“PS: There’s no River, only the Ripples…”
What am I doing with such a title, starting this Letter to the Heavens with a PS? Well… First of all, it’s been a while that I am treading in-between worlds among ‘Cocos’, COntrary COyotes, which have influenced me in doing things in reverse. Maybe instead of coyote I see myself more like the embodiment of my Mayan sign, a red fox, cousin of coyote. After all, as you would always recall, especially in troubled times, todos somos primos…
I feel more familiar with fox because there are no coyotes in my native Belgium, and also because my mother’s side of the family once lived in a powerful and magical place called the stone of the fox, while your mother came from the mountain pass of the moon, guiding you to name the maternal character María Luna in Bless Me, Última… However if I were to say I have a nagual like Sonny’s coyote, it would belong to the feline rather than the canine realm, as you proved me you knew well when you sent that pun card asking if I was not ‘feline well’ because I was apart from my kitty pets… I know you also wanted me to ‘keep an eye’ in the night birds’ dark skies, sending me sweet reminders, like that felt craft kit with the pattern of an owl for me to build ~ for me to birth ~ for me too, bird. But you know what I finally understood? Even though you sensed I was somehow related to your owl dream world, it was from way before Última, from where the first cuatro raíces of Sonny’s tree of life grew and over which his soul flew when he witnessed the union of Owl Woman and Andrés Vaca. For me to find out, I had to switch genders while swimming in the vast ocean that flows between two shores, translating the feminine, Castilian lechuza into the masculine, Náhuatl tecolote… It took me a while.
Second, this written piece of mine / peace of mind, if anything, really is a “post-scriptum”: the world is now entering the post era of your (manu)scripts, and it’s up to each and every one of us who were blessed with your presence in our lives to pick the best way to cope with your ‘’aftermath”. I would be more inclined to spell the adverb that describes the world without you as “afterwords”. You almost became an accountant before your diving accident, so ‘aftermath’ will do, but I know mundane calculations are not really to blame for the existence of this noun, and I honor the ancient meaning of math: ‘mowing’, ‘harvesting’. In the words of old, ‘aftermath’ refers to new sprouts coming after the harvest, quite a tribute to the cyclical meaning of our lives, and, if I may add, an ode to death and rebirth a bit fresher than the ‘bear scat’ the old man was ready to become in Randy López Goes Home! The old man rode Spirit the Appaloosa to his final morada, where he knew he would be eaten by bears (“or coyotes”) after taking his last breath…
After your wife Patricia (Mimi) finished reading your first draft of Randy’s walk in the limbo, the last draft she would read before entering the limbo herself after 44 years of marriage [so much in your world was symbolically cyclic], she wondered if she would meet Randy after her passing. As her life force slowly left her, she said she was drifting south, and you were in awe at the sensibility that made her pick that directional “metaphor” to describe her transformation. Remember she was your first and most avid reader, so I am pretty sure she was guided by your conception of the Axis Mundi once described in an interview. This morning I woke up finally grasping a new detail of the meaning of the four winds, subtle as a dandelion ‘parachute’ seed landing in my hair, taking me deeper into the understanding of what Patricia meant. Upon reading her parting words I had always wondered why she was not going North, the land of the ancestors. And then I “re-membered” the profound meaning of the four directions you had revealed in a conversation with two Davids, Johnson and Apodaca, in a conversation they called “Myth and the Writer”. I guess that’s what inspired me the ideal cover of that imaginary textbook I wanted to base on your archetypal characters to teach kids about New Mexican History in its complex totality, starting at the elementary school named after you… In that essay I rebelled against the infamous critique of Sonny’s adventures “too much history, not enough mystery” with a counter rhyme stating that “thinking about Life’s Mystery without digging into History is doomed to Misery”.
Back to the axes, if someone out there reads this open letter to you, I think they will like to savor your own directional words:
“ANAYA: We were talking about the axes, the North-South, East-West axis. (…) The East-West axis is a Western axis; that is, it starts on the East coast from a European source, and comes…
JOHNSON: The westward movement.
ANAYA: And the North-South is the other migration, the Asiatic migration through the Americas down south. But in terms of psychologies or world views again, can we attach a psychological frame of reference to the two axes? Is the East-West axis fundamentally a Freudian axis, and a way of explaining everything that we do as human beings through sexual impulses, as opposed to a North-South axis that always is looking for a reconciliation of what we talked about earlier, the eagle and the serpent? [The merging of the eagle and the serpent in the mythology of the Aztecs became Quetzalcóatl, the plumed serpent. It became the merging of polarities. It became the drawing down of the highest power that there is, that is closest to God, that aspires to the heaven, with that power that is closest to earth. You merge the two.] It sees a polarity but it also sees a unity which the East-West axis doesn’t provide us.
JOHNSON: I see the East-West axis –and this fits in with Freud- as being the problem of the individual.
ANAYA: And you also have individual-communal.
JOHNSON: Exactly. So you go to the East if you want to save yourself. In other words, having gone as far west now as we can, we now look back to the East, but it’s the East for the individuals, to save their own souls. You take up Zen, or whatever. And it’s the North-South axis that is beginning to talk about the sense of the community being healed.
ANAYA: Well, all of Chicano literature, or a great deal of it, is talking about the reconciliation of self within the community, with the communal self, which is exactly what Jung says. You rediscover who you are individually in your collective memory, not in your individual memory.
JOHNSON: You’re not whole until the community is whole.
ANAYA: And not only that but, take it further, diagram it; you have a graph, and you come up with…
JOHNSON: The cross.
ANAYA: Or the tree of life, and the question is, can these two meet, and you not only have what each presents as a world view, but you have again two polarities that can be reconciled and point to a new kind of way.
JOHNSON: And when you take that North-South axis seriously, then we are in Aztlán; we are the borderline between the two, the meeting place, the cusp. That is, this whole region.
APODACA: Where do you feel your roots are? Are they in the mythology you’re talking about, in Las Pasturas, in the mestizo, or are they just in the land?
ANAYA: Well, I think they’re primarily in the land, and in the collective memory; in the collective sense of who I am, with both of the axes. Because if I am mestizo, I share in the East-West axis. But I’m more aligned on the North-South axis; for the total sense of me as a communal person, I have to find the point where they meet. They almost become the eagle and the serpent again. East-West-North-South: how do we wed them together?”
Patricia was going back south to find the point of origin of “Isis and Osiris” of the Rio Grande (see below). She was about to reenter the womb of the Earth, to “become a little girl again” in the words of my favorite French moviemaker, Claude Lelouch, born exactly on the same day as you were born. Patricia, like Randy, would spend some time in the limbo of her childhood memories, then she would ride upriver again to settle in a heavenly home, back North, where she would wait for her beloved’s homecoming. Will the two of you choose to return down here one day, to “bet-him-Mike’s-horses”, proving the accuracy of the old man’s theory passed down to Randy (metempsychosis)? For now I wonder which horse Patricia rode on that journey, and if in June she sent you back that same horse, together with her dove self, to guide your steps down the hollyhocks, south of your garden.
I think she must have come through the portal of hollyhocks since, when you became that Old Man recalling his Love Story, you witnessed appearances of your departed beloved under the guise of a winged one landing by the hollyhocks. I remember the day, when we were in the sun room facing those hollyhocks, that I told you the spirit of Mimi had come to say hi to me too… That picture you sent me of the hollyhocks beside the horno was one of the first attentions you blessed me with when we started exchanging written thoughts.
Even though Patricia~Mimi called Randy a long-lost lover, I believe he was both your younger self and the future you, preparing your soul both for the physical separation from your lover and for your own journey into the realm of the dead when your time would come, ten years after hers. Like an Egyptian scribe of times bygone, you crafted, under Thoth’s guidance, your own Book of the Dead, your afterlife manual listing the guiding steps through a realm where Patricia, I’m sure, has become the long-sought after Sophia of the Lambs in Randy’s quest, the one waiting for her beloved to make a bridge to cross the river and be reunited with her… Sophia is considered one of the aspects of Goddess Isis, whom you chose as your wife’s alter ego in that beautiful poem Isis in the Heart, a Love Poem for Patricia, published in Poems from the Río Grande… In the third movement of that poem your Isis was also by the river, the big river where Osiris, godfather of Chicano Literature, and his long-time companion had made their home:
Isis and Osiris searched the world over, and
to make a long story short, they came North with
Oñate in 1598, crossed the Chihuahua desert
(where Rarámuri priests pointed them North),
and found themselves in the Jémez Mountains,
Sacred mountains of the West. (…)
The pregnant Isis gathers reed by the river.
She is the breath of the morning breeze
announcing the rising Ra, Grandfather Sun,
She is the breath of summer, corn goddess.
(RA -did you ever notice what your initials spell?-)
I believe that all true lovers will recognize themselves in the New Mexican divine couple… Once Mimi was gone and you were strong enough to be back on the writer’s saddle again, you humbly yet boldly unveiled your raw, wounded, mourning soul in The Old Man’s Love Story. I first read that lament wrapped in the clouds of its cover while in the clouds myself, during a flight back to Europe. With tears in my eyes, as your words invited me, the reader, to be part of the intimacy of your grief lived in that familiar house, I pictured every detail not only from your descriptions but thanks to my memories of your sacred space. In ‘El Inocente’ you say that “everywhere we go we leave part of our souls”. I believe one of my soul sherds impacted your beautiful tin frame mirror, leaving in there a chip in the shape of a tiny four-pointed star, a tiny axis mundi longing to be reunited with the morning and evening star etched on lava boulders, for my third eye to peek into your creative world.
With time and dedication, the star grew its branches, spreading them throughout the mirror, like water melting its way under the once frozen lake of my psyche, like the tree of life remembering that its shadow looks just like the afterbirth curanderas bury under junipers… I know you preferred your inner-net to the internet, and that you did not need satellites to see the world from above, but I bet you will be amazed to see that Google Maps shows such tree shadow in your patio… Your “afterwords” is peeking through a shadow afterbirth, to tell us that maybe the snake in the tree of knowledge was our umbilical cord in the heaven, the silver cord of our souls… At least that’s what I saw in some placentart, a piece of postpARTum magic.
Visions are letters from our souls, and I loved to see one of those popping up in your world. In two sections of The Old Man’s Love Story I read a description of a summer vision of mine from the cloud people, at the Taos Gorge, experienced the same year you published the book I was holding in my hands. Not too far from the gorgeous bridge, in the sea of sage, I had taken a picture of a cloud couple escaping a cloud alligator over the Rio Grande, and here they were reappearing in your written words…
“He gave it a home: the gloom. It came unexpectedly, the sadness. Sometimes after family or friends had been by to visit, maybe after a nice dinner, good conversations, a pleasant evening— then they left. “Bye.” “Take care.” “Call us if you need anything.” “See you later, gator.” A silence would settle throughout the house. The old man sat in his rocking chair, the dogs settled to sleep on the floor.” (RA)
I was so moved by this miraculous coincidence (really a Spirit Wink) that I gifted you the cloud picture. I know you loved it and you kept it for some time on Patricia’s altar. When I told you that Patricia had come to visit me through a psychic person, in Taos, the magic place where the two of you had beautiful memories, you never really reacted to what was a huge thing for me. You never really commented my ‘a-ha’ moments in the spiritual department (or Spirit’s apartment!), just acknowledging them and pondering the long journey that was still ahead of me, I guess… I also guess being or becoming a writer means being ready to keep an eye in the realm of the dead, because this is where Spirit is the most prone to talk.
Now that you walk in the parallel world paved by your writer’s soul in Randy’s novel, I do hear you, I sense your presence, like Sonny sensed Don Eliseo after the Winter Solstice battle in Raven’s Circle, which resulted in the demise of the wise old man. You left us before a lunar eclipse and a comet visit, and one week after the Summer Solstice, reenacting the sad solsticial death of Eliseo in Shaman Winter, choosing to reflect it by tiptoeing goodbye after the ‘opposite’ solstice in the mirror of time… Do you remember when, in our first face-to-face conversations, I asked you “if it was on purpose” that you had given Sonny’s mentor the name of the real-life young man who saved you from drowning in the acequia? You had remained silent for a while, looking into my eyes as if saying, “oh wow”… Now I know that we don’t totally realize the profound intricacy of many things we write when our words are dictated by Spirit. In Eliseo’s case, what an amazing mirror was erected between veils, in that simple appearance of a namesake! As the young Eliseo pulled you from the water and turned you over, bringing back to the world of the living both your breath and your soul for a new role in life, the fictitious Eliseo trained Sonny to tread the difficult path in between worlds, the stroll in the world of the spirits, there where Sky Rivers meet the Rivers of Earth, because of course, as above so below, and without darkness there would be no light. I believe that it’s the profound purpose of doing things “backwards”: to mirror the world, like all good books should. I don’t see you, like Sonny, in Jemez Spring, is blessed to see don Eliseo after his mentor’s passing, or like you were blessed to see Última, the first of a long list of characters’ appearances, but I do feel your thoughts from behind the veil. I am sure reading your novels over and over again did help.
I felt so privileged when you gave me Randy’s manuscript before the book was officially out. I was also grateful for a practical aspect that was made easier thanks to that particular format: it gave me more space for my not-so-marginal notes! Your wife and I shared that habit of writing in books, a blasphemous one as far as you were concerned, one that drove you nuts! As they say now, “sorry, not sorry,” heehee!
Here I must confess something hilarious. For the longest time, I was confused with the meaning of your handwritten dedication in the manuscript— it was January 13th, Saint Hilary’s day, a name that means happy, joyous or cheerful. In your beautiful dedicatoria, in which you had mixed up the location of the ‘H’ in the French spelling of my name, writing its lower case version as ‘Natahlie’, then correcting it with the upper case ‘NATHALIE’, you wrote:
“Estimada hijita de los ojos luminosos– HERE’S Randy, for your eyes only”
Since you had started in Spanish, mentioning my ‘luminous eyes’ (¡gracias!), my brain was still expecting Spanish after the dash. You had attached the ‘e’ and ‘s’ of “here’s”, so I thought it was your way to spell “eres” (“you are” in Spanish), adding an ‘h’ at the beginning of the word and a tilde (the apostrophe I mistook for an accent) on the second ‘e’. So in my mind, rather than just handing me (“here’s”) Randy’s manuscript, you were telling me “you are Randy… for your eyes only”. Spirit’s Wit at its best, the Magic of Words you so often praised and invoked…
Oftentimes I have noticed that when something is ‘off or odd’, there’s a Mystery Message waiting to be discovered, a “PS” from Heaven, where Gods and Goddesses do have a Pun Spirit! Since my ¿mis?understanding had to do with a mischievous letter ‘H’ you struggled with, and one I had disregarded in my unconscious will to be Randy, I decided to interrogate the origins of both the unique French spelling of my name and the letter ‘h’ per se.
They say that the French ‘h’ in the heart of ‘Nathalie’ was automatically added in the seventies (when I was born), just for the sake of “conforming to France’s anti-conformist trait”. Even though this is not mentioned in that “Wiki statement”, I think this is also a remnant of a tendency inherited from the French Revolution of 1789, when female names were manipulated to rid them of any religious connotation. A famous example is the fusion into “Marianne” of both “Marie” and “Anne” (names related to women in Jesus’s life–his mother and his maternal grandmother– very popular among French “lower” classes before the revolution). That Marianne woman became the archetype of France as motherland, symbol of the French Republic, a Freedom Goddess whose changing appearance under the Phrygian cap depended on the fashionable icon of the moment. From stamps to coins to statues, models were found, among others, in the features of Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve or Laetitia Casta, whose celebrity secured their status from mere fad to never-fading face.
The funny thing, though, is that the added ‘h’, if it indeed came from a very Frenchy knee-jerk reaction eager to ditch anything remotely spiritual, actually increased the divine power of a name whose etymology (Natalis) ties it to the birth of Christ. A fascinating website, aimed at resurrecting the power of the Goddess you see in Mimi, explains that majuscule letters represent the above, the divine, and minuscule letters represent the below, the human. The minuscule ‘h’ represents a casita, a human abode with a plume of smoke reminiscent of the speech scroll in Mesoamerican codices. The capital ‘H’ is seen as a representation of the canopy above Isis and Osiris in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, under which they receive the deceased for their judgment. Such canopy is supported by the four winds, the four ‘limbs’ of the capital ‘H’, and is covered with the eye of Horus (hawk is my ‘Native-American sign’) and the winged sun disk (I was born on the same day Tonatiuh, the Fifth Sun, was born). When I was still distracted by the mundane academic rat race, Spirit winks abounded in my surroundings, making sure I did not drift too far away from the divine…
Finally, the letter ‘H’ in both its forms symbolizes the breath of life, manifested in the sacred word Hu, the divine utterance, the power of the spoken word, present in some rituals of Isis. How’s that for a tribute to the Magic of Words?
“For My Eyes Only”, I would learn, is also the title of a James Bond movie, which plays with the different meanings of the expression through the polysemy of ‘for’. Here’s an example of it in the first verses of the movie theme song:
“For your eyes only can see me through the night, for your eyes only I never need to hide”…
I loved that song, but I never knew it came from the British secret service agent’s world. Although I definitely prefer your Chicano private I/eye’s world, the pre-title sequence of that James Bond episode caught my attention. The first scene shows the secret agent paying his respects to his deceased wife Teresa in a British cemetery, before being flown into a remote-controlled helicopter manipulated by the cat-loving, wheelchair-ridden archnemesis of Bond. In his remote control machine I saw the device of the Wizard of Oz…
Several elements in that section could evoke the Sonny/Raven pair! But the remotely controlled helicopter triggered a personal memory from a very important concept in Sonny’s adventures: the dream world. A few years ago, I would repeatedly dream that I sat in the back of a car driven by an invisible force. A powerful slumber was taking hold of me as I extended my legs, trying to reach the pedals and stay in control of the vehicle. I ended up losing consciousness, forced to surrender to what was greater than I… They say cars in dreams represent the dreamer. Now it seems obvious that my subconscious was telling me to stop trying to control it all, to surrender and trust the process of a new kind of “Dorothy’s journey home” with a long-coming stopover in Emerald City…
Incredible what a misplaced ‘h’ can bring to the surface, don’t you think? That’s what always happens when I dive into your world… Ever since I started dreaming those dreams and reading between the lines of daily spirit winks, I did leave an eye in the limbo… Maybe that’s the ‘price’ to pay when one is willing to honor Última’s Legacy, building the book with no page of a curandera of old…
On a trip to Santa Rosa, I brought that “book” with me. I had created it for my Halloween persona, una curandera muy parecida a la tuya… I like how Day of the Dead embraces All Hallows Eve, such an important date around your cumpleaños when the veil between worlds is thinner than ever. For the occasion I painted half of my face como la cara de un tecolote, one eye staring into the light, the other wide shut into the dark… Instead of pages, my DIY book holds make-believe remedios y una rosa negra de papel. I believe that the object’s magic is what took me to a place in Santa Rosa called (I kid you not) la Casa de Última… Before that trip around your 82nd birthday, your last race around the sun, you and I had been writing back and forth. You gave me travel recommendations: Take time, it’s a magical land, kind people, land of my Márez grandparents, those who thru my mother taught us Faith, Fe. Don’t rush, eat at Joseph’s…
Such good advice you gave me before closing with… the title of this letter to the Heavens for you, Rudy. Yes, here’s my third reason, because “there‘s no river, only the ripples” is your PS from that day. Viene de tu mail… Only now do I notice that “your email”, in Spanish ‘tu mail’, is the anagram of Última. But of course… Now it’s through her that we will go on ‘chatting’. Weirder things have I seen both in cyberspace and open space…
One day in Morocco I thought Última materialized for me. I had seen her captivating face in the painting of la curandera you kept in your living room, and all of a sudden there she was, in Estevanico’s country, in the old Jewish quarter of Fez el Bali. Out of nowhere she appeared, blessed me and disappeared. When I told you the story, attaching the Moroccan picture, you enthusiastically encouraged my vision. You too saw Última in her, and told me I was a curandera in training… Years later I started to think of Última as mi Bisabuela, a curandera herself, wise little woman clad in black who knew the herbs of her region, like the one who appeared as you wrote, asking you to be in the story, like the one who appeared to a lonely little boy who heard adobe whispers en su pueblo, showing him he had certain powers.
Shortly after your passing, Mr. Sprengelmeyer, the editor-publisher-reporter-photographer of the Guadalupe County Communicator for 8 years, told me that if Última was being “claimed” as theirs by several people, it was a testament to the universality of your imaginative spirit. He added that he would consider himself very lucky if one day the world thought that one of his characters was based on a relative. I partly agree, although I think there is something much more powerful to Última. Of course you were inspired by the people of your childhood, and you loved winking at your friends inserting them in your books, but memories and imagination are not the only ones at play here. Última IS REAL, only that a different kind of real, the kind that comes from a world not too many of us are still used to entering. Última roams the spirit world both in and out of your books… I think Mr. Sprengelmeyer intuited all this when he insisted I consider an advice from you to one of his colleagues:
“What do you think happened? What do you believe?” That’s how Rudy told Davy to write his news stories, his columns, his own books. On another occasion Davy said Rudy told him to write things “how you think they should have happened.” In other words, don’t be so literal. That didn’t work for the newspaper (drove his editor nuts), but it totally makes sense for other types of writing. I’m moved by Rudy’s passing, too. Maybe he wanted to bring everybody together.
You did and do want to bring us all together, and Última is the one who helped you in such endeavor, while teaching Antonio about life and death, by the river, because as you recalled in an interview, “a large part of the life of a writer and of the inocente is lived in memory and dreams. I remember the river of my childhood as if it were yesterday. There I heard voices, spirits moved at dusk”. But wait a minute. Didn’t you just say there’s no river, only the ripples? That semi-cryptic Post-Scriptum was so you! Although it could also have been “demi-you”, because I know sometimes you would channel words from some~one~thing~where else… like a shadow I know well, a fluttering sombra que yo me sé, que nunca aletea muy lejos de mí. For quite some time now I’ve learned to dive in the black hole of time, right in the heart of those ripples, sucked into the babbly bubbly wake of the stone thrown on the surface, to witness from below the waves caused by its first impact; then once I grasp the bottom end of the coil-spring-like spiral, I kick the sandy riverbed to rise up to the surface again, shaking algae and rust off the spiral of events before collapsing it all on Time’s riverbank for a true, final rest. Is my diving metaphor a correct understanding of what you meant in that mail when you said: “the ripples went out from First Consciousness”? God knows I spent nights and days asking Bisabuela to help me with that riddle…
Just as Sonny always felt a special kinship to his great-grandfather, El Bisabuelo, so I felt toward my Bisabuela. She was born in the same town, on the same day as I was, exactly one century before me… Despite a mile-long list of children and grandchildren, her wedding ring ended up circling –and perfectly fitting– my finger. Marie-Catherine’s wedding ring versus Elfego’s 45 colt… I won’t ask Sonny to trade our great-grandparents’ gifts! Maybe Bisabuela is my good witch Glinda, whispering about cyclical times through a ring that acts as a ‘ruby slipper’, or a velvet boot I wear to take a cosmic step in the middle field of in-betweenness, while the original pair keeps me grounded down below, even though those boots sport a so-called crazy queen, la pobre reina Juana que llamaron loca. I had always wondered why Última called Antonio “Juan” when she took him with her to help cure his uncle. Apart from probably being Antonio’s middle name, I think the name switch acted as another ruby slipper, a cosmic velvet boot whose effigy could be seen more clearly, not only for Última to cure Lucas, but for you to put your finger on a bygone name or face, from a ripple born way before your own birth, part of a common coil spring you and I had to retrieve from the bottom of the River of Time, once gone full circle down the time labyrinth you call the Ombligo/Navel/Sipapu of History, the all-knowing Arrow of Time…
Before ending the cryptic mail you said “When you understand [that the ripples went out from First Consciousness], you will be ready for Step 2”. “Step 1” has been a hell of a huge-spanning stride for me, but now I am feeling that, with you sadly gone from the physical realm, and back in the form of un Señor de la Luz who can fly, I will be granted even more help in the process of staying afloat while I paddle towards step 2’s wormhole by the river, as long as I hold on tight to my Dorothy slipper… HEY! That’s the anagram of ripples! A few years ago we would have clinked tequila glasses to celebrate such wonderful word wink… Muchos meses antes de irte pa’l otro barrio though, you were too tired and in pain to have friends over as you used to. As stated in The Old Man’s Love Story, the accidents of youth caught up with the old, sending you back to a wheelchair your Tortuga self had heroically left behind for almost seven decades. But still, you loved to know I was willing to travel for you to the place of your birth…
(TO BE CONTINUED)