I want to be like Mary Magdalene

I was coming twice daily as life slowly slipped away from her wracked and wasted body. Three weeks since she first said, “I’m ready to go” and now she’s whispering, “I want to die…” and “Why can’t I die?” Her suffering is infinitely sad and unnecessary. That’s the way suffering seems to go so often. I notice that despite the sadness I don’t seem to completely connect with it. I wonder if I’ve lost so much I don’t have that much connection left.
I remember in Vietnam when I became impervious to the horror, I thought…
It was dark by the time I got into the perimeter of a Marine battalion on an operation at the DMZ. I reported to the commanding officer, who told me to stay with the command group. Some of them were asleep by then, so I lay down beside them and slept the night through.
In the morning I discovered that I was sleeping next to some dead men wrapped in ponchos and laid out next to the command group. Their gear was lying piled nearby and I found a C-ration can of cinnamon roll (my favorite) in one man’s pack. I had started to eat it when some Marines asked for help lifting bodies onto the back of a quad 20 tracked/armored vehicle. There were two men on top of the vehicle and two of us below and I was holding the cinnamon roll in my teeth as we lifted the first man up. His body was tilted up and I was below and a dark liquid ran out of the poncho and down my upraised arm and I couldn’t let go or the body would have gone to the ground and the liquid slid down my arm, down my side.

It was the heart of darkness. The horror. So much for impervious.

Photo of photos of condemned children
S21/Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh


Later it got worse, when the bodies and ponchos started to cook on top of the engine vents as we fought through the morning.

When I first started seeing my friend after she had become so sick, she would ask me to stay and I would. When she went home from the hospital I committed to coming twice daily to her apartment and I did. At first it was a lot of time and a lot to do. Later, there was less to do, but I’m still coming because I said I would. Now I’m only a witness to her suffering.

I thought about Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane right before he was murdered. “Remain here… watch with me,” he said to his disciples. They didn’t do it. I deeply don’t want to let my friend down like the disciples let Jesus down. I want to be like Mary Magdalene, the one who didn’t give up, the one who watched with Jesus through the awful suffering and through the end, who was witness to the suffering, the one who stayed. (And I get it that three weeks isn’t very long.)

Saigon, a little Hanoi, some Sapa


Saigon: We’re staying at the Kim Hotel in a backpacker alley off Bui Vien Street in the Pham Ngu Lao area. $18/night with aircon, fan, hot water, etc. It’s hot in Saigon. Haha, of course it’s hot; it’s the tropics. 
Alley where our hotel is (Kim Hotel) 

We’re mostly just repeating ourselves now – pork chop and egg on rice with tomato and cucumber and café sua da every day for breakfast; walk to Ben Thanh Market across intersections of no mercy, through the park where someone has set up a bizarre Holland exhibit of street, store, café, and garden facades so people can take photos of one another as if in Holland and of course they do take the photos. Across another stressful street, cut up a side street toward the market to discover that this is a largely Muslim street now so when it’s as hot as hell their women can be covered and “protected” while the men are comfortable in short sleeve shirts. Right.
Another alley, where we eat breakfast every day. Leslie on the left.

The market is as before – hot, crowded, some stuff for tourists, some for locals, and one of the world’s great food courts. For me, bun thit nuong with a very generous amount of pork right off the grill and for Leslie a return to the banh cuon stall where about two years ago the woman came out from the stall to hug Leslie and this time the woman (Hue) sees us across the way and breaks into a smile of recognition. Incredible. Good banh cuon for lunch with a fried shrimp pastry. I got Hue’s email address and sent her a photo I’d taken the time before. Here is her email to us:

Dear A Good Couple,
Thank you for your kindness and thanks for coming.
Breakfast of Champions!!!

What can I say? Vietnam has been full of these graceful moments. I’m grateful.

Two nights in a row we’ve eaten at JJ’s Fish and Chips, a small street cart with two tables and four chairs run by a British guy and his boyfriend. Basically, they make the best French fries ever and the fish is outstanding as well. Sitting on the sidewalk next to some open-fronted bars with bar girls sitting outside to entice men and we’re drinking Saigon green label beer over ice (hell yes, just like in the old days) and eating fish and chips.  
Family moto

I made this forum post on the Lonely Planet site: Vietnam scams: We’ve been in VN about 10 days now, mostly Hanoi and Sapa, and now in Saigon. As on previous trips to Vietnam, we are unaware of being cheated – except for today. I was making a small purchase on Bui Vien in the heart of Pham Ngu Lao (the main backpacker area) and handed the woman a 500,000 dong bill instead of 50,000 dong. She said, “OO! No!” and gave it back. So, so far, the only cheating has been totally my own doing. What a numbnuts!

I think the main protective factor is paying careful attention all the time and clarifying everything, which I usually do. But there are those moments of inattention and zoning out. Thanks lady! Vieeeetnaaaam!
Dong Xuan Market – the porter’s area

Hanoi: Taking it easy in Hanoi, leisurely breakfasts, coffee and more coffee, into the flow now. Reading Shogun, a perfect travel book. This copy is an old one, brittle yellowed pages, front and back covers off. I have to keep it in a plastic bag.

Dong Xuan Market, mostly a wholesale market now, narrow aisles, insanely crowded and fast, where a few years ago I felt Leslie patting my bottom and looked around and realized it was an old woman wanting to get past me, where today, someone patted Leslie on her bottom, also wanting by. These weren’t customers but women porters who carry small to huge loads from place to place. I love it; it’s a little like a rave with all these people all together (not loving, but massively getting along – LOL).  
The Queen of Bun Cha

Bun cha for lunch with Leslie somehow knowing what street is what, guiding us through what some people call the “medieval streets” of the Old Quarter – streets that change names every 1-2 blocks and direction whenever, walking along the edge of the streets/in the gutters because the sidewalks are blocked with vendors and their goods, bales of this and that, stuff kind of spilling out of stores, parked motorbikes, and so on – and here in the streets we’re sharing space with countless motorbikes passing by literally inches away (with one person riding, two, three, four, carrying everything from huge loads of rice to a refrigerator, yep, a refrigerator), a few cars, xyclos, women carrying bamboo poles with baskets on each end (baskets of produce, baskets of tiny portable cafes – really, baskets of portable butcher shop, flowers, clothing, I mean everything), other pedestrians, stacks and bales of whatever – WOW!
This whole cafe fits in 2 baskets, each one carried at ends of bamboo pole 

She says, “If we go straight here and turn left, we’ll be at whatever becomes something.”Hahaha, that’s my wife talking as she takes us through these “medieval streets.”

Bun cha and crab nem for lunch and garlic and more garlic, garlic as a flavoring, garlic as a spice – you know you’re getting a lot of garlic when it’s hot like Tabasco. Acha!

She says, “Here comes a dead chicken” and sure enough, here comes one carried by its feet by a woman.
Why me? Taken in bun thang cafe in Hanoi

Leslie’s email to David: We’re back in Hanoi after a nice visit to SaPa, a beautiful town with an abundance of even more beautiful Hmong people. The whole scene seemed more Nepalese than Vietnamese; surely all mountain people originated in the same place as they all really look alike. Two 12 hour train rides with only a night to recover was a bit much, but the train was better than I expected.

We leave here tomorrow for Saigon and are staying at Mrs. Kim’s as usual. This time, we booked an airport taxi with her to skip the hype, cheating, and angst of doing it ourselves upon arrival.
Leslie throwing elbows in a plane scrum

CK at the fish and chips place in Saigon
All is well here. The two young women at the desk have been wonderful to us. We really got passed hand-to-hand from here to the train (someone from the hotel followed the taxi to redeem our receipt for actual tickets at the station) and then had a van driver waiting for us in Lao Cai for transport to SaPa. The return trip was even more interesting. The Paradise View Hotel booked a van to Lao Cai which deposited us at a Cafe near the train station; the proprietress obtained our train ticket and then sent a young man to escort us to the station and position us in the right line at EXACTLY the right time. Finally, when we got off the train in Hanoi, a young woman who was also a passenger on the train called the Camillia for me, and Huyen from the front desk brought a taxi to take us to the hotel. We just accepted everything on blind faith, not understanding anything until each step was completed. I can’t think of any place in the world except Vietnam where all of this could actually work out successfully. Amazing, really!

Hope all of you are doing well. It must be nearly Thanksgiving; we miss being there with you. Give our best to Charles and a big “woof” to Jake.

Motos in the night. Photo taken from the fish and chips place.

Hahaha, there are little bitty ants crawling along on my computer screen.

Poems, a magician, holding the door, the beautiful Wind Rivers, Between Two Fires, dreams and dedications

These are all the poems I could find that I’ve written.

2011 – For about 6 months Leslie and some friends did an epic job of caring for a Sudanese woman who was dying from breast cancer – a refugee, a woman’s rights activist from bleeding Sudan. I helped some also. Maryam wasn’t really her name. I wish I could put her photo in – you’d see what I mean. The whole story is here.
To Maryam

Lying in the bed,
A little smaller each day
Slender once, thinner now
Mocha framing numinous eyes
Quick mind, quick speech
Clear thin voice
Following each thought
Through this strange land
Where everyone everywhere every time
Has gone each time like the first time
Smiling in the face of fear
We’ll not speak of this now
Now that we’re here
Here like all before
Here like never before
Last week seeing your sister
With drawn face
Open to her sadness and pain
When I came unexpected
Around the corner
Before she could cover her soul
We are flesh, blood, bone, skin
The carriages of our souls
Rolling through
These streets this life
This pain, this joy
This longing
You know and I know
What’s real (and what’s not)
But we can wait for awhile
No need to rush to where we are going
From Hue 2011/2012 (not a poem, but it’s important to me): After a banana pancake breakfast (with honey and yogurt) and not forgetting a glass of very strong cafe sua and a few minutes later splitting an omelet/baguette sandwich, we took a riverboat cruise for 100,000VND (Leslie’s bargaining acumen) to

These mist-covered mountains, from the Song Huong (Perfume River)

Thien Mu Pagoda, 45 minutes up the perfume river. This where the monk Thich Quang Duc lived before he went to Saigon in 1966 to immolate himself in protest against the VN government and the war. The pagoda and grounds were quietly beautiful –understated and mossy with just a few people around and a view from the grounds across the wide river, past the plains, to these mist-covered mountains where we fought and bled, where so many from every side fought and bled and died, aching for life – me for a beautiful dark-haired girl whose photo was so washed out from the water that only the shadow of her left eye was left and now, 45 years later, looking across the room from where I write she’s sitting on the bed, the love of my life, beautiful, her hair white now and here we are in Hue and I look out through the glass-paned doors toward palm trees and mossy buildings – it’s misting in Hue.

Written at the last camp site after 2 weeks on the trail in the southern Wind Rivers

In the early morning sun,
Wishing you were here with me
Knowing we’re together soon
Knowing that’s forever more

I’ve loved you for these many years
I’ll love you many more
We’ll be together now
And forever more

Sun coming up (now) over foothills
Like it’s come up these past days
Over mountains stark and grey
How can I be here
In this place so high and wild

Campsite near where I wrote the poem at left 

All these years passing by
Not like a dream, not like a mist
Like treasures one by one
Passing through my life enriched

Working hard to make it so
Lucky that it’s turned out like this.


and what lies ahead like a sparkling lake in the high snowy mountains, into lakes, lakes into streams, into lakes, into sparkling rivers and
These are the days
All the days we’re given
All that we have
Holding together


No Mas

Mexican girls
Dark-eyes, sad-eyes, sloe-eyes, slow-eyes
Fiesta Mart perfume on
Skin so beautiful it takes my breath away.
Mexican girls
Walking arm in arm in lives
Arcing, peaking in the 10th grade
In love affairs bringing baby girls and boys
Sweet brown babies
Jessica, Junior, Araceley, Raymond
Riding in strollers with young mothers
Heads high in tattered pride
Knowing in this life there are no second chances and that
The 10th grade peak was it.
2007 – I found these lines among some papers. I have no idea who wrote them. Maybe me, maybe Robert Hunter. All I know is that I wrote them down on a scrap of paper.
Roses Round the Virgin

Joyfully she sings
I’ll be remembered
A 1000 years and over again.
And I saw
her tear.
Red roses, pink, white
In fragrant garland
On her breast.
No thorn, but
soft petals on
The Virgin’s breast.      
The red dirt cemetery is dry under the Texas sun
Monuments stand straight, tilt in red dirt
In the center, Confederate battle flags still fly
Honoring the men who fought for their country
My Grandmother is buried next to those flags
My Grandfather, uncles, aunts, others
Are next to those flags
A little concrete border runs around the plot
Someday we’ll put my mother’s ashes there
But for now, they’re in our dining room
In a box, with an old-fashioned knitted cover draped
18 years there, waiting for me to be ready
That’s pretty much my whole poetry output.

A magician

I was at 4211 San Jacinto and an older Vietnamese woman invited me into her apartment. I walked in and What! The apartment was literally filled with

I took this photo of a village meeting near Danang in 1967.
The women in the left and right rear are VN peasant
women archetypes. Not to be trifled with.

Buddhist statuary, incense burners, wall hangings, and the like. Her story was that all her life she’d been angry and subject to verbally and sometimes physically attacking other people. One night she had a dream and in the dream saw her apartment full of Buddhist icons and related. She started recreating the dream in real life and as she did, she lost the anger and people began asking her for advice. By the time I met her, she was counseling and doing ceremonies for many people and very effectively from what people told me.

I liked to visit her, sitting at the little kitchen table, drinking the café sua or tea she’d fix; she’d be smoking cigarettes.

Holding the door

I was holding the door for my wife as we were going into a market today. A couple was behind her so I held the door for them too. The man said thanks and something about me being “old school” and I said something like, “Right.” He says something about me being a Republican and I laughed and said no. Then he launched into a vignette about how he had told a woman he was Republican as he was holding the door for her and she wouldn’t go through. I said, “Right on!” And he muttered something about how he told the woman if she needed help she’d be happy to see him. I just smiled and moved on. It was getting kind of weird.
What I feel for the Wind Rivers

This is a good description of what I feel every time I go into the Wind River Mountains. It’s not that the Winds is the only place that would evoke these feelings – I imagine other mountains and deserts inspire similar feelings in other people. There’s a basin somewhere along the Maroon Bells 4 Pass Loop that also affected me in this way. 
The Winds. Twin Glacier.

“… I had already dreamt my way into their (the Brooks Range in Alaska) fabled midst many times over. And I can say, without reservation, that the age-old dreamer within me was vindicated by what he beheld – a landscape for which I felt an instant nostalgia, a landscape that inspired deep within me a terrible longing never to die, never to go blind to the world…” Dennis Schmitt

Between Two Fires

On a day when something nice would have been especially nice, something

Teaching at psytrance gathering

really nice happened.

About a month ago, in the context of writing about my spiritual development, I wrote about Between Two Fires, an extraordinary book by Christopher Buehlman. Today, the mailman handed me a surprise package with a book inside – Between Two Fires. The author had seen my blog and taken it upon himself to send the book and a kind and affirming note.  

Dreams and dedications

Leslie and I have always talked about our dreams – basically every morning. Now, we sometimes remember that one of us has had a dream, but seldom do either of us remember much content any more. Two important dreams: 

I lay dreaming that I was near an outdoor marketplace, watching a group of musicians set up to play. One by one, they began to tune, softly. Then in a soft clear voice, a woman sang the words, “Who knows … where the time goes … ” and at that moment I awoke and said, “To Leslie.” A true vision. Dedicated to my wife, Leslie.
Leslie and David in the rain in Hue

When my son, David, was about five years old, I dreamed one night that the end of the world had come. Everything was just slowing, slowing, slowing and I was drifting in space. I knew when it all stopped, that would be the end. David drifted into my arms as a voice said, “Into the arms of his father.” It was a calm encompassing peace. Dedicated to my son, David.

(On a three day combat patrol 1966 or 67)

Waking one morning to sit smoking
Watching the day begin through misty green
Slow, soft, green and mist
I could sit here for a thousand years.