Wednesday, April 19, 2006

From Dust to Dust

The first thing I think of when I think of Texas is earth. Is that really the first thing I should think of when I think of Texas? Maybe I should have said dirt instead of earth. Or maybe I should say dust instead of dirt. The most important book in Texas has a character in it who says that man simply exists from dust to dust. That's a horrible statement to me, especially if I reminisce
on it for any stretch of time.

Like how once upon a time I stood in the middle of a certain part of Texas, the part of the state that faces square into the face of the sun during the day and is absorbed into the face of the moon at night, in a certain early season on into summer's flames.

And I've been standing there facing into that sun's sparkling heatwaves and I have been standing there just watching...daydreaming...inwardly thinking, when all of a sudden I was cold. Yes. Cold. In the middle of a certain part of Texas, standing there in the direct stare of the sun and feeling cold.

Then the extremely dry air that was frozen in stillness by the essence of its own heat around me started moving. Slightly at first, little whisps whipping at me with cold small licks. Then those licks turned to bitings. I know it immediately. I know what those bitings mean. Thos bitings that precede it...and then I look up and there IT is.

First, I see a low bluish line on the flat horizon, the shimmering of the remaining dangling glass slivers of the full-faced sun's heat still boldly dancing in gestures of defiance at what is coming.

The wind is now just flat-dab cold. And now the wind throws grains of what's coming in my face and I breathe in and taste the first of what's coming in my face and what's coming in my face tastes like earth, or should I say dirt? or should I say dust?

I turn and face that rising bluish line and look it directly in its billions of eyes. I watch it rising and becoming a dark deep blue hulk raising up before me, coming at me as if coming straight up out of that earth just in front of me a few miles, though in actuality it really had started a hundred miles out to the west, out on the flattest of the flattest prairie plains, crunchy with hot sands and scraggly with low brush, suddenly spanked by a swooping down of a huge hand of wind.

Then my eyes widened as this dark blue bald hulk with the billion eyes hooded up, rising up like a thunderheaded cobra slowly straight up before me, its hood flaring wide, its body arched, its purpose to strike right at me, to come at me, to overwhelm me, to bite me.

Up, up, up, building up, rising darker and more blue, licking out with now stiff tongues of hard dirty bites, gradually coming up, its hood flaring wider and coming higher, now roiling and rolling up. As it rolls toward me, as it dances toward me, it turns from blue to red as it flares up square into the staring face of the sun.

And THEN! just like that, the face of the sun was gone. Blotted out.

There is a pain I suffer as I stand there in the middle of that certain part of Texas, in that certain early season on into summer's flames, in the middle of what once faced into the shimmering heat caused by that sun that had disappeared into those acres and acres of dust scooped up and set aroll a hundred miles west in front of me by a swooping down huge hand of wind. The pain is in the dry bath given me by those rolling, boiling rifled grains of that borne aloft sandy desert loam hurting as they shower me.

We exist from dust to dust. How many of those who had already turned to dust, from the ancient days until a recent time, had overwhelmed me that day in the middle of that particular part of Texas, in that part of Texas that faces into the face of the sun during the day...until another huge hand of wind swoops down to stir the earth a hundred miles west of where I stood there once upon a time. Had I breathed back within me the remains of my ancestors?...or other ancestors, like the ancient Clovis people, the ancient Aztecs, or the other nomadic tribes of Native Americans who once roamed these flatter than flat prairies once lush with grass and bison, with people living on the sandstone mesas, along the rivers and the creeks, following the herds of bison, across those now barren prairies to make their beds for another night under that high, high sky in the middle of that certain part of Texas, that part of Texas that faces straight into the face of the sun during the day and is absorbed by the face of that beautiful silver crying moon during the night and to wake up the next morning to face the rising sun, to cook their buffalo meat over buffalo chip coals, to eat their prairie wheat breads and mushes, then while the women struck the camp, the men sharpened their flint arrowheads as they prepared to head out across those lush grasslands to go after another buffalo, to go after another day in the face of that sun in that time when there were no dust storms. Not in that particular part of Texas, not in those certain oh-so primitive days when man did not attempt to conquer the earth but rather to go along with its moods, living within the will of this planet that spins away day by day, swirling its face dead into the face the sun during its many days and being absorbed into the silver face of the silvery moon during its many nights.

I was raising up out of my bed one morning not so many years ago in New York City. I had overslept and was very late for work. It was a little after nine in the morning. I sleep in a loft bed in a room on the 14th floor of a lower midtown Manhattan apartment building, a tall window that stretches up from the floor of my room up alongside and on above my lofty bed. From that window, I could look down south down Manhattan Island, far down to where I could easily see two monumentally tall twin box-like skyscrapers.

On this morning, being late for work, I awoke already startled, a little scatterbrained, facing that window that faced south down the island of Manhattan directly at those two monumentally tall twin box-like skyscrapers, and what I then saw didn't hit me as true at first. I just looked at it and didn't know whether to believe it or whether to figure it was a colossal stunt of some kind, an illusion, maybe a remaining vision from a dream I had just survived. If it were a stunt or an illusion, it was a huge one, yes, an amazing one, yes, but no, no, no, no...and I came fully awake.

What I was seeing, yes, really was what I was seeing. What I saw was a sudden explosion of clouds of boiling, roiling smoke and flames flying out from the monumentally tall box-like skyscraper closest to me. I stared unable to do anything but stare. The smoke gathered in dimension streaming out from the building eerily oily black, an ugly puffing up black sticking out fiery red tongues as if panting for air as it shot out from the now obviously knifed through structure, oily black, grimy black, littered black to cool down gradually though billowing up maujestically from a burnt dark dirty gray up, high up, into a rather angelic white spread-winged cloud making its way toward the heavens.

Later in the day, after all the buildings were down that were coming down, that place down south down the island of Manhattan that used to hold within its view those two monumentally tall twin box-like skyscrapers now simply smoked. The buildings had disappeared and were now only ghostly smoke rising high in that clear and beautifully luxuriously clean sky that framed that smoking pit the rest of that gloriously beautiful day. Even the smoke in such a sky was visually striking allowing you to forget the human horror and destruction it represented. That smoke was coming from smoldering liquid steels and other metals, the ashes of enormous trashes, the grains and bits and chips and fragmentations of human remains, the powdered bloods and guts and hearts and genitals of over three thousand human beings smoking up a horrible crackling dies irae.

And all through that first night after this had happened, I was unable to sleep because of a certain bitter smell and TASTE that was suddenly in the southern breezes blowing up from downtown Manhattan from that smoldering place of death and destruction and revenge right through my window and right straight into my nostrils, into my lungs, and into my bloodstream, where they made themselves at home.

for The Daily Growler

1 comment:

Marybeth said...

I wrote a little poem when I visited later that autumn:

Autumn In New York

Dust motes dance
In a shaft of sunlight
In lower Manhattan.
Bodies of people I love.

MbR, 2001