I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY

I know I’ve been inordinately quiet lately.  There are socially respectable reasons for that.  I’m launching a new novel in three weeks. (Count them-three!)  My third literary love child, The Long Ride Home, will be welcomed into the world first at Albuquerque’s Bookworks on September 8, and then at Phoenix’s Changing Hands on September 9.  The Long Ride Home is already getting great reviews.  Kirkus loved it, and so did School Library Journal.  Brandon Hartman of Second Time Books wrote this gorgeous review. So I have hopes for this baby of mine.

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As if all that weren’t enough, the day after my second book launch, I fly off to Philadelphia to be the writer-in-residence at my beloved Rosemont College for the fall semester.  I’ll be teaching two classes for the Rosemont Writer’s Studio while I’m there, as well as doing various readings, signings, panels, and appearances.  I can’t tell you how stoked I am about all the good things that are happening in my life. In addition to being kick ass, all these opportunities are keeping me very busy.

Rosemont beautiful
The beautiful house in which I will be staying while at Rosemont.

But if I said that was why you haven’t heard from me, I’d be lying.  My life has been weird and wonderful and excruciating all at once lately.  I’ll just cut to the chase and tell you about the excruciating part.  In June, I was teaching at Rosemont’s summer writer’s retreat when I found out my beloved mother has stage three breast cancer.  I felt like someone punched me in the stomach when I heard.  Not that I didn’t know it was coming.  I’d seen the worst lump, and clearly, something was wrong. Mom had gone in for her biopsy results the day I left.  So I’d tried to emotionally prepare myself for the worst.  As is usually the case with these things, my emotional preparation did nothing to stave off the ugly, black, curdled grossness that came to live in my belly when I got the news.

Currently, I’m spending tons of time with my momma and my big brother on our family’s land in the New Mexico mountains.  We hike a lot and talk a lot and look at the stars a lot.  You’ve never seen stars until you’ve seen stars from the vantage point of an isolated New Mexico mountain.  They are so close you can touch them.

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Me and my momma, outside the lodge where we stayed on our spa trip

We spent some time at a spa in Colorado, dipping in hot springs and getting massaged and eating things that were bad for us.  I have this amazing feeling of being closer to my family than ever before, which is saying something, because we are a really tight knit clan.

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Me and my homeslices in Colorado, about to eat things that were really, really bad for us.

A few nights ago, right after the 24th anniversary of my precious father’s death (I got a tattoo to memorialize it—this year, I am exactly the same age he was when he died), a storm knocked the power out, and I dreamed magic dreams.

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My “daddy died, and I’m taking up where he left off, and living a life of pure love and faith” tattoo

 

In one of them, my brother and I were sleeping on the floor in my mom’s room in sleeping bags we used to own.  (When we were kids, one of us slept on the other’s floor every night.  We couldn’t bear to be apart.  The scene at the beginning of Beauty of the Broken where Iggy and Mara are holding hands, watching the moon, is me and my big brother all the way.  But I digress.)

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Me and Bryan

In my dream, my dad was sitting on mom’s bed, watching over all of us.  He said beautiful things to me in that dream.  I woke up full of hope to a night that was the blackest black I’ve ever seen.  There were no lights for miles, and storm clouds shrouded the stars.  In that silent darkness, I felt strangely happy, more content, more myself, more at peace, than I have ever been before.  I touched something at the core of me that is unmoved by the darkness.  I like that piece of me.  She’s come out to play often lately.  She came into her own just this year, barely in time to see me through all of this madness.

But even my zen-ny core can’t always save me from feeling the mess.   I am also scared and sad and sometimes a little bit desperate.  I feel raw and unready to speak to anyone outside of my family at great length.  When I sit down to write, nothing comes.  I want to say so much, but I think I want to say it with paint or interpretive dance or underwater basket weaving.  Something that doesn’t require me to name my feelings, and make them poignant, or funny, or captivating.  I lie awake until four every night praying.  I can talk to God, but she doesn’t ask me to be pithy.  I run every evening.  (I’ve lost 16 pounds in a month, partly due to the running, partly due to the fact that my mom and I are doing a plant-based “cancer be gone” diet together.)  While I run, I cry because the sunsets are pretty.  And because I’m out of the house, and alone, and I don’t want to cry at home in front of my mom, because she already feels shitty enough, and she doesn’t need to be worrying about me.  I see deer every time I run.  I’ve decided to believe every single one of them is a sign of hope.

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These guys let me get really close to take a picture.  They seemed to know I had good intentions.

So that’s why I’m being quiet.  For the first time in my life, I don’t know what to say.  I want the people I love to stop hurting.  That’s all I know.  I guess it’s not all I know.  I know I will be off to the East Coast in less than a month.  I know I will return from my residency in time for Christmas, and to help my mom during and after her surgeries.  And after that, I’m off to teach in Mexico.  And then France (I think).  And then, my mom and I will maybe travel together, if she’s well.  She wants to cash in her life insurance policy and travel with it.  I want her to do it.  This is how I live right now.  Halfway in this magical mountain space with my family, halfway in an imagined future full of cathedrals and ruins and sunsets over mosques.

That’s all I got.  See.  Wasn’t that boring?  This is why I’m not writing right now.  I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know how to turn all that is happening, all that I’m feeling, into a cohesive narrative.  Always, my heart is full to bursting.  I just can never figure out quite what it’s full of.

Outside my window, crickets are singing in tongues.  Wind strong-arms  cedars.  The stars hang heavy and close, like they want to sneak in through the glass and lick me.  I’d probably let them if they asked nicely.

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A rainbow over my favorite dead tree (yes, I have a favorite dead tree) during one of my recent runs.  This too filled me with hope.

PYTHAGOREAN PRAYER

Me praying

The Pythagoreans believed that ten was the most sacred number in the universe.  They used it when they made their most holy oaths.  In loose homage to that belief, this poem is a prayer in ten parts, one of the poems I’m working on for my collection titled So Speak the Stars.  I write these at night, when I can’t sleep, and the whole world seems to speak to me in the language of eternity.

PYTHAGOREAN PRAYER

I.

I have turned in on myself,

a blossom unflowering, bleeding purple

a beehive collapsing, seeping honey

a black hole swallowing space and time

until nothing remains but

 

this cold ache

this stony place where you once sat

the hole I refuse to fill

with anything but your missing face.

 

Dogs howl in the streets

as if crying can bend time backward

turn what is into what was.

I do not want that.

I want something that has never been

not in this world

not in this life.

 

II.

The knife of your spirit comes to me in the night

cuts me until I bleed visions.

I see your pores leaking light.

I save every sacred word you say.

When day breaks this time,

I beg you,

do not float away.

 

Do not evaporate like mist.

 

I have already been kissed by death.

I am alive only because I love a ghost

that may someday slip back into his body

and run to me.

 

III.

Allergic to sun, I moonbathe.

Trees buckle knobby knees,

bend to pet me.

I let them.

In lieu of men

I love star-beams.

I give my body to the wind.

The sky licks me.

I spread my legs wide,

let Life inside.

 

I am never

and always

 

alone.

 

IV.

I have given up on trying to understand.

Madness eschews method by definition.

It is only this:

Make it through today,

then sleep,

and his ghost will creep to your bedside.

Maybe this time

when midnight splits,

and a slit of horizon gives birth to dawn’s tattered tangerine sky,

he will un-die, come in the flesh

riding on the back of something mortal and meaty.

A lucky, buckle-backed horse, rescued from a glue factory.

A rusted out truck, lifted from the city dump.

 

He will shuck the corn of you,

swallow you whole

lend his lips to your skin.

Your sins will be undone.

You will bow before him.

You will call him God

because always

his invisible spirit has been

 

The alpha and omega

The unseen mover

The bread of life

The silent prayer

 

The only thing

that has kept you breathing.

 

V.

Sun still seeps from aching ground.

You are all around me and nowhere at once.

I stumble on through a thick night blighted by stuttering owls and thunder.

Red rocks rip my feet.

Yuccas tear me.

I stay silent, having become accustomed to perpetual gutting.

 

Crickets speak in tongues.

Wind runs fingers through my hair,

whispering my name in your voice.

Come, come, come.

When you call, I can’t run.

My shattered legs betray me.

 

Am I undone completely?

 

VI.

Unraveled, I clatter like lightning over rain swollen clouds.

Pointless, I splatter like a wandering squall, sloshing and scattered upon boulders.

 

What is left of me when there is no you?

 

A pile of bones,

A puff of hair,

Three ounces of air,

And a stiletto.

 

Have I given my best meat to the dogs?

 

VII.

If only grief were good for something.

If only I could weave it into a coat

wrap it around me

keep out the cold,

but grief is made of nothing but holes.

 

In dreams, I braid your hair into a cocoon

crawl in

sleep peacefully, finally.

 

VIII.

Starlight splints my shattered bones.

Soon I’ll be ready to run.

Whisper again, my love.

Come, come, come.

I buy new legs

a bag of silk fresh from the worm

butterfly wings, still wet,

and a kite.

 

Cocoon cracks.

I poise on a branch, ready to take flight.

My tongue becomes a proboscis

penetrates the dark.

 

Night’s nectar tastes like you.

 

IX.

When midnight cracked, the black rolled back.

You walked out from nothing, being light,

and there was my reason to breathe.

Newborn star, fall into my mouth.

Be a coin to this corpse.

Pay the ferryman to row me to place of the deathless.

 

Infinite love, breathe your life into the mud of me.

 

X.

Make me rise to God.

 

PENTECOST

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This is not another heartbreak poem. I am not alone. I do not miss you. My life is not a waking death. I have never been anywhere without you.

In France, you laid your head in my lap in castle ruins. Lilacs grew fast, mimicking one of those time lapse nature shows where seeds become full- fledged roses in thirty seconds flat. Vines wound themselves between your fingers, necklaced your throat, crowned you king of everything that ever mattered–guitars and love and orange blossoms and the pink pads on the bottoms of bobcat kittens’ feet. I watched you sleep, wrote odes to your not-there knuckles, your missing kneecaps, your invisible eyelids.

When I died in New Orleans, beads dangled from trees. Decked out in bangles and bell bottoms, street psychics cackled as I screamed. The waning moon un-beamed, went black. Smoke stacks buckled. You came and reached for me. “Stay!” I shrieked. The boiling ground sucked you away.

The day I looked down on London from the Eye, you told a joke, something about a baroque bar and a goat, and we laughed. Later, rain pelted us. Umbrella-less, we ducked under an awning until it drooped, ruptured, and drenched us. “Surrender to the baptism,” you whispered, held my face, and kissed me hard. Red busses streaked, and we sneaked into an alley, just behind the cemetery where Mark Bolan lies. Our eyes gave birth to visions. The downpour washed us clean. Our guanine reconfigured, rewrote our DNA. The holy spirit fell that day. I spoke with the tongues of angels. And you. You raised the dead.

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YOU ARE LOVED

Hugging-the-world
I used to wait for someone to see me. I think that’s what we are all looking for in this world. We just want to be seen. We want someone to acknowledge our existence as important. I used to think that when someone else loved me, and saw me for what I really was, all the beauty and miracles and rainbows inside me, I would be whole. But as many different kinds of love as I experienced, no one ever fully saw me. Not because they were cruel or selfish or sightless, but because they lived inside their own minds, as I lived in mine, and they too were busy trying to break through their own dark prisons, busy trying get people, to get me, to notice the rainbows inside of them.
 
So I decided to notice my own rainbows. I decided to believe I was enough, even if no one else noted it. I wanted someone to protect me, so I decided to protect myself. I wanted someone to cherish me, so I decided to cherish myself. I wanted someone to believe in me, so I decided to believe in myself. I realized I was seeing other people as middle men, as messengers from Love to me. I was suffering under the notion that if I could just get one person to love me fully, I could touch Love. I decided to cut out the middle man and simply believe that I was worthy of Love. I decided to try tear down the prison in my mind, the one that made me believe I was unworthy of Love, even if no one else helped me. (Some beautiful people did help me, thank God. You always get helpers when you need them. They can’t be the path for you, but they can walk beside you on it sometimes.)
 
For me, the world’s paradigm for love—find another person, shove them into the empty hole you believe lives beside you, marry them, expect them to be everything for you, live in misery—fell so short of the love inside me, the love I wanted to give, the love I wanted to receive. So over time, I left that paradigm in the dust and decided to be in love with life. I decided that love had nothing to do with ownership and everything to do with that lightning that zinged inside me when I saw a deer or a cloud or a blade of particularly splendid grass. I decided that the very air around me was alive with a force that loved and saw me. I decided that force (which was Love) was interacting with me on a constant basis. I heard its voice in songs and saw its love letters on billboards and whispered my love for it to dogs and cats and homeless women on street corners.
 
Some people called me crazy. I didn’t care. Or I did for a while. But then, through the years, as I kept walking this path, and believing in Love, I really stopped caring what people said. I realized what they said about me had everything to do with them, with their journeys toward Love, and nothing to do with me. And that even if all of humanity turned against me and decided to kill me, I would still be utterly loved. They were not the middle men. I am not the middle man. Love has no middle men.
 
I used to live in horror. There was a real and constant agony and loneliness and terror and confusion inside of me. I would look into my soul and find horror, all mixed in with the rainbows, part of the fabric of me. Now, after believing in Love for so long, after walking this quiet, private, beautiful, agonizing path that made people think I was crazy but brought me closer to true freedom, I search my soul, and I find peace. I find Love. Not that I don’t ever hurt. Not that I don’t ever fear. Not that I don’t ever feel confused. But those things are not the essence of my being any more. I can quiet my mind and let those transitory emotions fall away and find a true peace and wholeness and love at the core of my soul.
 
I wish I could give away the miracle that has happened to me. I wish I could show people who hurt like I did that there is something bigger and truer than this game we are all playing, this self-loathing and keeping up with the Joneses and grappling for crumbs. We don’t have to live like that. One of the songs that started me on this path, one that I heard the voice of Love in, was Tom Petty’s “Refugee.” He said “you don’t have to live like a refugee,” and I decided to believe him, and I found out he was right.
 
No one has the power to give you love or take it away from you. It is already yours by birthright. The moments that take your breath away don’t have to be witnessed by others to be important. They are important because they are stored in the fabric of your fathomlessly beautiful soul. You don’t have to live like a refugee. Cut out the middleman. You—perfect, amazing, breathtaking, impossibly gorgeous you–are already loved. Even if people hate you. Even if people call you crazy. Even if people call you ugly. Even if people call you evil. That is about them, not you. You are loved. Believe it.

CLOUDBURST

church rosemont
I am teaching at the amazing Rosemont Writer’s Retreat.  The house in which I’m staying (below) is just across from this church.  When I’m here, I always end up writing poems about the church.  I think it’s lovely, enigmatic, and inspiring.  I wrote this one during a storm yesterday.  

Above the steeple, disgruntled sky slits her wrists, slashes lightning bolt veins until they bleed acid rain.

The chapel shudders, cinched tight in a crackling casing of kinetic energy and original sin. Gutters run red with communion wine. A stone Mary shakes her head, wondering at the mess. Clicking his honeyed tongue, Jesus thrusts out his sacred chest until his heart shows gold. Dogwood roots uncoil, soak sun from soil that hast not yet cooled, has not bothered to understand that this storm means business, is here to drive out all warmth, make refugees of rat families, drown entire ant populations in collapsing tunnels.

Remember how in the Bible they said heaven cracked? It was like that, only passing alley cats found no ark. For them, there was no Noah offering gopher wood salvation. Dripping, they bolted beneath staircases, twitching tails indignantly, howling. Hens tottered, beaks gaping wide, cursing God in six languages, aghast at their wet, dented feathers. Squirrels stood on hind legs to pen heaven a strongly worded memo written in the alphabet of snails, sentences looking something like the slick left behind by a terrier’s tongue on drywall, slippery and bumpy at once.

I wanted it to be like this, prayed for the sky to be angry,

like me.

I needed the wet to mean business, to make a damp tramp of the whole world, turn her saucy sweat to mud, drown her horrid history in the irascible sounds of thunder and the silent screams of dying sidewalk worms.

As if memory can be undone.

Once, I tried to uncarve your name from the elm where I wrote it, but it had sunk deep into the heart of the tree, become a piece of its spine. “Mine,” the hungry trunk said, and swallowed your name whole. I can’t say that I blame it. When I was young, I wrote your name in lipstick on bathroom walls, thick, red scrawls bleeding my love onto every surface I touched.

How can two syllables say so much?

Rain washes present tense away, erases the shaky line I have walked between invisibility and quasi-fame. Near-acclaim, like near-beer. A tenth of the flavor, none of the kick in the head.

Once, the game show host asked me what my favorite word was. I said your name. She wasn’t impressed. Didn’t she understand the miracle of you, that there is this man who stands taller the sun and wears rainbows in his hair?

I suppose she’d have to see you to get it, the same way the word “ocean” doesn’t do justice to the ever-swelling miracle of Pacific sand-sea-tide. “There are whales down there,” I told the host, trying to explain. “He holds whole schools of fish in his kneecaps.”

The earth burps at heaven, shrugs, unmoved by her tantrum. Sky slams her door. Grassy ground says, “Come out again when you are ready to act like a lady.”

The storm rolls bone white and cold over the horizon, disappearing two inches at a time,

like you.

I tried to hold on, but when was the last time lightning let anyone ride him bareback?

Sky emerges at dawn, dressed in pink gauze, wearing lilacs in her hair. Her singing sounds like the cardinals who gather on the steeple’s point, like drops of blood on the tip of the needle that pokes heaven in the eye.

Sky doesn’t cry this morning.

I huddle here beneath my upended umbrella, utterly undone.

mansion Rosemont
The incredible house in which I stay when I’m teaching at Rosemont.  “Beautiful” doesn’t do it justice.  I’m 96.8% sure it’s haunted, but I turn up my music really loud when I’m here alone so I won’t hear bumps in the night.  

 

 

 

IRREVERSIBLE MAGIC: (FROM ISIS TO OSIRIS, AS HE RATTLED IN HIS COFFIN, THIRTY-THREE SECONDS FROM RISING)

isis and osiris

I give you another poem based on the epic love story of Isis and Osiris, a story which is ultimately (in my mind) a story of the victory of the gods of love over the gods of greed.

Recap: The goddess and god Isis and Osiris, perfect brother and sister souls, rule Egypt with love, beauty, and grace. The graceless, greedy, ugly Set grows jealous and tricks Osiris into climbing into a golden coffin, promising Osiris that if the coffin fits his body, he can have the gold. Instead, when Osiris is inside, Set slams the lid shut and suffocates him. Afterward, the loveless, pitiful Set chops Osiris into pieces. That would be the end of the story if not for Isis.

Possessed by a profound love for Osiris, Isis sacrifices everything she has and many, many years to gather her beloved’s body and reconstruct it, after which she resurrects him.

I think often of that gorgeous love. We look at Egyptian myth and think of it as spooky and dark, but as I’ve delved into it, I have found it to be a gorgeous love story. How much must have Isis loved her Osiris to look for him so long? How potent must her love have been to possess the power to resurrect him from the dead? What kept her looking for him during all those long years, when she could have stopped along the way, taken another lover, become a different kind of queen?

Love. Love made her strong. Here is a poem from Isis to her beloved.

IRREVERSIBLE MAGIC: (FROM ISIS TO OSIRIS, AS HE RATTLED IN HIS COFFIN, THIRTY-THREE SECONDS FROM RISING)

At twilight, in the eyes of all the gods that matter, plummeting sun and blossoming moon, trickster stars, I sewed your name to my bones.

At dawn, when spirits made puppets of birds, abducting feathered throats, hijacking songs, I lit a candle, melted your marrow into mine.

I did not say, “‘Til death do us part.” I said there would be no parting.

And so this morning, after storm came and hurricane roared, hungry to rip your name from my lips, banish you from my bones forever, I woke weary but whole, your face still carved on my skull, knowing I would un-be yours the day I undid my own bones, scraped my marrow into a bin and dumped it into the sea.

We

youmeyoumeyoumeyoume

are one.

That misshapen brujah poured her words through your lips, and so what? Her lies were not stitched to your eyes the way my name was when you looked at me that night and said not, “I do” but, “I did before the boiling earth gave birth to life.” And so that grasping hellhound chains you, keeps you from me (as if that were possible), and so what? We married not with our mouths but with our blood. And so the un-goddess’s henchmen hunt me, and what is that to me? They can cut my head from my body.  They can’t cut your name from my bones.

Pity her.

She can burn my love letters, make her haggard face into an ornament, hang it from every branch of your tree. She can brandish her hatred, drop her lies in your mouth. She cannot make you un-love me.

Pity her.

She is a blind, soulless crow, shitting incessantly, pecking desperately after shiny, worthless things.

Pity her.

Her bones are made of mud. Already they melt in the rain, rusting, and if she let you go, what would she be?

Pity her.

When she leaves this world there will be nothing left but sludge, no love to make her immortal. A desk full of contracts, dried out deeds, impotent seeds she thought might grow into something to make her worth noting.

As if ownership every had anything to do with love.

As if a fist can keep the wind.

We

youmeyoumeyoumeyoume

are one.

And so tonight I lie naked, my swelling belly giving birth to moons, to visions of you, to lesser gods, to love in its purest form. Undiluted. Acidic. It bathes me, bites me, burns my skin until every pore gushes your blood.

Beloved, I sacrificed myself whole on your altar eons ago. Would be wooers come and go.  “No,” I whisper.  “No. Leave me. I’ll lie here on this stone forever waiting for him to find me, and if death comes first, I’ll fly to him the moment my last breath leaves my lips.”

Beloved, beloved, beloved, look for me in clouds, in rainbows, in the whipping sails of passing ships.

Two thousand years from now, they’ll find my bones bleached and cold on this ivy licked altar, still inscribed with your name.

And so the storm came.

And so we stood strong.

And so the storm came.

And so we stood strong.

And so the storm came.

And so we stood strong .

Pity her.

Love lives long after greed is gone.

We

youmeyoumeyoumeyoume

are one.

LET THERE UN-BE (ENTROPY STRIKES AGAIN)

hourglass

It is this. Chainsaw breath shredding throat, the night taking on weight, acquiring amorphous form, lifting moonlight in its quavering fingers, offering yellow-white puddles of light to the gods of yesterday.

It is the sound of the wind, the way it revs like an engine, then screams, a dying woman or a dying car, and who can tell the difference?

It is knowing that if the sacrifice was not enough, then you were not enough, because you gave everything. It is becoming a planet unto yourself, shrouded in the choking atmosphere of your own not-enough ness. There is no sky here. The horizon boils.

It is having held memories in your hands so tightly, making your fists into stones. No, no, I won’t let them go, and yet they slip away anyway, sand snakes slithering through the hourglass, grain by grain, until there is nothing left but dust on your palms, and you can barely recall why it’s beautiful.

But if you let go, lift your hands into the shuddering night, let the wind take the dust, the crumbs of the past, and leave you really, truly empty, what then? Is there life after this one, or do you hunch in the black, weaving shreds of moonlight into blankets, making a shawl of the stars, lying and saying, “I am warm now.”

This place is vast and it is empty and I am afraid to write because the nothingness will flood through my fingers, wash the dust from my palms, tell me what I already know.

In the Bible, manna from heaven turned to worms overnight. Yesterday’s light, yesterday’s love letter from heaven, becomes poison in your palms, and you stare at the rot, loving it, because once upon a time, it fed you.

It is not the valley of the shadow of death that I fear. It is the valley of the shadow of nothing.

Courage comes, not with fanfare or drums, but with a whisper.

I open my hands

let go of what was

marry what is

wait for what will be.

HOW ONE OF MY FAVORITE ROCK STARS BUSTED INTO MY WORLD (OR HOW KISMET MAKES REALLY COOL STUFF HAPPEN FOR WEIRD EX-GROUPIE WRITER GIRLS WITH SPARKLY HEARTS)

So I have to share something kick ass that happened to me recently.  It all started last year when I was living in France.  (You know it’s going to be a long, boring story when it begins “It all started last year when I was living in France,” but bear with me.  It’s kinda cool.)  So there I was in this medieval French village, surrounded by ancient stone walls and ivy, guzzling whisky with one of my French musician friends.

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For reference (I know some people are visual learners), this is me in France, surrounded by stone walls and ivy, drinking wine, which is kinda like whiskey, but purple and less likely to make you get in brawls with bartenders.  Not that I’ve ever been in a brawl with a bartender, or anyone, except maybe my brother, when I was about ten, and he pissed me off, and I chased him with a frying pan, fully intending to kill him if I caught him.  Lucky for him, he ran fast and lived to tell the tale.  This probably explains why he flinches when I bust out the frying pan to make him eggs in the morning.

As we guzzled, my friend showed me a video of this band he said was one of the biggest up-and-coming bands in the world and one of his favorites ever.  The band was Vintage Trouble, and I was gobsmacked.

You all know I’m a huge rock-n-roll enthusiast, ex-groupie, so loving music isn’t rare for me, but this was really one of the most powerful responses I’ve ever had to music. My heart of course will always belong first to my beloved Roger Clyne, whom I followed for almost two decades, but I LOVED these guys.  All four of them seemed to be performing with their blood and bones, not just their instruments, which is usually the thing that makes me love a band (and is also really rare).

I obsessively watched videos of their live performances for days and promised myself I’d see them in concert when I got home.  I listened to them enough that when I hear their music, it instantly takes me back to France, because they were the soundtrack for that time in my life, which happened to be one of the top ten best times of my life ever.  But I discovered them at the beginning of my months in France, and by the end of it, life (and lots of wine) had happened.  Also, I had to teach at an MFA retreat the second I got back to the U.S., and I had to edit my soon-to-be-released novel, The Long Ride Home, and my career gobbled up my play time, and I forgot to look up my new favorite band so I could see them live.

Fast forward to now.  Friday, my beautiful friend, mind-blowing National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart (READ HER STUFF–IT WILL BOGGLE YOUR PRETTY LITTLE BRAINS IN THE BEST WAY POSSIBLE), referred a friend who was looking for a good freelance novel editor.  The friend turned out to be Debra, an awesome Penguin Random House editor, who wasn’t looking for an editor for herself, but for a musician friend.  She didn’t give me the name of the friend right away, but we emailed a ton, and I totally dug her. She was super cool and someone I wanted to hang out with more.  After a few days, I kinda figured the musician who needed an editor had found someone else, but I was happy, because Debra was delightful, and I felt like I’d gotten an amazing new friend out of the deal, so yay!

But then, Sunday, her friend wrote me.  He had researched me and my writing and said I had heart and guts and poesy flair (which made me think he was so cool, cause I’d way rather people notice my heart and guts than anything else, and no one has ever described me as having “poesy flair” before—I’m totally putting it in the special skills section of my resume).

His book, which sounds freaking incredible, is about everything I’m passionate about—resurrection and salvation, Egyptian, Greek, and Christian myth, the Mother Goddess.  I was super, super excited as I read his synopsis.  My heart was pounding, the way hearts tend to do when synchronicity is at work.  At the end of his email, he attached a video of the band he’s in, saying, “I’m the guy whipping up the shamanistic fury on the drums.” (He had me at “shamanistic fury.”) I clicked on it, expecting it to be a small, local band from Boise or something.

Well, the video was of the band that I had been obsessed with in France, Vintage Trouble, appearing on the David Letterman show.  I was astounded.  He was the drummer for that band.  The whole thing felt as kismet-y as it gets. I wrote him a letter, telling him I said, “Holy canole, Batman,” when I saw what band he was in, but what I really said was, “Holy shit!” (I can admit that now, as I’ve spoken to him extensively, and I’m reasonably sure he has no problem with swearing.)

Speaking of my letter, in true Tawni “I don’t know how to restrain my emotions” fashion, I wrote him a gushy Tawni-esque email about kismet and how I loved the ideas in his book and have a history of obsessing over his band. I giddily pushed send, and then went, “Um, crap.  That was really unprofessional. Tawni needs to tame her inner-Tawni.  There goes that client.”  But he wrote me back even more delighted with me and my gushiness.

I have to say, more good things happen in my life and career when I am honest and real than they ever do when I’m trying to be “professional.” There is a lesson in there somewhere. I talked about that very thing to my beautiful friend, brilliant author and profound thinker, Maureen Wanket, yesterday.  (READ HER STUFF TOO. IT’S GORGEOUS! IF I PUT IT IN ALL CAPS, YOU HAVE TO DO IT.  IT’S THE LAW OF THE UNIVERSE.) We decided together that the cult of cool is bullshit, and those who wear their hearts and truths on their sleeves are the real cool kids.

And then yesterday, Richard and I decided to have a phone chat to nail down the particulars of our contract. I will be honest.  I have never been so nervous about talking to a potential client.  Rock stars wow me, particularly uber-talented rock stars whose music I adore.  I thought I would be tripping all over my tongue.  But I forgot he was a rock star within 30 seconds. We talked for hours, and I think we talked about everything but the particulars of our contract—God and mythology and art and writing and music.  He was an actor in New Mexico during the time that I was an actor in New Mexico, which was wild.  (He was in film and television though, and I was in theater, so we never crossed paths.) He was in Nice, France just days after I left last year.  He told me he’d picked me to edit his book because of my energy and the way I wear my heart on my sleeve, and also because of a blog I’d recently posted about Egyptian mythology, which I almost deleted because I thought no one ever read my mythology blogs. (I can’t believe someone though I was cool because of one of the least cool things about me–my nerdy obsession with Egyptian myth.  I’m so glad I didn’t delete it.)

We ended our conversation with him saying that no matter what happened with the book, he felt like he’d just found a friend for life.  So did I.  I told him I’d been nervous about talking to a rock star, and he was about as gracious as a man can be.  He said, “Are you kidding me?  You’re the rock star. You’re the guru. I’m the novice.  I’m here to learn from you.”  In a world full of mansplaining (seven out of ten men I talk to don’t even mention my work, and one of the three that does tells me what’s wrong with it or that I was “lucky” to get published), I couldn’t believe that one of the most accomplished men I’d ever spoken to said those words to me.  (I said he had me at “shamanistic fury.”  I lied.  I think he had me at, “I’m here to learn from you.”)

So yeah, as I promised Richard, I WILL be following through on my vow to go see Vintage Trouble live now.  I’ve given up being a groupie for eternal Lent (I like being a writer more, and the pay for being a groupie is crap), but I’m definitely down for attending a rock show or ten. Because how can I possibly understand Richard’s novel without understanding his music?  (We talked about me seeing them in France in July, and I’m trying to come up with a justification for writing the trip off as a business expense.  Work with me here.)

Richard told me he cared more about his writing than any of his other art forms, and considering how successful he’s been with both acting and music, that has to mean something.  I’m so excited to dig into his manuscript.  And maybe soon, you will be buying a mythology-based, best-selling novel by kick-ass Vintage Trouble drummer, Richard Danielson.  I would not be surprised in the least if it happened.

Because life is magic like that.

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This is me back in my groupie days, not at a Vintage Trouble show, because I’ve never seen them, but that will soon be rectified.

LE PAIN

me watching for roger
The streets all look the same after a while
Paris
Madrid
Rome
differentiated only by lettering on signs.
I am in a cafe in America.
The menu boasts “le pain.”
Beside me, two old women
chatter in French.
I eavesdrop the way I did in Nimes
understanding something about a husband
(or son?)
the rain
a cake
as I look out the window watching for you
like always.
Even when you’re half a continent away
I watch.
The miracle of you happens from time to time.
Why not today
way on the other side of the world?
People
win lotteries
strike oil
find bags of cash in floorboards.
Why not me?
I remember a day decades ago
sitting in a window like this one
Boise?
Barcelona?
Who knows?
but you came
and all the pain I’d ever known
washed clean as you passed.
I gasped.
You didn’t even see me seeing you
but I knew for sure I loved you
by the way my breath caught in my throat
and cut it.
My veins drained white
coiled themselves into the shape of your name.
I never forgot.
Your hair was longer then.
You wore brown leather,
and if I had to paint a picture of forever
I’d paint your eyes as you passed
staring at the sidewalk’s brick face
being marred a millimeter at a time
by snow freckles.
Today, I wait again
remembering the way you looked at me
across the bar that night
your eyes saying everything
I ever wanted to hear.
You showed up
after all those years.
I knew for sure you loved me then.
I’ll never forget.
And when I die
I imagine what I will remember of this life
is the big things
The pain
The births
The deaths
The way my breath caught in my throat
when I watched out the windows in
Edinburgh
Rome
Jerome
and once in a while
thunder rolled
the sky split open
spitting snow
and I won the lottery
because
you came.

PONDERING EGYPTIAN MYTH AND THE MEANING OF SALVATION (FOLLOWED BY A SORT OF SCARY-ASS POEM)

isis snakes

I have long been fascinated by the Egyptian myths. They exist today in very truncated form, and my understanding of them is certainly tainted, at best, by modern constructs and philosophies, religious and otherwise (as well as by the haphazard nature of my study—I’m pretty sure I could study this stuff for the rest of my life and only understand in a flawed, inaccurate way a tiny percentage of what the mythology had to teach).  The central myth of the Egyptian religion was that of Isis and Osiris. Osiris was a resurrected divinity who was killed by a greedy divinity and reanimated by Isis’s love and went on to become king of the afterlife.  It was a death and resurrection myth, as would one might expect from a religion that completely focused on the resurrection of the dead.

According to the Egyptian religion, souls were tested and weighed after death to see if they had anything in them that was immortal. (The entire Book of the Dead was a sort of cheat sheet for the test, letting Egyptians know what they would face in the underworld, and what to do and say at each juncture of the test.)  I have been unable to ascertain precisely what the tests were, but I know that there were twelve of them, and each phase of the test involved being allowed to enter a great hall.  Two deities and a serpent stood at the gates to the hall.  If souls failed to recognize and name the deities and serpent when they met them, they failed that phase of the test.  If they got the names right, they were allowed to pass into that great hall, and undergo whatever horrific tests the hall had to offer, so they could pass onto the next phase of the test, meet more deities, name them, be tested, and on and on until they finally came to the Great Hall of Osiris for final judgement.

If they passed all phases of the excruciatingly difficult test, they were allowed to pass into the Egyptian version of paradise, ruled over by the glorious, beneficent Osiris.  If they didn’t, they were fed to the soul swallower and completely destroyed.  (Other instances of the soul having to pass through a fire to become immortal survive in the Egyptian mythology.)

Those that didn’t pass the test were greedly, loveless, hateful, lowbrow beings, entirely attached to the mortal world and driven by mortal longings.  They were incapable of introspection and unable to recognize sacred things when they met them. Instead, they saw sacred forms only as tools to manipulate and use for temporal gain.

I wonder if this myth isn’t more accurate than some of our modern religious forms, which seem to point to immortality/salvation being achieved by meaningless rituals, without addressing in any way the true “cancers” that plague human souls.  Cheap salvation doesn’t seem to me like it does much except make people arrogant.  (I signed up with the right religion, so now I’m better than you.  My entire life is still a lie, but the pretty varnish is all I really needed to be “saved.”)

To me, salvation is a much more complex, hard-won thing.  If you live in perpetual torment, that is what you need to be saved from, and salvation is when that perpetual torment is healed and gives way to true peace.  Heaven and hell are states the human soul exists in, whether in this world or another.  You don’t change the state of your soul by slapping religious Band-Aids on it.  At least, that’s never worked for me.

I resonate with the idea of the fire burning away things that kill us and leaving us truly whole, “saved” as it were.  Because for me, that is truly the process I have gone through.  Any authentic, long-lasting peace and healing I have found has been inspired and aided by God, yes, but involved an incredible amount of introspection, courage, humility, pain, and work on my part. I wonder if these Egyptian metaphors can be viewed as metaphors not only for the process one goes through after death, but the process one goes through during life.

I was pondering these myths while I hiked this morning, and when I came home, this poem came out.  In it, I take the persona of Isis addressing souls who have failed to recognize her, and to revere the sacred power and profound meaning of immortal magic, attempting to use it for mortal, personal gain. I address the fire each of us must fall into/walk through to achieve lasting peace.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THOSE SNAKES YOU STOLE

 

You took them because their scales glittered

like jewels in the sun.

They were beautiful to behold, and when they hissed,

they kissed your mouth softly,

the most attentive of suitors.

You knew they would bring lovers to your bed.

You saw that when they coiled around my arms

they became wings

made me sing and fly,

and you said, “I want to touch the sky.”

Why wouldn’t you,

brown, bland, bloated things?

Why wouldn’t you want a shot at fame?

So you came in the night

and took them.

They writhed and screamed.

I cried then died.

(They were my heart.)

You kissed their lips.

My snakes bit.

You got what you were after

a trailer trash kingdom

a battalion of bloated lovers

wings to soar above the other mediocre things

hear them call you King for a Day.
What I didn’t say (or tried, but you bound me, gagged me, beat me, left me for dead):

THE FINE PRINT

Those snakes of mine

were resurrection reptiles.

The magic they bequeath is unbreakable,

It sparkles, it sings, it flings the bitten one

into the abyss of death,

and if there is anything in him worth saving

it resurrects a god.

It is the fire of Isis, and it burns.

While your bloated selves gloated,

the mortal me turned to ash.

The divine one fought back,

scrapped her way out of hell

and flew.

Having done their work

my snakes leave you and return to me,

their fully realized mother.

We three will fly for eternity.

And now it’s time for my true magic to take its course.

Flames flicker to life.

licking at the corners of your mediocre minds

urging you to find something inside to save you.

I will not pray for you.

I will only say,

“May the Mother’s will be done.”

If there is one shred of you that is worthy

of rising into the sun

may it soar.

I would be surprised if you possess a fleck of immortality,

but that judgement is not up to me.

My feathered snakes and I sing and fly.

My Mother’s flames dance behind your startled eyes

and screaming,

you fall.