Photography And Half-Thoughts By Mitchell Hegman

...because some of it is pretty and some of it is not.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I took this photograph of my wife in 2002. This may be the very best snapshot I have ever taken. No interpretation required. Today marks exactly three weeks since we lost her.

--Mitchell Hegman

Simple Thought

Once I understand a problem, I am often unable to let it go.

--Mitchell Hegman

Monday, May 30, 2011

Citizen Uyen

My wife, in the very last participatory event she conducted in this life, voted absentee ballot for our local school trustees and levy. After becoming a proud citizen of this country in 1986, Uyen never failed to vote in any local, state, or national election.

Uyen worked very hard at all things, including attaining her citizenship. She intensely studied American history and civics before the requisite interview with the judge charged with conducting her naturalization process. She was dutifully nervous about her meeting with the judge. Upon her return form that interview, I asked her: “Well, how did that go?”
“He didn’t ask me anything—nothing about all the presidents, or laws, or anything.”
“What did you talk about?”
“He asked who represented Montana in Congress, who was the first president of the United States, and then we talked about Hennessey’s. He buys his cloths there. I’ve altered his suits. He remembered me.”
“Well, honey…I guess you’re in!”

In a way, she felt a bit disappointed that the judge never provided her with an opportunity to prove her knowledge. The Morrisons (her sponsors), Helen (her daughter, and citizen by birth), and I attended the swearing-in ceremony at the courthouse in Butte. We encountered a July snowstorm at Elk Park on our way there. The young couple sitting next to me in the courtroom was dazzled by Helen’s chatter as she sat waiting to watch her mother become a citizen. Helen was ten at the time. “Your little girl is so well-spoken,” the woman gushed when I spoke with her out in the hallway following the swearing-in ceremony.
“She reads constantly. She taught herself to read when she was four,” I told the woman.
“I could sit and listen to her talk all day,” she remarked.
“Sometimes I am forced to do just that,” I said.

A couple days after her naturalization, we held a 4th of July party for Uyen at the lake property—again with unseasonable snow. We ended up wrapping the open lakefront patio with some plastic sheeting I found and started a fire in the fireplace. As the rain, and sometimes snow, snare-drummed against the plastic, driven hard by northwinds glancing up off the lake, a dozen people huddled together drinking beer and singing any songs we could remember. We sang into the night, sounding awful, but feeling, as Uyen put it, “like a million buck!”

When the first November elections rolled around, Uyen grew increasingly excited. She read through the local newspaper and watched all the television news so she might gather valuable information about the candidates and issues. We spoke often about current events. So long as I live, I will never forget the drive to our polling place in East Helena. Uyen asked me a series of questions. How long does it take to vote? How do the polling machines work? What if she wanted to change a vote partway through? And on. By the time we parked the car and bundled-up for the walk inside the school where we voted, Uyen grew positively giddy. She looked over at me. “I can vote for anyone I want?” she said guardedly.
“Yes. Anyone.”
She fully brightened with one of those profound, all encompassing smiles only she could manage. “Anyone…” she repeated.

And we soon entered the overly-lighted gymnasium filled with warmth and American citizens.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bucket List

Bucket List (Revised)

• Drive to the top of Canyon Ferry Dam and pee off the top on the way-down side. (Note: pay attention for updrafts from apron below)
• Revisit the 1970’s and try to get a better grasp on feral emotions and drug use. Also, try to block the rise of disco music. (Note: do not attend rodeos with Mike and avoid girls with hollow checks)
• Learn to think that Julia Roberts—the famous one—is beautiful. (Note: socially, this may be handy going foreword, especially while leering at women in a bar)
• Fly to Paris, visit the Louvre and then wander Boulevard Saint-Michel, yelling, “Je suis un crayon!” (Note: I am a pencil in only the most technical sense)
• Invent a machine, preferably some kind of small appliance, which will operate on a standard 120 volt circuit and will cure our debt crisis once someone plugs it into the wall. (Note: the machine must draw less than 5 amps to avoid adding to the energy crunch)
• Call or text my daughter every morning and tell her to have a pleasant day. (Note: ignore previous 5 ideas)

--Mitchell Hegman

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Sky Is My Garden (Glacier Park, 2008)

"Another Kind of Sky"
A photo from one of my trips to Glacier National Park.
--Mitchell Hegman


Friday, May 27, 2011

How To Manage Living Alone


Immerse self in work. You are fine. Thank anyone for asking. Work early. Work late. When you go home, feed both cats. Pat the big cat’s flanks with a rolled-up newspaper. Allow the small cat to jump up on the counter so you can rub your faces together. Stand at the bay window and watch the clouds for a while. You are allowed to smile if you see a pink one floating by. Talk to someone who is not there. Go to bed early, say 8:00. Pull blankets over your head to make darkness, curl into a ball, and begin sobbing. Sob until sleep slowly presses you into nothingness.



• One high heeled shoe
• Two red origami cranes
• Three empty dressers
• Four old birthday cards
• Five times, stop and smell the green pillow she slept on

--Mitchell Hegman

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Last Cup

Love, I found the last of your coffee cups—set in far corner and forgotten. I slowly rubbed the lipstick traces from the brim with a washcloth, wiped the cup dry, and then threw the cup in the trash.

--Mitchell Hegman

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tabula Rasa

Words fill pages like black dogs frozen solid while chasing white cats, like bees dissolving in fresh milk, like a flock of birds spraying themselves against a snowscape sky.

Consider this, from a distance, the commonest sorrow looks like a bearded old man strolling with his wife in a foggy swale. Draw nearer to this and the man is a smoke-wrapped refugee angrily bludgeoning another man with riverwash.

Somewhere, perspective falters. The words themselves begin to dance, to clatter right there as if iron implements dropped against slate. On another day, the words might writhe free as softer, yet more lethal things.

Somewhere, a tired old man walks his black dog along a riverwash bottom and chases up a flock of birds that spray against a snowscape sky. Somewhere, words are implementing fertile ideas that will, on a brighter day, become white birds unfreezing from a black swale.

--Mitchell Hegman

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wishing Well

Just to be sure, as I am dropping pennies and nickels into a wishing well, I always make the very same wish: I wish that I was dropping pennies and nickels into a wishing well.

--Mitchell Hegman

Sunday, May 22, 2011



Perhaps, we are most lucid when in a state of disrepair. Maybe the graveyard on the ridge above the mountain ghost town of Elkhorn is as all things should be—forsaken and overrun by nature. The mountains gradually reclaimed the graveyard; tall sugar pine and fir grew upright within the fenced grave plots and heavy roots slowly toppled headstones that supported marble lambs and the ever-fading names of small children. The wooden fences and grave markers fell backward into the sage and yarrow.

The graveyard at Elkhorn filled-up with children, sometimes with entire families, in a single year’s time. The little ones, caught first in a diphtheria epidemic, perished at a rate of two or three each week. The town itself fell silent during the silver market crash and the survivors limped away, abandoning homes and businesses and even their loved ones on the sunshine hill beyond.

I recall walking through the graveyard with you, Uyen. Helen followed, a gradeschool girl clutching a stuffed bison toy. The summer forest scented the air with pine and dust and Helen read from the headstones aloud: “eighteen-eighty-eight…eighteen-eighty-nine…eighteen-eighty-eight…eighteen-eighty-nine…” Back in the abandoned mining town, I recall entering a ramshackle cabin that leaned precariously against the tall sagebrush and brome grass, the heavy winter snows having nearly pushed the building flat. Someone, standing inside the cabin, had repeatedly fired a rifle up through the roof-slats between the timber trusses. Fine shafts of light angled down through the inside of the darkened structure from the bullet holes above. Dust motes swirled up through these threads of light as if with some certain purpose. I swear, you were never lovelier than you were that day. I stopped and watched you strobe through the beams of light. Your hair shone as if made of polished obsidian where the light crossed you. Your face, smooth and clear as the most exclusive porcelain.

Over these last few days, I have been bagging your clothing and what seemed a hundred pairs of shoes. I have given most of these things to people in need. Except any jacket or dress or top colored red—those, and only those—I have hidden away to keep in my own closet.

Something about you wearing red...for as long as I shall live, red.

--Mitchell Hegman

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Sweet Storm

Came late, evening last, a sweet storm. Our Mayday tree, now fully sleeved in white blossoms, swayed in the chill breeze, while, within the perfumed canopy, chickadees in pairs ascended branch to branch, never quite finding the correct place to land. Those very birds used to spiral down and take seeds from your hand on Saturday mornings. And though you first brought the tree home small and skinny in the backseat of your car, today, a truck would struggle to carry it away.

At long last, the low prairie flowers have burst from the tan soil: blue phlox, yellow draba, white tufted daisy. Beyond our prairie, royal blue clouds rolled-over to reveal green underbellies when they reached yet-snow-tented Elkhorn Mountains. When they fell, the first raindrops turned the soil gold where they struck, and the last flags of blue sky soon smelled of earth.

Today, I struggle to remember the everyday details of carrying on, but I am trying. The birds should be hand-fed on Saturday. The houseplants require watering on every other Sunday. White clothing should wash only with other whites and pants go into the washer inside-out but dry as you wear them. In July and August I will water the Mayday tree with an open hose just as the sun begins to rise. If rain comes then, the storms will smell of stone and wood and the incessant heat of summer will turn the green leaves red. Maybe, by then, I will learn not to look back at the bay window to see if you are watching.

--Mitchell Hegman

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Last Night, Years Ago

Last night, the near-full moon and the quiet of my house assailed me. That moon, pressed hard against my window and pouring in pewter light that converted my night table to rigid gunmetal, brought me awake. The entire room—the inside of my house—too bright. For a while, I considered dressing so I might step outside and throw stones at the face of the moon and shout against the calm. No use in that. So I simply lay there on my bed, looking at the bedding, perfectly smooth on the side where one night, years ago, I woke to find Uyen sleeping so softly, so serenely, I kissed her face without her waking or ever knowing that I had done so.

--Mitchell Hegman

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Above Sapa, Vietnam

Both of my wife's parents came from small hill-tribe villages nestled in the steep Hoang Lien Son Mountains, which comprise the eastern fringe of the Himalayas near the border with China above Hanoi. The picture here, taken by me in 2009, shows the view from a hike we made to a peak above the town of Sapa. Sapa is only a dozen or so miles from the small villages in the finger valleys below where Uyen’s relatives still farm the terraced rice paddies. My wife, unable to make the hike due to her disability,

remained far below, happily visiting with an old woman selling a kind of fry bread on a street corner. I took this picture to show her what we saw from above. I imagine her there now.

--Mitchell Hegman

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Jarring Moment

At some station in life, reading the obituaries in the paper becomes something near a social necessity. You need to know which of your acquaintances or friends or friend’s family members have jumped ship in the night. Almost weekly, these days, I find people I have some sort of connection to in the obituaries. But let me assure you, nothing is more surreal, more jarring than finding your wife there.

--Mitchell Hegman

Uyen Dao Hegman (1952-2011)

The Long Goodbye:


There is no getting off the train now.  We are barreling toward the last station and the sun is dropping through orange clouds behind us.  A woman who looks eerily similar to Sylvia Plath is seated in front of us, chatting with a soldier home from war.

We flash through a gloomy city filled with dusky warehouse buildings and bruised tenements with bricks missing from the facades and corners, panes of glass gone from the windows.  The country, once we rumble out of the city, is stark mostly without trees or even a long roll of landscape.

But what if I am wrong?  What if the soldier is just now shipping off to war?


Uyen’s legs have turned into bags of sand.  She can no longer move them at all.  Her vision sometimes goes fuzzy.  She is no longer able urinate or initiate a bowel movement.  The tumors in her brain are injecting heaviness and uselessness into the rest of her body.  Still, when I glance over at her, she manages a smile.


There is no protected lee side on this island, friend.  The idea is just to hang on through the storm.


For nearly ten days I have been lifting Uyen in and out of bed, in and out of her chair, and wheeling her between the two in her wheelchair.  Today, she was at a markedly low level of function.  Mostly she slept in her chair.  We never engaged in any manner of real conversation all day…not until late this evening when I purposely glanced her way and found her eyes fixed on me.  “I’m sort of bed-ridden now, aren’t I?” she commented.

“Yes, you are,” I answered her.

“That’s not good, is it?”

“No.  You need to be upright to remain healthy.”

“Maybe tomorrow I can try to stand and walk.”

“That’s a good idea,” I affirmed.

Uyen nodded.

Tomorrow.  Then, we begin all over again.


Nope.  No walking today.  No standing upright.  Not even so much as sitting upright.  Uyen’s body has betrayed her, has become a big bag filled with Jell-O and bones.  In the last hour, she has taken to shaking.  Strangely, she feels no pain.

A few days ago, she stopped using the 3-day Fentanyl pain patches.  She blamed them for her “weakness” and inability to walk.  She blamed me for fouling her stomach by giving her some wrong pills at a bad time of day.  In truth, the steroids are clawing at her stomach.  As for her trembling, I suspect her body is feeling pain and reacting to it.  I sat beside her and reasoned as best I could.  “Maybe,” I suggested, “the shaking is your body telling you that you are in pain, like the way you spasm when your legs sense something.”

Nice try on my part.

Amazing, that she feels nothing of the cancer that has ravaged her from head to toe.  Not even a slight headache.  Today, however, is the first day she didn’t smile at me.  Not a single smile all day.


We are not in this lovely sunset evening together.  She has no desire to talk, but she is not asleep, lying supine in her bed.  Sometimes, I simply sneak into the bedroom sit in a chair beside her.  Her eyes fall open and remain that way.  She looks up long at the ceiling but is obviously seeing something either nearer or far more distant and immense than that.

This morning, Millissa, her hospice nurse, asked me if I had told her that it was okay for her to leave.

“She still thinks that she is staying,” I answered.  “I can’t be the one to say otherwise.”

She would never forgive me for that betrayal.  Not me.  I can’t be the one to cheat her out of this life we shared.  I thought, as Millissa went into the bedroom to talk with Uyen alone, about The Jilting of Granny Weatherall, the famously grim short story written by Katherine Anne Porter. 

We are not entering the pink house.  We are not ascending the verdant hill.  We are not so many things.


Did someone else say that God sometimes wields a sledgehammer…or was that me?


Uyen has developed catlike behaviors—not the quirky leaps and quickness, not the sharp eyes—rather, she has reached the far end of the feline spectrum.  I sometimes enter her room and find her eyes open, but both unfocused and unflinching.  She now refuses food and pills and will sip only the sparest amount of water.

Cats do that.  Cats do that and I know the reasons why.


Uyen’s brother called from Vietnam.  I can’t understand anything he says.  Though I hated to do so, I took the phone into Uyen’s room and pressed it against her cheek.  “I think it is your brother.  You need to talk with him, I can’t.”   They spoke only a few words.  She told him that she was not doing well at all.


Uyen said today that she wants to fall asleep and not wake up again.  “I am tired of people fussing over me,” she added.

The quiet and the unease are long. 


Mother’s Day.  Helen missed her connecting flight in Denver.  All the way from London and through New York, only to have a connection in Denver monkey-wrench the trip home to see her mother.  As I write this, she is driving home through Wolf Creek Canyon, having caught a flight to Great Falls, ninety miles north of our home. 

A few minutes ago, I heard Uyen moaning, which has become her signal that she wants something.  Usually she wants water.  For a while I could hold a straw to her lips and she would draw water from a glass.  Once she failed at that, I took to pouring sips in her mouth with a tiny medicine cup.  When I rushed to Uyen’s side to see what she needed, she issued the first full sentence of the day.  I didn’t understand her at first and asked her to repeat.  “I need to be stirred up,” she said.

“Stirred up?”  I leaned in closer.  “Do you want me to move you in the bed?”

“Stirred up…yeah.”

In spite of circumstances, we both laughed.

“Okay, dear, I’ll stir you up.”


Helen arrived home, went to Uyen’s bedside, wished her mother a “happy Mother’s Day,” and burst into tears.


Early this morning, I dragged a blanket and some pillows into Uyen’s room and I curled up on the floor just so I could listen to her breathing.  Roxie, her little cat, has been sleeping one her bed most of the day, purring.

Today, we began a new phase.  I am to make my dear wife vanish one drop at a time.  I am the one giving her liquid morphine and ativan.  Each drop I give makes her vanish a bit deeper inside.  She has stopped moaning for more water.  From the outside, I make giving her the drops look easy, like feeding a saved bird or a bunny, but only I know that each clear droplet weighs a full ton.  Each drop crushes both of us.


Outside, in the pre-dawn indigo, the new grass looks black.  The mountains are gray.  So dawns the most quiet and desperate day.


Somewhere near 1:30 this morning, something took me back into Uyen’s room.  Something about her breathing.  The short draw.  The long holding silence.  I stood beside her for a while.  I kissed her cheek.  I touched her hand with a single finger.  Afraid to leave her alone again, I went out into the living room and then dragged blankets and pillows into the room so that I could nest on the floor.

I was not on the floor long before the faltering and odd rhythms of Uyen’s breathing brought me upright and beside her again.  I stood there for no more than five minutes before I left Uyen’s bedside and leaned into Helen’s room. 

“Helen.  Helen, wake up.  She is very close.”

Back in Uyen’s room we each took a side of the bed and took up Uyen’s hands.  Helen was there for only a few sparse seconds before Uyen drew in the last sweet air, gently exhaled again.  All the clocks at 2:00.  The moonshine world outside gone gray.  The silence with a new kind of weight entirely new to me and Helen.

 --Mitchell Hegman