“MARFA Poetry Machine in 36 Things” – CA Conrad

                                                      –for Jason Dodge

The Lannan Foundation presented me with a generous fellowship to live and write in beautiful Marfa, Texas for two months. My working class mother thinks I have pulled off a bank heist rather than anyone would be foolish enough to pay me to write my poems. I said, “I know Mom I know, it is amazing with all the love our country gives to war and genocide that there is any left over for a poet!” I did 36 Things a day for 36 days, taking notes between each Thing, the notes harvested later for the poems. Here is a list of the Things I did each day to create the MARFA POETRY MACHINE:

1: SAGE POETS
Burn sage to honor a different living poet each morning, saying the poet’s name out loud while wearing a ceramic hamsa the poet Erica Kaufman gave me. “This morning as every morning with poetry as my strength, I honor the poet ___________.”

2: CRYSTAL SUPPLEMENT
Place the day’s food in a glass bowl surrounded by crystals that have been programed to boost cell proliferation and heighten organic vibrational patterns for greater nutritional gain. The steady pulse of crystal frequencies saturating plants, beans and grains.

3: REIKI SUNRISE BEFORE SUNRISE
Watch sunrise on Edgar Cayce Institute Meditation Room webcam in Virginia Beach while giving Reiki to myself, preparing for the sun’s arrival in Texas. http://www.edgarcayce.org/are/prayer.aspx

4: REIKI SUNRISE
An hour later watch sunrise on porch while giving myself Reiki. Setting my day by the sun plugs me into a natural clock.

(I will have two sunrises a day with two time zones: One online in Virginia Beach, another in Texas. But only one sunset to cheat the grave.)

5: YOKO MOLECULAR INFUSION
While cooking breakfast play the album RISING by Yoko Ono next to the stove, her music finding its way into the fiber of the food as she sings, “Listen to your heart, respect your intuition, make your manifestation, there is no limitation, have courage, have rage, we’re all together.”

6: CELL KNITTING
Chew each mouthful of breakfast 36 times, meditating on food cells becoming my own cells of Yoko-Crystal infusion.

7: ELVIS PENETRATING CRYSTAL
Meditate on a postage stamp of Elvis Presley (a gift from friend Jenn McCreary) through a clear shaft of flawless citrine, the guardian gemstone of manifestation.

8: ELVIS BLACKOUT
Wearing headphones sitting inside a closet with door closed listening to the length of a different Elvis song each day then as it finishes take notes by flashlight.

9: MARFA GRATITUDE
Standing in front of the house on Summer Street taking a slow 360-degree view, grateful for the people who make Marfa what it is. You can surround yourself with the best art in the world, but what actually makes a town is its citizens, and Marfa is home to some of the most thoughtful people I have ever met.

10: LOG BENCH VISUALIZATION
Sit on log bench in Summer Street Park. Gaze at the landscape without blinking. Close eyes and remember what was seen. Open eyes and look for what was missed. With each day the contents of the landscape grows more complete inside. Later while falling asleep I visualize the park, recalling the details clearer and clearer throughout the 36 days.

11: GIANT INSTALLMENTTS
Watch five and a half minutes of the movie GIANT that was filmed in Marfa (1955), starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. (Five and a half minutes times 36 is the length of the film). “Bick, you shoulda shot that fella a long time ago. Now he’s too rich to kill.” (A line of Uncle Bawley’s).

12: COLOR MATES
Focus on a color outside the Pueblo Market in the parking lot, buildings, or the sky: a yellow car or a bit of pink gum or an orange cat. Then walk the market aisles to find the same color on cans and other packaging and read the ingredients like on a can of peas as if it is the legend to a map. And ask the label out loud, “HOW are these peas showing the way out of darkness to the sanctioned interior?”

13: SENTINEL PINE
All my life I have made friends with trees. I take my magnifying glass to study the giant pine growing behind an abandoned building near Pueblo Market. She is tall and old and Donald Judd must have taken notice of her perfect symmetry of branches holding herself in spaces of green, brown, and angelic exhale of crown. There was an ant and I think she was the same ant, there most days crawling up the narrow ravines of bark. I dabbed a little brown rice syrup on the bark, always eaten, always relished.

14: APHRODITE’S ELEMENT
Place a penny on railroad tracks next to the post office. Copper is the metal of Aphrodite – the goddess of Love – and we must not forget this, ever, that copper is her element on Earth. Find flattened pennies from the day before and leave them on the sidewalk, squashed heads-up.

15: SOTOL SNAKE SAUNTER
Walk a snake pattern through the long rows of enormous sotol plants at the corner of Oak & High outside Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation. This building houses the work of artist John Chamberlain and was originally known as Fort D. A. Russell. In an essay, Judd wrote of the building and plants, “This large right angle was planted in a corresponding grid of sotol plants, an agave of the area, from which a liquor like tequila is made – just in case.” (Reader, do you also LOVE the “just in case” at the end?)

16: SHUT UP AND SLIDE
At the Travis E. Self Memorial Park climb the sliding board. Take notes at the top. Send the notebook down the slide then follow it no matter who watches.

17: RAILROAD PYRAMID
Climb hill near MARFA RAILROAD PEN. Face across tracks, find three stationary objects then imagine a line connecting them. Study contents of triangle especially look for the large dark chicken, she lives there and she is a beautiful chicken.

18: CHICKEN SONGS
Sing to the large dark chicken even if she is not visible. But sing like a chicken sing one very large dark chicken serenade she might appreciate.

19: MARFA HIBACHI
Stand at intersection of Highland Avenue and San Antonio Street imagining a restaurant with a giant canvas at the entrance with brushes and paints for customers to use. If a customer adds to the painting they get a free bottle of wine for their table. The choice to not paint is a thousand dollars for a glass of water, a salad, or cookie, the high price of denying collaboration.

20: JUDD’S FALLEN GIANT
For years I have viewed Donald Judd’s work in museums as an immersed study on chakras, spinal discs aligned and often lit from within. In Marfa I drive down route 67 South to see Judd’s massive concrete blocks in the desert, like the remains of a fallen giant a kilometer in length, spinal cord fossils with flesh of Texas wind and sand. One afternoon two coyotes were having sex between the third and fourth vertebrate from the maw of the desert: a burst of pleasure beside the fallen.

21: MARFA ALOHA
Give a stranger a poetry broadside.

22: DESERT WITCHES
Read five pages a day of Marc Simmons’s 180 page book, WITCHCRAFT IN THE SOUTHWEST: Spanish & Indian Supernaturalism on the Rio Grande. (I found myself routing for the witches, no matter what misogynistic and bigoted prejudices the author attempted to instill.)

23: WITCH DANCE WORKOUT
Each day sit on floor to follow Mary Wigman’s Witch Dance like a Jane Fonda workout video for the spirit. I believe Wigman may be the first contemporary dancer to consciously use dance as trauma release. In an interview she said, “I was once completely confused and unhappy. I locked myself in the guest room of my parent’s home and in great consternation I sobbed and cried because I did not know anymore what to do with my life. There on the spot I discovered suddenly that in all my unhappiness I was moving and I was moving in such a way that I had never moved before. And also suddenly this moving became an expression, a speaking out.” –Mary Wigman, dancer and choreographer. http://bit.ly/1MdSPtZ

24: SWEET POTATO BABY DOLL
The grocer said my sweet potato is organic, but I love all sweet potatoes, organic or filled with toxic sprays and fucked up genes. I cradle my sweet potato, breast feed my sweet potato, rock her back and forth, singing her name, Tara, Tara OH MY LITTLE TARAAAAA. My mother said this would have been my name if I had been born a girl. I drew eyes, mouth, and painted a purple glitter skirt onto Sweet Potato Baby Doll. I carry her with me in my bag to show to people I meet. “Would you like to see Sweet Potato Baby Doll? She is my avatar potato with a bit of lithium quartz embedded in her head to receive the transmissions of her day which is also our day.”

25: REGRET-REVERSAL SPELL
Close eyes and think of an embarrassment from the past. Imagine the former self in the middle of the situation shrugging and laughing.

26: WE ARE ALL COGS OF A BEAUTIFUL MACHINE
Find one natural item a day, a twig, little stone, feather, a bit of fluff on a breeze, and wind it, twist it into my longest strands of hair. Leave it tangled in my hair while writing then untangle it.

27: COGS OF A MARFA POETRY MACHINE
Arrange found natural items on back porch, a growing machine.

28: PAGE 36
Read page 36 of different books written by former Lannan Fellows. For instance, “Expunging Palestinians politically or physically from Israel’s body politic is an idea with broad support within the admittedly narrow Zionist Political spectrum.” (from Ali Abunimah’s book The Battle for Justice in Palestine, from Haymarket Books.)

29: YOKO MOLECULAR INFUSION PART TWO
While cooking supper play the 2007 album YES, I’M A WITCH by Yoko Ono next to the stove, her music finding its way into the fiber of the food as she sings, “Yes, I’m a witch, I’m a bitch, I don’t care what you say, my voice is real, my voice is truth, I don’t fit in your ways… Each time we don’t say what we want to say we’re dying.”

30: CELL KNITTING PART TWO
Chew each mouthful of my supper 36 times, meditating on food cells becoming my own cells of Yoko-Crystal infusion.

31: REIKI SUNSET
Watch sunset over the desert at end of Third Street while giving myself Reiki.

32: LOST HORSE
Have one shot of Jack Daniels at The Lost Horse Saloon to meet people and enjoy this space where one night a woman rode a beautiful white horse INTO THE BAR! Ask Tim Johnson at the Marfa Book Company, we were having a drink together. The lost horse always finds its way.

33: MARFA LIGHTS
Look for the Marfa Lights at the viewing station on Route 90. Every night I saw them, sometimes as balls of white light rising from the earth, other nights riding the air sideways and changing colors. Someone told me they were reflected car lights. I said, “Oh really, then what were they in 1888 and earlier, long before the metal horse arrived in Marfa?”

34: FOR THE ARCHITECTS WE LIVE WITH
Each night I play the CD DUET FOR PEN & PENCIL, ELECTRIC DIRT, composed by Christine Olejniczak. Then I walk from room to room with a flashlight to study the house designed by architect Kristin Bonkemeyer. I pause in each room to imagine her original blueprints of the building and say out loud, “THIS is where I write in Kristin’s drawing, THIS is where I play music in Kristin’s drawing; THIS is where I cook, eat and this is where I dream in Kristin’s drawing.”

35: PECCARY VIGIL
Sit quietly on front porch hoping to spot the tribe of javelinas who like to eat the prickly pear cactus in the yard. Several nights THERE THEY WERE, little chattering tusks, hairy, stinky, and glorious to behold.

36: SAGE POETS PART TWO
Burn sage to honor a deceased poet each evening. “This evening as every evening with poetry as my strength, I honor the poet ___________.” For instance, R.I.P. Amiri Baraka who died the first week I was in Marfa.

I was raised by people who spent many years of their lives working in factories where they were treated like bad children who needed to be disciplined for demanding health care and a livable wage. They formed unions to combat the company, and local, state and federal governments all poised against them. I did these 36 Things for them. Freedom, poetry, and Love for them. Amiri Baraka said, “A man is either free or he is not. There cannot be any apprenticeship for freedom.” The resulting poems are a poetic measurement titled WIDTH OF A WITCH, with a sample below, originally published on the Poetry Foundation website.

Mars.1 

                                     to be
                                  gone a
                  constant desire
         embarrassed for the
   giant leaning in for love
   we had enough
of

   the dance number but                   the whirling begins

  it just starts
  silos full of air
  no more corn
  no more wheat
 watching myself for
 full details in a strange man’s pants
 we let

the soldier board the plane

              shot in head three days later
               why are you angry you said
                 why are you not I said
.
.
.