Cities

Gloucester Road at dusk, Wanchai district, Hong Kong 0001

The cities glitter like jewels in the night. Towers encrusted in light and streams of red and white define the expanse where only tamed hills and water courses interrupt the hand of man. An artificial world with token trees and ornamental gardens, no food grows here, no herds of deer or buffalo. No cliffs or caves for shelter, no flowing springs.

But most of us live here, packed into tiny rooms in concrete buildings or houses set side by side, our feet traveling over pavement as we hurry from place to place. Like metal filings magnetically drawn to a cluster, we gather under a force we can’t change, the force of commerce, trade, collaboration.

Only hermits, cowboys, farmers, and ramblers populate the open land, understand the smell of approaching rain and how it waters the crops, the cattle, upon which the cities wholly depend.

More Bits from Aquarian Revolution

“We thought we were going to buy eighty acres—it was $75 an acre—but after we moved in, we found out that the front forty acres had already been sold, so we had no road access. We had to walk through the woods to get to it. We dragged lumber, built platforms for tents, we lived in tents, we dragged beds. In the rain.” Chapter 7

“We were tearing the shit out of that country, bulldozing over a million acres of trees, spraying defoliant over more area. Once you got over the ohhh, shit, here we are in this war zone and realized that well, about as many people have died here in the last five years as are killed yearly on the American highways, you kind of adapted to it. I really didn’t like the way most Americans treated the Vietnamese.” Chapter 8

“The Black Fox thing was the beginning of our local Peace and Justice Center. We needed a place to do stuff. We started the center to have a place to meet, a place to work, type a newsletter, fold it, etc. The environmental work was ongoing, although it was getting harder. It became obvious that we weren’t going to be able to close down Arkansas Nuclear I, especially from here, and the group down there was having too many problems.” Chapter 9

“S. G–’s caravan came through. He was a college professor at Berkeley, and he decided to get a bus and travel around the country. He’d been holding these Monday night classes, kind of group gatherings, where they talked about peace and cooperating. He wanted to end the classes and travel around, but everyone said, no, you can’t stop the classes, so he said go get a bus, and before you knew it, about two hundred people had joined him in old school buses, VW vans, and campers.” Chapter 10Aquar Rev photoshop copy

The Vacation

All four of the women went everywhere together, aging women with their tropical wardrobes and big purses. Margaret didn’t question it. They weren’t alone in this regard. There were as many pale, slightly overweight tourists as there were brown-skinned natives.

After a day to recuperate from the tiring journey, the women began a kind of routine, each morning the beach where gentle Caribbean waves lapped onto the white sand. At lunch, the seaside cafe, open to the warm air with tables set close to the edge, awaited with chafing dishes of rice, steamed vegetables, grilled seafood, and lamb barbeque. Waves lapped more noisily here, hitting the rock and concrete sea wall. They ordered iced tea in the morning and Piton beer in the afternoon.

Their cabin, its half-walled exterior open to the outside, clung on a hillside dense with flowering trees and thick undergrowth. A chorus of bird song, frogs, and insect sound vibrated the humid air. Green anoles, accustomed to the traffic, waited eagerly at the periphery to weigh these guests in their clever stare or sample their toes with little reptile mouths.

To the south, the twin Piton peaks jutted their eroded points into the sky with bits of jungle clinging to the vertical slopes. They say some climb those slopes, those here for adventure, the young. The women hired guides for their adventures, taken by car to lavish botanical gardens, abandoned sugar plantations, the remaining volcanic caldera where pits of yellow or pink mud bubbled and sent up sulphurous fumes.

Two young men ran the small boat around the point and along the cliffs toward the village of Soufriere. Other young men, bared chests glistening in the sun, waited at the dock to pull the boat alongside and secure the moorings so the women could clamor over the gunnels and then stroll gracefully along the seaside gardens to comment on the thickets of red blossoms, the architecture of big square houses with upstairs verandas that encircled the houses, their railings and roof edges ornamented with fleur-de-lis and painted the same pastel hue as the rest of the structure—green, aqua, coral.

Along the narrow streets, vendors squatted by small burners with their pans of sizzling wares—bits of meat, fried bread stuffed with spicy filling, batter-dipped plantain. Groups of two, three, or more attended each vendor station, daughters, grandmothers, young children all waiting for the American dollar. One man offered coconut shells he had carved with scenes of the land, surely a clever exploitation of the resource. But then, unlike the food, to what use?

Later, Margaret wondered if carved shells had been a front for his real business. At the time, wandering in this gaggle of female friends, she hadn’t known that women often traveled to these tropical islands for sex. He had been a handsome man, perhaps mid-30s, his black hair tightly fixed in dreadlocks that coursed past his wide shoulders. His ironed shirt stood open down the front to reveal his muscular chest. Advertising.

Looking back, she thinks now she noted a twinkle in his eye—would they catch the joke, the offer, the underbelly of tourism where a quick tumble or a week-long arrangement might lighten the burden of their years and pad his savings for the rainy season? The women did not. One of Margaret’s friends suggested she ask him for ganga, since she was considered the most risqué among them. Not that any of her friends would have shared, even if he had supplied it. She envisioned St. Lucian jails and declined.

How would it have been to walk away with a man like that, maybe a true Rasta man, to stand in a small darkened room he kept for such purpose, to wait trembling while his hands unbuttoned her shirt? Would his patois of French and Carib translate into decipherable words of encouragement and sensuality? How well would he tend to her fear, her despair at the slump of her belly, the sag of her breasts? Could she suspend disbelief and, just for a time, fly off in a state of mind where his desire felt real and her passion found voice and together they gained a moment of true pleasure?

Margaret has a photo album, a journal she wrote while there, and bits of shell and flotsam which she keeps in a box in her closet. It sits with other albums, each of the children in their growing up years, the early years of her marriage, scrapbooks of family trips to St. Louis, Colorado, the Florida Gulf, California with the Grand Canyon and other sights thrown in along the way. She doesn’t remember who she was then, those years ago on a Caribbean isle. Oh, she can recount the Castries marketplace and its handwoven grass mats, the stacks of colorful textiles, the patient women. She can picture the waiters in their white shirts, bowing and nodding. But she looks at the photos and remembers the experiences like watching a movie, an observer on the couch. What she felt then, how she saw the world, becomes an exercise in imagination, a fiction that might be true.

Who can count the missed opportunities of a lifetime? For surely they are far more numerous than the actual path taken. The Rasta man might have captured her lonely heart. He might have been forceful and clear-headed for both their sakes, stealing her away to a rough cabin deep in primal jungle where she would sleep in his bed and wake to his smile every morning. She doesn’t think on this. She and her friends were there for the adventure of tropical seas, exotic food, the sights and sounds of a foreign island. No one ever expected anything more.

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Excerpts, Aquarian Revolution

“We’re in the headwaters. It’s pretty wild and wooly. There’s times we have to hike out. We have a highwater trail, and we park our car on the bluff and it takes about a fifteen-minute walk to get down to the house, because the creek’s roaring and we can’t get in or out.” Chapter 1

“If you wake up in the morning and you’re happy, happy to see the sun rise, happy to see your wife or husband lying next to you, happy to be doing what the day promises for you, then I guess you’re in a good place, you’ve done what you’re supposed to do.” Chapter 2

“On really windy days when we couldn’t cut, he’d climb up to the top of the tallest pine and tie himself on and yell and scream. I started doing that. He said, you’ve got to make sure you don’t drink anything for several hours before you go up, because you’re going to pee your pants, totally lose control. The tree tops would make a twenty foot arc—we’re talking Ponderosa pines, or big Douglas firs that are probably a hundred feet tall.” Chapter 4

“I did have to make a living since I was a single woman. I went to Wall Street at that point, doing marketing for tax shelters and oil drilling funds. Pretty successful at it, working for a big brokerage house and pursuing my alternative lifestyle at night, carrying my briefcase, getting on the subway every morning completely dolled up in my full douche regalia, going to work, and then on the weekends going to the Fillmore East and seeing the Grateful Dead. That lasted until ‘71.” Chapter 5

“I loved Haight-Ashbury. Before I went to Haight-Ashbury, my apartment was raided by the Fayetteville police on the rumor that I had a matchbox of marijuana. I had moved out three weeks before. Next scene, Haight-Ashbury. At Haight-Ashbury, people were yelling on the street corners ‘Acid, grass, speed, Berkeley Barb.’ It was like going to the candy store. You couldn’t get arrested.” Chapter 6

Broken Glass

The storm door rattled in its latch. The broken pane trembled and not for the first time Autura thought the glass would pop out and shatter to the floor. She withdrew her hand from the handle and stepped back.

Branson hadn’t stood up. His muscled frame hovered on the wooden chair as if waiting. As if not firmly caught in the direction he’d taken. As if he might spring up any second, slam his fist into something else, shove her against the wall and assault her with his mouth, his body. A tremor ran through her belly. As if.

Calmly, he twisted off the cap on the half pint and emptied the last of the whiskey into his mug. She wanted to challenge him, argue, yell, throw things, stare him down. But her angry gaze caught on the black eye patch, the eye that wasn’t there, the eye that she had never realized was the place her glance went automatically, some habit of engagement with another human when your dominant eye seeks out its counterpart in the other person. She’d never known how that worked. Now, it seemed like the only damn thing that happened consistently with Branson.

Forcing her gaze to focus on his other eye, his only eye, she met his calculating, sardonic gray stare, his expression of contempt, or challenge, or whatever the hell it was that he felt.

“Go on,” he said quietly. “Get the fuck out.”

She stifled the words that sprang to her lips and turned again to the door. The cracks radiating out from the fist-sized hole blurred with the yellow residue of tape that had long since fallen away, victim of hot, cold, wind, rain. She remembered when the last of it peeled away and hung by a thin edge, curled and brittle. Once it fell, he had allowed it to lie on the threshold for weeks.

“You need to fix this glass.”

Why didn’t she just leave? What was it about him that reached into her chest and held her like a fist? She had shed all the tears, tried everything. Except leaving. Maybe that’s what it would take.

“Why?” he questioned, his voice dry and expressionless. “Everything else around here is falling apart.”

He said it like he would comment on the weather to a stranger. On invitation of his words, Autura looked around the familiar place, the tiny living room where a layer of dust coated the window sill, coffee table, the top of the television. A blanket on the couch where he spent most of his days. And nights. The floors needed cleaning. Prescription bottles, empty crumpled cigarette packs, an Elvis zippo worn to bare metal where the neck should have been, and dirty dishes littered the little table where he sat.

November wind hit the glass again, another sharp rattle as the door latch heaved in and out against its little catch. What would happen if she threw it open, let it bang against the outside wall, let the glass fly into glittering shards to cascade over the wet sidewalk and ground? She shook her head slightly. She knew what would happen. The glass would stay where it fell. He’d walk over it like he walked over everything that used to mean something.

Cautiously, she brought her gaze back to his face, his chiseled handsome face with its gritty beard shadow and the scar by his temple and the angry gray eye, watching. His big hands turned the mug in short increments like the minute hand on a clock.

“Okay, damn you.” Her throat choked on the words. But she was right. She had tried everything else. She grabbed the door handle, popped the latch, and stepped outside. The wind caught her hair and whirled it into the air. Cold pellets of rain splattered her cheek. She turned briefly to force the fragile storm door closed, surprised to see him standing there like a ghost on the other side of the glass.

A fresh flurry of rain dashed against her face and she hurried toward her car. If she looked one second longer, she would lose any hope of leaving. The car ignition sent its gentle ding-ding into the noise of rain and wind. A crashing sound shattered across the yard, and she knew what she would see before she cast her gaze toward him. He stood there in the open doorway, his arms crossed, his gray stare burning across the distance until she could almost see the bloodshot rim, the slightly puffy lid. The storm door lay flat against the outside wall with one last large section of glass hanging at a forty-five degree angle and the rest of it in a thousand pieces on the ground and concrete walk.

She wanted to cry out, curse, beat his chest with her fists. Tears burned her eyes as she slid into her car seat and closed the door. Methodically, she turned the key in the ignition. With great effort, she did not look at the doorway as she backed down the drive and slowly pulled away.

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Dawn

He saw the blanketed form across the expanse of dark concrete, its shape faintly outlined by the distant street light. He strode toward it, afraid of what he would find. At the far edge of the parking lot, it lay prone within the fold of a black quilted cover. Hesitantly, he reached down and pulled back the blanket.

A naked female, her dark hair tossed against her shoulders and covering the side of her face, lay face down. Her waist tucked neatly before flaring to wide hips. His hand trembled slightly before he touched the shoulder, afraid she was dead, afraid he was falling in love just from the sight of her.

Warm. He exhaled a shaky breath.

Miss, Miss, are you awake?

He grasped her shoulders and pulled her over. Her breasts brushed his hands, luscious and full with dark nipples. Her thick hair streamed across her face and he tried to smooth it back, mesmerized by her beautiful full mouth and delicate features. She stirred with whimpering noises, and he did what he had to do, pulled her close to his chest and held her, comforted her, while her body shivered as if with cold.

The Scent of Cotton Cloth

ID-10025847A thousand miles away, removed by harvest, processing, manufacture, and the long wait on some store’s shelf, the fabric retains the aroma of its origins. There is the faint trace of vegetation, chlorophyll of its rusty green leaves, and fibrous texture of its stem. There is sun beating down on the surface of the plant, the growing bolls, the dark earth enclosing its hungry roots. What hands, what machines, have planted the small black seed in fresh tilled ground?

Thick round bolls swell ever more white in the steamy rain, the rise and fall of the moon, the passing of weeks toward harvest. Its heart bursts open, waiting to serve its purpose, giving itself to whatever the world might make of it. Cotton is content in its life.

The sheet remembers its beginning. Languorous in summer heat, in the hot breeze, it undulates slowly on the clothesline before falling again to its resting profile. Blinding white, it welcomes the sun to bake it clean, to stiffen its threads, to remind it of its birth.

At the ironing board, pungent with starch, the cloth gives up its moisture in clouds of steam. Slowly, the heavy metal appliance presses the shirt stiff, its clever tailoring sharp at collar tips and cuff edges, its shiny buttons evenly placed down the front and held firmly in the grip of cotton thread. Ready now for hands, for the body that will wear it, even after hours of moving as its wearer moves, absorbing sweat and pain and fatigue, the shirt embodies its natural grace. The scent of cotton cloth rises from the heat of the body, reminding itself and the person whose body it covers that it is of the land, the sun, the wind.

Night settles gently through the countryside, bringing its tired wanderers to rest. Upon cotton sheets they lie, sheets embedded with afternoon breeze, warmth of sun, the comfort of soft dirt fields loose and gentle underneath them as they drift off to sleep. The cloth yields its memory as the fabric pulls close around the face, the shoulders, of its burden.

Months pass, years, night after night, day after day as the fabric is washed and dried, starched and ironed, stretched and pulled in daily lives, humanity’s ongoing race to gain, to finish, to understand. Cotton waits patiently in the towel, the robe, the socks and undergarments, as it gives itself to service. Its thick folds stand at the window, guarding against cold and sun, against storm. Its flexible material waits in the locker ready to run. Its woven pile lies on the couch, soft and nurturing.

Even when cotton’s long life begins to fray, wear thin, tatter, and the shirt can no longer be worn, the sheet no longer useable on the bed, cotton continues to clean windows, mop the floor, wipe up spills. Even there it finds long life, continues to yield its peculiar memory of its genesis as a young plant, its unique ability to absorb moisture, move pliantly, take up tiny particles and release them again, giving according to the need.

And when all has been given, when the life of the fabric ends, cotton moves on. Processed again, it becomes paper. Rich white sheets of paper wait for the word, the number, that serves the user, the future, with its memory. Cotton, still redolent of its birth, its perfume carrying forth in nuances of earth, sun, sky, waits for the hand. On paper, the writer gains insight and purpose, reflects on the meaning. What revelations of man, what declarations of intent, of civilization, take up life on cotton paper, become immortal and await the next incarnation?

Even then, the scent of cotton stirs faintly as the pen crosses its breast.