The End of Part I – Water

I am done with the first section of this novel.  I’ll post here a short passage that is toward the end, so as not to give the end away.   Part I – Water nearly ends… something like this:

Perhaps, the twin thinks, Arthur should have done more and sooner, made more and bigger revolution, taken more lovers and been more faithful to those that he had loved, furiously faithful.  She wishes that they had eaten more fruit together, drunk more wine, that they had prayed more and danced later into the night.  She is thinking that his body was burned with what was left of his love, that even now they should dance because there is still fire.  Let them dance, she thinks, and those who are dead, let them race over fields, seeking their lovers and their foes, covering the mountain with their footsteps, with their coats.  Those left behind envy their enemies who receive this passion, but it is the love that confounds them.   She has crawled into the lap of one such as she is in desire, as the sun beat down on them, then gives itself over to the moon, as the sea ebbs in and out between and around them, and they neither burn nor drown.

This mighty stillness tonight; don’t mistake it for peace.  There is a restlessness as wild rapids, as the sun’s surface and no man is large enough now to be an object of its rage.  This rage is huge.  It can accomplish great things.  It can rest for years and rise again, refreshed and vigorous.  It can change everything.  But she has no need for eyes if eyes are to see this.  And the truth, what is that to the dead but that which is buried in consequences, in circumstances that change in life, but not in death.

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Distracted by the election, yet do the hard work. And please vote.

It is four in the morning.  Almost.  It is just before another election and I’ve been going places I don’t know, and I don’t know how to get there.  Thank God this app knows where I should go even if I don’t.  Once I get there another app tells me what houses to visit.  Thank God for this techie generation. 

I’m shy but it’s a desperate situation.  Before it’s been mostly about a war that I do anything like this, and I wonder if there is a single un-dead baby somewhere doing just fine because what we did helped a little just once to stop or scale back a war.  But now it’s also the ocean heating up, fish babies…  And then a gunman slaughters a group praying in a synagogue. 

It’s four in the morning.

I’m a writer.  I’m not a politician nor a political organizer nor even really much interested in politics.  So I should be writing my novel.  This political work makes little sense.  But writing a novel makes no sense in these ugly times.  “Be still and know that I am God.”  That’s my go-to place when nothing else makes sense:  It’s God’s grace, God’s fault.  Be still and know.

Tomorrow I’ll get back to work and finish this damn book.  I have a few hundred more pages to revise once I figure where they occur.  Originally it was Toronto, but that never made sense.  Vera could not get across the border, not again.  She’s in the United States illegally so crossing a border is not an option.  It’s a miracle she’s never been caught.  I’m giving too much away here.  I’ll have to hit the delete key and delete some of this.  I need to write the book, not write about the book.  And I need to encourage people to vote.  

I am so done this book.  Only it’s not done yet.  Almost.

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On the silence of some women, at least on some things

To what extent are we silenced, and how much do women silence ourselves, or just prefer to remain silent?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’m engaged in a group study of Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk and author.  I kind of knew… that he’d had a lover, but not that he’d fathered a child when he was a young man and again fell in love with a very young woman just before his death when he was in his mid-50’s.   The mother and Merton’s son died in a shelter in London during the Blitz, and the 19-year-old married someone else, leaving the famous monk to mourn evidently until his early death.

He doesn’t talk about it and his biographers don’t talk about it much, and these two women weren’t talking as far as we know, but what do we know?  They seem totally without a voice.

When I wrote this about Vida, I’m also thinking of all the silences in my own life, far less than women of previous generations certainly, and now with the “Me Too” movement startling so many women we ask “You too?”shocking men who had no idea something like that had happened to their friends, wives, mothers…

So yes, there’s this deafening silence:

“… It is just that no one knows how she felt, and perhaps she herself doesn’t know now, and in any case she’s not the kind of woman to go on about it.  That’s all.”

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According to one theory of revolution, the revolutionaries cannot go on losing forever

We left of with this thought that led into a discourse on impermanence, from the novel:  “Monuments were built for the revolution and the metal may now be melted down as scrap.  Books will be written about the heroes, but eventually the books will be lost…”

According to one theory of revolution, the revolutionaries cannot go on losing forever; just now they cannot win.  But they had something here, an era of heroes.  Nothing will be forgotten.  The poets describe the era of heroes, an era when the sun rises as if it’s singing a new song every day, when women come out on the road humming the song, when animals give birth easily and fruit ripens and birds do not bother the crops.  Wise people recall an era like this in times of huge sorrow, so that the era is twice blessed, once in itself and once again in memory.  Standing in among ruins, when war has been waged and the heroes are dead, people are comforted by memory, the memory of an age that achieved justice and peace, however brief, or at least strived to achieve it, however briefly.  Wise people know whatever they can remember is still possible.  Wise people can recall that time, the time the heroes made and the time that made them, an era of astonishing hopefulness.  Listen to this:  even their accountants entertained hopefulness, and what the leaders lacked in wisdom they made up for with courage, but they couldn’t survive long without both.  With two legs of unequal length they limped along.  Then the era ends.  Everything dies.  Not just heroes’ bodies but ideas, perhaps even the truth.  Look, what heroes do can look foolish to the unconvinced, particularly to a hero’s own mother, yet to their enemies they make no apologies and to their own people they feel they never need apologize.  And now there is no reason to make any protest, to say anything, dead as the revolution is, a total failure.  What is happening is that it is still raining just as it did before, during, and now after the revolution.  The rain is not confounded by political and scientific methods.  Vida is waiting for the rain to stop.

What is known about Vida?  A string of small details.  Vida is still young, meaning she is not altogether settled, meaning simply that she doesn’t know what to do next, meaning anything is possible.  Vida’s life consists of complicated details that intersect and diverge.  She keeps her kids clean.  Her eight-year-old daughter knows how to read and make a decent cake.  Her son, who is also Arthur’s son, is never left long alone. 

More than once, actually, Vida did something to distinguish herself, that made her a hero.  She organized the women who disarmed the police at the station, right then at the very beginning of the revolution. And then later that night she went home to bath both children and to sing to them their good-night prayers.  Meaning simply that she may be listed, she may be listed as wanted.  No one who knew Vida and knew what she had done would suggest that Vida did not feel anything, no pride. It is just that no one knows how she felt, and perhaps she herself doesn’t know now, and in any case she’s not the kind of woman to go on about it.  That’s all.

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The last post ended with an excerpt from the current draft of BODY OF LAND: “Monuments were built for the revolution and the metal may now be melted down as scrap.  Books will be written about the heroes, but eventually the books will be lost.”  This restates the Buddhist principle of impermanence which I used to laugh at.  How do you make a religious principle out of something so obvious; you might as well declare gravity as a religious principle.  Now I think, yeah, impermanence and gravity.  Things change, and if you drop an object it will fall.  People, ancient buildings, everything will fall and fall apart, so the principles of gravity and impermanence are linked.  And these are spiritual truths.  We need to remember.

Spiritual truths link to spiritual practice, the spiritual practice here being that of surrender, letting go.  It is not at all the same as giving up.  It’s a practice.  I need to practice.

Here in this opening of the novel I suspect that it is the deep connection between Mrs. Williams and Vera that had existed during the revolution and now is what sustains them in their love and support of each other… but I’m talking about the novel when I need to write the novel.  I’ll get on with that… tomorrow…  Today is all about lessons in impermanence for me, and I need practice.

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Back to the novel… back at the house…

(Back to the story of this family caught up in a revolution, some of them who were making the revolution that now seems brutally ended, such that “dead is real dead”)

It was Sunday the last time they all ate together.  They had been to the beach earlier that day, Art, Vida and the kids, and Art was leaning back licking his lips, although there was no moisture and they had finished all the drinks.  Vida had called the kids, called them to come and they ignored her but instead of getting cross as she might, she looks over to Art, sees him watching her, brings her index finger to her lip and places a kiss on the end of her finger.  Slowly she brings her finger down on his zipper just below his belt, and his eyes get wet and his head fills with confusion and the top of his head creeps as if it might lift off, and he forgets everything so he can slip into the sea, to wait for Vida.  She follows him into the waves.

Here there should be some consideration of the body count, although no one is actually counting bodies.  There were several bodies left up by the fort, against the wall, blood spewing out of the bodies like rivers running into the road, dripping off the edge of the road onto the sand that turned dark purple, blood mixing with blood.  But then even these bodies went missing, and whose bodies were they anyway?  All Vida knows is that Arthur, goes the report, was wounded but not dead.  Or dead.  Or had been disappeared after the invasion.  No one knows.  What remains is simply grief, and how dead can dead be if there is just the wide open generalized grief?

Here we must assume, dead is real dead.  Here three days dead, in this heat, means so dead the intestines fill with gas, swelling the abdomen and forcing frothy red mucus out the nostrils and mouth.  Smell, touch, taste, common senses all die with the body.  The Philosopher believed that sight and sound, only those remote senses, could apprehend beauty and that beauty is immortal.  The aesthetic of the dead doesn’t rely on physical proximity and contact.  And those who do not see with living eyes, with human ears, they are not beside the point, but here the point is a stretch of land that was taken first in St. Michael’s, an island of rock and soft earth, and the poets warn that those who do not know the softness of the earth are swallowed by it, that those who seek their immortality are consumed whole.  Monuments were built for the revolution and the metal may now be melted down as scrap.  Books will be written about the heroes, but eventually the books will be lost.

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When housekeeping becomes researching

Cleaning out my office, I found a book of poems from the Grenada revolution, Freedom Has No Price; an anthology of poems, printed 1980. The anthology has a forward stapled in, that opens with a quote:

must be given words
to refashion futures
like a healers hand…

E. Brathwaite

This little collection, without so much as an ISBN number or a named editor, has the actual words of the actual people who hoped that the revolution would change their lives, and it certainly did.  The book was published for the “Festival of the Revolution March 1-13 1980” it says on the front cover.  A year into the revolution.  Its contributors are listed on the back, a fourteen-year-old student, Alice Paul.  A poem of Mildred V. Julien that particularly speaks to me.  “There is nothing, nothing at all.”  I look her up at the back of the book:  “71 year old housewife of St. Pauls”  is all it says, but that is something.

I repeat:  I’m not trying to tell the story of the Grenada revolution. in my novel.  They tell their own story, as they do in this book of poetry.  This little revolution that lasted just three years and a bit, that the US Government decided to crush entirely after it imploded anyway.  I am writing a novel.  I make shit up.  Still, I went there twice, sat in the press box through weeks of the trial, and now I find this chapbook of their poetry that speaks to me.  Mildred, there is something here, not nothing, nothing at all.  I’ll make plans to go back.  The rum factory where we delivered some big pieces of the still in the back of a pickup is now part of a tour I can take for $240 once I get there.  The black sands beach, of course, is still there.  Some things don’t change.  Now… to get back to the novel.  I need to finish this and only the first part is set in the Carribean.

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“This part is history, but life is not just memory…”

Actually, no one except Vida has any idea what Mrs. Williams thinks about Vida and her children, let alone about the revolution and its leader.   The church has one idea, Mrs. Williams another about some things.  Vida knows that.  Mrs. Williams said as much.  A breeze was blowing in the window, filling up the white curtains that swell like clouds into the room, and time was swinging back and forth, the curtain so much like the white lace that hung in Vida’s dining room in the old house where she had grown up, curtains that swelled like clouds until her own mother went over and tied a knot, and Vida sat amazed to see Mrs. Williams do just what her own mother had done, to tie up a cloud.  Vida understood, while Arthur would draw her attention back to Raymond sitting there at the table, Arthur scolding him, teasing the head of state, even in front of the children.

– Your manners are worse than the babies’.  Wait your turn.  Mary, take your time there … You’ll choke on your cake if you run with it in your mouth… It will catch in your throat… Listen, Mary, in such a hurry…  Remember, home isn’t the place you stop by at; it’s the place you’re coming from…

The cake was warm and wet in their mouths.  This part is history, but life is not just memory.

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Maurice Bishop and Fidel Castro speak

Reading Maurice Bishop Speaks, now twenty-five years after his death, Bishop’s optimism is striking, just months and even days before he was killed, the revolution crashed and then the US invaded this small island nation.  It’s heartbreaking.

Fidel Castro’s words in the appendix are equally startling to read all these years later, when the level of political discourse here in the U.S. is so low that one seeks comedy send-ups for relief.  There’s no comedy here, though, certainly not in this slim volume.

It would be arrogant and wild to presume that I could depict the scope of heroism and tragedy that unfolded on that tiny island nation, one of the smallest countries in the world.  I write fiction.  For history, I recommend the letters, speeches, and public records in Bishop Speaks; The Grenada Revolution 1979-83.

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