Imprisonment spurred many responses; the interpretations ranged from the literal to the metaphoric, as we’d hoped, and included meditations on its opposite: freedom. There were birds and bars and varieties of cells. There were visual images that summed up the sense of detainment succinctly and poems that led surprisingly to the sense of being ensnared or bound. We received submissions from people currently incarcerated and from others who have been in prison in the past or who have a loved one behind bars. Artists and writers expressed being imprisoned by relationships, or through physical limitations, or because of social or class barriers. Some of the submissions are full of rage, others of resignation, others, hope. We feel trapped, it turns out, by ourselves as well as by others. This is no surprise to a human being, yet some of the pieces we received were revelatory in their beauty or their honesty. We observed that few of the submissions dwelt on, or even dealt with, the punitive aspect of incarceration.
Interesting to consider: a relationship between this issue of qarrtsiluni and a previous theme, “The Crowd.” Imprisonment usually implies loneliness and isolation; but as the crowd issue paradoxically highlighted individuality, the theme of imprisonment seems, to me, to illuminate how common the sense of feeling trapped is: a thing we share, culturally, socially, psychologically. Being bound inherently awakens in us the desire to move — to struggle toward freedom. We learn, in that struggle, that freedom has as many forms as imprisonment does. When we feel surprised by something we think we know, understanding deepens. Editing “Imprisonment” offered that kind of revelation continuously. Many thanks to those who sent us their heartfelt work.
For bios of Ann and Ken, see the call for submissions.
“Wood for Your Fire,” by 12 Measures of Interest
When your faith is a desert, under darkest of skies
When you wander empty tombs in the wind,
When all your rivers have gone silent, and your streams have run dry
When your roads have all come to an end,
I’m the wood for your fire, what you need in this land
Of prophets and poets, scratching psalms in the sand. [repeat]
When grace is a desert, under hottest of suns
When your love is as bare as the trees,
When there’s nothing in sight, of a swift, clearing dawn,
When your death is a morning to me,
When heaven is a wasteland, under clouds without rain,
Your song is the sweetest of springs.
Like you I have wandered, like you I was lost,
Now all that you need I will bring.
When your faith is a desert, under darkest of skies
When you wander empty tombs in the wind,
When all your rivers have gone silent, and your streams have run dry
When your roads have all come to an end,
I’m the wood for your fire, the sandals for your street
The heart of your desire, the stones beneath your feet.
I’m the honey for your hunger, the well for your thirst
The roar of the thunder, the breaker of the curse.
Lyrics by Melissa Lamberton and Ken Lamberton
Music by 12 Measures of Interest: Melissa, Ken, Bill Devinney, Eric Cross, Celia Major, and Pat Kelly
My daughter Melissa and I have been writing music recently, which my band 12 Measures of Interest then performs at church — a Lutheran church with a rock-and-roll band. The end result, however, is really a composition from six people since each member of the band contributes his/her own artistic flare. Our first original song, “Wood for Your Fire,” was first performed a few months ago. The recording isn’t professional, just a couple of microphones set up in front of us, but it’s not too bad.
Melissa first came up with the idea in a “love” poem she wrote that had the line “I’m the wood for your fire” and some other phrases like “prophets writing in the sand.” She and I then began playing with the lyrics as I worked up a rudimentary melody on my acoustic guitar. It took several months of hashing out the final song, working from the “wood for your fire” theme — Melissa was very particular about every word. She didn’t want the final result overtly “religious” and wanted to maintain the original love poem. Once we had the lyrics and basic melody, I shared the song with my music group, who added their own quality. I play bass, so I turned the guitar rhythm over to Bill Devinney, who also added a harmony line. Eric Cross developed the percussion and additional harmony. Celia Major came up with the wonderful high vocal harmony while Pat Kelly on lead guitar chose the slide bar to add his own particular flavor to the end result.
This song began life as a poem. The line “I’m the wood for your fire” stayed with me long after the poem was finished — this idea of a love so pure it consumes itself to keep another warm. Love strips you down to the essentials, so I wanted the scene to be a desert — a place where simple necessities become an abundance. The words changed as we fit them to music, but that sense of haunting desolation remained. It seemed impossible to play in anything but a minor key.
An occasional car Dopplers along South River Road, which contours the Santa Cruz River on our left. Melissa, my youngest daughter who has joined me today, suggests that we duck and hide at the sound of tires on the road. I know what she means; I feel it also. We’re too exposed.
We’re a few miles from our border with Mexico where the Santa Cruz River flows north into Arizona. Mount Benedict wrestles with the western skyline, its buried pediments squeezing the aquifer beneath us enough to bring water above ground in springs and surface flow—but not recently. Except for the occasional floods, water hasn’t flowed here regularly since 1993. Where the river channel swings wide in its sandy course along some low bluffs, laying up alluvial sediments in terrace after terrace, I imagine clustered pyramids of anemic cornstalks instead of the persistent seep willow and cocklebur. This could be the place.
To reach the bluff, Melissa and I climb a granite outcrop, gaining footholds in a rough seam that could once have been the runnel of a spring. We slip under a barbed-wire fence marked “US Boundary NPS.” Melissa, noticing other signs on the fence, turns her sharp blue eyes on me and says, “We’re trespassing. There’s nothing we can do here that would be legal.” I, too, am bothered by the plethora of “posted” signs. I recall news items about gun-toting vigilante ranchers, and I’ve seen Border Patrol and Department of Homeland Security vehicles, both marked and unmarked, cruising these backroads on the lookout for people on foot. But I keep going.
At the top of the outcrop, I know this is the place. At my feet, a single round socket in the rock articulates a fist of loose stone—evidence of the river farmers. It’s a 300-year-old bedrock mortero, a grinding hole for corn.
I scan the high desert grassland spread out beneath the gunmetal Santa Rita Mountains in the north. Dwarf mesquite rise to eye level and stop, releasing my view—and then I see them, chocolate walls poking up from the thin, crooked trees, the jaundiced San Cayetano Mountains behind them. We walk through what once was Father Garrucho’s entry into his courtyard, even now a clear path on the ground, and turn right toward the ruins, climbing a slope of earth between two five-foot walls to enter the church’s nave. There’s not much here; the sun is still hot on my neck. These few adobe walls, bleeding back into the dirt from which they came, are all that remains of Arizona’s first mission.
In 1701, Father Eusebio Kino established the Mission San Gabriel de Guevavi at an Indian village of Guevavi (from an O’odham word, gi-vavhia, which means “big spring”). The tall, dark-skinned Jesuit with the penetrating eyes and pronounced brow was keeping a promise he had made to these people during his earlier visit in January of 1691 when he first stepped into what is now Arizona. But it wasn’t until the mid 1700s under the oversight of the Sardinian Father Joseph Garrucho that the church rose out of the baked ground to encompass an area about the size of a baseball diamond. The plans called for a rectangular church, fifteen by fifty feet, with three-foot thick walls of sun-dried adobe, plastered with mud, whitewashed, and then painted with colorful decorations on the inside. Standing high on this mesa, above an open courtyard and the many rooms—a school, kitchen, refectory among them—that hugged a square of perimeter walls, the church would have been an impressive sight for dozens of miles in all directions. And the visibility worked both ways. Off the southeast corner of the church’s narthex, a circular tower, unusual for missions at this time, would have given sentries a perch to watch for approaching Apache raiders.
We stand among three leftover adobe walls, the highest only about eight feet tall, all of them crumbling and chocked with rocks. A loose pile of horse droppings rests where an altar once held silver chalices. I remember hearing about archaeologists finding chicken bones and peach pits in the walls and how they were made by men and women’s hands, some not so willing or careful. I think about how the mission must have appeared two hundred and fifty years ago. Its plastered walls shimmering in the heat rising off this corrugated landscape. Arizona’s first White Dove of the Desert. Guevavi would have inspired more than native eyes.
I tell Melissa that we are standing over the bones of a man who was present as history swung on its hinges for this region: Juan Tomás de Belderrain, the first captain of the Spanish presidio at nearby Tubac and Arizona’s first European settlement, who was buried here about 1760. She lays her hand on a mission wall that has stood in our desert for hundreds of years, and I think about how these same young hands are touching hands with the ancients. History collects in the lifelines of her palms like dust.
“Why do we find it supremely pertinent,” asks Annie Dillard, “during any moment of any century on earth, which among us is topside? Why do we concern ourselves over which side of the membrane of soil our feet poke?” We may walk on this earth one layer at a time, but there are places where all the layers rise to the surface and we share the same elements with those long dead and with those yet to come. This desert of exposed millennia, of rocks and river terraces in mid-pause before being swept to the sea, takes me outside myself, reminding me that we are only for the time being.
I often debate with myself the merits of children keeping pets (mostly I lose the debate). My daughters’ grandmother, who is supremely wise (after having raised five kids of her own, my wife Karen among them), has a simple rule about pets. It goes something like this: No Pets.
Since grandma is the landlord of our domestic domain, my own three daughters have learned to respect her rules. They don’t keep pets. The animals that inhabit their room, swim in fish tanks, burrow in terrariums, crawl across the floor, are not pets. They are family. In our household, the animals have as much standing as the humans, maybe more; certainly they have more standing than the only male.
Maybe “No Pets” is a good rule. Or “No New Family Members.” I have a feeling, however, that my girls would argue for my dismissal before they would give up their slimy, warty, scaly, and furry “family.”
Caring for animals will teach us responsibility, I can hear them say. So why am I assigned the litter box and the lizard cage? Why do I get to clean up the vomit and gut piles on the living room carpet? Why is it that if something smells the girls always look in my direction?
Our animals can teach us empathy, they continue. Now they’re reaching. What I’ve learned from keeping animals is just the opposite. Animals point out just how irresponsible we can be, and just how greatly we can come to despise them.
I offer this story as a warning. If ever you take your children to a pet store—a foolish misjudgment to begin with—keep them away from the cute baby green lizards with the golden eyes imploring you to take them home with you. Yes, these lizards, green iguanas, cold-blooded reptiles, have that much personality, even more than the puppies, the kittens, and the screaming canaries. What these baby green monsters won’t tell you until it’s too late is how demanding in their care they are, and how demanding in their size they will become.
We carried “Pern” home in a small, hole-punched cardboard box pet stores use for packaging their mice and birds. The girls decided on the name because they had recently become enamored with a series of books by Ann McCaffrey that depicted a planet inhabited by dragons, and people who had become marooned there from a lost Earth ship. The author called the world “Pern,” which as I remember was an acronym for something. So, my daughters named our tiny green iguana for a mythical dragon-world populated by a few people who had learned to build a society around the beasts. The girls should have christened our household with the name instead.
I bought the iguana and its cute little leash. Karen, always more brilliant than me, returned to the pet store and bought the book on iguanas. Then she read it. When she finished, she said, “Just another small thing you’ve given me that grows up!” Karen never minced words. “And this one is worse than a baby. At least babies wear diapers.”
Green iguanas, we learned very quickly, have special needs. Because they come from rain forest climates in Central and South America, the lizards pale to our rock-tough desert lizards. Iguanas require a cooler, more humid environment than our hot, desiccating desert offers. They want to be indoors. They like to be misted.
And this is just the beginning. Because they now live indoors and out of the heat, you must provide a heat rock for them. This enables your new iguana to properly digest all the fresh bananas and mangoes, spinach leaves and squash blossoms you feed her on a daily basis, when you’re not misting her majesty as she basks under her sun lamp. Did I mention the full-spectrum light? Also, because your iguana is living indoors and away from harsh sunlight, you must supply a source of ultraviolet light in the form of a special (and expensive) lamp. UV keeps iguanas healthy and tanned. Your iguana needs to look good for all the socialization she requires. Yes, socialization—like getting out of her cage so she can meet people and scamper unexpectedly up their bodies. Iguanas enjoy high places because they normally live in trees rather than on the ground like any self-respecting desert lizard. When a tree isn’t handy, a person’s head will do.
You don’t want to know what happens if your iguana isn’t properly socialized. She can get a bit testy. Like a desperate housewife (or househusband, as the case may be) she gets an attitude. “You never take me anywhere,” her eyes accuse, every time you walk past her cage. Eventually, those penetrating eyes and the mounting guilt break you down and you let her out. But by now she’s antisocial, and she takes out her frustrations on you, the closest family member within reach of her toothy mouth, her needle-sharp claws, and her ultimate payback weapon, a long, bony-stiff tail that raises welts where she whips it across your legs. And dragons only breathe fire!
Pern adjusted well to our home. The girls created a place for her in a ten-gallon aquarium tank with a basking rock and tree branches and a large bowl of water she could bathe in. They took her for walks on her leash or rode around on their bikes with her gripping tightly to a shoulder. I still have photographs from this time when she was small: Pern with her oversized leash on the porch fence. Pern perched on my smiling daughter Kasondra’s head. Pern with RainCloud and Mittens.
She didn’t tolerate the kittens when she was small. She’d puff up and her dewlap would flare and her skin grew darker when they came around, so the girls kept them separated. But Pern soon learned how to escape her cage. One day my wife and daughters came home and found her under the couch, unmoving and nearly black from playing with the kittens. Apparently, Pern didn’t want to play but the kittens insisted. She had a few chew marks on her but nothing serious.
Over the next year, the kittens grew into cats and Pern grew into a cat hater. Encounters between them changed from kittens-chasing-lizard to lizard-attacking-cats. Her tail was lethal. I swear she could nail a fly on the wall with that thing. The cats avoided her, but if by mistake they came within lashing distance, she’d remove a patch of fur from their butts as they raced to recover the error. There was no messing with her now. Pern would no longer fit inside a cardboard pet carrier. She no longer fit her leash. In fact, she had outgrown the ten-gallon tank, its thirty-gallon replacement, and had begun to look uncomfortable in the fifty. I know she had designs on the living room, the largest room in our house, and I also know she insisted on some changes first.
Karen found the birdcage, a six-foot high, four-foot wide and deep, wrought-iron monstrosity that she felt Pern must have to be comfortable living with us. I believe a giant parrot or condor had been the cage’s former occupant. Three hundred dollars later, with some added shelves, hot rocks, and lights, and Pern became furniture in our living room. The only furniture. Since the room wasn’t large enough for a couch and Pern, the couch had to go. We had no place to sit in our living room, but we did have something interesting just above eye level to look at while you were standing there. Something that always looked back and down on you, usually with smug disdain.
Now, Pern became the center of attention. From her high perch, she examined the comings and goings of Karen and the girls, the relatives and the neighbors when they visited. She watched television with us. She played games with us. And, when we pulled out our dining table and set chairs around it, she ate meals with us.
Jessica, who usually arrived last to the table, would complain, “Why do I always get the sneeze seat!” Her sisters normally left her the chair closest to the cage. Iguanas have a particular way of removing excess salt from their bodies; special structures in their nasal cavities collect the salt, which the animal then combines with liquid and forcefully ejects. The behavior doubles as an annoyance mechanism, intended to alarm those who come to close or, in Jessica’s case, thoroughly disgust them.
It worked like this: Jessica would sit at the table in her assigned chair. Pern would maneuver on her shelf to line up Jessica in her sights. Just as my daughter began forking food into her mouth or drinking from a glass, Pern would execute a short nasal burst, freezing Jessica in mid gulp.
“Pern!” Jessica would shout. “That’s so gross!” To which Pern would respond with a satisfied grin. Everyone knew that Jessica disliked Pern—she was big and green and smelled. Apparently, the feelings were mutual.
Pern especially loved breakfast with eggs on the menu. She preferred hers scrambled but she never turned away cheese omelets or wooden shoes, a favorite, puffy, egg-batter concoction passed down to us from Karen’s Dutch side of the family. Pern would become so excited with the smell of eggs that she couldn’t wait for leftovers but would climb down from her perch and demand the door of her cage be opened. She was too large to eat directly off the table, but she didn’t mind taking a meal from the cat dish, often helping herself to the dry cat food. We came to believe that Pern thought she was a cat as she also learned to use the cat door when she felt the need for an afternoon siesta in the sun.
“Pern’s going out the cat door again,” one of the girls would say. We’d watch as she swiveled her hips up the driveway. Then my wife would call after her: “Pern, where do you think you’re going? Bad girl.” And without fail, she’d stop, flatten her belly against the cement, and turn to look at us as if to say, “Who, me? Don’t mind me. I’m just getting in a little basking time.”
Of course if we didn’t notice her, she kept on. I was never sure where that lizard brain thought it was going. One time I found her high in a tree in the next yard, probably daydreaming about tropical forest canopies spreading above tea-stained backwater pools. She left tell-tale drag marks on the ground, which I could easily follow. Another time she had climbed atop a neighbor’s wall that held a large dog on the opposite side. The dog went nuts, and Pern, unable to move, turned from olive green to biohazard orange. She stayed that way for hours after I tracked her down and carried her home.
After Pern reached four and a half feet in length, I finally built her an outdoor, climate-controlled enclosure that filled the western end of our porch. I knew she would be upset about being relegated to a place beyond the main flow of traffic, so I paid particular attention to amenities I believed she’d appreciate. To begin with, the enclosure tripled her living space and included a rock waterfall that spilled into a dark pool. Heavy tree branches rose from the pool and spread to a high sheltered alcove with a hot rock and full-spectrum lamp. I planted ferns and a fig tree in one corner and hung the redwood lattice with flowering bromeliads. Overhead, I secured misters, which kept the entire environment hissing with moisture. The only thing missing was a recording of howler monkeys.
I introduced Pern to her new home by placing her on the floor of the porch just outside of the enclosure’s open door. She stared at the burbling fountain and dripping foliage for a moment, then turned and crawled away toward the driveway where I had stored her former cage. Once beneath it, she raised herself up and climbed inside the bare metal structure. I experienced a kind of rejection not felt since my high school dating failures.
Pern is gone now, finally succumbing to a weakened immune system after she became egg-bound several years ago. (You’ll never understand how alien it is to be male until you’ve lived in a 600-sqaure-foot house with an egg-bound, four-foot female iguana and four premenstrual women.) The episode had caused her to lose most of her toes on her front claws, which hampered her climbing ability only to the degree that she looked less than graceful at it.
The girls probably won’t miss her slimy sneezes, her biting, clawing, and tail-lashings, intentional or not, or the aroma of her pasty excretions. But I’m sure they will never forget her personality, especially the smug pleasure she took at maneuvering her way into the center of our family.
Regardless of what I said before, I never really came to despise her, although she was adept at pointing out my character flaws. She was quick to correct any lapse I might have in attention paid to her. Her needs were met or else, and I could assume nothing about those needs. Perhaps if Pern had been a male iguana, things might have been different, more balanced. As it is, I will always carry the scars of our relationship.
This is an excerpt from a work-in-progress entitled My Daughters and Other Animals: A Father’s Notes on Being Raised by Girls.