The Bruised Village

The Bruised VillageI live in Ukrainian village in Chicago.  A great many of my neighbors don’t even speak English.  They like being among themselves. They are suspicious, clannish, and at times, paranoid and unfriendly.  This doesn’t surprise me.  A great many of my neighbors are from the Ukraine and lived under harsh totalitarian regimes, under a czar or a dictator.  Many of them are old enough to remember the scourge of communism in their lives.  They don’t much like strangers; this is Chicago, a city of tribes and bone-deep grudges.

My neighbors have begun to thaw a bit.  One lady brought me a sack of beets from her garden and, noticing that I had several bird feeders in my yard, told me the secret to attracting hummingbirds–red flowers and sugar-water.  She told me that only she had hummingbirds in this neighborhood even though the city “is lousy with them– you have to know how to attract them.”

My other neighbor, the old Ukrainian lady, gives me the evil eye and pretends to dislike me more than she actually does.  She calls me Mr. Big Shot and follows me when I walk Chooch (my mutt) to make sure I clean up after him.  I also think she just wants someone to talk to as well.  She calls my work, “crazy-man pictures,” but she always asks me about them.  She also walks her old biddy friends by my place and points saying, “Famous big shot artist lives here; four doors from me.”

There are gorgeous gardens in my neighborhood.  My neighbors work hard on these and from my back porch, it is a different city. . . explosions of color from yard to yard and giant sunflowers in some of them.  There are also all manner of tulips and roses, columbine and wandering vine, weeping cherry and plum trees.  It is an amazing thing to see in late spring and summer.  It occurs to me that this is how people who have lived hardscrabble lives add beauty to their world.

They come from hard places in the world and now they are free and they guard that freedom with alacrity and a fierce sense of boundary.

In Chicago, property is the cornerstone of what one has in the world and in my neighborhood it is relished and lovingly adorned.  My neighbors are under siege by people like me who move in and don’t understand the contract that they silently have with one another.  Don’t play your music loud.  Don’t have big parties.  Don’t let your kids or dog run wild.  Don’t let your dog shit on my lawn–or my tree-lawn.  If you have an old person next door, you shovel their walk and if there is a blackout, you look in on them.  If you see an old lady struggling with her groceries, you carry them for her.  And when she makes you a cup of tea for your kindness, you sit your ass down and drink it and listen to her while she explains things to you.  Who knows; you might learn how to attract hummingbirds.  Know that you are talking to someone who comes from a hard place in the world where there wasn’t much to trust.

Shut up and listen, Mr. Big Shot.

This one is called “The Bruised Village”  It is the hobo symbol for “Go.”

Published in: on February 13, 2010 at 11:07 pm  Comments (3)  

The Red Rain

The Red Rain

I just finished my run of performances of This Train. It was fun to be back on a stage again and also edifying to learn more about the hobo alphabet†and make more of these pieces.  I learned that this alphabet also existed in Europe, especially Sweden and that the symbolism was not all that different from ours here in America.

It was interesting performing a show about this.  A great percentage of the audience didn’t know much, or anything, about the hobo alphabet and the show wound up being about a lot more than just that.  It, in the end, is about finding a home, or leaving one and trying to make another.  The piece wound up being an emotional experience in that I used all that I’ve learned in the last two or three years about homelessness, poverty and hunger, and discovered none of us are as inoculated from this subject as we would like to think.

In my show I talked a lot about the homeless guys in my neighborhood here on Damen and what I’ve learned from and about them.  These lessons have been in turn funny, heartbreaking, joyous and unfathomably sad. I’ve also learned that the common man is about as fragile as a nail.  Some of these women and men have had to be tough sons-of-bitches to survive living on these streets.  This city can be cruel beyond measure, and often is.

This last city election I couldn’t bring myself to vote for all of the Rotarian promises and catch phrases don’t mean a fucking thing to me anymore.  We live in a city of dispossession and hunger. The Greater Chicago Food Depository feeds more and more people every day.  I feel that food should be considered a human right.

The other day, the night before the election of the latest round of dipshits and moral cowards, nowhere was the issue of the hunger of our fellow citizens even discussed.  Fuck.  Are they blind?  Do they not see the men and women panhandling at the bottom of the off-ramps?  Walking the streets, hungry and filthy, and sleeping under the expressway?  Why aren’t these citizens part of the conversation regarding what needs to change in our country?

I’m not voting for anyone who doesn’t include the poor in the bigger picture.  I’ve got your vote, Fucko . . . swinging.

This piece is called The Red Rain.  It means, “Food, but not money, can be found here.”

Published in: on February 5, 2010 at 10:20 am  Leave a Comment  

The Horse Star (For Crazy Horse)

The Horse Star (For Crazy Horse)

All through the Badlands there are reminders of who used to own this land.  There are  hay-colored grasses and scrub trees standing silently like penitent monks or atavistic sentries that bore witness.  Then and now, window rocks from the “Devil’s Tower” where the  Sioux kept watch  for cavalry and road agents and bounty hunters, who collected a tarriff for every Sioux they killed.  The natural history and landscape of the Badlands still bear the impression of the bloody and brutal history  that unfolded there.

We sometimes think of the Badlands as only Montana and the Dakotas.  It actually spanned many states and the Great Plains almost as a whole.  Horses were not introduced to the Americas until the Spanish brought them in 1640 or so and the Sioux were among the first tribes to become expert horsemen.  Horses were of more value than land in many Native American cultures.

Crazy Horse was a superior rider who could do many other things while riding a horse.  He was as expert at breaking and training horses as well as capturing wild horses.  As a young man, Crazy Horse stole another brave’s wife, Black Buffalo Woman, who it is said he was in love with ’til the day he died.  Upon being confronted and captured by tribal elders, he was forced to return her as well as two horses to the aggrieved brave.  This was considered an extremely harsh penalty.  All Black Buffalo Woman would have had to do in order to divorce the brave was to move his stuff  out in front of their tent and this would have been the only statement necessary regarding the finality of their marriage.  Crazy Horse was heartbroken by this and became even more reckless in leading war parties and raids.  His first wife, Yellow Dress, grieved endlessly over his taking up with another woman and died at a young age.

At a relatively young, age Crazy Horse lost the woman he loved, a brother and his father, and it probably affected the view he had of the world.  That life was perilous, short, bitter, and fragile. . .this piece is called, “The Horse Star.”

Published in: on December 26, 2009 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Girl of the Emerald Sky

It is that time of year again.  Miami has allowed the circus of mental defectives that comprise the art world to pitch its tent on South-Beach.  Every mouth-breathing, social misfit in the country has strapped on the fake tits and spray-on tans and found the most outre-retard outfits to promenade down Collins Avenue and engage in the casual brutality of the art market.


I stopped going to these things a couple of years ago.  They are not much about art.  They are more about skin and money and the ambitions of a culture of squishy people who fancy themselves as “taste-makers.”  The parade of jerk-offs checking their Blackberries in full view of a gorgeous ocean makes one despair of the species.  The hookers, male and female, will make a killing, a ballerina or two will get shit-faced on free vodka and go skinny dipping in the pool at the Delano.  Art stars will be made and unmade, and the dealers will lie about how well sales are going in order to keep the one-ball juggling act known as the economy up in the air.

The art-world worker bees will man booths and realize hour after mundane hour that, in this end of the pool, this is all there is.  Success at an art-fair is at best a Pyrrhic victory.  The swells like you, and this doesn’t mean you’ve achieved anything like art.  In fact, it often means the opposite.  Not that there is no profit in being “fashionable”; there is a whole dearth of talent slaying cash right now.  Celebrity -types will wander the aisles with their dealers in tow, verbally fondling each other’s sacks and air-kissing up a storm.  It will be a daisy-chain amounting to nothing lasting.  A well-lit nowhere.

Have a daiquiri for me and tip the fucking waiters, you cheap pricks.

I leave for Los Angleles on Monday.  Me and Stan Klein are driving out there.  On the way, we’ll stop in the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest  and Joshua Tree, where I haven’t been for 28 years and the last time I was there I was tripping, so I haven’t really seen it.  This route was well known to hoboes and Native Americans.  This was the land of railroads, Indian wars, wildcat oil-men, and absolutely no mercy.

The Southwest’s history, like the rest of American history, is written in blood and dirt and oil.  Land settled, land stolen, dirt lived for, dirt died for.  Over the history of the world, wars have been fought over land, gold, oil, emeralds, jade, tobacco, tea and flesh.  You name it; we’ve killed for it.  There is an idea in Japanese and American poetry that insists that the land has a memory.  And I believe this.

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 9:59 pm  Comments (1)  

Girl of the Pachinko Garden

In Tokyo, particularly in Roppongi and Sinjuku, there are Pachinko parlors everywhere.  They are kind of like the American equivalent of slot machines; a pinball-like game where one wins tokens that can later be exchanged for prizes, or, if you know where to go and who to talk to, cash.  They remind me of Vegas casinos with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Pachinko machines lined up one right after the other.  They make the same metal-machine, twinkling music that the slots do and are wildly popular in Tokyo.  Gambling is not legal per se, but there is plenty of gambling involved with Pachinko, and the same gambler’s etiquette applies here–do not touch another player’s steel balls.  It is best to sometimes “wait out” a machine that is due for a pay-off,  just like the slots.

What I love about Pachinko parlors is the atmosphere; lots of low-hanging, hazy smoke and orange-y light, like an old American pool hall or an Edward Hopper painting.  The lifers play two or three machines at once, the only noise being the clinking tinkly music of the machines themselves; sometimes hundreds at a time and the cacophony of sound oddly beautiful; the loose-change music of chance.

A lot of these joints are owned by the Yakuza, and those guys are always present.   You can pick them out of a crowd.  Black, tailored suits, black ties, white shirts and and hair-cuts that run the gamut from Elvis-type pompadours to the ‘fade’ cuts favores by Rappers in the late 80’s and shades– always shades, noon or midnight.  Often they will be playing the machines as well.  There is an unmistakable gangster-chic aura about these places.  Some of them have American dance music piped in softly, or  muzak-style rap that has none of the curbside urgency of the American variety.  Everybody smokes.  Women play this game with as much ferocity as men do.   Invariably a door or two down from the parlor is a shop where the tokens can be redeemed for prizes and then the prizes for cash in the black market.  Everything from motor-scooters to knock-off Rolexes can be won playing Pachinko.

I found the places I visited to be mesmerizing in their activity.  Watching a good Pachinko player is as much a treat as watching a good poker player or chef.  Virtuosity in anything is rewarding to observe.

These places are especially gorgeous at night when the night people come out to play.  There are dramas and narratives criss-crossing in every parlor; an unspoken language of nods, winks, gestures and half-smiles, and it all means something.  What?  I can’t guess, but it makes my wheels turn and then I want to make pictures.

Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 8:43 pm  Comments (1)  

Girl of the Winter Stars

Every once in a while I think I make a signature piece ñ one of those that kind of sums up what I’ve learned lately.  In Japan I began to like how they just slap graphics and type over images, I loved the chaos of it all.  My critics have long slammed me for putting too much information in my work–fuck ’em.  They’ve never much had any idea how I think of how I see the world, which is everything happening at once.  History is not something that happened a hundred years ago; it is something that is happening now, in a million different places, to a million different people, for a million different reasons ñ for better or worse, this is how I think of the world.  I just try to hang on to the end of the kite-string and find a salient lesson or two in all of it.  In Japan, the chaotic visual is not frowned upon; beauty is where you find it.

I love drawing female figures . . . nothing better.  If I could draw birds and naked women the rest of my life, I’d be just fine with it.  In Japan the natural world and sensuality are part of the same poetic construction.  The Japanese are completely unafraid of color and in Japan I decided to let my palette off of the leash and just have at it.  I’m glad I did.  A year ago I was making love poem pieces with small silhouettes of this figure; I love this shape.  The playful carnality of it keeps my attention while I’m drawing.

I scored a bunch of gorgeous Japanese paper while I was in Tokyo and then, when I got back, a lovely designer named Kazumi brought me a bunch more; all of it rhythmic and suggestive of nature and natural forms, which repeats itself in Japanese design and poetry and music.

I went to Japan to let something new into my work.  My whole artistic output has been wholly American and now it is time to get a whiff of the big world.

Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pink Lady

1-1/2 oz gin
3/4 oz applejack
1/4 oz lemon juice
1-2 dashes of grenadine
1 egg white
maraschino cherry for garnish

Voila! The Pink Lady!

A perfectly wretched cocktail first made in the 1930s, designed with the idea of separating young women from their virtue.

I new a prim and pert girl in high school named Elizabeth who would leave heel-marks on the ceiling after two of these abominations . . . followed by twenty or so, minutes of ruinous projectile vomiting.  Two Pink Ladies would induce nymphomania and nausea with equal ferocity.

In Japan. these girly drinks are very big, as is Karaoke, some bars locking you in from midnight ’til five in the morning to try out your pipes on classics like the Divynyl’s “I Touch Myself” and Meatloaf’s, “I Would Do Anything For Love.”  Lots of cocktails are added for intestinal fortitude, as well as to clear one’s throat.

There are many oddball names for things in Japan for products aimed at the American trade.  There are also stores that sell unusual things that can best be described as niche tastes.  We found a store that sold nothing but John Lennon glasses; another that only sold pink lingerie, bras, panties, merry widows and thongs, all in varying hues of pink, from baby powder pink to screaming-hooker fuchsia.  In Harajuku there are all manner of stores selling the baby-doll pink tights to teenage girls, as well as the ubiquitous “Juicy” sweatpants that only women going at least two bills seem to shoehorn their ample asses into over here.  Sorry baby, if you tip the scales at 200 pounds, you’re not exactly the “Juicy,” tight-clothing wearing demographic.  Yesterday, a plus-sized gal was power-walking down Damen Avenue sporting a cameltoe you could lose your keys in.

In Japan eroticized images have been around for centuries, as well as brutal and aberrant varieties of porn and comics.  The female figure is at once revered and fetishized, not so differently than it is in religious art and American skin magazines.  Who can blame us?  There is nothing as beautiful as the female body.

As a kid, I made the nuns crazy because I loved drawing naked women.  They would go bat-shit and send me to the shrink, call my mother and make me go talk to the priest.  I started drawing naked nuns and then they really went out of their minds; one of the brides of Christ beating my ass with a knotted rope, telling me I was going to hell.  I remembered saying I was feeling that it would be okay to go to hell, as long as there were naked women.

Published in: on November 20, 2009 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Black Petals

The Black Petals

There is a lovely flower store across the street from my studio called Larkspur.  My friend, Beth Barnett, owns it.  Sometimes when it is gray and shitty in Chicago, which is about eight months a year, I go over there and marvel at the color and smell of her daily inventory of flowers and plants . . . it is one of those pleasures that I live for.  She has things other stores don’t–anemones, Vanda orchids, Calathea plants–the stuff nobody else much cares about.  This store is a revelation; it always cheers me up.  I bought a Calathea plant there last week because I wanted to draw its black and purplish leaves.  It is from Brazil and is often a mourning plant, a plant given at times of death, much like the Irish giving lilies.  I thought it perfect for the mournful and autumnal life of Crazy Horse.  Black petals as deep and rich as crude oil, or night in the Badlands.  Calathea does not grow within 2,000 miles of the Black Hills, yet somehow, it is fitting.

I was in New Orleans last week where everything grows and overgrows; flora and fauna incessantly trying to reclaim the place.  I was there for these panels sponsored by Louisiana Artworks, speaking to young (and some not so young) artists about how to enter the world as artists.  I became acquainted with some wonderful emerging talent that really deserves a bigger audience.  I was touched at how, in the middle of the shittiest art-economy I can remember, these kids were full of optimism, energy and desire, how they evince an undefeated kind of spirit in the face of no small amount of adversity.

I came back to a Chicago in the full thrall of autumn with the trees and bushes changing colors; gorgeous fiery yellows and russet reds, burnt ochres and umbers and oranges.  This city is never more beautiful than in the fall.  Soon it will be time to turn the clock back and it will be dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, which will bum me out.  I don’t get Daylight Savings.  What the fuck are we saving it for?  Autumn is sad in the same way finishing a good book is, you don’t want it to end.  Winter is cruel in Chicago and at times it is easy to believe that cruelty is the true nature of this city’s heart . . . it can be a heartless motherfucker.

Published in: on October 28, 2009 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Assassination of Crazy Horse

This is good.  He sought death  and now he has found it.” —   Touch The Clouds, Crazy Horse’s cousin, and witness to his death.

No shot was fired, and Crazy Horse– a man who had lost his brother, his daughter, the woman he loved, several friends, his way of life, and even, for a time, his people–began his leaving as a man and his arrival as a myth, a man around  whom stories that are like little gospels accumulate.  A variation death of Crazy Horse would consist of at least a score of versions, all contributed or recollected by people, white and red, who were in the fort that night.” — Larry McMurtry, Crazy Horse
The Assassination Of Crazy HorseHey–

Public political assassinations are not a new American story.  In my own lifetime there have been the brazen and shocking murders of JFK, his brother Robert, Martin Luther King, and Malcom X.  In all cases, there were plenty of witnesses and one thing can be said of all of them; nobody ever tells the same story of the same killing.  Such is also the case of the assassination of Crazy Horse.  Many claim he was held by fellow red men while bayoneted by a white soldier.  Little Big Man, his betrayer, claims he stabbed himself.  There are many versions; so many, any is impossible to believe.  What is known is that for the interests of the Army and some Indians, he could not be allowed to leave the fort he was murdered at.   He was onto them.

When Crazy Horse witnessed the filth and conditions his fellow Indians were subjected to, for him, all bets were off.

Early in Larry McMurtry’s account of the life of Crazy Horse, the author is clearly puzzled by the perceptions of Crazy horse by whites and by Native Americans:  “They depict Crazy Horse as a kind of being never seen on earth: a genius at war yet a lover of peace; a statesman who apparently never thought of the interest of any human being outside his own camp; a dreamer, a mystic, and a kind of Sioux Christ, who was betrayed in the end by his own disciples–Little Big Man, Touch-the-Clouds and the rest.  One is inclined to ask, what is it all about?”

Crazy Horse is certainly an American kind of enigma; a man many would build monuments to and then sneer at clay feet of their hero.  The more I read about Crazy Horse, the more fascinated I am.  Every account I’ve read seems to be about a different person.  He defied type and was his own man.

Published in: on August 30, 2009 at 12:29 am  Leave a Comment  

The Yellow Day

The Yellow DayThere is a  sad, lovely song by the great James McMurtry called Ruby and Carlos on his Just Us Kids CD.  I always think of McMurtry’s music when I think of the West.  I don’t really know why.  I think maybe it is because he just has that lived-in voice that sounds like it ought to belong to a cowboy or a rancher or something.  This song is about an affair between a Gulf War vet and an older woman and it is as lovely as anything I’ve ever heard.  It is a song that for me will always be perpetually autumnal.  McMurtry is criminally underrated and the next time he comes through Chicago I will make it a point to check him out.

In my readings of the history of Crazy Horse, nature always has a powerful role in what he believed.  It seems nature and the idea of an almighty were much the same thing and about as predictable.  A redtailed hawk led him to the place of his “trances” and “vision quests.”  He painted hailstones on his forehead before battle and lightning bolts on his face; the power of nature seems omnipotent in his life. Whites regarded these beliefs as arcane and simple “superstitions.”   The visions interest me.  It is no secret that the peoples of the Black Mesa ate no small amount of peyote and one wonders if “vision quests” were not helped along by the powerful hallucinatory properties of many plants and mushrooms indigenous to the West and Southwest.  One also  must realize the Indian peoples had a very different relationship with nature than whites did.

Some years ago I did an artist’s residency at the University of Montana in Missoula.  I made the body of etchigs now known as the Autumn Etchings, and for the first time, I actually spent some time in nature.  I didn’t camp. Oh, no. I’m a room service and clean towels kind of guy and have no raging desire to wash my nuts in a river.  I stayed at a very nice Doubletree Suites place right next to the Bitterroot River and, at one point, took to walking next to the river every day.  I’d find these odd river rocks with whitish lines around them, dessicated wasp’s nests, porcupine quills, pieces of antler, and all other manner of natural detritus.  I started making little drawings of this stuff and a young man who was Oglala Lakota gave me a beautiful hawk’s skull as part of my “medicine.”

I enjoyed my walks along the river and one night, the front desk lady woke me up so I could go outside and witness a meteor shower, which was truly amazing to watch.  When it gets dark out there it gets knock-out dark.  There are no street lights or buildings or any of that shit; it just gets black, so you can see the stars.  And when there is a meteor shower you can see the stars dance.  It is a powerful thing and gives you the proper perspective as to about how big we are in the universe.

One day, I got lost I wandered pretty far from the hotel next to the river and kind of wandered into the woods just finding shit.  After about 15 minutes, I realized I didn’t know where the fuck I was.  I also realized that grizzly bear, black bear and mountain lions lived around there as well.  Fuck me.

Luckily, the primal, lizard brain stem humans still retain kind of kicked in.  I stopped and listened for the river.  I walked back toward the sound of water and found my way, but for a minute, I thought I was going to be one of those simple assholes discovered  in the wilderness three weeks after the badgers have chewed through his pancreas.  I was happy to find my way back to the Doubletree.

That said, I know what intoxicates people about nature; how one desires to be lost in i. . .to get away from cable TV, the Internet and shitheads babbling hate on the radio.  I get it; the serenity. . . the quiet. . .the sound of water and birds and wind.   The first music.

Published in: on August 26, 2009 at 12:32 am  Leave a Comment  

The Thunder Being

“Crazy Horse’s vision first took him to the South, where in Lakota spirituality one goes upon death. He was brought back and was taken to the West in the direction of the Wwakiyans, or Thunder Beings. . .” – Wikipedia entry about Crazy Horse

Drawing For Crazy Horse #2 (The Thunder Being)

I haven’t a fucking clue as to what the above quote is supposed to mean.  Nor, I suspect, am I meant to.  Native American and Indian lore wasn’t written for me.  Still, the idea of a “Thunder Being” sounded powerful and poetic to me.  As a kid I was scared by thunder and thought of it as something that walked the earth; a giant of some kind.  As I grew older, I rather liked it.  It seemed something that nature had in its back pocket anytime it wanted to let us know who (or what) was in charge.

What i most admire about Crazy Horse is that he helped kill Custer; a stone, murderous, psychopath.  The movie Little Big Man, I think, pretty much has Custer’s number.  Custer pretty much attacked when he was sure he had a superior number to the opposition.  Years ago, I traveled all over the West and stopped in a small town not far from where the battle of Little Big Horn occured; Spotted Horse, Wyoming.  It was basically a post office and a diner/bar, and the guy who ran it was an old cowboy who had a tank full of rattlesnakes out in front of the place and he wore a six-shooter in a holster.  It was he who told me that Custer died slow.  He said that Custer was “turned over the women.”  I was shocked.  I asked Mark Turcotte, the Chippewa poet about this and he said, “Custer’s last breath wasn’t on the battle field.”

There are moments of history when I’d have liked to have been there; like when Custer was introduced to the Oglala nation. . .when he looked around and realized the Oglala had the ass over him and that he was truly fucked.  The wet-ass hour.

Did he pray?  Did he ask forgiveness?  Did he ask for mercy?  Did he realize his golden locks would be lashed to the end of a war-staff by the time the sun went down?

There is a powerful kind of atmosphere around that part of the country.  It is as if the land knows and that the scene of the American genocide of its first citizens still carries its ghosts.  Montana and Wyoming are places where nature is, to say the very least, formidable.  One doesn’t curse the snow, the rain, the dust, the hail, or god, because here; it is all the same thing.

When I was a kid, I thought thunder was something that walked the earth. Maybe Crazy Horse did, too.  I don’t try to explain what Native Americans mean when they speak of these things.  I’m not meant to understand it.  The more I read about Crazy Horse, the more admirable he is to me.

There is a mountain being carved  up as a monument to him; something he’d have probably found obscene.  Russel Means, the former leader of AIM, has spoken out against it on the grounds that it is contrary to the spirit of Crazy Horse.  While meant as a tribute, Indian peoples realize the mountain, itself, is triumph enough.

Published in: on August 24, 2009 at 4:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Poem For Crazy Horse

Poem For Crazy Horse

This is a new piece.  In reading about the natural history of owls, I came across any number of Native American stories.  The most compelling stories for me are about Crazy Horse, my favorite person in American history.  It was Crazy Horse and his braves that handed Custer his ass at Little Bighorn. George Armstrong Custer was one of our history’s great psychopaths; a butcher of white men, red men, women and children; and on June 25th, 1876, Crazy Horse and the Lakota and Oglala nation, settled his hash once and for all.

Crazy Horse was born around 1840 to Lakota Oglala parents.  His father was also named Crazy Horse.  In his entire life, he was never photographed.  He had curly hair and was paler of skin than other Oglala, leading other children to taunt him about the possibility of white parentage to which the boy took great umbrage.  However, this taunting did not persist, as the young Crazy Horse routinely fucked-up anyone who attempted to bully him.

He was fearless and contrary and an absolute natural warrior; a tactician to equal  some of the best generals in U.S. history.  He was an expert decoy warrior, often using himself as bait.  Such was the case in the “Fetterman Massacre” in which Crazy Horse personally lured Lt. Fetterman and 80 of his calvary to their slaughter.

Crazy Horse painted his cheeks with lightning bolts and his forehead with hailstones, in honor of the Yakiwans (Thunder Beings) and, according to many eye-witnesses, was the most fearless of warriors; always getting very close to soldiers and screaming other-worldly battle screams to his fellow braves.  Crazy Horse terrified even his own men.

Crazy Horse is one of those mythic American characters that entreats conflicting historical information at almost every turn.  Even his death ( almost surely an assassination) is  shrouded in mystery and varying accounts.  After his death, a photograph of him was produced which was quickly proven a fraud.  Crazy Horse believed that the camera stole one’s soul and, given the  nature of celebrity, he was not all the way wrong.  History is an odd creature. It tends to be the lie we all agree upon.  Crazy Horse is a hero to the Lakota Oglala and actually to me, as well.  History, for the longest time, regarded him as something of a terrorist.  It’s an odd paradox; one is a terrorist until one wins, and then is proclaimed a patriot.

This one is called “Poem for Crazy Horse.”

Published in: on August 22, 2009 at 12:07 am  Comments (1)  

Black Mesa Owl

Black Mesa OwlAfter reading a bunch of Hopi prophecies it is easy to get freaked out.  They are farmers and artists and made some of the most beautiful pottery, baskets and fethishes in Native American culture.  They were also right next to the Navajo and the Apache peoples in the Southwest.  Reading the natural history of animals in America is always about who wrote it.  White people write the facts, just the facts.  ma’am, where Latino and Indian peoples write the poetic histories.

Eduardo Galeano‘s Genesis; Memory of Fire starts with the first day of creation and moves forward in metaphor to the earth, the Sun, the water, the birds and on and on.  Native peoples ascribed the power of “the Almighty” to the Sun and to them, the idea of  a god was nature.  They were not monotheistic (there were many spirits) but nature fulfilled the role that god did in other cultures.

Owls mean many things to Indian peoples; good and bad.  The Navajo think them an omen of death, the Hopi think them as protectors of the dead and their burial grounds.

In Italy, the barn owl is said to possess the malocchio or, “the evil eye” (or as my  paisan friends used to call it, “the shit-eye”) when you eyeball somebody with malice in your heart (and who doesn’t enjoy that once in a while?).

The  ocular peculiarities of owls are what provoke the visceral in people.  The large and luminous eyes that seem to be all-seeing.  It is kind of what I’ve always loved about drawing them; there are no other creatures like them.

I once issued a fairly thorough ass-kicking over the spotted owl.  There was a big debate over their habitat in the Pacific northwest around 20 years ago and I was tending bar in Villa Park, Illinois and one of the assholes at the bar started bitching about “all this fuss over a fucking owl, that is supposed to be extinct.”  The TV news had just done a report on the near extinction of this owl.  He went on about how some species were “just supposed to disappear from existence, it is natural– it’s what god wants.”  So I said, “Why don’t you leave?”   He just looked at me and I said, “Maybe god wants assholes to be extinct too.  Maybe you should follow the spotted owl off this mortal coil.”  And that was it.  Me and Tommy Crough went round and round and Tommy lost.  He was a dick who worked for the phone company and used to get his ass beat at Brennan’s Pub about once every 10 days.  Card-carrying pacifists would kick the shit out of Tommy Crough; he was that annoying.  He was the guy who would grab women’s asses, snort coke in the john, and worst of all, root against the Sox, loudly, on Sunday afternoon.  Everybody beat this fucker up and everyone was well within their right to.  When the cops would be called after someone would assault Tommy, more often than no, the cops would smack Tommy as well.

My guess is owls will outlast all of us; which is as it should be.

Published in: on August 4, 2009 at 10:23 pm  Comments (1)  

The Jersey Owl

The Jersey OwlThe more I read about owls the more I realize how paranoid white people have always been.  In European and English cultures, owls are almost always associated with witchcraft  or some other nefarious practice.  Maybe it is the eyes; they’ve always weirded people out. The eyes that Athena found “burning with inner light,’ freaked out  the civilized types.

I must admit, when I found the down-covered screech owl, I was intrigued because I thought owls were mysterious and weird.  I was 13 years old and not a popular kid.  I was an ill-tempered little fucker and I didn’t have many friends; mostly art-kids and the  other weirdos like me who hung around the pet store and drew pictures.  I was 13 when I found him and my sister named him Oliver. That summer he ate his weight in cicadas and eventually mice.  He was not a friendly pet, in fact not really a pet at all, but an orphan.  He was a gray screech owl and when he shed his down and his plumage filled in he was a beautiful bird; odd in all of the ways that I myself was.

I didn’t tell my friends about it at first, for fear it might get out and somebody would rat me out to the game warden.  He eventually got used to me and associated me with food .  He would fly to my fist when I had a mouse for him and as far as teaching him to hunt, there was not much need to.  The first time Oliver saw a mouse he knew it was food and from the time he could fly he was an excellent hunter .  I told a few of my  friends and they would ring  the doorbell at all hours day and night to bring Oliver a mouse or a big bug.   I would leave his pen open and let him fly around the basement and watch him and make drawings when he was still.  Once in a while, I’d catch some flack from my mother if he’d shit on her neat stacks of laundry. Owl shit is nasty and the pellets he would disgorge everyday, containing the bones and fur of the last unlucky rodent, were no treat for my mom either.

I was an indifferent student.  I didn’t like high school and thought, for the most part, my teachers were  idiots; the rare exception being an English teacher named Bill Leeberg who sought to excite us about books and reading and literature.  He would dress up like a baseball player and recite Casey at the Bat and his enthusiasm was infectious.  He had a way of letting us know that books and stories had something vital about life to tell us.  He was special.  Another good one was Sr. Michelene.  One time she caught us sleeping through one of her explanations of political science and she told us to close our books.  She looked us in the eyes and told us that some point we should decide who we wanted to be in the world.  She said, “Really decide now f you’re going to be one of those passive idiots who goes out into the world and collects a paycheck and then goes home and bitches at the TV set about the way things are.  Don’t let your life just happen to you.”

I thought, “Wow.”  Somebody finally told me something that actually means something.  From then on, I listened to her and was better for it.  She unknowingly nurtured the otherness in me.  And I’m grateful for it.  And for her.

The rest of my high school years were spent getting into petty trouble and fighting with the assistant principal who was a slovenly little douchebag who spit when he talked.  I had a core of friends who were talented in music or art and we  hung out going to movies, caddying for money at the golf course and getting into trouble.  I started drawing all the time and began to figure out that this was my hammer and nails.

In the Malay language, owls are called burung hantu, which means, literally, “ghost bird.”

Published in: on July 31, 2009 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Strange Angel

The Strange Angel

Owls are odd birds and there are  a zillion species of them.  In every culture, they are fraught with  symbolism.  It is said the the Caesars, Augustus and Julius’s deaths were foretold by owls in ancient Rome. The Romans, of course, believed the worst in everything, also claiming that owls were evil and sucked the blood of infants.  In The Old Testament, owls are linked inextricably with evil, witchcraft, and all other vestiges of paganism.

The Greeks went a little easier on owls.  In Greek mythology, Athene, or Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, banished the prankster crow in favor of an owl, in the belief that this bird could see through darkness and that their huge eyes contained an inner light.  The truth is, owls see only a little better than you and I.  What they do better than anything is HEAR.  They hunt by sound; they can hear a mouse get a hard-on.  They can also fly almost silently because their feathers are billowed; almost downlike and extremely quiet.  They are also not terribly bright.  They look smart, but they’re about as smart as every other bird with a brain the size of a pea, which is  not very.  They’re excellent hunters and are especially a scourge in the rodent world.

In Native American cultures, the Apache believe they are harbingers of death and bring unworthy spirits to the Underworld.  Whereas, the Hopi believe burrowing owls are protectors of the spirits of the dead because they live underground, as do  a great many species of owls .

I had a screech owl when I was in high school and went broke buying mice for him.  He had a big wooden box to live in with a perch and the unlucky rodent would be tossed in and no mouse ever made it to the four corners of the box.  Oliver made short work of mice in my mother’s basement; I often let Oliver out to fly around the dark basement and he, in two days, would rid the basement of any  mouse seeking to nest there. He was a grey screech owl,  about the size of a beer can,  who would cackle and make the eeriest sounds you could imagine.  He did not hoot and most owls don’t.  Many people mistake the cooing of mourning doves with owls.  Many Owls don’t make any sounds at all.

Barn owls are found everywhere and are forever tainted  by the  poems of a couple candy-ass English poets, Blair and Wordsworth, who continually rendered them as “birds of Doom,” even though they’re the best friends farmers ever had, subsisting entirely on harmful rodents.

In every culture, owls  are metaphors for something.  In my life an owl provided me with an escape from being like everyone else and taught me to listen and how to wait, and most importantly, how to search.

Published in: on July 28, 2009 at 11:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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