Sunday, August 26, 2007

remembering andrew

i am a warrior
i am not at war
i am seeking peace.
i work for peace.
peace for us all.
peace for myself.
my struggles are your struggles.
my success is yours also.

i am a warrior.
the opponent is unseen.
i am a warrior.
the victory is not celebrated,
but felt.
the battles are bloodless
and brutal.
i am a warrior.
honor is my currency
and merchandise.

you are a warrior too.
your work is defined.
you proceed each day
until the sun drains you
and the moon cools you.
we all work together
as the best warriors do.
there is no war,
there is only living.
suit up!
time is passing.

Andrew Nagen
d. 8/26/2005 Corrales NM
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My Feathered Friend

Tales from the Land of Entrapment

Recently I've been asked where I got my name, chickenlil. It goes back even further than the late nineties, when I first saw the CTs that criss-crossed bright blue New Mexico skies until they were white and strange, so I ran around like my head was cut off. I gradually regained perspective, but still wonder why so few look up, and notice that the sky is falling. It's falling.

But before that, it was those damn roosters.

In the '60s we protested for peace--now we'll settle for some peace and quiet.

Our home in Corrales may seem peaceful, but with the whizzing traffic at the road and the barnyard cacophony in back, it is rarely quiet. One morning a houseguest emerged from his bed with a puzzled look, asking, "Is there a zoo around here?" The cows' moo-ing out back sounds like an elephant mating call.

Our second-story bedroom door opens onto a deck facing west to the irrigation ditch and the rising mesa. You can hear everything all at once from up there--those cows, horses, burros, goats, sheep, yowling tomcats and howling coyotes, literally.

Bullfrogs and crickets throb through summer nights occasionally pierced by the eerie feline cries of peahens. Church bells bong on Sunday morning, while hot-air balloons hiss and drift over the field, accompanied by a chorus of barking dogs.

Mornings we awaken, depending on the season, to honking geese, raucous crows, chortly finches and sparrows squabbling; the strange and wonderful sandhill cranes cruising by; woodpeckers working at the eaves, or cartoonish roadrunners chattering, challenging a watchful cat.

Sometimes I lie semi-awake in bed listening for my favorite bird, so small I've never seen her, yet she returns each spring with her distinctive song--a long story with a question mark at the end. She arrives with a big voice about the time the apricot trees burst into blossom, alive with an industry of bees.

Other days are not so pleasant--rude awakenings to the sounds of my neighbor's recreational bulldozing, incessant beeping front-end loaders and backhoes scraping, chainsaws, road construction and heavy equipment hitting it hard at 6 a.m.

Neighbors on both sides have kept chickens for generations, and their roosters in particular make a definite statement about "country" life. We never had chickens.We once kept some Easter-bunnies who became warring rabbits in a sad hutch. As pets we had cats, dogs, gerbils, fish, even a horse-- but poultry seemed to be a step further into farming than we were ever willing to take.

At first I thought the little family of next-door free-range hens were kind of cute when they came to visit, buck-bucking around my garden, lending a bucolic atmosphere. But then they ruthlessly scratched up my seed-beds, sending flowers flailing and bulbs upturned, leaving curious oval-shaped depressions in the dirt. (No eggs, however!)

So, when I shook my rake at Patty's prize rooster, who was proudly stalking my cat and intimidating my Labrador retrievers, I meant only that he should run under the fence straight for home.

To my complete surprise, he flew at me!-- stabbing black-and-blue punctures in my tender thigh, newly exposed in shorts for the tanning season.

I decided at that moment I didn't like roosters very much at all. In fact, I had the urge to kill.

Manuel's chickens to the north would stay on their side of the fence, but the rooster in charge over there had the unfortunate habit of sleeping in a tree at night and waking up way too early.

My friend Sonja speculates that roosters are genetically coded to crow at sunrise, but they often mistake the morning star on the horizon for the breaking dawn so when a beam of light hits their tiny brain, they go into full-freak.

In the case of this particular cock, he could be triggered by the lights of a passing truck or maybe a UFO, and the full moon was grounds for an all-night songfest.

I begged Manuel to do something about it, but he only shrugged. The rooster refused to sleep in the coop with the hens, like a proper chicken. He liked to roost in the cottonwood tree. What could he do? I suggested the frying pan.

Roosters are just part of life in the country, he chided me. If you don't like it, move to the city, with the sirens and the traffic. See how you like it there.

Yes, I said, here in the country we have car alarms, firetrucks, bulldozers and backhoes, burning garbage, chainsaws chopping down orchards, and frickin' chickens too--the worst of both worlds!

Oh well.. I might have adapted to the nocturnal disturbance, as my husband did: he'd sleep through anything, after years of night-waking children crawling into our bed in the wee hours, but the anticipation of the constant cockle made my dream-state hyper-aware.

Without the door open to the air, we would surely suffocate. My subconscious mind only pretended to sleep, waiting on edge through the silent night, listening for the first horrific roostering to rend the deep darkness.

Then--repeated and repeated at random intervals so, as the sky slowly brightened, my mind sought hopeless solace under the pillow, expecting, and yet each time shocked anew by the awesome death-throttle emitted from the skinny throat of this unrepentant creature. Cock-a-doodle-doo is an inadequate expression of the rooster's power, which seemed to condense all the angst of the world into one ear-splitting expletive.

I contemplated the meaning of this persistent alarm in my life. Why did I have to endure such abuse? Years of lack of REM sleep made me singularly irritable.

I realized one winter morning just what this bird was saying to me, simply: Wake up! Wake up!

It was New Year's day. I awoke in twilight to a familiar refrain. I stood out on the deck, squinty-eyed, to witness a rare sight: the nearly full moon glowing huge on the western horizon, setting into a bank of low-gathered clouds tufted pink with the flush of dawn. Moments later the moon was gone, dropped into the chill grey of an ordinary morning.

There I observed my nemesis, crowing in the barren branches of his favorite tree, and I saw him fully for the first time. Dirty-white, scruffy bird, he turned a red eye to me and we surveyed each other in the sober light.

Then, with a rousing bloody-murder cock-a-doodle, he buried his beaky head under a wing and shuddered, nestling in for some shut-eye after a long night.

I thought briefly of my son's BB gun within reach in the next room, which I could have aimed at the heart of the beast. It would have been an easy pot-shot to blast that bird right out of the cottonwood, but I calmed my impulse, and made a fake gun of my index finger: POW. You're dead. I considered that this rooster and I had some kind of karmic pact, and so I made peace with my feathered friend.

This too shall pass, I sighed. I would have to let it go.

I don't know what happened after that day: I never heard that bird crow again. Perhaps he met his fate in the posole pot for a New Year's dinner. By spring, the hens were history too, having lost an encounter with Richard's wolf-dog leaving only downy white feathers floating on a breeze, caught on the chicken wire fence.

Most mornings now I hear roosters crowing along the ditchbank, sweet trumpets in a distant dream. I turn over gratefully to go back to sleep, knowing I might be missing the brilliant dawn, the setting moon casting cool light across the frosted meadow.

Here in Corrales, today at least, it is the best of all possible worlds.

Monday, August 06, 2007

We Are Not Dead
For Kadhim Kaitan

To no avail the doves cooing—
Our delights are cellars
And our time is ash.
We go, every sunset, to the river
Carrying the coffins of our days'
Polishing our teardrops
And shrouding our fears.

We are not dead.
We still have the tearful embrace
Of sacrifice.
We compose our features,
Bandage our calendars,
Our disappointments,
Under a spider's tent,
We still have the right
To conquer the city with kisses.

We return to our hospitals
Lighting lamps of regret
And reciting our elegies.
Our lifetimes are paper boats
Pushed to the waves by the hand of a trifling child
Where, fold after fold,
The sea takes our dreams
And wraps them in weeping.
Our lifetimes are withered leaves
That launched an attack on the sun
And fell in flames.
The fire now licks at our names,
Sewn together with splinters.

Munthir Abdul-Hur
translated from the Arabic by Sadek Mohammed

Atlanta Review
Spring / Summer 2007

Sunday, August 05, 2007