Thursday, March 13, 2008

Living in the Camper, Arroyo Hondo, NM

Small trailer barely towed here over mountain passes that made the truck chuff down to a bare crawl. Was going to camp in Taos Canyon, but there was no room for it, no place. Here, on the mesa under remnant volcanic cinder cones, west of everything known, some hundred yards behind the nearest cabin, electricity on a long thin wire, and a place for the truck to park. My life reduced to 13 by 7 rounded feet, a mere step off the ground, creaky floor, a door that has to be jimmied into secure position each bedtime, mouseholes, migrating tarantulas, coyotes yipping on the mesa nearby when I get out to pee in the middle of the night and look at the stars, a pair of nesting bluebirds, a pair of nesting ravens, three nights with a great horned owl on a post right above me, wrens tick-tacking on the trailer roof every dawn, me still curled in my nest of wool blankets beneath their scurries.

living with skin off—
camp under the volcano
so near to the birds

I drive the ten or so miles into Taos many afternoons, where there's an internet cafe, where over the months I will become a regular and get to know all the employees and other regulars. Nothing to do in life but sit there and write for hours a day. I get the occasional freelance. I give some money away, I learn to eat only organically-grown food. I volunteer at the Taos farmer's market, and am paid in piles of fresh vegetables. At one point, I have to move my entire website to a new home, an architectural fiction that revises its own dreams of stardom. My phone only works some of the time. The weeks tick by with intensifying slowness. There are nights when I'm so alone.

how far to go
for the sound of human words!
these silent evenings

Still, the world closes down to a rough and static microcosm: nowhere to go, nothing to do, despite all efforts. All alone here, no real friends to speak of, the old life abandoned far behind. So the walls of endurance reduce themselves to these fiberglass camper curves. The fabric art my sister made for my journey, hung near the door: "the arrow of desire." A daily routine of bread and cheese. Soupy chicken and rice broth on alternate dusks. I eat clean food, and feel my strength return. Yet everything foul rises up in me. What caused this rage, this violent frustration? Hates long gone, wounds brought near. There's nothing here but silence and moving stars, and time to set the broken bones of a life gone stagnant and derailed. Now, the pressure-cooker begins to boil, and you blast and bleat and bluff against the silence, learning how to die with grace, to be reborn with something kenning commitment. The rocks witness and absorb your inner deserts; the sky takes up the story, when you've shouted your tears into the blankets; the mesquite, low-stooped and carnivorous, scratch and scrape you raw when you hug them for comfort, embracing you while unsealing scabs to the healthy air and light.

cleaning house, I spit
my poisons on rough ground,
learn to live again

It gets darker before it gets better. I write things I'd never say to anyone, ancient vitriol and volcanic railings flung into the sun. One day, I find my apples have rotted in their cupboard. I stand outside, having had enough, and put all my violence into each rotting fruit before I fling it away, as far across the mesa as I can throw. They shatter and splinter on the rocks far away, and my fears and angers are absorbed into the sage and cedar, cleansed, while striped Western ground squirrels devour the dessicated remnants of a tree's fruit borne far away, brought here, and shattered near their burrows.

how silent it is
after the storm has passed—
no grass-blade sways, still

One early morning, snow on the shell, at first sounding like wren's feet: but there is no chatter or bird-shout. All that cold day, cocooned in blankets, writing, hands cold, drinking endless cups of tea brewed on the miniature range. Ice on the floorboards. If I drive down the precipitous mountain, will I be able to get back home tonight? The snow fades after noon, leaving behind presentiments of wintermind.

wintering over
birds, voles and coyotes as my
only companions

I am trapped. Nothing moves. The frost breathes, the trees vent evaporites into a sky so low, here, you reach up and grab cloud. No more mountaintops, just lines of ice along their flanks. Tracks of ravens in the snow outside. The rough dismantling of a dormant life, awakening. I have to leave, I can't survive the cold in the camper, even with a borrowed electric heater. Indifferent mountains watching, we scurry to build our nests.

enough of shelter!
I take up my knapsack for
the refuge of the roads

We get the trailer down the cliff road, somehow, and I depart for California, abandoning mountain winters, fully-loaded and my head full of roads, thinking I will winter over by the sea, then return in mountain summer. Suddenly, the trailer hitch bounces free, the camper's safety chains rend and clear, there's a colossal bang as the trailer read-ends the truck, then, as i watch in the rear-view mirror, my home sails into the air above the Rio Grande canyon, a home aloft, and comes crashing to a halt below, wedged in by a big boulder, crushed, husked, splintered, torn, trashed, cracked open, a walnut shell split by the fingers of an indifferent god.

what need do I have
of shards scattered in my wake?
silent mountains breathe

It could have been so much worse. It could have veered the other direction, into traffic, and shelled itself around an oncoming family SUV. I salvage some of what I have lived with, these many months; blankets, tools, small unbroken things. But the camper itself is ruined, and the last of my money goes to tow it up the cliff and onto a nearby field. I take the license plate with me, and leave the rest. My autumnal home, now crushed and desolate. The gods had given me a place to live, now taken away again. I travel light, I no longer need it, the turtle has shed its shell.

over a year now
since the fall that shed my goals—
still, trembling in dreams

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Anonymous Cogito Ergo Doleo said...

thank you, art

austerely soaring
stark yet luminously rich
dark so stone so leaves

undeniably, jf/ox

7:45 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...


Thanks very much.

Haibun as memoir. Works for me.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Cogito Ergo Doleo said...

<*beam*> . . .

Undeniably, Jf/ox

10:11 PM  

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