Barbara Adair – Researcher and Writer

A Little Bit of America

by on Oct.17, 2016, under Unpublished Writing

A LITTLE BIT OF AMERICA

Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?

Travelling somewhere in the United States of America: the land of the free and the home of the brave?

We park the car (Olive green Jeep, 2014, registration plate: DIVA – Land of Enchantment; made, or maybe born, in the USA) in the main road of Durango (Colorado). A man with long white hair, a horse tail that stretches down his back, almost as far as his wide black belt, the buckle is a deaths head insignia, walks towards a Harley Davidson (made, or maybe born, in the USA, the man and the motorbike). He has a limp despite his wearing especially made built up brown shoes that he bought in Wal-Mart, (Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the United States, it employs almost five times as many people as IBM. Sam Walton is the biggest job creator in this galaxy, but he doesn’t pay much). His right arm is missing.

Dissatisfaction can be bought; it’s there, in Wal-Mart.

The right sleeve of his blue checked shirt flickers in the humid breeze, he does not wear a prosthesis, the sleeve is a memorial, memorials are sexy, so is disfigurement. He stretches out his left arm and with his left hand he reaches into a black leather pouch that hangs from the black leather seat of the motorbike, (Registration plate: TEXAS JE– KE, the Lone Star State, Veteran of Vietnam). Printed on his T shirt: Land of the Free because we are Brave.

America:

I looked at the cracked high ceiling and I really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen seconds. I wasn’t scared, I was somebody else, and my whole life was a wasted life, the life of a ghost. I was half way across America.

It is a brave land, the cracked sky is free, but some freedom is expensive, the sky is not bought, it is cracked by scudding rain clouds, and freedom is on the highway, disbelieved and ingested, murdered and spat out, a brave purple heart. Brave is a word printed on a T shirt; when the prairies are on fire you see bison surrounded by the fire; you see them run and try to hide themselves so that they will not burn.

An American town: A brand, a car, a motorbike, Coca-Cola, give happiness a chance, buy Coke, love life, buy Coke. (Durango – Louis L’Amour stayed in the room below you at the Strater hotel, he wrote his violent fictions about heroic cowboys and some heroic Indians at a desk seeped in history and he slept in clean white cotton sheets.)

Take your cotton picking hands off me.

And at the bar where absinthe is not green but a pink cocktail; a tour group of senior citizens from Palm Springs California buy their happiness from the outlawed green fairy, but a pink one will do, (a pink one will do).

So the land is free, the land and the sky; geology, knows no time as you know time, it knows billions; so many years make you feel small, an ephemeral part of a momentary encounter            (in Durango). The only borders in geology are rivers that change course with time, they move in the years of billions, years that are silent gagged witnesses to mountains and people and canyons and children. WHO KILLED ME the girlboy child on the billboard screams.

You look at the map in the map book, (MAP STUDIO, 2014, San Diego, California), yes; you are in the land of the free. It has borders, state borders. Are borders permeable; changeable in years as mountains are changeable? Do they speak of desire and loss, as mountains do, or are they lines, crooked and straight, that indicate no difference for difference cannot be recognised, a line is a line? The map comforts, you are not lost, lost in the unfamiliar, you can read a line, and the line cannot be erased, there is no alternative route, take the Interstate 220, the line will stay printed on the page of the map until the map is torn and frayed, and even then there is a new map on the shelf of the Wal-Mart store that stretches alongside the road for a mile.

America:

(Due to its base in the Bible Belt, as this part of America is known, Wal-Mart styles its service to churchgoing customers, therefore it stocks only clean versions of hip-hop CDs and places plastic covers over suggestive magazines, it also sells many Christian books, such as How to Live a Purpose-Driven Life. This earns the company over one billion dollars annually).

You touch a hand, fell the heat of breathing skin, look at the map, the lines do not connect people and space, warmth and compassion is not shown or questioned, the lines constrict all possibility except to drive forward; there is no alternative to the line, where do you go?

Borders are things that people do, not geology, order out of disorder, you create recognisable territories, and so you draw lines, create borders around things.

So what is free; the land has nothing left to lose?

A grey Chrysler that is pitted with white spots, (registration plate: HOUSTON BRONCOS, 255 WXR, TEXAS, the Lone Star State) and whose radio is blaring Home is where the Heart is, passes an almost pink Ford pickup that is beside the road; the Ford has no engine (and no registration plates) underneath its open bonnet. The steel of the pink door is rotted. Two black and white crows sit in on the edge of the broken glass that once was a window; they sit very still for any movement may disturb what they watch, or they may, if they are not careful and do not sit still, cut a slender passerine foot on the a jagged edge. They stare inside this physical degradation, a faded pink wreck. In front of the birds is a derelict steering wheel, it is bent backwards, almost touching the dashboard, there are no longer any dials, they have been smashed and broken. But the crows do not care; nature is careless, care-less, they watch a chipmunk that is trapped between the fragmented window and the inoperative air conditioner and, despite the long drawn out heat, it struggles and sweats. Cars are expendable commodities, as are chipmunks, they are cheap and easy to replace, nearly vermin, or possible they are difficult to remove, and so they stay, a visceral connection to the wreckage that is somewhere, parked on the side of the road, forever waiting a rusty exculpation for water will flow over the steel and slowly wear it away, rust the movement of progress. And the crows will wait, wait until the chipmunk no longer has the strength to carry on his struggle, then they will take it in turns to peck out its eyes.

The map, arterial red on the flat surface, three dimensions is two, blood is the colour of red, roads allow movement, a march in time to movement, easy marching allows the marcher to come upon his prey quickly, overwhelm him by surprise, roads are powerful and power is healthy, power is fear and fear is obedience. The line that is the outline of the States is purple, purple equals victory, the victor moves quickly along the red lines, victorious despite the war outside, despite the war at home.

The war on drugs, is there a real enemy, well make one up, make a spectacular enemy, it scares, sends dread into the marrow of American bones.

The victor is never vanquished, the victim is more powerful than his murderer, he is a reminder, a remainder. And within these purple lines are yellow dotted lines, Indian Reservations, what is yellow, Burnt Mountain Sun, is he a coward? The map is someone’s interpretation, it is not neutral; a flat representation of a three dimensional reality, it is always a translation. And yet as you look at the map, then outside at the yellowed land that becomes orange as the sun stretches across the red rock face you are aware that translations are invested with hopes and dreams, fears and assumptions; maps speak not of the land, but of desires and intentions; the needs of their makers (and their audiences). The map does not foretell the fate of the chipmunk, the desire of the crow; the map does not know why the wrecked out car is on the side of the road, or who drove it somewhere else. You close the map book and look outside between the yellow lines. Who is there?

Are not women and children more timid than men? The Cherokee warriors are not afraid but have you never heard of Sand creek? You, you are soldiers, and you look the same as those who butchered the women and children there.

You drive a across map.

You stop at a sign post on which words indicate that you are at the corner of four states; Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado, a red and blue flag dotted with stars flies above it. You count the number of stars, there are fifty, fifty stars are fifty states, fifty national states, make up the whole, what nation is a part of this whole, who drives its passion, its compassion?

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge sun burning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven. Ah well, alackaday, I was more interested in some old covered wagons and pool tables sitting in the desert near a Coca-Cola stand and where there were huts with the weather beaten signs still flapping in the haunted shrouded desert wind, saying, Rattlesnake Bill lived here or Broken-mouth Annie holed up here for years.

America:

Utah: the words Joseph Smith heard from Moroni, the angel of God, the angel, he spoke of Jesus in America, his teachings contained in a collection of ancient writings engraved on golden plates, written by ancient prophets. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God, the same was in the beginning with God, all things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. And so was given the words that Jesus, one thousand years before he was born in Israel, had been here, walked across the land you drive through, this land, then, after many adventures and miracles, he returned, after he was crucified, Jesus died for somebodies sins but not mine, and after his resurrection from the dead. Where is he now Blue Sky (Mary)?

Water, always water, a collection of molecules, hydrogen to make a bomb, little boy, and oxygen, breathe, water shatters mirrors, makes the future disappear, you are alive for you breathe, (oxygen in, hydrogen out, in and out, in and out,) water has force, the force moves a mountain, the force destroys a mountain, a people, boiling water burns, and hot air is un-breathable. Water shapes the land and its people; it is the diluter that tears mountains down, slowly, it reduces time to an attenuated atom. (Colorado geology: The combined effect of uplifted mountains, torrential flooding from glaciers melting after the Ice Age, and the erosion of the plains has influenced the rivers ability to carve rock out of the Canon and deposit its load of silt, sand and gravel onto the foothills and plains below. Precambrian rocks formed from molten magma that cooled miles within the crust of the earth.) Before you travelled this road, this red line between the purple lines, mountains were elevated; rains, oceans and gigantic ice cubes had already left their impressions on the rocks. What can you remember of this memory?

You stop for breakfast in Winslow Arizona. I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and such a fine sight to see Take it easy, take it easy don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy. Taunts thrown at freedom, there is no freedom, only regrets and hopes; the burden of social values and women (mostly women, seven women actually, I’ve got seven women on my mind Four that wanna own me Two that wanna stone me One says she’s a friend of mine) weight the words down. The Eagles made the town famous with this song, now you come here for a photograph, standing on the corner, you know that you were really here; your place in Winslow Arizona is verified, captured; now you can produce and distribute your memories, memories that will be forgotten. Winslow, Arizona, there is a statue of a cowboy on the corner, he is dressed in red and blue, there are stars on his cowboy hat and his boots are made of rattlesnake skin.

Stand there, stand next to that man, hold his hand to show you care.

Inside Darlene’s Diner, the iconography of a diner, cowboy hats line the walls, the coffee in a large pot boils on the stove, strong coffee, tough coffee, two fat men in heeled tan cowboy boots, and one fat woman in a purple jacket with a fringe, eat peach cobbler at the bar, one of the fat men swallows the last mouthful of yellow peach and white cream, he looks at his boots, raises his arm and calls out, howdy, to the slim server. The server brings him another cobbler. His boots are shiny, rattlesnake skin. You order hash browns and eggs over easy. Dar is tough, like her coffee, she looms over you as she pours it, her eager breasts heave at the thought of customers. Dar is popular; Dar’s Diner is popular too. She turns to a rack behind her and grabs a T shirt DARS DINER, it’s only twelve dollars. Dar poses for a photograph, she thrusts the T shirt forward, she does not say cheese, she says buy (a $12 memorial). Dar, who is she; a name in your diary, part of a collection of photographs? Aah, she has bleach blonde hair and a permanent smile, teeth whitened by a new and exciting toothpaste, yes, there she is, standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona. Up and down the main street, there is really only one street, are recreational vehicles, long retirement homes for long lives, age needs space, idleness is vilified so move, the movement of a long vehicle, that, once life is completed, will stand next to the road, a wreck, disintegrating in the watery clouds; and buildings of stucco, will they blow over in a moment, nothing is permanent, ephemeral, a theme park, fashionable today gone tomorrow. You take a photograph standing on the corner, best to do this, you are here, and tomorrow it may no longer be. Lighten up while you still can don’t even try to understand Just find a place to make your stand and take it easy Well, I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.

America:

You drive further into the land, Navajo territory, you look at the map that is on the seat next to you, there is no name between the yellow lines, what’s in a name this is America, we are all Americans, an Indian has no name, a Lone Bear, a Black Kettle, the sickness of death smells and it is in the air, this is mine, I am the winner, I win in the casino, the bank has my prize. Then the time changes, the green glow of the GPS on the dashboard of the Jeep reads that it is an hour earlier than it was a minute ago; the Navajo have autonomy, the power to change time has been given to them, they know time, the time that it took for the stars to burn out, only this was long ago, stupid to change the time, grasp time as the sun will rise and the sun will set, time remembers, the days and the nights, the winters and the spring. A building ahead, a painted picture of a Native American, an Indian, with buzzard feathers in his hair, bison skin around his legs and a loud howling cry emanating from his mouth, beckons you into the bar and casino. The Indian in the picture holds a beer and smiles; drunkenly. An old man comes towards you and asks for a dollar, his hair is black and his eyes yawn, I am defeated, he says, so help me now to rest. The only good Indian is a dead Indian. You turn, he is a shadow, a blur, an unrepeatable memory.

The Navajo Indians came into contact with the white invaders in 1846 when Santa Fe, the red adobe town where Jane Fonda has a home gym and Cormac McCarthy sits in the square in cowboy boots and writes of the price of Indian scalps and pretty horses, was occupied by Americans,

how does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?

before this the town was Mexican, so then now, the Americans and the Mexicans, lived side by side, never speaking for they spoke different words, acrimonious, the word of God can be confusing in Spanish, who was who in this melange, who could be the Arch Bishop, are you a Catholic? And the Navajo? They did not know the name Jesus, they had no religion, where did they build a homestead, nowhere, their homes were tents, removable, no red adobe, just a shadow stain on the sand. The Americans persuaded the Navajo to enter into a treaty, they agreed who owned the land, four hundred soldiers encouraged the Navajo to keep to the terms of the treaty, they had no land. Forts and towns and mines and farms were set up; it was the fearing time. Everyone was afraid?

Every bit of this land is sacred … every hill every valley and every plain, every woods has been sanctified by some glorious or horrible event in the past. Even the rocks that seem mute and dead when they bake in the sun tremble with extraordinary events linked to the life of my people … when the children of your children will suppose themselves alone in the fields, in the ships, in the silent forests or on the roads they will not be alone at all … At night when all sound has died away in the streets of your villages and when you think that they are empty they will swarm with the host of those who once lived there, faithful to that sublime site. The white man will never be alone.

How to eradicate a people: Erase their memory.

Ghosts walk the in the canyon, they are lost.

We have forgotten.

A ghost has no memory.

A wild turkey buzzard in the sky, smaller than a vulture, bigger than the drumming of a humming bird’s wings, you catch him in your camera lens, you own him forever, and then he flies away. The old Native American stares at you, I was defeated and I am now poor, help me feed myself and my children and my grandchildren. You do not catch him in your camera lens, he is already owned.

America:

In 1861, after a number of armed conflicts between American and Navajo, Kit Carson was ordered by the American state government to conduct an expedition into Navajo land, he was to make them surrender for they were bloodthirsty. But only a few Navajo submitted so he applied a scorched earth crusade, fire and destruction swept through Navajo land killing men and women and children and destroying settlements. Just before they starved and died the last group of Navajo gave up their history and their land. In the beginning of the spring of 1864 those that were still alive began to walk, they walked for three hundred miles to Fort Sumner in New Mexico; here they were imprisoned at Bosque Redondo. To walk is to make progress, it is a parting cry, anger is needed, hurt in the hollow of the belly, but this walk was a walk of pain, of shame, the pain of being made to walk and of not remaining where you should be, in the land that you know and is yours, to walk this walk is not a matter of staying, it is being buried, alive. In 1868, a further treaty was negotiated with the remaining Navajo leaders and the Americans gave permission for the survivors of the walk to return to a Reservation on what was previously their own land. Most of the Navajo now live on this Reservation; they are not confined in this space, they are merely detained by yellow dotted lines on a map.

In 1875 American military removed more than 1500 Apache from the Rio Verde, this was the several thousand acres promised to them after more than this was taken away. Apache people; young and old, men and women, walked more than one hundred and eighty miles through the winter; rivers, mountain passes and narrow canyon trails, to get to an Indian Agency at San Carlos.

Many died.

The Apache people were then imprisoned there for twenty five years while American settlers farmed and mined their land. Between 1875 and 1876 a few hundred Apache tried to return to where they once lived, then at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona they were defeated when American troops forced Geronimo, the Apache chief, to surrender for if he did not, neither he, nor those left in the tribe, would remain alive. Those who lived were imprisoned in Fort Pickens, Florida, it was so far away.

Would it be unkind to compare a Reservation to a Bantustan? Apartheid (South Africa) was a unique social system designed to remove a barbaric people from the invaders civilisation; a Reservation is designed not to eradicate but to protect, to keep what has been stolen safe. No, you whisper, this is America, it would not be kind; it would even be rather unfair for a Reservation is a tourist attraction, a Bantustan is an historical aberration.

In 1888 there was a solar eclipse. Cochise fell into a trance and saw the Great Spirit among the spirits of the dead who assigned him the mission of spreading a new religion called the dance of the spirits. The dead will return, the white men will leave, swept away by a tremendous wind; the houses, the cattle, the property of the white men will remain in Indian hands. The buffalo will return. Disease, poverty and death will cease.

You stare at the yellow borders, you look outside the window. The map has an author, someone has truthfully drawn the red roads, painted the purple borders, but the man in the picture on the wall of the casino, who cries out Bravely, did not draw it, he is drawn in. The lined space is flat, the earth is flat, nothing takes place in this lined space for all action has already happened, it has been given in advance by those who draw the lines. You close the map book, you do not want to erase the routes of the people who walked, lived and battled in the space you drive in, the land on the paper has no history.

When I was young I walked all over this country, east and west and saw no other people other than the Apaches. After many summers I walked again and found another race of people had come to take it. How is it? Why is it that the Apaches wait to die – that they carry their lives on their fingernails? They roam over the hills and plains and want the heavens to fall on them. The Apache were once a great nation; they are now but few, and because of this they want to die and so carry their lives on their finger nails.

America:

In the grey light a Dodge (registration plate: COLORADO W 456, Grand Canyon State) passes a bright tanned Lincoln (registration plate: UTAH Z335YU, Life Elevated) whose radio is blaring Home means Arizona, but the sun does not shine over the desert, there is a cold relentlessness circling, it is the gentle rain, it sweeps across the time zones in the crushing never expanding countryside. A plum coloured old pickup truck (registration plate: OKLAHOMA, Native America, 20-46T) driven by a fat white woman whose radio is blaring O Fair New Mexico going much faster than the speed limit passes the tanned Lincoln.

To drive: In borrowed time in this borrowed world and tremble as the hunted tremble.

As the Dodge passes you its tin radio spews out the news of the world, American Public Radio, JoBeth here, you close your ears for at any moment the sounds will tear into screams, gunfire and explosions, you do not want to hear the sound of institutions quietly, efficiently, unstoppably at work, slipping chemical waste into the landscape, readying weapons for new wars.

I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass. Bury my heart at Wounded Knee