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Tony's Zen Dreams   Burn Out Stories     Interview with Darlene Cohen (with links to their zendo etc.)

Two pre-Zen Tony Patchell memories

Ashey Goes To His Aunt' s Funeral

Low, dark gray puff ball clouds slipped eastward trailing streamers of rain and sleet in the distance. The chill wind dropped and gusted down twisting the tops of the cedar trees that lined the western fence of the cemetery. Ashey, with his half sober father, his uncle, and three cousins, carried the coffin of his great aunt across the frozen light brown grass. The heavy coffin tilted & swayed causing the pall bearers to stumble on the ice patches that lay leeward of each tombstone. They topped the gradual rise in the center of the burying ground. Sounds of shoes crunching ice, the more distant slam of a car door, a whiff of cigarette smoke, somebody in the back of the trailing crowd whining about February weather. Ahead, the grave covered by rectangular piece of green cloth. Ashey looks around. Two men, the gravediggers, stand under the cedars in the distance smoking cigarettes and watching the procession. Looking south the ground slopes off and down, snow dusted pastures, corn fields, wood lots, farm houses, winding roads, dropping down to the Ohio River, wide, flat, black, barely rolling in the distance & separating them all from Kentucky. Family and friends, most of them with cold wet feet, chapped hands, stiff collars, have coming to say good bye to their great aunt, mother of seventeen children. I'll do anything to miss school, Ashey thinks.

The preacher's words, for a man who dearly loved the sound of his own voice, were considerately short. Before he finished, the men from the drinking side of the family were already shifting their feet and sidling to the rear, getting ready to make a quick break for the cars and pick ups parked nose to tail along the muddy road outside the gate. Ashey, irritated, watched them salivate for a quick snort of bourbon while the wind whipped and stung his legs, slicing through his charcoal gray Sears & Roebuck slacks. No one will go back to work today except for the absolutely necessary chores, feeding the animals, milking the cows. Some won't even do that. Cows will stand outside their barns in the mud and wind and early dark moaning with the pain from their extended udders until some weary wife or child gets dressed and leaves the warmth of the kitchen stove and goes out into the night to take care of them. Not even that for Ashey though. Back home, change clothes, back to town for the grand excitement that two gas stations and a grocery store can afford.


Ashey Goes Home For A Visit

Sometime during the night, his usual reserve overcome by clear as water moonshine whisky, Ashey smashed all the windows in the abandoned house with his fists all the while screaming about how he'd rather die than put up with this shit. Just now he recalls this incident, reeling it in from some dark pool, as he sits across the table from his old high school friend, gazing sleepily and half drunk through a glass and metal forest of empty beer bottles, filled up ash trays, the dismantled pieces of a military Colt .45. Familiar material things. Fetishes, objects with the power to bring back the night as surely as sage smoke or shuffling steps. Ashey is powered by the liquored stresses of the moment. His life has been a series of long cold spaces. Ashey had always thought of his previous craziness as a sort of daring, a calculated disregard for the machinery of events and the world of consequential reality. Walking up to rednecks with guns. Folks he knew quite well who had little compunction about shooting people. Ashey talking to them, smoothly taunting them into ever tightening circles, wrapping them about their necks with their own pig eyed stupidity, then walking off giddy and contemptuous.

What he once saw as a clean edged and finely honed instinct for survival, and a welcome relief from boredom, he now saw as a radical lack of respect for the old time rules for violence. He had been making a callow but very serious bid for self destruction. He was also keeping his own nasty little mean streak alive and well.

Yesterday he went through his mother's photo albums, slowly turning the pages. His grandparents, handsome people, his mother as a small child standing upon the seat of an ornate wicker chair. A procession of long dead puppies, old cars, country houses, and he felt, welling up, a vast and solid sense of personal history, his drama, stretching out, a translucent film spreading thin over the void year after year, then shrinking back across more years into a compact, impregnable sphere, round and tight and hard, a small planet revolving in his chest and beginning to crack open now with fear and pain. Ashey sits at his mother's table staring across the photo albums, across the table, looking out the window into a hot and hazy August afternoon. He recedes deep into himself dropping down to that place where like enamel baked on copper, like dried blood on a bedroom wall, violence clings to his every action, tears away the imaginary flowers in his hand, and sends him hurtling down, a river of blood running through total darkness.

That night Ashey dreamt that he bought the family home place from God. Actually he bought it back from God. Ashey was calm and self assured while being interviewed by the media at a stopover in Albuquerque. He looked as if he had stepped out of a GQ ad. Natural fibers, well cut, earth tones, expensive. He looks across New Mexico, Texas, moving east on across the Mississippi, across the Mid West. It's winter time and he sees the house from the air, white, on a hill, patches of snow, brown grass pasture, gray lace of trees.

Ashey wakes up, though, in August, in his mom's house, in his long dead brother's bedroom. Framed high school sports letters on the wall. Graduation pictures of Ashey, his brother, his sister. A cedar chest at the foot of the bed. An upstairs room at the back of the house, very quiet in the early morning. He can feel the heat of the day rising slowly, jacked up notch by notch by humidity and backyard silence. Because of the dream he decides to visit his old home. Ashey's mother lives on cigarettes and black coffee. When Ashey is home he does too, so breakfast is usually a short affair. He takes his mom's car, a ten year old Ford, a wide long car that floats over the road like a boat. He drives east a few miles through farm land and scattered new homes built on former corn fields. He turns east again onto a narrower black top road, drives another mile and tops a rise and there it is a hundred yards ahead on a hill on the left. A big white house in a sloping hillside yard filled with widely spaced, very big, very old elms and maples. A picture book home for somebody now. Clean, restored, brushed by sunlight and shade. Ashey pulls off the road and stops. He listens to the engine idle in the heat. He feels confused. It all looks so innocent, the scene of a multiple murder years afterward. He knows for a fact that if he shut off the car's engine that he would hear small screams being pressed out from between the humid heavy layers of air. Ashey's world. A deep and dimensional picture, mostly in shadow, flashes of brightness. Hills and valleys rolling back into the centuries. Shawnee and Miami villages. Farm children. Innocence stopped cold in its tracks, cut down, bloodied souls, generation after generation. Ashey knew that one way or another he was the last in line for this particular kind of destruction. This would have brought comfort except for his firm conviction that yet another spirit killer, more thorough and more vicious than all the others was even now lurching up the hill. Alive and breathing, smelling new cut hay, he puts the car in gear and goes up the rutted drive and into the yard.


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