Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Maps, Stories and a Time in the Desert

A Map, a Flag, a Way Saying Good-bye.

I promised to show you a map you say but this is a mural
then yes let it be these are small distinctions
where do we see it from is the question    
                                            - Adrienne Rich


The last time I was in the desert, I was 12. I waited by an uneven-legged table set up along a dry and dusty road just off of Interstate 40 while one of my brothers walked the dog.  It was hot. It was July and with the few coins in my pocket, I bought a small totem pole from a Navajo girl who stood behind that table.  She looked to be just about my age.

The totem was stone and was painted with primary colors that had been dulled, sun-baked. We exchanged some coins and I left with the painted totem in hand, sun-warmed, climbing back into the Ford Country Squire with the fake wood paneling on its sides.

Even then, I knew all about consumption.


Today I have been painting and I have broken two nails and I couldn't be more pleased. Under one nail is red paint and along the curve of my thumb are splotches of yellow acrylic.

My hands make things.

And I think it may be this--the making of things that has me recalling the girl from the desert. Or perhaps not.  Perhaps it is nothing more than our shared girlhood that has me pulling this recollection from forty years past.

Our finger nails were dirty, chewed. We had not the elegant hands we might have hoped to grow into.

I wonder if she's still living on that road just a mile from the Interstate. I wonder if she's still living. In the 1970s the life expectancy of Navajo were two-thirds the national average (from here).

Does she remember the pale girl with the long braid who bought the totem pole?


Memories are like maps, oddly collaged, shift the paper and the perspective alters, the story changes. I wonder what it is that has me recalling this moment over and over again.

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