“Nothing beats holding a warm baby goat on a cold afternoon,” says Nancy. She is perched
on an overturned milk crate, and the spindly hind legs of a two-week-old Nubian fit perfectlyround
her thigh. The sun cast its final rays into the barn; it is overwhelmingly tranquil, harmonious – silence, the silence of the Sawtooth mountains looming, surrounding us; the silence of the barn, save for the occasional mew
of Albatross, the pregnant goat, and the sound of animals shuffling in hay.
For whatever reason, I begin to talk about stock-brokers. “Exciting, yeah…. but, ya know…kind of… two-dimensional…” Nancy draws out the word dimensional just like the old hippie that she is. Then she tells us that she’s been getting a lot of young volunteers lately; that my generation seems like an exciting, good generation — a generation that cares and is doing good works. The excitement that her words give me: this is the second time that an older person had told me that — and when my father had asked why more of my generation was not protesting the Iraq War, I remember telling him that I was part of the “hipster generation” – that we were cynical, had seen history play out and knew its lies, the consumerism that undermined everything – I’d thought of HISTORY in Brooklyn, who makes a point of not recycling because he believes that whether or not he recycles a can does nothing; that the problem is too great – that recycling is only some form of ego-boosting, the lies we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel that we’re doing good.
Later that night I will write:
I AM LUCKY THAT THE CRASH CAME WHEN IT DID. I AM LUCKY
TO HAVE JUST GRADUATED WHEN THE OCCUPATION HAPPENED. HAD I BEEN JUST FOUR YEARS OLDER – MY SISTER’S AGE – I WOUD’VE MAYBE BEEN TEMPTED TO GET A JOB… PURSUE A “CAREER”… ENTER THE RAT RACE. THE RAT RACE WOULD’VE LOOKED ENTICING. I REMEMBER READING A NYT ARTICLE ABOUT HOW THE RECESSION IS LEADING A WHOLE LOTTA COLLEGE GRADS TO GO WWOOFING – THE ARTICLE MADE IT SEEM LIKE VACATIONS, BUT IT’S A LOT BIGGER THAN THIS. IF EVERY IVY LEAGUE GRADUATE SPENT A YEAR ON A FARM INSTEAD OF GOING STRAIGHT TO GRADUATE SCHOOL… THEN THERE’D BE A WHOLE LOT LESS WAR, A WHOLE LOT MORE PEACE, AND CHANGE, I BET.
alright enough of that moderny lovey nonsense from here on out it is straight to the source:
NEBRASKA → GOAT FARM
thinking of driving till the border and stopping, and sleeping, and driving through Denver at dawn. The idea of waste. Waste: It’s funny, I’d never thought of “waste” — met so many people who thought about “waste” — as you, your group of friends – mostly you, she added after a pause.
Waste as a topic of conversation, the idea of waste – and waste being ascribed to the qualities of a person – wastefulness, to be up for judgment.
bleak nebraska. I will make you my witness til the end of the earth –
he says repent. He says turn your whole life around
and follow me.
And that’s exactly what we need to do.
Some of you are the little tiny ducts on the pancreas. You might not look like much — you might be
a tiny speck — but when you stop working, we hurt.
they looked like big insects
ploughing the land, which stretched
out — not
but like thin skin plucked and
stretched the hide over a a hideous
expanse –tremoring, the howls.
When we crack down our windows there is screeching: high-pitched howls – banshees or syballi or
john lennon slowed- down. a working class hero is something to be. and suddenly we’ve stumbled
upon a welcome sign: welcome to colorado. so this is christmas. put john lennon in a cassette tape
player, slightly broken, which crones soft a half-step so slow. and outside, suddenly – it’s just as
nigh foretold – suddenly everything gets a whole lot prettier. “it’s like they drew like they drew a
line between the pretty and the ugly stuff and they said okay, colorado, yoo get the pretty stuff
nebraska yoo get the ugly stuff” scrubbery. shrubbery. suddenly everything is dusty and scrubbed
or patted down. in white: like white oil paint that has been left to dry,
its really cool and spooky that film can’t capture the night frustrating
and each night sky distinct and then lost and this one: everything is thicker now.
colorado. like oil paint almost
dried and then scrubbed out as it wool brush and bright bushy bushes of it scrubbed and
scrubbed out – this, this thickness
(SLEEP AT THE WALMART IN PUEBLO, CO.)
and you could not know that the world was
very vast / and terrible.
Wasteful, in a word. “Do you want a straw?” The barista – male, buzzed out red blonde hair, black rimmed glasses and using the word “fantastic” asks. Three neatly placed Scrabble sets under a bright-colored Yahtzee box placed besides the could it be electric? fireplace. Driving out of Lincoln we were whipped by now and both silently feared that we would join the blips – the dots of metal – cars spun out off the ice-covered black ice-covered by one single highway – lone dots – and there’s another one – along the ditches in the road. Nigh tells me that he always believed he’d die in a car crash – he says he’s supposed to wear a bracelet. Blood. I wonder how that works – blood banks – when the paramedics arrive, do they look for your identification, call the blood bank?
NANCY’S GOAT FARM
We live in a little trailer. We live in our coats. Maybe seven feet wide, three times that length. The wind
howls, sounds like it is running up the mountain, whistling through these clump mounds of dirt and manure compacted all the same. When we walk down to the arroyos, it always
takes a surprisingly short distance to return to where we’d left off — we’ll have walked miles,
to find that when we turn back, follow the goat tracktrail down the mountain, the dairy will be
just a few hundred feet away. It’s desert mountains. It’s desert: we can climb and see nothing
but the same sprawling scape of mountains built of rubble, sandstone dirt that rumples and shatters as soon as you try to break it (by knocking it against a rock, or simply with two bare sand-encrusted hands). And the trees. The earth is built of sand, muddy clumps of mud, like shit, which it could be (Hey, my shit-diggers! Nancy hollered, cupping her weathered hands against her mouth… You gonna dig some shit? and her uncut smooth hair fell greyly down her back.)
Nancy speaks of the pinon trees. She makes balm out of pinons, juniper salves that she leaves in tiny glass pots around the table. The table is the center of life here. I have spent my days lingering around the table, and the stove – cast-iron, slow-burning, black-iron hearth (and to her left, another stove: always another cauldron bubbling water and land.)
There is one rule: we don’t use butter, we use lard. The entire uncut side of a pig: skin: two inclines of pink, globular fat. There are no lights in the kitchen until one light is turned on at dusk: and the thin mountain air permeates, evaporates across the valley and arroyos settle and it is difficult to breathe in this atmosphere, at this altitude. (In Colorado, signs for towns
don’t state the population number – white beneath electric green; instead, they indicate the altitude.
If New Mexico weren’t so poor, and if the subdivision weren’t so tiny, we might have the altitude
listed, too; instead, as we approach the Grands, a Native has allowed his cows (or was it his
horses) to graze freely in the thinly grassed division on the highways. There’s no barrier between the road and the patch of shrubs: anyhow, the man has let his animals graze there,
and plopped a house and a family there, too. Next to the highway, we see – on top of a giant of a
little flat part of a little hill- mound of compact dirt – a scattering of broken and tinny houses. Barely
houses, more like box-houses, sheds.
New Mexico being poor. New Mexico is the poorest state in the U.S. that I have seen: it’s a
wasteland, Nigh says — it’s like the government forgot about them, I say. Near Grands, we see a
billboard: FORCED LABOR OCCURS HERE, STOP HUMAN TRAFFICKING – with a
picture of a terrified-looking Mexican man tremoring out into the void. There was nothing out here.
Around Raton, we saw three cop cars circling around a poor man being arrested at the back of the one lone gas station; overhead lights shiny is concrete and the black-blue sky. This: flat: for miles.
the energy out here is strong… it does have more to do with the natural elements, the natural
forces. it’s not the way they us it was going to be… it’s not the way we want it to be.
it doesn’t work the way the brain wants it to work… a lot of people don’t handle it well…. end up
drinking a lot.
According to La Loz de Sonora, the corpse was well preserved, which helped
with the identification, its skin cured as if the arid yellow earth of El Rosario were a kind of medium
Death pervades New Mexico.
What’s happening? Nigh asks. It seems like lately there’s been a barrier between us – we’re not as close as we could be. Do you think we could be closer? He always ends up asking the final question in a goofy tone – making it all casual.
When I stop crying I say, maybe it’s all the ghosts.
Don’t you think that New Mexico that this place is full of ghosts? It’s like dead. Dead dead dead
everywhere. And around us, the mountain crumbles —
touch a piece of sandstone, these sandstone deserts,
you sweep forever
and forever there is more
At the first bend the village disappeared from sight and all she could see was a row of pines and the mountains multiplying in the night, all white, like nuns with no worldly ambitions.
All this light is dead,” said Ingeborg. “All this light was emitted thousands and millions of years ago. It’s the past, do you see? When these stars cast their light, we didn’t exist, life on earth didn’t exist, even Earth didn’t exist. This light was cast a long time ago. It’s the past, we’re surrounded by the past, everything that no longer exists or exists only in memory or guesswork is there now, above us, shining on the mountains and the snow and we can’t do anything to stop it.
I have become preoccupied with my weight again. So if I haven’t spelled it out already, Nigh and I haven’t had sex since we came here. Nigh says maybe it’s all the meat he’s been eating, all this dead. This place is full of dead. I add kratom. Though I suspect that the real reason is that I have grown a moustache:
extra thick (sprout pube-like hairs: extra-thick
from all the waxing). I have grown fat, in addition. Not to mention the fact that I haven’t changed my clothes – not even to sleep – in days, days! How does it feel? Alex asks. Warm, I reply unthinkingly.
Warm like pee in your pants warm? He flashes his eyes.
You sweep forever and forever there is more dust.
Your long johns soak
in semi-arid pee. This is not the first time
this has been an issue. Everywhere is stained
with your drippings. Last night,
for example. And Nigh said: It must be hard,
having a nose like yours. Up-turned. Your snot
is facing the air, all exposed:
my nose just faces downward, it doesn’t
have to face
Is this the feminist facing up to disgust?
(And why did you become a feminist, I asked Nigh. And Nigh said, because I was ashamed of my sexual fantasies.)
Nigh is tiring of me. I don’t blame him. I would be tired, too, were it not for the “rat poison” that I swallow, sinking my unbrushed yellow onto tiny nuggets of gold – like a rat. (I am sorry, Nigh, for what I have become.)
Confessions. It always catches up with you. Normally I would have bought another.
Whenever I hear myself speaking I feel myself cringing. I have become repulsive: twangy and gross, and my bad behavior is no longer cute. (You always cough, take a small hit… and, Why don’t you take the wagon, this time. I am weak. I am spoiled. I should have never told you that I was self-conscious about picking up after myself because I wasn’t sure how to, I’d always had a goddamn maid…)
Nigh had gone outside the house in order to smoke a cigarette. Outside, he heard the goats screaming, bleating
as he’d never heard the goats bleat before. It scared him. Then he heard the distinct sound
of gates opening and clothing within the stable. He came in, and stood over me.
(I was not horizontal on the sole couch.) Anna, he said.
Who do you think would be in the goat stables at eleven thirty at night?
Don’t tell us we’re not evenly matched. I’ll play your death games. Tonight they told us about our neighbor, he’s German, he was exiled from Germany when he was sixteen for murdering a girl. After that he came out here, the middle of nowhere in the U S of A. We have the darkest sky in the continental United States, our county does – to give you an idea of how empty, what pure
I get to see the constellations: Cassiopeia, The Night Rider, The Big Dipper leads to Polarus.
to be out here now : two in the afternoon, reading Hopi creation stories and listening to Native chants strain from the radio… feel sleepy, decide to take a walk… walk out into the dirt road, walk forever in this sameness… stumble upon two mares from the other side of the gate. say hello, walk more. then, a family of cows: two males – long, curved horns, and a female, always, ugly wide face, and a baby. they run when they see me. I let them get their paces ahead and follow.
Every so often, the black male will drop
behind and stare and watch me with those horns. I stay quiet.
The grim struggle drove the New Mexican into a monotonous pastime. His whole life revolved around a primitive agricultural economy which styled nature and which gave little hope for the future.
FAR REMOVED FROM THE CURRENTS OF CIVILIZATION, THE NEW MEXICAN HAS BEEN FORCED TO LIVE IN A WORLD IN WHICH ONLY WHAT IS IS REAL.
NEW MEXICO. 1595, first settlements, + 1680, Pueblo Revolt. The New Mexican. He has been too concerned
with the realities, making a living to place much faith or hope in the power of politics. A PATIENCE
THAT BORDERS ON FATALISM. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Transferred NM from M to US: “while the treaties provided for their individual political rights under the new arrangement, no provisions were made to safeguard them in their rights as a society.” The treaty “failed to recognize the major issues involved in the
incorporation of a people into a new culture. IN THE MARCH OF IMPERIALISM, PEOPLE WERE FORGOTTEN.”
1848-1851: lawlessness, with transfer of authority.
“NO PARADES IN ON AMERICAN HISTORY,” SAYS A LAWYER FROM THIS TIME.
1890: Taos “discovered” by artists – artist colonies – not so much help to N.M-icans, artists see them
as part of the “local color”: “HAVING GOATS OR HORSES TRAMPLE BEANS
AND CEREALS IS A QUAINT WAY OF THRESHING
BUT NOT A METHOD CONDUCIVE TO THE EFFECTIVE SALVAGING OF CROPS OF WHICH EVERY GRAIN IS SORELY NEEDED BY THE FARMER” :
land and community resources: farm and grazing operations – land grants belonged to the
community, or, in the case of grants made to individuals, were usually open to free use by the
community… but when put under USA: privatization: collapse of the farm: “The collapse was due
to the commercialization of non-commerical stock raising and farming, to resultant overgrazing and
soil depletion, to taxation, to overpopulation, and to the reduction of accessible lands through the
acquisition of large tracts by the government and by private individuals.” In 1940, still, only 42%
of land is privately owned- “the danger lies not in government ownership but in the program
followed by government in the administration of these lands”
HOPI = peace. The great pioneer ethnologist ALEXANDER M STEPHEN, who first rewarded
the details of Hopi ceremonialism in the 1890s, exclaimed in his journal: “DAMN THOSE
TANTALYZING WHELPS, TO THE DEVIL WITH ALL OF THEM! I HAVE BEEN
BAMBOOZLED FROM PILLAR TO POST ALL DAY, HAVE RECEIVED NO SCRAP OF
cairns of stones picked up out of furrows
tended to the earth
the land rounds and gentles: the ridges and the hollows: the clustered buildings of the farms:
the wooded folds of the land: the grassy crease becomes a raw gully: the hill is full of dark
seeps and trickles.
arroyo. trenches. goat’s head. the chickens. fear. creation.
i like how dumb the chickens are because they remind me that the distance between man and nature lies on a line, horizontal, like the horizon: it is not the difference of a break: it is a gradient: Wendell Berry describes a hill: we
are a part of that hill: and, by being part, THAT makes us transcendent. Implied in this: transcendence (if that is what we are trying to achieve) lies through recognizing our smallness, our humble aspirations: we are a part of this creation, because the creation is the ONLY thing? that will ever be whole. Complete already.
Berry says there is nothing extraneous in the creation. So we are there to serve the creation.
(This might sound something like Christian “humility” – but not Christian – Judeo-Christian want dominion. Plus,
the world is going to end, Nigh adds.)
Transcendence. I think of that conversation by the water — how mistaken I was.
I remember a conversation before I left. I’m not sure if I can write anymore — I like writing, but I am afraid
my motivations might be wrong. If my motivations are wrong – if I am wrong – then I can’t write, no matter how much I enjoy it…
I am ashamed to remember my reasons. To transcend: to “make the world work for you” : I wrote that out of a place of sincerity. Instead of working for the world. Because isn’t that all we can do? Wendell Berry is forceful, forceful
in his condemnation of humankind : humankind is WRONG.
Money ruins everything. Nature is perfect: if perfection
is harmony. Each animal, plant, mineral
does its part and no more.
No more. And trees can be no more.
bright colors in the west, giant butterflies dancing as night crept
like a cripple toward the east. Let’s go, boss, said the driver,
let’s not push our luck.