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Swann's Way (pt. 3)


On the train to Reno we made the acquaintance of Brendon Zemon, if that is really his name, an inventor with burning eyes and a pale complexion. He showed us how to coil baling wire between recyclable cardboard and electrical tape to make a package you hold against an arthritic joint to take the pain away. The package goes click click click, really. I tucked one up against my arthritic right hallux. It worked! I was freaked out! The Navigator freaked! Brendon had these packages tucked into his hat and his shoes. He pressed them above and below his knees, using surgical gauze. He spoke movingly of the electrical/energetic experiences of raised consciousness that the Navigator and I understand all too well, the prose and the poetry. He spoke of his asana, a pose like the Vitruvian Man, where he could find a pain-free place. The Navigator’s connection with these energies has always been more about the ability to feel, while Brendon’s was more about the ability to be free from all that. I swing both ways, like the tide.

As I write this, the moon is in its waxing crescent phase, as it was on the night I was born. Possessed by a willingness to change, the person born to this moon is the person whose faith is rewarded. That’s who I was born to be. Here’s how I captured it in 2009:

Void of Course

Tonight the moon and I are void of course. When I was born, she marked me for a breaker of promises. Restlessness rode me like a box car. She marked me with a pebble, She scarred my back; she made me glib; I could not stick. Tonight we drink bowlfuls of her reputation for change. She runs her hands over my face, her water beads upon my lip, my smoky body wreathes her horns and her old man's head while my lovely crimson coracle skims lightly down her silver stair.

The night we were in Reno, there was a waning gibbous moon, the exact opposite of the night I was born. Highly self-aware and a good communicator, that’s who I was the night we were in Reno. I am an unusual person, let me say, in that I am actually empty, I have no content per se, and no desire to satisfy, well, anything – especially the usual attributes of femininity; and as I begin to age I do not want to be photographed as a young woman just to show that my belly is flat, even though such poses do serve to enchant the vulgar viewer. Facebook has forever changed our reception of portraiture. Selfies for Narcissus! Selfies for the vulgar! Sexy selfies to sell you… [insert product here] “Oh,” people say, “She is so much less pretty!” They can’t believe I was pretty. If someone could get a camera’s shutter to activate when I orgasm, I could get you a set of vagina selfies. Click click click.

Because he dabbles in magic, my beloved Navigator did take some beautiful pictures of me biking through heavy smoke, in the tornado light of the Reno sunset, across a bridge, and again on the long Tahoe-Pyramid bike path. He made me glow against the safety-yellow of my biking jacket. I retained, almost fiercely, the armaments of womanliness, and was situated in an irreducible place outside of, and indeed above, the rest of humanity. I became evidence of a womanliness outside of myself.

Outside of Reno, we stayed with a friend, at whose ranch an irrigation pipe was leaking. The pipe was owned by the municipality and not the ranch, so there was nothing our friend could do to prevent a large pond forming outside the graveled yard – against the raging forest fires of the region – where we did our morning yoga. Spanish-speaking workers sent word to our friend about the leak and word was sent back to them.

The Navigator and I had each taken a cold shower in the communal bathroom that morning – first one and then the other – after a night of torrid lovemaking, because the water was only a trickle and would not warm. Later, I connected this situation with the leak, perhaps wrongly. The Navigator photographed my yoga practice, sharp stones digging into my tender feet. He boiled some eggs for us to take with us, but because of the altitude, they did not set, and when we opened them on the next train, we realized we had to throw them away. When you’re at home and you have patterns, you don’t get to ebb and flow as much as you do when you’re traveling and it’s always someone else’s world.

The biking in Reno was otherworldly, my absolute favorite of all our bike treks on this journey. Miles upon miles, all through town, to the museums, to the food cooperatives, to the residential districts, to the outskirts. Reno was one of my favorite stops because of my love for my Navigator and the fact that our host was surrounded and continually visited by her children, friends, and co-workers – we were present at a love fest. Unlike our chats with the café car attendants of the trains (also very loving), here we chatted with a friend who already loved us, and we basked in that, armed with a certain quantity of foreknowledge and without the complicated histories of our family lives.


I have seen the Continental Divide from the window of the California Zephyr, if you can call looking into the darkness as the train worms through the Moffat Tunnel a view of the Divide. And as a worshipper of the dark, subterranean goddesses of the Paleolithic, I do so call it. And I have drunk in the fecund sisterliness of my sweet siblings’ luxurious success and their beautiful homes, the gorgeous appointments and firm beds, the gentle light from decorous window well and the sight of a gracious, green side-yard. And it is all good. I know Denver.

Upon arrival, the Navigator and I make our way from the station on our trusty Dahons to my sister’s, a comfortable, early evening passage. We only have to re-route the Google maps lady once. Denver is a pretty easy city to bike around. I have a point of comparison from my non-biking past as well. In 2002, when I flew in to visit the home office of my then-employer, I used a rental car to stay with my sister in her place up in Conifer. Every day I drove down to company meetings in the metropolis. There was a moment on I-270 when all eight lanes – the four going one way and the other four going the other – all came to a dead stop. Denver is not that comfortable a city to drive in. Also, my son got his Master’s Degree at the University of Denver a few years back. So the Navigator and I got to know the campus area a little on a visit to him just before Covid closed everything down: we walked, used my son’s bikes and experienced the light-rail. And finally I, like the rest of the country, know Denver as the site of the Columbine and Aurora gun-murders.

First morning in the mile-high city. I rise early and write postcards to the handful of folks I’ve apportioned to this stop. Today Mini, Justin, and Amanda. A former colleague, a man in prison, and my butoh instructor. I just do a few postcards per stop so that I feel connected but not violated, and nothing over the phone! Social electronics are so stressful, they make friendship seem competitive! Count my friends, pal! Nooooooo, thaaaaank yewwwww. I love choosing just the right postcard, concentrating on my penmanship.

The Navigator is looking for a document about fermentation to send a friend back in Portland, I think, or maybe he’s responding to our friend in Reno who has texted that she aches for the dance group, or maybe he’s texting the young woman who has been sheltering rent-free in his old house for the past several years. She texts rainbows and other images she finds cute and that society has defined as innocent, but her obsession with the Navigator is neither of those things. What would she think of Simphiwe Ndzube, whose art we visited at the Denver Art Museum? Glorious, giant, pink corpse plants that will never be emojis.

Second morning about 9 AM, my sister and I relax in her just-big-enough back yard, with blankets wrapped around our legs, the kale, fruit trees, morning glories, and cilantro greening around the capped hot tub. They have a cute detached garage and a Mini Cooper and I drink the tea I brought.

Denver is the only city on our itinerary that we will have entered twice. Once as prelude to this visit (and a visit to my other sister across town) and once again to return the car we will rent here and take to Durango. On the return trip in the rental car, we were frightened more than once by clusters of merging roadways, by lanes of motor vehicles converging on us from below, or from a blind spot on the side, and even once from above – that was completely unnerving. The Navigator and I felt it in our whole beings, especially the upper chest, this granthi, this Brahma-knot that is driving a car. Later, back on the train, I realize how much I love Denver’s gummies. They make a huge difference in the length and depth of our sleep as the train rolls on, as we disconnect from all that has bound us. They should be legal everywhere. Yum yum yum. But nobody should eat them and drive a car. The murder-urge of the car will always overpower the float-urge of the gummie.

While we are on the murder-urge, let me just say there was a prickliness to Denver and I wonder, was it the result of the intransigence and proximity of all those motor vehicles? If I say, “Yes,” it lets everybody but the motor vehicle industry off the hook. So, yes.

Heck, yes.

Hem, haw, errm, uhm.

I would actually love to blame everything bad everywhere on the motor industry. And divide the fleeting Denver prickliness off from those beautiful family visits. I do know that I will never stop loving and supporting my dear little sister – she was a loving childhood companion, who came from the same womb and drank from the same breasts, a woman and friend I have known all my life. Our bond is beyond language and time. I wish she lived closer.

It took several months and the Navigator’s perceptive eye for me to realize that there is no need to fear divides. There is only pleasure, as demonstrated by a pair of tortoises. These are not just ordinary reptiles, these are racing tortoises! They are healthy, mature, five-or-so pounders with lovely mottled shells and powerful hind legs that look fairly elephantine. Here’s how they race. Humans carries them briskly to a far point of the yard and set them down side by side, or close enough. Then, armed with a beverage, the humans settle into lawn chairs. After some time, one of the tortoises starts to move, and usually, after some time, so does the other. They crawl in different directions at different speeds. When one gets to the edge of the yard, a human sallies forth and scoops that tortoise up, only to return it to the starting point. At some later point, the human restarts the second tortoise as well. This can go on for as long as the humans are engaged and the tortoises are willing, after which point the tortoises are returned to their terrarium and fed. And this is the goddess’s oracular message to us, poor banished children of Eve: It’s fine for two creatures to go in different directions.

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