Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass…
A LETTER FROM BUKOWSKI…
August 12, 1986
Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s overtime and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.
You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”
And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.
As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?
Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”
They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.
Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:
“I put in 35 years…”
“It ain’t right…”
“I don’t know what to do…”
They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?
I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.
I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”
One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.
So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.
To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.
… I guess in English you would call her Compassion. I ordered canelones and a caña, she ordered escalibada pintxo (two of them) and a cortado and we got to talking. This retired Catalan told me how her “vice” had always been traveling and how many countries she had visited (and how she’d always chose a country that was not the United States… I was too sad to take the bait.) She visited a new place almost every summer of her life in her fifty years of employment at the electric company.
Every time she came back to Barcelona and could see the shores of the city from the plane, she thought to herself: “I’m home.” Me too. For many years, when I was flying back and I’d see it from the little blurry window… my heart would jump a little. I had lived in so many other places… Paris, Madrid, New York, Los Angeles, my dear and lonely Sant Feliu de Guixols… but Barcelona was always home.
Until, one year, coming back from somewhere, maybe even Barcelona, just like that, the three lake city made my heart jump a little in mid air. The Colorado river made itself just so handsome, glistening in the setting sun, even if he seemed a little tired from making the city happy by squeezing through yet another “damn.” Home. Barcelona was pushed back into the folds of my brain (but not my heart) and the “velvet coffin,” as some young artist calls it, took its place.
I always felt a little like an impostor everywhere, but I knew I’d carved an actual physical impact out of this city; the Colorado river became, a little, my new Mediterraneo. Had I finally landed somewhere? I felt almost settled, an unusual feeling for me.
Not for long, there it came, my father’s death stomping across the Atlantic; caring nothing about my home or lack of it. Back to Barcelona three times in a row, a descent into hell.
Then came the loss of absolutely everything. Austin didn’t move a finger to save us; but nothing and no one can do anything about loss rolling over you like this. Home, family, town and country, business, and absolutely all of your tears. Loss. The Barcelona that had gone was about to become my own personal torturer in the hands of my sisters, as my mother prepared to follow my father to their new home.
Another move, to city number eight. Hell frozen over, Austin lost. Seven just not my lucky number anymore. I moved, precious family in tow, to the most beautiful bay in the world. I made winged friends and one day while the little love birds brought rainbows to my hands for me to hold, my mother’s death finally came too.
Back to Barcelona, back to a completely different kind of hell, one I didn’t know it even existed. I felt it most in the hallway, that wind again, a fiery monster that blew manic air into our hearts for daring to take down the convoluted theater of my mother’s life. No conjuring of mine would conquer it, how pretentious of me to have tried. Oh god how I tried, I eat all my fears and grew very tall and fat, I sang songs of water and blue again, but I was no match for the ghost of fire that had already swallowed my mother long ago. I never imagined it would survive her. Stupid.
While I’m having my conversation with Compassion at the cerveceria over the canelones, the caña, while I rest for a moment in her kind eyes; while I fall in love a little with this motherly Catalan that has seen possibly thirty countries, more than I have seen, and that’s saying something…
… meanwhile, my childhood pictures are rapidly stuffed inside huge, black, garbage bags; dragged away into the forever darkness through the windy, blood red, hallway. My own kin.
It all happened so fast, or did it? It’s still happening, a loop inside my heart. I scream. I give up, in the now utterly dead passage to hell, I cry in the arms of the young policeman, all of them gone; my heart stops. Then the loop plays again. I hear words that should have never been uttered.
Still unaware, as she talks about traveling and about the frisson of coming home, I do realize that nothing feels like home anymore. My mom is dead. Just.
Fade to Black.
I can say I’m thankful that my mother pushed me onto the path of my freedom; cause she did, the powerful wind from her wild heart blowing my direction, back when it was healthy, maybe just a little too strongly.
I can say that I miss her, that I will carry her in my own heart forever, that I will keep breathing her fire. That I will be careful to tame it just so. That I will pass it on to my son. But I want to shout to whatever god and country is left that I want a home with all of this heart that has learned freedom the hard way.
I’m not sorry. I don’t know where home is. It all got swallowed. So be it. But even as my great trip will also come one day, to one that has traveled so much and that hopes to depart with grace, maybe I can only travel for so many decades without admitting it: I want to go home and I would like my sisters come visit me there. Or did.
©Viviane Vives – rewritten from a piece wrote in Oct 2011, two days before my most horrible birthday ever. I actually posted this on the wrong blog, as I want to post it on http://shushchattymonkey.com
(re-write August, 2013)
“His renowned work weaves materials, colors, and textures with earth and sky into architecture that engages nature and the senses; his carefully programmed and delicately detailed creations evoke a sense of poetry.”
(Text of MJ’s Fellowship Investiture)
MJ Neal is now Morris Jerome Neal, FAIA.