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Chapter XVI: Poetry
Chapter XVII: Hohokam
Chapther XVII: Undone

 
 
 




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A dry, hollow sky stretched overhead as Vex tucked the taxi into what little shade remained in the visitor’s parking lot near the Campus Health building. The faded blue through her windshield appeared taut and thin, giving the white lines of cirrus clouds the appearance of runs in worn, azure silk. She could hardly remember the last time she looked through the window and saw real clouds. Last year, maybe during monsoon season. It felt like it should be monsoon season now, but the gush of dry air that greeted her when she opened her door spoke volumes otherwise.

The intense sunlight threatened to suck the strength out of her, but little remained to sap. Patrick managed to keep her up all night—but not exactly in the way she wanted him to. After her little display of floating above the ventilation shaft, the last bit of ice between his curiosity and his country-boy skepticism about magick broke. And through that breach spilled every novice question imaginable and several she herself hadn’t considered. Of course, in the morning he chalked most of that talk up to being slightly drunk on whiskey and romance. There, in the play of waking sunlight and gentle fingers, Vex had smiled over that fading, sleepless moment when she could tell a boy anything, everything—well, almost everything, the solemn whispers of her mother and the other voices remained a fast held secret yet.

The boy in question, who was currently pulling himself out of the passenger’s side door of the cab, didn’t look any worse for wear himself. He sprang lightly from his seat and thrust the door closed with a smooth motion, barely noticing her jealous attention. The next time she had him alone, she decided, lips were going to be locked before questions could be asked.

He shaded his eyes from the sun and noticed her staring at him across the hood of the cab.

“Tired?”

“Yes,” she said, shaking her keys at him before closing the door. “I want to know how you do it. I get up at noon and I still feel sleepy until mid-afternoon, and that’s with coffee.”

“I have a seven-forty class. Calculus. Extreme math early in the morning; wakes you up real quick.” He shrugged. “After a while it becomes reflex.”

He took the lead. Vex shrugged and fell into step behind him until they wound out of the parking lot and onto the glittering crushed rock and cement pathways of ASU, when she settled in at his side. The long shadows of the various tan and glass buildings that rose on either side of the walkways retreated slowly as the sun rose higher. Students on bikes swished past, backpacks bobbing and gears ticking. Here and there, sometimes in pairs, often alone, more students walked slowly between buildings, sat on benches in the shade, and sipped from long-strawed containers of water.

Visiting the campus often made her feel a little bit out of place. Her black outfit of long black pants, silver buckles, metal studded black collar, and silk swathed shirt would have made her stand out against the colorful shorts, t-shirts, and bikini tops that students sported. Patrick, at least, looked the part of a student, wearing a maroon shirt, with gold lettering proclaiming ASU across his chest, and blue jeans. In spite of her self awareness, few eyes lingered on her or Patrick long. Most of the student body was too busy getting to or from someplace, or poring over the still pages of textbooks and notes on lined paper.

“A bit busy for a Sunday, isn’t it?” Vex discreetly slid out of the way as an oblivious trio of book-bound students, all wearing glasses and enchanted expressions, nearly ran over her as they heatedly discussed some matter of critical importance. As they passed she caught snippets of snippets of phrases like “network topology,” “routing protocols,” and “I’m doing the Power Point Presentation, give the figures to me.”

Patrick chuckled. “That would have been a sad end,” he said. “Trampled by geeks.”

“Shut up,” she said.

“It is a bit busier than it should be,” he said. “Maybe there’s an event or something.”

Their trek had taken them down a wide corridor of palm trees, bordered on either side with the flat, bricked faces of various buildings. In spite of their tropical origins, palm trees enjoyed an inexplicable popularity in desert hemmed Tempe. So much popularity that an entire section of campus, Palm Walk, had been dedicated to them. Tall brown trunks surmounted each by a green splash of fronds bracketing either side of a narrow appearing cement walk; together they receded into the distance like a portrait study in perspective and vanishing points. That particular view found its way onto many university brochures. After visiting the campus so many times, Vex would no longer connect palm trees to tropical getaways like Hawaii and Tahiti, but instead to the unforgiving urbane landscape of Arizona State University.

“You’d think they’d plant something that actually gave shade,” Patrick said, reading her mind.

The Social Sciences Building emerged after a little more walking and few turns. An extremely square structure made of tan bricks and light mortar, with an equally square entranceway cut nearly center of the facing side. Green vines crawled across the bricks and stone lattices, dangling fragrant, white flowers. Their fallen petals swished under foot as Vex traced the edge of the wall towards the entrance. All the promise of shelter beckoned from the square passage that recessed into the building.

She welcomed the cool embrace of the shade. The architects had their game on when they designed it for that; the temperature dropped by at least ten degrees the moment she passed over into shadow. The entire building had been built as one big square, with a courtyard-cum-fountain in the middle. An awning of canvas stretched across the very top of the building, sealing it away from the sun, with the exception of a small square poked through the center. Right now a wide slat of sunlight sliced through the opening and illuminated the repeating, peach colored frieze on the far wall. The covered enclosure was empty of human presence, aside from a hesitant figure hovering on the landing of one of the stairwells.

Upon noticing Patrick and Vex entering the courtyard, the person—a student by his dress: a Window Rock T-shirt and dusty kneed jeans—headed purposefully down the steps and walked directly up to them. The skin of his arms appeared weathered and tanned, like a painting of parched desert soil, and she could see dirt caked under his fingernails. His dark eyes roved over her and Patrick with a ready expertise until, finally, his wide mouth pursed, and his bold Native American brow creased. He nodded as if confirming something and spoke.

“Ah, Zedikiel,” he said, now shaking his head. “I apologize if you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but, you must be the person from the e-mail. He does have a very singular taste. Please tell me I didn’t just embarrass myself.”

Patrick laughed into his hand and Vex let herself grin like a bandit.

With a snap she flipped the Tarot card vertical between thumb and forefingers.

“That would be me,” she said. “I’m Vex and this is my…boyfriend, Patrick.”

The student started to reach for the card, but stopped short. “Ah, may I?”

Vex placed the card in his waiting hand and took a polite step back.

He licked his lips, ran a dirt stained finger over the letters; as he did his lips moved slowly, and he kept shaking his head. He rolled his eyes a few times at whatever he read and at the end of it took a deep breath before looking up again.

“I’m sorry, but I…” Vex began.

“Ah… Jim.” He shook hands with Patrick first, then Vex, giving each a nod in turn. “Jimmy Tsosie. I work here.” He thumbed at a door set in the wall on the other side of the courtyard. “Native American Archaeology and Social Studies. And I’m sorry. I should have introduced myself.”

“No problem,” she said. “We’ve had quite an interesting time with this little card. Had to get it translated. E-mailed you… It’s been an adventure.”

“That’s Richard,” Jim said. “He has a taste in…well.” He gestured to her. “Goth chicks, and one might say that the Tarot card matches your likeness rather well. Don’t you say? This is an old game we used to play, ciphers and languages, it’s what I’m good at. Nowadays, I read the histories out of the beads, pottery, and clothing.

“If you don’t mind, we can retire to my office where it’s air conditioned and try to decipher what this card is all about.”

When Jim turned around to lead them to his office Vex noticed that his braided hair fell to just below his wide belt.

Patrick nudged her in the ribs with another chuckle. “His hair is a lot longer than yours.”

“I like my hair the length it is,” she said. At the moment it fell to a few inches below her shoulders, if she hunched funny. Remembering that she reminded herself not to slouch; something that came from driving the taxi long hours, other drivers, she’d seen, seemed to collapse around the steering wheels. Not her. Her father had taught her young how to stand straight and tall, shoulders back, chin up. Patrick grinned in her peripheral vision; she shot him a narrow look and he avoided her gaze.

Jim Tsosie’s office was a simple affair of four white walls, a desk, one wall completely covered with filing cabinets, and another wall taken up by staggered shelves. Several high windows showed a wide swath of open sky through some latticed stonework, shaded by an overhang. The shelves, and the tops of the cabinets, held various Native American relics. The artifacts took two forms: bits of pottery, broken and whole, set on thickly woven cloth and pictures of similar items. Most of the artifacts and photographs came along with sheets of imprinted paper with foil seals marking authenticity.

Vex took a look over the pictures while Jim went out into the hall to rustle up a pair of chairs for her and Patrick to sit in. A few of the photographs had been taken of rock faces, often petroglyphs of musicians, gathering figures, and other various social depictions. Many of the bits of pottery seemed to show similar things, although, most of them were just repeating designs of varying complexity. Some photographs showed the easily recognizable Kokopelli figure with flute and feather headdress, but others had more angular, Kachina-like figures made from lines and dots.

One image in particular that caught her attention, another conflation of dots and lines, depicted an angular bird with great wings spread side to side, haloed by jagged bolts of lightning. The Thunderbird. The truly intriguing part of the photo was that the thunderbird had been etched into the rock right next to a petroglyph of Kokopelli. In Vex’s experience, the two didn’t go together. Gentle voices mumbled when her fingers touched the glass over the photo-paper; incautiously, she strained to listen to their words…

The windows rattled as a loud plane passed overhead. The noise stuttered against the walls and rattled the pictures and pottery. The sudden noise caught Vex by surprise. Embarrassed that she was molesting one of Jim’s photos, she removed her hand as if bitten, but he wasn’t in the room to notice. Patrick, who stood near the window, lifted his head to study the fleeting shadow as the noise faded.

“Thanks for waiting,” Jim said as he slid back into the room. One chair glided on rickety wheels as he pushed it and another rattled as he pulled it. “We’ve been hurting for funding,” he explained. “First thing we started losing was furniture. My boss, doesn’t believe in firing people if she doesn’t have to. So, we share chairs. Please, sit.”

After Patrick and Vex sat, Jim eased himself into his chair with a practiced motion that would probably serve him well if he ever became a professor and had to entertain students. He slid the card onto the center of the bare desk and regarded it as if it were an interesting specimen for him to dissect.

“As you know, I had it translated,” she said, “but I am wondering if you can tell me what it’s about.”

“Richard,” Jim said. “First, I have to warn you, he was probably hitting on you when he gave you this. So, chances are he was feeling you out to see if you were someone worth his while. He’s a real mystic, my friend Ritchie, always going on about the Great Spirits and ley lines and Tarot, but it’s hard to tell how seriously he’s taking it. Some days more than most.”

“He didn’t give this to me directly,” Vex said. “He gave it to a friend, who brought it to me. He told her to deliver the card to the person it reminded her of. I don’t think I even know your friend.”

“That’s out of character for him.” He lifted the card from the table again and squinted his eyes at its text. “That is very much out of character. It’s poetry on the card, like we used to write to each other, except that it’s written to very much sound like a quatrain.

“Also, some of these phrases are particular to our poetry. I’ll translate, and you tell me if it means anything to you.”

With a voice as clear and powerful mountain air, he read:

 

Four chalices poured into one;

Phoenix builds a new Babel: a tower of bones.

Falling stars counting three and four.

The seal upon A Mountain shatters;

The old formulas are undone.

 
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