about something we did that changed a situation for the better. Then let's unpack the QUALITIES that experience demonstrated.  She calls up a right-handed person and a left-handed one. People call out the traits, the qualities exemplified and they write them down on a big sheet.

This list defines POWER.  "I never used that word", she says. Good list.

The most important cognitive revolution of our time is in the understanding of Power. I didn't use that word, but look at this list! The old way of seeing power, which is at the root of classical science, is power over, to control, to dominate. We now understand differently how power is structured.

Back in early Greece, Pre-Socratic, there were 2 views of reality up for grabs. 1. Parmenides: something that's really real doesn't change. this leads to humans being separate. and 2. Heraclites: everything flows. The Buddha, at about the same time, said everything changes. #1 won.

Reality is made up of things: this characterized mainstream western thought for all this time. Aristotle categorized EVERYTHING. This was useful. Newton, Galileo said one thing hits another, etc. What they didn't pay attention to was the relationships between things, the influences of how we affect each other, the web of relations.

If this is your world view, then what is power?

What one thing can do to another: push it around, limit it's choices. Starhawk called this "power over". As you push something around, you can hurt it and shatter it into a million pieces, so we need strong defenses to hold ourselves together. (smiling is a defense). Look at our defense budget- the last remaining superpower, as it tells itself ceaselessly. We are so powerful and so heavily armored, there’s just a skinny slit in the helmet and so you can't really see. You're not flexible. If you fall, you can't get up.   Also, this notion of power is property--it's something you can GET. All this has been so assumed and conveyed that it now characterized our condition. To have MORE. It's top-down, hierarchical, suspicious, watchful, spying and paranoid. You hide how much you know and find out what others know.

It's the structure of the teeter-totter, the win/lose, the zero sum game. scarcity. competitiveness. So painful, so wonderful to see the assumptions.  People as objects to be controlled. Sacrifice zones and sacrifice people.

What happened in the 20th century was this breakthrough in systems thinking. This shift came through the life sciences, who found that this unilateral power model didn't help explain organic, biological systems. So, the old way didn't explain the world, and so they shifted the way they looked at things, and they let the separateness recede into a series of FLOWS of matter, energy, and information. And what had been separate entities were now seen as patterns, knots, recursively moving back on each other.

It's a figure/ground reversal. What had been dominant--the separateness of manifest objects, recedes and the relations come forward into a web of dynamic interweaving.  This interweaving causes more relationships to arise and dance, making more patterns. Systems thinkers didn't try to find out what they were made of; forget the building blocks of physical reality. Forget taking apart nature- (that's what "analyze" means)- We go to the atom and then we take that apart too, but there's no stability there.  And then you've split the atom, and we are fucked.  The stuff-based view of reality vs. the process view of reality.  Process view asks "How does it dance? What is it made of vs. how does it BE, move, interact?"

World As Lover, World As Self has a lot about this view, which helps us understand the thinking of the Buddha. Non-linear causality means everything is reciprocal. Helps us to understand the complexity. Systems Theory spread from biological to social sciences and even to political sciences. Such a wholesale change! The scientists groped for visual metaphors to explain the biggest revolution in millennia.

One metaphor is WHIRLPOOL- we are not stuff that abides. We are patterns that perpetuate. We are flow, we can handle the pain if we let if flow with the breath in and out, but we don't have to hold it.  FLAME- a metaphor for matter in/matter out. The flame keeps its shape by burning. In a way, we keep our shape by disappearing. We are than evanescent. The sun is burning itself out, like a candle. It shines by perishing. And so do we. That metaphor is a doorway into such freedom and resilience. We shine by perishing.

Because of co-arising, there are cultures who've always seen the flow and the interdependence. Lao Tsu, Confucius, Native Americans knew this, so this was a revolution for the Western world. many cultures embodied this. Lunar tradition in the Paleolithic and Neolithic knew this.

As outdated as this first idea was, it has shaped the world and continues to through globalization and export of all our ideas to the globe. Our language shapes how we think. The flowing languages are all in danger of extinction from the Industrial Growth Society. The images that are helpful to us now are those that support the Great turning.

Parellax-2 views converging in a comparable way. Buddha and Systems Theory separated by 2 and a half thousand years! Allow yourself to find other ways of seeing to enrich your understanding.Another image: A nerve cell —we have 100 billion nerve cells in our brain. The image of a nerve cell and a neural net helps us to understand how we live, and ecosystem, and radioactive contamination, and lots of things.

One of the great things about being so old is that i see the amazing rapid changes. It's encouraging that things can change so fast. If you were a nerve cell in a neural net, and you were convinced that power worked in a power-over way, and you made defenses, that would mess up the whole system. The nerve cell would die, and the whole system of which it is a part would weaken.  These systems organize to flow through. They become more responsive; more adaptive. Just telling people this is words isn't enough, cos we're so conditioned to throw up defenses. But we can PRACTICE and help shed old dysfunctional ways of conditioningPower in the new paradigm is about connection, openness, flexibility, willingness, presence, vulnerability. Power with. Synergy is the phrase scientists use. Synergy is more than just working together. It adds that what happens is more than the sum of your strength and mine. See self as FLOW. The Buddha's term for the self pissed off his dominant culture. "Stream of Being" or "Stream of consciousness". How do you armor a stream? We practice dyads: How do you know when you're in flow? What causes flow?

Shambala, Pt. 2
Buddha doesn't just ask us to go with the flow, but to be aware and choose to act for the whole. Systems thinking says the same. In service to the military and corporate world, our IGS totally perverts the inter-flow.

Where is The Self? At the point of CHOICE. In that flow, there's a choosing, a rudder that helps us steer in the flow. What do we know? What are our gifts? Motivation and intention are hugely important in finding out who you are.  More important than "effectiveness", cos how can you ever know if you have been effective? Do your long-dead teachers know how they've affected you a thousand years later? You can't know.  Ah, but if you lose your motivation, it's all flat. If you cease to care, you can just throw all your work out. Intention is so critical. Boddhisatva is the one who understands that we're part of the web, and so there's no higher intention than healing the whole show. There is no private salvation; we are interwoven.

Bodhicitta is the intention. We ARE interconnected; we don't have to TRY to be, or work towards it.  It's like 2 levels of living your life: tedium or drama or the chitchat mind, but when you think about it, Bodhicitta is always available to you. Oh yeah..i'm here in this room with you and working for the sake of all beings.  I am here. This is my chance to be alive and care for this exquisite planet. These realms (i can't find a parking space; i'm late) coexist, like music can. You don't have to stop and make yourself different; it's just THERE. Trust that intention to show up and guide your life.

The Shambala Warrior, the Boddhisatva cares so much about the waking up of all that after a lifetime and your ready to step thru and be liberated, you turn back. You keep re-entering samsara until every blade of grass is illuminated, until everyone has enough to eat and everyone takes care of you. That's in YOU. We're here at a time when the choices are so clear.

If yr pedaling a solution, then people think you're trying to sell them something, but if it's a cry from the heart, then it's authentic, and other hearts will open. We have to confront the numbness that tolerates this level of poison.

We all belong to dominant groups and targeted groups.

What's wrong with our current system, both how it FEELS, and structurally?

What are alternatives?

Human law: we are caretakers of the planet, but we've made written laws where it's o.k. to kill anything and everything, legally. Corporations are both entitled and obligated to kill and starve and dominate it all. That's their law.

Each time a healthy pattern is repeated, it strengthens connections in our brains; in 7 generations, we have new healthy patterns.

7 Black churches were set on fire since we've been here.  We've already had such passionate and powerful struggles about white privilege and supremacy in this group.  Tonight there is an African Grief Ceremony from Maladoma Somey, brought to us by Maria Owl. She lays an altar under the banner "Black Lives Matter'". Logs make a border and newspaper lines the floor beyond. 10 double sets of bolsters, cushions, and tissues. Toilet paper rolls. As many drummed and we all sang the repeated African chant, calling on the ancestors, folks would go to the grieving pillows before the altar and someone would go with them, always there were 2-- "I've got your back" we say. "I hear you. I'm with you."  

I followed Jade up there, held her for a long time. I don't know who followed me. We cried, yelled, pounded, and our physical snotty grief  filled the newspaper. Everyone sang the song, just 4 lines, ending in a gesture of release, arms flinging the energy out the door. It went on for 3 hours.  Finally 4 volunteers, all Black, changed into sheets and gathered all the snot and newspapers, all the grief, and buried it in the garden, lined with cedar. It took a long time. We kept drumming and singing to thank them, and we made up a big bed for them, and when they returned, they lay down and we brushed them with cedar, swaying on ancient feet, exhausted and filled with gratitude and something else. The depth of love, the height of inspiration, grounded in grief and community. We re-established the now-diminished realms of Grief and Praise in our current white/American culture.

To Shift to a Gaian identity is one focuses of this work. We belong to each other to the extent that we can accept each others' differences.

There are 4 dimensions to the crisis we now face:
1. Carrying Capacity- Destruction of the life support systems that permit us to continue. Understanding how this failure works, and that it did in all the civilizations prior to ours'.
2. Exhaustion of resources for future civilizations- All fossil and mineral resources are going to be used up. There will be no more Iron Age. No more nuclear age. No more industrial activity possible.
3. Loss of Biodiversity- these are threatened by #1. You lose life forms, there is habitat loss and contamination. This 6th great mass-extinction, The Great Unravelling, unravels complex systems and you lose complexity of life forms, including the extrememly complex life form  that's developed consciousness and the capacity for self-reflexivity.
4. The loss of our oxygen capacity- Plankton in the oceans AND the forests' trees. This is happening very quickly and changing the weather. Over 40% of the plankton is gone. If it really goes, we'll only have a planet capable of supporting anaerobic life forms.     

Let this drop from your brain to your heart and your gut.

We need to Re-Valorize Anger in the Truth Mandala. Anger= a longing for justice. A yearning to wake people up to conscious participation. join us!

A big problem with patriarchy is that anger is forbidden (esp. in women). Anger is seem as shameful, evil, bad. Feminist thinkers have reclaimed anger as a healthy response.  it is NOT malice or hatred or ill will. It's about wanting to repair, to create or strengthen relationship, rather than rupture it.

It's a passion for justice, a "How dare you?!" It's good for your circulation. Gets you out of bed in the morning. Hatred is cold. Anger is heat: "listen to me!" It's alive.

Deep Time —
Living proof of the fact that if you let the disturbance, the anguish in, it brings a deep reward.  For Joanna, it was about radiation from nuclear waste.

The one-way arrow of time booby-traps the nuclear age.  We say "the past is done. The future is an abstraction. The now is the only place we have power." Market share and profits are only NOW; they cannot listen to the triple bottom line, which includes sustainability, but market forces speed up time. Wealth sloshes around the planet. "Hurry sickness" is wrecking our physical, psychological, social and mental health.

Open sentence: What does it feel like to be always in a hurry?

Damn! This computer is so slow!  i could almost breathe a full breath before this fucker booted up! Hurry!

The world is so much slower.

But life has a rhythm; it's just not our modern day human rhythm.

Experiment with and find the range of rhythms you can move to. We don't even realize the pressure on us of the tempo of time. All the hurried mothers--kids need time.

We break our relationship to the past and the future. Rd "The Broken Connection" by Robert J. Lifton about psychic numbing.  This produces shock in your heart-mind, and you freeze. We split the atom and released the strongest binding force in the universe, and since then, we've become UNGLUED.

In our time, because of technology and our growth economy, we've undertaken actions for which the consequences last forever:

Radioactive Contamination– the half life of depleted uranium, which we even use in the tails of our airplanes for weight, and in all wars now, is 4.5 billion years! It remains hazardous for that long! That's the whole time of our planet's existence. It's mythic. The karma, the consequences of our actions lasts forever. Also, Fracking. Injecting chemicals that are toxic to life into the only fresh water that we have or will ever have. This water is for all our time on our planet. And we don't know how to take those chemicals out!

also, Genetic Modification– New life forms are a very hit-or-miss operation. Once we do that, there's no taking it back.  Also, Climate disruption, Extinctions, etc. (the sublime anxieties)

Because of this, the future isn't far away anymore, and because in our notions, there's a symmetry between the past and the future, it's as if, in our very choice-making capacity, they are Right Here.

The Study-Action Groups in Joanna's life changed her life. Don't leave it to the experts! Use people from all walks of life, all kinds of intelligence.

Work this on your right brain, on the dream level, because of the mythic nature of it all. This is how the ancestors reach us, in our dreams and in our moral anguish. Joanna says she doesn't do grief work just to be cathartic and purge us, but to OPEN US UP to what we can learn from ancestors, critters, the future, and the world.

My ancestors are in the shape of my cheekbones, the length of my neck, and this crazy white skin. The past and the future are wired into us. Right now are are all the same generation, cos we're alive right now. And this generation is very weak-- being distracted and exhausted, and made stupid, so we need those other generations, but they need our breath, our mouths, our voices, because we have access to those powers right now, and they don't have access, except through us.

When you can be present to all 3 times at once, the Tibetan Buddhists say that is the 4th time, which includes them all. We bring those present to our moral imaginations.. (I cuddle with Jaq (Vietnamese), Jade (Anasazi), and EdWord (Black) on the couch, and we love and cuddle and touch to blur those terrible lines.

We do The 7th generation/Ancestor (activist) dyads. (for the first time ever, i was the 7th generation and got to speak to the ancestor/activist. I like it better when i get to tell the story of this time. I am a superb storyteller. This is my gift from my own ancestors; I commit myself to this gift.)

The Holographic Universe- How one part reflects the whole. I am an open system; the world is an open system. Once you get away from a one-way view of reality and into recursive and reflexive systems, you see that the whole is reflected in the parts of the whole.  "Recursive" is how you affect your world and how it affects you. Stan Groff proved that the experience of being born influences us by stamping capacities and inclinations of our minds to life. He found that in altered states, using LSD and holotropic breathwork, information surfaces that the subjects could not have acquired in their lives. It's stuff about the universe that's coded into us. So, we are part of the universe, but we also hold the universe within us. Thich Nhat Han writes about how The journey of the universe is in us. " Remember being rock, being gas. Firestorms in outer space manifest in you, and grass and chrysanthemums. The infinitely large is present in my tiny body. Measure time from the non-beginning to the never-ending". (The Flower Garland Sutra) Buddah says we can be in one moment and in all 3 at once.

Just before dinner, Joanna takes us out to the basketball court for the Being Death exercise, not found in any books. It's a surprise, because it needs to be.

Look across the huge circle and connect with the person facing you on the other side. You will be their death and they will be yours'. First, you make eye contact. Then, you meet each other. Then you interact. In silence.

Finally, you sit down and prepare to die. I was with Allison, gorgeous, young, queer angel. I was a clown throughout, honking her nose, switching shoes, drawing in chalk, watching bees in the blackberry blossoms, and sniffing each other.  She cried and laughed through the whole thing, taking it way more seriously than i could.

I did it like i do everything. Fast and skimming the surface. Moving too quickly to go too deeply. Cracking others up. That's a good way, and it's my way. I don't give death like I give sex. for the other. This one was for me. I didn't feel like her death; i just felt her as my own. And i had to disarm her, make her like me. I took death and shaped it to my desire. As her clown, i took charge, set the pace and the tone, and she followed. Like with sex, and so much else in my life, i don't open as much as i manage. And i really do plan to manage my own death. To play with it; it is MINE.

Tonight, we had sex workshops at dinner, and then cuddle puddles, and finally did The Cradling in the big room: I had Jo, who is twice as heavy as me. We lifted each other's arms and legs and head, and then whispered messages into each others' ears.

Then sang kirtan to Joanna "Thank you for all you do and for bringing us together..." Totally spontaneous, and then we danced.  They are still dancing.

The 4th of July. I send a greeting to my people partying and blowing shit up back home.

Why Are We Here? What are our goals? Joanna asks how we are doing in our spiral of our time together. This work includes many facets —

To sharpen our perceptions of the unraveling, and the transition to a life-sustaining society.
1. To understand — cognitively and psychologically, spiritually and perceptually —The Great Turning. To participate in The Great Turning, Deep Ecology, Living Systems Theory, and understanding current evidence of the destruction of the unraveling.
2. To enter into spiritual practices that are drawn from many traditions, including Buddhism.
3.To play together — Interactive practices, processes, exercises, rituals, collaborative work, ceremonies, dyads.
4. To build strong, lasting connections with sibling warriors for survival of life on earth that will provide support for breakdown, collapse, and political repression.
5. To review our lives, reflect on our gifts, and clarify our motivations and intentions for taking part in The Great Turning.

The spiral is the shape of the overall experience, but it's also a fractal that reflects the movement of the soul in this experience. Gratitude makes us glad to be here. We claim our gifts, and the gift of life itself. Then, we see how our wounds can make us more effective; we go beyond self-victimization and see the power of going beyond our limitations. Our hearts break open to the beauty  and suffering of life, and we get that magnificent paradox that makes us both so joyful and so sad (like my experience of the Elm Dance) Magnificent paradox.

Every open system is a whole. That means that when parts come together — molecules to make a cell, individuals to make a family, families to make a nation, something is there that wasn't there before. (The whole is greater than the sum of it's parts.)

That's magic.

Emergent Properties happen. Synergy happens.  

Ex: oxygen + hydrogen= water.  Who cd predict that something abrasive and something explosive could make water?  Where does that come from? How does it happen? So, don't bother waiting till you have a clear ad confident sense of what you're gonna do. We can't know when we put our energies together what new emergent properties will come. Each step changes what we can see. Just TRY. Here is evidence from the universe to inspire us.

Each system is self organizing and it does what it does and has its shape because of its own dynamic nature. It is self regulating. Self correcting. (Joanna speaks; we cuddle on the couch)

Flow is matter, energy, information. A system is a knot, sustained by what flows through it. Elements of change are a constant flow. What's amazing is that with the constant flow through, the system can be homeostatic and stay reasonably the same. What's flowing through you at the moment?

And, through it all, we keep our shape, like a flame, by burning.  By burning, we keep our balance. Balancing requires an awareness, which is a  function of bringing in news and results of what i just did.  Feedback causes mindfullness and change in awareness. Pain is a feedback. Feedback is when yr aware of yr own actions. They feed back to you.

Open systems don't need orders from the outside. An open system cannot stay in balance if the mind is located outside the natural world, like in god or in leaders. It transcends god, and Descartes.

Our truth may be "I don't know", but the system will know.

That's why corporate capitalism is unsustainable. It externalizes cost, and thus refuse feedback. It grows no matter what, blind to limits. And it only grows one thing: their own profit. When one variable trumps all others, that's tyranny.

Sir James Lovelock was hired by NASA to find life on Mars. He asked how would we know on Mars that life existed on Earth? He saw the self-organization of this active balancing system of nature on earth, and called it Gaia Theory. Each is chaos finding balance all the time.  We all are.

This is dynamic equilibrium. It's like riding a bike. If you stay still, you fall over. You've got to maintain balance by constantly moving all the time. We make micro-adjustments, negative feedback maintains balance.

All systems change. Dynamic equilibrium has certain codes. We self-regulate our temperature to keep at 98.6. The invariances around which we organize evolve. Open systems evolve. Any learning actually changes the patterns and codes by which we make sense and see the world.  Industrial society teaches that we are separate. We need to unlearn and re-wild. We can change the very codes by which we make meaning.

ex: I'm formed in a culture with 2 pronouns. I get the feedback from trans-folks and about "they", and i get the correction. I observe how I want to argue about grammatical correctness.  Change isn't easy.

Negative feedback is about balancing — it's a message that says No, we're not deviating.  Positive feedback is a need for change; it says Yes, we are deviating. From sub-atomic to highly complex, we are all wholes, but we're also part of a larger whole.  We are subsystems to a larger system.

Information comes in from the world around us through sensory data.  Behaviorism believes stimulus causes response- Pavlov's dog salivates at the bell, anticipating food. But systems theory says, no —We don't respond in those terms.  We respond in terms of how we understand the stimulus. Perception + code. We add these 2 steps to the bare stimulus. The ruts and grooves of our inner world condition by rewards and expectations of our past experiences.  This is where we CHOOSE. At a certain level of complexity, rewards and punishments don't work anymore. We see trajectories in the simplest choices we make. This is the nature of self-reflexivity, which we have because of the complexity of our neurological systems. We're able to imagine a variety of choices. We can change the karma by inserting choice with a purpose. We can set a new purpose; both individuals and cultures can do this.

It's comfortable when the data coming in matches our codes. So the Amerikan way of like keeps going and is "not negotiable". We can keep burning coal. But now, new data is coming in. We can't. We go to great extremes to block the information flows. When the information breaks through, we need to find another code to help us understand. Exploratory self-reorganization happens all the time through evolution. The point where what you believed in is taken away.

Ex: Copernicus didn't match the code. It's so painful when you don't.  We all don't match the code of our society any longer. It's like a dark night of the soul. So, part of the drive to understand white privilege is that.

Positive Disintegration: It's very acute in this time. We've been raised to succeed, and so we go to college to be successful and independent, and then we go into debt, and then into wage slavery to pay. Our old ways of thinking are all ground up and we need each other hugely because WE’RE MOLTING. We have to drop the shell that told us we were a good person. When the feedback that comes in matches our expectations, negative feedback is reestablished.

Are we ready to tolerate pain? Can we change? got thousands of people to be arrested and it did nothing to influence Congress, which was their plan. It didn't work, so they moved away from that and into divestment campaigns.

Joanna would rather work with activists who are burnt out than with spiritual practitoners who are into feeling SERENE in this turbulent unraveling.

Premature Equanimity and Spiritual By-Passing —These are spiritual TRAPS. They tell woo-woo folks that if you’re in distress, it's cos of your attachments. Goddammit! I am attached! says Joanna. I'm attached to life continuing. I want to stir people up rather than calm them down.

That's why the spiritual concept of the Boddhisatva- that there is no individual salvation-

is so important to this work. Fuck serenity and personal comfort! We ARE interconnected. it feels good to know that, and to be dedicated to the welfare of all beings.  We need to meditate.  to dissolve ourselves regularly. This stillness teaches us.

Joanna: I am so moved that you are here, we have been together for years, the same love for our planet has been in our hearts, we have been together but just did not see each others’ faces, we have been hearing the voice, the same call.

Everyone in this room is being breathed by life, in this moment across Mendocino county, California, the continents, critters, birds, fish, in the sky's, people in taxi cabs, hospitals, supermarkets, beings being breathed by life. So we learn more and more in this time that the breath can teach us about the great web, that links us all, it is our wider nature, reminds us that life within us is so vast, an immensity of life.

What do we seek in our life, our intentions for our separate lives and our collective lives, in this moment in history and for this intensive? Intentions could be expressed in so many different ways. We want to remember who we really are, when we all could wake up to our true nature which is not separate from our life on earth, then the folly would diminish, the killing, destruction, misery, deliberate installation of fear and isolation.

And so it is wonderful to have your main task be something that makes you so happy. You do not have to whip yourself, mortify, starve yourself, the main thing is to find out that we are already home, already alive, and a living earth. It is an exquisite expression of the universe of incredible intricacy and interdependence, we are part of that and what we do together and our bodies, the way we think together can be a celebration of that, that moves us to learning more and more about who we are, our ecological self.

We brought something to put on the altar, or we find something in this land that expresses our deep sense of the sacredness of life, the desire to experience that sacredness.

Feelings free us from the need for having Solutions.  If we learn to be present with the situation, to dare to take it in, then the response will come as we begin to name the despair.  You don’t need the right answer, just a boundless heart. You don’t move on from the despair, but you learn to live with it, and as the tides of awareness are allowed to wash through you, the caring for the world grows deeper, and you learn to love it all.

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These are writings about Nature and Spirit, the more-than-human-world, and meditations on relationship. 

This Writing Mind


You need a voice to write, I’ve heard. Inside me, silvered waters ceaselessly pour teeth and claws through growling clefts where gorgons and dragons rest, guarding treasures of a psyche. Inside pours a mineral flooded river the color of chocolate, and the river flows on forever as the words line up inside to leave me.

You need a voice to write and I have a voice, but it’s a sparkly splintered sundog, a wave-train river run, glare on the tracks, too untidy, loose and windy, laced with frets, drops, and here comes another list. Blessed goddamn list-poems. In addition to bi-polar mood disorder, and dyslexia, I have something called ADD/ADHD mind.  Alphabet-minded-diagnoses that means I can’t sit still, can’t focus or organize much, am plagued and lit-up by impulsivity. 

In Jewish myth, there are 72 names of god, and 72 kinds of wisdom. I’m not a good Jew, more Jew-ish—a JewWitch—but under all my doubts and sometimes full-on fury at god, I am worshipful of Creation. Both the creation that surrounds me and that pouring from me are sacred because I know, with a religious faith, that I’m the creation that I’m the creator of. 

Being a writer with ADHD is tricky. ADHD is going through your life in tap shoes. It’s a dance between less-compelling impulsivities. It’s all about the tap shoes, baby. Hummingbird-lifestyle-days, hitting walls for hours till I fall into the thesaurus and stay awhile, totally satisfied. “Leisure” is set in opposition to “endeavor” in the thesaurus, but I am full of endeavors in my leisure.  

Sifting the granularities of my daily life—which might be shit and might be  diamonds—standing ear-deep in it and continuing pushing this pen, coaxing the keyboard as it all rises higher till the rose of sky opens, and sniffing towards that blossom, I lift my tool, shove through the lid of limit and self-doubt. I am here, mixed metaphors and all.

Most times, when I think I’m done, it’s just the edge of the beginning. So many edges—confronted by beginnings, i circle above my body—it’s too scary to be touching down. Like in a plane when that fucking moment arrives for bouncing down on something real, a solid surface after all that soaring. Finally land to face that first-edit full of terror—better to error in thinking I’m done.

I am a womin in a forest made of glass and filled with light. All the world drips like honey down the sides of my jar. Calling you, Nature, in voice of sunlight to come inside, penetrate my sparkle blood, soothe this wrinkled breath. Calling you, Culture, with knives and a whet stone, to critique the life-hating/woman-hating/Nature-hating human world. There’s the familiar shuffling between urgency and strategy, and then, the moment to begin. Nature never begins, never ends, but I’m just a human, on the verge of breaking through the vertical and vivid vastness of my culture’s complex silence. There’s bloating emptiness, excitement, and a volcano erupting.

Friends say I’m so smart, but I’m not. What I am is fast. My brain is so much faster than most other peoples’, faster than it should be in ratio to my meaning-making processes, and so I can come up with witticisms, jokes, smart-assery, I skim all social surfaces like a pelican but that’s not “smart”. Smart is solving problems. Smart is organizing my shit. Smart is understanding the world, or just editing this one page. I go round and round, bound to chaos on a spiral ride and what I am now is more confused than ever, but confused on a higher level. That’s evolution I guess.

I’m a Hedonist with ADD and excesses of time, space, energy. Been labelled lazy, in a life arranged around analysis, research and subversive imagination instead of a sequence of stepping stone goals towards some destination called grown-up. Called success, or wealth. At this life-long refusal of submission I am rich, wise, and oh-so successful. Well-to-do as anyone, thank you very much.

I shun consumption but I dig accumulation. I’m acquisitive as a crow. Stuff just comes to me. Friends give me objects because I make very little actual money, and i’m physically smaller than most and they’ve outgrown their clothes. Also, experiences, friends, lovers, adventures, come to me, and i hoard them like jewels, complex gorgeous beads I string into necklaces. Lovers come, add their juice to the stew, move on or revolve endless, as beloved exes. Commitment to fabulous fantasies of romance or travel wax and wane. It’s a catch and release situation.

I live inside of Yashi, the straw bale palace I built with my pals, the greatest recycled home for a hedonist in all the production-obsessed world. I sit, idle spider in the center in the sunshine in the beauty, blessed and waiting for it, because free people recline, motherfucker—it’s in the bible! I sit just above the center, bouncing gently on this iridescent web, wanting every sparkle, knowing it’s a flowing tribute that lasts as long as I last and just to be sure, I don’t plan to last too long. I have plans for my exit—I got a strategy.  

I’ve leaned left for a lifetime, as dropped out of patriarchy as a post-modern, pre-apocalypse human can be in this world. Refusing to work for the man is a privilege, shunning wage slavery and ambition is a gift. I know how to get what I need without money, and I know how to need less.

I know that golden aspen leaves look best back-lit by late-day sun, and I can impersonate crows, magpies, and decent folk if I have to. I know how to whistle through a grass-blade, how to grow pot and apple trees from seeds, and make most anybody laugh, even cops. I don’t know how to change a baby’s diaper, but I know how to change a demented geriatric persons’. I’m anxious around technology and credit cards, but not spooked of mountain lions, wolves or bears. I don’t know how to use Venmo, but I know how to build a fire and can tell you all the moon’s cycles. I can’t do math, but I can read a room, an astrology chart, and animal tracks in the snow. I don’t know how to sell myself but I can seduce anyone. I don’t have the patience for rush hour traffic but I can make a poem out of any ol’ day. I can’t identify with with capitalism, perfectionists, or republicans, but I can identify patterns of most trees, flowers, bird flight, and mental illnesses.

Look at this writer’s life—it’s fucking beautiful! Wide and sheltered and deep in bits where I went, teaspoon in hand to quest and question, conquer and be flayed open-hearted by the grief and the beauty I find. Kindness covers it all in flowers, fury lashes storms from the heated center to every leafy green edge. These steps aren’t GPS googled directions, more an improvisational dance, a blossoming haiku banging out grace in tap shoes. 

It’s this mind, goddess, like a smoking censor, this swinging chain through the fog that rules my days, exhausts me trying to track it, or to just keep up. Meditation helps, and so does watching the leaves in the river, or melting ice, surrendering to seasonal strobes that don’t stop, and never taking all this too seriously. It’s always mythic in here, always a metaphor—asking daily, what’s this meta-for?

Writing with my metabolism, hummingbird, I just go on my nerve. I’m a grammatical terrorist. I want to take you to the edge, sort of safely, where you can reach out a bit from the edge and maybe touch into this other stuff, but really, it’s this other stuff that interests me.This laboratory of vocabulary. The way words work. The way words fuck on the page. Writing as sex, a way to locate and milk the energies. Some sort of flintstone striking.

And sometimes I carry a long, gently curved stick while I wander in the woods in the velvet air, and I hold it up in my two hands over my one head, and in this way I’m constantly framing archways into other worlds. I am the threshold that I cross. This feels like deep magic, the long, curving magic of a human life.  Ever-arriving through portals, windows, and the privilege of beauty. And the privilege of grief.

I’ve unhitched my deeds from the quaint plow of necessity, but not from the stars I long to join. Like the Incredible Shrinking Man, I long to, am ready to pass on. It’s cosmic—I can see how easy it would be to melt like ice in the river, to step across that line, the final fuck-you to my kind, the un-speakable unwinding of evolution. The buck stopping here, I could just die.

These days, my Mama is dying, and I have tasks—call her doctor, her lawyer, call her insurance company —these are dull words that yoke my days, pierced with dark bundles of chemicals, bundles of kindling, bundles of nerve fibers.  Bundles of words I’ve written—stacks of books bundled in heaps of twice-used papers—language packages always ready to stretch out, or to burn. Ever reaching towards the finished version. The someday-me, watching open-mouthed from my perch on tilting bundles of pages, that avalanche of words loose in gravity as I race back and forth through endless loops of jewel necklaced, reckless days, tidying backhoe buckets full of sentences.

One honeyed stem feeds the hole yearning to be whole, the aching emptiness, the emotional wilderness, the great swings of middle age—egoic, biochemical, astrological—till time is meaningless and there’s nothing to recall except a thrillion words on a zillion pages, a longing that one match can cure, forever. My heart’s avalanche—a freight train coming off the mountain, fast and hard, taking whole treed slopes, families, communities with it.

If I have to come back when I die, let me come as a bird or a cloud to rain for ten thousand years on the land, on birds and trees. The stories of trees, the hinges of seasons, the revelation of mycellia and animal tracks keep me sort of sane. I gain identity and entry to doors and gateways. The story of blizzard and sunshine, the feel of tires on a mountain road, the silence of the earth beneath my pillow when I practice listening for Life’s stories. The stories of the world embrace me as presence.

But what are these stories anyway? Just the bare science of observation cloaked in imagination, which itself is the shining input of another realm really. Attention, presence, awareness, precision, being here now—the yearning to connect, and with minds more than human. What can save us? I save my own self, again and again, by my muscular, corpuscular ability to create, to tell a different story, this mind the sacred ladder I climb each day, grammar lassoing limbs in the jungle, language weaving green alphabet bridges over mute dripping gorges, the gorgeous alchemical ingredient that shifts simple awareness to poetry.

The first story was to escape the world. The next story was to confront the world. The last story is to engage the world. For two years, I’ve worked to gather my life into an over-flowing website. I hold the pen like riding a wild horse fast through a dense forest. Leaning in and lying flat as truth whips past. 

Desire carries me, harries me, marries and crucifies me. I wrestle with the great work of making meaning. I write to tame shadow and light, to restore shape and texture to the orphaned feelings, to drizzle the world onto the page, stained with the dazzle of the inner gaze, and flying off like a comet to connect with the underworld and the cosmos.

To Connect. The act of writing tames my loneliness and my terror of coercion. I wrote through the persistent isolation of my urban childhood. Writing taught me to reach out and to share. These words bring me into the company of others, thinking thoughts like hands and arms that can touch in space, in time. Language offers a heart-mirror, proof that I exist, that someone maybe is listening. You—thoughts, pen, page—you make me exist.

I write while I hike. I write while I drive. Dangerous. Here, writing at the edge of my river—armored, blasted and bent—an eternity of water stair-steps. A tawny stripe, a golden flowing rococo channel. You, ruffled shout, tempered ruffian. You, eternal child, delirious accumulation. You, beauty I honor who owes me nothing.  Always you’re yessing and never the same. For you, I‘ve claimed the right to a Voice and to Imagination—those great tools of witness. From you I learn ease and flow, and I try not to be attached, while I long all the same to be attached.

It's memoir that i write, poetical, political, stream of consciousness nature- worshipping memoir. There’s the life in the body—the medical sojourns, the flood, the parents dying slowly, faster and faster, Life in extremis. There’s political tragedy, poetical comedy. Singularity I’ve always been, living radical and thundering down into the racing waters of myself. This adventure—writing all the time.

Here, where I talk to my soul, to this world that doesn't email or phone, but calls me in song voice. To the thousands of trees that watch me all day long, an inscription to the wind that rocks me, the sun and stars that glitter in my bloodstream. Love poems to the world is what I write. What I seek is a bio-socket for my plug. Swinging my cord all day long, in search of any port. Any storm.

I’ve been a victim, a symptom, a risky contradiction. The animal cry on the edge of the human voice. The wind screams past the panes of winter between my inner sanctum’s scarlet geranium flowers and the pines out there. The late January sun sets. I stop and place myself there, in the way of the Beauty, and let that sun shine on my forehead, honeyed warmth delivers me home into this waiting body.

That I wrote it all down makes me happy. So what if the climate-change methane bubble is gonna burst and kill all human life before I can publish my five or sixty books full of toldnesses? I’ve tried my best. I have this Life and it’s perfect. I follow the pen that guides and supports me towards this mostly-painless birth that never stops. This alone is the full proof and texture of myself, and so I savor and keep walking, folding loose paper, shoving pens into all my pockets, holy witness grazing on eye feasts and mind tripping over the radiance. I’m the tour guide and the crowd, the pointer floating before my own senses, showing the way. There! There! There!

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The Final She

Today I’m sixty six ferocious years deep
and no one ever put blue cornmeal on my tongue,
or passed me, swaddled, around the circle in the arms of tribe.
Who asked for the baby-god’s blessing?
Who bent to whisper dreams into my new fuzzy ear?
Nobody there on the shore of the river, forest, ocean, desert
to drape that mantle of future worlds, or
to  imagine the magic that hovered then, shooting out of my spiky head
like a fireworks fountain, like a spinner of fortune
and still the sparks shoot out and flame up
a Catherine Wheel
waiting for the Others to know me
to see me with their eyes of trees, clouds, magpies
and still i shout out from the autumn meadows
acrosss that golden threshhold of October.
today i ran into little Edie, so bright, so confident
musta been that cornmeal
and i know that i DO want to stick around
watch us all grow up in this little town
the babies unfurling like these dahlias
massive, heavy and soft that i hold in my hands
one after another like a calm, relaxed birds
snd i ask for their blessing.
Oh ancestors—
keep sprinkling your version of blue cornmeal
from spirit worlds and
i will baby-bird catch it on my old-child’s tongue
mouth to the sky
—it’s my birthday, again
pour that mana inside me— it’s never too late
i can stay right here and wait
and surrounded by the mystery of you.

Here then is a prayer for YES to the imagined ancestors, who’s photos I found in my mother’s things.

A prayer to Russian/Ukranian/Moldovan kin, fixed eternal in sepia. We’ve never met, but can you feel your DNA spiral unwinding in my mortal chest?  Oh, give me your Yes, nod your spirit heads. Grace me with applause like in a darkened theater when i bow and the lights are in my eyes but i hear you out there breathing, I’m so open to your sending, love and energy bending the air, lift me, praise me like that. Tell me I am good, that you are pleased, this is my prayer. I’m here to ask, to burn the karma of my family in this, the only cauldron of my life—this exhausted body.

With my laser sword of mercy and justice i stand in my mind, not alone, but surrounded and here for a purpose: not procreation or replication, no multiplication of this animal code. i wanna crack the code and lay it shattered to rest, compost to feed the forest that will grow from our heads when I’m buried, the last one standing, buried feet first, naked, with a tree planted on my head. Root through my thought-less skull, feel my relief, ladder my spine like a vine as what I was disintegrates slow, like the waves of a huge bronze gong struck by a brown-robed monk. Melt me. Nothing to fix or to be done. For the multitudes of generations, I’ll gather a forest, a garden, a waving bouquet of hydra heads, this one journey of struggle dispersing at last. This great ungathering. Just a voice saying YES to clouds and peaks and to this pen, this lonely only journey.  
Follow me today, the dark sunken eyes, the babushkas and black coats, the lives i never knew who spat me out here, emerged from all your denied desire, those frozen dreams, that holiness foreclosed.

I do not come from a people who say Yes easily.  Say it—YES— to me, today. 
Anti-traditional woman, un-martyred, impolite, fighter for rights you never dreamed of. To Me —stuttering effort at freedom and joy, guilt ridden doubter, here yelling louder, anarcha-parachute catching the light, glittering here in the oldest sun any of us has ever known. It’s Me —your possible glory, a story machine, Me— elderly animal, student of herstory, glory of history, yes to me who no ancestors imagined, not ever. You who never dreamed of me.

Or did you?  Was there one, once, long ago in Russia, in whatever was before Russia, one who thought beyond the pale, some Jewish ancestor on some move down a trail of an endless winter I’ll never suffer, buffering babies, your life packed up on your bony half starved back, schlepping, trekking away from millennia of nightmares, did You dream of Me?

‘Cos I’m the last one standing. The final Chezar in the Land of the Lost Chezars — General Oak leading a clown troupe, being a lasso, a cosmic tour guide, wrangling my parents, demented, in diapers, in their black wheelchairs, barely conscious, to their next to last home. Not counting the cost and how I’m lost. Just navigating in a blindfold this story that rarely says Yes. Will you say yes now? To me?

We swam through the fire; I stand in the fire —this body as fire, burning in here, born to be claimed by a race of the deeply un-sure. The too-big brains combing too closely all the hairs on the head of this life.  Leave some of those tangled.

The tangled knot of string massed round my head to be wound at some future time gently into a smooth ball at the center of my mind and there to find one singing yes. I am here to burn karma, to burn through all this negativity and doubt, and be born perfectly into this finally spacious, ringing sky. I am the fire that surrounds us all.  And then, like you, I will be Space.

Oh, ancestors, buzzing like flies trapped inside an amber of extreme negativity. All the no's circling like the umbilicus was around my throat, like ropes choking off every single yes in The Old Testament, in Russia, in Israel, in The Bronx. Keeping me grasping and far from contentment. Branded with this challenge, i come. Me, watched by dark eyes shining out of mountain peaks, out of clouds, out of language. Me, edge-walker, big talker, map-less quester, sky god bester, dreaming my Being into life.

As I shed, strip, shred karma with this laser sword, imaginary, as you are, but present today, as you are, everyday, watching from inside shadows and pine tree needles, your eyes fill the clouds, you know me.

Me, the final She —quitter of lineage.  She— deliberate terminus, exit from this glass circle cage; She— rager, on the road with her sword drawn, She—the last chance, final dance, endpoint of all these stuttering efforts. She — the milk-pod seed glittering in autumn’s light, guilt ridden last call in the night, one more breath to get it right.  She wandering, wondering about the meaning of life, silken warrior, worrier on a spiral journey, passing those dark eyes again and again, feeling life opening on perfect seams to a greater view. From the nowness, a split, a tear and the dark eyes everywhere saying Yes, saying, well done, saying at last a way thorough, chanting Peace.

And know that when I get that yes, peace will descend like the milk I never gave anyone. The vague peasant crowd will shuffle forward, drop their eternal burdens to drink, to rest, at last, to pass, to pass away from here, to lay the suffering down. I call the future forests to come rise up as we lay it all down, all our hearts leaves in the shining fresh morning, the new dawning. So I’m waiting. Send it into my fire mind, my mortal chest, I pray across time for that yes, send it now.

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Bronx Zoo

A back-bend over the vault of years, hurtling backwards through an arch—the concrete arch of a city zoo. A detour, re-tour, an arrow sent back to the first bowstring that held me in utter fascination. Suffused in the blur of early childhood memories, I recall the habitual pilgrimage, almost religious, those daily visits to The Bronx Zoo. It was just 6 blocks from my family’s apartment, and my mother took me there, in a regular rhythm, through the magical portal of the early years of my life, because it kept my attention and she didn’t know what else to do with me. Years and years of formative experience in captivity and dependency.

I learned about reflection there at the zoo, and about distortion, projection and punishment, wordless communication from a heartless world of incarceration, and the magnificence and longing received through osmosis, gathered in my hot closed fists. Captured there for a lifetime, burrowed silent inside me for decades, I open my hands and it all comes back.

The powerful smell of the elephants. The dusty darkness of the monkey house cages. The muted roars of the big cats. Massive birds and huge snakes behind bars. Captivate means to delight. But there, de-light meant to take the light away. In the stink of their excrement, their numbed souls scorched inside restless, thwarted bodies, reaching for some memory of freedom in vain behind the steel enclosures, I tasted the misery and insanity of my culture. Not for the first time.

Dilapidated souls, abraided spirits. I saw myself through the fluttering lights dying in their eyes, and their vivid shadows played in my dreams. I was taught by professionals to call this entertainment, or education, or an ark, and back at the apartment where I was caged in my own monkey house with my mother, there were bars on all the windows behind where we waited for my father to come home and feed us something. To clang through all those steel locks on the door. We were his possessions, his ark and his castle; he’d planted his flag and left us there in our occupied, intangible lands. But we all three languished in our cages, violated shadows of our possible freedom, the secret stories of our chop-shop modifications, and how we were made to be this deformed.

And I didn’t see the hunts, the mass-murder expeditions, where professional men captured—first, the babies—killing every adult in the herd, pack, pride that would stop them from their exotic zoo prizes. Didn’t rise up in witness of the mortality that followed, the sacrifice of older zoo animals to make room for the more valued babies. The vivisection labs, private hunting ranches, circuses that took the aged ones on to complete the torture till at last their suffering ended. Now I know there are cycles like this that never end, far from our eyes and consciences, as we gaze through the bars at the spectacle of our superiority. I was a child, pressed by forces, exotic and domestic. I was a sponge with no power, then.

I learned paradox early on because I loved the zoo; thrilled to be in the presence of real wild animals. And I hated the zoo because I saw these beloveds up close day after day, and I felt the intensity of their suffering. And so I learned as a child to slide greased through my confusion into denial, numbness, selfish pleasures, while my instincts and empathy bled away into my excitement at an elephant ride. And I struggle to find my way back through that hypnotic swaying, the familiar-as-my-childhood room, to the mazes of cages, the flies and the stink to some living image of our original perfection. I was a lonely-only child in that barred room before I had you. I will forever-more refuse that bloody lie of an ark and the darkness that surrounds us now, separated as we are from all the cosmos. I never went to another zoo again.

And that bottomless loneliness still lives inside my grown-up hide—rides me down as I pace all sped-up by the television, sugar, personality disorders and other madnesses that formed me, deformed me to fit inside the tight boxes and caged minds of my kind. Expected to take refuge in abstraction, I can no longer pretend. Bad food and concrete cages. Good food and concrete canyons can never substitute for freedom or relationship.

This morning I send prayers out to the souls of all my old friends there, on the inside—surely all dead by now and moved on. I send effigy traces into spaces where they once were led astray, eroding far away, disintegrating before the human gaze, like I was. Oh my friends, how I loved you! How I dreamed of your salvation, and my own.
In memory of all this, I want to say You are indelible in me. You who saved my young life so very long ago. I remember You.

                                   Five years old at The Bronx Zoo.
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Clarified, from a distance, the massive ponderosa watches me approach. Calmly she stands, focused on the love-song I sing into her giant open heart. She’s a massive pier connected to a seed in the earths’ center, and she guards the solitude of a meadow where a young aspen grove reaches upward, connected as grass is downward. My sentinel lover, bark of my flesh, roots singing in my dreams, holding the circle in an endless enmeshed and romantic resonance.

My pockets filled with heart rocks keep me anchored to earth. I arrive to touch her, say my tree name. I breathe into her sun-warmed trunk and press my body into her body. My breasts part like wings, and I offer her my heart, extend and deepen my breathing. I lower my head, eventually, and touch her rough skin with my forehead, grateful to be dented.  Feeling her great presence, the temple between my temples, I stand touching her like this, gently vibrating. Yes, I’m in love with her—she is my teacher.

The teacher is wounded, multiply. Barbed wire pierces her, wrapped round where she has enfolded it over time. Sovereign. Once, five big spikes were driven into her; she wears them like proud jewelry piercings. Exalted. An axe once bashed a shelf-like wedge at man-height, or what once was man height, for she’s grown on and he is dead and forgotten elsewhere.  Transcendent. My teacher, wounded, offers lessons of forgiveness and indomitability.

Yesterday I licked her bark, let her taste me. I rub sweat from my armpits into her golden, sap-coated shelf, mark her with my small gift of recognition. I honor her for her quiet work of perseverance, of beauty, that inspires my own. I shelter her spirit, as she shelters mine.

The climb up here is slow and glorious. I am growing old beneath her shade and shelter. It’s 50 degrees in January. The early stages of global warming, I tell folks, are so lovely.  he seductive, easy allure of sun and a warm wind. Even the word, “warming”, such a soothing word. They should call it “wake the fuck up! change or die!,” something more honest and urgent. I heard that this year the bears never even went into hibernation.

My boots massage the sparkling trail, sending, in stepping-language, the message—I come. I come. Treaded soles leaning into the brilliant enamel blue skybowl, climbing higher through moraines and meadows of aspens and willows, I follow the trickling creek below. The earth invites my next step, unrolls before me like it’s been waiting to welcome this hairless upright body striding with 4 bounding dogs. Breaking through space like a paddle in water, the skin of perfect peace permits my sliding through.

Leaning back against a cone of light, into her patient waiting arms, denim against bark, warm blood against still wood, enfolded by roots and my own intention, she holds my bony shoulders and I let go of the first forward edge of separation.  It’s a practice, spiritual and political. It’s a way to be intimate, submissive, present, and copulate with nature. Coupling, nesting inside the world, I listen to the wisdom of more-than-human voices. I dream of how easy it might have been for us once, before the great disconnection convinced us we were better than our ancestors who loved the earth without thoughts of hierarchy or exploitation. Consorting with trees who were gods and they knew us by our real names and we were blessed to be known this way.

I sing her my day’s walking song, and my thin voice grows to flow over wheat colored meadows, under jet trails, through shining evergreens, braiding with softest banners of birdsong. This is the best part of my day. Last night, I walked up my mountain in starlight and stopped, facing her, feeling the specific placement of roots and trunk, two mountain valleys away. Faced her image in my heart and felt myself connecting like a thunk into flesh by some spirit-arrow.  Like this, sending and receiving love.

How to be human-being and not human-doing? It’s impossible to be reciprocal with something as great as the world.  How to be unstained by this consciousness of my unslakable hunger for resources, the heat of my need to understand the transcendence? Practice just holding the form I write poetry about, and not the terrible weight of this longing and this guilt. I try to just Be with her, not to be human following human thoughts off the cliff edge. Try not to follow associations as pulse follows breath. Maybe, she says to me, you can stop trying to deny that you’re human. Because that would be like me denying being tree.  And that would be a shame I think in my human head.

In the woods, going home, there are robins winging from tree to tree. Robins in January! Surely the end of the world. Stop thinking! I stand in my melting tracks, trying, until a Western Red Flicker blesses me, and then I move down the trail, fire and coal feathers blazing just behind my eyes.  At the first heavy steel gate I push through rusty hinges built to last centuries in defense of private property’s immortality. Intent on dissolution, I’m still impressed with the arrogant weight and certainty of steel.  Humanity marks the forest. The forest waits for time’s eraser.  In the big meadow, the gang of ravens flies thru the sky,  a black robe tossed over the sun.  Their wings beat the air like an inky carpet snapped out a window. They call in hoarse hollars to each other, changing shapes overhead as one full-voiced raucous star field. Pearl runs full tilt up and down, hunting, while the wolf dogs stay closer, wagging and grinning.

Observations and thoughts plan me, pinch me all the way down as I try and lose them for pure awareness of the now. Step. Arrive. Step. Feel the wind touching me, and then try to lose that thought too. Just arrive, like they tried to teach me at the Buddhist University down the mountain.Three years of that, and I’m still dodging student loans like bullets after 12 years of the rest of my life. Two masters degrees follow me up the hill, judging my counter-productivity in solemn monotones. Paper trails of words tighten round my ankles, pulling me down. On the run, I’m on the run, in hot pursuit of dissolution. I want to disappear and reappear on the other side, the animal side of higher education and other human habits.

“Spaciousness! Spaciousness!” I call to spirits of air. “Open up and let me in!” Chasing such desires is a mockery, and it’s my life. To let go of control is hard work and of course, it’s all about control. The irony follows me on the inside of my ears, shouts laughter into my bootprints, melting nothing. Two masters’ degrees. The print on my cards says M.A.M.A., it’s like a PhD and a half but who fucking cares? My mind is bent in the ways of the destroyers, and I can’t stop taking notes. Maybe that’s the best part. It’s all mythic. What I want now is the utter disintegration of subject and object, that’s something they don’t teach in schools in my country. Want to ablate the coupling, to burn it all off, to follow the sheer cliff calling me to fly away from nouns, to soar free of all the names. Want a purely metaphoric language, psychic and psychedelic, the language of trees and birds and river, that will free me to stand like a ponderosa in a high desert watershed landcape. To step into that tapestry and hold the form and never write another word.

“I’ll pray for you”—I told the ponderosa goddess, teacher, queen—early on in our romance. “Pray TO me”, she whispered, and so I do. Up there, at my beloveds’ feet, I stuff love notes into lichen-lined letter-slots, fill the holes in with spruce cones and heart rocks, and collapse from the effort of being moved this deeply.

West-Bound Road-trip Journal

Rockefeller Grove is ten thousand acres of unlogged Goddess trees. The largest contiguous trail of old growth redwoods on the planet. And the catedral of Holy Holy Mothersong.

We walk on duff and decaying ancestors, spirit arms raised like the sword-ferns in salutations to the canopy way up there. These trees—embodiments of earth’s longing for sky—climb to rocket upward towards clouds where fog lingers, called here and held here by their slow breathing. There is no ground, no bottom to the earth, said the woman in the hot tub last night, There are only fallen redwood trees.  

Under the duff, more duff. Happy graveyards of crumbling bodies nurse the living, reaching giants. Descendants nourished by ancestors—the font and template of our deepest human longings. Fill our emptiness with this feast, our questions with this surety. All the discontinuous points of pain, all the gaps we stagger across or stare across leaking blood and vapor uselessly. Heal us. Here is integrity and peace that could mend a world shattered by human greed and separation. Here is the massive antidote to our tremendous terror.

We slide through nine miles, effortless l, and think of the Sinkyone Tribe who lived here for thousands of years without destroying anything. Salmon and tan oak acorns and berries were their food; beauty and sacred metaphor was enough. Light pours through us, over deer and owl cry, and the trees creaking high in winds, rubbing, moaning in the light. I lie on my back. Redwoods bloom above me like luminous, sun-drenched flowers. Illuminated by a green spell of grace draped like hanging moss over our human heads. Anointed by light, vast and intimate, blown out of celestial trumpets, the sun like love raining down and through us, nourishing our roots. This light is warm honey, minted green—time is green, life is green, and forgiveness like honey drizzles down the giant stems of the flower trees.

There’s a calm that pulses a circuit from the heartwood of these enormous trees, standing here like this since before Christianity was born. Ten million ancient trees filled with angels, holding hands underground, chanting like dolphins do for the healing of the World. Rubbing and creaking they sigh, holding each other in love through storms and the fires of time. They’re a Zen koan for effortless achievement. As if they’ve been standing here forever like this and the sky fell down and landed in between their spaces.

Imperturbable. Auburn trunks stand pumping memory and sustenance up from the heaps of sweet decaying logs. Felled by time and wind, their girth twice as tall as my head, I walk past their lengths singing my favorite walking song. I sing one and a half full rounds before I reach the crown of roots. Here are two that fell after a millennia of holding hands beneath the duff. Fell like twin walls. We, passing between them still feel the magnetic longing that flickers here— eternal, erotic. Their shallow root systems spread like two vertical rooms, like palms raised in peace, form are our gateways through. Even mosquitoes can’t pop this bubble of peace bequeathed to my fevered brain, my raging activist spirit, my puny, guilt-laden humanness by these beings of fire and air, earth and water.

Green voices humming through spongy sapwood tell tales of long, slow, vertical centuries. Under the distance of their chorus I vibrate slowly, unwinding in the seamless story of their singular song—a journey of interconnection. We breathe it in like air and are enmeshed as we’re taken up. In this calm sea of green light, we are ant-like, tiny beings crawling through the giant realm of ancient trees.

Trees growing on trees growing on trees, a million years deep. On a hill of long-decomposing tree, seven giants sprout, a thousand years tall, a cathedral. Caves carved beneath their feet tell the story of fire’s devouring hunger. Gnawed by flames and covered in moss, the soot-smoothed sides of filigreed caverns beckon from darkness. Above, they shine in the light. There are no edges here and green is the fire that doesn’t consume. Green just burns and collapses in ever deepening fables of green. We’re walking through this dense and mythic hush under the liquid calls of birdsong.  With each ascending note, the atmosphere opens in ever expanding circles, pushing aside the vastness of space, as if my consciousness, dialing through long-distance circuits, connects suddenly in stillness to the limitlessness that is the depth of world.  

This forest is the counterweight to all the concrete of Manhattan towering on the opposite end of the continent. These very trees are what keeps us from capsizing in space to sink beneath the intensity of the grey death cult of a civilization we keep creating. Oh, to be a Sinkyone Indian a thousand years before the idea of concrete. To have this green wisdom to cradle me always. To live inside enough-ness.

Forget Buddhist notions of non-attachment. I want to be attached like this! Goddess, attach me like a woven thing—cord me to creation. My heart pierced forever with this verdancy, break open my separateness like this and fuse me back into patterns of reaching limbs. Let my mind wander from my high-desert home back towards memories of this green palace, this honeyed light. I drink it in against the droughts that will come. Shamrock carpet. Lowest boughs glowing. Bright-leafed maple gorging on this sun. Long, cool shadows behind me. Me on my knees, be-ing here. Stunned simple, kneeling in fallen needles, decomposing with duff to feed the world well. Chanting goodness, chimes of clarity, the voice of this light. Sending life and light like health and wealth where inside and outside become one single surface.

Imagine being abducted by trees. Imagine being taken suddenly from your life, flung up by the redwoods into highest tree consciousness.  Julia Butterfly was surely abducted like that. And we, in our own way, seized, snatched by the scruff of our souls beyond puny imaginings. Captured hearts, held in the pockets of forest. Before leaving, we re-visit the baby trees. Tender and bright with new growth, I touch their heads and marvel at the height these heads will reach. Think about the decorated feather Kate tied to a tree our size. Imagine it someday, impossibly 300 feet up in the sky. I can taste it in my mind. I’ve been seized and taken up like that.

Patrick’s Point
Sticks and stones, redwood driftwood, seaweed and sea-polished agates. We walk slowly, stoop to sift, selecting through wet, salty piles as the light selects us, as events select us, as time trips and travels along that haze of crashing waves. A cantering roar that thrashes us all down to our smooth, adamantine centers. An then even those dissolve. The connected centers circle here, sifting sorted sea gifts in paradise.

The ocean shivers, stands up on her flukes to peer at the beach, deciding. With a great breath she rises, sun lit and shining like green glass, poses there in her clarity, seafoam sliding off, and  then she roars, folding to roll her great weight up the hill of this seashore. Lifted inside that wall of light, building the energy for the crest, she exhales before slamming shut like my heart after your brief and final visit. The vulva of the wave enfolded hollers, released with a gasp or a yodel in primal drama.

The sea and the trees, so close here in Northern California, and so different. I’m missing the trees as soon as we hit the open arena of all this sky. The beach is too big, my pulse’s beats too spaced between metaphors and nothing to hold me. The business of the sea is Dispersal. She lives to break things down, crush them up to a pounded separateness. To sand, that irritates my softness and sticks to everything with its sea-salty glue.

The energy of the forest is about weaving tiny, disparate things together, it holds me with the All as one in a basket of tiny living proofs. The sea annihilates all proof, destroys the evidence. The gulls hunt, the dead wash up, thoroughly ended to linger and bite your feet as carcass shells. In the forest, nothing dies.

From Patrick’s Point, the skirt of growling surf makes a fine, wide crescent against the headlands. Ruffled and rough voiced, she refines everything that’s ever found. Finding it all. Dissolution squats heavy in the light, and the crashing waves hold us back.

Thrasher Mother—you Dark Lilith—I love you too. Nowhere to hide from your fierce winds of change and chaos. The sea is a shapeshifter of all, swimming in chains of her restlessness. She recognizes me way up here, clinging to the last green fringe of rooted vegetable life. On the beach before the enigmatic engine I sort handfuls on tiny colored agates searching for a green from the heart of the final ocean’s heavy story. A green that can carry me Home.

Heading south now, the redwoods shrink from millennia to mere centuries old and wave their lazy branched goodbyes to us. Leaving the wild womyn hills of the North, leaving the softest silence of the Mother forest, leaving that singular womb-iness, cellular happiness. Leaving the colors—that specific matte to the bark in the dark, her gleam in the always- shade that somehow conveys red in all that deep darkness. That ineffable something attached to being inside that ancient-grove groove where I root down, hold on, spin webs and call the fog to come.

Burls bloom in 500 years to hold the packed promise to the next hundred centuries of wild wind. The lungs of the future, if there will be a future, wait, dreaming more redwoods. They recite reassurances to be patient, chant ritual invocations that fly into the now in envelopes of fog. While underfoot, a zillion roots hold hands, praying in circles like womyn on land, for Life. Life.

Flung below the bright green canopy rocks the floor of the world. Soothed like that in a cradle of shamrocks and ferns and massive trunks the size of apartment houses in The Bronx. Wood stood straight as spears, impaling such a silence, like angels dreaming in my ears. At the speed of a redwood, trees charge off into adventures, vertically directed, sinking, soaring, accomplishing their thickening in spiral rings, singing creation myths back to the tree gods.

In the forest that was saved for us, the four percent of old growth redwood still standing on earth, spared, for now, from the chainsaws, just a charnel depth of ancestors, a deep bloom-booming digeridoo. Dig straight down through the duff with a spoon, through ten thousand redwood bodies fallen across the thatched centuries defying death, life lingers sprouting endless salads of clover that snap shut in sunshine. And the ground that we walk on and kiss nursed by fallen giants, composting giants fallen from the sky in the slanting sun rays of god’s eye.

On the road again, passing semi-truck after truck full of redwood bodies— shingles, decking, hot tubs, redwood junk mail, trucks-full of sacred ancient ancestor future plywood. We’re leaving the forest primeval that’s leaving the planet, so much poorer without her. Leaving us all alone with our grief at the endless parade of trucks, rage popping like hot oil, feeling my heart go up in smoke.

Southern California.
Pelicans so close to us in slow motion wind, I see the white marks above their bills, their ancient dinosaur eyes; they touch their shadows to the sea. Pelicans against the long white curl of the wave, and none looking back. Seal as big as a cow swims lazily into sight, plays slowly between the giant rocks, the sound from the other that floats beside is a growl-heavy roar— the lion in sea-lion. There’s a tide in the forest. There are plants in the sea. Headlands of Big Sur looming in lupines, gorse, fennel, iceplants. Huge oaks almost to the cliff edge, happy in the salt apron. Driftwood. Kelp. Wind.

Jacaranda, bougainvillea, oleander—Malibu. The crushed and foolish Hwy 1 heading south past El Nino wreckage and oil derricks. The patient mother Pacific waits. Waves flip, smash, climb, rest, stretch in gray. Wedged into that tight seam where horizon marks off the sky. Someone’s god measures out just enough, cues the surf, flaps the pelican, hauls up the full moon.

Zion, Utah

Edges everywhere are softening. Ridges, ledges, gardens wedged above the river, leaching mineral stripes, struck by sudden sunlight and swallows. Rooted rock, uprooting river, all the spirits of place in The Mamarock pushing the inner edges like an eardrum as we’re blown down the sweet tunnel towards home.

Oh, Utah! Unbuild the tabernacles! God is here. God, the crison arch against the cobalt sky. God the raven sailing through the arch. Only flood the minds of the righteous with nature, simple ecstasy, stone-framed below the windy blue. Slickrock, rimrock, river rock, capstone. Veils of water tumbling, long caresses of another god, shaving the rock thinner. Stone and water coupled to un-couple, molecules unclench, time eats itself up.

Define time: Mesozoic, Jurassic, Paleolithic. The weight of these ages presses this place into Right Now, and all the verbs are present tense. Muscles tense, leaves rattle in the wind, stone breathes and steps away. Stars fill the spaces, and satellites join them. Great heaving journeys of curves, blocks, oceanic layerings emptying permanence. Ocean floor, now valley floor, splayed like a red footprint, the vermillion wash absobs all the ghosts of whales and pikas and humans into this one psychedelic drama the tourists try to get on film. “Didja get it? Didja get it?” Chuckling ghosts thin their vibrations, listening to the silliness of the 2-leggeds and spinning off the scarlet stones.

When the last chunk of rock pops off into timeless space, will the walruses return to sway, weightless and sunless in the repetition of salty seas? Eels and sturgeon, shining scales, all the fluid energy still swims across these stones. The sea’s in the curl of the juniper, the swallows’ swirling flight, the swell of the arches, a redstone wave. It curls to break, bearing down, bearing it—the weight of millennia, the great O of the wave. Bearing busloads of Germans and Texans, bearing the heavy stars, the satellite, all our human insecurities, wanting to capture this miracle on film, did you get it?

Arches open like god mouths, laughing the rainclouds, seeding mesas with fishes for later. A school of chittering grackles pass overhead. In their shadows, fins replace wings and leave trackless ripples in the air of the just-dried-out sea. We leave food for the spirits and float on under flukes of clouds.

Red rock under bare feet, shredding twist of cedars and raven voices split the stones further. Scrub oak scratches her messages into red shredding parchment, ageless spirits of wind and rain watch over us, waiting. Our cultures will crumble long before these ever flinch and look away.

Somewhere out there, men are planning for war. Nuclear bombs detonated under the earth. Jets scream over the skies. These rocks can wait forever. These men, shut-down so tightly to life. They are shutting us all into their minds. Locks turn, holding on. These rocks slide open. Spinning their tumblers, they let go. What flies out? Fall out of time—fallen arches, busted windows, loosening frames. Space dances between elaborate densities. Going up like smoke. Like extravagant needles. Exhale our exotic crumbs. Shake it all off. Freedom.

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