This valley feels like it was made for us. I know that is how everyone enchanted with a piece of land feels. Nevertheless, the magic of this land, its seemingly symbiotic ecosystem creates dandelions the size of a newborn’s head. There are no telephone poles as far as the eye can see – only grass, redwoods and pines, oak, wild flowers, a body of water nestled between granite hills covered in plant life.
You hear the cows lowing, see them grazing along the lake. Not a human being in sight. No car horns, ambulances or leaf blowers, just a mind-blowing perimeter of pine trees, granite and wildflowers. California poppies appear with their tiny entourages, some yellow, some so bright orange they project coral in the sun, velvety purple lupine, stout morning glories, dwarf daisies, apple trees and tall grass as far as the eye can take it.
The cows here graze during the day, gallop across the field below, drink at the lake, move on. Their voices wake us. On the third day, we don’t hear them anymore. The frogs continue into the evening, and the cicadas follow. Sparrows nest around the two-story log cabin and bring worms to their babies at first light. There are corners of the porch where hornets have made nests. The bees buzz all day, and all the creatures great and small contribute to the music of the valley. Pink water lilies rise out of one corner of the lake, and sparrows skim the top looking for insects and tadpoles. We step gingerly around cow dung and find ourselves in a nursery; baby frogs by the thousands leap towards the sun, jump out of our palms, try to find their way in their new confusion, in their new mucky world of mud and grass. I wonder what they are instinctually aiming for, what is driving them to continue leaping forward. Larger frogs appear at night after the sun has gone, popping out of their burrows. They sing in unison while the cows low, and we sit around the fire and laugh at the what Cheryl calls the bovine symphony.
This weekend is about sisterhood and creative flow, about healing, about being beguiled and understood and ushered into our own power. We try this as women who come from different backgrounds and experiences. Tess, Cheryl, Avonel, Michele, Arminé. The five of us made it here after much trouble on the other side of the lake, off-roading at times, almost busting my Honda open from roots and detritus. Luckily, we edited the poorly-written directions and made our way towards the higher road. Always take the high road! After using the secret codes to unlock the gate, we continue through juvenile apple orchards and find ourselves at last in front of the Lake Cabin, a large maple tree shading the front. We park and enter like whirling dervishes setting up the kitchen and beds, pouring drinks, laughing, running around the wrap-around porch, gazing gazing gazing out into the wild green before us, the wild blue lake. The mountain ranges continue behind the lake in many shades of grey and ash, like sleeping ghosts.
From the deck, Michelle sketches the valley on a large piece of butcher paper while Avonel and Tess hike down into it for a closer look with their lenses. We play in the sun and shadow of the grandmother tree rooted behind the house. We pose like trees in the breeze. We give ourselves wings and tiaras. At night, with the stars watching, we try to mimic their dead beauty. We allow ourselves to be amazed at our own capabilities.
We eat, rest, light a fire, tell our stories, bare our truths and burn sage. We fold pain into paper and let it burn in the fire. We drink. We laugh. Then, we manifest. We release the rage into the fire. We make room for possibilities. We make room for ourselves.
Life has loveliness to sell the poet said and I wonder if the applicable tenderness of existence is not in fact the wishful thinking of a sad and lonely optimist, if time and essence and excess and torrid love affairs with strange men is not enough to quench our finessed anger, our salivating repugnance. the birds call to each other and that is lovely but I also know my neighbor beats the tree with a large stick to scare the Conures away.
Life has loveliness to sell the poet said under the moonbeams where your lips and my shoulder meet and I look at you like a mermaid come to life and you look at me as if my skin was made of gold and honey.
Life has loveliness to sell the poet said it has loud and quiet spaces small enough for us to fit into to suffer together with outstretched arms and enough tears to fill 10 oceans, a sea of human tears what a lovely image that is but then the steamboat, the jet-ski, the oil tankers the ever widening gryre of profit margins outweigh saffron by the pound saffron more expensive than gold saffron and all her blood pink countries.
Life has loveliness to sell despite the hacksaws and lawnmowers, despite the telephone lines and utility boxes, despite drills and dump trucks and landfills and skyscrapers. Despite all that impressive industry, life. LIFE. Has an infinite inventory of lovely.
Life has loveliness to sell my mother told me to smell the roses in front of my house to spread their petals around my house to talk to them each one separate in its lovely color, my blushing brides, my yellow wallpapers, my red sonias and lavender lips, all my flowers sell themselves to me while hiding tiny switchblades up and down their green sleeves.
Walk tall, kick ass, learn to speak Arabic, love music, and never forget you come from a long line of truth seekers, lovers and warriors. – Hunter S. Thompson
We beg for it.
We kneel at the altar of music’s tongue-lashing.
We psych rock, prog rock, stoner rock, garage rock, tribal rock, blues rock, world rock tourists are roaming your streets, Texas.
We are looking for George’s dead cats.
We are looking for Dubya’s hidden cannibalism.
We are your living dead.
God is dead.
Dead is God.
Dubya ate God for breakfast.
We are here to release Him from the bowels.
As Alex Maas, APF (now changed to LEVITATION) founder and The Black Angels front man pointed out on the final night of the three-day dirge tri-fecta that is Austin Psych Fest, more soldiers commit suicide each day than die in combat.
I would rather dance than die in combat.
I would rather dance than die by my own hand.
I would rather dance barefoot under the big tree,
the one with the swings, the one holding the old young man.
The old young woman.
The old young aging like trees.
Trees age gracefully.
We do not think about age this weekend.
We only think about trees and grass and Aquarius.
It is our age.
It is our brand.
It is no brand.
It is DA MAN’s darkest nightmare.
A white, plaster cow faces the Reverberation stage. In three days this blank canvas will gradually be covered in sketches, love songs, pentagrams, prayers, wishes, secrets, peace signs, confessions, profanity and badly-drawn penises. A young man leaps onto the back of the bull as his friends snap away on their camera phones. Then, they disappear, giggling into the spring night.
I see curved horns and angel wings.
I see taxidermy, mirrors hanging from low branches,
an old black ride hiding a body in its trunk.
Its hood opens and closes like a yawning dog at my feet.
I stumble towards the smell of weed.
Something happens to my ankle bones. I am vibrating.
It’s the Cult of Dom Keller.
They have a hold of my boot soles.
Bass drum drum drum drum drum drum…
Then a siren calls me from her poison cave.
Warpaint sneak up on you like a siren should.
Ladies “singing each to each” like Eliot’s sad saviors from the ocean caves in that love poem about a confused man at the door of carpe diem sensibilities and too many questions. These women are not confused. These women sound right at home in the balm and breeze of early evening as they suckle our hungry hearts and clear away the bad vibrations of the century.
Our mantra is not about bad vibrations.
Our mantra is not a call to arms or a cliché version of your DADDY issues.
We all have DADDY issues.
We just choose to take our dose of DADDY with a gulp of spirit juice.
This weekend, we will hold his feet over the fire.
Fire walk with me.
We are all Fire Walkers here.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club emerge as wolfhounds howl at midnight to the full moon over Austin. We call to each other as wolves do. We also call to our enemies. Stay away, if you know what’s good for you. Their music is good for me. I hear it through my clavicles and hip bones. My deaf ear even wakes up for them. If you see me at death’s door, play me some BRMC, and let me go.
Smoke, lights, moon, airplanes over the tents every five minutes. Bad associations here. How can flying metal resemble a crucifixion? Ask Manhattan. Ask Jesus. Ask Kali and Karma and Judas. Ask all the neo-hippies here hiding from all the other neo’s in the world: neo-capitalists, neo-conservatives, neo-liberals. This is a harkening back to the ideals of the real Age of Aquarius.
We are their progeny of dying angels.
We are the last breath of social revolution.
All out of sonic dopamine surge, we lurch to our cars like hungry alley cats.
The drunkard also walks to his car of death alone.
We watch him stumble in.
His hands are shaking.
The world is too much with him.
I go to bed in my window-less room just before dawn…
Today, a marathon run to Dallas in our gas-efficient vehicle that we push to its limit because we are on a slam-bam mission to see Plowboy open for BRMC, and we make it in the nick of time to see the spawning of a new rock and roll era raised on mother nature and The Clash bootlegs.
If these boys were your kids, you would win parent of the year.
Fifteen, you say? No shit, really?
Take your gum out of your mouth and whistle at them. They have been baptized and knighted. They are tomorrow’s correct answer to the standardized test written by Picasso and graded by Kurt Cobain. Wholesome rock and roll with a tinge of 21st century, born-and-raised, blue-hearted old-soul, wisdom.
Then BRMC. This time at the House of Blues where they can play a proper set, a two-hour plus show with hardly any break in between songs because that is how real musicians give you your hard earned money’s worth. And in this age of “CRAPITALISM” when every Tom, Dick and Disney want to fist-fuck the middles class workhorse any way they can through false advertising, hidden agendas, price gouges and false promises, a high return on one’s ticket price investment is much appreciated. Their merchandise is even globally conscious. This is the band of the people. This is the band of real American rock and roll enterprise, the old school kind some people resent for its scrappy, spit in your face, independence. Do or die. Bless their resilient hearts. I hope they write a thousand songs.
Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.
Through the opaque highway, we dash back to Austin, and I look out the passenger window in a state of satisfied time-suspension disbelief.
Time stands still on the black top,
in God’s country,
in the merciful hands of early Sunday morning
car accidents, construction crews, agriculture
by the dashboard light and to the soundtrack of BRMC’s Howl Sessions.
Like Allen Ginsberg’s magnum opus of the same name, this band exemplifies the “angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.” Of course, Allen used the term “hipster” 50 years ago, and what it meant then is what I am referring to. A hipster, in its most diluted essence, can be a wondrous thing to behold.
Goodbye Dallas. Hello again Austin. It’s four o’clock in the morning.
Children live in this house for rent.
Child spirit everywhere.
I hear their absent giggles.
I imagine their soft, new hair.
We listen to Bloodletting by Johnette Napolitano before we head out. We are cured of our social disease.
Deap Vally are two ladies clad in dusty daisy dukes and sequined bras. One pummels the drums, beats the bass with bare feet, whipping her burnt orange hair over the tom tom. The river behind them, now calm after the lightning and thunder from the previous night, mirrors a couple lounging on the American flag. I have always loved the colors of our flag. They sit by the water against the deep velvet green of the still-wet grass. Two American girls at their prime, raised on Wonder Bread and Oscar Meyer, picnicking on DADDY’s flag. This is what APF is about. Freedom to do whatever the fuck you want without anyone hassling you for your odd habits, odd costume, odd props or odd taste in picnic blankets.
We bump and grind our way towards Mecca.
Angels color of night.
Color of sin.
Color of innocence.
Someone is dancing alone in the corner.
He is wearing guitar chords for hair.
He is Damien.
He is archangel Gabriel.
He is Kali in the rain.
We are floating around like planets on separate orbits.
The sun is an amorous hyperbole in the southern sky.
Empire is at hand.
The most ascetic religious types strive for this transcendence through self-immolation, self-flagellation and other painful methods I could never quite wrap my head around. Then again, have you seen musicians practice obsessively until their fingers bleed? Without passion, you’re a fashion. 
Bloodhounds on my trail, I head for the main stage as the father of psych rock emerges with a fiery-haired lady on keys. As we drool over her sunset tendrils swaying to and fro in the gentle breeze, Roky Erickson’s white dove heart reminds us what this weekend is all about.
Revival. This is a revival. And we are survivors all. Penitants. We are the type of people who would live on the 13th floor of a building, would carve the number into our arms. Like Roky’s second coming, we are reborn into the mouth of Gaia, and from her we emerge like dead stars light years ahead of our own consciousness. I am not on drugs. I am on music. I am on love.
I am on my tipie toes bouncing to The Black Angels later that night. Have you heard their new album? If not, you are like a half-blind, half-deaf, half-awake blob. Let it turn you into a real soul again. Spin it hard on your vinyl machine. Stick in the car and roll up the windows. The nutrients will seep into your navel, and you will like them like a good boy should.
We head home before Moving Sidewalks take the stage because we are older than we were 20 years ago when body and head could marathon through a festival more easily than it can tonight, but, as luck would have it, the next morning, we are on the same flight back to Los Angeles as one of best blues-rock guitarists to hail from the great state of Texas! Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Moving Sidewalks drags his lanky frame through the Austin airport sporting his signature orange beard, black knit cap and dark glasses. Obliging autograph seekers, travelling alone into the great, wide open towards the pearly gates of vintage Los Angeles where who knows who/what awaits the man with the muscular riffs.
Go go go go go.
All weekend, all night, always.
This carpe diem dime bag
in our back pockets.
A fifth of sinister.
Grass and mud and clay.
Were you there to see The Black Ryder, The Dead Skeletons, The Warlocks at war with angry gods? To watch as lightening illuminated the slanted trees around the river lined up like sturdy children, heads bowed, waiting in line for more?
Consider the apostrophe, that silly cuticle interrupting a word; the little eyelash that says something belongs to something else. The apostrophe is, metaphorically, a hook, a crooked finger gesturing come hither, a zygote, a dimple, the yin. But more than that, it says you are mine, you belong to me. Come, come.
Unlike a comma or period, the apostrophe floats above the words, an interruption, a replacement, and an imposter posing as a letter of the alphabet, a stand-in. It cuts into the middle of the word, usually towards the end, and decreases syllable count. It is the steam left over from an evaporating letter or series of letters. It is the end of the seed and the first sprouting of the bud. In fact, it is a ghost. It is not there, unpronounced but aware of its purpose to remind the reader that something has been lost but not entirely. The sentiment remains, the idea of the missing o or a, the i or wi. The apostrophe says hurry along now, no time to dally, but also mourns the loss of said letters, and, if I may veer towards the melodramatic, the apostrophe may also be a woman bowing her head in shame, and she must be written to her grave.
Now consider the apostrophe as it is used in literature, as a formal invocation to an absent or dead person, a figure of speech wherein the speaker may even speak directly to something nonhuman, in a sense, personifying it. Wordsworth invokes Milton to save England, Donne scolds the gentle day sky for interrupting his dreams, Shakespeare has Marc Antony address Caesar’s corpse, and Whitman, the master of apostrophizing, does not hold back at all. Leaves of Grass is basically one long bellow to America. But normally, an apostrophe is meant to be an interruption, a sudden burst of emotion that can no longer be held back. Like its grammatical namesake, it is an imposter of sorts, a glimpse into an unhinged emotion by the poet or the character in the play; one’s shadow-self emerging from the psyche. Thus, there is not much apostrophizing in argumentative or expository writing since argument by its very nature is fairly restrained and intellectual rather than emotional. In addition, church hymns are also considered apostrophes for they praise God, speaking directly to the higher power, and elegies and odes are common forms of apostrophe.
Writing a book of apostrophes or poems speaking to the dead allows a shadow self to emerge, the poet’s own dark, hidden secrets and confessions communicated through the dead, namely women, in this case, throughout history, mythology and religion whose lives were at once literary and solitary and who will give me permission to write and to be a woman.
Why, when reading Anne Sexton, do I get the feeling that someone is sitting at the edge of my bed? Somehow, buried deep in memory, there is this female archetype, this writer figure alone in a room, writing unapologetically. To that woman, writing was not, as it is to me, shameful, silly, a pointless profession for a childless, single woman, a self-indulgent act like masturbation. What is a poem’s weight in gold? Does it scream when it is born? Will there be kitchen appliances purchased for its new home? Will I buy it a diamond ring to make sure it remains mine? Or, does it get released into the vacuous air like a burst of steam, expired breath, a moan, and joins the collective unconscious someday, invisible yet floating like a curlicue of ideas levitating somewhere for a girl to pluck out of the air?
Just as Sexton did not apologize for her so-called “self-indulgent” verse, Emily Dickinson, Margery Kempe, Anaïs Nin and Sylvia Plath, to name just a few, were lone rangers in their own right, who reveled in an unimpeded flow of creativity, who transcended the cultural, sexual, intellectual, and/or psychological stereotypes of women during their time. They have fed my research when considering the themes of my manuscript, and their biographies and personal letters show evidence of a possession and an undressing. Essentially, my book is about daring to remember, daring to seek pleasure through self-expression and daring to forgo the expectations society has placed on women in order to reach a higher consciousness of oneself as a woman and what that is. The poems will revel in this feminine jouissance, each a loud bellow to silence the timeless nature of shame and the woman, the setting of each poem vastly different from the next, whether it is the medieval era or the third-wave-of-feminism.
In Hélène Cixous’s essay, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” she asserts, “Woman must write her self, must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies.” With this in mind, I will attempt to invoke the spirits of the past, the dead who gesture, Come, come, you belong to us. We will bury you, and then, if you want it badly enough, will resurrect you as a writer.