Jana Benova from Slovakia reading at Prairie Lights Bookshop, Iowa City.
After last night’s ructions, it’s going to be along haul: first up, it’s church with Choi from Korea, where afterwards at coffee time I manage to get myself (via blabbing to a guy called Lyle about tikanga Māori Anglicanism back home) invited to speak at a Forum soon.
On the way back to the hotel, Choi explains to me about her church in Korea: how it’s progressive and socially committed, with its style of worship using Korean music, instruments and non-Western cultural forms. They also reject the Dale Carnegie-type of “prosperity theology” that corrupted American thinking from the 1980s onwards, a “pray, obey and get rich” heresy.
Hmmm, sounds like Te Hepera Pai (The Good Shepherd) back in EnZed. The afternoon is napping and getting ready for the reading at Prairie Lights where Jana, Nikki Lee and Khaled are performing. I end up listening while we wait, to Mary’s husband Peter Nazareth who teaches courses on Elvis Presley and informs me of The King’s being deeply influenced by Mario Lanza (think, “It’s Now or Never/O Solo Mio”).
Jana has rats in her story and Khaled, buttocks: I’m so tired by this time I remember images, not sentences. Afterwards, Taleb approaches me: he wants us to co-write something and we discover, having a coffee together with Gulala and Bilal, that we both have a fantasy about visiting Marilynne Robinson, the magisterial novelist, teacher and essayist here. After you!
On the way back, Taleb and Gulala (who wanted to be singer) sing to me in Arabic: heaven. I respond with Ka Kitea ki te Tonga, a song of welcome onto Ngai (Kai) Tahu territory. This place and these writers are starting to fire me up, burned out or not.
In the evening, I watch a DVD on Dylan”s growing years: Tangled up in Bob (2005). Natalie Goldman, who wrote the the bestselling (and very good) creative writing sourcebook, Writing Down the Bones, goes to Hibbing. She stares into that hole in ground, the iron ore town where a seed of genius was planted, raised – and sprang forth like some genie from a bottle held in the hand of every English poet from Shakespeare to Blake and then some.
That’s not counting the train whistles blowing through his head for twenty years and the “race” music from Charlottesville VA, before he made his break to New York and being Dylan. She interviews his old high school English teacher, an amazing 85 year old who plays Dylan’s music back to her, real loud! They sit in his kitchen having dinner and he has the CD remote: Not Dark Yet is playing from Time Out of Mind, he’s waving that thing, like he’s cheering his son at football, calling “louder, louder!” Far out.
I’m getting myself psyched up to go there, all the while seeing more of what’s happening in preparation: a breaking down, a breaking open. My Higher Power has me on a roller coaster of creative energy and exhaustion, exhilaration and amazement. Something is happening in here – like a seismic shift. I blame those earthquakes.
What I am aware of at 5.47am, awake an hour since, is my PTSD kicking here: that’s what’s giving me hell in sleeping problems. I have realised I am having flashbacks from my childhood – it happens to older people at times of change and I’m 64.
My father would come home raging from the pub – you know the scene – and we would cower in our beds while he stomped around the house muttering, playing Nat King Cole on the radiogram (I still hate “Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer”), and making food. Then the raised voices and the sobs from their bedroom.
I became hyper-vigilant: so, when I hear people shout in the corridor outside me here, raised voices (beer talking, like on Saturday night), I go on red alert. I don’t want to, I wish I didn’t, I just do. Two years of earthquake aftershock stress on adrenaline in Christchurch have simply reactivated all that stuff.
I was watching a documentary on CNN on Friday night, ” Footnotes to 9/11″, talking to many of those involved up to the strike on the towers. It included the guys who had first checked the terrorists in – one of them had a breakdown when he retired, years later, still haunted by Atta’s face at the check-in. I also watched a DVD from the library on poetry and war. It described my father’s condition as an alcoholic vet – I was so moved, I wrote this poem.
here but not here
the on switch always on
body parts body parts body parts
no war won
there but not yet
yet and not now
past but not done
heart attack heart attack
always in love with your death
always in life with the dead
sleeping beside a warm corpse
in your head head head
half of a man to a wife
she is the enemy now
the legs and the eyes and the mud
the warm red smell of his blood
gone but not gone
back but half cocked
alone and alone
the war for a self
a son who can’t reach
the bugles from hell
the bombers that burst
his eye on the deck
when can you die
when can you live
who are you to me
Now this morning, this email in my Inbox from a friend (heavily edited):
“Oh, and one other thing of great interest! X mentioned that you might like to go to the AA retreat he attends on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota. I went with him last year. There’s a sweat (as in sweat lodge) and looooong AA meetings where Lakota talk at length about their alcoholism and recovery. It was a very powerful experience.
I believe it’s in October. It is a 13 hour drive. We stayed over night in Sioux falls, X is very connected (over some years) to the community and gave me access in a rare way.
Anyway, such a trip with X might be an amazing opportunity for you. And then, you could see the badlands, which is the most powerful vista I’ve ever seen.”
I’m bowled over: last night I dreamed I went back to my old town Runanga and bumped into my old neighbour Les Holmes. We had a laugh about being on Facebook these days. Les is an artist, an original: like you, like me, like Robert Zimmerman in 1961. Who will we choose to be now, knowing this?
I like dreams: they never pretend to be profound, they just are, like trains hauling coal and iron ore and like the holes in ground some people spring from. Here’s to you, America.