Ten Books I Love (in the order which I encountered them)

1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
When I read this book, I knew I wanted to be a writer. A delicious concoction of the sorrows and delights of life.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
I love hard stories that are told sweetly. A perfect book.

3. Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade, Kurt Vonnegut
For me, this book captures Vonnegut’s gift for making a reader lament and laugh in the same instant. This is an example of how we use art and storytelling to heal from the tragedies of life. Here’s another example of perfection.

4. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
This book was so painful to read, but it changed how I perceive the individual’s relationship to the Creator and how intimate the experience of Faith is.

5. Anaïs Nin’s Diaries
Technically there is more than one volume and I’m still working through them, but I admire that she wrote with the intention of telling herself the truth.

6. Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
Another book that I revisit often and get swept away by. Rilke’s explanations of creativity are intoxicating. His description of relationships is visionary. Not just for poets and artists.

7. The Weekend Novelist, Robert J. Ray
I love playing with the exercises in this book. It’s one I revisit to find new angles, to set the ego aside and access the unconscious mind in the creative process.

8. The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, Baha’u’llah
This book creates an ecstatic mystical experience. I like to see how slowly I can read it and try to become one with every word. Reflecting on the Valley of Knowledge has helped me heal my heart probably more than anything I’ve read. “Glory to the watchman … .”

9. The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo
This is one of the books that if I start re-reading it, I have to finish it. It calls me to it like a kiss on the wind. Swoon.

10. The Unconscious Actor, Darryl Hickman
Performance as a mystical practice? What’s not to love? Writing, performance, mysticism, philosophy, collaborative creation. A great book to dig into.

The Caretake of Tree Palace (kids’ novel)

Author: C. Dawn McCallum 
Product Code:
 CTPH
ISBN: 978-097640263-3
Publisher: Longhorn Creek Press
Pages: 117
Binding Information: Hardcover
Size: 5 3/4″ X 8 3/4″ Inches
Availability: In stock.
What do you do you go when everything in your life is changing?Twelve-year-old Doodles retreats to the pages of his ratty notebook where he can draw his own world. After his mother’s death, he seeks to see what she called “Tree Palace” in the scraggly woods by his grandma’s house. Will he discover Tree Palace before the woods are torn down to be sold for lumber? And if that happens, what happens to the animals who make their homes there? Can he reach his grieving father, reconnect before it’s too late, and save Tree Palace?

 

The Waking Tree, Chapter 1: HUM (first half)

My limbs and roots breathed in the world around me.  My Abracadabra, my Josephine.  My tree girls danced pretty rings around my trunk.

I breathed them in.

“Sing to me.  Hum me a song, our song,” said Abra, lying under my branches that first night.  “Sing the song that goes up to the moon and through it and around to the other side of the universe.  I know, let’s find our own sun.  It’s out there, so let’s bring it in.”

Abra twirled her fingers in her black hair in a never-ending loop, feeling the texture of it, the thickness.  A little roll of sweat ventured down her neck, and beyond.  So hot was it that even the trees near her that night perspired their bittersweet juices in this North Texas heat.  Out of all the trees offering their sheltering limbs, she chose mine.

“I like it when I sweat,” she whispered to her unborn baby as they lay there together in the moon’s light through my branches.  As bright as the full moon was, my Abracadabra wondered how intense the light of the sun must really be out there in space.  Her mind halted, unable to conceive what the power of the sun truly was.  She had felt its rays warm her on many sweltering summer days, yet she knew that was only a glimmer of its true power.

I wish I had memories of her dangling from my limbs when she was a little girl.  Maybe I could have protected her, kept her heart soft so she could hear my humming.  Hers is a hearing heart, but her sorrow is loud so she doesn’t always understand my songs.

Inside her body, her baby kicked.  So pure.

“I know you don’t like the heat, but I’ll make it better.  You know what I’ll do?” Abra asked, smiling.  “I’ll ask for a breeze.  Heaven won’t deny you that.”  Stars sparkled at her through my limbs.

Listening for an answer from her baby, Abra closed her eyes and her heartbeat slowed to match the tempo of her daughter’s song.  With twisting wrists and wiggling toes the little girl danced to the movement of their shared blood.

I breathed out.

I breathed in.

Abra shuddered, delighted at the breeze’s first caresses on her pale, moonlit skin.  Mother and daughter laid together as one body, for now, like languid cats impartial to the dust and air falling on and around them, sometimes straight into Abra’s life-dispensing lungs, into the unborn Josephine.

“He’s watching us,” she said to her baby.

“I know.  I can feel him, too,” the little girl said in their heart language.  She paused her rhythmic dance inside her mother and listened to her father’s breathing so near, so far from where she and her mother sang the world’s praises.

“Let’s keep singing.  Maybe he’ll go away.”  Abra said and stared at the moon and the man-made satellites she could pick up with her naked eye, all moving across the sky at their own speed, on their own paths.  She watched the sky as if under a lover’s window, hoping for some sign of movement, a chance to throw pebbles and attract attention to her waiting presence.  Her body was soft leaning against my trunk.

I shot air up and out to the man.

Jared, her husband, stood in the window of the old house in his thin, tattered boxers, bare chest and feet, unable to move from the framed kitchen window.  He couldn’t figure out what she was doing out there just after 2:00 in the morning, her lips and supple body moving in full sight of anyone who might be watching.  Not that anyone would see here on the outskirts of the suburbs of Dallas.  This was not normal behavior for a pregnant woman, even for a pregnant Abra.

Sensing her father’s eyes, the girl whispered to her mother, “Momma.  Can I stay here?  Can I live with you here forever?”  Josephine wanted to stay inside.  She knew about the world even though it is all from whispers, from heresy, through her mother’s womb.  She knew all about it from the faster-flowing or sometimes slower-going blood of her mother’s heart that changed as they faced the world together.  She knew about the cold, hard voices.  She could feel the dagger stares now only barely closed in by the window not far away.

Through the opaque bulk of her mother’s womb Josephine sensed it all.  Smells and flavors penetrated the protective flesh, traveled throughout their shared bloodstream and mingled with the fetus’s ever-growing, changing concepts of reality.

All was not as she had first imagined.  This new world scared her.  Would she even be able to breathe out there?  These fluid songs would remain hers, but could she translate them into the new language in time?

“I wish you could be here with me always,” Abra said, “but I want to see your pretty face.  And I want to hold you and play with your sweet little fingers and toes.  I know they’ll look just like mine when they get done growing.”  Abra closed her eyes and felt Josephine wiggling those little fingers and toes, tickling her mother from the inside.  They both smiled.

“There’s no reason to be afraid,” Abra lied.  Josephine ignored the skip in her mother’s heartbeat.  “I’ll carry you through your grandmother’s garden after you’re born and tell you the stories behind all of her flowers.  I’ll rub their soft petals on your cheeks and on the soles of your feet,” Abra explained.  Neither one of them could wait for that day, but they had no choice.

Josephine closed her eyes and tried to imagine what flowers were, what they looked like.  How they felt.  She’s sure they looked like her mother, they would feel how her momma felt from the inside where she spun and increased.  Flashes of color formed shapes—root, pistil, vulva.  She rubbed the wall of her mother’s womb, stretched in an arc and twisted, filling her own blood with the oxygen that her now passing fear had tried to strangle away only a moment ago.

I breathed out.

I breathed in.

Inside the old house, the air conditioner announced the beginning of its cold, sporadic parade through those rooms, hummed its own song, a frigid strain of preservation and avoidance of all things natural.  The frigid chant nightly lulled Jared to sleep yet led Abra to search for some other place to be.  Some place where the sky was her ceiling.

Jared watched her, his body looming over a stack of packed boxes that lined the walls.  They would unpack tomorrow.  Jared wanted to take his time moving in, make a smooth transition from the apartment where they had spent their first couple of years of marriage, seen the first steps and heard the first words of their little boy, Darnell.

But Jared came home from work two days ago and almost everything was packed and shoved in an island of cardboard by the apartment door.  Boxes waited to be carried to the old house where they would be emptied, contents laid out on different shelves, stored in unfamiliar closets, their flavors and smells ready for resuscitation.

“What were you thinking?” Jared yelled at Abra.  “You think that’s good for the baby?”

“I left all the heavy things for you to take care of,” she said only then realizing that, yes, maybe she could have hurt Josephine.  But that would never happen.  The excitement of moving into what once had been Bernadine’s house overtook her.  Abra loved the feeling of being near the woman she loved more than her own mother, even though she could no longer feel her hugs and loving glances.  Her children would grow up where Jared had grown up, among Bernadine’s flowers and trees, in the house his father had built.

“I didn’t really lift anything,” she said.  “I scooted the boxes with my legs.”

“Well, that was real stupid, Abra,” Jared scolded.  “I just wish you’d think sometimes.”

As similar as they were in their quiet temperament and love of solitude in crowds, they’d never been alike in many other ways.  If they were trees, they would be different species, giving different fruits.

When he first met her, Abra was alone, a new girl at a new school in a town where Jared had spent his whole life.  He had noticed her a week or so prior to the time that he managed to get in line behind her in the cafeteria, her hair smelling strawberry-sweet even over the nearby scents of grilling meats and frying juices.

“Where you from?” that boy in front of her had asked Abra.  She blushed, mumbled something Jared couldn’t hear and stared at a point just beyond the strange boy’s head.  Stepping back some, Jared tried to get a better look at Abra’s legs.  He could tell they were firm and thin even though they were mostly hidden under her knee length skirt.  A little pale, maybe.  The opposite of her dark hair.

One by one the students milled through the food line with their trays of food.  Jared moved slowly at a good distance behind her as she searched for some place to sit.  All of the groups had formed into their predetermined shapes and patterns at the tables leaving only a few stray unoccupied seats.  The echoes of voices bounced off of Jared’s hardened demeanor, but Abra let them all soak into her.  She relied on their chaotic vocalization to keep her feet moving in the right direction.  She rode on the sound waves to an empty seat at a lonely round table in the corner.  Abra imagined the chair had been waiting for her, and Jared found a place as near to her as he could.  But not too close.  With the sun dancing at his back, he hoped his face would be shaded.  He didn’t want her to see him looking at her.  He wanted to see the roundness of her violet eyes, those luscious pinkish lips without her noticing his gaze.

Jared’s table was still wet from the once-soapy water someone used to clean it with after the previous lunch.  The putrid smell of dishwater made him sick to eat, but he thought of the waft he got of her hair and listened to the plastic wrappers chattering open around him.

“Look at the way she’s sucking on that hot dog,” some other guy said to the guy from the line.

“Yeah.  I asked her in the lunch line where she was from, and you know what she said?”

“Hmm.”

“She said, ‘Mm.  Mm.  Mm,’ I couldn’t understand what the hell she said.”  The boy strained his face into a bright red pallor to mimic Abra’s withdrawal from his questions.  The boys laughed until they felt eyes upon them.  Hatred being thrust at them from a nearby table.

Jared held them in a steady gaze, silencing their laughter.

“Hey, man, we were just kidding.”  He bore into them.  In his mind, he saw blood spew from their noses in overanxious streams and their skin blackened, blued under his fists.  His hands gripped around their necks and wrenched their heads with a lethal twist.

Change the subject, his look told them.  Move on.

Engrossed in the sounds and smells, the tastes of everything around her, Abra hadn’t noticed a thing.

Growing, I breathed out.

Listening, I breathed in.

“Mother,” the girl spoke from the womb.

“Shh.” Abra was listening elsewhere.  Her heartbeat changed, quickened.  “I thought I heard Darnell.”  Invisibly she traveled to him.  Through the window she saw the moonbeams reach into his bed and stroked the chocolate brown hair peering out of his heavy shroud of blankets.  The boy stirred and his emerging eyes shined white from under his thick, blue comforter.  Sitting up, his skin shocked him awake when it touched the cool air that filled his room.

Abra crawled up on one of the moonbeams that highlighted his little body and wrapped herself around him.  “Shh,” she said.  “Go back to sleep, baby.”

In the airy lightness of her mother’s current state, Josephine slowed still and began to doze, sedated, in her floating embryonic world.

“No. No, Josephine.  Don’t you sleep, my love,” Abra said falling from the particles of light, back through the window and back under my limbs.  “You need to stay awake and sing to me.  I need your pretty melodies,” she said rubbing her tight, swollen belly.

In the house, Jared shifted his weight.  His knees and hips were tired, and his feet sought out a cool spot on the ragged, tan carpet.  He hoped his wife was just upset about his mother’s death.  Abra had been closer to his mother than she had been to her own mother, and she certainly was closer to her than he had ever been.

In a long time, anyway.

There was a time when Jared and his mother laughed, played and ran through the woods together on the edge of the property where they moved to today.  But he was a little boy then, innocent of manhood and its trappings of lust and pride.  Back when he used to pick up the horse apples I dropped in the fall.  Monkey brains, he called them.

I miss him.

For years, mother and son moved wordlessly in concentric circles, each barely aware of the world around them, let alone each other.

When Darnell was born six years ago, you would have thought that Abra was Bernadine’s daughter, not just an in-law.  Jared had never seen his mother so happy.  She’d always been down to earth, non-emotional, even cold so he never thought she could cry like that.  And it wasn’t just the joy that made her cry.  There was some other source of her tears, a hidden emotion peeking its head out only to be shut down with a questioning glance from him.

Jared didn’t know why.  He knew there were too many memories between them.  Memories of pain and loss.  The time to talk about it all was far gone; they’d let the silence grow too long and wring their necks.  But now that she was gone there would be no time for understanding.  He didn’t know why.

But I did.

Sometimes I cry sap tears.

That first night back in the old house, the air conditioner announced its pending state of rest, slamming itself down, sputtering into silence.  The alarm clock in the bedroom scrolled on to another time.  The moments went on their way, but they the counting of them would go on.

Under my branches, in her mother’s womb, Josephine had so many questions.  “What are birds?” she asked.  She wanted to understand everything her mother’s body told her, to know why they felt so full of love sometimes.  Abra held her hands up to the sky, looking through my leaves, and crossed her thumbs in front of her, fingers spread and fluttering through the air.  Abra pictured a cardinal, male and beautiful, flying over them, looking for a place to rest.

“Birds are like clouds,” Abra said.  Her pale hands, her soaring bird, separated and wafted across her sky in random patterns, changing in the breeze, cumulus and lovely.  Holding her hands high, she molded the clouds hovering above them into the shapes that she loved most.  Abra sculpted flowers, daylight, Josephine’s father’s face.

She let them go on their way, flying on the wind.

Josephine felt it all then asked.  “Are clouds the same as poetry?”  Josephine’s words knocked Abra into silence.  I held my leaves still and listened.  A surge of love forced her eyes closed.  She tried to look inside of herself and see her little girl.  Letting her hands fall on her tight bulge, Abra stroked her teeth with her tongue, feeling all of the words that she might hold in her mouth or spit out if she wanted.

She filled her mouth with a word pulling it from the back of her throat, over her palate and tongue letting it sizzle through her teeth.

“Yes.”

In the kitchen the cubes fell, ready, from the icemaker.  Jared heard Darnell slipping out of his bed, the pitty-pat of his feet on the bathroom floor, little boy tinkling noises, then a flush.  As he walked out of the bathroom, Darnell saw his daddy standing motionless, staring through the slit in the blinds.  The light of the full moon spilled in through the little crack, past Jared’s fingers and into the old house.  “What are you doing, Daddy?” Darnell asked his father from the dark shallow corridor.

“Go back to bed,” Jared growled.  Darnell remained, still and watching.  It took a look from Jared to get the boy’s hesitant feet moving back in the right direction.

I shook my branches, making leaf music.

Abra and Josephine had grown so sleepy and calm from their bedtime stories and singing that they didn’t hear either one of them inside.  Their eyes opened and closed with each inhalation, exhalation.  The breeze was blowing their clouds south to where the Gulf of Mexico would pick them up and consume them whole.

Saying goodnight to the moon, to the ever-dying clouds, Abra pushed her swollen body off the ground, never taking her eyes off of the moon.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one of the blinds click shut, and she felt a shadow melt into the darkness.

*                                  *                                  *

I listened to the words of the wind.

The air said:  Catch the darkness for a while.  Let it lift you as it reflects on the unenlightened parts of your moon.  Tasty waves of moonbeams through bedroom windows fill my mouth.  Listen to me tumble, tiny, toward bodies at night.  I make delicate, unseen footprints, fingerprints if I want.  And you’re none the wiser.

*                                  *                                  *

Please.  I begged the wind.  Take me to her.  The tiny, tendril girl.

The Waking Tree: Introduction

Scientific name:           Maclura pomifera

Common names:        Hedge tree, Bois d’arc, Osage Orange

In Texas, we call it bodark.  The Osage Indians used to make bows from its curved and supple limbs.  Two of the tree’s names are derived from this fact.  (Bois d’arc means “wood of the bow.”  The fruit of the female tree gives off a slight citrus scent, hence the name Osage Orange.)  I couldn’t find any Osage Indians to ask what they called the tree.

Mention bodark trees in conversation and most people will have a story to tell.  They’ll ramble about the beauty and hardness of the wood that sparkles and pops when you throw it on a fire unless it’s dried.  Then it burns long, with almost as much energy as coal.

Makes a nice mandolin, if you’re patient and you keep your tools sharp.

Before barbed wire was invented, people planted bodarks close together as a natural fence.

Many older Texas homes have a bodark piers and beams because of the wood’s resistance to fungus and rot.

Bodarks grow almost anywhere. I heard there are some in Maine.

When you mention the bodark tree, people have to tell you what they used to do with the fruit of the tree when they were little kids. We call the fruit “horse apples.” Monkey brains is a better description for its convoluted, day-glo green exterior. The juice inside looks like Elmer’s Glue and is almost as sticky. Horse apples demand to be thrown, split open and dissected. Magic orbs from another planet.

People will also tell you what they do with the fruit now. They put them around their houses–under beds, in closets and drawers—to keep away spiders and other insects. They don’t eat them. Squirrels do, though. They act drunk when they eat the fermented ones, some people say.

Some people hate the trees. They’re sick of the piercing thorns that fall on the ground. They’re tired of picking up the messy fruits the tree tosses all around. Cattle have been known to choke on horse apples.

Emotions for the bodark are extreme.

Me, I like how they hide in corners, how their bare winter limbs shoot up and out like a fountain.   I like the stories they tell.