Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Summer Excerpt from "On Our Own Road"

"Like the Merry Pranksters or something, a Magic Bus. Only with chicks driving.”

Late May, 1970: My friend Barbara and I packed up her Plymouth Valiant with our entire record collections including the British version of the first Rolling Stones album. We were going North. Looking at the map laid out on the seat, we decided to go “here”—a spot on the map, the end of the road, the tip of the world, Provincetown. We were Florida beach girls and our homing devices were tuned to the sea and the sand. 
Within a couple of days after arriving in town, Barbara and I met up with two other young women, Lynn and Dawn, to share a one-bedroom cottage like a tree house up a long flight of stairs while we supported ourselves as chambermaids, store clerks, and waitresses. The cottage was quite a find, just off the Provincetown main street with all the action, but hidden in the tree tops.
Our moldy front porch was the perfect place to kick back in one of those uncomfortable old-fashion metal porch chairs rusting under the peeling paint, and put our feet up on the railing while the sounds of town drifted up all through the night. We entertained quite a bit there. Ripple wine and weed were usually what we served, and Barbara made a mean macaroni casserole her mother always cooked with canned tomatoes and ground beef and melted cheese on top.
It was there we came up with our idea on an August night that had just the tiniest hint in the air that summer wasn’t going to last forever. It was even a bit quieter on the street. From inside on the record player we had brought with us in the Valiant, Jimi Hendrix sang about being experienced. Barbara passed me a joint that needed to be re-lit. I could tell it was a Lynn-rolled joint because it was so tight you could hardly get a draw. 
“Those dudes with the van were really cool,” Barbara remembered.
“Yeahhh,” Dawn said in her usual drawn-out way. “And they really appreciated us letting them use our shower.”
We all giggled. There had been four of them and four of us in the tiny cottage, although one couple slipped out to the van.
Dawn sucked on the joint. “Goddamn it, Lynn. When are you going to learn how to roll a joint?”
From below, someone laughed a little too loud, and then a glass broke.
“You know,” I started. “We could get a van like that.”
“Why?” Lynn asked. “We scored big with this place, and we’ve got it the whole summer.”
“No, I mean, we could buy a van and travel around like those guys after the season. They were going all the way to California. We could do that.”
“What about our jobs?” Lynn asked. “I’m supposed to be saving my tips for college so my dad doesn’t have to give me an allowance.”
“A van would be expensive,” Barbara added. “Especially one with a rug and stuff like theirs had.”
“We could buy it together,” I said. “We could all chip in so it would be cheaper. Like the Merry Pranksters or something, a Magic Bus. Only with chicks driving.”
“Actually, I think only one person owns ‘Further,’” Lynn mused.
“So?” I was starting to like this idea. “We could all get jobs this winter and save up our money and then chip in on a van for next summer and take off. It would be awesome.”
A car went by blasting Bette Midler on its radio. After it passed, you could almost hear the surf off in the distance, a call you knew was there even if you didn’t actually hear it.
“Yeahhh,”  Dawn drawled.

After summer, Dawn and Lynn went back to school, and Barbara and I moved to Boston. In the spring, Dawn called to say she had found a Ford Econoline van with many, many miles on it at a telephone company used equipment sale. We had to act fast to get it, she told me, so I hitchhiked to New Haven to check it out with $200 worth of savings stuffed into my jeans pocket. Barbara wasn’t going; by then, she had decided to move to western Massachusetts to join an ashram.
The boxy van, a faded blue like an old police uniform, waited in the back lot of the phone company. On top were rusting matching roof racks for carrying phone equipment. The side door slid open to the empty back, bare except for grooved ridges running up the middle. “They took the radio out,” Dawn said, “but that’s cool. I hear you can get one installed.”
Two seats up front sat on either side of the engine well. Dawn unsnapped the clasps  on the engine cover and opened it up. She and Lynn and I stared at the chunk of metal in the well.
“Looks good, doesn’t it?” Dawn asked, cracking her gum. We nodded. For six hundred dollars, it was ours, equal shares.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Entering the Abandoned Grain Mill at Dusk, Portugal

 (My class, "Writing Place: Landscape, People, and the Natural World," on Whitehead Island, Maine, August 17 to 20 has only 2 spots left. http://www.whiteheadlightstation.org/programs.html)

Entering the Abandoned Grain Mill at Dusk
               Allentejo, Portugal
It’s as if generations of bells accompany us – cow, sheep,
the rituals of being human. They carry the lengthening shadows
and are in turn carried as our small processional, like a band of peasants,
rings through. The trail is clear and we have only to follow.

We have only to follow, and the walk, not far, is far enough to move
through field, past barking dogs, along the road and into brushy woods
as the sun’s last red lingers on tree trunks and fence posts. We find the
approach through dried grasses has been swept clean.

The approach has been swept clean. Spent seed heads mark the edges.
We enter shyly. How will we touch loss, rambling architecture made only
by what was at hand? Rooms that once had functions and names now
spaces open to the sky, millstones still and silent, not a speck of grain.

Not a speck of grain. Everything that could be taken away, taken away.  
We each make our own associations here, layers of peeling white stucco
revealing lives lived. We are old enough to know those things that have
finely ground us down over time: sometimes to dust, sometimes to flour.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"A Tip" Flash Essay

A Tip
 I earned an extra quarter tip once as a carhop at the Whataburger in Tampa, Florida, because I wasn’t wearing a bra. It was 1969, and a quarter was about what you would expect to get from a lone guy in a pickup, so this would be doubling my money.   
I was getting ready to drop out of college, which would mean the end of parental support, and this job was part of my long-range plan, which didn’t go too far past the actual dropping out. Anyway, the Revolution was coming when we wouldn’t need too much money or college degrees, and I imagined myself living simply in a big house in the piney woods along the Hillsborough River with other groovy friends after I got out of the dorm. 

The guy was a fairly average Gulf Coast redneck customer, a working man, I could tell by the putty on his hands. His truck was neither noticeably bad nor nice. We had all types of folks at the Whataburger—rednecks, stoned-out hippies with the munchies, tourists, families with dirty kids and families with clean ones. In my three weeks at the drive-in, I had already learned that the best tippers were those from up north and that the hippies tended to forget.
This guy looked kind of older, like thirty, but he didn’t try to chat me up so I’d linger at his window. I had also learned that chatting up was part of the tipping scene—as long as there was no hot food waiting to be picked up, which made the old people who owned the place and did the cooking ring the pick-up bell like mad.
I could feel the guy staring at me morosely as I went back and forth in front of his car, taking orders, delivering food, hooking the scratched aluminum trays onto partly rolled-up windows. I sensed the subtle creep vibes coming from his truck, something you can’t quite put your finger on but that a young woman learns to pick up. Just the same, I had been a cheerleader so I knew how to move in front of an audience.
The rule was that you paid for your food as soon as it was delivered, so I would only have to go back once more to get his tray. As I reached for it, I saw the quarter on the green rubber-net mat and a second one he was holding up between his thumb and forefinger. “I’ll give you an extra quarter,” he said, watching my face, “if you tell me you’re not wearing a bra.”
Of course I wasn’t. I was a hippie with my mass of frizzy hair pulled back into a ponytail and held by a rubber band, and, frankly, even though I was nineteen, I barely needed one. I was a liberated chick out on her own in the world – free, heedless, naïve. I wore cut-off blue jeans, the fraying edges high on my thighs. I can’t remember what I was wearing for a shirt, but he must have been trying to figure it out as he watched me. Or maybe he knew and wanted to let me know he did.
“Well, are you?” he repeated, not letting go of my eyes. “Are you going to tell me?”
“I’m not,” I said.
He didn’t pick up on the nuance of the reply and tossed the coin onto the tray as I pulled it away. The quarter, solid silver as some still were in those days, made a little bounce on the mat and hit the aluminum edge, not with a nice clean clink but with a hollow, flat clang. As the hot-food bell rang aggressively and I hurried to answer it, the taste of metal sat on my tongue.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A quote for writers (and other people with a passion) from Annie Dillard

I ran into this quote from Annie Dillard while reading a review of her new book, Abundance. Narrative essays old and new from Canongate Press.  It seems like it could apply to many things in this life. 

In her 1989 book, The Writing Life, Dillard wrote: "One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time . . . . give it, give it all, give it now. . . . You can't take it with you."

Writer's desk at Obras, Allentjo, Portugal . . .

 . . .  and its view of 14th Century Evoramonte Castle on the hill 

If you want to see more about Obras Foundation's residency program for artists and writers, check out http://www.obras-art.org/obras-portugal.html.

And now for some shameless self promotion: 

Writing Place: Landscape, People & the Natural World

Linda Buckmaster, Instructor

August 17-20
Registration by May 1

Sponsored by Whitehead Light Station. A three-night program held on Whitehead Light Island off  Spruce Head, Maine. Accommodations in the lightkeeper's house with wonderful meals.
Open to writers of all levels writing poetry or prose
Linda Buckmaster’s poetry and prose have appeared in over 30 journals. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and has been teaching for four decades.
For more information and to register, contact Linda at lsbuck1@gmail.com  or http://www.whiteheadlightstation.org/programs.html


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

After Last Danger of Frost is Past -- for my brother

My brother, Ric Buckmaster, died this time last year. Here is a poem I wrote for him a few months before his death. He was a surfer and saw many sunrises off the Florida beaches. He did not have an easy life.

“After last danger of frost is past”
                                    From planting directions on a seed packet   
For my brother

After last danger of frost is past,

after the final skim of ice leaves the surface of the pond,

after the mirrors of dew disappear in the clear light and
the stilled grasses lie down for your pallet,

after the fox and the sparrow and the deer gather around you,

after the winds cease and the seas calm and the struggles of this world
slip away into the woods at the edge of the field,

you will rest   at last

                        at last


you will rest   at last

                           at last    rest

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"The Mosquito Truck"

I'm going back to a Florida summer in the Sixties here. (Parts of it are unchanged even now as in this photo.) Enjoy.

The Mosquito Truck
Thick-headed fog roams street to street, engulfing us kids, white stuff fuming from the back of the big truck. Down First, over Sea Gull, up Second, around all the numbered streets and past our house on Albatross Drive. Mosquitoes are the foe, DDT spewing from the back of a truck our big science. We believe in big science. That’s how our daddies’ rockets are going to beat the Russians’.
The cloud billows and blooms dense and white. The boys on their bikes hoop and holler from inside the soft tunnel, following as the truck makes its rounds. The only thing visible is a wheel spoke here, a foot on a pedal there, a wild face squinting. Ghost boys appear and disappear in a noisy ghost machine, following the call.
We girls hang back a bit on our bikes where the fumes are thinner. We squeal. Our eyes burn. We’re repulsed by the stench. But we, too, love the mystery of the fog; we want the magic of invisibility, the coy visibility. We want to be lost in a way you can’t ever be lost under the blasting Florida sun.
The boys will eventually grow to soldiers and disappear into the fog of jungle, or slide away into narcotic mists, or stalk the miasma of manhood. We girls hang back a bit. We still want to believe in magic. We want to believe we will fall in love and turn into princesses.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Light, land, water, wind in New Mexico

 Light, land, water, wind in New Mexico

"[The flow of life] Po-wa-ha (water, wind, breath) is the essence of life. . . . It is the breath which flows without distinction through the entirety of animate and inanimate existences."
--Rina Swentzell, Santa Clara Pueblo

 Rio Grande Gorge outside Taos

I have been traveling three weeks so far in New Mexico and have spent most of my time looking, listening, and absorbing. I can't begin to write about it yet, so I am calling on the words of others to speak for me. All of the quotes in this post are from Telling New Mexico. A New History edited by Marta Weigle and published by the Museum of New Mexico Press in conjunction with its permanent exhibit in Santa Fe, "Telling New Mexico." It is an anthology of essays written by mostly contemporary New Mexicans to fill out the usual story of the area's peoples and history. I am going to write today about the natural environment, which, of course, shapes the human culture.

From Jake Page in "Natural New Mexico: Light."

 "The most important area in New Mexico exists wherever one goes in the state. It is the sky overhead. . . The sky and its sun are . . . the soul catchers.

"Everything stands out with a clarity that is existential. In such a light, the importance of a single rock, and individual flower, the existence of life itself can strike suddenly -- fresh and poignant."

From William deBuys in "The Sangre de Cristo Mountains."

"The Rocky Mountains, spine of the continent, give birth to the Rio Grande in southern Colorado and fork to either side. In the west they become the San Juan range, . . . which diminishes to a long tangle of ridges in New Mexico. East of the river the mountains form a rugged sierra walling the grassy sea of the Great Plains . . . The Sangre [de Cristo] stretch farther south than any other spur of the Rockies  . . . and soar to altitudes of over thirteen thousand feet.

"[The mountains] were always an actor as well as a stage, for their influence reached to the heart of every [human] enterprise. . . .the Chuskas, the Jemez, the Sandia and Manzano Mountains, the Mogollon, Pinos Altos, Black Mountains, Guadalupes . . . San Mateo, Sawtooth, Magdalena, San Andreas . . . Cookes Range, the Good Sight Mountains, the Sierra de las Uvas, the last of which suggests (falsely) the sweetness and moisture of grapes amid the arid monotony of rock and sand.

"The roll call of New Mexico mountains is long; it becomes a kind of chant, a song of place, a litany evocative of the wildness of the American West, the panoramas of its land, and the heritage of Native and Spanish and Mexican North America."

From Sylvia Rodriguez in "Waterways: Acequias."

"In New Mexico, the Arabic derivation acequia refers to both a canal structure and a social insituttion whereby river water is diverted and distributed via gravity flow among a community of irrigators or water right user-owners called parciantes.  . . . For roughly 350 years, they formed a core component of the technological infrastructure of New Mexico's agropastoral economy. 

"Today's acequia associations are political subdivisions of the state. . . . At the start of the 21st century, approximately one thousand acequia associations still existed in New Mexico. The humble earthen ditches crisscrossing the fields and arable valleys along the Rio Grande and its tributaries are arguably the oldest living, non-indigenous public works system in North America.

"One must not lose the water or let it get away. . . . Each act of irrigation is particular to a piece of land."

From Roland F. Dicey in "Windscapes: Chronicles of a Neglected Time."

"The Wind personified seems always to be lurking somewhere in my [childhood] memories of eastern New Mexico. Channeled in the mountainless corridor that divides the continent from Canada to Mexico, the wind certainly was 'the Force' in our lives, and we learned to stay tuned to its presence or absence. 

"'There's nothing between us and the North Pole but a barbed-wire fence,' the saying goes, and wind on the the high plains carries salvation and disaster, 'chill factor' and moisture, desiccation and dust."