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Excerpt from Songs of the Dead

Intertwinings (p. 40)

From chapter "The Muse"

I used to think my relationship with my muse was one-sided, in that she gives me words and I give her little more than gratitude. But now I know that this is not so. The relationship is mutual, like my relationship with the land where I live, like my relationship with Allison, like my relationships with others in my life. I know this because she tells me, and she shows me. She—like all these others—lets me know that non-mutual relationships aren’t relationships at all.


I am asleep.

Before sleeping I asked the muse what I do for her, what I give her more than gratitude.

I am asleep.

An indigenous man is teaching me how to pray. Then he turns into a woman who writes poems to me. After she writes these poems we make love again and again.

Soon, though, a homeless man starts attacking other homeless people, and then they all begin attacking people in this village. When villagers are attacked by these homeless ones, they too become homeless, they too begin to attack others. All of these people begin to take drugs.

I am asleep.

The remaining community members begin to look for the homeless person who started all of this. I join them. Many carry weapons. I carry water.

I am asleep.

The woman—my lover, my muse—begins to look for the cause of these troubles. But then she stops and complains to the gods that she no longer has a lover. She wants a lover. She has always had a lover. That is part of life. The gods tell her that they will point one out to her.

I am asleep.

We are all by now wearing prison uniforms. We are all by now using drugs to quench our pain. I find the person who began all this.

I am asleep.

But not for long. My cat jumps on the sill above the bed. Those who write of cats’ gracefulness have never had a cat knock books off a windowsill onto their head in the middle of the night. I wake up understanding what I give back to those on the other side. I am a willing student of their prayers. I am a willing intimate partner. I am a part of a community searching for what is destroying our lives. I help to point out the violent homeless person who started it all, which means we have at least the possibility of dropping our addictions and our prison garb, and going back to what we were doing before, back to making love.

The muse gives me the words, but I write them down.


I had a problem. It seemed clear to me from the dream and also from the muse’s urgency, that this culture is not only destroying life on this planet, but is also harming life on the “other side,” with the caveat as always that I don’t know what I mean when I say the “other side.” I asked some Indian elders if this culture is as catastrophic for the other side as it is for this one.

They said, “No, the dominant culture is not powerful enough to reach over there. Do not grant it more power than it actually has.”

I’m sure you can see my problem. I believed what these elders told me. And I believed my muse. How could I bring together these different truths into one overarching interpretation?

I got the answer from a piece of carved wood on an elder’s coffee table: an orca intertwined with a sea lion intertwined with a salmon. Each melded into the others until it wasn’t possible to tell where one became the other became the other. It represented, she said, the way none can be defined without the others, the way none can survive without the others.

It came clear to me that the same is true for the other sides as well. Yes, there are places the dominant culture cannot reach—the muse was appealing to the gods for a lover, which implies layers even further than hers from our everyday world of trees and spiders and soil and cats on our laps, and implies as well that these gods are beyond the reach of these homeless, rootless, attackers—but in no way is this geography as simple as here and there, one side and the other. There are layers, and there are spaces, and there are complex intertwinings so complex that sometimes we aren’t sure where one ends and another begins. Some places may be affected by this destructive culture, and some may not. And some may be affected in ways we could never predict, even if we were able to begin to understand.


The elder told me that the sculpture is not only about animals but also about time.

I told her I didn’t understand.

She didn’t say anything, but merely moved her hands in small circles, each around the other.