My Voice in the Desert
text and images by
Sometime in April, about four months after two planes flew one after the other into the twin towers of lower Manhattan, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. I had seen it coming. Her ability to communicate with language had already shown signs of decline. Her care then fell to me and I relocated.
I left New York City and moved to the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. Of course I'd lived in places other than New York City, which is my home. Even for extended periods of time, had I lived in radically diverse surroundings; a tropical island, a woodland shack. This new place however, seemed rather a vast and empty space. Not that there's anything unpleasant about emptiness. The void... the void... the void... is really so instructive, so very unoccupied. But this was an emptiness of self, the emptying out of a self, of a closely packed life - like the emptying out of my mother's mind. I looked out into an expanse of desert terrain, exhaled a dense, hyper-urban construction of a self, and inhaled the arid evanescence of my own mortality.
2. Bikers and Soldiers
My exile as it turned out, was less about place and more a reflection of a particular kind of infantile longing. Not like the sense of abandonment generated by the absence of one's guardians. More like the desolation of finding no comfort in those who remain. This remote sensibility tends to inspire creative and erratic choices.
There appeared then a man on a motorcycle. A man on a motorcycle. How unsuitable he was, how absurdly perilous: a spectacular antidote for boredom and dismay, for taking one's self too seriously. I laughed when he asked, Do you ride? I told him I was bookish.
Nevertheless, as incident and inclination collide, the absence of judgment overshadows fear, giving way to alliances such as this, between the pensive and the insurgent. And this was a man accustomed to the smell of fear. Had I mentioned he was retired military?
But can a person actually retreat from such a life? Sequestered like members of a secret sect, funded by we the jellyfish citizens, soldiers are trained to kill so that we may maintain an illusion of safety.
If and when the battle is over they return. They receive little supplemental instruction in living to counter what they have learned about dying. Alienated and vulnerable, they, like my renegade transient and his scary companions, gather. Still hunted, they continue the hunt. Their austerities place them at odds with civilians they call us, implying I presume that we are interested in civility. Under these conditions, the lines between war and the end of war tend to blur.
3. Between Worlds
The sounds of the desert are ethereal, barely audible. The smell of the desert is more potent than its audio track. But this is not to suggest that it is quiet. Squeaks and squeals and momentous squawks abound. And peeps and inconspicuous clicking sounds. But it does not overwhelm. One must oneself remain very still and silent in order to hear the rhapsody of small beings. Even a lizard utters a perceptible syllable, however obscured against the cry of coyote.
4. Forsaken Redux
My brief encounter with the aforementioned solipsist was a lot like Jesus' desert wrestle with the archfiend himself. Demons, so clever as they are, take full advantage of us when we are at our lowest. We forget the care of the self, flossing and so on. We numb with substances. Sex then, is sedative, not at all expressive of any interconnective type of experience. Sex and Death: the second oldest coalition in the world. (That is, if sex and life are first?)
But like Jesus, I was not meant to loose that contest. I mean, I still had my mother to worry about didn't I?. And obviously, I must have been pretty depressed about all that. But still, I was not going to loose that contest. Like one more tiny pulse in the wilderness, I too would make my declaration.
5. My Voice in the Desert
My voice: my transient voice, my resonant voice, my somber voice, my emphatic voice, my playful, ironic voice, my crying voice, my hidden voice. If not melodic or harmonious, my voice in the desert may at least be unobtrusive or abstract.
God exhaled an oxygen-rich gust, endowing all earthbound souls with the capacity to sing at the top of puffed-up lungs. And then she withdrew, leaving us with something to sing about.
The price of freedom is not sacrifice, as present day sovereigns would have us believe. It is marginalization. My song is like the clicking hind legs of a cricket. As living things will, he protests, again and again, Where have you gone? Are you coming back?
No tough guys, no uniformed sentries, no wmd's or steel girded edifices, no Byronic vows, or vested interests, will maintain our desired state of security. A marketable commodity in these times of hyper-alert, there remains no patented cure for the indeterminacy of being.
My trade-off, that is, of selfness for solitude, is not without its moments. My inhalations are resolute yet. The air held in the hollow of my chest unites with anatomical mechanisms. My mouth opens, pushing out audible tones. And lately, I find myself walking liminal terrain, lending a spirited howl to the undiminished lament- in-progress.
My Voice in the desert
text, video stills
©2005 Valerie Constantino