From the window of my bed in New Mexico, I could see Taos mountain--all soft and sinewy--like the rolling curves of a woman lying on her side, flushed green with her passion for the chilly caresses of the broken sky. He withdrew from her--saturated blue just beyond her grasp and I knew longing as I rolled onto my side and watched the mountains breathe.
At night, my roommate sometimes mumbled in her sleep. Prayers for the preacher husband she'd left in the drenched swamps of Florida.
"I've fucked a priest," she announced during our first dinner. She read my Irish-Italian lapsed Catholic face and grinned wickedly as she touched my hand.
"Episcopal priest," she laughed, "I had just married him."
Then his name--my husband's name--rippled through her dreaming body and I thought, if I could write her life, I could write.
From my New Mexico bed, I could see a clothesline where magpies gathered at dusk. Decades on the earth and I'd never seen them before. Their eerie cries from the pinion frightened me--their flash of pure white hidden in the black shadows of their folded switchblade wings.
Beneath the black and white pictures of M. and my babies I'd tacked on the adobe wall--I felt a delightful insomnia flood my veins. They smiled at me, saints fixed in our sacred moments...and, from the ceiling above the steady creaking of floorboards...rhythmic, slow, cyclical. I wasn't the only one not sleeping.
From my bed in New Mexico--I listened to my upstairs neighbor, Natalie Goldberg, walking in circles in the heart of night. The bleached lace curtains stirred in the first breeze of the evening and I wondered how I'd landed inside the walls of the historic inn where ghosts of Georgia O'Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and D.H. Lawrence stalked the mesa. Georgia had hated the idea of communal creation and fled from this place to reclusive land of her own. Frida came with Diego in a dark spell, longing for family and Old Mexico--lasting only a brief summer her first visit before fleeing for home. Lawrence never really managed to escape and painted fantastical murals on the windowpanes in the main house, overwhelmed with the rugged emptiness just beyond the glass. (You can see these in the second picture above).
They were here and I was here, and Natalie was here. Natalie, whom I'd fallen hard for as a teenaged girl, sitting under a tree with her only novel in my lap. Like everyone who has read her, I wanted to embrace her when we met like we were old friends and she would be as thrilled at the sight of me as I was her. It took two full weeks for me to accept the new lines on her face--not on the book jacket photo version of her smile...to not be wounded by her firm sense of formal distance from us. All of us. Natalie was a human being--just like me. Not a guru, not a magical goddess with a bag of writing secrets. She got sick--coughed a lot the first week. Stayed in silence even when she lifted it from the rest of us. She sometimes took dinner into her room and ate alone. She didn't want to hear how wonderful she was. The Great Failure was just out and it was a hard book to write. She was a touch wrung-out, a touch talked-out, a touch injured--even in all of her strength.
From my bed in New Mexico, I listened to her slow-walking meditation, the floor groaning, the wild land outside my window. This is still America, I whispered to myself. C. murmured in her sleep and I rose from my bed to perch in the worn upholstered chair in the corner. Here the moon filtered in like a nightlight and I took up a pen and wrote everything I could about where I was.
Strange images hit the page--creation myths I didn't know. There was blood in the red clay soil, heart-shaped rocks leapt from the land into my pockets. The kind bed with its soft flowered quilt couldn't hold me. I wrote until my hand cramped, until the restless mountain woman went violet with sunrise--then I fell between the sheets and closed my eyes--but didn't sleep.