Here in Marfa, Texas with Those Desert Eyes: THO
by Luke B. Goebel
Four years ago or three I went and saw the Marfa lights with a woman whose heritage is predominantly Cherokee. I just ran into her in the street NOW: she's crying facing felony charges for assaulting a county sheriff (they do patrol through town), public drunkenness, and interfering with an officer’s duty.
She got arrested last night and when she wouldn’t let them remove her silver bracelet that is a religious totem, she pushed the officer away and kicked him and was beaten, charged with felony, treated the way people are treated now by police.
The Marfa lights are a phenomenon of lights that fly up into the sky at night outside Marfa, flying toward one another, stretching out in star shapes of golden light, then swimming together in the sky and separating again. No one knows what causes them—google it—there are lots of different ideas. She told me, as we saw them, that her ancestors and people have talked about them and known them since before Abe Lincoln’s nose. They say they are friendly, happy spirits.
She can't quit drinking when she touches it. I quit drinking thirteen years ago. I massage her in the street, talking, hugging her as she cried, sobbed really, one of the 224 locals; my fake emotional support animal gave her some support, and we tried to share what we know from our journeys, which wasn’t much. I mostly just listened to our sweet sweetheart darling who showed me the Marfa lights; we saw them like the Rolling Stones song NO SPARE PARTS in which Mick Jagger country drawls, "I saw the lights in Marfa, I guess it was a scenic route" though to me I always hear, “I guess they were a touch of Grace." Should the world be blown up, Honey?
I am thinking about the climate, California’s drought, the average rent in San Francisco. Is this justifiable yet? Think of that young man with his broken spine in Baltimore—Freddie Carlos Gray Jr. Ferguson. Staten Island. South Carolina. Politics.
A little white butterfly just flew across the desert road. Highway. I'm driving and dictating into my phone. I am spectating. Recording.
A close friend of my sister and a man I've spent some time with is dying in a hospital in Portland, Oregon. He has been surviving blood cancer for 20 years. I am now passing a giant blimp. There is a sign out front NSA or TSA or DHS and it says something about radar surveillance. The man with blood cancer, Leaf, is about to die. He has a young son who is the kindest soul. Leaf has an open wound in his back that goes to his spine. Yesterday, the hospital tried to discharge him saying that his pain management had been achieved. Just throw him out dying in horrendous pain. They took him off his pain drugs. Subbed them out for cheaper shit. They hadn't given him morphine for two days even though he has a hook up in his arm for an IV because he couldn't get the pills (my phone autocorrects “pills” to “payments” adding its wisdom), down his throat. They've got him doped up on Ativan rather than morphine because it's cheaper and then they tried to send him home.
Out to the side of highway 90, I'm on the right one now, against a mountain side, leaving Marfa, I see a giant espresso cup. It's about 700 yards high. It's not there. A hallucination. I miss hallucinating. The sense you could die at any moment. Leave your body. The unfathomable lasting of each moment far too long at far too much. The brain at 9k rpms. The world needs giant modernist absurdist sculptures against the mountainside more than surveillance blimps. That sense of idealism and giant visionary dream that left the visible popular world long ago.
My sister and friends and my mother and her doctor husband get involved with Leaf’s case. They are able to make it so that he can stay, and eventually be brought to hospice Monday. It is Saturday. We have drones dropping bombs, which right or wrong, just shows that this world has gone insane. So, what does this have to do with Marfa? Have you been to Marfa? What do we like? What feels good?…Marfa looks like a utopia of vastness and imagination and non surveillance and artistic aesthetic—freedom. I do not feel free with a 401k, I have learned, over the past four years.
"At best, perhaps Marfa is a call to action. A reminder not to be only nostalgic, but that there are sacred spaces of landscape that remain....where we can go to roam with our imaginations and work as artists—where we can choose to try our hands and wills at utopia, which is no place, which must fail or fall, but before it does there is a special bond one can have with land and people."
When I get back to Portland the strangeness will be waiting. My sister, who is graduating from a conceptual art and design program where the graduates, all but her, go directly CHUTES AND LADDERS right into design and or marketing jobs…recently said to me, “I don’t think there’s ever been a place where people are on so many drugs so much of the time.” I am at a bar, no human eyes looking like eyes, the music louder than any human can speak, and I am suddenly the stranger seeing my face disintegrate in the mirror in pixels and visuals, being laughed at when I try to converse with a pair of swingers, poly people, who are high beyond conception, the entire town outside of my poles of grounding. I’m having flashbacks. There is something good happening in Portland amid the overcrowding, the invasion, the destruction of the old town I am from, and a leap being made…by many.
Portland is a strange diode culture that resists nothing, is nothing, fears nothing, welcomes nothing, is as far out in the realm of societal meaninglessness—departure from mores and the new world as anywhere I know. We see Mad Max.
I am an artist who can’t afford my hometown, can’t afford the cities where the hip are consuming, snacktating, and I furthermore see the trap. Too much professionalism, not enough telescoping of consciousness…Why don’t we all drop out, learn to live on less, earn less, live in towns where we populate the landscape and our lives with objects that have aura, where we can slow DOWN? The old Tune in, Turn on, Drop out…maybe it’s time? In cities or deserts.
As for me, in Portland my dog will roll in human shit, come into my family’s place with white carpets, and roll the shit into them. A meter person will give me a 140-dollar ticket for expired registration. I will feel like I’m in that song Ballad of a Thin Man, “Do you, MR JONES.” I will not be able to write, as I never can in Portland. I will spend a lot of time with Leaf and running errands for his stay in hospice. He will look like Jesus covered in tattoos, skinny to the point of extinction, with a halo screwed into his skull so he cannot move his neck or head.
Sitting there next to this friend with the halo screwed into his skull, a man who never took the bait, never bought into professionalism, never became a hipster professional, lived wildly and freely until his untimely end—a psychonaut beautiful soul without fear of not being hip for being sincere—who made a child—who lived on the earth—I have to ask, where is the next frontier?
I admit I am guilty of the spectator life. Visiting. I admit I fetishize old technology, use typewriters, have hundreds of records, only shoot revolvers, want objects that seem to have value, because we value them, because they seem to have aura. I admit I want to have autonomy among the landscape. That I love the desert! OMG, have you seen desert air and vastness? I have found my next place…but…so have others…and it’s the same place. It’s a desert town a lot like Marfa. Less staged…less protected by foundations…but right about to burst into legend…already bursting…30K a house. For me, it’s time to get in, get to work on my own art, and soon, soon, soon enough, it too will be overblown, blown up, on fire, over.
At best, perhaps Marfa is a call to action. A reminder not to be only nostalgic, but that there are sacred spaces of landscape that remain, affordable, small scale, where we can go to roam with our imaginations and work as artists—where we can choose to try our hands and wills at utopia, which is no place, which must fail or fall, but before it does there is a special bond one can have with land and people—where we can choose at any time to vote out the cops, though border patrol will come through, or county sheriffs, but more importantly we shall identify with whatever emblems we want in the new world—but why not live them?
When the society we live in forces us backwards with our hearts, into nostalgia, let’s build new utopias with old objects, with new ideas, and escape the rat races of our parents, of the generations that have destroyed, and let’s unhinge our backs from the front that is ruining our entire selves. I want to let go—I want out—I am going, going, and I hope you will visit. Plans are being made.
We anxiously await the chance to invite you.
Let’s drop out! Whoopie!
“Throw roses into the abyss and say: 'here is my thanks to the monster who didn't succeed in swallowing me alive’.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
Fiction writer Luke B. Goebel is armed with wit and dangerous. He also carries a colt 45 pistol but that's the least of your worries. With an insatiable appetite for the dark, mystical phenomena of the American West, Goebel's writing has found him living for stretches in Marfa, Texas; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; and many more landscapes that nourish his writing. Last year Goebel published his first novel, entitled Fourteen Stories: None of Them Are Yours, which won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovative Fiction.