EMILY RIVERA: Round Earth, Open Sky was published in 2011. It got great reviews. Why make a second edition nine years later?
KIRPAL GORDON: Flaws kept me up at night. The story needed to get leaner and cleaner. I sped up the third (final) part to help readers feel as if they, like Sky Man, are falling from space, and instead of dying, entering their bodies as if for the first time. I lost two characters but gained for the reader a fuller appreciation of Maurice Plante. By unburying him, the story got more intriguing yet more coherent. Who knew?
But to put your question about time in context, writing REOS stretches way back. It was conceived by accident in 1970 when I read this Ojibwe saying in Technicians of the Sacred: “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind carries me across the sky.” Humility in the face of spirited winds makes sense to me, and the great outdoors has often felt more civilizing than civilization, especially when I lived in Arizona, ‘74-’79, where the first part takes place. Over a campfire on Manitoulin Island one summer night in ’86 I shared my Sonoran Desert adventures with a friend from Detroit. The next day we handed each other short scene descriptions with the invitation to take it further. I collected the scraps; a couple of years later I started to fill in the gaps.
In the first draft, in order to create a sense of time and timelessness interwoven, I alternated chapters from the first and third part. But fragmenting the time line wouldn’t cut it. My dilemma was that the healing method Sky Man practices in the first chapter is something he only learns in the last chapter. I needed to start as close to the end as possible. Since Sky Man is the only character who can collapse past, present and future, I had to trust him to show the human characters that time is an illusion.
In telling a paranormal story about a luftmensch from another dimension, suspending readers’ disbelief is crucial. Hence, every event had to be timely-twisty-switcheroo-ey just like in a murder plot, resolving one problem but creating another. Getting the narrative to unfold smoothly bought Sky Man’s confidence game a little more credibility, you might say.
EMILY RIVERA: Although throughout this journey it was a supernatural experience, it does seem very natural. While reading the book I got a Jack Kerouac On The Road feeling due to taking us on this adventure to find the truth while interacting with different characters. Do you have any comments on that?
KIRPAL GORDON: Both are buddy road novels of real people, places and vision quests, but REOS cannot live up to the comparison. On the Road has mythic dimensions. It foretells the back-to-nature rucksack revolution, hitch-hiking Dionysian counterculture and psychedelic Aquarian conspiracy. Kerouac’s Mahayana Buddhism marrying his Roman Catholic St. Therese devotion proved a way out of post-war mutual(ly) assured destruction.
The book reads like an injection. Everything is alive. Like Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” the sense of discovery pervades, of containing multitudes, of reinventing America’s experiment with freedom, of reclaiming a larger identity with what Kerouac called the Indio world. And with the world of jazz. Those long rolling sentences curl and swoop, wiggle and writhe like Charlie Parker’s acrobatic alto saxophone solos. Robert Lowell referred to the 1950s as “tranquilized,” but Sal and Dean are popping amphetamines and smoking the chronic, driving into dawn, searching for father/farther-further, seeking Be-at-it-ude, forsaking the “air-conditioned nightmare” of Western civilization and embracing the code of the outsider/bodhisattva.
The fraternal tension between writer Sal and trickster Dean, as well as their sizing up each other, is revealed most effectively by their interactions with the other characters. I hope Moses and Sky Man are doing likewise. Their relationship keeps changing at every stop they make on their road adventure. Like Dean with Sal, otherworldly trickster Sky Man offers photographer Moses another way not only to see things but to participate with the world around him, to embody a larger consciousness.
EMILY RIVERA: Personally, the book reminded me of being in your class and writing on my identity formation. As Alan Watts framed it in The Book: On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are, “We need a new experience, a new feeling of what it is to be I. Just as sight is more than all things seen, the foundation or ground of our existence and our awareness cannot be understood in terms of things that are known.”
What kind of identity were you trying to build for your characters in REOS?
KIRPAL GORDON: An identity that accepts, per your Watts’ quote, it can never be fully known. Like your essay, “I Dare You,” https://giantstepspress.blogspot.com/2018/10/i-dare-you-reflections-on-identity-by.html, Sky Man celebrates himself as non-binary, always changing and therefore nothing to get hung about. Whoever he comes in contact with alters him, yet he treats each change in his identity as merely the next “alias disguise” he must wear in order to get to the appointed place at the appointed hour.
EMILY RIVERA: So is he a hero or hustler, a villain or victor, an immortal tricked by human sorcery or the immortal trickster himself incarnate?
But in framing the question into either/or form, am I missing the bigger picture? That is, are you suggesting the entity called Sky Man can be embodied in many forms or are you leaving these decisions about his identity up to the reader?
KIRPAL GORDON: Readers must solve for themselves the question of Sky Man’s multiple identities by cohering all of his parts. So instead of who-done-it driving the plot, who-is-it drives REOS.
EMILY RIVERA: There are multiple themes of love and connection between Sky Man and Moses, among his other interactions with women, but also between Moses and his women. On the ferry Marie Twiceborn tells Rainie that strange things happen on the Isle of Oanay: “Some say that forgotten impulses, held down by regret and denial, appear at the unlikeliest of places. For example, one’s desire is made flesh. To long for a certain lover is to see him walking toward you out of the woods, calling your name out sweet and low.” What is the significance of these parallel characteristics or recurring theme of love?
KIRPAL GORDON: Every character in the story gets a first, second or third chance at love. It’s the medicine Sky Man brings and why he’s bound for the Isle of Oanay. Although he’s new to the ways of humans, he’s no fool. Whoever women proclaim him to be, he’s willing to be: tube-suck doctor, Hey-sus Christay lovemaker, Navaho love counselor, Rebbe Yeshuwa, Dionysus Lysios, time-traveling shaman, necromancer, schlubby Maurice Plante, mad medicine man Red Plante, Ojibwe manitou Nanabozho. Each name and subsequent story bring him closer to his home. They show him that love is his mission and his destiny.
As for Moses, for whom love is a catastrophe in the making, for the first time in his life he gets lucky at every port in the storm, thanks to a mind-reading Sky Man who speaks the sexy love thoughts that Moses and his women are only thinking. Consequently, Moses and Sky Man develop a strong but conflicted connection in the first part and a growing understanding in the second part, but it’s not until the third part that you realize Moses and his photography quest have been driving the action the whole time. Borealis Cove has been his destination all along. Contrary to all the alleged evidence, Sky Man is just along for the ride.
EMILY RIVERA: What are you hoping for the reader to learn from this book? What’s the purpose? Regarding Moses’s motives for making art you write: “Casting doubt had been Moses’ style as a photographer—to search underneath appearances, to stir a little gray into the black-and-white world.” Do you want to bewitch, bother and bewilder readers in order to have the last laugh or are you helping us access a deeper vibrational intimacy with what we can’t see but sense is out there?
KIRPAL GORDON: It’s a good question. I admit that having a telepathic space man trying to make sense of the world he’s visiting really helped me cast doubt on earthling ways and reveal our limited thinking. As for the book’s possible purpose, I don’t know.
Friends who saw early versions said that after reading the manuscript they dreamed vividly; I took this as a propitious sign. Readers of later versions liked the way landscape, plot and dialogue dovetailed; they called it a page turner. In later versions readers said they got into playing detective, figuring out the characters’ motives. Readers of this new version remarked on how much clearer is the narrative flow, how its smooth lake-like surface keeps every possible ending up for interpretation.
Another way of saying this is that the story has always been a crossword puzzle/ rubric cube. I’ve had to keep writing it until all the pieces fell into place.
EMILY RIVERA: The print and e-book versions are for sale at the Writer page at www.KirpalG.com. Here are a few reviews for the first edition of Round Earth, Open Sky:
Amazing book, start to finish! The work draws its compassionate hybrid vision from American Indian, Buddhist, and Judeo/Christian mysticisms as well as its celebration of compassion and open-heartedness, elements of the author’s own aesthetic lineage and varied personal experience. But it’s the meta-elements of the work that are so profound, the great truths wrapped within magic characters in picaresque multiverse landscapes from the Arizona deserts to the lakes of Michigan wilds, and centered around the psychic trans-spiritual figure of Sky Man from whom we regain an eternal delight in the power of language we widely inhabit, which is also our world. By far, the best novel I’ve read of my generation; Gordon has created a work of holy parables.
Naked, animal-like, a curious alien being slips out from the US-Mexican desert landscape to mingle on the margins of civilization, a sky-man inhabiting the body of an unidentified dead son. Like a new born unraveling the needs of its new form, his journey is both disorienting & very entertaining. He pieces together the meanings of our world & his own purpose for time spent among us, helped by his host-body’s lingering memories & those of a wild range of encountered characters. Shifting details of 21st C. life are everywhere evident. We get intimate access to a cosmic awakening. Round Earth, Open Sky is a remarkably inventive novel. The fusion of sci-fi & mystery together with indigenous elements make for an exciting first-class ride, flawlessly executed. Gordon’s writing here seems the perfect salve for a US that has lost what little humanity it once pretended to have.
A masterpiece of creative invention. Sky Man and Moses Abitol are an odd couple, to be sure. But Abitol, a New York freelance photographer (a visual person, a wanderer), is Gordon’s particular stroke of genius, by mating him with Sky Man, this mysterious, magical character, who drops out the sky, whose mission is to “mend the tear in the world” and return to his cosmic home. It’s a journey of enlightenment, where earthly values are often skewed when pitted against a competing universe of existing myths and legends and cultures, and other pathways not easily explainable, but ever present in the universe’s consciousness. A joy to read because of its brilliant imagery, brilliant language, the strength of its characters, its storytelling; and the ride: wild and wooly; and fearlessly imagined to depths rarely seen, or, for that matter, so effectively engaged.
A must read. Kirpal Gordon has written a tour de force that takes you on a journey from the magical realm of New Mexico to Detroit and Canada. From the first page you are taken in by the mysticism and magic of Sky Man and by the end of the book you believe in his powers. Everyone who reads this masterpiece will be able to identify with at least one of the characters and relate to the experiences they have as they are enumerated upon in this truly engrossing book. Gordon’s imagination is unsurpassed and his ability to draw the reader in with a mix of humor, mysticism, reality and tenderness is amazing. The book is poetry in a narrative form. It is as if Elmore Leonard has met Carlos Castaneda and as Gordon takes you on the road trip of your life you will not be able to stop until you reach the end. I know I couldn’t. As soon as I finished the book, I wanted him to write a sequel so that I could renter his magical world.
—David A. Safran
Round Earth, Open Sky is altogether a marvelous read, constantly forcing me as reader to re-adjust my grasp of its multiple narratives, to reexamine the nature of identity itself, and to confront the mystery of “mending the tear in the world.” The finale alternately had me jumping up and down regarding Kirpal’s moving the characters in among the manitous of my own region and wondering at the beauty of its Jungian & Freudian overtones, its mythos of buried folklore, its wisdom filtering from many spiritual traditions
In Round Earth, Open Sky, Kirpal Gordon presents an alternative mind cosmology, countering the prevalent materialism/cultural hegemony with a shamanic telepathy that employs an inventive picture theory language ESP. This is depicted through Sky Man’s visitation in southwestern USA in an entertaining, incisive prose narration. A must read for anthropologists, poets, lovers of fiction and readers seeking a peek behind the cosmic mirror.
Combine one part Homer’s Odyssey with one part Kerouac’s On the Road and multiple parts of the unfettered imagination of a virtuoso writer and what you have is Kirpal Gordon’s Round Earth, Open Sky. An epic tale of cosmic adventure, funhouse surprise and spiritual exploration. Gordon wields his pen like a great Jazz trumpeter with the funky abandon of Lee Morgan, the sardonic wit of Lester Bowie, the razor-sharp articulation of Clifford Brown and the cool mysterioso of Miles Davis. Climb aboard this rollicking express train to uncharted vistas and hang on tight!
Kirpal Gordon has written a strangely unique yet captivating tale which takes the reader upon the mother of all road trips. Round Earth Open Sky is a high-spirited romp along the landscape of Americana up into the Canadian wilderness with two of the most oddball personalities, Sky Man, an alien life form living in the body of a resurrected dead human, and Moses, a hard-edged New York photographer who wrongly thought he’d seen everything! Gordon's latest novel is a gripping sci-fi mystery chock full of interesting characters and intriguing plot twists. REOS held my interest right up until the very last chapter where Sky Man’s earthly journey ends with the discovery of the portal that finally leads him home. You won’t want to put it down!
Gordon slings each word of his story as he sings his poems, provoking your interest to the point of frenzy as he takes you in all directions on all levels sometimes simultaneously. Who is Sky Man and why is his chosen guide out of the desert a Jewish man named Moses? Fall into the fantasy-based reality or is it reality-based fantasy?
Together with Stephen-Paul Martin, Eric Basso, Greg Boyd and Tom Whalen, Kirpal Gordon is one of the best American storytellers of the last 20 years. Round Earth, Open Sky is a fun, mystical road trip from the Land of the Hopi to Manitoulin Island. Hip readers should snatch up REOS and Go Ride the Music, and then explore his whole catalog.
A mystical healer falls from the sky, inhabits the body of a newly dead Native American and begins a journey to find his way back home. He soon pairs up with “Moses,” a skeptical, yet intrigued photojournalistic philosopher, running from his past, trying to save the future and hoping for a Pulitzer Prize photo op. Initially, the Sky Man (as he is soon dubbed) does not do well with language, which renders some interesting nicknames for people he meets. In a series of missions, each with a clue/vision/tool to the next one in line, he must prove himself to be who he is to the multiplying skeptics. As adept as any Kwai Chang Caine, Sky Man conquers all obstacles affronting him, be they to harm, educate or seduce. Talismans, totems and spirit guides are offered, shared and experienced along the roads of a countryside still beautiful, as we are shown it through the eyes of respect and adoration. Given the abundance of Native American characters within the pages, there is a hefty dose of metaphysical—natural teachings, lingo and rituals, which I personally devoured, dictionary and internet at hand. The injection of humor eases the intensity of content, blunders and missteps allow a humanistic perspective when broaching an almost peyote-infused ride into desert, mountains and prairies. Round Earth, Open Sky is fast-paced and covers multiple genres and fulfills in each. Witty, deep, violent & sensual. In final scene intensity, words before you, you still cannot blink, lest you miss that transformation, that flash of light, that perfect shot that finishes his journey. Loose ends tie up into a nice dreamcatcher to hang over you as tidbits flit into your slumber.
—Cheryl A. Townsend
A fascinating portrayal of connectedness—textured characters involved in their own AND interrelated paths. Spiritual and physical worlds interwoven through poetic language.
—Janet A. Bellusci
Reading the novel, it struck me that one of those Chinese balls meticulously carved from a solid piece of ivory, rendering moveable layered spheres, where each sphere turns and each can be perceived simultaneously works well as being emblematic of the landscape. At a glance, one can see the sky, the earth with its multiple layers and patina--the now of it; digs, rituals, and dances--all existing, synchronized and grasped concurrently. I appreciated Gordon’s layering and gradation of seams with cinematic Godardian jump cuts creating strong transitional movement from one character/scene to another. Also liked the loop of how early on landscape is used as character and anchor and similarly presented and utilized at the end. An arc that mirrored Sky Man’s path. I was on the journey and sometimes found myself in Moses’s skin, sharing his body movements and thoughts. I was behind the wheel on HW 40, making the turns in Oak Creek Canyon. In other places images of the Hohokam, Hopi, and Orabi smashed against my windshield. I found Sky Man’s humor and manner of speaking entertaining. He is also a more accessible and rounded character than Don Juan Matus. Moses made a film. I gather that was something shot on 16mm. With the mentioning of light readings and using the small / tiny Leica it seemed he probably shot with 4 X 5s or and 8 X 10 cameras--which would follow if he was focusing on landscapes. Interesting, too, his occupation captures what has passed. I was pleased with the way Gordon pulled me in. Well done.
It seems like Gordon is putting us in a magical world well grounded in reality where we root around and make surprising connections. But in the end, we realize he is having so much fun with us that we have to laugh with him at ourselves. Round Earth, Open Sky is thoroughly amusing and very, very smart.
If you told me that a book could contain a road trip across North America, time travel, mind reading, bodily possession, and not be a corny mess but, rather, a deeply moving and poetic piece, I would have called you a liar. Until now, of course. Kirpal Gordon's Round Earth, Open Sky is a genius piece of prose that reads more like beat poetry for the next goyim generation. I enjoyed every page I traveled with Sky-Man and his road-bromance partner, Moses Dude. I tore through this book in 2 days, the kind of book I never would have thought I'd like. I love it more than words can say.
If you think that all supernatural fiction has to do with zombies, vampires and blood sucking corpses, then you might want to take a look at Round Earth Open Sky by Kirpal Gordon. The work is outstanding in its prose and very believable in its plot. This is the sort of supernatural tale that just may be happening all around us all the time but if you’re not the subject, then you might never notice what’s going on. Someone from the ‘other side’ gets sucked into this existence and then must work their way back through the portal, once they find out how to locate that portal, but you’ll have to read it to make your personal assessment of just how that is. It’s not poetry but it reads that way and it’s just as much a joy to re-read it, as you’d swear that things weren’t there the first time have somehow popped into the text. The ideas that you had about the characters change just as quickly as if they are all chameleons. This is a powerful read.
I just finished reading Round Earth, Open Sky out loud with my wife. It was great fun, an outlandish, cheeky story, sprouting new connections and changes through to the very end. We enjoyed doing the voices including Sky Man's pidgin. This should surely be made into a movie. It's a mystery/science fiction/transcendental adventure that is genuinely innovative as well as beautiful and entertaining.
The writing is compelling, rich with eroticism and suspense. The plot with its twists and turns is impossible to summarize because it is as much a journey of the reader’s mind as it is a physical journey of an unforgettable character and his photographer friend in search of identity and meaning is a world that has shaken off its boundaries and brought us to the “point of intersection of the timeless with time.” It is a book which will certainly attract readers who are on their own spiritual journey and who suspect that “there is another world, and it’s in this one.”
—Dr. Michael Hogan