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Monday, September 19, 2011


robert rauschenberg, untitled, 1954

Today I started reading in Kent Nerburn's The Wolf At Twilight again and couldn't stop, went all the way through to last page. The last half of it didn't allow me to stop anyplace, except to get up and pour a refill of green tea. It is the beautiful writing, the 90 year old Lakota man Dan, who had been damaged for life by Indian school in his childhood, like all the other kids there, was searching to find what happened to his sister after they were separated as children. He wanted to know before he died. He called on Nerburn, who had written the earlier book of Dan and his world, his friend Grover, his granddaughter, Wenona, his dog, his bare essentials way of living. It's several years later, Dan wants Nerburn to find what he can of what happened to his sister, Yellow Bird, or Sarah after Indian school. Dan wanted to know if she was living, and if so wanted to find her. The first half, Nerburn sets the scene that we're in a culture totally different from our own, different way of thinking, different way of seeing. The last half is the search. Dan gave him a postage stamp size photo from when she was little. That picture was all Nerburn had to go by, and her name.

Nerburn was the one to call. He'd promised Dan he'd do what he could to find her. The Indians around Dan didn't believe he could do it. In the meantime, Dan talks to Nerburn while the cassette recorder is recording. He told the history of the Indians being eradicated from sea to sea by the boat people. He told a bit of experience in the Indian school, the kids dying, the kids killed. The martial treatment was off the track for Indian kids. Indians didn't hit their kids. They respected their kids. They saw the kids and the old people the ones closest to the Creator. He told the story of separation from his sister. Old Dan was using a walker in this volume. Ten years before, he declined someone lending him a hand to help him out of a chair, or in awkward places. By this time, when he's 90, he allows an assist with grace. Another volume in the history of the Native people, the story of a man in the last years of his life telling the history from the side of the people living on reservations in degraded conditions. A century later, they continue to have FBI for law enforcement on the res. People kept down in poverty in concentration camps, denied basic human dignity.

When I read the last page, I didn't want it to be over. Nerburn is a subtle writer. You think he's just giving a reading of what the weather is like at a given moment. Yet it's told in a perfectly clear sentence that when you pay attention the sentence is a little haiku of poetry. Several times I read over a sentence that pushed my Awe button for its beauty as as sentence in the English language. Through the spidery branches I could see the daylight fading. These two volumes are something on the order of documentary films. I'd love to see a film made of the story, drama or documentary, either way would do, without Robert Redford, Brad Pitt or Matt Damon, please. These are more along the lines of Black Elk Speaks, a record of what a Lakota man has to say at the end of his long life. It's not mysticism. It's history.

Then I caught a whim that I wanted to see Oliver Stone's W. with director's commentary. Had an idea it would be interesting to hear Stone talk about his film, scene by scene. It was. Very interesting. It's like the one thing I would like to ask a director of a film I appreciate to do for me, take me through it scene by scene, tell me what you were doing. Who's going to do that for a schmo in the mountains? Stone may have visited people at Roaring Gap some time along the years, was in driving distance to come over to my place, put the movie in and explain for me all the way through it what he was up to. Thank you, Mr Stone. Most gracious of you. I'll be your fan forever. Can I have your autograph before you go? Since I don't see that happening before the end of my lifetime, imagine how much I anticipated seeing it with Stone's commentary. I enjoy hearing an artist talk about his work in ways that illustrate his/her thinking. Stone has always made interesting films, whether or not I like the subject. It's Oliver Stone's vision that makes me want to see more, that made me take W home.


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