Jacks-O’-Lantern • 1 November 2011

We went to Detroit again for Devil’s Night, leaving before the fires appeared in derelict houses and brown-skinned immigrants and paleface hipsters linked arms to defend their neighborhoods. Sunday morning after so-called church, I drove east in to the city, listening to the soul station. Detroit 97.9 JLB: pronounced J, O, B.

The sky was the thin October celestine that transmits so much sound and sight. When the sky is like this, my Rocky Mountain and Pacific coast selves expect snow-dusted peaks in the distance. So my imagination projected Mount Hood, flickering up in the distance on top of Windsor, Ontario. I drove toward the mountain, through downtown, past the redundant bridge and tunnel to Canada, and past the 73-story GM Renaissance Building, which I hadn’t visited since the day they declared bankruptcy in 2009.

The day I rented the benignly haunted 1910 that’s now home. I’m sitting here now, under its huge schoolhouse globes, while people I know carry groceries down Spring Street. A cargo train is rattling the windows. The cats—Zelda Spoonbender and Lynxx Moonpie (a.k.a Falcour, or Pumpkinhead)—are sleeping in an open-hipped jumble on a chair. Zelda is a white witch, but Moonpie is a simple Halloween cat: in addition to the pumpkin-head, she has the black triangle nose of a scarecrow, and a habit of staring at candle-flames for hours.

Yesterday, the soul station took me as far as Detroit’s fantasy island: a half-abandoned, Victorian retreat in the River Rouge, once done-up for 19th century family weekends. Belle Isle. There are crumbling Coney Island pavilions and a botanical garden. My phone thinks it is someplace else: every time I crossed an invisible line that bisects the baseball fields, it would chime with an SMS warning about the high price of roaming charges in foreign countries.

We joined recent-immigrant families, drunken Marxist urban planners, and Wayne State Lit profs for softball and hot dogs (or, alternatively, Oreo cookie dirt cake with plastic spiders and ghosts). One of the Marxists had just bought a house on the internet for 3,500 dollars. Empty freighters from Montreal limned the water-line between us and Ontario, sounding the Great Lakes Salute. A union plasterer and father of four talked to me about his mother-in-law, who speaks the ancient-otherworldy language of Nahuatl. When she refuses to talk the oppressors’ language (Spanish), he shakes his head and ups the ante: Whatever, he tells her.

Later, Hiram Bingham’s biographer told me about a bounty of Inca skulls he’s just found in a back room of the Smithsonian. They have an extra bone – the Inca Bone – a small, triangular puzzle piece at the peak of shushumna. The stories of ancient brain surgery are true: hundreds of these erstwhile heads had a bone-piece cut out by human hands. There is regeneration at the bone-edges: these Incas went on living after their skulls were opened.

Between games, I walked through overgrown paths in the island’s interior with an exquisite ashtangi who reports for NPR from all over the Latin American political labyrinth. She said Belle Isle felt like Jurassic Park; and she told me about The World Without Us, a book about what it’ll look like when nature re-takes the cities. For example, sea water will plug the New York subways as soon as the pumps shut off, and then the Atlantic will rise into the streets. With that image hanging, we ducked through a hole in a previously electrified fence and through a back door of the abandoned Belle Isle Zoo. The old tiger house is a cell block. Each room has a metal funnel in the center and a fake tree for scratching. From inside, we climbed a service ladder to an elevated walkway once used to view the cats’ fenced-in yards. We took this skywalk to a rotting pavilion, where trees were growing through floorboards and what was left of the broken glass had ground down to pebbles and dust. The ashtangi/foreign correspondent talked about how some days on the mat now her concentration surprises her, just whooshing in to suck all awareness into the breath body. Without effort, or self-congratulation. I said maybe when nature runs its course, entropy is not the only way. Maybe awareness can trip into a habit of self-organization.

Now, before attending the same early-exited Halloween party as last year, I will break the rule on advanced practice and massage. No really: it makes little sense to let someone massage your body when you are doing deep asana practice. My teachers told me to work out my own tension, same as they do. I never thought to do otherwise. But things in the body feel different with the introduction of 28.5 hours of physical instruction per week. A sweet little demon appears under the right jawbone and crouches down, the way it used to do behind the left ilium and then the right scapula. Over the last ten years, ashtanga has taken over this territory from the ground up, starving the cave-dweller and pushing what’s left of her to the edge. Now, she’s hanging on to the chin-jutting sternocleidomastoid, a muscle that sounds like a dinosaur and feels as sinewy.

So this afternoon, I’ll see someone who works the head as if it’s a body part. She approaches from inside, with gloves on. She thumbs my occiput between the vocal chords, opens up the sinuses by stretching the soft palate. Afterwards, my tongue rests on the salty part of my throat, above the top of the mouth. Sometimes it tastes like battery acid; sometimes like sex. The halo-line Kali would trace on my head just before she lopped off the top of my skull to make a drinking goblet: ecstasy bubbles fizz out of this fissure. My head feels like a space-travel capsule cracking a door that’s spent decades under pressure-lock.

Halloween tonight. I wonder if the cats will freak out. This night opens a portal for me every year: three liminal days for hunting demons and winking at hungry ghosts; and then it’s my birthday on the other side. This year, puzzle skullpieces are falling everywhere, and there are dis-em-brained pumpkins on the porches all over the Upper West Side. Last year, we had one cut out with the triangle of an Illuminati eye. This year, the triangle is kind of a peace sign.