I’ve invited Santa Fe writer Michaela Kahn to contribute to Miriam’s Well this and hopefully more Mondays. Please welcome her by reading and commenting! Here she responds to the theme of invisible borders.
In thinking on the question of “invisible borders” and where I poke and prod at them in my own writing, there were numerous borders that sprang to mind – time and its illusory past and present, that strange place where memory and story weave together, the borders between what is human and what is not human. But what struck me most, what kept coming back up, was an intersection of two borders. First, the border between what we see in nature and what is there, sort of vibrating right beyond that visual experience, and second, the border between the living and the dead.
One of my favorite lines of all time is James Joyce’s finale from his story, The Dead: “… he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
For me, “the dead” in Joyce’s line are not static. They are not merely bones in a cemetery beneath the snow. For me that line, as the culmination of the story, was about the dead as presences, as active in the lives of the living – influencing us and haunting us, catching at our thoughts in odd moments, changing even as we change.
For some reason for me, this idea of the dead as dynamic is connected to nature. In the way that we can’t necessarily see with our eyes the energy pathways that zig-zag back and forth between tree and sky, earth and sagebrush, water and Canyon Towhee – we can’t quite see that energy of the dead zig-zagging around and between all of us.
Sunday, November 29th was the 22nd anniversary of my father’s death, and thinking of invisible borders I remembered a short sketch I wrote two years ago which I think plays with these themes. I had just moved back to Santa Fe after an absence of about seven years and was getting to know the landscape again.
Taking a walk on the 20th anniversary of my father’s death
It feels as if the light has traveled ninety-three million miles to reach this valley. Only light so long-traveled would find a way to distinguish between each and every dry rabbitbrush flower, to get inside the seed-heads of the blue grama grass and hold each grain separate from the next.
The path runs along the railroad tracks, through waste-land filled with trees and abandoned boxcars tagged with phrases like “thizz or die” and “revolution in process”. It winds through hunched junipers, cholla cactus, sage, and yucca, past neighborhoods of squat adobe houses painted light brown, pale ochre.
Every night the sun goes down in an orange mass of flame behind the distant Chuska mountains and color fills the valley, hits the Sangre de Cristo range turning them pink and red.
He isn’t here. He’s four hundred and seventy-eight miles southwest. But not really. No bones. A box of ash buried in a desert cemetery dotted with red-flowered ocotillo and palo verde trees. A marker that says his name. But it feels close. He feels close. The same desert for hundreds of red-sand miles. He would have liked it here. Sharp shadows. Peregrine falcon in the cactus outside the window. The sound of a Raven’s wings beating the air above your head—so much louder than you expect.
Maybe that’s why I’ve come back. Not the sunsets or the sweet smell of pinyon fires in the air. Not the light. Not even the way the canopies of the winter-bare cottonwoods look like nets of smoke from a distance. Maybe it is because I can feel him here.
Dusk dulls the distinctions between things. Yucca blur into rabbitbrush. The junipers turn in on themselves and go to sleep. Somewhere in the distance northwest comes the crisp yip of a coyote looking for its pack.