For the Memory Palace

To keep myself honest I did a fact check and reviewed all the folk who responded to my post on the completion of the Vault to see if, in fact, you were all contained therein.  

And yes, you all are.  But then for good measure, I thought for this morning’s practice I would ensure that each of you had your own written entry in the Memory Palace.

It turned out to be a strangely intimate  exercise. What could be more intimate the impressions that you might leave upon the mind or the person of another?  And to reveal that impression, lipstick on a cheek, or perhaps a scar, leaves one feeling strangely vulnerable.

For the record.

Your tight energetic bustling walk on the streets of Riga.  Even at an advanced age, the energy with which you seize life seemed to part the crowd before you.

You were five or six, young enough that you had nothing to gain and nothing to lose, and so though you were a lifetime younger than us, we were in a strange home in a strange land and you became a friend and a bridge, and one that has endured.

Sitting at our long table at Hopi in the late afternoon.  Oblique honey light. And you deliberating quietly and thoughtfully on the connections between Pitt River and native Hawaiians and Puebloan people  and without even knowing, parsing an evolving philosophy of life.

Was it Thai food or something else?  In the Tenderloin.  I was entering my radiation treatment and I was staying at the once Monaco, I think, and you were in San Francisco for work and it was the first time that we connected as adults, and your steadiness was so party to who you are, that to you it may feel invisible.

The blush tint on your alabaster cheek, the very last time I saw you in New Haven.

Our sophomore year you stumbled into our suite at one or two in the morning, and as was still my habit I was dozing on the couch in the living room and you were sleep walking and kept repeating that you wanted to go to bed and so I walked you back upstairs to your room and there I left you.

You walked up the steep flight of stairs to A street, fresh off a plane from Cleveland and you entered our living room carrying with you my mother’s tautsterp and you had with you the complete set of the Latvian Dainas and you had recovered these things for my mother just days before we took her back to Latvia.

You outside your unit at Walpi Housing praying at dawn and in the gray light, sprinkling your homa on that dry clay ground.

We have spent no more than 5 minutes together in person, in the same room, a conference room in a hotel, perhaps it was in Seattle.  You were so so young.  But in that moment, I was so struck by the strength of both your vulnerability and your courage, that since that moment, even now, I carry that feeling within me.  

I came to your office to use your copy machine.  I was worried. And I was in need.  And you said, you are always welcome here.  You can use our space and our copier any time. Others say they will do things, you said, and then they go away.  But you are not that way. You are still here.  

You tested all the toasters you repaired in the toaster repair shop.  You burned the toast.  And then you scraped a single letter into each blackened slice of bread.  And you hung them on a string and the burnt toast spelled the word, “FIRE”.

So many years of convenings in Aspen and Philly and New Orleans and Seattle.  We were supposed to be fixing systems.  What was gained? What was changed?  What was lost?  Instead we gathered in groups at night and played Cohado.  You said you were in an abusive relationship. You were too good for that.  You needed to get out.  

The preternatural blue of your eyes even in first grade.

When pressed, I say that you once lived in a cabin on the shores of Lake Baikal in Siberia. And to get there you would take a bus for a long time and then walk for an hour or two into the wilderness. I could just as well say that you befriended a fellow American who wished to fly an American flag in Irkutsk, or that you got drunk on spirits somewhere in Soviet Georgia and were ferried down a hill in the back of a truck.

Most recently?  And too long ago, Indian food in DC and listening to you inhabit your voice while playing the ukelele at a barbecue somewhere outside the Beltway.

The memories many, but now episodic.  Late caffeinated nights studying political science at your condo.  While in Berkeley, borrowing your yellow VW Rabbit until the clutch went out.  Letters from you while you lived in the jungle in Brazil and learned Portuguese and drank hallucinogenic tea.  Your mom was the one to rescue me from the entrance to the I-8 freeway at 6 in the morning.  I had called from a payphone to tell her I was not going to get on the plane to go to college and she said, “you are getting on that plane.”  And she picked me up on the side of the road and took me home and helped me throw things in a bag and she took me to the airport and I got on the plane and that was how I went.  

For a long long time we had sat rolling on the swells in the blackness off Imperial Beach, listening to the roar of the crashing breakers ahead of us, and you surveying the lines of froth on the nape of their curved backs, you looking for a opening.   We had been paddling for 21 hours, and then your voice behind me.  “We’re going to get wet.” And we sunk our paddles in furiously until we were rolled by the thundering surf.

Telling us how as a little girl your mother would not come home or she would be drunk and how in the darkness you would d climb down the trail from the mesa with your little sister and you would guide her gently with your hand. 

Running on the trails behind the Veterans Memorial at dawn, ahead of me many times the steady movement of your back.

Sitting in darkened auditoriums together, just talking quietly, watching our daughter’s play violin.  Such a glancing encounter.

In actual?  Your smile and your intense personal engagement with friends at Hopi.  In virtual?  Imagining that same energy being brought to bear on your run for state senate.

We arrived in California with an injured raven. We did not know each other and you said, bring him to our place, we have an enclosure.  He can stay with us.  

We spent a childhood weaving in and out of each other’s classes.  And then in high school, did we car pool together?  You were the kind one. And outwardly, the one who was steady.  

In high school, you traveled in circles, I thought, of which I could never be a part.  But we were there together, and so perhaps we were not so far apart. 

Happy hour at Sara Jane’s in the Huntington valley.  I know, but at this moment, can’t put words around the notes of your laughter and the lilt of your voice.  Wry. And irreverent.  And funny. Yes. Funny.

The door bell rang at our unit, #4 at Walpi Housing.  I opened the door.  You stood there with another woman. Hello, you said.  We are with the USDA.

Your voice coming over the phone.  If you do it right, you said, the data that you gather will be the gravy.  The true yield will be the community connections that you build along the way.  You were living in Colorado. We met only a few times – perhaps at a meeting in Winslow or in Albuquerque. Or at a Kellogg convening that could have been anywhere.  It could have been anywhere.  I lived out of your playbook for years.

Two memories.  So super specific. And so consonant with who you are.  Christmas. It must have been senior year in high school.  And you invited me to Christmas dinner at your house.  And it was so nice, so tender, because I had nowhere else to go.  And I felt for, and was terrified by, the formality of your family and your home.  And then late at night, almost all night, you coaching me on physics and helping me write dozens and dozens of formulas on the cheat card that we were allowed, patiently explaining to me concepts that my brain was unable to receive because it had become so shut down.  

In the back of the Rusks big blue suburban.  And you were in Independent study.  And even to this day I have no idea from where or from what you come but even then you were your own drummer, and it was as exhilarating and inspiring as it was terrifying.

Only once.  At Johnny’s memorial.  And my memory is not so much of you, but of something that is of you – the depth of your connection to another human being.

Oh my gosh.  Anna and I so young, sitting in the dining room of the Fielder Farm and we were waiting to meet the Texans who were going to evict us from our house.  You had come to walk the land, but you came first to the house and you were the first to walk in the room, you were bundled against the autumn cold and you came straight to Anna and you hugged her and you said that there were things that you had learned only in the last few minutes and that under no circumstances would you ever kick us out.  You weren’t that kind of people, you said.  And you weren’t.    

Red hair, yes.  Your fearlessness, or perhaps recklessness.  But at the top of the stack is the memory of me as a young boy, a pit in my stomach, trying to imagine your hands on the power lines and the voltage coursing through your body.

Too many.  But to focus on just one.  Your carriage, the way you would carry yourself, poised, restrained, and perhaps a bit tentative.  When we first met, your movement reminded me of that of a swan.

On a stage.  At a concert, something, a festival at Jubilee Farm.  You’re playing Orphan Girl.

I won’t get all the facts right here.  The night that they burned down the school kiosk and vandalized the school mural, we had both been there.  I had only seen the flames and people running away in the shadows.  But you had seen the people. You knew who they were. We were both being called before a grand jury.  I had gone up to say something to you in solidarity.  You may have told me to fuck off.  Which more than anything may have revealed your compromised position and all the conflicting loyalties that you held.  

On the evening before we left the Huntington River Valley, I came to your house, and we talked and you said that you wished we had spent more time together, and it was mutual. Just your overflowing laughter and energy. 

Barely a memory.  Barely a shadow.  Trinidad?  A bus.  Florida.  No parents.  No money.  No change in your pocket.  This is barely a flake of dead skin. And I don’t even know from what.  Sloughed off from a vast and intricate and complicated body.  But even this dust deserves to be kept.

We’ve never met, of course.  The feeling I have is of a curling smile, a willingness to feel giddy.  But to see your photo.  And to see in in your features the features of a family that I know all too well.  The memory of you is a memory of a body of people that extend far beyond the boundaries of your own skin.

In college, your youthfulness and earnestness – not earnest in the sense of naïveté, but earnest in the sense that you believed that good was possible and it was something to be strived for. And a distrust of less earnest institutions. And this feeling we shared.

You in your cycling clothes. Just radiant.  You had ridden across the country.  I looked down at your legs. My god, I said.  They look like Eric Heiden’s, I said.  Is that a good thing? you asked.

Inside, a roiling fire, reminding me what it must have been like for some to be in the presence of my mother.  But when younger?  You wore wrist sweatbands and in manner, more uncertain.  Within a year you would get rid of your Sean Cassidy posters.

The fife and drum trio to celebrate the bicentennial. You, I believe, played the fife.  Raised to be decent. One can say that of very few people.

Like a gemstone found unexpectedly in the deep. The only person I know to share my true family name.  Listening to your rich Philly inflections on the phone and realizing that you were the vital link to an ancestral past.

Of you?  In the Vault?  Mementos of your loss.  I think of your smile and your competences that cross cultures, both Hopi and non-native, of you behind your desk, a bright light, so quick to tears and and words in your soft way.

We passed through Scarsdale and in the morning you greeted us at your door, unshaven, sweat beading on your forehead, your hand pressed to your belly. You were not well, you said.  but it was fine to sit perhaps for a bit and talk for a while.  It was hard even for you to get your words out. We stayed for just a little bit. You would later learn that your appendix had burst and even as we spoke was leaking bile into your chest.

I’ve told it often, and always the same. That we were about to leave Sonoma the following day. You called. You said you had just been to a broker’s open.  You had found our house, you said,  and you told me that I was going to buy it.  I would see it the following day and I would put in an offer that afternoon. And that would be that.  

Your hair reminded me of the curls of the wool of a sheep.  Your smile both proximate and distant.  Your style impeccable.  I had a button collection that I had hauled around since high school. Get rid of them, you said.  They’re pretty oppressive. 

Your laughter, I would say, was like water, just cascading and flowing.  The quintessential rez doc for whom the straight path would never be a fit.  And as you walk your own, you spill life all around you.

The ability to move forward, always move forward, seeking coverage and protection from what life throws at you.  .  

You’re on air in the KUYI studio, juggling  CDs piled up on the table in front of you.  You queue up the songs and I explain to you what I want to do and you say, that’s so cool, in your voice a note of receptivity and curiosity and wonder.  You said you would talk to the Hopi Foundation. But, of course, at that time you were one half of the Hopi Foundation. 

Bryn Mawr.  You went with Anna to a pizza joint somewhere perhaps in Jersey.  And perhaps to a group of people to a family home in Vermont.  In person, you seemed to hover just beyond and above the periphery of the world. You ditched medicine and decided instead to make pictures.   

Your head tilts sideway as if on a lateral axis.  Sure, you say, we could do that, as we ponder putting bead board up in the bathroom.  An attention that ranges across everything like a foraging animal. 

I’m still twelve. Two feet of snow fell in that storm, the drifts above my head, the temperature dropped below zero. You drove me along my paper route, the papers in the bag seat, me shot gun. We would cruise slowly cruising through the white out and I would grab armfuls of papers and run them up the dank interior stairwells to the wet and cold landings.  

An Octopus birthday cake, a “worst wrapping award”, Chinese dumplings, a chicken airpod case, a video of your roadtrip to Tillamook County.  Your contagious laughter and exuberant seizure of life.  Your fingerprints are all over the place.

I would like to stay at your house. And I would like to cook with you. You said were staging at the French Laundry and I said why, of course, yes.  The morning after your first night I looked out the window and saw you ranging across the property, taking pictures, picking, tasting, swinging on the tire swing like a kid on the first day of summer.  You opened up the door to China.

A non-native married into Soongopovi.  That perhaps is the definition of singular.  

Your brother, now dead for more years than he had the chance to live, once showed me pictures of the two of you, both renegades, and I fell in love with the both of you and your allure long before we ever met.