So named by painter Georgia O'Keeffe, the "white place" (La Plaza Blanca) is a geologically unique and stunningly picturesque area near the Rio Chama in northern New Mexico (USA). It was a favored painting location for O'Keeffe and is visible from her house in Abiquiu Pueblo. Nikki and I spent a beautiful morning there during our visit to New Mexico in November of 2019. Nikki had a vigor that had been absent since her diagnosis, and it seemed as if the chemotherapy through which she had been suffering was perhaps working. Little did either of us imagine that she had only ten weeks to live. This was the last hike we took together.
This song was the first track recorded during the "She Who Watches" sessions in December of 2020. It features guitar, Native American flute, mandolin, and accordion.
La Plaza Blanca
You could see it from
her house in Abiquiú
across the Rio Chama
owned now by a mosque
that grants us heathens
and pilgrims of Other
to this pallid sanctum
of tuneful wind
raven song ringing beyond
chalky hoodoos and
along milky ledges
pastel creek beds
that seem to run
more ways than
then song again
With Georgia’s ghost and
the hosts of Muhammed
we track a shadowy past
slipping through fences
of barbwire and bone
pondering strange exhibits
of black stones on this ashen canvas
stretching beyond time.
This sun-bleached forever
is quite hard to find
there are no signs
and the address in the local guide
is 1234 Fictitious Lane.
I learned this ancient Sanskrit chant from my friend, master sitarist and singer, Pandit Deobrat Mishra of Varanasi, India. Not long after Nikki was diagnosed with cancer, I took a workshop on naad yoga with Debu and learned several beautiful chants. Chanting has since been an important facet of my grief-work and my attempt to heal. I am grateful to Debu and to my yoga teacher, Maddie Adams, for instilling in me a love for this practice.
The Indalo Wind interpretation of this sacred mantra features Native American flute, and shruti, a traditional Indian instrument that produces a drone using a system of bellows (similar to a harmonium, but without the keyboard). It was recorded in December 2020.
He Heard Wings
The herons had not appeared for quite some time and he wondered if his presence had finally driven them away. He searched the deep sky above the lake, branches of towering firs, rhododendrons in the shade, and the reeds clustered in marshes and coves. All the places he had ever seen them before. Nothing stirred. A mild panic enclosed him. He needed to see them. To assure himself that he had not broken some vital chain. He began to dream of salamanders and small fish. In the flames of his campfire he heard wings.
Eric Walter - from the book "Sounds from the Old Lodge" ©2004
This was the sky over Portland on the morning of January 30, 2020. I shot the photo through the large window of Nikki’s room in the ICU, where I had spent a sleepless night on a recliner next to Nikki’s bed, holding her hand across the bed-rail, whispering and weeping. At one point during the night, she stirred and opened her eyes. I squeezed her hand and said, “I love you, baby.” She looked at me, recognized me, and said with a smile, “I love you, too.” These were to be her last words. Not long after sunrise, Nikki was transferred from her room in the ICU to an adjacent ward, into a room with no windows at all. I asked a nurse if another room could be found, pleading, "I don't want her to die in a room without a window." Around 3:30 that afternoon, half-asleep on a bed in that same bleak, windowless room, I felt the nurse tapping me and heard her say, “She stopped breathing.” I have no idea what the sky looked like then.
Dust Off the Two Bronze Bells
Somphoun elects not to climb
The 100 steep steps up to Wat Chom Phet
Instead lies down to nap on naked wood.
As I ascend alone, a mangy dog growls
Barks fiercely then turns tail and vanishes
Silent into the somnolent
The temple compound is serene
Void of humans
But a statue appears to breathe
The Earth Goddess Nang Thorani
Wringing water from her bibulous mane
To drown the army of the demon Mara
That would stay the Buddha
From his meditation.
I sweep the verandah with a worn broom
Dust off the two bronze bells
Enter the sim to sit in contemplation
Beneath a lustrous crimson ceiling
Carpentered firmament adorned
With florid stencils in gold
Mice, butterflies, peacocks, and bees
Mythical creatures amid delicate feathers.
In the corner, a shining gong I will never hear.