The Witch in the Doorway

The sky cast an ugly shade of red on the ground. Normally she enjoyed the sunrise, but this particular blood-red reminded her of the streets piling high with bodies. The blood rose up to her ankles. At least. The blood fed the harshness of tar like rain fed the miracle of plants. The blood covered the buildings. The cars. Her hands. How could she ignore it. It was supposed to be beautiful, but it made her resent the light. Normally she prayed to the sacred ball of fire. Closing her eyes holding her hands at her sides palms facing the heat absorbing the vitamins the light burning her lids awakening the third eye. But today it stung her skin.

Not the usual start to the day. She took it as an odd omen.

She returned home and brewed a pot of coffee. She opened her notebook to a blank page.

The night prior she dreamt of a field swaying with a single type of flower. Chicory. The plant grew four feet high with delicate blooms and green, hardy stalks. She harvested a basketful of the periwinkle flowers. The breeze combed her hair whispering pollen and yeast.

A city sprung up around the field.

It felt romantic. She walked the tiny alleyways. Passing little yards. The fire escapes hung with clotheslines. Graffiti covered the brick. The sidewalks cracked with plants. A slight creek cut its way like a snake transforming the post-industrial roughness with a trickle of peace.

She paid a visit to the house of a witch. It was a reoccurring theme in her dreams. The first time she found the house she awoke with such inspiration she became determined to find the house again. The walls were lined with everything you would expect to find at a witch’s house. Books of ancient musings, glass jars tightly sealed with herbs, potions, oddities. Flowers hanging from the ceilings. A cat purring on the window sill. The sunlight filtering in slowly, gently touching every plant in the house.

She gathered the chicory flowers in exchange for a ritual. The witch did not charge her but she gave them to her anyway as a token of appreciation. The witch placed the flowers in a bowl next to the cat on the window sill. It had taken awhile to convince the crone to perform the spell. Many nights dreaming. Many visits paid. She had never expected to find the old woman again. What were the chances. The subconscious is infinite. But that initial dream made such an impression she had to return.

She laid her hand on the table, palm up, as instructed.

The witch retrieved an old tomb with tattered paper full of signs and symbols and flipped to a particular page. She tapped it with a long fingernail and cleaned a knife while whispering succinctly a strange tongue sanctifying the metal. A spider scurried across the pages of ink.

The witch made the cut quickly. Blood dripped into a cup of dried petals and crushed mushroom caps. The witch instructed her to place a pinch of the mixture on her tongue and the rest was lit on fire. It crackled loudly, surprisingly so, reminiscent of fireworks at a distance. The flame disappeared in a flash with no trace left. The witch dressed the small incision on her palm with dried yarrow and St. John’s wort. It healed instantly. The cut swallowing the flowers transforming into flesh.

She closed her eyes and fell into another dream. But she couldn’t remember anything from that second dream save a cellar door leading to a dark basement. She woke up.

What was the meaning of the dream? Why the basement? Why the blood? How did it connect to the anger she felt upon seeing the blood-red of the sunrise? What was the witch trying to teach her? She had so many questions, but what frustrated her most, it was her own subconscious. She wanted the witch to be real, but she knew better.

She refilled her cup with coffee and began reading the other entries in the journal. Perhaps a clue would arise. A missing piece of the puzzle. After a few unsatisfactory entries, she flipped to the beginning pages of the notebook where she found the entry from that very same day one year ago:

I visited the witch again. This will be the third time. But she keeps repeating the same lines over and over. “Seek the place where the rage is cultivated. There you will learn. There you will hear the strength of your mother, your mother’s mother, and her mother before that. Seek on and on until you awake.” That’s all she says over and over. I don’t understand the message. Mom was never angry. Not that I ever saw. But she grew up in a generation like that. A quiet generation of domesticated women. She had her “wild days” as she described them but then she had children. She grew up. And I never got to know my grandmother let alone her mother before that. I don’t know what to think. I question my own anger, to understand where it comes from. But nothing appears beyond the normal narrative landscape. Misogyny. Men’s entitlement. Rape culture. I could go on and on. Pressures to have children. To be beautiful. Yes. Everyday I am filled with a quiet rage. I guess I hide it out of fear of repercussion. But am I missing something? Is there something deeper? There’s war on brown and black bodies. Both at home and abroad. I am ripped apart daily. The destruction of the land is ever-present. I just don’t know what to do. I do what I can do. How am I supposed to cultivate rage?

She closed the notebook. She had forgotten about those first days of visiting the witch. But now it seemed connected. She remembered another dream. A dream she had only once. A dream she didn’t have time to write down. But it returned to her like a breath of fresh air amidst a midsummer’s heat.

When she fell into the dream, the surrounding city never arose right away. The buildings sprang up after she spent time in a forest, or a meadow, or a river. There was no telling how long it would take. To pass the time she went on hikes, took naps, dipped for a swim, meditated under trees until finally the city appeared. Except once. One time the city didn’t appear.

She fell asleep and entered the dream as usual. She wandered the woods and found a stunning plant. Ghost pipe. A wonderful specimen of life. A plant without chlorophyll so it remained totally white. Because it didn’t produce its own food, it latched onto the mycelium of a mushroom to gain nutrients. The mycelium received nutrients from the roots of a tree. An epi-phenomenon. A dream within a dream. The ghost pipe spoke softly, “Save my spirit, dear one. Save my spirit.” She smiled. The whisper echoed the trees like the wind rustling feathers and leaves. She sat with the plant.

She noticed smoke in the distance so walked in that direction. As she neared, the entire forest looked to be engulfed in flames. She walked closer and soon realized the flames arose from a single cabin surrounded by trees. The cabin remained unaffected despite the violent flicker of flames. She thought it might be an illusion, but the heat pouring from it proved her wrong. The witch appeared in the doorway. Also burning. But like the cabin, not the least affected.

In a very unexplainable moment, her awareness split in two. She saw herself standing outside the cabin & she saw herself within. On the countertop a giant cockroach crawled into a mortar. It disgusted her. Her body shook in revulsion. She found it amusing too. Animated. Cartoonish. She wondered if she could act quickly enough to crush the cockroach, but realized that would be foolish. The splatter of cockroach wasn’t a welcome ingredient. The cockroach perked up its antenna and scurried away.

The witch stared at her, nodding as if reading her thoughts.

“To hold rage close to your heart. To be in the flames but not burned up. To throw heat in the direction you choose. Protect yourself, dear child. The anger you feel is not simply from your present life. It arises from generations and generations. It is a weapon you need to learn how to use.”

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Narrow Passage

I. Hornet’s Nest Dysphoria

“The first thing to depart in mental illness is the familiar. And what takes its place is bad news because not only can you not understand it, you also cannot communicate it to other people. The madman experiences something, but what it is or where it comes from he does not know.” – Philip K. Dick, Valis

It feels dangerous to talk about it out loud. So I take to writing it down.

The illusions of grandeur started when I was 19 or 20 years old. It was a three or four year period living in this particular hellscape. The internal world I traversed at that time was one of psychic torture swinging into bouts of ecstatic overload. It was volatile. Apocalyptic. Paranoia wove its way through my mind ceaselessly. I forever thought friends were inviting me out as a joke. Even a funeral I went to, beforehand, I had thoughts of not going because I kept thinking it was a ploy to out me as a scourge unfit for family and friendship. I had enough presence of mind to talk myself down from these thoughts, but it was difficult.

I remember hearing voices telling me I was a prophet, the reincarnation of Buddha, the second coming of Christ. I had thoughts telling me I was sent here by God to unveil secrets to those around me. Prophecies. Everything was a sign pointing me closer and closer. To what though? I don’t know. Enlightenment? Transcendence? Fulfillment of divine purpose? It must have been a click in my brain. A jolt in my being. A freak show of ego and narcissism. Chemistry out of whack and firing haywire. There were any number of rationalizations for it, but the fact of the matter was clear. This is happening. I don’t have any small doubt it is a major reason for me being a writer. I wanted to hammer those thoughts into submission. I wanted to mold them into stories more sane and relatable. Transform the language and find new words. I wanted to channel those thoughts into something less cultish. Less religious.

I also did not in the least want to walk that path into schizophrenia. Mental hospitals. Dissociative disorders. Strapped in institutions. Drugged into zombification.

I was haunted by fear. Outlandish visions. I had nightmares of being gang raped and beaten pretty regularly. I wondered if I was tortured in another life for a practice of witchcraft. I recall smoking weed with friends, and feeling the need to stop, because it felt as though I was inside everyone’s heads, hearing all their thoughts. I had no idea what to make of my experience, this unreality, this alternative world, that worked its way into my thinking, but I dealt with it on my own.

There were nights I sat in my room unsure how I made it through another day. I felt like I had zero control, like I was being pushed through life by an external force co-opting my inner will. I gave thanks and praises to whatever it was keeping me safe and harboring me through the chaos. Many times I considered taking off into the quiet life of monkhood. A monastery. A mountain. Somewhere cloistered and sacred. Practice daily ritual and meditation. I don’t recall talking about this with anyone until years later. Even then, I’ve kept very quiet about it. It certainly showed up in some of my writing, albeit thinly masked and self-ridiculed. I’m 31 now. It’s been about a decade. I feel like it’s been long enough to revisit these thoughts in earnest, because they don’t leave. They’re still in my memories. Much quieter now. Almost an absurdist abstraction. A surrealist spat at a distance. I’ve dealt with it in ways that I knew how. It’s different of course in the present. Back then, I felt forever on the brink of losing complete and total touch with reality. Like my head was exploding with archetypal upheaval.

It’s ironic in a way too. Don’t the teachings of Christ make such suggestions? At least the Nag Hammadi Texts? The kingdom of heaven is within. Christ is in each one of us. We don’t need the middleman of the priest to know our connection to the universe or god. In all probability, we don’t want the priest to corrupt our natural encounter with feminine.

At the time, I was also reading about shamans, so this archetypal energy was presenting itself simultaneously. But the modern American culture makes as much space for shamans in society as it does for prophets. So that didn’t seem like a much better path to tread. Michel Foucault wrote about the village idiot. The person where madness found a dwelling. Mircea Eliade relegated the shaman to a madman suffering schizophrenic delusions.

Given what was arising in me and what roles are acceptable to fulfill in modern society, I suffered a lot of confusion. At the same time this was happening, I felt more and more a part of me that is a woman. I remember a dream I had in which my mom and aunts and the women ancestors sat around me in a ceremonial circle as I heaved and cried and screamed, “I don’t want this! Why me!” “It is part of your gift,” they said calmly. “You must accept it or it will eat you alive.” The idea of being transgender or non-binary was barely on the periphery of my understanding, but even then, I have often felt like and continue to feel like both a man and a woman. Not one or the other, but an interweaving of both. This is part of the reason why Willow has become a chosen pen name.

I ate mushrooms for the first time when all this was happening. To be honest, I believe it helped me ground, get real, filter and integrate these thoughts.

During one journey in particular, I traveled back thousands of years. I lived in the trees and wore a loincloth. I overlooked the forest village in which we lived. It was paradisiacal. As I returned to the present day, I experienced the fall from grace and entered a period of profound sadness. How could civilization develop in such a way? So much violence toward one another and toward the earth. Violence that is both explicit and unconscious. But that trip, deep into the terrain of psyche, helped me understand the nature of those reoccurring grandiose illusions. We are complex beings. We are more than just our present life. We have memories encoded in our DNA. Our genes carry the weight of millennia. I don’t need to give my whole identity over to one particular upheaval of thought patterning.

There was another voice that said over and over again, “You are gay. You are gay. You are gay.” It was frustrating. It was clear that women turned me on. My sexual fantasies indicated as such. Men, not so much, but I was and continue to be open. Experimental. So sure, I’m gay. I feel an emotional, romantic connection with men. Not all men. A heartfelt brotherhood. But as teenagers, our touching one another was always aggressive and competitive, expressed through sports and wrestling around. There was less hugging. Little to no softer intimacy. This is something I craved much more than sexual attraction. There was this phrase “butt buddies.” It indicated that two friends were attached at the hip and vaguely implied that they were fucking one another. It was used as a derogative. A point of joking and making fun of people. Closeness with men was clearly discouraged.

I grew up in a place that was progressive and open, but still people were steeped in tradition. Homophobia existed in subtle ways. It wasn’t so much a hatred for the LGBTQ community, but more so a fear of it. “You’re gay” was a way to say, “you’re dumb.” When it came to sexuality, it seemed as though you could be either straight or gay but no in between. There were no degrees along the spectrum. Only a strong binary. Gay or straight. Man or woman. In the closet or out. Strict, defined boundaries. As someone who identifies as queer, this didn’t appear on my radar when I was younger. It was almost too complex. My whole experience was too complex for me to get a grip on.

Most of my younger days were spent in a hazy darkness. The space needed to find clearness of thinking and expression of an inner world didn’t really exist. I remember being relatively miserable. I had a few friends I could relate to on these matters, but I don’t think we had the language or concepts to describe what was happening to us. We most definitely searched though.

I understand consciousness forever ebbs and flows, changing like a chameleon depending on the context of society and individual state of mind, but still, it’s important to name the delusion.

flash bang thirteen

i.

a collective dream with porous edges fading into the surrounding city.
when we see it snuggled within the multifaceted dimensions of reality,
there is so much more at stake
simply down the street.

ii.

especially on new years. what a random day. what’s it connected to? well intentioned partying. people need that. rhythmical celebration. resolution. it can take on the form of community when it is not all dressed up and soaked through. it seems empty, but it’s not quite like that. not quite vapid. it won’t entirely disappear. i believe it has a lot to offer people and society. but its transformational ability seems quite like the ouroboros. the snake biting its own tail. round and round it goes, reinventing itself yet still maintaining the same form.

the snake who peels through layers is still a snake.

iii.

“where’s the after party?”
“which one? there’s so many!”
“the party is in the elevator. right now!”
*small chatter*
*sensuous hugs*
“it’s 4am.”
“i want to go home & feed my cat first.”
*sensuous hugs*
“the sun will be up in 3 hours.”
“honey, i love you.”

iv.

she appeared at the beginning of the party.
no one saw her. but they felt her presence.
she swept through the crowd
a hard, shadowed edge
bright as the sun. & warm like ambrosia.

it wasn’t the sun’s glow that lit her up.
she was not the moon.

she appeared dripping with what the witches call profanity:
full of sustenance, ravenous, & yet
she possessed a particular stillness that draws out the depths of sound.
like a mountain,
outside the temple,
the whisper of leaves,
the cackle of coyotes,
the wind upon precipices,
visible & meaningful, fresh.

she spoke in a weird tongue. but not weird in the strange sense.
weird in the way her language licked movement into the future.

although some chanced to see her, many never had such fortune.

v.

everyone danced, grooved, strutted, sexed up the atmosphere. wheeled around. costumes and fancy dress to the nines. glitter. tights. lights. the bass hit deep, knees bent animate, hips punched quick, the rhythm, the night, a swirl of psychedelic symposium. an upheaval of platitudinal seduction, gushing, not so much from a deep-seated wildness, but rather an urge to love the world into fantastic nonexistence.

it’s a fun scene, but it’s an exhausted scene. the burning healing aesthetic-expression-of-spirituality scene. it’s a necessary stepping stone for some, a home for others, i’m sure it has saved many lives. and yes, it’s true- it’s abundant with people who want to explore further, who want to know deeper, who want to love freely without abandon or shame. it’s a scene that is a vehicle for nonconventional ways of relating & being. it’s true, it’s a global phenomenon and has surely impacted millions, and it’s clear people will continue to cultivate it as one might see to family. but despite the penchant for flow arts, it is a scene that lacks movement. its pitfall is hedonism. it gets lost there, and it floats, almost too comfortably, in a paradisiacal bliss, a cuddle puddle dripping tenderness into the enchanted hours of the dark night.

vi.

mama matrix most mysterious,
the lust for idealism is potently choking.
ancestors honored & blessed.

vii.

“it’s a derivative of a derivative.”
“what about the offshoots?”
“what if everyone ate ecstasy and the doors were locked for six hours
and we had to get real with one another!”
“a social experiment?”
“and afterwards, everyone hopped on a bus and went to feed the homeless.”
“a socialist burn?”

viii.

she appears like a vision at the end of the evening. when everyone else is blasted and spilling a smashy smash of semblance, she is refined and elegant. she is kept together. she isn’t at the same party as everyone else. maybe she is staying at the hotel, sipping a hard drink at the bar before heading off to her room. or maybe she waltzed in with an irresistible charm, spontaneously called from afar. her chariot, the deep cold of the night, collectively arriving, carried lovely from the sea by a murder of ravens guided by moon and stars.

ix.

they woke up sweaty. a boutique hotel the dead of winter. they fell back asleep. adjusting. cuddling. two husbands and a wife. she in the middle, turning one side to the other with the frequency of a full moon. sleepless, dreaming. the three lavishing the sunrise. each one, the other, a lover. resting.

a man like a hobbit asleep on the floor. he snores like a chimney.

x.

have you ever gone to bed and awoken in another dream?

xi.

a woman sits at a diner’s table staring into the distances.

her eyes blank, gazing, she cries lonely without a tear. a thought flits across her face, seen in the catch of her eyes, her cheek muscles pulsing faintly. she is not alone. she snaps into her body and looks at her husband. she beckons with her lips, perched, cooing, purring moist like a cliff overrun with waterfall. enticing him with her eyelashes, batting at a distance, dancing gently in the air, wings light as feathers. love, love me. love you.

he’s engrossed in his phone.
he mumbles something to her without looking up.
she laughs without a sound.

she coolly recoils into her own blank stare, looking at the space ahead, nowhere, a fantasy too far away, it flickers & wisps like a cloudy dream, a morning fog, she almost grasps it, a reality so intricately webbed, so convincingly cradled, so fragilely lost.

the waitress sets a cup of coffee under her nose.
she smiles thank you. isn’t this happy, a tiny excitement.
she sips like a bird, the steam wafting hot.

a thought again flits across her face and she smiles, looks to her husband and beckons, lips pursed, so unforgivably supple, he feels a light pout, the fragrance of a kiss, and he moves closer, unconsciously, still glued to his phone.

she purrs, and snaps her neck quickly, any more sharply and it may have hurt. her eyes zip focus. another thought, her husband moves an inch closer.

they know this game well.
she stalks him like a wild animal.
why? she doesn’t need him.
she wants him.
closer.
her desire isn’t licentious.
it’s an indefatigable aspect of being human.

and the heat of her look touches him, but only nibbles the periphery of his being. as she massages with patience, he begins slowly to put down the device. he looks at her and she smiles, slowly drawing him closer like a mama spider wrapping up a bit of nourishment & death.

xii.

sometimes it’s fireworks. sometimes it’s guns.

Passage

The sun has yet to rise above the horizon. Stars peak out behind branches. A transparent cloud eclipses the quarter moon creating an effervescent glow. I want to stare at it for days. I want to swallow the moon and feel the mystery nourish me like a sumptuous meal of meat, wine, cheese, and fruit picked fresh from the trees. I want to embody her spell. I want to breathe it in like air.

I find a dead raccoon and snap a picture of it. I find a dead possum, withered down and eaten to the bone. I poke at it with a stick. It looks like a snake the way its spine stretches out resembling the letter S. I’m struck by the aliveness of it; at any moment, I feel as though the skeleton is going to pop up and sink its teeth into my skin.

It’s that time of year. The veil is thin.

We’re camping next to a creek. Each morning I stare into the water’s surface searching for nothing in particular.

For three days I sit with the creek, leaving only to walk or eat or sleep. I don’t realize I’m spending so much time sitting and listening until afterwards when the ravens echo in my ears and the babble-babble of water returns with a memory of silence transporting me from the noise of a crowd.

One night, before sleep, I make fire and speak love with the flames. The embers betray darkness. The smoke wafts like incense.

Camping out, the body hardens over night, yet how strange it is, because as I fall asleep the earth feels soft and supple, a welcomed embrace. The woods are both cradle and lullaby for the magic child who’s alive in all of us, but forgotten, covered over by years of headlines and institutionalized education, buried in jadedness and dashed expectations. In the woods, freed from the confines of buildings and politics, dreams run rampant, winding with the feralness of rivers.

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I waver between staying in tune with nature and staying in tune with the news of the day. It’s an odd balance establishing ground in both. They whisper little lies about one another. “The world is falling apart,” say the newspapers. “Everything is in perfect order,” say the cycles of the sun and moon. So I listen when I can to the earth, who speaks of both the hardships and the marvels.

There’s an absurd humor at play, seemingly always.

One day prior to camping, we’re driving along Highway 101, when all of a frightening sudden, there’s a loud BOOSH!! and the hood of the car flies up and smashes our windshield. I quickly pull over to the side of the road. Cars whiz by. Horns blare and honk. Out of the corners of the windshield, where there is a sliver of visibility, I see roadside plants and yellow flowers brushing the sides of the car. We come to a complete stop. I get out, shook. I can’t believe there is no other damage done to the car, and more importantly, our bodies. We nearly smashed through a vineyard. A local guy pulls over and runs to our assistance. He gives us a ratchet strap to re-secure the hood. We take a moment to collect ourselves, make a few phone calls, then drive off to the nearest campground to await the morning when we’ll have the windshield replaced.

What a trip.

There was a good bit of wiggle room in the latch of the hood. Initially, we secured it with a zip tie. Two years ago, we drove like that across the country. Every now and again the zip tie would break from either heat or pressure, and the hood would rattle, so we would pull over and replace the zip tie. It worked until it didn’t. The latch must have bent back just enough, and the hood nearly wound up in our laps.

As I’m driving along the curving roads of Sonoma County, passing picturesque landscape after landscape, the rows and rows of grapevines neatly lined up flowing with the rolling hills, the sun reaches its golden hour and filters through the trees. It’s my favorite time of day (that, and dawn), because everything appears so animate. I feel a moment of peace wash over me and thankfulness. Every now and again the rays catch the webwork of cracks in the glass, refracting the light, and tiny rainbows spread across the splintered windshield. It reminds me of a cracked iPhone screen, and I can’t help but feel inverted, like I’m inside the phone looking out, like I’m inside a dream being woke, like I’m inside the hands of death musing at the spectacle of life.

Can You Peer Through The Madness

She was tired. Not sleepy, but tired. Her brain and her heart were telling her to disengage. She felt drained. She was losing her grasp on hope.

She was tired of politics as usual. The constant bickering. The unreality of so many issues. She tried to get involved but found herself unable to relate. She took up a cause when anger sparked in her soul, but more often than not, she was aloof. There were days she drank too much coffee and scoured the news for articles that said something of substance, for words that she could sink her emotions into like the fangs of a spider, yet so much of it slipped by without the faintest hint of compassion. She found time and again, it all led to disillusionment.

It was so strange and surreal.

She was repelled by politics yet couldn’t shake a deep desire to stay informed.

She was tired of the self-help gurus peddling happiness and joy. She understood people needed it, words of encouragement to keep their heads held high, but it made her wry. Everyone was full of so much shit and wisdom. Whenever she found herself in a spell of sadness, her friends tried their hardest to pick her up; she was grateful for that, but it all sounded like new age propaganda. Although she wanted to share her darkness, she often found people unwilling to explore those places with her. Everyone wanted to fix it, but she wanted to be present with it, because she knew whatever was going on within her heart, it was fleeting.

Her sadness spoke with her in the same way the moon spoke with the ocean tides.

She ran to the woods time and again. It was a break from the daily rhetoric. The leaves understood the language of death and dying. The damp ground understood what it meant to be receptive. Especially when she was menstruating. She wore a long dress with nothing underneath and let the blood drip down her leg. She moved through her garden, her period seeping into the life of plants. It felt like a holy thing. A magic communion.

She spent time walking with bare feet, connecting with the slow breath of earth. The pulse of the soil meeting the sole of her feet. It was invigorating. Under the dark of the moon, she danced and spun and lost herself. Her identity became detached and fluid like a dervish whirling in the wind. When she worked up a light sweat, she went down to the rocky creek and washed herself clean.

It renewed her spirit. She felt part and parcel of the forest, as though she returned home. The stars glittered in her hair and her eyes danced full of fire. Off in the distance, coyotes cackled. It could just as easily been the laughter of her dreams.

She knew well enough that her trips into nature served only as a temporary respite. A solitude at the edge of the world. At some point, she had to return to humans and suffering. To headlines and concrete. To the subtle push of advertisement and the daily competition to be seen and recognized. Maybe it wasn’t so bad, but too many flippant opinions made her head spin.

It seemed as though everyone was sensitive, yet so many were unsure how to handle such a gift. All too often people erupted from the sheer pressure of being tapped in.

From time to time she attended the theater. It was a threshold space for her, a doorway between everyday existence and the imagination. A kind of enchantment that sufficed when she wasn’t seeking the peace of trees. A play done well created semblance amidst a chaotic world. It brought little glimpses from beyond the veil. It ravished her attention along a taut line of tension. It heightened her emotions to a cathartic release. But what she liked most, it was so very communal. A way to be with people in the real, to share laughter, fear, awkwardness, and surprise. It was a tangible fiction. A collective creation that filled her with life.

When Memories Supersede Landscapes

As we long haul it across the country, I’m reminded of a man I met on a bus maybe 3 years ago. We met in Atlanta.

He was an educated man. In his late 50s. He was interested in poetry and philosophy. I can’t remember if he was a lawyer, a real estate agent, or a psychologist. Regardless, we talked about everything from consciousness to entropy. The way the world is simultaneously falling apart and evolving. He told me about his passion for collecting tribal art and his interest in drum circles and spirit animals. He was a bear. He looked like one. He told me about his grandmother and the Native American blood running through his veins.

After chatting for a short time, he came around to telling me he had just gotten out of jail. He kind of slipped it in there. I guess he wasn’t sure how I would take it. On the one hand, I wasn’t surprised. It’s a strange thing that happens to me. I don’t know why, but it’s not the first, second, or third person I met on a bus or a train who had just been released from jail. Often times, the characters are rough, rambling, and unapologetic. One guy I talked with told me he was more or less a lifer. I asked him what he meant by that, and he said, pointing at his watch, earrings, and tattoos, “I like expensive things. I like to dress good and eat good. I love to party. I make easy money, and sooner or later, I get picked up, spend 3-5 in the pen, get out and live it up until I’m back in again.” He had a gleam in his eye, a kind of cackling madness. He lived side-by-side with danger and didn’t give a shit about death. It made me smile.

But the man I was riding with from Atlanta, he was different. He wasn’t a jailbird. He was completely broken. His skin was flaky and dry. His arms were full of sores. His eyes, heavy with bags. He described the terrible conditions he experienced- the hard plank of a bed, sleepless nights, the meager portions of fake, processed meals, the lack of sunlight & cramped space, “And to think, I was only there for two weeks! I’m just grateful to be out. The one guard felt bad for me and started slipping me some of his food.”

He split with his wife about a year prior. She was full of spite and bent on making his life a living hell. She took all his money, all his possessions, and remarried very soon after their official divorce. As a kicker, and because she had high-power friends, he was thrown behind bars. After all that, he was left with a duffle bag that he clutched close to his body, as if it was the only thing protecting him and his heart from final ruin.

I wanted to lean over and give him a hug, but didn’t. I imagined how awkward it would be reaching over to him in our cramped little seats on the bus. Instead, we continued to talk. He was still wearing the spare clothes he was given in jail: a raggedy white t-shirt and grey sweatpants. His eyes were bloodshot. They looked perpetually on the verge of tears.

He told me his plans. He was going to stay with his daughter in Texas. “She and her husband need help fixing things around the house. Fences, doors, a shed out back. And now I can spend time with my granddaughter. I have the chance to watch her grow, to tell her stories, and even teach her grandfatherly things…” He paused, and looked off for a moment, “You know, it’s odd. I feel light. Like there’s a new beginning. I have nothing really except my family.”

I didn’t know what to say right away, so I just looked at him. I could see weight slowly lift from his weary body. He came out of his self-reflection and asked me about my life. I told him I was a writer. I shared some of my work with him, and read for a while before returning to conversation.

“How old are you?” he asked. “25.” “So young. A rambling poet just wandering the country. Talking to people along the way and writing stories. Folks like you still exist, huh… Where are you going?” “To Dallas for a full moon celebration.” “Go on…” I related more of my story, how I traveled from South America to Philly to Central America to Oakland to Colorado, Chicago…

“I don’t how it happened. I just tapped into something. Got lucky. Struck gold. Met great people. And kept on creating. I feel like it’s happening to a lot of us. I mean, everyone’s experiencing it differently, you know, the zeitgeist. The apocalypse. This grand transformation of life is occurring, whether we’re forced into it by outside circumstances or maybe we accept it willingly and engage it.”

He looked at me with one of those questioning looks people give me when I slip into ideas like that. Then a kind of half smile breached his lips. “Yeah, I get it. Consciousness is evolving whether we like it or not.”