Jonah’s Blog, February
So much is a matter of persona. Mr. Pendell has been taken ill. Mr. Pendell has been taken by devils. Mr. Pendell has been taken by boredom. He is in a state of acedia, a state of spiritual torpor. He is addicted to solitary pleasures. I venture to say that we will not hear from him again for a while. In this event, that of his self-hypnosis, I will be filling in for him. Not that he ever did much on his own.
My name is Jonah. I have escaped from one of Mr. Pendell’s books. I was given work release. Daytimes only. At night it’s back to the clinker.
Mr. Pendell is off writing poetry, trying to put the very best words in the very best order. We wish him luck. Meanwhile, out here in the trenches, where words once spoken are said, where there is no rewriting, where all one’s mistakes and stupidities are posted on the wall, I, Jonah, your most unwilling servant, have heard the news that iniquity and false consciousness fill the land.
Greed seems to be the sin of choice. I don’t think it was so for the Romans, who we more associate with lechery—though, I think, falsely. Their sin was pride and callousness. Are we less callous than the Romans? Well, which Romans: the masters or the slaves? There you have it.
He’s trying to put me back into the bottle, “where I belong.” Some “literary” thing. It won’t work. Time to raise the stakes.
It was already afternoon when we left Mantis Hill, but we needed a road trip, so we left. Cabin fever. We bypassed the Central California Women’s Facility and the Valley State Prison for Women at Chowchilla—drove along the sloughs instead to look for birds. A northern harrier was gliding over some pasture. It was well after dark when we pulled into Tulare, and we had to look around to find a diner that was open.
From Tulare we drove out to Corcoran to visit the California State Prison, Corcoran, and the Substance Abuse State Prison. They both looked the same to me: the same razor wire, the same guard towers. West of us were the Avenal State Prison, the Pleasant Valley State Prison, and, further, in the Salinas Valley, Soledad Prison. All this for Jonah’s sake.
Heading south on 43 we stopped at Allensworth, talked with the ranger about northern harriers and the alkali soil of Tulare Lake. Colonel Allensworth had founded the town in 1906 as a self-governing African-American community. The town flourished for awhile, farming, building schools, and even a college. “Schools instead of prisons,” I said, “what an idea.” The ranger nodded wryly. When the railroad bypassed the town, changing their freight stop to Alpaugh, things got harder. Then the water table in the valley dropped from over-pumping; farming became almost impossible and arsenic entered the drinking water. After the war not many young people wanted to stay, better opportunities elsewhere.
Elsewhere was south near Delano: the North Kern State Prison, and, immediately adjacent, the Kern Valley State Prison. It was superbowl Sunday and no one bothered us. We could hear occasional shouts from the guard’s rooms. A little further west was Wasco State Prison. I asked Jonah how he liked the look of them: “all kind of new—the food’s probably good.” Jonah didn’t laugh.
At Tehachapi we drove the 13 miles to the California Correctional Institution. Snow was falling heavily. Visitors were leaving the parking lot as we arrived. We went on in to the visitor’s waiting room: folding chairs and signs warning about contraband and that “your number will be called.” We were too late for visiting: they had closed at three. Miles south of us there was another prison at Lancaster.
We headed east through Mojave, tried to find the Federal Camp Boron, but it was military now—looked like Air Force. We pulled in late to Barstow.
The town where if your car is ever going to break down it will break down, and still a hard place to catch a ride. I’ve thumbed through it several times.
Seeking the Mojave River.
Found it, too.
We decided to stay in the desert. The rest of the world seemed too complicated.
Camped out at the Kelso Dunes. Towards morning it started raining again. Jonah’s back in the alembic. Close call.
Today the cranes returned, heading north. A break between the storms, the sun out, spring in the air. I heard them from my studio and rushed out. There was a group of a hundred sandhill cranes circling in a thermal from the south side of the canyon. They were all jabbering the way cranes do, loudly and all at once, white flashing from their wings as they veered or flapped. It was too much for two buzzards in the same thermal, who discretely disengaged themselves and headed west out over the valley. I called to Laura and she came out and we both hooted and jumped and made those crane gurgling sounds. That shut the cranes up for about fifteen seconds, but they couldn’t keep a lid on it. Exuberance burst forth: one of them croaked something and then they were all at it again. Bird tongues. Speaking in tongues. Diapason. Pentecost. Arise, ye more than dead!
Spring a-coming. Winter slipping away fast.
They kept circling until they had gained about a thousand feet and flew on north—the glyph-like patterns forming and morphing–Palamedes inspiration for inventing the Greek alphabet.
Half an hour later an even larger group flew over and did the same thing—calling in those gurgling voices all at once and circling in the same thermal. The woodpeckers caught the excitement—acorn woodpeckers—and all started calling in that death-rattle voice and swooping from tree to tree. It became a choir—anyone on two wings had to add his two cents. The cat showed up with her tail fat, wondering what was going on.
Spring a-coming, mon.
Funk-time going fast.
The grass is ankle-high
and the daffodils are out.
Grass nymphs, oak-tree nymphs, baring their tits in the sun.
If there’s writing to be done, better do it, my brother.
Cranes are calling—a third group.
Spring a-coming, summer on its heels.
Murie sing cuccu!
Sing cuccu, sing cuccu, nu!
I don’t know which voice is writing this and I don’t care.
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