Kill the Indian, Save the Man (Voices From the Plains 1)
Thomas Flowers died on an acre of land, a retired banker in Pecos, New Mexico and given a Christian wake delivered by a Priest at the New Desert Cemetery and was buried in make-up on his cheek, short and neatly combed hair, cotton shirt, tie and coat, khaki slackers and penny loafers. There were proverbs and psalms recited, his offspring sang hymns from the New Testament Gospel. There were no rattlers, whistling, drums of war, bullroarers, dancing or chanting. It was not a celebration of life, it was a proper Christian burial. The desert that day fumed with orange dust scattered from winds, lightning scorched the sky and touched down upon the earth, illuminating the symbol and spear of some ancient warrior god, and thunder roared with the thud of a thousand bulls like a cursed vision come in the span of a few seconds.
The civilized man Thomas Flowers was born seventy seven years earlier to a Navajo Tribe, given the name Juniper Tree in present day Genado, Arizona, and inherited the blood of a natural born warrior, natural on the horse and with bow and arrow, performer and singer in sacred ceremonies to heal the sick, and artist in tending to and then butchering sheep.
One morning on an eclipse while the light upon the earth descended into darkness, there were scoring waves of wicked horse beat and the wind whispered in sacred tongue to him, and he spat out his blood cake and gathered up his band.
It was the coming of the Americans.
He’d fight them in the desert for twenty years, clad in red war paint streaking down his face as though it were blood come down from his scalp, racing his unbroken horse across the desert with a bullroarer whipping in one hand sounding like some motorized and alien vehicle storming the earth, and a bow and arrow in the other, in such a lightning procession that it became the stuff of myth and legend, coming with his band of warriors scoring the sound of wind and storms.
When all the other Chiefs signed a treaty of peace with the United States in 1868 and surrendered, Juniper Tree refused, defending the land of his birthplace he considered sacred.
He was finally captured by General Adam Herod Adams somewhere in the Painted Desert, slung off his horse by rope tied to his neck and the General’s saddle, and made to walk behind the General’s horse, 333 miles with his fellow Navajo who surrendered, and as a prisoner of war, forced to transform his entire identity into that required by American civilization.
His children were not allowed to learn their own language or own ways, and when he died they had no ways of knowing how to honor his life upon the earth proper.
Journal Entry 1:
I never have given my car a name, which feels like a shame now. It’s not a car I’d buy if I had the money to buy one but it’s treated me kindly and it carries on the soul of my grandmother. She sold it and I bought it for half of what it’s worth after her sons had to finally tell her that they don’t want her driving anymore. There is plenty of emotion warped up into my grannie’s ’06 little Chevy Cobalt to warrant a name. But for now, it remains without one.
She’s taken me West of the Mississippi twice and only broken down once. This would be a good time for a metaphor but I’m not that good a writer. Both times I came West I owe to sickness which cannot be cured, tagged by Merle Haggard in the 1960’s as Ramblin’ Fever. A disease in which a man cannot stay in one place, where the settling somewhere unsettles and rattles the spirit, where one must up and leave for new territory, new horizons. And when one has it, there’s nothing he can do, save for head up and head on.
My first venture shorted my imagination awfully. I lived in a beautiful part of the country only to work 6 days and 70-80 hour weeks in misery, spending my off days in bed resting up and recovering. After I had taken all I could take, I turned in my two weeks and then drove out to California, up Highway 1 searching for something across the Pacific, the stars, God perhaps, the design of my own soul. We were delivered not.
I came back home to Tennessee after Covid hit, and I came back like a horse that had just been broken, beaten and straddled and sold, and rode hard and rode mean. I was in awful shape.
It took about a year before I accepted a job out West again, a couples miles off the Navajo Reservation basically in the middle of nowhere, in a desert so dry and without life, the prophets from the Christian bible likely used it as inspiration for writing about all those men being tested in the desert of old, and a desert so hot and mean, you can almost see the shape of the devil rising up and forming out of the heat waves. Or it is a mirage. But probably it is the devil.
I came out here to write Westerns but I’ve been unable to write for an equivalence to the biblical forty days and forty night. So now, all I do out here is clean toilets and make beds. I’m a housekeeper, if people ask me what I am, the answer is housekeeper. If there’s an art to it, it’s an art that has totally evaded my skill set. When my supervisor looks at the bed I’ve just made and says it needs to be tighter and with the quilt squares lined and matching and with proper dimensions between the pillows, all I can think to say is, Who gives a shit.
They say guests will leave behind hundreds of dollars in the Bibles but this has proven to be bullshit. Occasionally they will tip a few dollars but mostly what they leave is vomit in the trash cans, stains of shit and stains of piss on the toilet and bathroom floor, and a collection of pubic hairs in the tubs. When people ask me why I always take shitty jobs, I tell them it’s because I don’t ever want comfort as an excuse to quit writing. I often regret my life choices.
Sometimes I can see my own reflection in the yellow waters while I scrub the toilet bowl and I wonder what in the hell have I done with my life, if my existence in its entirety has been wasted.
When I first saw Audra cleaning a table after serving the customers breakfast at the restaurant, I wondered no more. Her murky and maple eyes seem to be globes of forests invented by Shakespeare and her long hair falls down her back how water falls down rapids at the Grand Canyon. Shimmering the sun, golden rays ringing off her black strands and when I first saw her, time froze and Michelangelo painted her and I stood witness.
I introduced myself and asked her on a hike, and I still remember the song that played in my headphones while I worked the rest of the day after she said yes. We climbed down desert slopes of the hike called Cathedral and talked about horses and baseball and sat and watched the mystifying and violent rapids of the Colorado score our conversation like concerto strings from the chorus of God.
We’ve since fallen in love, a love unparalleled by any other woman I’ve ever met. We’re going to live the rest of our lives together, a life I never pictured for myself.
I tell her that I’ve come all over for her, 2000 miles twice and even up and down the California coastline, and done come 28 years too searching for her. She says what took me so long.
I have negative thirty dollars to my name and I work a trade each morning and afternoon that I hate and when I hold her in my arms every night I finally wonder, of my life, how did I become so fortunate and blessed.
Get You Some Soul
I grew up right on the Tennessee/Georgia border and it’s always depended on the hour of the day as to which state I’m from. For this post, I’m from Tennessee.
It’s often said that good music ain’t what it used to be, or that it’s not even made anymore. I hope to disprove this theory.
I’ll admit my style of writing depicts that of a defeatist nature, as has been the multitude of my experience and so it naturally weaves itself into my prose. As a decent example of my tastes, “Sympathy for the Devil” is likely my favorite song of all time.
That said, I’ll not fight the finer angels of light when they manifest themselves upon our realm. Valery June is a specimen comparable to this definition. She gives me that strange feeling of pride knowing that she hails from Tennessee. She contains a brighter prism of color glowing from her flesh and from her music that rings out in the image of all the plasma of the galaxy as well as every portrait of a body of water underneath and reflecting and sparkling sunlight, chiming the winds of earth like bells pulled by the hands of God.
For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into her biography but it is inspiring and impressive and beautiful, particularly for anybody who’s ever taken to dreams, same as an astronaut that comes among the stars. She makes you want to go get yourself some soul.
Call it gospel or country, them old southern blues songs or soul, call her ‘genre’ whatever you think fits, but once you hear her, you must call it Good.
We all need that light resounding out from special spirits among us and Valerie June‘s aura and sound sparks as the orbit for all that shines upon this world.
Long Hair Turning Gray
Larry McMurtry probably ought to be considered a national treasure. He’s written a hell of a canon of the American West, like almost a hundred books, and The American West at its most raw, is America at its most honest. My own father is not a man of fiction but he loves Lonesome Dove and holds it dear to his heart.
General Custer and Crazy Horse have been written about so many times it’s annoying, even asinine, commonplace and cliché; but for my money, McMurtry did it the best, he’s provided us with the end-all-be-all biography of each man.
And he wrote one of the finest Texan coming of age stories of all time--with a father who’s hard on those he loves because he loves them, a wildcard and free willing and night-city seeking step-son, and finally the youngest son, the story’s protagonist who deals with existential crisis of this life as often as he has to deal with material issues and hard drama between his father and older brother--in his debut play, “Horseman, Pass By.” I’m not a man who cries, nor a man who easily relates to much, but I remember reading that play in high school and I tried but could not help myself from my eyes swelling up with salt water. I felt that story, big time.
But this post is about one song written by McMurtry’s son. And it’s not a great song, and I can’t explain why I love it. And I’ve tried listening to more music by James McMurtry and just don’t dig it.
I think I like this particular song because I can relate to mediocrity. The song is less than spectacular, and James McMurtry’s career is also well less than stellar, and I believe this song captures that essence pretty damn perfectly. Its opening line I especially appreciate so much that it makes me smile and chuckle to myself every time I hear it, “Sick of this small town bull shit, I’m not staying in school.” Then later on, it’s simple but it’s pure and true: “Meanwhile I got a gram [of weed most likely, maybe coke] and a real good ride [first time buying a car most likely] / And don’t you know I hurt way down inside.” I feel that, big time. It’s not that good a song at all, but it so easily portrays a certain struggle that I relate to so well.
It’s written by a man who must live in the shadow of his acclaimed father. It’s a difficult realm to live in. The song, called, “Just Us Kids” enunciates that certain pain and heartache, the misery and rare good-time feeling of forgetting that one might have to live up to some idea, that one might just have fun for a minute, that one might be themselves and that it might be okay, that even God might understand and might even appreciate it.
Hillbilly Mama (This Song is by Ray Wylie Hubbard)
I was born all the way’s in Leotie, Georgia. Done got married down there’s at the 7/11 store. Got married there’s when my wife had ten minutes for a cigarette break. We was asked if we do and she blew out some smoke from that cigarette a hers. Then she shrugged some. Then she said Sure and then I said, “Why hell yes I do, you shitting me?” Her name’s Jeffery-Anne Daisy Honeydew.
I won’t sit here and give any excuse for how I am but you ought to get to know my Mama if you want to know how I come to be.
See, she’s from up yonder in Marion County, that’s where the men are men and the cows are scared. She’s awful pretty and it means she had to grow up fighting, only other choice was her to be scared too. And she ain’t no scaredy cat, she’ll whoop your ass now, just watch out. She’s as pretty as she is tough and is as tough as much as she holds the red light of love in her heart. I ain’t done one thing right in this here lifetime, except for what I’ve done learned from her.
Now I don’t know what all mama’s teach their youngern’s but mine raised me right. Raised me on Jesus, how to fish like him too, longneck Budweiser’s and how to win a scrap. Whenever I quote scripture, drink down a bud in 2.4 seconds, knock the hell out a some disrespecting hippie, or catch catfish with my bare hands and somebody done ask me, “Dale, how’d you do such a thing,” I tell ’em all the same thing, I say, “Shit, Mama done learned me everything there is to know in this here world.”
Ole sheriff raided my marijuana fields about twelve, thirteen years ago and turned me in to the authorities, course not before I beat him silly. Hell, weed ain’t no real crime, surer’n shit ain’t a sin, and that’s what’s most important, and I owe my mama for that bit of knowledge. I reckoned if Sheriff wants to arrest me, I ought to give him good enough reason to. So I gave him my right fist just under the temple, just how mama taught me to, knocked him out and busted his face wide open with blood spilling. I helped him up and he said, “Your mama sure would be proud with that hook you got.” I told him, Shit, that I know that.
Down there at the courthouse, Judge sentenced me to seven years in prison and Mama said she was going to beat the Jesus into that there Judge and she all but did it right then and there. Pulled him out from behind that oak desk and wailed on him. Took three guards to take her off from whipping the love of Christ into that mean ole Judge. Well, me and Mama went to prison that same day together like two little peas in the same pod. When she got out, she’s the only one come visit me every day. My own wife only came two or three times a week. Mama even ended up taking a job serving food in the cafeteria so she could just see me all the time.
Jeffery-Anne asked before if I love Mama more than I do her, my own wife, the mother of all my children. And I said to her, told her, “Don’t be jealous baby, God don’t even hold up to my Mama.”
M is for more love and more grit and more balls than any of y’all, the most God ever blessed a woman with. A is for all the things she taught me, all the times she hollered when I done wrong and all the times I said Yes’m. The second M is the same as the first one, about time you pay attention now. And that last A is for Ain’t you heard me yet, there’s no finer a flesh and blood than my Mama. Goddamn.
Mama, if you’re listening, I want to tell you I love you, kindly I do. Ain’t ashamed to say it. You got you six little grandkids too just a learning everything now that you ever taught me. How to fish, how read about Jesus and how to fight with their hands and do everything on this here green earth with their almighty heart. Thank you Mama.
P.S. Me and Jeffery-Anne is going down to Panama City Beach for the month of July and we’ll be bringing the kids by your place to stay during all that time. They sure love nothing more than spending time with their grandma, that’s you, not Jeffery-Anne’s Mama, but my Mama.
Ceaselessly into the Past
I have an old dream so vivid that some moments I reckon it to be an actual memory and it’s possessed by the current of a river rustling rapidly underneath a heavy fog drawn as clouds of Hell, and bursting through the darkness emerges a slow, electric green gaze, like the eyes of a material God.
Understanding our dreams is not much different than interpreting fiction, it’s a fleeing and elusive concept, nuanced, a beautiful if haunted image possessing the senses and unconscious into a realm of discovery and revelation.
The importance of literature seems to be found in embracing the torment of our past, the river of our souls--history itself through fiction displays a much more monumental and even truer version of subject and material--so to bring us from underneath the depths of heavy waters, or at least give us peace in drowning.
What is the Civil War and the South without Faulkner or Toni Morrison, the meaning and purpose behind the angst of a self-proclaimed bastard generation without Kerouac or the horrifying humorous truth of the American West and backwoods southern Appalachia without Cormac McCarthy. Fiction puts down a record of historical marker much more significant than textbooks filled with facts and dates, exploring instead the possibilities of space and time while reckoning all the while the realities and pain that even though the world we live in feels infinite, the world as we know it, is awfully constrained.
I first learned the beauty and brilliance of fiction in a high school class reading and discussing The Great Gatsby. The poetic prose runs and cuts through the pages like the colorful scales of a trout swimming through American rivers. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s talent and genius would ultimately cost him his sanity.
Because of his sacrifice and will to the written word, the world has received a remarkable testament and document of the tragedies of the American Dream. The roaring 20’s, the dust-scoped and end-of-times Great Depression, which The Great Gatsby seems to somehow prophesize.
Throughout the novel, the protagonist sees the green light of a ferry across the river, something he wants so fully and wholly to grasp and feel and obtain. The light flashes, and as quickly as it spans from its source to eye sensory, it disperses and is gone.
Fitzgerald gives us a prose so related to our own conscious and heart, that I often forget if this poetic image is a dream I’ve had or an actual event I’ve experienced. It becomes something greater than merely a passage I’ve read. It sends electric shrills through my body, turning me cold and dripping in sweat simultaneously.
With beauty and color, senses and the dreams woven through prose, fiction comes to the rivers of our soul, the blood in our flesh, beating onward, again and again through hellfire and sucks, deeper and deeper into the unknown from which it might pull us up and take us all the way yonder.
Need Never Get Old
Nathaniel Rateliff knew from the beginning he was going to die playing music, as though he were called to do so from some invisible almighty, be it the devil or God.
By the time he was thirty-three, he had put out three less-than-mediocre acoustic folk albums and all wisdom in the world would have told him to burn the guitar and come to terms with reality.
Around this time, he was one of a half-dozen struggling and unknown musicians as the subject for a documentary called From Austen to Boston, where they tour in a caravan of old vans from Texas up to the northeast, playing bars and backyard parties.
In what was supposed to be a climax for the film’s storyline, the epitome of victory over adversity and struggles and arriving into the world of established musicianship, Rateliff performed an acoustic show by himself at his hometown in Missouri, expecting somewhat of a triumphant and celebratory return to where it all began. What he received was an audience who did not care or even notice him sing, talking and laughing over his lyrics, even booing him until he finished his last number and walked off stage. In his performance, he seemed like he’s the product of something, not himself yet physically born, playing a string progression not matched with his heart, his voice, his story, and seemed like a thing being choked to death by a cocoon, or drowning in the high seas before swallowed by Ahab’s whale, like he was fighting to come to some place of truth and beauty, fighting to become himself and could not.
Directly after this performance, the film crew interviewed him. He was heartbroken on the riverbanks, likely the Mississippi, holding his head in his hands, amidst a breakdown, crying and trying not to. So far in his thirty-three years he had put out three records that nobody bought, that weren’t very good, had followed the beat of his spirit and had nothing to show for it save for failure and what appeared to be a serious lack of talent. He was realizing it at this moment and was crying just as pathetic and pitiful as you want. He was in so much pain that he couldn’t even speak, could not make out words. It’s hard to watch.
It’s said a grown man ain’t supposed to cry, and yet is written in the Gospels that even Jesus had tears stained upon his cheek when they drove the nails through his palms, wept before he was crucified and then born again, risen up from the depths of death.
Rateliff’s musical rebirth would be a soul fused rock ‘n’ roll sound and he picked out a cool-ass band to back him, calling themselves The Night Sweats, fittingly so, as his career up to this point had been a nightmare and fever dream, never awakening from the horrors of the reality of the material world. It took thirty-seven years on earth for him to come to, wake up and deliver the punch that had tried to swallow his entire being from the bottom up.
Their debut and self-titled album is itself is a gong-bell awakening, it ain’t the rooster rising and heckling the dawn, it’s the rooster being picked off by a cowboy, the lead singer of The Night Sweats greeting the new day.
They’ve put out two more albums since, including Tearing at the Seams, which is as good a record as there’s ever been made and will endure what is called the test of time. When he sings lines like, “You ain’t gone far enough to say my legs have failed,” or “They’ll have to drag us away,” or “I’m choking on my words,” or “Are you afraid of what the future might bring?” or “You ain’t worked hard enough to say at least I tried,” you don’t need to know his history of chasing an empty calling that has eluded him for his entire life, to believe the words he delivers--the words are true, you know it through your senses, your own soul and own heartbeat, it’s been down in his guts a’brewing and a’boiling, like a dream been deferred for some long awful time.
His own soul beckons out from his voice like a bullet, triumphant finally, because he knows what triumph now and finally does mean, what it’s worth. Through his lungs, rifles his blood and heart drilling out from the darkness within and striking his name and sound amongst the world, fighting with all the guts inside him, what one might call the good fight.
Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines by Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas grew up skipping school to go streaking down his very civilized and upper-class neighborhood, and in truth he probably never really did grow up at all in his entire life, dying eventually after a long series of whiskey-fueled joke-telling and late night drunken pranks at the expense of anybody, his enemies included with his best of friends, his editors and publishers, even himself.
He died young, alcohol related. He died sweating and laughing. His most famous line and poem is, "Do not go gently into that good night," nor did he.
The one poem that always struck me like verses of prophets hand-delivered directly from God, is "Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines."
Even in darkness, he celebrates the rage and blood and sweat of mankind to endure. Not enough time in the day for sadness. It is as though our bones are kindling and our spirit a fantastic match stick, making the candle of our eyes glow with glorious fire and light across the shadows of the horizon.
Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines
By Dylan Thomas
Light breaks where no sun shines;
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides;
And, broken ghosts with glowworms in their heads,
The things of light
File through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.
A candle in the thighs
Warms youth and seed and burns the seeds of age;
Where no seed stirs,
The fruit of man unwrinkles in the stars,
Bright as a fig;
Where no wax is, the candle shows it's hairs.
Dawn breaks behind the eyes;
From poles of skull and toe the windy blood
Slides like a sea;
Spout to the rod
Divining in a smile the oil of tears.
Night in the sockets rounds,
Like some pitch moon, the limit of the globes;
Day lights the bone;
Where no cold is, the skinning gales unpin
The winter's robes;
The film of spring is hanging from the lids.
Light breaks on secret lots,
On tips of thought where thoughts smell in the rain;
When logics die,
The secret of the soil grows through the eye,
And blood jumps in the sun;
Above the waste allotments the dawn halts.
My Daddy’s Blood
In ancient Egypt, according to the Dead Sea Scrolls, when one died, their heart was removed from their body and measured on a scale as a means to reveal the weight of their worth, for the afterlife, as judged by God.
A week before Thanksgiving 2020, for the second time in his life, my father's stomach was cut open and heart taken out of his body for at least eight consecutive hours and placed on ice while surgeons operated on seven blocked arteries until the arteries could deliver fresh blood to the heart.
I remember wondering what my father dreamed of while he lay on the surgical cot unconscious, while his heart was dissected. I’ll never admit it to anybody, but I’d place big money on it that he came to God and met him in the flesh.
His heart developed problems in his early twenties after he was diagnosed with cancer and treated successfully by a process I don’t really understand called radiation. It’s this radiation that saved him from dying of cancer and this radiation too that forever fucked his heart. If you ask him what he thinks of this, he’ll chuckle and say, “Well.” If he lives another twenty years, it’s more’n likely he’ll have to have open heart surgery again, for a third time, in his mid-eighties.
He's awful damn tough, it doesn't take knowing him too long before realizing it. My oldest brother--not technically his biological son but you'd never know it--always says Dad should have been born a sheriff in the Old West, because the outlaws would have ravaged every town except Dan's town, because even the sickest of criminals would have known, that nobody fucks with Dan.
He walked on at the University of Georgia to play running back, and day-in-and-day-out out ran scout team offense against the number one ranked defense in the country. This is back in 1977, back when slamming a ball carrier to the ground by grabbing his facemask or back of the shoulder-pads or close lining him, one defender high and one at the knees, was not only permitted but encouraged and considered the stuff of skill and talent and regulation.
Each play, after being shit-tackled by future NFL All-Pro defenders, my dad helped himself up, trotted back to the huddle while the defense ran their mouth and high-fived, then he walked up to his position at the line of scrimmage behind the QB who’d take the snap and give the ball off to my father, my father cutting and plowing through the no-god-given-hole against the defensive-line and threw a forearm out against them and the blitzing linebackers, bouncing and jabbing and breaking off tacklers into the secondary, until his forearm bled and fractured and he hollered out a Cherokee war-cry through his mouthpiece being taken down to the earth with brutal force while the whistle blew, going through this sweat and these steps upon the field for hours upon eternal hours every day of the week, and with the ball in his grip his heart beat like itself were a psalm of God.
He taught me how to be tough without having to give me a corny movie-type line on the essence of grit and salt and heart. Otherwise, you could consider him every character Clint Eastwood ever played in a movie. All one need do is watch how my father carries out his life to receive the finest education on how to be Good in this world. He does not complain, under any circumstance, he comes in heavy with the ball in his hands. If the world is tough, one must be even tougher. He showed me this. He never had to speak of his own heart, you can hear it pounding just from being in his presence.
When his heart was removed from his body and placed on ice, a week before Thanksgiving in 2020, for his second time, I wonder what God thought upon seeing such a thing, if it made him smile or weep sentimentally, or if it surprised even him that he had created such a good’n’tough son of a bitch.
Evangel of Robert Johnson
Told in four separate narratives and banned ever since its initial publication, Evangel of Robert Johnson spans across the Yazoo Delta of Mississippi during the Great Depression, weaving a story modeled after ancient poems in the epic tradition as biography for the Mythological Bluesman.
Part One reads as a film treatment with the sentence structure informed by Japanese Haiku, tracing the final seven years of Johnson’s life from the time he supposedly sold his soul to the devil for musical greatness to his life in saloons across the backcountry of the American South, to his only known recordings and his strange and untimely death.
Part Two is an Americanized adaptation of the four Gospels combined, with Robert Johnson serving as the child and father and spirit of mysterious and darkened creation risen from the ash and history of the American South, especially the Mississippi Delta, tracking down a part-historically-accurate and part-imagined bloodline for Johnson parallel to the bloodline of Christ.
Told by an unknown character who would have been a very close friend of Johnson, the perspective of Part Three adapts John Milton’s Satan as a folksy and charming Southern snake-oil man.
And the final section of the novel is itself strictly based upon Johnson’s own music and lyrics, reading as an opera of prose or modern-day epic music video, following a circus of freaks, called Mystics Medicine Show, bound for New Orleans, rendering myth and fact, history and invention, fiction and truth, Hell and earth--the blues of Robert Johnson as a gateway unto realms beyond this world.