Thursday, May 2, 2013

Happily May They All Return

Part IV of Sun Jelly Pastures

     
   
A whimsical ceramic play on Bisti's hoodoos and fossils
      Georgia's impenetrable red clay contrasted sharply with the loamy penistaja of New Mexico, but both were fertile and held onto water tenaciously, almost as tenaciously as the image of a certain chestnut-maned hippie girl that was permanently inked within the nooks and crannies of Homer's cortical folds. Yesterday became always the moment he first laid eyes on Venus, and that was over forty years ago. When the road-tripping bus she and her friends had chartered from New Jersey to San Francisco broke down outside of Huerfano, New Mexico, their worlds collided in delicious surrender amidst the badlands hoodoos, painted sand, petrified wood, and the soaring golden eagles and shy cottontails of his ancestral wilderness home. Sometimes now, if the wind was blowing just right, Homer could still smell her perfume.

   
   
Venus, Deconstructed. By WP Mazur, MD
   Venus tumbled into town like rogue thistle hitchhiking on a waft of patchouli, a quietly unconstrained adventurer in search of she-didn't-know-what, heartbreakingly old-souled and free-spirited with a real penchant for grilled cheese. She'd just bitten into her sandwich when Homer asked her to pass the salt. Outside, it was raining in torrents which instantly melted the rusty sun-baked earth beneath his bare feet into a creamy slip that squished up between his toes, and since Winona Yazzie's Mighty Fine Luncheonette was as good a place as any for riding out a storm, he'd ducked inside after rinsing off his muddy soles for a little people-watching and greenthread tea. He'd noticed the ancient tour bus parked out front, a pretty strange sight on the rez. It was even weirder to see every seat at the lunch counter, save for the one at the end over by the pie case, filled by shaggy-haired, fair-skinned college kids. Every table and booth was taken, too. He figured they'd probably gotten lost on their way to wherever they were going. Winona, who always worked alone, was running around like a chicken with her head cut off, furiously scribbling down orders and cooking up heaps of frybread, mutton burgers and grilled cheese, pinto beans, and dried-corn and pumpkin stew. After letting his feet dry on the woven floormat, Homer made his way toward the empty stool through the hungry, boisterous crowd.

A poetic painting by my father, WP Mazur, MD
     As it turned out, the stool wasn't vacant after all. Just as he was gathering up the tops of his denim pantslegs to sit down, two young women came out of the bathroom. The strawberry-blond plopped herself down deliberately into the waiting lap of a guy who appeared to be her boyfriend, and the chestnut brunette, whose seat Homer had obviously taken, stood awkwardly next to the pie case. In an unsolicited game of musical chairs, seats and laps were spontaneously rearranged to accommodate both Homer and the brown-haired girl. To say she was lovely would be an understatement. A poet may have been able to describe her penetrating green eyes, the luster of her long flowing hair, the stunning marriage of her slender frame, wide hips, and strong coltish legs, and the radiance of her toothy smile, but there were no words that could adequately capture her abundance or the primal stirrings she evoked. Carnal yet pristine and otherworldly, she was Venus personified.

Homer's Daydream (sculpture by WP Mazur)
   Winona set a plate of frybread, beans, and stew in front of Homer, interrupting his not-so-casual daydream about the woman sitting next to him. "I've got your yabanah tea coming," she said. Gesturing with her eyes toward Venus, who was clearly lost in her sandwich, she leaned in toward him and whispered, "She's not gonna bite, you know." Homer tore off a hunk of bread, dipping it into the fragrant stew. "That stew might need a little salt, Homer, whaddya think?" she suggested, motioning at the salt shaker directly to Venus's left. Oh, for Pete's sake, Homer thought. He and Winona had known each other since they were babies, and although she was like a sister to him, it unnerved him to be treated like a child, especially since she knew he was a man of few words. Rolling his eyes, Homer acquiesced. "Miss, would you mind passing me the salt?" Gracefully concealing her mouthful of sandwich with a wad of napkin held in her right hand, Venus grabbed both the salt and pepper shakers with her other mitt, offering the pair to Homer as if they were frankincense and myrrh. "Here you go," she giggled, sounding embarrassed. "Sorry, I've been sitting here stuffing my face. I'm Mary Magdalene, Maggie for short. And you are...?" Homer turned to her, transfixed by the lyrical timbre of her voice, and replied, "Name's Homer. Homer Owl Song."

Homer's Reality (by WP Mazur, MD)
     Not surprisingly, Maggie was easy to talk to. She told Homer all about her trip from New Jersey, how she'd decided to up and leave one day with little more than the shirt on her back, dreaming of a new beginning in Frisco. Everyone else on the bus had variations of the same story. They'd been headed for a camp-out in Chaco Canyon when their bus broke down, and though the bus company was arranging for the repair, it was going to be at least a day or two before it was roadworthy again. Nelson Tsosie, the town's mechanic and self-designated tour guide, had graciously invited them to pitch their tents on his property which bordered the badlands, intriguing them with mystic descriptions of the geographic otherworldliness they'd soon experience. After reassuring them that the rain would most definitely stop, he made a few calls to other locals to organize a welcoming pot luck dinner under the Bisti stars.

   
Original ink drawing, courtesy of Madilyn Leonard
     "You ought to come hang out with us tonight, Homer," Maggie proposed. "Sounds like the whole community's gonna be there." Upon overhearing this, Winona flashed one of her stern looks at him, nodding her head and mouthing the word "yes." A night in the wilderness sounded really good to Homer. He'd put his internal medicine residency on hold to complete his ethnobotany dissertation, and after years of short visits back to rez from Harvard, his time was his own again. Glancing at Winona from the corner of his eye while fixing his gaze on Maggie, Homer replied, "Sure, I'll come."

     The Navajo prayers that Homer had grown up with took on new meaning that night in a communion enhanced by open sky, fire and ritual drumming, peyote, and the love of Mary Magdalene. Pierced by rainbow lightning, he walked with beauty, and beauty was before him and after him, hovering above and below him, surrounding him, immersing him, restoring him. Doorway and pathway, the rainbow rose within him, passing through him, and all the seasons returned with him. He was mountain, cloud, and morning mist, now sitting with Pollen Boy and Grasshopper Girl, now singing bluebird, now the voice of yellow twilight, always walking, always wandering, always finished in beauty. Happily as they scatter in different directions, happily may they all return...

A painting my father made, shortly before his death
     Watching as Maggie's bus lurched down the road, Homer knew that'd probably be the last time he'd ever see her. He stood in the street, waving until she disappeared over the horizon, gone but not forgotten. The memory of that moment and the evening before--his own encounter with inexplicable attachment and its ensuing sense of loss--ultimately influenced Homer's decision to specialize in palliative care. People needed help saying good-bye. Ironically, there'd been a recent flurry of research suggesting that naturally-occurring hallucinogens, such as the psilocybin in magic mushrooms, could assist the terminally ill in this process, allaying fear of mortality through the transcendent realization of unity, similar to what he'd experienced by taking peyote.

   
Sunset, by WP Mazur, MD
     After ten minutes on hold, Homer's cell phone finally clicked over, and his thoughts immediately returned to Maynard. "Uh, sorry, Dr. Owl Song, that was Enid's mama beepin' in. Enid's out wanderin' around in the cow pasture ag'in, only this time, she's nekkid." Homer wasn't too worried about how Enid would handle her imminent demise; she was already in a different world, blissfully psychotic with Jesus at her side. No, he was more concerned about Maynard, who was also a man of few words and deep attachments. "How have you been feeling about all of this, Maynard?" Homer asked. A long, pregnant pause followed. Homer thought he could hear Maynard's muffled sobs, as if he were covering the phone's mouthpiece with his hand. "I reckon I ain't doin' so good," he replied, sounding defeated. "Enid's all I got. God's honest truth, I thank I may be more afraid a her dyin' than she is. I cain't hardly sleep no more, and I done lost all a this weight. My pants is practically fallin' offa me. I'm so tired a fightin' this." Homer thought for a moment. "Maynard,  I'm coming over. Tell Enid's mama to keep an eye on her. I'll help you finish your chores, and then you and I are gonna go down to your pasture to watch the sun set," he instructed, adding emphatically, "and rise."

Part I: Sun Jelly Pastures
Part II: Whether Help Come
Part III: Jesus-Hair Grass
Part V (Conclusion): The Most Terrible Sad Rainbows of Love Left Behind

I'd like to give a shout out to my good friend, Madilyn Leonard (jerseylils2cents), who was gracious enough to provide me with her term paper on Navajo medicine, entitled "Curing In the Land of Dineh," as well as the original ink drawing featured here, and several traditional Navajo chants. Here is a link to her wonderfully uplifting blogJersey Lil's 2 Cents


Traditional Navajo/Dineh chants and prayers:
Navajo Night Chant
"Dineh Bluebird Chant," courtesy of Madilyn Leonard

Articles highlighting the use of psychedelics in mitigating end-of-life anxiety:
How Psychedelic Drugs Can Help Patients Face Death

"Dineh Mountain Chant," courtesy of Madilyn Leonard


     

25 comments:

  1. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! I love your writing, and the Homer's Daydream sculpture is superb. Thanks for these posts.

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    1. Dale, thank you so much for your comment. This was the perfect opportunity to showcase my father's paintings and sculptures. He would have loved this story.

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  2. This is quite something Kris. You have such a quirky turn of phrase, offset with great sensitivity. All the senses are there to set the scene.

    I feel for Homer, being @ the centre of it all; seeing the chance of his life disappearing on that bus, & then having to carry on with `normality'.
    Cheers, ic

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    1. Ian, writing this installment has been a real adventure for me. I used to travel though New Mexico every summer as a kid because my grandparents lived in Arizona, so my memories of it are vague at best. After reading so many of your traveling posts and reflections, I've really gotten the itch to go back. It was so much fun, collaborating with Madilyn on this one. Her research into Navajo healing has been invaluable. She's such an inspiration to me.

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  3. You have introduced us to the quaint world of Homer and now there is Venus, even as Maynard's trauma returns with force. Well, the plot does thicken, Helena. I marvel at the dexterity with which you whisk up a setting.

    The closing words are just perfect!

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    1. Uma, it's funny to think that this entire story stems from a single visit to my friends' grass-fed cow farm. Venus' character was largely inspired by our friend Madilyn's tales of her trip out to San Francisco on the "hippie bus." I can't wait until she tells the "real" story herself. My favorite thing about Homer is his deep compassion.

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  4. Simply fabulous, Kris. Your use of language and imagery is Elizabethan, Shakespearean, in its wildness, lushness, humor and spontaneity. "Venus tumbled into town like rogue thistle hitchhiking on a waft of patchouli"-absolutely crazy and wonderful. It's good you don't read much or all this daring would be lost in a stormy sea of self-consciousness. Ah Venus! I've known quite a few in my lifetime. They say follow your bliss, but I'd rather follow Venus. Homer should've gotten on that bus.

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    1. NP, I agree about Homer. I would've been on that bus in a heartbeat. But, he was a young man at the time. We'll see what happens... Your comment made my heart skip a beat, and I've had a smile on my face all morning. At times, I've felt a little self-conscious because I'm not into reading (other than blogs); it seems like something I'm supposed to be doing. But, what you've said here sort of reframed the issue in a very meaningful way :-)

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  5. This continues to be wonderful. I'm just loving it. You're so good at creating interesting, lovable characters that people can relate to. Great job!

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    1. Thanks, Janene! This installment took FOREVER to write, but I'm really happy with it. Fiction is challenging, but so much fun.

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  6. Wow, Kris, really love this chapter of your story. You are such a creative and imaginative writer! Thanks so much for the shout out! :) And right back at ya! Delighted that my college term paper on Navajo healing was helpful. And thanks for posting the Navajo chants and the sand painting ink drawing I made to go with that term paper, too.

    Love the way you crafted the story to incorporate bits from my cross-country hippie bus trip years ago. That was a real surprise and something special! Homer meeting Venus (Mary Magdalene, Maggie, like that) was such an interesting way to flesh out his character. Sure wish I had met a Homer back then, but your Homer character was like a cross between Navajos I had met and the guy from Tucson I spent a wild night with under the stars on that trip.

    I especially loved the lines, “Venus tumbled into town like a rogue thistle hitchhiking on a waft of patchouli,” and “heartbreakingly old-souled and free-spirited with a penchant for grilled cheese.” Now that made me smile because I used to wear patchouli and I am a fan of grilled cheese lol! Like Winona Yazzie’s Mighty Fine Luncheonette too.

    I love how you skillfully brought the story from Homer’s daydreams back to Enid and Maynard. Enid was already transitioning, “blissfully psychotic with Jesus at her side,” but Maynard needed guidance from Homer to ease his pain. I can see it so clearly in your vivid descriptions. Your last line really brings it all together, watching the sun set, “and rise.”

    Absolutely love your father’s paintings and sculptures! In particular, Homer’s Daydream, Homer’s Reality, and Sunset, love his use of color and imagery. He had incredible talent and it’s easy to see you inherited that talent and creative energy. So beautiful and they fit so well here with your story. Thanks again for the shout out and link back to my blog, much appreciated. You have written an incredible story!

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    1. Madilyn, I must be honest. Ever since you told me about Tuscon-guy, I've been convinced that you were/are his Venus. I had a feeling you'd enjoy the way I wove pieces of your story into this one. I thought Dad's paintings, especially the psychedelic ones he painted not long before he died, really complimented this story perfectly. He would have really enjoyed this one, I think. I often think that death is worse for loved ones who are left behind, and that guided me in writing this chapter. One more chapter to go...I think you're going to like how it ends.

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    2. Kris, that’s a lovely thought but I doubt I’ve ever been anyone’s Venus lol! It was just one night and the Tucson guy probably doesn’t even remember me. You are quite the romantic though, I like it. Yes, death is hardest on those left behind and you are dealing with this issue in such a beautiful way, it’s very inspiring.

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  7. I am so into this story! Home should have gotten on the bus. However, I'm intrigued with how you are taking all of the characters, and enjoying your father's work. It adds so well.

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    1. You and Marty (nothingprofound) both think Homer should have gotten on that bus, and frankly, so do I. Sort of reminds me of "The Bridges of Madison County" in a way. I wish Meryl Streep had taken her chances with Clint Eastwood (the hippie photographer), instead of giving into responsibilities at home. But, I understand that conflict. Glad you enjoyed Dad's artwork...it was fun sorting through it to see what went along with the story.

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  8. Hi Kris,
    Yes, I confess too, I'm a lousy reader of fiction, but not of your work! "heartbreakingly old-souled and free spirited..." Just great. Then a blend of the 'Dawning Of The Age Of Aquarius' meets the reality of palliative care. Also Madilyn is such a wonderful person and source of inspiration.

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    1. Neil, after nothingprofound's comment regarding my how a disinterest in reading isn't a bad thing after all, I don't feel so bad. I am glad you are enjoying the story. I love the melding of new and ancient medicine, and am glad to see hallucinogens being revisited in the research. I think they definitely could have utility in palliative care. Madilyn has become a very good friend...that's one of the best things about blogging, meeting wonderful people that I wouldn't otherwise come across in life.

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  9. I think it is wonderful how you have captured the lives of these "fictional" characters and brought them into the forefront of a reminder that there are still people who live in Smalltown USA. Fabulous segment!

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    1. Thanks, Steven! Many of the characters I've created have their basis in reality: friends, family, coworkers, and patients I've cared for. I think you'll be pleased at how the story ends!

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  10. Helena, it seems that your father was a dab hand at artwork, I really liked the ones you used for this post. I particularly liked the one he painted just before his death.

    Well, enjoyed your post as usual but has Maggie gone for good or will she be back? That man should have rushed down the road stopped the bus and either got on it or took her off :) Looking forward to more.

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    1. RPD, it seems to be the consensus that Homer should have gotten on that bus. One final chapter to go...who knows how things will end? I really loved looking back through all of Dad's paintings; they are so vibrant and emotional.

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  11. Kris,
    I read this a few times. Like Homer, I couldn't help but want to relive it! I love how the description of Venus starts with a rogue thistle and ends with a grilled cheese. Every twist and turn is so unique yet so universal. Love, longing, loss...It is so true it the Maynards that truly need care despite not being the ones who are ill.

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  12. Helena...I loved reading your article. The things you have mentioned in your article show your expertise in this field.

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