Susan Smith Nash


Stop 1:Dustin, Oklahoma


††††††††††† Someone told us we could find utopia in Dustin, Oklahoma. ††You said you used to live here.That was years ago.You had only the vaguest idea of where this might be.I had no idea at all.


"It's the cutest little town you'll ever see," they said."Willie Nelson used to visit it."


Dustin.Population 85.On a good day.I think there's a small penitentiary near here, so at least there are steady jobs.At least people have a roof over their heads.


It's time.It's almost time now.I've woken up from a long sleep and everything seems different now.Ice cream comes in cups, danger comes in cones.The man who says he has an answer for everything knows nothing.He finally admitted it.So I've given up on trying to figure anything out.Youíre cool and smooth, as though you had never spent 9 months somewhere in the Iraqi desert, coming away with oil in your lungs and pain in your heart.Or, is it simply a scar in your limbic system?I donít know.


Someone told us we could find utopia, or perhaps Willie Nelson's footprints in Dustin, Oklahoma.


††††††††††† An inventory of the symbol systems of Dustin:


††††††††††† 1.Red, white, and blue trash barrels in front of the City Hall and the Masonic Temple.


††††††††††† 2.Red, peeling paint on benches in front of the Senior Citizen Center and City Hall.


††††††††††† 3.Rodeo and pro wrestling posters on hardware store.


††††††††††† 4.Thin black man riding a mountain bike down Main Street.


††††††††††† 5.Sound of roosters and cows blend themselves with the sound of robins, starlings, meadowlarks, and grackles.


††††††††††† Five pickup trucks have just driven by.Each has a Kodiak chewing tobacco bumper sticker and a gun rack.We see a horse trailer with three brown horses hanging out their heads.


††††††††††† Pegasus dropped in last week and landed on the Masonic temple.If only dreams could fly like that.If only we could beat our wings and out-distance memories we continue to force to converge with the present.


††††††††††† All small towns here have the same things. Water towers like watchtowers.Another season of searching has begun.Iím thirsty.


††††††††††† Someone said we could find utopia in Dustin.


††††††††††† Everything comes in threes.Trailers pull weather from the sky.A coal-black pigeon sits on a park bench, red eyes weeping blood and saliva.Its legs are red.Emissary of nothingness.I hear a bobwhite in the meadows.


††††††††††† The beating of wings.The clicking of the safety.Your biceps ripped and thick.Iím weeping in spite of myself.


††††††††††† A man wearing cowboy boots and cut-off jeans is perched on the edge of a satellite dish in someone's back yard.I can hear him from here.


††††††††††† "I'm not coming down until you give me what I want, Mary Ann!,"he shouts."I told you this would happen!It's all your fault."


††††††††††† Mary Jane is loading up salt in a shotgun.


††††††††††† "Just you shut your mouth, Verl!I told you to stop your yelling at me!Now get down off that thing or I'm gonna get you down.Don't make me have to shoot you."


††††††††††† Verl is only six feet off the ground.She could push him off with a broomstick or a 2-by-4.She prefers the gun.


††††††††††† "You get down, Verl," she says, and pokes the gun his way. "Now.You hear me?"


††††††††††† "I'm not getting down, and you can't make me!"He leans, the satellite dish groaning under his weight.


††††††††††† "I've got rock salt in here.I don't think you're going to like this.Why don't you just come on down, dear."


††††††††††† "Mary Jane, I'll do it, but only after you promise," he says.He's not shouting any more, and I have trouble hearing him.


††††††††††† This inflames her.She fires at the base of the satellite dish.Verl reacts with a rather disconcertingly high-pitched squeal.Most people would find this funny, or at least grotesque as in the Southern Gothic.I find it tragic.I wonder if Verl is a veteran.I am angry with myself for tending to think in cliches and stereotypes.


††††††††††† "Promise?I'm not promising you anything," she says.


††††††††††† "You drive to Wetumka to the Wal-Mart there and get me another fishing pole like the one you threw into the river, or I'm tearing apart your precious satellite dish.How do you like that?No more Home Shopping Network."


††††††††††† "Drat it, Verl!You come down now."


††††††††††† A dead armadillo is lying on the side of the road, freshly killed by a truck.Verl and Mary Jane continue their drama.


††††††††††† "We shouldn't be watching this," I say."It's not decent."


††††††††††† The weather's beautiful.I see a gaggle of vultures circling something that must be fairly close by.I think of Hemingway's The Snows of Mount Kilimanjaro.†† The Rift Valley has to be seen.It can't be described.It's really true that the trees flatten, splay outward as they grow.It's really true that the thorn trees are impenetrable, poisonous.


††††††††††† Last night I dreamed you had me declared a danger to myself and others, then committed involuntarily to a rather nasty place.I suppose I dreamed it because weíve discussed it so often.It happened to people who have a hard to adjusting to the fact that life has a few hard edges.But, eventually there will be no place to be committed to, except the street.I think of children living in abandoned buildings, learning to be invisible except to those who will help or use them.Iím reminded too much of my own childhood.


††††††††††† "Mary Jane!I'm not coming down until you promise to treat me better."


††††††††††† "What are you talking about?You need to be treating ME better,"said Verl.There was a long pause, then a voice of pure pain. "What are you doing to my gun?"


††††††††††† "If you donít come down from there, I'm filling your sorry hide with rock salt.That will make you think!Then I'm throwing this gun into the river with your fishing pole."


††††††††††† Another pause.Verl contorted himself.A slow-moving truck hauling a cattle trailer rolled past.


††††††††††† "Verl!Get your clothes back on!Don't you dare!"


††††††††††† The armadillo on the side of the road hasn't been dead more than an hour or so.The blood is still red, and the crack in its shell look like open wounds.


††††††††††† "Verl!You get down from there.I'm not telling you again."


††††††††††† A patrol car from the sheriff's office rolls slowly up.I think of Andy Griffith.


††††††††††† "What's going on here," asked the a uniformed man.


††††††††††† "I have not the slightest idea," I say.


††††††††††† "BLATTTT!!"The shotgun makes a sound that it much duller than I expected.You and I look at the armadillo, then at the spectacle of Verl and Mary Jane.The vultures fly in formation, circling something that seems to be a mile or so west of here.


††††††††††† We're sitting in a small park in a small Oklahoma town.The breeze is warm.Your ongoing and unresolved pain is a filter through which you strain current experience.My emotional armor is cracked.The armadillo has been hit.If there is any meaning in this, I have yet to find it.


††††††††††† Verl and Mary Jane's voices sound like something inhuman.What is the word?Riparian?I don't know.


††††††††††† Someone told us we could find a little utopia in Dustin, Oklahoma.Willie Nelson left no footprints.Just a crumpled up wrapper from Wrigley's Doublemint gum.


††††††††††† We left behind nothing at all, except perhaps nervous energy which quickly dissipates in the hot, dry Oklahoma prairie wind.