Madison Morrison's Web / Sentence of the Gods / Exists


Madison Morrison

A brown rivulet, light laced, snow mush on its bank, leading upward to straw colored grass clumps. Above the moist declivity runs a dry road, along which a brown pickup with a cream stripe is passing. The wind harries the dry grasses, causing leaves caught in them to rustle. Beyond a triple barbwire strand, held by orange metal strips for posts, a stand of spruces, ragged, the tips of their green branches tinged with ochre.

Beige is interspersed with the straw grass. Occasional clumps of grey-green deciduous up-growth define the horizon, the whole scene overlain with blue-grey-white, wispy clouds. Author’s eye follows a telephone pole in the near ground upward. The sun is in the NNE. Double skeins of black lines, slightly sagging, connect the poles with one another. To the west: a white mobile home, red window-level band, black shutters.

A small blue corrugated outhouse. Even smaller wooden huts, their black roofs peaked. A basketball backboard, net in red, white and blue, set at eight feet. TV antenna, canted, adrift atop the mobile home. Lingering snow is layered in the yard about this minimal homestead. A dark car approaches from the road, where a once bright “Stop” octagon’s red is now barely discernible. A proud prairie house has been reduced to a barn.

Susan Smith

I’m a geologist. Biomorphic patterns in a mini-gulley of melting snow. In 1979 I started a little company called. To: Valley Exploration. Trees in over-road hang, into-field projection. First I’ll describe what geologists do in general. A wheat field filled with real straw, darker moraine-like movement in the landscape above. One can be a private exploration geologist, which is what I am. Horizonal delicacy.

Or an industry participant. Fence scale, tree scale not quite in sync. Most of you likely have relatives who are geologists. Great subtle miniature up and out growth of dividing formation’s push past fence, which continues after a 90 degree turn. Now you’re asking yourself why you’re here (students nonetheless fascinated). Snow belt striations upland, off darker straw patch, curving into intermixed snow and mud.

Unless you’ve really had a lot of geology, none of this will make much sense. A zig-zag of foliage. How oil is made: Reservoir rock. A pair of leafless trees. Bitumen. With black twiggy branches. Pressure and heat. A lowing cow. But not too much pressure and heat. One in a herd of brown, spotted, black, cows. Fine-grain silicic shale. Automobile pass-by. Anyway, it migrates up in either limestone or dolomite.


It is sealed in there. An apparently receding. That’s what people look for. In fact on-coming brook/stream. The Oklahoma City Field is an anticline. Fluttering with energetic sidewise bank-toward movement. Student: Can they find it with sonar? In pock-marked snow. This is Norman, a terminating ridge, and here is Oklahoma City. Black-and-white Holsteins. It goes all the way down from KC to Texas.

In the upslope at the end of a culvert they graze. Noble is the site of a lot of earthquakes now. A flat pool surface. Another student: I have a question. In which are reflected dirty snow and gnarled tree trunks. Is it just because the limestone is more porous? White cloud cover. No, there’s, like, the second Wilcox, above 8500 feet down.” Upward wind-bent blackjack, interspersal of many small conifers, long needles.

All these things crop out around the Arbuckles. Pond to near hole with interlink of hour glass stem. “Oil in the Mid-Continent.” Hole in mud in muddy beige. (Supplement to “Maps of the Mid-continent Region.”) Fallen, decayed, bark-eroded tree trunk. Pink (gas fields). Connecting in triple junction with moss-dotted fence post. Pale green (oil fields). Double branched upstart. Priority; permeability.


One twig has eight leaves, yellowed but still marked with green. It’s just so specialized. Student: Like, what would you do with what you have in your hand? Susan: You can tell by the characteristics of the curves. Student: What the oil saturation, the water saturation? Susan: They used to blindly drill, but now they use seismic. These are called “thumper tracks.” You hold them up and calculate.

Author drops pen top into grass tangle. Susan in salmon blouse, cowboy slacks, navy skirt. Reaches for retrieval. Patterned hose, tan heels. Pricks middle finger, right (writing) hand on rose thorn. Purple glasses, straw hair, glazed-eye intelligence. Pilot Fineline reassembly. Student: How deep is the crude around here? Susan: About 6,000 feet. No one has ever drilled to the bottom of the Anadarko Basin.

Surface of hole bubbles in galaxy-like dance. Out in the Panhandle they don’t use seismic, mostly well logs. I drove out from Amarillo and stayed four days. The roughnecks were passing around Screw magazine. I wasn’t sure whether we should set pipe or not, so I called back to the Amarillo office. We need to run some DSTs. But these guys acted like they were gonna throw me down the pits.


Company: Beren Corp. And also put a lithology log with it. Well: Parker-Wiebeser. Number: 1-31. So they correlate the lithology with the hydrocarbon levels. Field: New Pool. My husband worked as a mudlogger. County: Woods. Near Watonga. State: Oklahoma. This was during the boom, when gas sold for $14 a thousand cubic feet. They had a big party once, threw a barbecue and other stuff.

I’ve also brought photographs of rocks. Oklahoma Crude Abandoned Leases. In 1982, when Penn Square Bank went down. Oklahoma Statewide. Investor money dried up. Sec-Twp-Rge: Purch, Disc, TTT, Date: 6-80. But it was worse than that. Cumulative: 584, 3512; Field Name: Allen. And now it’s to the point where . . . Operators: Parker, Shirley; Ross & Walker, Allen Oil Co. The junkiest well . . .

Yeah, I killed a copperhead in my garage. They were working maybe two days a month. I’m from Hennessey. That was a major place; it was an easy shot to find a well. And I gave a guy a lift back into Prague. We pulled up, and his wife and four little kids . . . They used to make like $15 an hour. Surprisingly it’s just the opposite now; no one wants to drill unless they’re going to get a whole lot of oil.


Fault traps, Stat traps, Up-dip sand pinch-out. It occurred at a failed triple junction. Eliminated intangibles. That was one arm, where it tried to pull apart. Deep-seated salt dome. Well anyway, there’s action. Now if it’s dry you have to capitalize it. Back about 500,000,000 years ago. Faulted anticline, Complex fault trap. During Pangaea they pulled apart and then got back together. Reefs, Unconformity traps.

On board: ALOCOGEN. Piecement salt dome, Asymmetrical anticline. You all know where the Wichita Mountains are and the Washitas. They calculate out their return on their investment. Then they go back down into Alabama. Reverse fault blocks, Deltas. This is where ancient continents collided. Pumping enough to hold the line. The first episode was the failed triple junction. Porosity-permeability.

Well, anyway, here’s some photographs of rocks. So they can maximize secondary recovery. The law of original horizontality. Complex traps associated to salt domes, Wheeler, Texas. The first people, like James Hutton, who looked at rocks were in Scotland. I’m not sure what it is, maybe an overthrust anticline. Any questions? The oldest fossils are Algal Stromatolites in Sabkha formations.


Complex sub-thrust traps. If you go down to the Arbuckles, you can find snails. I have a little boy who is two. They are actually fossilized aminoids. So we stopped working and closed down the office, and I’m not missing any great opportunities at the moment. They’re in the creek beds. Salt evaporate, Dolomite, Gas, Oil, Fault, Unconformity. Paleontology: It’s kind of a fun thing to get into. Washita Rapids.

There are huge gypsum crystals in the Great Salt Flats. Student: Where did all these rocks come from? Rose rocks: No one knows exactly how they were formed. Did they come from the earth cooling off, from the Big Bang? This is how you show a prospect: Geologist, Exploration Manager, Land Manager. I see, they are cooled off crustal materials. My dad, my brother, are geologists.

Accounting procedures. All the minerals come from crystallization. Nobody writes them up, they just use the forms; I’ll pass them around and you can read them. It’s kind of like tapping a maple tree; no, I’m just kidding. We had a turnkey contract: they pay all the third party service. Subsequent Operations. So, they drilled two wells for us and disappeared. Water Flooding. We got sued by all the third parties.

John Kane

I grew up kinda on a ranch, kinda in town in Orange County. Around there it’s sorta like Arkansas but it’s also sorta like around here . . . Dad would leave me off with the cowboys and then come and pick me up on the weekends. This was up near Pawhuska.


An important distinction: that is, between a farm and a ranch. A farm is where you plant things and harvest them . . . A thing or two about how to ranch. Of course you need horses, that’s how you gather the cattle. They are your most valuable asset, next to people.


You want the right kind of horse for this . . . When you go to buy one, you just do the best you can and hope you haven’t been had.


That was before they invented sunlight and hair. Now you get up at 4:00 o’clock, and trade help. If one person gets the better end of it this year, it’ll average out.


Working with cattle on a horse ranch. People who’ve done it all their life know exactly where to place themselves. There’s a lot of nuances. You don’t want to spill the herd . . . You gather cattle for a number of reasons. One is that they have flies and ticks.


Sometimes we work the calves too. It was a little appalling to me when we first started, but we’re pretty up-town at the Kane Ranch nowadays: electric branding irons and so on . . . That’s basically what you do when you own and work cows.



A cow’s pregnancy period’s about nine months, just like a human’s. They will raise the calves. From the feedlots, it’s like selling lumber. It goes on into the food chain.


The people: They look at things a lot different than you or I do, the way they express themselves, their culture: they don’t speak in King’s English. And yet there’s so many holes in our language that they know . . . They know when a horse is gonna get scared.


What about the names: cows, cattle, heifers, heiferettes? A heifer is basically a high school girl. A heiferette, that’s a new one on me. A bull’s just a male, and the cow’s the female. A steer’s been castrated . . . “Cattle” be like saying you had deer for does.


Could you expound a little on the psychology of animals? I’ve been attached to horses. They’re a little like us. They’re a little suspicious. Cows. I’ve never really been attached to them. If you’ve been around them on horseback, you just aim ’em.


It’s basically like playing pool. If you watch ’em, you can tell that one is thinkin’ about leavin’. If you don’t connect before she makes her move, it makes for a long day. They’re more intimidated by a horse with a person on it than by a horse or a person alone.


Cowboy logic: (1) A cow sees everything about ten times the size that it is. (2) A pasture can look as green as it can be, but it may not have any nutrients in it.


How many acres for each cow? Ideally, about ten acres for each cow. Cow-calf ranch vs. stocker steers: When steers are gainin’ weight, they’re gainin’ three or four pounds a day. When you’re allotting acreage you run cow-calf pairs.


Have you at all been affected by the chicken industry? People have a tendency to over-correct. Some are gonna say “moderation.” I’m not gonna eat red meat twice a day . . . There’s a lot of people who just have a few head. Several years ago the average was 37.


Do you know what happens to them when they go to the slaughterhouse? If you saw the calfskin market, it would be enough to make a salad look pretty good.



When you work the cattle, do you ride your horses or just work them into a squeeze chute? They have to get into single file. That’s my job. I get ’em lined up.


Then you encourage them, with sticks and whatnot. Finally the table hinges out and flips over. Do you actually chop ’em, or just put rubber bands on ’em? We do all the castrating ourselves. In the old days they’d rope the calves and then “flank” ’em.


What dad likes is a Herford with a Brahma. Then there’s a Brangus. It’s from a Brahma. It’s the Merrill Lynch bull. Gettin’ back to psychology, what do they do? I don’t really understand them very well; they don’t seem to have any remorse.


We have a guy who’s a welder. A cattle guard’s a substitute for a fence on a pasture. Have you ever known a cow to actually step on one of those? I was comin’ back from California and saw where they just painted the cattle guards on the road.


Tell ’em about horrible things that can happen. Well, we’ll load up cows on the big semis, and it’s payday, and it’s a real tense day, ‘cuz they can run crazy; it can stress the cattle, they can lose eight or ten pounds.


Summer before last we were havin’ trouble gettin’ them gathered. Most pens have these really heavy-duty scales, all fixed. Out there, the scales were broken.


We never did get those scales fixed. We had to take the cattle home, weigh ’em, and then bring ’em back. When we finally got ’em weighed, the semi pulled away and sheared off against the dock, and we had cows runnin’ all over the county. How do you catch ’em?


They’ll come to the feed truck. They’re at least as intelligent as Pavlov’s dog. They will come up over the hill, and then it’s too late. What breed of cows do you have? Herford cows and Brangus bulls and the mixed calves (I guess you could call ’em).


Horses? We have quarter horses. There’s a few other breeds, the Arabians, but they’re too high strung. What about Morgans? They’re too expensive for us.


What is a good temperament? That’s a trade-off. Some horses are cow-y. Part of it seems instinctive. Sometimes they’ll even have one ear cocked over to one side.


What’s the difference between a paint and a pinto? I’m not exactly sure. Is a paint just a coloration? Didn’t Tonto used to ride one? Do y’all use cow prods? Yes. How much, like, electrictity does it have? Well, it’s not fatal. I can tell you that.


It’s less than stickin’ your hand in a light socket and more than one of those pocket buzzers. Did you have any neat places on your ranch where you liked to hang out when you were a kid? Beside the barn was a rock bottom creek with a tree next to it.


It was right down in the draw, which is normally hot. But sittin’ in that tree, on a hot summer day, lookin’ at the fish in the creek, that was all right.


Do horses recognize their names? I think they do, especially if they have a one- or two-syllable name; it’s easier to cuss them. Now this barn, what would you hear when you were there by yourself? There was an oil well, but it didn’t have a clear pattern.


Are there still people who, like, still roast lizards and live out on the land? Well, almost. When my dad lived out there, there wasn’t a shack. Then when I was about fourteen we bought a mobile home. There’s still people out there who don’t get cable TV.



Have you ever encountered a tornado, and what did your cattle do? The cattle weren’t too concerned, but I sure was. When the funnel dropped down, we got out of there.


Do you think the animals can anticipate that the weather’s getting bad? Oh yeah, the cows will head toward where the storm’s comin’ from and turn around their rear ends toward it. They know what’s happening, if there’s not much they can do about it.


Can a cow overeat? Yeah, we had a horse who overate and his hooves got to lookin’ like duck’s feet. You ever have trouble with hay in the winter time? We did, but now we use a cable and a winch. Lay that hay down and just drive away from it.

Yvonne Kauger

I’m not the first Indian (or “skin” as our young people call themselves today), to have served on the Oklahoma Supreme Court, but I may be the first Plains Indian. Student: Who are the plains Indians? I can’t give them all in alphabetical order. Grey sky, orange construction crane, seven starling fly-by. Its corroded body wet, streaked. I’m hokey enough to believe that Oklahoma is the Promised Land. Rain on author’s windshield, wiper, set on low, clearing the scene before him, as random splats of water smack the car’s roof.


I always wanted a place for my Indians to show their work. Droplets quickly re-occluding windshield. They’re Potawatomie, half Shawnee and half Kiowa (one definition of a half breed). Four-wire, from-cab, black crane manipulation, single line in vertical drop to rusted, inert bucket on yellowish, rain-vivified grass. When he puts on his boots, he’s seven feet tall. Where do you stay in OKC? The Nomad, May and 72nd Street. Mound of earth in mid ground covering crane cab base. We went in with the Cheyenne warriors.


Why do you say that Oklahoma was the only place that you could have been appointed a Supreme Court judge? I think Oklahoma is still the frontier. None of our judges is elected. Everyone is a non-partisan judge. People are open here to the possibilities. And all the smart money says that no one will appoint another woman, since the governor has already had a woman, whatever that means. Double, wet, natural barb-wire posts, both of them leaning westward from cab “composition.” He called me over and said, “Hey kid!


“The one who can exert the most pressure gets the position.” But the judge didn’t know me, and I didn’t know the judge. You have to ask, seek and knock. And if that doesn’t work, you have to kick in a few doors. T-phone pole diagonal SW-NE extension-recession, into twiggy, charcoal-grey growth. We’re not backward, you know. I’m an Okie to the core. We’ve come a long ways. The Secretary of State is a woman. Governor Nigh appointed at least three women . . . Justice Wilson is barely five feet tall!


Slab and concrete separating rusted bucket from roadside talus. In the last ten years we’ve doubled the number of women in the legislature. Even though we didn’t pass the ERA. Hannah Atkins, a former National Democratic . . . To west of crane-cab: In 1890 they were happy that women could read and write. A pumping unit, orange-tipped cricket legs circulating, up-poised black cricket head, short stanchion. All law is petticoat law. Wilma Mankiller and Justice Opala upstaged the admiral. They had a little ruff.



Do you feel a lot of stress? No, I went to a seminar last summer on stress . . . The case load has increased by 1000 per cent. White service truck towing yellow oil trailer, entering lot. The legislature could alleviate my stress, if they would give me a little more staff. Red-cabbed dump truck parked by cricket. Japanese-driven vehicles passing parked author as they enter the Hitachi site. If only I’d been there to argue. Day-glow parka-ed driver exits white dump truck to situate pumping line. Red parking lights on white truck flashing.



What is your day like? Typical day? Start at 5:30. Today I drafted an opinion, interviewed an intern, had lunch with Ned. About 45 interruptions. Every time you plan to write, someone comes to see you. We are unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, in that they talk about the cases before they write opinions (see Justice Rehnquist, or Brennan, who has had opinions in the most cases). We are assigned opinions on a rotating basis. If they have a problem, they’re supposed to come and see you in private conference.


To eastward: District Judges. Yellow bulldozer parked in field against background of receding S-N electric poles. Especially in rural areas, are widely respected. They’re accustomed to calling the shots. White fence section disassembled and laid on embankment. Now they have to get four of us to agree. Rain continues to splash/splat on Honda roof. I represent the largest district, from the Panhandle to Washita County, seventeen counties. Against sound of windshield wiper’s slow wipe . . . whine . . . click . . . pause.



What’s your career been like so far? Cotton-picker. The cotton patch did more in Oklahoma for education . . . As soon as I learned to take dictation, I worked for a lawyer. “You shouldn’t be a secretary, you should be a lawyer,” he said. I interned as a medical pathologist, worked for Medical Arts Lab, while I went to law school. Right window clouded with condensation; through it, a grey shed, a white butane tank. In night law school at OU, our class of 120 had thirteen women; the top three men in the class were women.


How does a case get to the Supreme Court? Say you were married, had a divorce. The judge says you must pay 50,000 alimony. You appeal. There is a shorthand reporter during your trial, all the procedural things. You appeal, within 30 days. Your lawyer files a brief, his lawyer files a brief. Mobile home with secondary out-trailer, a leafless grove of trees behind it: brown, yellow brick homes beyond. The judge makes a recommendation as to whether it should be appealed to the Supreme Court. So in most of the cases we see . . .



Pool of roadside water to author’s immediate right. An opinion will be written, our statutes require it. All right. Suppose Judge Wrightmeyer says, ‘Of course she has to pay.” So you appeal. Well that’s when Mary [Leader, a student in the class] comes in. Mary: “The idea is to have consistency. If you’re still unhappy, we look at what the appeals court did, right or wrong.” A brown parcel delivery truck enters Hitachi’s driveway. “This way people have a precedent.” Then a staff person like me . . . either lets the decision rest, or takes it up.”


“And if they do retain the case.” Judge: And you lose again . . . we look at it seriously . . . By this time you’ve had a three-judge panel examine your record . . . And now, on re-hearing, it will be assigned to another judge. In the meantime . . . A red dump truck exits pumping station, a yellow back claw on the trailer behind it. The law is based on common sense. Three silver, black-stanchioned, oil tanks against a field of yellow straw. There are some theories on the common law that it began with the Ten Commandments.



I want to digress, because I see a young woman in uniform [a student in the class]. Pumping unit’s cricket motion continues. You have to take a flight in a 738 . . . Two cream-colored tanks, one large, one small, standing in near ground before distant twiggy growth, mobile homes between the tanks, still leafy trees on horizon. I hate airplanes even worse than taxis. Don’t worry, we’re going to put you in the simulator. You know that simulator didn’t take off right. And it was not funny. I said, “I don’t want to see pictures of crashes.”


Justice Kauger interview outfit: blue crested blazer, large silk scarf (navy ground, big red polka dots and small white polka dots). Westward from another t-phone pole recession, a roadside pool. Beneath a yellow over-smock she is wearing a white silk shirt, its cuffs showing. Lights in distant buildings. In high heels, her hair is dyed red and sweeps back at the forehead. Out author’s side-window are visible more water rivulets. Large glasses with red frames have been chosen to complement the hair. The brown UPS truck exits.


Equal rights has its priceand should. Route 9 baled-hay-filled field, four-board-high wooden fence impaling it. I was interviewed, and he asked me, “Why did you disqualify yourself?” A small river of roadside water descends toward author, meanders into a trench beside the road, then crosses it and continues on the other side. He thought I just didn’t feel like working on the case. To the south: spriggy, moss-covered, leafless deciduous growth caught against a conifer ground. And everybody wants to be a lawyer of course:


My daddy will call me and tell me how it should be. And I say, “You send me to law school, now I’m on the State Supreme Court, and you tell me what you’ve been listening to on L.A. Law. How long would you like to serve on the court? I plan to leave ten toes up. Why do you stay in Oklahoma anyway? I like Oklahoma. We have the best people in the world here. My daughter has married a Bostonian. And they think we have an accent. They all came for the wedding and one of them said, “Here she comes in her “Mazder.”


Muddy ruts of a farmer’s near-house circular tractor turn-around. One thing I learned from J.T. was a positive attitude. Bales stacked five-foot high, closely packed into half-acre space. And he said to me, “I’ve lived one full life (J.T. is 92).” Green tractor, white shed, roof in patch-work aluminum; in shingle; in aluminum again. “I’ve told my dance instructors,” he said, “they’d better get on the pill. And I said, “How’s the dancin’ goin’? And he said, “There’s just one problem. The dancin’ instructor’s jealous of me.”


I have a question (I don’t know how to say this): Oklahomans seem so discouraged. I think we put ourselves down too much. I feel I always have to over-explain, even though I’m from Oklahoma. You just have to sandbag them; they really think we live in teepees. Three toward-sky-reaching trees in line to new house, white shed, its roof in downward grey-streaked dull maroon. But we’re really in the center of the universe. A pickup, its lower reaches hidden by fence. “Jack, who do you know?” I said. “No contacts,” he said.



“But you can contact someone in London,” I said. “Who?” “Why, the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” Pecking sound of author’s windshield wipers a continued under-burden. You don’t have to scratch very far to find an Okie. House: These Yankees want us living on reservations. Red roofed, white sided, bright blue shingled. OU has students from out of state, and they come to TU. Trees to northward reaching out toward road. T-phone pole eastward, roadside declension. You can’t run ’em off with a stick. Sky in mottled cloudiness.


They want to stay here because of our people and our culture. Author’s windshield wipers in a steady, faster action, self-induced, clearing quickened drizzle. We have everything. Northern side of road in deep declivity. And I think that we just need to toot our own horn a little more. Straw field, conifer interspersal, median view of intertwined trees. The justice seated in an OU red chair, patterned with small white, large black diamonds, a poster behind her reading, “Vote Yes on Woman Suffrage Amendment, November 2.”

David Savage’s Father and Mother

David’s father: I’m what’s known as a “land man” in the industry. Here, I’ll read what I wrote down: “When you folks buy gasoline for your car, you’re using a product from the American Petroleum Industry. I would like to tell you about the job of the land man.” Panoramic roadside scape, west to east, Oklahoma winter, 68 degrees Fahrenheit, cloudless sky. Oil is pretty much where you find it. This is where the land man’s expertise comes in. We have private ownership, and we have land belonging to the county, land belonging to the state. Sun already low in the sky at 4:00 pm.


When the geologist isolates an anomaly that appears to have some promise, you have to remember that they’re looking two or three miles under the earth. I’ll try to limit myself to Oklahoma. How do you go about finding out the ownership and the particular restrictions? In the treaty of Dancing Creek they separated the Oklahoma territories: the east side was called Oklahoma Territory and the west side was called the Indian Territory. West side was divided among the wild tribes. The Congress approved the rectangular survey. They picked Turner Falls as the “initial point.”


This provided the “base line.” Then they went north, and then they went south. They surveyed this line and designated every six miles with a rock. Straw grass down embankment to separate stands of poplar: About every 24 miles they made a correction line. Eight in the first row, followed by a 50-yard gap. Well, anyway, they took these townships and carved them up. Then two together, followed by a 30-yard gap. You’ve heard of the north 40, or the south 80. Then a single poplar. The Original Homestead Patents were granted by The Enabling Act. In 1900 they held the Lawton Drawing.


Other tall trees, pine, spruce and fir, cast long shadows. Then the Guthrie Drawing, and so on. Deciduous trees (elms) complete a property line’s foliage. Usually that granted a patent of 160 acres. Railroad tracks level-lying, rusted, gravel-seated, beige in southern declension. The land man must examine, at the courthouse, the legal status of the title. In other words, you can’t do something illegal and have a legal title. The Warranty Deed can have exceptions, or no exceptions. Mineral deeds. Royalty deeds. Overriding Rights deeds. T-phone poles, squat and sturdy on the other side of the track.


An oil company has to work with the land man. We have competition. “By golly, they’ve seen something that we ought to have seen.” Once the leasing is complete, we bring in the geologist. Next we try to boil it down to what we call “the prospect.” Then the land man must determine whether or not we should take the risk. Poplar continuation on to the crossroad. There’s no specific definition of a “wildcat”; it simply means that you’re drilling into an unknown area. In a field to the south: broomy, upstanding, ocher grass bunches, grey grass at their bases. Drilling oil wells is extremely expensive.



Finally we come back to them in a friendly manner and say we’d like them to enter into an operating agreement. We outline the cost and how we’re going to pay. Or possibly they will pay, what we call “dry hole money,” a term derived from the early people who invented it. Irregular cypress clumps on eastern boundary. We may want to lay off some of our risk by bringing in outside investors. Author’s eye returns to the West, measuring an eight-poplar stand bordering a field, which pies out into a half-acre triangle, at the center of which a broadly spread, huge-trunked hackberry hides a whole farmstead.


But first we make the decision to finish the well. Once you’ve got the block together, however, you can find that you have a cantankerous owner who says, “We don’t like these lease hounds,” as they call us. At the triangle’s base a one-story wooden building, paintless, doorless, roof caved in, grassy growth up to and into its entrance. It’s the duty of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to protect the correlative leases. Then we arrive at a forced pooling agreement. Sun’s rays warm on author’s neck, shadow of hand covering bottom quarter of page. You can take the same amount in royalties.


Or you can take what we call “farm out.” This way you don’t pay him any cash up front. He has to make that election. Once the production is obtained, it is the responsibility of the land man to make up a divisional order. In Oklahoma every well is determined by state regulation. To eight-poplar stand’s south, a green field, freshly planted, bearing wide tractor ruts, evenly spaced vegetation rows. A division order title opinion. The oil company works with the pipeline company. Everything according to the Blanchard Decision: each royalty owner is entitled to a share in the venture.


Direct to southwest: a silhouetted water tower, its pole turquoise, its base in concrete. This requires that each party selling gas must share equitability loss with the other land owners entering into the lease. The sun glances off its rounded water receptacle. Part of the original commission that established the Oil Land Management Program set it up. But to be a good land man, you need a good legal background. Delicate cross struts open out on a whited sky behind, horizon in tactful clump, stand, three-row distributions. I studied business administration. A basic knowledge of geology and geophysics.


I know this was an awful lot to pop out all at one time. Could you get into detail about overrides? Well, I own 7/8, so I’m gonna give you a sixteenth of 7/8 of the production. And that way it goes along with the lease . . . Does that answer your question? Maybe I need to know more about the distribution of the wealth of an operating well. Mr. Savage pauses to put several diagrams on the board, one representing 160 acres quartered, one representing the State of Oklahoma divided into Oklahoma and Indian Territories. Now the distribution of this is simple: 1/2 x 1/8 = 1/16; 1/2 x 3/16 = 3/32.



And we have that right on the freeway as you’re goin’ out to the airport. At southern border of green field a heart-warming display of conifers, branches broadly spread, conical forms flattened at base, eight feet off the ground. I didn’t talk about itemization, but that’s the way you do it. Under which cows graze, too distant, too shadow-darkened for specific identification. Now another diagram, a square subdivided into 36 parts. To the right of the trees, which occupy only the eastern half of the southern border, across a mottled straw-grass field, a group of cows are being overflown by a landing, single-engine bi-plane.


Let’s say we’re in section 17, township 2, of Cleveland County. The plane dips, rises again, banks, turns, its engine noise reaching author’s ear at second-late intervals. So I can go to 8 townships north and 2 west — remember I said there were 36 townships in each section — and spot Norman. Next it overflies a barn, an aluminum shed, beneath its circuit a distantly-pumping pumping unit visible. Sec 16, T8N, R2W. The plane, its double orange wings frozen in sunlight, continues to overfly a field in a continuous figure-8 pattern. Let’s say we’re in the north half of the northeast of the northwest.


Kite-like, its wings shudder in the air. Here’s the northwest, and here’s the northeast quarter . . . N/2/NE/4/NW4. To eastward of the hidden farm stand three more pumping units, each in a field of its own, as an old car passes down into a distant road, visually connecting pumping station number 2 with pumping station number 3. So it contains 20 acres . . . Back east townships are laid out a little different, metes and bounds. And later they put in the actual points. Most of the western states, however, have grantee indexes. Author’s upward glance from notebook catches a second car repeating the pattern.


A crow contradicts the car’s direction, as it now joins a flock of eleven others, settling into the mown grey-green, green-streaked field. Court records, clear down to the latest divorce case, can affect the title of the land. Connecting a near-ground triangle of light with a darkened field in the middle ground. Most people live in a precinct, and most precincts are determined by school districts. David said you used to do some flying. Yes, we had dead reckoning. Of course, when you look out the window, you see those circles on the ground. The best way to navigate a plane is to fly by following the highways.


David is such a free spirit, and how did you achieve that? Mrs. Savage: We had four boys, and it’s been amazing to me how different they are. More cars pass in both directions, pumping unit 2 with its baby blue pump in nearly synchronous motion with number 3’s. I’m a school psychologist in Oklahoma City. But I am still amazed. Jack and David, the twins, are both creative. The other two boys hunt and fish; they wouldn’t ever think of going to a symphony. But I think we have kind of encouraged the twins. We’ve taken them a lot of places. We haven’t pushed them; it was something they enjoyed.


What is your view of the oil industry, specifically the role of people, say, in Saudi Arabia and how it affects Oklahoma? People over in Saudi Arabia are not oil people. Oil people are from Wewoka and from Denton, Texas. It behooves us to be working with these Saudis, not treating them as enemies. Beyond them light-caught yellow-sided houses, overstood by trees. We need to diversify our talents. Behind which lies a distant smoky horizon of houses and trees. How many Oklahomans can speak French and Chinese fluently? Most of the graduates of our institutions can’t even write a business letter.


Some people think that our problems are owing to cheaper oil from overseas. What do you think about taxing foreign oil? If they put this tax on foreign oil, there will be other groups that will think it totally unfair. To east of the crow-filled field a lot with a large warehouse, concrete outbuildings, before which are set three long rigs of ancient vintage. If you’re out of work, find a new job. Don’t blame it on someone else. A fourth, shorter truck enters the lot. There’s a good healthy oil business here, and there probably always will be in Oklahoma. What will Oklahoma look like in a hundred years?


Well, when I look back a hundred years, I can’t see much difference. Someone has said, “Oklahoma is poor, has always been poor, and always will be.” That depends on what we do, what we make of ourselves. Driver exits the truck’s cab, throws down its hood, and disappears on the opposite side of the truck. Questioner: What do you think of Oklahoma City and the people who run it? Lately it has had a lot of management troubles. You know, I’m a Tulsan originally and never have thought that much of Oklahoma City. To westward: the serene green of a long-stretching field, above which a round moon.


I’ve worked at Mitty’s and at Suger’s. Those Terrible Twisters. I’m 28 years old. You folks in Altus, there’s a very dangerous storm approaching. You have to be at least 21 to serve liquor. Baseball-size hail. Julie, my friend, who’s also a dancer, is 40 now. Thunder, lightning. She owns her house, owns her car. Tornado Warning. Thanks to the profession. This storm is intensifying very quickly. I’m not gonna work at C.C.’s anymore. Stay tuned. We’re arrogant bitches. We’ll keep you advised. They need me more than I need them. TV9. The next day you can be hired on somewhere else. In Oklahoma, you can’t afford to trust your life to anyone else. I’ve quit C.C.’s and I’m making more money in a dive.


The first time a tornado of this magnitude has been filmed from a helicopter. You can dance where you want. Live Ranger 9. And a lot of places you don’t even have to take all your clothes off. Music: “Riders of the Storm.” Texas is G-strings and parties. “Killer on the Road.” Even New York City. A very large wall cloud. I know Missouri doesn’t even have stripper bars. The wall cloud is produced by what we call the mesocyclone. Question: How did you get started? We have a person, named Leo, who goes out to chase the tornadoes in a jet helicopter. The system in OKC was 8 dollars an hour. Ranger 8 to 558. At that time I didn’t even have a college education. The zoom shows that’s definitely a tornado.


I’m pretty good; I can dance most of their butts off. Then we saw the funnel forming. In OKC you are paid commission on your drinks. It actually touched down in an open field. Table dances are $5.00. Daylight revealed its destructive path. If he doesn’t want to buy you a drink . . . There was little left of George Wilks’ house. That’s a hustle bar. The Wilkses had lived there 32 years. I never waited tables before I came to Norman. He said, “Hit the cellar,” so that’s what we did. No paid vacations. The walls was jest cavin’ in and the roof jest — swoooop! Two to three hundred dollars a week. So the tornado can be on the ground and you don’t see the funnel. Most girls bring down about 100 dollars a week.


In this case the entire wall cloud has reached the ground. Question: What happens when people get fresh with you? This guy’s a little bit close for me. OK, we have dirty mixing. Red dirt. This goes from sitting on a guy’s lap to jerking him off under the table. Whited sky. I don’t do that. Grey tornadic action. If he grabs my butt, I’ll turn around and grab his hand. Bright white pointer. A bar that I’m happy with, if I hit him, he’d be out of there before the echo died. Blue sky. I don’t like to be touched and grabbed. White funnel. And 99.9 per cent of the girls are nice girls. Straw colored grass. Stripping is just takin’ all your clothes off. I get excited! I’m a visual artist, I don’t normally dance that way.


As for costumes, do you have a current favorite? My favorite is a black dress with a slit up to the waist. Plus what I call my million dollar G-string. I paid $24 for it. I wear boots, because I have leg problems. Typically I dance to Tina Turner. I also used to dance to “Frankie Goes to Hollywood.” And I would go ahead and take my shirt off. I’m one of the few dancers who likes to dance in pants. It does something to a man’s mind to stand there and unzip your fly. It makes him reach for his wallet, for one thing. Would you take off your hat, please, I want to see your hair? I’m out of mousse, and this is supposed to be a Mohawk. Do you put on stage makeup? I use just a little regular makeup.


Have you studied dance technique? No, I’ve pretty much picked it up as I went along. I get to where I’ve almost got a choreographed routine. I change the songs a lot. My good routines I’ll change when the customers are tipping. “Bad to the Bone” I used to dance to, but now I can’t anymore. How many dancers do you work with? When I was at Mitty’s, you’d usually have four to eight. Suger's I’ve never been there when they’ve had less than eight. Mitty’s I liked real well; it had a sort of family feeling to it. I got along with the manager real good. It was living out of his house. They put me on with the night girls. You have a big problem when a lot of the girls are druggies and alcoholics.


This girl finally managed to get me into a fight. When I came back to Mitty’s and worked about a week, they rehired that girl. She hung around and got me into a fight again. I said, “Listen, I can’t work with this situation.” I left Suger’s, because I felt I didn’t have the backup I needed. Walking into Mitty’s is like walking into the Black Hole of Calcutta. As a dancer, Mitty’s has gone downhill. It’s darker, they can get away with touching more, whereas at Suger’s, if you let him play with your ass, you’re both out. At Suger’s you can’t drink. It’s a lot brighter, they have a DJ and a lot more songs. Suger’s got albums, like Malarkey’s in the City. To look at it, Suger’s would seem more luxurious.


People say, “I bet you see a lot of students,” but at Mitty’s it’s mostly postal employees from the training center. I have one regular, and I still see him — date him — but he won’t go to Suger’s. Do you have a diet or a workout? I’m a female body-builder. Yeah, you gotta look good. Generally, when you see a girl start dancin’, you come back in a couple of weeks and she’s lost ten pounds. What about your daughter, what do you tell her you do? I tell her I work in bars, I tell her I wait tables. I don’t have a big taboo on nudity. I walk around the house all day naked. Do you dance to music or does music make you dance?

Music makes me dance. Hey, I get my day off, I go drinkin’ and dancin’.


Does it ever bother you that men just look at your exterior? More often I get a compliment for being a good dancer. The only ones that bother me are the guys who have tunnel vision. I figure anyone who’s got a mental I.Q. that low . . . When do you think you’ll quit dancing? Three to five years. I hope to buy 160 acres 25 miles from the town I’m in and break or train horses and raise my Borzois. And I’ll be self-sufficient. Have you been this personable all your life? No, that’s not always been the case. Have you ever thought of going on the road? I’ve talked to a lot of girls who've worked on road shows. And it makes them shell out a lot more money, but you have to know someone to get into that.


Have you thought of dancing, like, on Broadway? I’ve had people tell me I was pretty good. I am a professional. I’m makin’ a living. My great and grand scale ambition, though, is to have a horse ranch. I started breaking’ and trainin’ when I was fourteen. Does your family know? My mother does my income taxes and still thinks I’m a waitress.

Robin Schultz

Post pre-spring warm-up/cool-down, spattering rain, common cement roadside sit. Uproad gently dipping upsweep to vague grey-crested horizon. Returning left roadside: charcoal smudge, wispy branch delineation, groups of leafless trees, single elevated blank white advertising billboard. Onrushing OMC truck spewing road rain to shoulder, menacing approach. Other traffic: every third vehicle head-lighted. Maroon pickup heavily loaded in rectangular hay bales out from side onto main road. View beneath high ridge, hillside in conical evergreens: olive corrugated warehouse, parallel offset alignment, ocher building of similar construction farther down. Desultory collection of vehicles: pickups, autos, single orange service truck. Sign at site entrance with wind-flapping pennants in day glow pink, bright yellow, black. Behind them a dull white upright storage tank, a drilling rig, an on-its-side red tank. High above, the grey propeller of a whispering windmill.


I’m super pleased to be here. Of course I’m pleased to be anywhere. Don’t make it too easy on me. I was born in Billings, where Governor Henry Belmon is from. We were all farm kids. I was the coach’s son. Wheat is what is raised up there. It wasn’t much as far as aesthetics. Red-rock creek: I see it as pretty important, not the same as being raised on a lake. A creek goes by you. We didn’t milk a lot of cows. I mean one. I milked it. I started to school I guess it would have been 1948. One incident: I inveigled some money from my mother. Took the railroad track. Met my first itinerant. I empathize. Somewhere around 4th or 5th grade: Bach and Handel and Beethoven and Schumann. It’s different to live your early life without culture. Twenty or 30 years ago there was even more of a lack in Oklahoma. We didn’t know what ballet was. Since then I’ve learned to know and enjoy dance. I did play all the sports, though I’m not very agile.


Directly across road from author (car parked, windshield wipers on low, red OIL/CHG/BRAKE lit on dash): a sullen, saturated field, yellow straw embankment choking its westward boundary, new green growth filling its bottom. Midway to southern limit a grey corrugated shack situated next to wooden utility pole. Then expanse of muddy bottom touched with grey twig, small bush remains. To: group of “buildings”; white original trailer (turquoise trim); newer mobile home in off-white (beige trim), sedan, pickup parked outside. Tow truck (Crest Auto) side road exit, light blue sedan in tow behind it. Large truck traffic continuing down-bearance. Rain cessation. To left of building group an old rust-stained barn, a copse of light green buds above it. Eastward-gently-sloping grass-covered planes in light grey, ocher, sand. Then sweep of eastward moving trees, spriggy, energetic up-thrust, long horizontal declivity to much lighter grey (more distant) stands.


A lot of driving up and down Main Street. Your unconscious high school act. I wrote a poem in my senior year, and a lot of the girls were enthralled. That was my one artistic endeavor in high school. My writing career: I took some graduate courses in poetry. In fact I was at the age of 33 before I wrote my first — second — poem. We were living in a farm house in Minnesota and we would go to the county seat and check out books. And these poems were all written by people about my age. Now, 1968, that would be about 20 years ago. Most of them went through the Iowa workshop. Many of them are fairly well-known poets now. Why can’t I try it? The first ones were very intricately worked: juxtaposition, rhymes at the beginning and the end. I graduated in 1958. I had got it in my head that I didn’t want to follow. Joined the Marines right out of high school. One of the major jolts in my life. Didn’t know much about the world.


But it got me away from Oklahoma, to California. This was before Vietnam. Decided I wanted to stay in Oklahoma. Got in my 1965 Crown Victoria — chrome up over the top — started driving, got to Santa Barbara and started my college career — one of seven undergraduate institutions that I attended. Stayed there, moved on up to Monterey, also on the coast — Steinbeck wrote about it. Both enjoyable towns. No real goals. The easy life, I should admit. I’ve always set some kind of limit, so this adventure didn’t go wild. I finally made it up to San Francisco State. I was still a fairly conservative dude. I got to S.F. in ’64, the beginning of the demonstrations. Marched against the Cadillac agency. Quadrangle. Lenny Bruce. Maintained my conservatism in my personal life. Somewhat the beginning of a social consciousness on my part. Worked in a liquor store. Fillmore is a pretty interesting neighborhood, I would say.


Took the student loan, went to Europe. Don’t know how young people do that now. Incredibly poorly planned year and a half. So you go down to the American Express every morning. Less of a traveler’s hangout now. My time in Europe: I worked for a few months in Heidelberg. Got a three-speed bicycle; made it to Paris; set out for the Mediterranean. Started hitchhiking, fairly standard tour. Spain, all the people from the Nordic countries. Spain and France. Not England, or Greece, or India and Pakistan. The American hangout. And of course I got broke, returned by student ship. Thought of going back to S.F. Turned out I could get into the English Department here; taught at a college in Missouri; quit that, found a job running a fishing resort in Minnesota. That’s a good life. A little bitty grocery store. The lake was a shallow lake, scooped out, just as the glacier stopped. All the lakes were very shallow in those parts.


The lakes sometimes freeze solid, and the fish all come up dead. I remember that time very nostalgically. After Labor Day there wouldn’t be any tourists. The neighbors would come in and drink endless cups of coffee. Very ethnic towns: one Polish, one Norwegian. If there was a wedding (between a Pole and Norwegian), it wasn’t looked upon askance, but it was noted. One tradition that we didn’t have in Oklahoma: the graduation party. By June you’d have the party for your son or daughter. It told you where your loyalties were. They laid out a wonderful spread. Of course all the fathers would have a bottle out in the garage. I think it’s a great tradition. Maybe here it’s no big deal. Well, we did that for three summers. During this whole period I was never a hippy, though sometimes now I’m an ex-hippy. We had a ’63 Volkswagen van. Slept in parks. Friends that you had met once you just turned up on their doorstep.


Roadside view of ATT listening station, Rectangular stucco-ed one-story building, windows in narrow under-eave apertures, off-center grey door, corrugated roof, surmounted by 30-foot massive tower, multiple bridgework reinforcement. Wind buffeting roadside trees, bending dry talus-mounted grasses. Grey wash-brushed clouds nearby, moving north to south, surmounted by higher, vaguer range, seen through triple strand of telephone lines. In foreyard of stark white ATT station: brilliant emerald weed-grass, a second range of light-brown grass, a third of tan at building’s base. To southward: high sky, declining westward gradations, sandy passage, tree ridge, general greys of four light/darkish, light/dark calibrations. Weather chill, rain lightly spotting windshield. This-side-of-road detritus: green oil can, paint weathered to yellow-white brown, label-less beer bottle beside road. Flattened soft-drink cup, broken branches, thin recently budded tracery of trees.


I did come back and try to write a dissertation. Have worked at many itinerant jobs to make money: at a newspaper (as a typesetter), driving a snack truck, teaching freshman English up at Rose State (like being a dishwasher in a family restaurant). My philosophy? I’d have to say that I have none. I’m not a religious person. There are similarities between a Christian and a poet: any chance he has to push his theory, he does. It happened that when someone is called a poet, it’s effeminate. Poetry isn’t any big deal. It’s available to those who are not sensitive as well as those who are. Poetry is the ultimate democracy. You know the problem: getting someone to listen. I’m not a prolific poet. It seems like fourteen lines and over is a mid-length poem. I write a lot of ego stuff; I use the first person a lot. A lot of it’s about identity; a joke that I have a problem of identity, one indication being that I grew up being called Bob or Bobby.


Celestial Acres Stud Quarter Horses: Paint chipped from metal fence, chain-link installed behind it. Rain newly flecking author’s windshield: out-side-window sky brightening, in mounded, cottony clouds, pale grey against grey/pale blue, in a bleeding ground. Through-fence view of 60s “modern” house, shingled roof, corrugated dirty-yellow outbuildings. To: three feeding stalls, white roofs with triangular gables. To: pumping unit in black, cricket’s nose orange-tipped. Robin Schultz walking in near ground, author with notebook open. White foal grazing in front of RV. Cypresses; birds; passing purple Monte Carlo. Uproad view to swiftly fluttering American flag. Yellow “School”; black-on-white “Speed Limit 25.” Ovoid water tower on not-too-distant horizon. To southward: housing development, two roofers astride pink-and-white insulation-covered gable, one in a red, the other a black, shirt. Blossoming pear tree, flowering quince, forsythia flame.


Of course one hopes that a personal narrative is going to be more than a spiel about one’s life. In “Poem for Four Voices” (which was more or less a play), I recited my name, “Robin Schultz,” at least 300 times. Several people declared that it was an ego trip, but “Robin Schultz” stood for “John Doe.” I have one slim volume of poems, that and some poems in magazines and so on. Not a lot. The other thing is that I’m a small press publisher. I just published this fellow who wrote about a train trip from Norman to Houston. Then there’s another fellow (Neilson) who’s been in institutions. He was profligate from the word go. This was in Chicago. And of course he got kicked out of the Air Force and then lived the life of a profligate alcoholic on the streets of Mexico City from 1946 to 1984, when he died. This book is the record of the man’s life. And I’ve sold a few copies, and I’ve sent a few of them to Mexico City.


Warming trend, clear sky, late-morning vehicle descent, up-path progress, horseshoe point observation. Red sandy clay, dry grass, beneath-foot scatter. Pathside tall grass, single clump of new green weed growth. Air Force jets on-horizon whiffle-through. View clear to single pasturage beyond tree. Charcoal branches hook into background surround, upward thrust of branches; likewise inter-hook with sky. Pufflets in two-mile distance read as an accompanying human element, floating above field-end, leafless trees, all barely observable as greenish wash. Field falls off into invisibility, where field-end trees read against farther field’s foliage. Near-ground double wooden post frame, four strands of barbed wire. Wind up, rustling blackjack leaves, whispering through burnt umber grasses. Bark of scrub-oak nearby moss infestation: goldenrod yellow, ascetic grey. Down-path view to author’s sun-glinted red Honda.

Richard Beck

Bridge over calmed waters: two bark-eroded termite-traced, four-inch-thick tree trunks, nailed together with four-foot-long slabs of 2 x 6, paint flaked off. Brook almost still, slight dithering run-off. “Caw-caw-caw”; elsewhere, a small bird chirp, trill-accompanied. Light through tree branches onto-page infiltration. Dead-tree 40-foot trunk arching over moss-ingrown brook. Broken brush near-bankside accumulation, seedy rottage. Corrugated drainage-tunnel remains; single crushed translucent Gallo plastic wine jug, in amongst branch throw-down. At author’s back many dip together, their tips touching, snap-clicking. Ground level rustle. Ten-year-old blasted-elm up-growth, viewed by another standing beneath its tortured, solid, rouge-on-grey limbs, their bark scalped by the elements. Double leaf toward-author extension as focal point to in-brake tangle view, where brook meanders. Red mud up-trunk levels from earlier flooding.


I think Hegel would have liked being taught in Oklahoma. In fact Hegel has always been taught in Oklahoma. Gustav Muellerson had occasion to argue with the state legislature, who had wished to abolish the department of philosophy, on the grounds that they were teaching the supercession of Christianity. Gradually things settled back to normal. At different times there’ve been some very distinguished people here. Eventually they have fallen out of the bottom. These people arrived here in various ways. At any rate, the German Idealist tradition has almost always been present in the curriculum, which is appropriate, given its emphasis, since Kant, upon Experience (Erfahrung). Our ordinary experience and Kant’s Experience are, after all, related.


Across-brook in-field sit/situation beside on-ground-sitting brown enamel, discarded Maytag washer top, beside author’s khaki-clad leg, rust-red cowboy boot. A clump of wind-fluctuated, desiccated, eight-inch, broad-leafed grass, beaten-down continuous, in (closer observation) mauve, rust, grey, plus within-clump brown shadows. Wind-whipped sage-sprig fluttering faster than other elements. Up to back-brookward view, sun on author’s sweater (grey-tan, brown, grey-maroon), interlaced hound’s-tooth jacket, golden locks. Grey passenger jet, white-tipped tail, makes gentle 90-degree ascent, just over bristly branch boundary; completes 180-degree circuit, sun catching it, turning fuselage to grey-white, as a flapping crow emerges from a tree, traverses evergreen interspersals, slopes into the mid-distance, amongst sere oak leaves. From a solitary tree emerges a woodpecker as a plane streaks the sky with its white jet-trail.


Allow me, if you will, to reflect for a moment on experience. The activity becomes dominant in the nineteenth-century German tradition, but the concept goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. There are two wonderful stories about Thales, in whom there is very little groundedness in things. At some point he became fed up with this caricature of himself and asked a merchant to rent him a wine press. Soon there occurred a bumper crop of grapes, after which the local Greeks stopped scoffing at Thales’s view of things. Here I think of Marx or Lenin too. “Encourage people to make remarks.” “Create a dialogue,” out of which comes Dialectical Materialism. As a result, the tradition henceforward, whatever it was intended to be, is called “dualistic.”


Bankside toward-lake-channel disposition, water surface observation. Sun warms author’s forehead, reflecting brilliantly on nearby branches. In the water’s surface a variegated opulence. Opposite sits a double-trunked elm, spreading upward, tipped and cluster-covered in roseate, just-opening buds. The light feathers bank-atop grasses, also begins to fail, in the middle distance, dancing down to the far horizon, covering and tingeing cottony clouds just above it, whose bottoms disintegrate in the lack of substance/light. Grey essence shades and clouds the sky’s lower reaches, which open into a two-dimensional sheet, reflect themselves in the pond, whose surface disappears in the imagery of a cloud-dappled sky (a pink-tinged diaphanous play of pale green-blues and paler blue-greens). Its surface ripples in the wind, the whole voluble in its dissolution, bright dimes of light speckling it, as a stream ripples with the wind’s motion, moving on lakeward.


A truth, thus generated, emerges and develops into a history of the subject. On another topic: in one of Plato’s dialogues we see the question of how to dress. Aristotle was known to have been noticeably well-dressed, perhaps to distinguish himself from Plato (Aristotle was presumably familiar with this dialogue of Plato’s). It is useful here to confine ourselves to the western tradition, which is very peculiar, especially the Greeks. This philosophical activity, to take experience as it presents itself, leads to the attempt to make sense of it. You’ve actually begun to engage in a philosophical activity, when you begin to make sense of your own experience. Hegel, to return to him for a moment, is memorable in this regard, for he set out, you recall, to explain everything.


Author seated atop log, beaver-felled onto red clay, in a chip-, leaf- and twig-filled surround. Near-noon cool satiety, early bug-swarm. Through-twig lake-view manifests the water’s grey-blue surface, whose color-determination-independence as well as debt to the sky’s semi-collapsed inward-outward density persists. The sun is at its pre-vernal peak. Grey-and-brown-streaked, heavily-corduroyed, bark of sat-upon tree trunk, its six-foot circumference tapering to three. The light treats it with clarity. The log readjusts as author readjusts. “Caw-caw-caw” from behind, followed by echoing cross-bay “Caw-caw-caw.” Sun glimmers on wind-driven eddies, on dry-leaf-filled, red-mud-stained embouchure of creek. Down-course swallow over-flight. Dissolution-reconstitution-prone Oklahoma is OK, the movement of cars on a distant highway registering as a gentle roar of tires. The water’s pilleated surface reflects its forested bank.


We are now much more skeptical of such a systematic enterprise. There is nothing quite like 17th century skeptical philosophy anywhere else in the world. In the Middle Ages it was metaphysical views that could result in your being burned alive. Therefore, ethics and metaphysics are related. In the tradition of ethics, you begin with very simple notions. These can be objectively enumerated. This is how the ethical world works in Homer’s time. Several hundred years later, things have become more complicated. Aristotle creates a systematic ethics that dominates things until the 17th century, largely because Aquinas takes it up into Catholicism. We know that Aristotle includes things that aren’t correct, especially his notions of teleology, but also the view that ethics is rational.



Roadside standing water ripple, last day of winter, heavy-rain-after cloudless sky. Deep brown under-water miry muck, green reed-grass bankside upstart, down-bank emerald tufting, light green coverage. Twigs bud-active, a single elm in already green emergence. Tree limbs still reading as semi-bare, though high tone light defines an imminent fullness. Double flight of fighter planes, entering from North. Silver cylindrical milk truck. From South, a diesel, its puff spreading a cloud at stop-sign. Newly terraced roadside descends into clod-broken field, rows of recent green. Butterfly by-dance. White transport plane in slow SW-NE progress. Sky, pale at horizon, smoothly transitioning into uniform light blue, slightly mottled mid-height, in more homogeneous upward reaches. T-phone lines on creosoted poles loping, looping uphill as the road gently dips, gently re-ascends. Squeaking multiple-braking oil truck, “Oklahoma” in yellow.


Nietzsche comes along to throw out the project of a rational ethics. Perhaps we should go back and ask if we had not made a mistake in rejecting Aristotle. In recent times things broke along the English Channel. A great deal of thought on one side of it was devoted to language. An Anglo-American philosopher will tend to be quite precise but also quite narrow. Now the two traditions are coming back together. This university was for a time very Continental and more recently has become very Analytical. This activity is very peculiar. Set a Coke can down [he does] and do systematic philosophy. Instead, Husserl became very descriptive. Coke, he said, “is the real thing” (so to speak). We all see the Coke from different perspectives. He too talks about virtually everything.


Red, white-cabbed, flatbed truck pulls six-wheeled yellow trailer, yellow-and-black back-loader atop it. Black sedan stops, in northward course, turns westward. White pickup follows, its antenna wriggling in wind. Up from the dipping, re-ascending road, a sloping dry-grass-filled field with new growth interspersal. Fence posts of old-style crooked wood, irregular disposition, uneven height, uneven verticality. To: hilltop cluster of farm buildings. Cylindrical, covered granary, triangular barn, into-hillside settled, double black window openings. Jet overhead noise, white service truck eastward to stop, southward at-stop sign turning. Farm continuation: slightly rusted, corrugated roof on white barn, visual red-barn-abutment. These surmounted by budding trees, a single elm over-branching both. To west: 20-foot distant main farm house, dormered roof, red-brick chimney, white-porch, perched on a low hilltop, the red dirt road-to muddy-rutted.


Questioner: I’d like to find out about your juvenile history, say between the ages of ten and fifteen. As far as I know I’m the only person to have grown up in Midwest City with these particular preoccupations. Until the age of eighteen or so, there was no such thing as culture. My counselor would say, “A kid like you can’t have a problem.” When I came to the university, I found that there had been something going on. Midwest City has no center: lots of houses and Tinker Air Force Base. People here have been doing literature, doing philosophy, i.e., reflecting on life. The way that I dealt with the unpleasantness of life was by reading. Also, growing up as a Methodist, which faith, as I understand it, has no tenets. As I got older I simply changed the text from the Bible to Hegel.


Hill-swell roadside cut-through interruption. Modest serenity, pale backdrop in-fit. Dust on nearer oil site, inroad up-gust/die-down. T-phone poles at-entrance clustering (up-road continuation, near-road up-start). Road embanked on down side by mid-dark-green new grass; to first black cylinder, brown-dirt-spattered, its upper half reading over horizon, four fifths of lower half, against brown, new-growth-interspersal, bottom fifth against beige road. Upward twiggy tree frame, at a decorous distance. To: light brown-reading electric pole, double white transformer encumbrance, lines from which to a single pole, thence to a second, slender, slightly higher pole, down into triple black tank complex (pumping unit site). A silver cylindrical tank catches south-instreaming light, its eastern side shading off from white sunlit edge to grey, its overall dark outline 50 per cent against sky, 40 per cent against dry grass, 10 per cent against newly mounded clay.


The Encyclopedia of Philosophy tells us that Wittgenstein is English, but he spent little time in England. The Tractatus (a terrible title) examines how language works. When he submitted it as a doctoral thesis, G. E. Moore said, “It occurs to me that Mr. Wittgenstein is a genius, but anyway his work seems adequate to satisfy our departmental requirements.” Wittgenstein drew the distinction between what could be said and what could be shown. He flabbergasted them by reading from the works of Tagore. If, instead, someone wants to know how to live, he should read Tolstoi. Where your language stops, that’s it, said Wittgenstein. If you can’t say it, you don’t know it. Thinking occurs in language. Speaking of the relation between philosophy and literature . . .


Hillcrest rural road descent, late afternoon pre-spring re-winterizing. Through-barb-wire-to-southward-intersection view of streetlamp-lit flickering town below. Scrub oak in near-to-mid ground “vale,” quickly up-hilling into green-tufted, black-shadowed growth. Wind strong in right-roadside electric cables, as we move straight downroad into grey-pebbled, light red soil. To North: a single, very pale-green budding tree overarches the way, a blasted elm before it. The red shale roadside is “caked” with muddy aftermath. Auto descent next to valley bottom scares robins into water-filled domain, in amongst earlier deserted scrub oak, whose posture is a “look” at author. Uphill to flaking, fluidly-grey, indefinite, white cirrus-like near-horizon cloud deposits. Wind strong on north roadside, it heavily contrast-lit, branches of robin-earlier-deserted budding elm. On past in-road beer-can, uphill toward pebbles, then re-declining, shakily ascending.


. . . I am a hermeneutical philosopher: even ordinary activity implies a critical interpretation. Not only am I interpreting my experience, I am having my interpretation confirmed. But what does this have to do with poetry? If philosophy is interpretation, the activity looks very much like literature. A work of interpretation, in other words, will look like poetry. The place where you go to get at experience is literature. If you want perception, you look at the novel. If you want consciousness, you look at the essay. Aristotle has a field that he calls alternatively ethics or politics, depending on the point of view from which he’s looking at it, the individual’s or society’s. But a particular literary theory is also embedded in this. What are his tips? I don’t have an answer to that yet.


Blackjack forest interior sit-down, author to leaf-covered earth, russet, pinkish-brown, tan leaves on previous year’s leaf fall, previous decade’s leaf mold: yellow-green, whited green, grey-green, moist underneath. This earth (property) belongs to author, for now. Blackjack trunk, fallen, grey, yellow-moss-spotted, arches out over sandy soil, its own shadow covering sparse leaf-fill. The wind is both constant and intermittent, leaves either attached or downward dangling. A single bird’s “whee-whee-whee”; an interval; “whee.” Light catches the top of a naturally debarked branch crookedly descending. Scrub oak trunks seen through density of a dozen smaller trunks/low branches. Half-openness above reveals pale blue interstices of sky. Tangential to the scene, a jet passes from Northeast to East. Double chickadee arrival, two-branch nearby perch. Cactus clump 30 feet distant. Light, warmth, insect chirp; slow tree growth; deep, irregular rustle.


But I can say this: in Aristotle, everything is connected to everything else. He also is not very rule-bound. In ethics, he says, you cannot have precision, as you do in the sciences. I revert to my preoccupation with Hegel, for this dramatic quality in Aristotle exists in Hegel too. Spirit is a general coming-to-consciousness-of-itself. Hegel is addressing actual history. He usually has a literary model in mind, both a classical and a modern one. In modern times literature tends toward specificity. The challenge is to be abstract, as Hegel is. He has dozens of specifics for every generalization. I teach high school English and wonder how you would explain Keats’s “Truth is Beauty, Beauty, Truth”? Hegel is the only other person who understands that you have to get people to do philosophy.


Author property-margin sit, SW view, muddy swollen lake, crown of untrafficked road intersection (Mohawk/Arapahoe), where he has parked his red Honda, its nearside a dark purplish red in the blackening shadow, its plastic taillights still bright red and yellow, its carmine roof reflecting a still blue sky. Tires, bumper guard in black, picked up in the “black” of interior’s dark, where a brown, imitation-wood steering wheel, reads as light brown. A strong wind whips pages of author’s notebook, flipping its unheld, sunstruck pages to the recto in loud irregular percussive effect. Wind swirls up even higher, nearing late-afternoon activity height. A ruddy sky reflects the lake’s purplish waters. A delicate stand of light-struck trees, mauve, pinkish, all against a deep grey-green-tinged charcoal backdrop. A floating, fleeced cumulus over-lay. Russet-straw grasses in over-road ridge fluctuate wildly but also in a new unison. Even more violent wind gusts.


One must begin with something, such as your own view of the world, then develop it philosophically. Kids do not have enough experience. A certain amount of habituation in the differentiation of good from evil is required. Philosophy makes things explicit. If you examine your political position, you may bring out your ethics. Preserve as much common opinion as possible. Lessing says: “Seeking after truth is a wonderful thing; the greatest disaster would be if we arrived at it.” There is something marvelously ad hoc about the truth. Heidegger: “Always, when you disclose something, you conceal something else. Hegel: “The most fruitful thing to do is to engage your tradition. If you take any assertion that I make simply, you have not taken the wider context into consideration.”


Little River Bridge-beside concrete slab-sit, in-rushing southern wind driving wave observation. Cobbled shoreline detritus, 20-year still-undaunted needle-less conifer, dead, but steadily standing its ground. Light on author’s forehead; wind whipping hair. Right hand on notebook page, thumb of left hold-down-maneuver. Waves lapping at his feet, unceasingly. The reddish brown, blue-shadowed, light-struck waters are various, congregating in increased intensity as a single sail-surfer is briskly conveyed from western shore to mid-lake, his sail a deeper blue than the blue of the sky. He carries the eye — water still splash-lapping at author’s beneath-charred-trunk boot — to eastern shoreline, down-gently-sloping-which to a bridge seen on-angle, its ancient truss rusted, brown-water-residue-covered, lit in a brilliant sun’s rays but curiously insubstantial. Above, behind, beyond which, in 360 degree completion, new by-roadside green redbud emergence.


Our most recent project was in situ writing. Could you give us an example of what is meant by phenomenological description? Husserl: “I am sitting at my desk surrounded by familiar objects.” This seems very neutral until you think of Schelling: “I’m constantly pulled this way and that.” If there were to be an Oklahoma philosophy, what might it be? This is a hard question, because I don’t believe that philosophy has much to do with place. Greece? China? Well, then, Oklahoma has a centrality, a blandness about it: the sky’s flat surface. Oklahoma is flat. In another sense, however, you can be anywhere else in a day, are aware of the world through TV, and so on. There is a great cross-fertilization going on. The Indian tradition is strong. One now has access to Hinduism and Buddhism.