Sunday, November 29, 2009

phone calls for the dead

The phone rings. It is early, before we open, or it is Sunday, or it is late at night.

My heart always stops for a moment, thinking, fearing that it might be word from one of my children, children of my body or children of my heart--there are so many wandering the world these days, so many of the young travelers, and sometimes the calls come from jails or hospitals or in the middle of nowhere, where the voice on the line says "the demons tell me I should be dead, oh what am I supposed to do?"

But this isn't one of them. The recorded message clicks on. "This. Is. A. Call. For. David. Lindgren. If you are David. Lindren. press one. If you are not. David. Lindgren. press two."

We've had this call ten times in the past week. The first time, because I am not David, I pressed two, and the voice bid me wait while my "information" was updated. I waited. Fur Elise played nicely. I waited. Fur Elise kept playing nicely. I waited.

The phone went to dead air.

I hung up, after trying to press various keys to get a human.

Today I thought, what the hell, I'll press one and see if that gets me a human. No, it just gets me Fur Elise, and then dead air, and probably gives the collection agency false hope.

There seems to be no way to tell them they aren't going to get whatever David owed them, that he is far, far beyond their reach.

He was called Cricket when he came through here, disheveled, angry, desperate, sweet. He was traveling then with a woman who called herself BirdSong, but who gave me her true name, because she was a poet and had written some poetry she'd had published in one of those huge scam "you are a great poet, just spend money on this beautiful anthology" places. Her poetry wasn't bad at all, and she loved flowers, and talked wistfully to me of the house she lived in once, where there were glass windows, small paned, and she grew houseplants and the sunlight shone, and she was warm.

They were both drunks, and they weren't very trustworthy around small valuable things. Like magpies they collected interesting bright lovely things from my bookstore. Sometimes it made me mad, sometimes I thought--well, I've got a lot, what's another trinket.

I tried to help them get food and I gave them sleeping gear and clothing all through many a winter here.

Hard to believe, it must be 7 years or more now; they would come and stand with me sometime when I stood alone in the cold in some Women in Black vigil. Cricket said he was a vet, and told me tales of Vietnam. Other vets claimed these were bogus, that he'd been in jail on some petty charges, that he was a scam artist.

He wasn't very popular, and he was prone to fights. One day I stepped between him and another guy, Buffalo, also dead now. They'd both drawn knives and were roaring and beyond reason and my action was incredibly stupid.

I'd do the same thing today, though. I stood between them, very aware of those sharp blades, and yelled "I will not allow you to hurt one another! Put those damn knives away! What are you thinking?!"

They sheepishly did just that. I invited them into my shop for a bowl of warm soup.

Birdsong left him, and that was probably a wise move. Buffalo died in jail. Cricket...ah, Cricket. He came to me with a wounded hand and asked what I thought. It was oozing green and swollen and he had a fever and I told him, I told him to get to a hospital. Right then.

Yeah, he died there. I guess his mom got contacted somehow. So I heard. I hope so. Must have been 4 years back?

And the phone calls bring it all back to me. I remember especially the Christmas Eve we happened to spend together, Cricket and Birdsong and me. It was storming and cold out. I had ordered a couple bushels of oranges--I do this a lot in the winter, figuring fruit is a good thing for hungry people, and oranges are vitamin rich. I invited them in for some hot tea and to give them a bag of fruit and some other food to get them through the next days. Birdsong was decorating herself with costume jewelry strung into a crown about her tangled brown hair, and had a brocade coat--glowing but tattered--she was intending to wear over her usual layers. Because, she said, she was an Empress and if she went out on the steets in her finery maybe, finally, someone would understand this about her. She was off her meds that night, and prone to screaming. No one could ever quite scream like Birdsong could--it should have shattered the gates of heaven.

And Cricket told me of his one good Christmas, in Oregon, when he was...maybe 5, maybe 8, I no longer remember. His dad had work that year, they had food, and, best of all, he was given a red wagon.

"You should have seen it, Kathy" said Cricket. "It was new. It was so bright, and it cost my dad plenty. We were so happy."

For a moment, looking at his worn face, I saw that little boy, delighted with a gift.

And I didn't cry then, but later, and still now, I have, wondering how that child's life was so torn later. And what could have kept him safe.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A brief thanksgiving

There was a time I could walk beneath my grandmother's table without bending my head, and peer out through the flowery white design of the lace tablecloth, scarcely breathing, trying not to be noticed, to watch the doings of the grown ups in the room as we gathered for Thanksgiving, long, long ago.

The legs of that table were dark wood, curved and carved, and ending in paws that my mother told me were lion paws.

They were very pretty.

I remember, after years away, how surprised I was that I stood far above that table. Had I ever been so small? I still tried to keep quiet, to listen to the grown up conversations, to try to understand that confusing world. But I'd get tired and soon be off to the walnut tree with a book, cozily leaning against the trunk, high above the ground, getting my best dress stained with walnut husk.

This time of year the oddest memories come back. I remembered my grandmother's table as I looked down the mountains from my eldest son's house, where my family had gathered for our thanksgiving. I was boiling potatoes and stirring sauce and cutting up the beautiful golden mushrooms my daughter and her partner had gathered in the woods with me the day before--chanterelles, the most luscious of mushrooms. My grandmother wouldn't have recognized much that I put out on the table--my vegetarian feast might have confused her. I can imagine my father laughing with disbelief.
Well, we did have sweet potatoes, and mashed potatoes, and chanterelles in a light sauce. And cranberries, and stuffing, and a tofu-turkey. My eldest son's best friend laughed at that, and I laughed at his laughter.

It is longer than 30 years since those two boys met. They were rowdy and rough and tumbled all over the cabin and the land like young bear cubs. I had known A., son's friend, since his birth. Since before his birth, when his mother wondered if he'd ever be born and I told her he'd wait to be born close to my birthday, late September.

He was, showing himself to be a very intelligent person. My son was born the following year, and they might as well have been brothers. So it was good to have them both, though when A. said "now, we really must do as the matriarch bids us"....well, you know, it's a bit strange. It was yesterday I was walking beneath that table.

And my daughter's partner and I had a long talk. Now there's a lovely soul. Just the day before, when the police brought us another lost soul, he had helped me transport her--54 years old, heart trouble, head trouble, homeless, distressed and surly and difficult and very pretty--to a safe place in the north. And refused my thanks--it was, he said, nothing at all. So we talked about my youngest son, Gabe, who had asked the day before which one of him was going to be at Thanksgiving. Interesting question; whichever one had come was having a great time. But E. and I talked, and how odd to think this young man had such instinctive insight into the mind of my sometimes mysterious youngest.

My daughter seasoned things deftly, my eldest made sure I had sufficient coffee, the day was bright and we were all silly and sweet and ridiculous and alive and together.

And so glad of this.

(the photo, taken by my eldest, is some of the view from his home)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Just a note, for I know that poetry is not to every reader's taste, but I have been putting more of my poetry at my other blog which is linked on the side, over yonder, or is right here

Although my poetry has, as they say, been widely published in the literary and little magazines, it has never been collected and printed in a book. (ah, and not for lack of trying. The stories I could tell). Every so often someone wanders across a poem of mine somewhere and takes the time to discover where I am, through magic or cyber saavy. Since I direct them to my notebooks, and since some come back to me and ask where they can read more, and since the mice and rain are doing their magical transformations on my old paper notebook it seemed a good time to put more out for tasting.

The internet may not be the best place to read poems...but it is what I have to offer you, if you like.


Friday, November 13, 2009

The leaves drift

Yes, the rains have set in. Before the first rain, nearly a month ago, with the wind from the south and the falling leaves scattered over my porch, I met a young guy on a bicycle and we talked philosophy and politics and community and literature in the warm bookstore.

The next day, early, he was back. "I don't know if this is the right place to say this..." he started, and I said "go on". The first raids on the homeless encampments had begun, he said. He was sleeping on what is called the Island--a triangle of land between road and freeway, up above the cliff that goes down to the river. And the police came. They were cordial enough. They gave him 15 minutes to get his gear, his bike, his food, and leave.

And they told him the other gear, the tents, the sleeping bags, the clothing--all would be taken to the landfill.

Because it was trash. Because the people who slept there were...well no, they didn't call them trash. Desperate. Homeless. "undesirables".

My new friend had met some of the people camping there, and knew they weren't around, and worried. I told him he had of course come to the right place, and my partner and our beat up pickup went out to the Island and loaded up the survival gear and the real trash.

I spent the next day getting word to the street, washing clothes and blankets, bagging things, trying to preserve these little bits of people's lives.

I also sent out a message to everyone I could think of in my local circle of contacts, explaining the situation and asking for warm clothes, sleeping bags, survival gear.

Because--bottom line--please, no one die this winter. No one die because you were rousted and hounded and suffering on the street and in the woods. Oh please, not on my watch. Let me keep you safe.

A week later the next camp was hit. No notice. Earnest, intelligent, sweet officers of the law, just following orders, a little sad about it, but what to do? This time an ally of mine picked up the raid on her police scanner and hightailed it in and snatched up gear from the truck headed to the dump. The driver said "it's just trash". Deb showed me the "trash"--tents, papers, blankets.

And we were sorting through the gear on the porch, trying to figure out where the people were, and what belonged to whom. As we stood there, a young man came up to me and said "oh, sleeping bags? Oh, all my stuff was taken, could I have one?"

Not those, I said, but I did have one for him. And I invited him inside. And he told me his story.

"So, I tried to jump off the bridge," he said, fairly calmly. "Cause, I wanted to die" he said, with equal calm.

I nodded. Been there, I said, it can get pretty dark at that place.

So the police took him to the mental institution in the north, about an hour by car. And held him the allotted 72 hours. And then he was released.

"So, I walked south" said he. "And after a while I got pretty tired, and it was dark and cold and so I went to sleep beside the road. I covered myself in cardboard boxes to try to stay warmer"

I nodded. He had walked, in the night, about 20 miles.

Have you eaten? I asked. Yes, he said. The nice man who picked him up in the town he'd slept in treated him to breakfast, and brought him here to my shop, because, he said, this was a good place.

He was going to call his mother, who lives in Austin, Texas. He didn't want to call from my phone. We talked a while longer, and in the notebook he carries, under his mother's contact information, I wrote my name, address, and phone number. And told him, as I've told so many of the young wanderers, that I answer the phone and that I accept collect calls. So if ever it would be of me, I said.

He had just turned 17. He had beautiful dark eyes and a sweet smile. We talked a bit longer, but he was ready to be on his way, clutching my list of resources and his new sleeping gear. He said they call him DJ on the street.

Stay on the planet a little bit longer, won't you? I asked. You have things to do here, you are needed. Think about it.

Yes, he left. And I think of him every day, through the new raids--every encampment within a 10 mile radius has been "cleared" now. This doesn't mean that my friends are gone, just that they are having to scramble more as the icy rains fall and frost makes the hillsides glitter.

The local county supervisor dropped by to talk with me yesterday. My Maine coon cat sat on his knee and Champ gazed at him hopefully, though the guy says he's not a dog person. He'd come bringing some warm jackets and little soaps and such. I thanked him. He was enroute to talk with the police; I told him to give them my best regards, but that I had major problems with the illegal raids being conducted. He told me he had only a minute or two, but nicely pinned by my helpful animals he stayed an hour. And he'll be back.

What I told him was...well, no dead kids or dead elders or dead anyone from hypothermia on my watch. And...what I've been telling everyone these days...that I'm ruthless. I'm going to use every bit of light or energy or compassion I can find in anyone. I'm going to seek it out. I'm going to find it in the officers of the law and in the people on the street and in myself. And somehow, somehow, we are going to make a circle of compassion in which no one, no one is going to have to wander the roads and sleep covered in cardboard and look at bridges as means of ending it all.

The beautiful leaves are drifting down with the rain. Beautiful souls are drifting by on the streets. Somewhere, somehow, they must be held and cherished.

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