Monday, September 14, 2020


The legitimacy of obscenity, profanity, and defiance is clear.  If nothing else, it drives off those who fear it.  It is heresy that grasps dictators by the neck to get their attention.

The metaphor of “beyond the pale” is literal and based on the practice of surrounding a community with a fence, a line of palings, to be a border between what was known, safe and defensible as a consensus and what was dangerous, unknown, possibly inconceivable for humans.  It was wilderness.  It was the idea of God twisted into the idea of Satan.

When I was ordained, I had the idea that clergy could be like shamans, who flew into death riding a horse that could jump the deadly crevice full of skulls, and came back to tell.  This was fantasy, of course.  The real danger was some old woman who dominated the congregation with her righteousness, echoing the toilet training by a determined mother.  Outside the church, as outside the palings, she puppified men who looked like turtles and thought they were powerful.  Wiggling her fingers, she caused the mannikin to sign the death warrants of thousands.

There are whole communities, or maybe they are sub-communities, who sexualize violence and excrement to keep people afraid of them.  They are defined as illegal, porn, X-rated, drugged and insane.  Their writing is powerful, their images blasting.  Governments are called to account for torture, secret bombing, refusal to help those in need because the poor are losers. 

I don’t know much about this genre of writing, except that it might be called “Gothic” or “noir.”  Maybe taking on injustice or cruelty, writers are often damaged — possibly as a motivation or just as possibly in an attempt to destroy injustice.  Yet they go on like private "dicks" impossibly shot and beaten and thrown down wells, yet surviving to win in the end.  Or maybe not, because then that proves the inequity of justice by itself.

I’m reading “Montana Noir”, short stories gathered by James Grady and Keir Graff.  Actually, they are more like “Montana Gris” because — maybe because they are written by academics, including two Native Americans — they don’t go to true horror though they include death, as in our sand wars to protect oil.  Media ideas of bad stuff.

If I were to approach Montana Noir from what I know in my life on the East Slope, living on the rez and circuit-riding through four major cities (Helena, Great Falls, Missoula, Bozeman) among educated and prosperous people, the darkness would begin with going with Bob to his duties as City Magistrate in Browning, sitting on a dirty broken chair while he signed a warrant to arrest a man who beat-up this woman clutching her wailing baby needing milk she didn't have.  The place stunk of vomit, the woman stunk of alcohol, the baby stunk of a full diaper.  The cop on duty was inclined to be violent.  We all knew she would be back in the afternoon to withdraw her accusations.  It’s not often like that anymore.

At the other end of the class scale in “my” congregations, I could name two men who deliberately let their wives commit suicide due to depression.  All they had to do was come home late.  It was easy since the wives used plastic bags or sleeping pills.  No guns.  Wives soon replaced.

One story I’ve told already in “Bronze Inside and Out,” my memoir/biography of Bob Scriver didn’t strike me with full horror until I told it to Darrell Robes Kipp and saw his face.  A youngster came to the shop one day and wanted Bob to go with him to see about “dead people.”  Bob sometimes acted as a coroner.  The boy climbed into the back of the pickup and shouted instructions until we got to the destination in the forest near Heart Butte.  Then he pounded on the top o the cab, leapt out, and disappeared.

The dead people turned out to be babies who had been put into small wooden coffins and wedged into the forks of trees in an echo of ancient Blackfeet ways.  The wind had moved the trees so that the forks flexed, bursting the boxes and leaving mummified remains on the ground.  It was a place also used as a dump ground so the once-flesh bits lay among cans and wrappers.

Not far away was a dead-house, meant to be a frail version of a mausoleum.  In his horseback roaming as a youngster Bob had visited it, but left in a hurry after Bird Earrings, owner of the allotment, shot at him, only just missing.

It was still there, a little broken-open house full of coffins with the lids pried off by looters and the curious.  None of the people had heads.  Bob had gone there once with his girl-friend before me and she had taken the last remaining head: that of a child.  She was an abused young woman who had been impregnated, given up the infant for adoption and heard it died of genetic defects.  Then she realized that somewhere along the line she had been sterilized.  She was not indigenous, but a blonde on a rez, a target.

She put the head on a shelf by her bed with a confused idea of protecting the child, honoring it even, redeeming baby and herself.  After a night of deserved and torturing nightmares, she got Bob to help her take the head back to the dead-house.  Not long after, he notified the Public Health authorities to remove the bodies (recent enough to be known relatives) for burial and burn the house.  By the time they acted, the child's head was gone again.

We had visited the house one more time before that.  We took along an Egyptologist who was tasked with digging up all the graves that would be covered by the stupendous Aswan dam being built in the Holy Land.  He was used to mummified bodies and casually picked up a detached arm and carried it out into the sunlight to take a photo.  That’s what I showed to Darrell, who was halfway between throwing up and slapping me across the face though I didn’t take the picture and it wasn’t anything he ever did or even thought of.

Montana is seeded with massacres, murder of women, torture of children, fires and earthquakes, and all manner of atrocities and cruelties.  Avoidance is easier than opposition, but it’s still there, gone underground, gone blank and denied.  Sometimes it bursts out like the car chase and shooting that passed my house last week.  That was not beyond the pale.  Just out of control.  Oh, fuck.  Oh, shit.  Oh, dammit.  It is a story censored.

I was ordained, but not empowered.  My denomination is known for ignoring Evil.  I don’t do that now and have left congregations.

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