The woman in 13D was so large she took up a good third of 13C as well. I looked down at my assigned seat, saw a seatbelt buckle emerging apologetically from beneath her left thigh, and I settled in next to her. "Am I sitting on anything?" she said.
This is a photograph of Catahoula taken by my father in 1965. He was the only passenger in a small plane flying between New Orleans and Lafayette, and the pilot was able provide him with a great shot of his hometown.
. . . I was standing on the shoreline of a lagoon, fishing for dinner, and someone in the sky was fishing for me. I couldn’t see who the other fisherman was. All I saw was my line disappearing into lagoon water and his line descending from the clouds, dangling a golden hook.
The following is a transcript of a conversation that took place on October 2013 between me, my mother Sue, her sister Sis, her sister Liz, her brother Phillip and my sister Monique. The subject of the conversation is Dorian Doiron, also known as Tante Doy, my grandfather’s aunt. Gampy (Etienne Doiron) was my grandfather. Mit (Regina Doiron) was Gampy’s mother. Tante Doy (Dorcian Doiron) was Mit’s sister. Tante Doy gave birth to a child out of wedlock, Gampy’s first cousin, and was forced to give her up for adoption. I was always curious about this, especially because Gampy was himself conceived out of wedlock, and wasn't given up for adoption. One sister kept her child, and the other didn’t.
You didn't throw it away. And not only did you not throw it away, you kept it. And not only did you keep it, you locked it in a chest. You treasured it. Then you died, the treasure was buried, and nobody cared.
As we die we progress through deeper and deeper states of unconsciousness. The ego falls away, layer by layer, and only the clear light of the mind remains. If we fail to recognize this luminosity at the hour of our death, the Buddhists say, we fade into oblivion and re-enter the realm of human suffering. If we recognize the clear light of the mind, and rest in it, we can break the chain of suffering and awaken into a new rebirth.
Proposed design for the dust jacket of my forthcoming book of dreams. The woman on the back cover is my great-grandmother, Regina Doiron. The man on the front cover is her father, my great-great-grandfather, Louis Doiron.
When I was a neurology resident at Grady, I was asked to consult on a one-hundred-year-old woman who'd been admitted for a cardiac work-up. (She had a history of seizures, and the medical team wanted recommendations regarding seizure medication.) I remember doing a double take when I saw her birth year in the chart -- 1902.
. . . I asked Luke if he was ready to go skiing. It was three in the afternoon, sunny, and there was a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. The day was almost over, and I knew if I didn’t get up immediately, I'd spend the rest of it lounging around. So I stood up with a start and poured myself a shot of whiskey.
A snippet I recorded during last Saturday's Senior Citizens Day in Catahoula. This is Cajun French. Reminds me so much of my grandparents, whose primary language was this dialect. Cajun French was also my father's first language, and both my parents continue to speak it with older members of the community. I can understand a lot of it, but my generation was the first to grow up speaking English, so I can't speak it very well. The sound of it transports me to another time.
. . . my mother looked out an open window in 1947 and sighed. A drought had doomed her pepper garden, turning her pepper plants into hay, and she didn’t know how to save them. She said, "I wish we had a HORNBLENDE."
from Saute Crapaud, Acadian & Creole Songs for Children Nancy Tabb Marcantel & Bill Russell Swallow Records – 1977
"Saute Crapaud" is one of the most well-known Cajun folk songs. "Crapaud" is French for TOAD or FROG and "Saute" means JUMP, so the title translates as JUMP, FROG! "Crapaud" also means BOOGER so that made the song extra fun to listen to as a child.
. . . I was standing on a wooden boardwalk in an old Alaskan mining town, peeking through the open window of a grand Victorian home. A man sitting outside the diner next door warned me to stay away. “Very boring,” he said. “All they do in there is sing.”
Last Sunday a representative of The Messenger visited the Rousseau Inn at Catahoula Lake to look at the building and grounds. The building, which we believe is the largest in the state, for a restaurant, hotel and dancing, is built on pillars ten feet high, facing the beautiful lake, glassed in all around, with a fine floor, and lighted by 54 white globe lights.
The Evangeline Oak, right; Attakapas trading post, center;
spire of Catholic Church, background; Bayou Teche, foreground
Since the Rousseau Catahoula Inn is located "in the heart of the Evangeline counutry," the following pages are devoted to a brief history of the Teche Country, St. Martinville, and the local version of the true story of Evangeline, which appears in "Acadian Reminiscences," by Judge Felix Voorhies, a direct Acadian descendant.
The multifarious changes that have come to the Teche Country since that far distant day when Evangeline roamed its banks, seeking her lover of the north, serve but to enhance its peculiar natural beauty. Broad pastures and fields of green with wavering harvests of cane and corn, set in relief the diminished forests of live oak, magnolia and the flowering tangle of her day, while the sky and water and delicacy of land contour remain ever and immutably the same.
. . . I did a somersault and landed with both feet planted solidly on the back of an unclothed man kneeling on all fours. Then I broke into a garage and started planting tomato seedlings in the dark. The garage door creaked opened, and the lights of a police truck blinded me. I was caught red-handed.
. . . everyone in Catahoula was getting ready for the vice presidential debate scheduled for live broadcast from Miss Gail's house. Street-sweepers had cleared the trash from the block party the night before, and flimsy white trash bags bulging with beer cans and beer bottles dotted St. Rita Highway. The pink brick church glittered. The elementary school sparkled. RE-ELECT JIMMY CARTER yard signs everywhere.
. . . I rode from San Diego to Louisiana in the bed of a monster truck. "What is that music?" I asked the guy sitting beside me. The emotion of the music as we rounded the canyon highway's curves matched the rocky landscape so perfectly it was like the music and the landscape were one, and it was like I was one with the music. He didn't know who the composer was. He'd never heard the music before either.
YOU KNOW HOW if there’s enough trash in a trash bin it’ll push the lid up a little? True story. I was riding my bike down Milam Street one morning a few springs ago when I passed a group of trash bins parked along the curb near the Houston Fire Museum. Three standard-issue municipal trash bins, wheels to the curb, were waiting to be emptied. Two of the trash bins were completely closed, but one of the trash bins, I noticed, was so stuffed with trash that whatever was inside was pushing the lid up a little. I suppose that’s what made me want to look, really, the way the lid was so invitingly cracked open, begging me to peep. It wasn’t pushed up much, maybe five or six inches, but I was able to get a nice long peek-a-boo as I zoomed past it on my bike. Whatever loose object was in there, preventing the lid from closing, wasn’t wrapped in a trash bag; it had a hard-edged silhouette. Whatever it was was smooth-contoured, plastic probably, oddly upright or erect, and machine-stamped with a short alpha-numeric sequence. That much I could see. I was going too fast to discern if they were letters or numerals or both. It might seem strange, perhaps, that the thing’s color was the last attribute I perceived before bringing my attention back to the gray pavement of urban traffic unspooling in front of me, but the lid threw such a heavy shadow over whatever was in there, dampening the range of hues to versions of muted gray. I was almost to McGowen when the name of the color came to me. Whatever was in there was — Caucasian. There was no other word for it. Some stamped plastic Caucasian something. Is it me — I braked my bike to a complete stop the moment the thought popped into my head — or was that a mannequin head in there?
It was one of those questions you already know the answer to the moment you can put it into words. Not only did I know there would be a mannequin head in the trash bin, I knew which way it would be facing. I circled back onto the sidewalk, walked my bike on tiptoes over to the trash bin and creaked the plastic lid open, letting it slap against the squeaky backside. I’ll be damned. It was a mannequin head in there. A male Caucasian mannequin head. I grabbed the bald ball of it with a five-fingered grip, allowing the small bundles of trash packed around it to re-settle at the bottom of the tall bin. But I couldn’t get it out with one hand twisting it like that. The mannequin head, peculiarly, was much heavier than I’d expected, felt stuck somehow, so I started rocking it side to side in the bin. When I saw shoulders begin to emerge, then a chest, then an abdomen, it all made perfect sense. It was more than a mannequin head I was struggling to unbury. There was an entire mannequin head-and-torso in there — a very handsome, long, lean and legless, everything-from-the-waist-up, belly button and eyelashes even, just a flat bottom to stand on, European-looking table-top mannequin — whom I lifted up and out of the trash bin eventually. Except for his missing arms (which were still out there somewhere if his keyhole-shaped arm-holes were to be believed) the dude was in fantastic shape, no dents anywhere, clean as a whistle. What the spectacle must have looked like from the third-floor balcony of one of the townhouses across from the Houston Fire Museum that morning, a nude male mannequin sprouting from a trash bin. I spun him around and our faces met. It was so strange to find him in the trash bin like that, waiting for me to randomly rescue him, and, naturally, I wanted to understand who he was and where he came from. It’s silly, of course, in a circumstance such as this one, to expect a clarifying note to have been pinned somewhere, but in my not inconsiderable experience with mannequins, I knew I might find a name written somewhere, such was the case with Marie, so I scoured the ripples of his musculature for clues, tumbling him over in my hands to examine him from every angle. He was Danish, apparently. A label affixed to the small of his back said he was made in denmark. There was an oval patch of some sticky residue just above his left nipple — I wondered if firemen had been using the man-shaped piece of plastic to practice their emergency heart-monitoring skills on — and there was a stamped alpha-numeric sequence, G-10, on the roundest part of the back side of his bald head. No name anywhere. I love finding stuff in the trash, and I confess to a certain fondness for mannequins, so, needless to say, finding this mannequin in the trash was the highlight of my day. Who am I kidding? It made my week. When I pulled him up and out of the bin, I actually froze there for a second, holding him by his arm-holes, straddling my bike, too stunned to move. My first move was to make sure I wasn’t stealing someone’s awesome mannequin from, like, their moving boxes or something, mistaking them for trash bins. I looked across the street. I looked toward the Fire Museum. It was definitely trash day. There were trash bins all down the street. And the tall plastic box before me, I reassured myself, was definitely a trash bin. There were bags of trash inside it, for crying out loud. Which meant the mannequin torso I was holding was definitely trash. Which meant he was free for the taking. Yet somehow it seemed wrong to just snatch him like that, this handsome Danish half-man, municipal trash though he was, and I couldn’t help feeling like a thief when I tucked him under an arm and took off on my bike, pedaling home as fast as I could. I posted a picture to my Facebook page the moment I walked in the door.
The following Sunday, shit got very weird. I was going through my Facebook page, harvesting dreams I’d posted the previous week and pasting them into a separate document where I archive my dreams, and when I got to the morning of May 8th, and I read the dream I’d posted that morning, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I came to a complete stop. This can’t be true, I thought, half-smiling. But there it was in black and white.
I double-checked the dates. I scrolled down to my post from May 12th, the day I found the mannequin torso. I scrolled back up to May 8th, the day I dreamed I found the mannequin torso. May 8th is four days before May 12th. In other words, I dreamed I found a life-size muscular torso in a tall box and biked away with it feeling like a thief. Then four days later, I actually did find a life-size muscular torso in a tall box and bike away with it feeling like a thief. I wanted to doubt my recollection of the week’s events, but how could I argue with the evidence? My documentation was impeccable. Tibetan Buddhists place great importance on their tradition of hidden teachings, in which bodies of ancient knowledge are hidden away like buried treasures and revealed again centuries later when the right treasure-hunters come along to unbury them. Think of them as spiritual time capsules. A hidden teaching might take the form of a literally buried treasure, such as a relic buried underground, or it might take a more nebulous form, the first few symbols of a long-ago scripture, for example, concealed inside a stone, or a sound, a sacred syllable, secreted in an herb or tucked into a cloud and folded into a dream. A bean of cosmic wisdom, even, planted in the fertile ground of the very mind itself, might sprout a beanstalk of revelation eons later. I suspect those Tibetans are on to something. I only am left to wonder, at what point did I actually enter the dream? And did I ever leave it?
“When the space element is balanced in us, there is room for life;
whatever arises can be accommodated.”
THE CONSTANT HAMMERING at the construction site every day for the past two months was annoying enough, but when the old busted-up ice cream van would come and park in the middle of it all and blast the most horrible noises, it was more than I could bear.
The tune wasn’t anything I recognized, a cross between John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain, with car horns, whistles and hand claps thrown in, repeating in an infinite loop. And between each repeat, the recorded voice of a woman saying HELLO. Then the tune would start from the beginning again. Of all the noises —the hammers, the nail guns, the power saws, the beeping sounds the big trucks made when they went in reverse, the whistles, the car horns, the hand claps — it was that single spoken HELLO that sent me over the edge.
Of the five elements — earth, air, fire, water, space — space is the most fundamental, for it contains within it all the other elements. Space is everywhere always. Space is all-accommodating. But the thing is, because it’s everywhere always, we rarely notice it. People notice space like fish notice water. Space disappears. So we have to work a little harder to tune in to it, to feel it. Space isn’t as hot as fire, it’s way more subtle than air, and it’s easy to develop a kind of deafness or numbness to its presence, or to believe that it’s not even there.
The shaman learns to harness the five elements, harmonizing with his environment. Through force of ritual he taps into the energies of each element. He feels them, absorbs them, becomes them. He warms his heart with the fire of the sun and becomes the sun. He feels the earth again and again and becomes the earth. He breathes air and he becomes it. He swallows water and is fluid. But what is space? How does he touch it? How does he become it?
When you’re spacious, you let life happen. You’re not so intent on trying to shape it to suit your needs. You’re the one who does the bending. You rise above the particulars of a situation. Things happen, and you accommodate them. When you’re spacious, you expand. There’s always plenty of room.
When you’re not spacious, you pound on the horn as soon as the light turns green and not one millisecond later, or you pull out a smartphone at every red light to cram something into that moment. You’re quick to assume every comment is an insult. You become every bump in the road.
Easier said than done, of course. After a long day at work and a long drive home, the last thing I wanted to see when I turned onto our street was that stupid old busted-up ice cream van. It was parked in the middle of the street, and the driver was selling ice cream to the construction workers, and the street was so packed with machinery I couldn’t squeeze past. If he’d have pulled up another twenty feet he could have parked along the curb. Didn’t he realize how selfish he was being? And that stupid song was blasting on repeat. JOHN JACOB JINGLEHEIMER SCHMIDT TOOT TOOT TOOT — with that damn HELLO between each repeat. I confess, I wasn’t feeling very spacious. I wanted to scream and pound on my horn. But I didn’t.
I just sat back in my seat. I let the whole thing happen and savored the spectacle. It was so ridiculous — the childish van, the childish tune, not a child in sight. Only one middle-aged van driver and four mustachioed construction workers. Who could blame them? Who could blame an exhausted laborer for desiring an icy confection, especially in the middle of Houston on the hottest day of the year? Who could blame an earnest salesman for trying to make a buck?
A weight slipped from my shoulder. I felt space, and I became it. And the construction workers morphed into four smiling children. Hungry for ice cream, I put the car in park.
. . throughout life. Not all of them will take dream root, especially if you never dream water them. But if you keep a good dream soil, if you tend your dream garden a little bit every day, don't be surprised when dream seedlings start popping up all around you.
I think it's helpful to step back and take a look at the whole process that has to happen for a dream to be recorded. Remembering the dream is only one part of that process. But before you can remember a dream, you first have to HAVE the dream.
. . . I met a woman while waiting in line at a vegetarian pizza parlor. The line snaked through room after room, upstairs and downstairs. It was a never-ending labyrinth, and we were getting more and more frustrated. We’d had enough. “Screw this,” we said. And we hopped on our bikes and went riding through the streets of SOLSBURY.
These 22 black-and-white photographs taken in the 40s, 50s and 60s in Catahoula, Louisiana depict the tradition of giving children a tall white candle on the day of their first communion. They were taken from the photograph collections of several families in Catahoula.