Colorado Mandala comes from poet Brian Heffron, who departs from his established genre with a novel of the seventies recommended for fans of literary fiction.
—Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Reviews
With refreshing depth, distinct literary merit, and highly original poetic phrasings that spill from the pages like paint, Colorado Mandala is poet Brian Heffron’s debut work of literary fiction that mines the complex landscape of post-Vietnam America to unearth the deep connections that bind individuals together, and also ferociously rip them asunder.
Illustrative, luscious, seductive, and engaging, this rare piece of craftsmanship will stir the senses of any one who thirsts for artistic expression, or who longs for an era in our country now utterly, irretrievably gone. With underlying notes of romance, adventure, historical authenticity, and the poignant passages of coming-of-age, Colorado Mandala both elevates and transcends an era of America to seep into the heart and soul of the reader as flawlessly as a sumptuous poem.
In the heady, hippie backdrop of Pike’s Peak, Colorado, in the tumultuous 1970s, three souls swirl together in an explosive supernova. Michael is the flinty-eyed, volatile former Green Beret, whose tour in Viet Nam has left unbridgeable chasms in his psyche and secrets that can never find light. Sarah is his fair-haired paramour, the ethereal, Earth Mother widow of a fallen soldier and single mother to a ten-year-old son Stuart. Paul is a young wanderer, who soon quickly bears the mantle as both the minister and the scourge of their damaged love. As they are drawn together, and torn apart, each is changed forever. And our hearts race along with them, through the raw and rocky Colorado terrain amidst alcohol-fueled discord and the blood sport of man and beast.
Laying bare the loss and acceptance of a pioneering age, Colorado Mandala shines revelatory light on the crazy, glorious, and romantic notion that each generation conceives anew: that love can be a spiritual gift shared openly among all who feel it, rather than coveted, or hidden, or hoarded. If you wish to go barefoot again and climb an unspoiled Colorado trail, look no further. If you have been longing for something to wake you up in simple, clean language, a shimmering story awaits. Awaken to what you have always known: simple truths show you the way home. With his gripping and unforgettable Colorado Mandala, it is clear that Brian Heffron knows the way. Simply follow his trail.
A main street, wide and curving through Manitou like a bow: sunlight on the sidewalk transforms the parking meters into sundials. Tourists move slowly through the trinket and souvenir shops; cowboy hats blooming on children's heads like mushrooms. Just outside town, to the west, the cog railway carries people up the first range of Pikes Peak for a view of Colorado Springs and the high plains. From the summit, seven miles west and up, the town looks like a steer bird on the back of a buffalo.
We managed to do pretty well with old Miss Moffat. She had a good deal of backlogged orders, so she virtually emptied our supply of bracelets.
Miss Moffat is the dowager queen of the whole Pikes Peak area. That includes more than one valley and the entire area has been dominated by her family for as long as anyone can remember, going all the way back to the pioneer folk that actually fought off the tribes and held the land with their feet and hands. They were the ones who started ranches in the best-positioned, windbreak-protected corners of the high foothills or in the most enormous feed glades and county-sized meadows.
Miss Moffat’s family were the descendants of these pioneers, an independent, violent bunch. They had large families and many children, a fact that overcame the high mortality rate among the family’s daredevil young men.
Miss Moffat herself was a kind of silver-haired cowgirl princess. Tall and still trim in her eighties, she’d clearly been a beauty once. She seemed determined to stay looking that way: it was widely known that she would always wear an embroidered cowboy hat in the Memorial Day Parade, her gray tresses loose, and her figure lithe and light in the saddle.
These small town beauty queens are now as scarce as a good, small town rodeo. But at one time every little crossroad with a hardware store had its own queen. And Miss Moffat was then, is now, and forever shall be, the Cowgirl Queen of Manitou Springs, Colorado.
Eventually, however, even Miss Moffat took to calling herself an old maid. She claimed there were no men around who could handle her anymore. It is true that she was still as wily and crisp as any female of any age. So I always enjoyed going up to visit her clapboard castle, this old ten-bedroom monstrosity ranch house sitting high in the foothills over looking the Garden of the Gods.
The Garden of the Gods is a natural formation lying in the foothills of Pikes Peak, its huge vertical stones stretching up into the sky in groups. It is still considered holy ground by many tribes, but now asphalt roads plough all throughout. Miss Moffat’s dark old ranch sat just above this ancient formation, soaking up the high desert sunlight like a black stone.
Inside, air conditioners roared to keep the heat out. Miss Moffat met us at her door in the rhinestone-studded costume of a country and western musical star, and seemed to want us to treat her as if she were. You never knew what to expect from a visit to Miss Moffatt’s house.
Her family had been among the first in the Pikes Peak area of Colorado. The Moffats were miners and ranchers and had worked together for well more than a century to keep all the valley water in the family. They did so with great success and owned huge tracts of virgin timberland and whole mountains of molybdenum being mined outside of Leadville near the Continental Divide. They used molybdenum as an alloy to make steel hard and “without it our tanks would not have won WWII,” or so Miss Moffat often told us.
Michael put on quite a show in her timber temple. At her core, Miss Moffat was still a debutante who to loved to flirt, so when Michael turned on the charm she’d just melt. Later she’d get out her checkbook. I've got to admit Michael was very kind of heart towards her the day we went to see her about the bracelets. He got her talking about her youth climbing the hills looking for boyfriends at scarce ranches, but never finding “one man worth a damn.” She could shoot better than any man in the valley, but as each world war came around they never allowed her to sign up to be a soldier in any part of “a shooting army.”
She told us about how she used to love to dance. There was an old country record playing in the background. Suddenly Michael sprung up from the couch. He pulled Miss Moffat up too and smoothly waltzed her around her parlor. She got right into it and you could see she had been an excellent dancer when she was young. Michael never failed to surprise me with his secret talents. Resting her chin in the crook of his neck, Miss Moffat's warm smile was golden in the light pouring through the room's giant picture window. She was in heaven as Michael danced her around in the dusty air of her own ancient parlor.
Right then I knew we weren't going home empty handed. Michael even managed to convince her to take some heishi, just to fool around with. She was a good smith herself, so I guess she figured she could set it up, somehow. It was impossible, too, for her to refuse Michael once he turned on his charming persona.
Cash in hand again, Michael drove straight to the liquor store, before we went up to visit Sarah. It was nearly three in the afternoon, but the moon was already up, pale and full, and directly opposite the sun. I was always amazed when I could see the sun and moon at the exact same time.
Sarah's studio was a ramshackle afterthought on the roof of the Loop Lounge. Inside we found her hand painting on silk. A soft breeze rippled the fabric as Sarah's nimble arm and brush worked it. Her eyes narrowed in focus as she drew long, strong, arcs across the material. She finished a bold stroke with a flourish and then paused to inspect her design. Finally she looked up at us.
In her other hand, she held a jelly jar of dye and continued her brushwork while we opened some beers and pulled up plastic patio chairs.
The studio was oblong with two tall, narrow windows opposite the door. The view looked out at a stairway of mountainous green range. The rest of her walls were raw bare planks covered with hand-drawn clothes designs and an occasional postcard, map or snapshot. As at the cabin, here all the sills and tables and shelves were filled with plants, ferns and flowers, but their fragrance was overwhelmed by the odor of the batik wax and dyes. Wooden drying racks took up half the room, each upright, holding a length of dyed fabric. Patterns and colors varied, but the lines and fusing of shades were clearly all by the same hand. I liked her work. Michael had told me that Sarah had begun selling about two years ago.
"You have to teach me to batik sometime, Sarah," I said. "I'd like to try it." She was wearing one of her own dresses, a column of emerald silk that clung to her body with static electricity. I shivered a little in the warm mountain air.
"It's really fun and not too difficult," she replied, "but very expensive. I have to send away to New York for the dyes, and only the finest fabric will take them without fading. It really runs into money."
She paused, changing colors and brushes, and sipping on a beer I had opened and passed to her. Her eyes danced with delight as she took it, and there was a grin upon her delicate lips.
"I had to pay to learn," she continued, "so I figure I should be paid to teach. It's only fair."
"Oh, sure, I'd be willing to give you something for it. I could pay you off in precious gems."
She laughed and tossed her loose hair. She went looking for her cigarettes, found them and lit one up. I thought to myself that mandala-shaped buns were reserved for evenings only. Michael got up, grunting crankily, and went outside through the slap-shut screen door.
"What's the matter, Michael? Bored?" asked Sarah loudly while blowing out her first puff.
He didn't answer so she went on talking to me. The intricate piece she was working on seemed to be a loose pants design. An explosion of color at the cuffs led up the legs in exquisite streams. I had the same reaction to it as when I'd examined a perfectly woven Persian carpet—there was so much more happening beneath the surface design.
"What is that going to be?" I asked.
"These are yoga pants."
"It is an Indian discipline that combines breathing, meditation and exercise. I practice it every day."
"Oh, well. I never heard of that." I said, instantly feeling a bit out-classed, but I persevered. "How has your selling been going?"
"Very well, actually, but the sewing bogs me down. I've hired a seamstress now, so that should help. I need to get much more stock on-hand before I can hit the larger markets, like city department stores. Handmade art forms are such a new thing, but they're becoming an in-demand commodity too. And I totally feel certain that yoga is going to become commonplace in America in the coming years."
“Yes. It’s great exercise.”
Sarah lifted several different yoga designs up and draped them over a frame. Outside the window, I could see Michael throwing handfuls of tiny roof gravel down into the streets below. His movements were jerky, twitching, like a bird feeding. He nearly lost his cowboy hat, blowing across the roof and almost over the side, but he recovered it.
"Paul, will you help me lift this?"
We carried a drying rack to the side of the room and placed it in a slot where the fabric could hang free. We were right next to the roof window and now Michael watched as we secured the frame. Then Sarah began putting her materials away, one by one, methodically, purposefully, and meticulously.
I was examining a finished skirt, a design that had a riot of blooming abstract flowers on its hem when I heard Michael outside doing his best imitation of a dog's bark. It was a running joke with us. Whenever we were up there visiting the roof and the Manitou dogcatcher drove by, we'd both start barking and yelping. Invariably, the woman officer would screech to a halt, get her lasso pole out, and hunch over in readiness, patrolling the surrounding streets for ten minutes. I'm certain she felt outwitted by hounds.
"Michael, did you pick up that package for me?" Sarah was facing the sink and her lilting voice was perhaps too low to be heard outside. But for me, it attracted my attention like a whisper—a whisper as soft and delicate as any of her batik designs swaying on their wooden frames.
"What did you say?" Michael called from outside. He was facing the street, looking down at the dogcatcher.
"Did you pick up my package of dyes at the post office? I asked you to, three days ago." Her voice hadn't risen.
He turned towards the studio. "Will you please fucking speak up, Sarah? You know I hate it when you speak so low."
"She asked if you got her package at the post office," I called out loud enough to make certain he would hear.
Michael slammed the screen door hard closing it.
"What are you, her interpreter?" he snarled.
Sarah turned from putting her things away, and looked at him.
"At least Paul cares enough to listen!" she said, her green eyes burning into him.
Michael turned to me and gave me a look that said fuck you in about ten languages. For a second he looked like a soldier again, eyes alert, back erect, and head on the swivel, ready for combat, either verbally or physically violent. But then the rage passed. He swigged his beer, crushed the can, threw it across the room directly into the trash barrel and then went to the refrigerator to fetch another.
"No, I didn't get your fucking package," he said with his back to us, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "But I'm sure your guru over there will be glad to run right over and get it for you."
"Sure," I said, putting my beer down. "I'll go get it."
I was out and gone before Michael could turn around, but I heard his curses follow me as I rambled around and down the back stairway. Sarah’s soft frankincense fragrance was still floating in my nostrils like a barely remembered dream.
When I got back, Michael was gone. Sarah's eyes were crying red, and the cheeks below them were still damp. As soon as I walked in, she rushed to me, circling my neck with her arms and putting her head on my chest. She held on tight. I swung the package around behind her back.
"Oh Paul, he was awful to me. He called me a whore." She started to cry, sobbing against my chest.
"He said he knows I want you. He said I have a great talent for breaking up. I don't know why I slept with you, except I wanted too.” At this phrase, she looked up at me, her green eyes engaging mine, so powerful, so intense. “But we didn't do anything."
"I know, Sarah," I said laughing. "I couldn't have made love at gunpoint last night."
"But that's not what Michael thinks."
It was already dusk outside. The shadow of our embrace slanted away into the room, the casting light from a street lamp outside. We stayed that way a long time. Just holding each other. Feeling the rise and fall of her breasts against me, I was beginning to forget that I was comforting her. Then she looked up at me.
"Well, what do you think, Sarah? How exactly do you feel?" Her head dropped back against my chest.
"I like you, Paul. Very much. I really do. But I hate this feeling that I'm hurting you both by feeling this way. And I do care about Michael, but I can't stand it when he treats me like this. He makes me feel worthless." She finally released her grasp of me and turned around. "I'm so confused now. I don't know what to think."
"I don't either," I said, suddenly idled and alone.
The oval-topped refrigerator stood out luminous and white in the settling darkness. I fumbled for the chrome handle, found it, and got us a couple of beers. Sarah didn't want one, so I put hers back.
"Where is he now?" I said at last. "Did he say where he was going?"
She lit another cigarette.
"No, he just left here cursing me, and trying to kick the stairs down on the way out."
"Well, damn. I don't give a rat’s ass what he thinks when he gets like that."
"Oh, Paul, I'm so sorry." She came up to me again, standing right in front of me, with her raised head barely reaching my chin, her scent, her body, her essence. She was just too close not to hold and kiss. I was very conscious of it being our first kiss. It was long, soft, deep, and yet filled with trepidation—all at the same time—a maelstrom of passionate emotions. But when we parted, we parted completely, letting go, and separating completely.
"Listen, Sarah, he is right about one thing. I do like you too, and if this is the way he thinks he can treat you, then he doesn't deserve you."
I cradled her crying face in my two hands. "Listen, look at me. You are perfect, a child of nature, a creature of kindness and pure heart.”
She smiled up at me and I went on. ”Come on, I'll take you home then head home myself. Mike's probably there already, since I had the jeep, which reminds me, here's your package."
As I handed it to her, her expression changed. It became more solid, the puffiness of crying suddenly fell away, and for a second, as she turned, I thought I saw a small smile. It didn't seem to have anything to do with my comforting her. Briefly, I had the sensation of entering an enclosure. It passed just as suddenly as it had come.
She placed the package on her bench, shut the lights, and I followed her out. It was a clear night. We both paused on the roof to take it in.
Once down in the jeep, it only took a moment to reach Sarah's house. Other than a quick goodbye, neither of us had anything to say for the trip.
During the night, a dream: a flash-flood storm washes out a stripe down the mountain slope like a newly cut power line. Boulders house-high carry out into the valley below for half a mile. A creek and pass are born.
Paperback on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Colorado-Mandala-Brian-Francis-Heffron/dp/0615760406/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
Kindle on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Colorado-Mandala-ebook/dp/B00CRP40YI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1369238552&sr=1-1&keywords=colorado+mandala
Paperback on Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/colorado-mandala-brian-francis-heffron/1115288022?ean=9780615760407
After Brian Francis Heffron achieved a bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing from Emerson College, he has navigated across the Atlantic Ocean under sail (and found Gibraltar), was Director of Photography on “The Imported Bridegroom” a tiny Indy film that received a national theatrical release, created a heart-rending poetry blog within the Notes section of his Facebook profile that drew an avid, dedicated, and international audience, and all the while he wrote, produced, and directed hundreds of hours of television programming for KLCS-TV, a PBS Station focused on education.
On Valentine's Day 2010 he published a handmade poetry chapbook that sold out in three weeks! "Sustain Me with Your Breath" then became, and remains, a promotional e-book sensation.
Heffron followed that up with “Something You Could Touch”, a one hour spoken word poetry CD that broke sales records in its category.
Heffron has also won Emmys, Tellys, Aurora, Videographers and the Davis Award, among others plaudits for both writing and television.
Brian Francis Heffron’s debut novel, Colorado Mandala, mines the complex landscape of 1970s post-Vietnam America to chart the love triangle of a former Green Beret, his lover, and a young wanderer. Colorado Mandala straddles the line between literary and young adult fiction, and distills the author's poetic sensibility into a deeply lyrical work of art.
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