Sunday, January 29, 2006


With the prolonged dryness here, the lake is low. A beaver has dammed the throat of the Neches a couple or hundred yards or so to the north. The water on one side of the creek -- the side of the springs where the river begins -- is high enough; on the lake side, it is shallow and nearly still. Deer and smaller animals are hungry, and sometimes wander into people's yards. The coyotes hunt earlier in the evening; one night I heard them catch something maybe half a mile to the south, and heard a second pack hunting to the east , with the little place where I stay between them and the lake.

At night, Ginger, the dog, sees it as her duty to bark into the darkness around the yard's perimeter.

I don't think I know anybody right now who's really happy. I don't mean cloyingly, unnervingly happy, but totally content. If so, they're keeping it to themselves. There are moments, sure: good music, live or recorded, the midst of writing something meaningful, or sharing my thoughts from a podium or a stage. Precious time spent with loved ones, of course.

Maybe Ginger is happy when she’s barking into the darkness. Or maybe she’s afraid.

Maybe barking into the darkness is just what we – writers – do. Things move in the darkness: fear, death, peace, delight, the past, the future, the frequent pulls between the need for human warmth and the equal need for isolation, and, perhaps more than anything else, the present and the next few moments.

* * * * *

One of the most beautiful sights I ever saw was several years ago along the Rio Grande in the Big Bend country: a dozen or so wild horses running free together, their manes and tales blowing in the wind. They looked as if they were running toward joy; the whole wild scene exhilarated me.

A few days ago, driving home from a poetry open mic, along a dark farm road, two shadows in the darkness of the tree line to my right began to move.

Suddenly, in the bright headlights, a horse ran out of the darkness into the road maybe 10 yards in front of my car.

How many seconds -- or how much of a second -- does it take a car going 50 miles an hour to travel 10 yards? In that briefest time, I scanned my options all together: 1) try to turn immediately to the ditch on the right, where a second shadow moved; 2) try to turn immediately left, where there was a deeper ditch and a culvert that would stop me cold if I didn't flip the car; or 3) slam the brakes and hit the horse. A fourth, impossible option -- to be somewhere else -- passed through and out of my mind.

There was no fear of death. There was a sense of "I don't want this to happen." For the horse. For myself. For my family.

Then there was the sad, briefest absurdity of a horse "flying" toward and into the windshield of my little Dodge Neon. The horse bounced off the front of the car into the windshield and the top of the car -- shattering glass and crushing metal -- and onto the street behind me as the car stopped.

The horse was one of three that escaped their corral.

I killed it. Couldn't avoid it. I parked the car and saw a man at the door of his home watching and saw a couple more people running toward me from down the street. I waited, and the ambulance from one little town, a fire truck from another, and a DPS officer from a third quickly showed up. A little later, an EMS helicopter flew over, rerouting slightly on its way back into East Texas from Dallas just in case my injuries were severe.

The car is totaled.

I've got two small, no-stitch cuts on my forehead, an abrasion on my nose, and a black eye from where the shattered windshield barely hit me. The crushed roof was probably an inch above my head.

I can't get the images of the horses out of my head: one alive and then dead, bleeding out on the road; a dozen or so running free along the Rio Grande.