i don’t have any thoughts except these terrible thoughts of my father how much he always loved me how he fed me on bombs and bread he never hit me he only loved me


— a report of
the pantex pilgrimage
august 4-6 — 1984

oh it is hard to sing in front of an atomic bomb plant it is hard to dance too and recite poetry it is hard to say anything at all or to move it is hard to walk along the ditch past others walking and not say the simplest hello it is painful to hug someone you have not seen in a while a friend to make a flirtatious gesture obscene shadows of barbed wire from pantex plant crossing the shoulders and hands


at midnight in the middle of the night one midnight i can’t get past this word midnight because what i want to tell you about is the most midnight i have experienced since sometime in the black-heart viet nam nights when i shook away one midnight when the wind blew in through the bedroom window reeking of children screaming/burning villages/acid:acrid napalm and i was faced with a skeletal apparition rocking across from my bed in a rocking chair

yes it was quite a midnight as you can imagine no sleep at all and me keeping watch all the night warding sleep off knowing i’d die if i went to sleep while the skeleton was rocking there

so i kept the midnight watch that other hallucinating mystic/nuts have shared watching the same kinds of shapes moaning/speaking out at midnight the favorite hour for spooks and visits from the virgins plus spoken instructions from various gods wrestling matches with varieties of angels and demons mostly and favoritely held from midnight to dawn

so this is a midnight in amarillo-texas and i am walking around the pantex atomic bomb plant

or i am beginning to walk around pantex atomic bomb plant


at midnight i have only walked about six miles and it is twenty-four miles all the way around

and i don’t totally trust the minister who is leading the walk although he seems to be a kind man in his fifties with a grey beard beating a drum there are about ten of us he is leading along the road and we are walking more or less in single file in the tradition of medieval pilgrims little difference between us and the penitents whipping each other to cast out the plague from the land and their bodies except that this is the twentieth century and the whips and prayers are replaced with spotty conversation and long silent stretches of thoughtfulness picking our way along the narrow grassy strip sloping down into the ditch because the police have told us not to block the road by walking in it

there’s nobody on the road except police cars and us because it is so late and in the country

and the road we are walking along is the straight and narrow one of the panhandle-country-of-texas which seems to be a kind of place where roads were laid out with rulers across the grids of county maps before they ever were manifested into asphalt so that they intersect each other with ninety-degree precision and there is no wobble or curve until that measured angle point is reached

paralleling the road on each side is a ditch each ditch the same width and then paralleling each ditch is a barbed wire fence then on either side of each barbed wire fence are wide brown fields that stretch out as far as the horizon

across the road from where we are walking cotton is growing but on our side the fields are plowed up brown like they are waiting for some fall crop to be planted

and then far from the fence toward the horizon begins the spread of the white buildings and towers of the pantex plant

this panhandle country is so flat and wide that here on this particular dish of it during the day there are only the white blazing pebbles of pantex and the tiny moving dots of us everything else wide brown bands of field and blue sky

but at midnight there is only black on the open field side of the road white dots of stars scattered up toward the dome

and on the pantex side there are spot lights search lights rows of sentry electrical lights marking patterns of roads and parking lots dots of stars and strings of electric bulbs playing across the dark strip of the field and sky some of them activated by eyes watching the string of us on the road


we drove four hundred miles me and leo with barbara the poet-&-drummer in her rock & roll van used to hauling new york musicians and instruments to gigs it was our own route part of pantex pilgrimage destination hiroshima day on the way we listened to barbara’s taped music of moslem religious singing king sunny ade from africa jazz from new york and also michael jackson poetry in clubs lots of drums

we camped the first night at palo duro canyon where nuclear waste has been tentatively scheduled for dumping the heat of the day steamed up out of the canyon like prayer from the mouth of the earth

in the morning i climbed down the rock cliffs to the bottom of the canyon to set my feet where the water flowed deepest when the rain came out of the clouds to make rivers

i climbed up a boulder which sat in the middle of the rock stream bed it was waiting for rain to come and fill up the canyon and rush over it as had happened many times.

but that morning the sun was on the rock’s face i myself lay down on and stretched out on top of i closed my eyes so the sun was on my face the first morning sun spilling over the rock lips above us the rock i am lying on the adam’s apple of the canyon and me the tongue lying still and centered at the back of the throat


i don’t quite trust this minister not that he doesn’t seem kind because he does seem kind

but i don’t think he knows enough about drawing circles i don’t believe the magic is going to happen unless we walk all the way around the pantex plant we walk or i walk someone walks so as to tie the loop beginning to end

but then once the circle has been made who knows something might indeed be called the spirit coming out of the highest smoke stack the high grey mushroom cloud god materializing so

you have just finished walking all night around the plant and the circle is finished and you’re standing on the spot where you began and you are probably so frightened to see the whole and sudden apparition that you die on the spot your soul freezes

so maybe the minister is wise after all not that he knows more or less about the magic of walking circles but that he is concerned for a group of people some like myself who have never seen an atomic bomb plant growing out of a plowed field who might not be quite ready to see the whole and entire outline of the spirit of it without fainting away

like leading the weak-kneed to a dragon they have only seen in their dreams never experiencing its beat of breath billowing the scaly sides in and out and making the air heavy and hot around it

so this minister has it set up so that we only walk for three hours along the road bordering the plant then at one o’clock in the morning a van will come and pick us up and some other walkers will begin to walk around the plant and that way the plant will get walked around

i want to walk all around the plant i wonder how tired i would be if i would be able to walk around it without wanting to fall asleep and i think i will see how i feel when the other walkers show up and if i feel all right i will continue walking

at midnight we have been walking for two hours

when we first began there was a man with a sack of flashlights who said he was making a documentary for a san francisco television station and he said there would be a spot light on top of the station wagon where a camera would be filming us but he wanted as much light on us as possible so he gave each one of us a flashlight that we could carry as we were walking but i stuck the one he gave me in my pocket and didn’t turn it on

the station wagon rolled along first in front of us then in back of us a man lying on top of it grinding away with his camera the other man tall and breezy like a sportscaster walking along beside us filming our feet

but now the station wagon has dropped away the night is dark around the road cool and a little cloudy but the moon is thin and just above the watch tower of pantex which catches us in its search light on its periodic sweeps

the police cars cruise us every half hour or so are you going to walk all the way around? the sheriff leans out of his car window to ask the minister

no only half way around

well the reason i’m asking the sheriff says is because there are rattlesnakes in these ditches they come out at night and like to lie on the roads so you had better watch where you’re stepping

we’ll be sure to watch the minister tells him


we knew we were close to pantex this afternoon even though it wasn’t marked when we saw the barbed wire fences begin to take off to one side of us toward the horizons then along the road in the ditches on both sides came the tents and parked cars of the other pilgrims

there was a small stage close to the entrance of the plant and when i walked up i saw a woman named ann and a man named charlie i knew from dallas they were singing together and playing guitars

the last time i had seen ann she had been singing blues in a nightclub with her husband the harmonica player and her hair had been a blond-red curtain of lights in the gels of the stage lamps and the shadows of the two blues singers singing to each other had filled the room but she seemed almost diminutive up on this stage outdoors on the pantex plain her voice was still even and sustaining but its volume was carried away in the wind and her hair did not seem extraordinary

when the songs were finished she climbed off the stage she shook my hand and said hello then disappeared into a sound truck parked nearby charlie came up and gave me a hug and we were hearty with each other for a couple of minutes then he had to find a guitar string and i had to find an outdoor toilet

it’s almost like i’m getting homesick thinking about playing games in and out of the missiles and easter egg hunts in the bomber ports daddy in his uniform coming home after a hard day of plotting wars

i watch the night lights of the plant

they are static like the stars not much action

i walk with my head turned to the plant watching its lights thinking wondering about myself being here walking along this dark road the minister asks if someone else would like to beat the drum for a while and i take it from him i beat it very slowly one beat for every dozen steps

the other walkers trail behind me so here i am at pantex beating a drum

and something starts happening while i am beating the drum and looking at pantex and it’s dark like this it starts to look like every military base i grew up on

the lights which are stretched out across bare fields in precise strings the search lights and the barbed wire even the jeeps which are driving behind us just inside the fence with beams of light on the top of them illuminating our backs making sure none of us touch that fence none of us make some fast plunge over the barbed wire when more than light might penetrate our backs jeeps like that used to drive me to school

barbed wire like that used to roll around my house

and it’s almost like while i’m beating the drum and watching pantex trying to see the nuclear bomb energy of fiery death through this dark shower of midnight illumination

it’s almost like i’m getting homesick thinking about playing games in and out of the missiles and easter egg hunts in the bomber ports daddy in his uniform coming home after a hard day of plotting wars and mommy feeding us kids on defense contracts/military spending/threats of nuclear war oh she fed me the best i sucked on bombs i dug up machine gun stashes in our back yard (i will eat weeds now i promise myself i will eat more weeds and i actually count my steps to know when to beat the drum)

i have come to thank fate for creating odd circumstances at times where i have been placed at a precise angle of time and space where lines suddenly intersect after miles of monotonous straightness and turns are made

the luck of this particular kind of fate once led me to be part of one of the first families of occupying forces to enter germany in 1946 after its surrender my father was a part of the conquering army he was a captain in the air force i was five years old

the biggest and grandest of the german houses had been confiscated by the u-s military for use of the occupying officers and their families we lived on top of a hill in a two-story mansion with antique chandeliers hanging in every room a grand piano a banquet hall a nurse for myself and my brother a cook and a gardener formal flower gardens stone walk ways a lily pond and my father was only a captain

then around the house rolls of barbed wire as tall as the house itself to me a kid barbed wire intersected with low winter clouds in germany

at our gate a guard in military uniform with a gun

when we wanted to go somewhere a jeep came to this entry and met us

as long as i can remember my father has been intellectually curious he was born and raised on small country farms in mississippi and east texas the son of a tenant farmer who had never seen much except plowed fields and country woods until he joined the military the first part of world war II he joined as an officer because he had just graduated from texas a & m the summer before pearl harbor blew up the same summer i was born so when he was in germany he wasn’t content to sit behind the barbed wire he wanted to see what was what

my mother did too she had traveled more than he had in her growing up moving from one little town to another one in arkansas and oklahoma during the depression days when her father and mother were scrambling to feed four daughters doing any work they could think of — cooking, baking, cleaning, fixing — but she had grown up dirt poor and had probably not even thought it was possible that she could tour europe before the age of thirty courtesy of the military

and so we went walking in the town of wiesbaden just to see it to appreciate its beauty its public parks and gambling casino cathedrals cobblestone because wiesbaden was and still is a hot springs spa capital built on high burgher culture and health consciousness

when we went walking boys sometimes followed us in dirty clothes and messed up shoes waiting for my father to throw his cigarette butt away when he threw it away several would scramble for it yelling at each other sometimes fighting for it

in the parks downtown people were living in tents some had open fires rubble filled some of the blocks instead of buildings and people were living in the rubble i heard my father say that wiesbaden had been bombed by accident that it had been no military target but a flight of bombers had mistaken it for frankfort only a few kilometers away or mainz at any rate there had been nothing here to warrant bombing

when we first came we were supposed to wear black arm bands when we went out walking with the ensignia of occupying forces but i think that after a short while we were able to dispose of those maybe because they attracted rocks and name-calling

antiques were cheap on the black market my mother acquired a two hundred-year-old music box that played large tin records crystal wine goblets a silver platter with bounding elk pounded out with leaves finely showering on either side of its leaping

my father was given lots of time for vacation so that he could tour europe so we spent many days driving through the countryside which was green woodsy and rolling very beautiful to my eyes with oxcarts on roads which had been cut by hundreds of years of farm-to-market traffic then we would come to what once had been a city and there would be block after block of nothing at all except bricks and stones piled no higher than eye level from my back seat window my father driving through the cities without stopping/nothing to stop for

my father drove us to dachau which was open to the public and all cleaned up and there was an open space there with a low roof over it and with partial walls i heard someone say that bodies had once been stacked there and someone pointed out a footprint on the ceiling where a body had still been energetic

and hitler’s adlerhof was still open then and my father took my mother and me into the mountain into the secret train on the pulleys that took hitler up through the inside of the mountain to his nest on top of it so that year when i was five years old i stood with my father on hitler’s own floorboards

my mother had a nervous breakdown we went back to the united states early because of her

but a few years later we were back in wiesbaden again because this was a good base for my dad to be stationed as this was the computer brain base for the forces in europe and computer language was my father’s specialty and the city by then had been almost all rebuilt and barbed wire wasn’t around the american-occupied houses anymore only the base itself and it wasn’t so depressing


it is silly to laugh at an atomic bomb plant it is hard to tell a joke

i walked down to the one large meeting tent where maybe a hundred people were gathered and a man who was standing up talking about the white train also passing around a photograph of a large truck which the man was saying to watch out for on the roads because such trucks are carrying — something — i came late so i didn’t hear exactly what — bombs or uranium or nuclear waste something to be serious about there were thirty-nine protesters arrested only a few days earlier for lying in front of a white train and slowing it down

a woman was sitting listening to the man describe the trains and trucks then he asked her if she had anything to say she was from the seneca falls women’s peace encampment

she said yes i am sixty-two years old and I’ve been on many vigils and marches and i must say that i’m tired of vigils and marches and i want to climb over the fence of the pantex atomic bomb plant and why can’t we do that?

there were a few little giggles a small laugh because she was smiling while she talked and i smiled at her too because she was so cheerful in expressing her desire

well the man said who was standing up we made certain promises to the red-river-peace-coalition-people that we would not practice civil disobedience at this pilgrimage

a young man said besides it would take a thousand people here before it would have any impact

another young man said two years ago only seven people climbed it

the woman still smiling said still and all i wish there had been a place in this plan for us who want to climb the fence to climb it maybe on the day after the pilgrimage has officially ended

nobody was smiling or laughing anymore and someone said seriously and loudly we have already discussed this and made our decisions

but then someone came in from outside the tent and said it was time for something else and people started getting up from their seats shuffling more than talking

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Reagan was quoted Sunday as having joked in a voice test for his weekend radio broadcast that he had signed legislation which “outlaws Russia forever” and that bombing would begin “in five minutes.”

Reagan’s comments were made in what the White House says was an “off the record” sound-level test on Saturday, before the president taped a broadcast on tax policy from his Santa Barbara, Calif., ranch.

Gannett News Service reported the remarks Sunday.

A source insisting on anonymity told The Associated Press that Reagan jokingly remarked:

“My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes.”

i am walking and beating this drum around this atomic bomb plant and i can’t believe it that this walk is making me think so much of my father it is like he is just over on the other side of the barbed wire in his military uniform — very tall with black hair like he looked when i was five years old in wiesbaden very striking before he got so fat and red-faced and started having heart attacks — and he’s walking along and yelling at me what the hell are you doing patricia? and he is angry and sad and crying and yelling at me all at the same time like his own heart has begun to attack him as it will indeed do when he is older and a wall of fat will surround all the reservoirs of his blood and his heart will stop working for him causing not death (because he is basically so strong) but a long weakness/recovery causing him to retire from the military and seriously reevaluate his way of life

beating on this drum at the front of a midnight string of pilgrims is going to make my father very emotional when he finds out his daughter is doing it when the documentary film boys are flashing their lights i bow my shoulders with shame into my neck thinking about my father if he should see this documentary which doesn’t matter anyway because sooner or later he’s going to know of course everything he knows it now anyway that he still considers himself to be a military man and me his oldest daughter a pacifist sometimes he calls it communist it is a shame it is a dirty shame that his daughter should be a mistaken pacifist

and most of the time when i am sitting at home thinking about being a pacifist and in fact living pacifistically and peacefully as possible and daily with my friends and neighbors it is easy to see how i am completely right and my father is completely wrong

but here at midnight in the pantex spotlight beating the drum i am not completely sure of anything my father is bounding alongside of me on the other side of the wire yet my body is here on this road being watched by jeeps with spotlights and the drum is beating


why do i find it so hard to look at anyone why has my voice forgotten me

it was time for the shift of workers to change — a bell rang somewhere acres away at the white buildings across the wide and clear field the cars of the workers began to make a procession out of the plant’s gate each car stopping for some interchange with the guards — smuggled bombs? no? thank you go ahead — then the workers’ cars drove on the road where i was ranging with others who were holding up signs for the drivers in the cars to read and some who were simply standing smiling waving at the cars

i stood and looked in the faces behind the windshields as they drove by i was conscious of my rudeness to stare so blatantly at strangers who were not harming me i have only stared before so strongly at someone whom i was having a conversation with i was looking for secrets in those faces to open to me and i was giving them the same opportunity — to scrutinize me as closely as they wished to

one of the workers wore a brown paper sack on his head as he drove by one woman passenger slouched into her chest her face made up so carefully with powder but red lips crumpled together a study of worry and fear

of course they are afraid we might throw rocks at them set their cars afire shout abusive words they can’t know what to expect and the man at his desk just a few minutes before that finding the sack cutting the eye holes thinking of the people at the gate he will have to drive through to get home fitting the holes to the places where the eyes can look through — what can he expect? maybe the people taking photographs of the workers posting them on telephone poles as the faces of public enemies retribution from some direction he had never guessed at for sins he had never been given the names of — for what? working hard at his job? feeding his family? why should he offer his face to the people to be looked at as measuredly as people look at police lineups — is it that one?


i do not know why i am watching this pantex atomic bomb plant i do not know what i want to see i don’t know what to say i don’t have any thoughts except these terrible thoughts of my father how much he always loved me how he fed me on bombs and bread he never hit me he only loved me he gave me everything anything he could he gave me lessons in dancing piano and horses he bought me clothes and took me drinking at the officer’s club he played me songs on his old country guitar from the land back in the united states he said i came from east texas farm-land heritage of homeland everything my father has given me through the making of his life one of military dedication to the defense of the country

i know i know all my father’s way of thinking i know he has been trained to see that sometimes groups of people are sacrificed — yes, like in bombing a city — for the good of a larger goal

he certainly believes in bombs bombing civilian casualties annihilation of properties cities and my father believes in technology missiles and lots and lots and lots of nuclear power and he certainly believes in the right of pantex to make atomic bombs

the drum is heavy and doesn’t have a strap to help support it and it hurts my wrist after just a little while of carrying it but i don’t complain about it or ask for someone else to take it over because i want so much to drum to simply make that one beat every few steps looking directly at pantex when i bring down the drumstick defiant little match-stick shaking itself at pantex-who-makes-the-big-sticks such defiance calling my father out of his house to argue with me plead and recall

my father played the guitar the cornet the piano and accordion he in fact began college on a musician’s scholarship and at texas a & m he was the horn player who woke all the men first thing at dawn every morning and then played taps for them when the sun was going down with the flags

have i ever told you there were musicians in my family as far back as anybody knows that my grandfather was a fiddler and his father was a fiddler and so on and so forth and my father was not a fiddler but accompanied my grandfather’s fiddle on the guitar but my brother was a fiddler and then my other brother played the drum

the women did not generally play musical instruments they sat on the sidelines while their husbands played string music in bands for country dances although my mother was a singer of arkansas mountain songs which she taught me to sing and my father did want me to be a musician although he preferred that i learn to play the piano in a classical european style he had recently learned to prefer

and since he himself was both a musician and also a military historian he taught me things early like the tune and the words of the song the piper and drummer played leading the army into the battle of san jacinto in the texas war of independence:

will you come to the bower that
i have made for you
i’ve decked it with the roses
all spangled with dew
will you want you will you want you
come to my bower
will you want you will you want you
come to my bower. . . .

this was the only song the piper knew so that’s why he and the drummer played it because the commanding officer knew an army should be led to war by music so he had asked for the musicians to step up and there were only two of them who volunteered so they played this love song together at the front of the army themselves teenaged boys while everyone else carried a gun

my father the musician began to hang out in bars with accordion and zither players while we were stationed in germany he learned to play along with them and to sing their songs in german they came to our house with their music cases and jammed with my dad in his military uniform sitting in a little circle together — du du liegst mir im herzen he learned to sing and play plus others lorelei drinking songs he traded them one for one with old songs from texas/tennessee — bully he’s the bully of the town. . . .

he learned german they learned english everybody played music together like there hadn’t been any war six years before that like it hadn’t really been my father who had ordered the bombs up and it hadn’t been they who had ducked them let by-gones be by-gones

the minister says whenever you get tired you can give the drum to someone else

i turn to a young man walking just behind me and ask if he wants to beat the drum for a little while and he says yes and i give it to him and he begins to beat it


the cameras were clicking everywhere who is that one with the heavy-duty television equipment? oh some documentary guys from a san francisco television station and that one with the small kodak? and that one with the 35mm telescopic lens? and that one on a tripod on top of a pantex truck? and those two who work together taking photographs of automobile license plates from the top of a police car used to steady the camera?

i sang too loud when a song began that i knew from the musicians on the platform but i wanted my voice to carry to the plant over the wide cleared area and i wanted my mouth to be open in these photographs and i wanted to be smiling up into the faces of the people who might be looking later at these photographs — oh this is that woman and there she is again

i asked for charm from palo duro canyon and the organ-mountains and rio-grande-river of my home to come to my face i wrapped bright scarves around my waist i wore a red shirt for three days in a row the color of blood and life even when it was saturated from my own sweat and i heard later that people in amarillo described us as filthy (no shower stalls in the road ditches where we were sleeping)

my voice had sunk into me no poetry came to my mind which was also sunk into my chest but i still flew banners on my body i released a balloon that flew straight up and then veered west and flew about pantex i wore bright blue pants to match my red shirt


the people who are walking in back of me have stopped in the road and they are talking together over something

oh someone says a turtle — let’s get him out of the road

but when someone else stoops down to look at it she suddenly recoils from what i already had a premonition of — the turtle is red meat and cracked shell

oh she groans and stumbles back a little

oh it’s dead someone says

and i can’t help but see it like a sign it seems like i won’t walk around pantex atomic bomb plant and neither will anyone else at least tonight

so what about bombing? like my dad used to say: i only want to learn one sentence in russian — “i would like to work in your officer’s club. . . .”

oh sure everybody says nuclear bombs mean uninhabitable earth at best no earth at all at worst

i can see the worst all right — the earth exploding in some climactic chain reaction and all of us going off sparking out at the same time and i think i am going to like it if it happens that way after all we’ll be learning something together something massive that we’ve been trying to understand for a while and in that final sparking and arcing of the earth’s blow-up we’ll finally get it we’ll understand

and we won’t need the blown-up shell of the earth anymore like a dried up pea hull when the stalk comes out no one needs the afterbirth after the birth right?

yes there is a certain hypnotism in watching the plant lights fastened against black night but a flash of mangled turtle and the sigh of someone in back of me brings me back to the road — how much longer do you think before the van comes? i glance over my shoulder to the gentle round face of an older woman who is being partly supported by a man and woman holding her up on either side she smiles at me apologetically for her weakness

and it comes to me that some people won’t blow up and they won’t get this instantaneous understanding this will be the current president and military advisors and such they’ll all go up into space along with their russian equivalents in their various conveyances while all the rest of us — now unembodied spirits quite enlightened by the blow-up of the world — will only be able to look on as these little spaceships take off for space colonies embodying everything the universe will ever know about the race of human beings going forth to explode one world after another ad infinitum-of-human-being-supporting universe (the existence of even one other of course having yet to be proved) in the meantime slaughtering each other off on whatever new world they find with such primitive means as they can manufacture until the technology can once more be perfected to create atomic bomb explosions only a matter of time

and we enlightened ones will be pale spirits flitting around heaven i guess having a good time thinking oh well it doesn’t matter another little earth explosion down there in the galaxy a little spark in a heavenly afternoon like distant lightning the smell of burning flesh and hair (isn’t life on earth hell!) because there won’t be anything we can do anyway no bodies of our ancestors to call us into existence on any earth oh well pass the gravy

(palo duro rio grande mesquite gods pecan tree groves neighbors of cottontail rabbits night air comfort of frog voices comfort of moon in midnight pools on top of mountains how can you hope to go to heaven?)

someone says what time is it?

the minister says the van should be here soon it’s just now one o’clock

a few more minutes and headlights appear down the road and the van comes to get us no other walkers either to take our place

i feel only a very small urge to say that yes i do i want to walk some more but the minister is discouraging us no he can’t lead the walk anymore tonight there will be other nights he has other commitments at the camp a prayer vigil and someone else asks to walk some more alone and the minister says no that would not be a good idea

so we get in the bus and drive the road around the plant the rest of the way — all the way around it — in our weakness we are conveyed

i watch the plant’s lights slowly revolve under the moon out the van window complete the circle the voice of my father quieter now resigning himself for the sake of the heart

i can see the worst all right — the earth exploding in some climactic chain reaction and all of us going off sparking out at the same time and i think i am going to like it if it happens that way after all we’ll all be learning something together something massive that we’ve been trying to understand for a while