episodes from A HalfMan Dreamer

David Matlin


A Square Chin

             "I'll bet that dog you're carrying likes Irises," Wesley said.

            Nadia Sanin stopped. Looked at the body surfer sitting in the middle of Detroit on a cold ready-to-ice-up day. He was straight, she thought, pretty except for his squared, prominent chin, hung-over probably, and had just mentioned something dumb enough about flowers to be good. The dog sniffed in Wesley's direction.

            "It's not going to growl is it?"

            She looked at him more closely. He was wearing Levis , cowboy boots with patches of mud, a faded "T" shirt covered by a thin coat. "It all looks gay," she whispered to herself, "but it's straight, at least for now, and it knows the name of a flower."

            "Not unless you give him an Iris," Nadia Sanin said.

            "I could give him a rose too." Wesley let out the barest smile on that one. "My father grew those by the train load." He watched the woman eyeing him, his boots, and looked down himself then.

            "Don't mind me. On Saturdays I go to the forest to dig up the dead."

            "No Irises, then?" Nadia Sanin asked.

            "Didn't find any of those. Maybe next time. One for you. And one for that dog you're carrying."

            He got up, nodded, and walked away, and she thought if those Irises did arrive someone'd have to think more than twice about a refusal with men since around her fifteenth year.


            Wesley mentioned in one of his letters about a person shadowing him. He figured whoever it was, if he decided to give up eventually, there'd be no trouble. I read that and laughed, knowing this farmer's son, and if he went cold what real trouble there'd be. It was a part of himself he'd known since childhood, but it wouldn't do. There were so many variations of anger in his house. It was a kind of ornamentation each member could pick from. The rose thorns which split that home seemed to have appeared there at about a moment when the FBI came with its surveillances, its questions, spread a kind of filth. I thought it contaminated Wesley's family. Slowly ate at them no matter how much they wanted it not to. The only one who refused was Wesley almost as a point of honor. Tom Green saw Wesley's rage early and took him fossil hunting, or out into the Mojave to tell him about the women who'd roamed there, wanting every man they saw and laughing over themselves, their luscious hunger and skill a gift from the creation around them. Sexy women sprouted everywhere and even though they were gone now a man still had the permission to appreciate the possibility he could be suddenly abandoned and everybody was available in that desert once for everybody else and that a gentle laughter over those sacred and hilarious affections filled all the now empty canyons.

            Tom Green made hot chocolate for the boy, fried bacon, and after the farmer's son went to sleep, no longer worried over the men in dark cars and their cameras, walked the surrounding arroyos hoping to hear a remnant echo of a Mojave woman giggling from just at the edge of her road of death, over another fool whose companion was the night air. On some of those occasions he couldn't help thinking of J. Edgar Hoover sucking oysters with his lover, the concentrated fart-like gurglings of their mouths working the almost female substance of the oyster flesh, squeezing lemons all over it, naked in their chairs with hard-ons, archives of pictures, blackmail, mountains and oceans of it kept at the perfect distance by which to crush others their cocks twitching with the enormous labor, shadows of unquenchable photographic chemistry, the hungry cavern of their secret fathomless void and their muscles and glands sniffing the one, one's lust for all windpipes with the name maybe of Ten Death sprung ripe from the green grass. Cowboys and Pirates. Tom shook his head. Especially J. Edgar on a long cruise, didn't matter anymore if it was the oceans of the world. Washington D.C. 'd do fine. Cowboys and Pirates and the wonder of bad luck those two figured women to be. Curate the service and ceremony, chomp at the little ponds of violence that brush the nostrils with their ghost petaled ripples and help the dying die in lives that having never come enough into living could attract only the most impassive funerals and mutilations via Mr. Hoover's picture shows where the twenty folds of mournful formed doubles enter in all their sultry immensities. Those two punchers "cockulating" Tom smiled out the cowboy name for it. It was one thing to go cockhungry. In his world, pleasure, however unreliable its appearances, was considered good luck, occasion for even the deepest laughters over how funny and mortal people can really let themselves get. Tom even worked among the Mormons once when he'd left Oklahoma . Stayed a while doing ranch work in Nevada riding fences and one day up a ridge he saw what he thought was a stray cow. He clicked his cutting horse, pulled out his lasso, and proceeded to ride up quiet so as not to over surprise the animal, and its lover, the ranch owner, was being a kind of grim reaper there, one Tom hadn't ever seen yet but thought it'd be better to get out of ear-shot before he heard a-howling-in-the-wilderness or any other kind of strange news from those Great Basin Wastes. What with the fact there were whorehouses in Nevada , that they were legal with actual human ladies in them might never have occurred to that man. Yup. Probably. "Finders fuckin keepers," Tom thought. Maybe none of'em ever were pretty as that cow. She had a nice hide. Yet he rode back anyway, properly fed, watered, brushed down his horse, packed up his stuff and started walking for California , or Venus, anywhere a Ghost Dance set'im down was fine. But Hoover got himself to some fringe where his secret intimacy became a prowling otherlife leaving whatever it touched to run out into a piece of hanging spit and when the farmer's son began to speak against another war years later, Tom Green cut off a lock of Wesley's hair and sent it to a man/woman he knew who'd been given the narrations about what the world would look like after the men and women of this one rubbed themselves invisible finally on their own drudgeries. Such things weren't meant for protection even from a polypus like J. Edgar who gave birth to ninefold darknesses space by measured space. It was just something Tom could do like all his people before him had done, look for the ones who let themselves become the most human, risk everything for that. For its quiet leftovers clung to the remoteness of this desert where the Kiowa had brought Wesley.


             Nadia Sanin decided if those Irises failed to arrive she'd have to do something. Jeff Langer played Wesley's friend, going to movies or dinner. She saw Wesley didn't know and it wasn't that she cared to save him from his childishness or even herself from her attraction. It was Jeff Langer. Even a thousand hands'd run to incompetent shelter over where he might come to rest. Or when. Which scared her most she didn't know.

 Bark Circles


                                                Thick oil's

                                                color of cream

                                                 lures neighbors

                                                come to lick or chew

                                                the units of currency made standard:

                                      One winter prime adult beaver hide equaled

                                                 10 Lbs. Feathers

                                                8 Moose Hoofs

                                                A Brass Kettle

                                                or one and a half pounds gunpowder

   The Huron women loved this bribery and its speculation. But the commerce could not make even their dead safe from such sweet nausea based upon a phonetics whose irritation fed monopoly, the upper country " ... from the foot up the inside of each hind leg to the anal vent and from there up the belly and the breast to the middle of the lower lip, and from each forepaw up the inside of the leg to the center slit at the chest ..."

             If you walked out into the forests surrounding the City on the Straits anytime from its foundation to the early 1840s before those primeval stands had had their bark circled one tree at a time over millions of acres you could have found under that canopy raspberries, whortleberries, cranberries and strawberries, the ancient abundance nearly as lovely a gift as the shade and dappled light which had called it to unfold as soon as the ice of another world had gone stagnant.

            There were so many different kinds of shade to choose from that the undecided pilgrim could dance herself helpless for at least three lifetimes over a hesitation about which maples to sit under, what walnuts to pick. Getting too comfortable under your favorite oak might be a hazard because down the meadow directly there'd be either a plum or wild apple tree and the urge for one or the other before that snooze set in could destroy the science of laziness you were about to truly degrade yourself with in front of the skyloads of feather borne meat come to flit over your dreaming body and then go roost for free in the butternut and elm. With your reveries taking place on a rise above Lake St. Claire you'd have been able to look down on that water and the huge shadows its schools of fish made. Pike, Bass, Sturgeon, Pickeral, Bullhead, Perch, White Fish, Trout migrated from one fresh water sea to another forming underwater clouds that would have seemed to contain no end. Moose, Bear, Wolf, Buffalo , Elk, Deer, those shoals of fresh water ocean fish, and storms of passenger pigeons were the meat supply for at least three thousand generations.


              Tom Green told Wesley about those Ottawas up in Canada . The French called them the Cheveux Relevees and that they painted their faces all different colors, had their ears hung with beads, tattooed themselves from head to toe and were some really fine hairdressers, hunters, and diplomats. Add to that, he said, their pierced nostrils and a taste for dried blueberries and you could sign up your left over subtractions to the squirrels. Their and the Huron corn grew to twelve foot high and if meat was in short supply due to the wrong season a serving of corn bread, fish, and squash quieted all the hungriest organs that can burst in a woman or a man. For cooking there were two sumptuous oils. The one from sunflowers and the one from bears. With either you'd be able to dress your hair, give the tresses a sheen no real paradise can ever really do without. The bear oil was good for the skin too, the animal musk an untidy provocating lure for a people, Tom told Wesley, who were too clever and good willed to tease their own bodies half dead with the sexual divisions of the conqueror, and to keep the proboscis's of mosquitoes and black flies from the billion penetrations waiting to shot-spring the mind and seize the voice. Fever, ague, chills of hell escorted the white settler no matter how worthy the systems of extermination were for everything else. The white man couldn't avoid the insect borne "swamp fevers" but with a reproduction rate doubling itself each generation in the late eighteenth century, "swamp fevers," if they amounted to anything more than the flirtations with the prices luring them, were bells on a slithering wind equally bark circled.

            Corn in all its varieties was the primer. Seeds greased with the three arousals: mind, warm-water, brains of deer for deeper sprout. Crushed, squeezed, dried into meal it could become a hot mush, whole kernels boiled together with squash, beans, and chunks of meat in wavy soups, or baked dumplings. Pick-me-up herb teas could wash down dried grasshoppers, the crusty exoskeletons to be further worked by peaches and apples. Whitefish boiled with corn was called "sagamity," thick as milk. Fish or meats were fried, smoked, baked or roasted. The dreaming palate as crucial as the dreaming ear or the dreaming heart. And there were also beside the Three Sisters, Pumpkin, Squash, Corn, the Four Oldest Women, the Miseekwaaweekwaakee, who raced everybody to touch any newest human captives, and if they got there first, why no one could prevent that flesh from being roasted too.  


             Wesley found out as he dug into layers of the before Columbus Indian site about Nanabojo. The Trickster/Creator who called it all into being, went around making the landscape, and the animals and plants appear, and all of what seems is tied to its opposite in what does not seem. In that way he was expert at talking to his asshole and germinating worlds.

            Who knows where it really begins in Michigan as you walk farther out into those forests. The earliest signatures are powerfully crafted fluted spear points, perhaps fifteen thousand years old. Nanabojo's initial people left a scant evidence of who they were primarily on the beaches of Lake Algonquin , a body of water that developed with the ice front retreat leaving the basins of modern Lakes Michigan and Huron to be filled and joined at around 14,000 B.C. when Lake Superior had not yet come into existence. Their world would have been one of drastically changing landscapes as they followed the margins of retreating and expanding ice. They were after barren ground caribou and musk ox on that edge and would have spent at least a hundred years watching the tundra be replaced by brush and herb pioneers up on the wind and soils from the south and Great Plains. Pine or Spruce followed the pilgrim grasses but there were no closed forests which meant those people continued to thrive on the huge caribou herds for at least two thousand years. The world was the one shaking, settling, rising and falling where whole inland seas could almost drain over night. They tracked the ice front for generations carrying a small tool kit of thrusting lances, choppers and scrapers that could work antler, bone, or wood. Probably their most important sites are now under more than four hundred feet of water. They were carnivores almost as fabulous as the others they'd seen on their wanderings. The Sabre-Toothed Tiger, about the size of the present African Lion, was the best shank artist around. There was the American Lion fight-weighted at about fifteen hundred pounds which, whenever it got its chance, liked the taste of anything including the uncounted bodies of Nanabojo's offspring. And the American Cheetah, jittery as its modern cousin, but for Pronghorns rather than Jemsbucks or Thompson's Gazelles. A Scimitar Cat that had saw-toothed canines like a White Shark, the muscle-packed Dire Wolf which made its timber enshrouded contemporary cousins seem almost puppies by comparison. The one that scared them all however, was the gigantic Short-Faced Bear, a quarter-horse tall leggy killer maybe fast as a Cheetah. Tom Green and Wesley's father did a kind of used car show once, took the skulls of that bear and a modern grizzly and the two things side-by-side gave everyone that day a little bit of the chills. Wesley's father looking from one to the other did a half smile and told Tom Green the Ursus horribilis amounted to about a piece of delicate rice paper. Tom though he couldn't get out what you'd call a return smile said, "A goddamned ugly cousin, and even this ten thousand year interval might not be enough yet."

            At around 9,000 B.C. another people appear. Some of the most skilled inventors to have ever lived. They carried spear-thrower weights or bannerstones. These objects, at least the ones that have been recovered, were made from granite, siliceous rock, chalcedony, banded slate, sandstone and porphyry. Many are some of the finest examples of an abstract sculpture to be found anywhere. Their mystery and beauty of material are experiments in form that move their function, which was death, clear to the edge of where function dissipates in the purposelessness of nothing encased in a pure object. They are testimonies to minds which seemed to dine on stone than ever bone or marrow, hard and carved and daring us toward their delicate unyielding reductions. Along with bannerstones they also carried gouges, axes, spear-throwers, adzes. But they're responsible for far more including the appearances of the canoe, snares, snow-shoes, bark implements, sleds, traps, woven bags, and fish-hook spears that would define northern forest life for the next five to seven thousand years. They mixed their foods. Hunting for large game such a Caribou and Elk. Mammoth or Mastodon stews were garnished with butternuts, black walnuts, hickory nuts, acorns. Those ancient post-glacial Falls with new colonies of Oak and Maple, the dry-cracked air filled with the smoke of now long disappeared roasted meats, nuts for the hungry, were supplemented by seeds and berries, and in the after centuries of later discoveries, sunflower, fresh-water mussels, fish, and squash. Sites of burials have also been unearthed. The dead, after their cremation were laid in pits containing objects from far away as the Gulf of Mexico and New York . Shell beads, triangular points knapped out of Onondaga Chert, axes honed from Keewenawa copper. Included in these afterworld escorts were also "birdstones," effigies of spirit beasts remote and anchored to a chaos so bodiless and quiet in this form; Wesley told Tom Green they scared him, that they were like ripples staring at both the living and the dead, examining from their veil of blank digestions a supernatural date in a future only they can see. He wondered if they were  ancestresses whispering visionary numbers, days and centuries that act like flowers and dragon flies or the two far away scorpions who'll wait a million years if they have to, to smell the flesh of a god.


             At some point the people of the Northern Forests who occupy the coast of the Great Lakes in their present form in Michigan began calling themselves the Anishnabeg. It is an Algonquian word that has to do with the living and the dead, every footstep, every whisper ever breathed into an ear, the hills, the swamps, meadows, streams where life had taken place and is now immersed and irresistible.

             No one lived easy.

             Squash. Corn. Beans hardly gained hold and the sun shrank.

             Maybe because of this the Anishnabeg took on a quirk of mind and language about themselves. The nineteenth century traveler, Johann Kohl said they never spoke about their main food source which was fish, primarily poisson blanc, salmonid whitefish, the most sumptuous. Instead they talked only of hunting and their word for this aquatic being, Atikameg, identifies the Caribou. No casual swimmer. But no fish either. Maybe such paradoxes have to do with the lineages of the club-footed kings who release mosquitoes from amber and fly to the ears at the ends of the earth and suck the languages the first inhabitants made into necklaces when the age of the moon was no more than a verb included in the hunger of a bat's flight.  


            In the summer the Anishnabeg, who were later to become the Ojibwa, made villages on the shores of the northern fresh water oceans. They took birch bark and bent saplings, and in that way constructed circularly shaped homes. A lost pilgrim could have heard a human chatter over laughter, play, yelping dogs, adults, children, the born and the sick all mixed in a stew hardly anyone has the recipe for now. When the seasons got warm men harpooned the larger fish, sturgeon, bass; hunted the forest.

             And the women. There was not one who was a decoration. The humor needed for that survival had no room for such refuse and is in keeping with the Otter's laughter, the first ever Nanabojo heard while hovering over the center of the Earth, over the helplessness of women and men. They foraged. Plants for curing and food. Cultivated gardens and fished using gill nets, hook and lines. The properties of medicinal plants and the plant bodies were offered a sacred smoke before being pulled and in the hole left an offering of tobacco was given for the Grandmother of Mankind and the Universe, Noko mis, honoring the gifts taken from her body. Sugar Maple offered three portions as wood for arrow shafts, a decoction harvested from the inner bark used to stop diarrhea, sap for syrup. White Pine with its crushed leaves used for headache; and boiled, stuffed in a small hole with hot stone, the vapor then breathed for backache. Balsam Fir's properly scraped trunk bark could induce sweats. False Spikenard or Snake Vine had a leafage exactly right for bleeding and cuts. Crushed roots of the Black Raspberry relieved stomach ache. Seneca Snakeroot's decoctions took care of colds and coughs and the infusion of its leafs helped sore throats and killed swallowed water bugs. The Huckleberry was a revered article of trade in the summer, but in all seasons, particularly the seasons of the dead it is an honored guest and is given an important place in the story of the Road of the Dead and that ole Huckleberry Finn, when you see him floating the Mississippi, could know more about that commerce between worlds than he was ever really willing to tell. The crushed, pounded, or personally chewed roots of the Common Cat-Tail were a poultice for sores. Black Ash. You could soak its inner bark in warm water, and then apply that liquid to your burnt, overused eyes. With Hoary Willow; scrape off the thick inner bark of the roots, boil them, and take as decoction for the coughs. Decoction of root of Wild Bergamot eased the pain of the intestines. The knowledge was huge, precise, covering the study and lore of thousands of years. Bones to be set. Tumors to be prayed over always. Lost fingers. Toes. Punched out eyes.  Souls hollering for their bodies.


             Late winter was the real killer. An impassable bog of running flood and ice, an in-between where everything was poor, game not worth eating, nothing sprouted. Stored, dried berries, preserved summer garden corn, smoked whitefish, even the tiniest morsels drew the line over the live and that passage into starvation where the body begins to gulp itself. The mix of nuts, fish, wild berries and fruit and the later experimental vegetables was a delicious high energy diet that kept mouths watered for at least fifteen thousand years.  

            The Southern Anishnabeg farmed beans, corn, squash that came on the best prehistoric gossip routes, the human ear and human palm holding these incarnate reservoirs from ancient Mexico and the Caribbean of new life permissioned identities. They made their houses round from sapling frame closed in by mats of Cat-Tail leaf. Those places, ten to twelve foot across afforded a love of human contact, the earthen floor fertilized with body and dream prints of a people wrapped tight to each other and to their world.

            Wesley wrote these Anishnabeg were skilled curious knowers girdling the forest overstoreys which brought light and wood from dying cover. Their expertise with fire added new feed to the soils. Burned limb and brush served as executioner, becoming herbicide and insecticide in one swoop of flame. It was the women who did it. The clearing and planting with hoes formed from Elk and Deer scapula. Wesley looked at these tools, as they appeared into an air three or four hundred years beyond their last usage, and thought over the hoes he and his father and Tom Green had hauled, that they were never without, a human mark, telling a quiet story of bodies leaned over, hands shaking living dirt from weed roots, how you choke up on a handle when you get back sore, and the grease marks, showing where hands have been wrapped and flexed, and got stiff-dead with the labor, wait for blisters to pop and harden, the bees and wasps and spiders that didn't care about the size of your human body, went ahead and bit it anyway, the rivulet your face becomes for the sweat, sun boiling your knuckles and ears. The soil stunk and slimy and ready for your hands and feet to break it down. Beans climbed their cornstalks, pumpkin and squash strung as far as the eye could gauge. A chaotic, random planting meant reduced soil loss and more work for insects who, because of that, couldn't destroy a human concentration on one yield only. Prolonged rigorous apprenticeship equally awaited the hunter who had to know down to the most obscure detail the behavior of the animals and himself. His stamina, eyesight, threshold of pain, the physical and mental condition of the hunted, size, age, the insects that came to bite them, season, lay of the land and who else out in the nothingness was also hungry, human or non-human, pursuit, butchery, preservation of meat demanded the total resources of body and mind. You could do everything perfect and still end up blinking over how a last kernel of corn might get fifteen men, women, and children over that six weeks hump of death time before the bursts of new life appeared. The Anishnabeg smoked or dried Passenger Pigeons, boiled them down for their fat. And Pigeons could appear in flocks numbering into the billions with their billion eyes locked on Anishnabeg corn, cause the summer famines. Someone had to sing then to them:                    

                                    You have wings, we do not

 to remind everyone about who gets what shape and the really bad things that can be done just cause it's a shape and nothin else. Children were plump, ripe meat for the forest Lions. Maymayggayshi or Water Elves and Bagudzinishinabe, the Little Wild People came too to listen and watch, stretch the realms hovering between their lives and the Anishnabeg when they could still tell each other the stories of mutual being, who tricked who into the mixtures, Memegwessi, water elves with hair down to their waists who look only a little like men, a little less tall, can be seen disappearing into the huge cliffs of Lake Superior even now - Nibawnawbe, the mer-people signaling their prophesies of bad luck. Through whirlpools skirting the fish heavy reefs underwater panthers came to gloat over instant, lethal winds they called into being to stretch their dorsal spines. "Dawn Persons" carrying the seizures of love immersed themselves in boiling Maple sap. Turtle mediators shook the mind, dry or wet, from its foundations.  

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