Obsidian’s Edge 16

4:00 pm

Siesta
&
Dream

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1

Sweet wet bark bleeds until sack-
cloth binds the wounded rowan.

Claws trapped in the sacking, the sap-
sucker family points accusatory beaks.
They have fluffed up their feathers.

Red beads on the mountain ash: the young girl
offers me a rosary of bright red berries.

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Bitter on the tongue,
sunset’s first flourish tinting my dream.


2

Tochtli gnaws at the moon’s white skull.
Murciélago exits his cave with night
tightly wrapped beneath his wings.
Tezcatlipoca: a stone knife in an iron hand.

At the cathedral’s shallow edge,
the golden tree bends like a rainbow,
exposing its roots as the end draws near.

Cycle upon cycle: dead men’s gifts,
these spirits walking over night’s waters.

The dream cat’s round green eye
staring out of the window,

willing this willow pattern world

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to end its cat and mouse game:

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darkness within darkness.

Obsidian’s Edge 13

2:00 PM
In the zócalo

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1

Three brujas:
one spins the yarn,
one measures the cloth,
one wields the black obsidian knife,
trimming each tiny thread.

Infinitesimal clockwork figures
balancing on wool,
their mouths opening
and closing, silent, like goldfish.

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Wooden teeth comb each thread,
the shuttle always moving,
weaving whose fate?

Interlaced castillos,
scintillating cities,
grecas floating lighter
than this relámpago
lightening the air.

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2

Or you can start with the glow-
worm of a match – luciérniga,
Lucifer – the bringer of light.

High flames flickering
on zopilote’s wings
bring an end to darkness.

Women at their chimeneas
breathe fire into shavings,
a red glow into charcoal,
flame into fire hungry bark.

Watch the new life kindle the clouds,
the new day walking its plank of fire.

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Your shadow on the wall:
a new star rising
among star-crossed generations.

Obsidian’s Edge 6

10:00 am
Dark is her Shop

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1

I buy two liters of white mescal,
cheap and rough,
without the second brewing:
fire water, not smooth.

Two liters:
she sells them in
an old Coke bottle
she’ll seal with cellophane,
and a rubber band.

Six worms I buy.
Bedraggled fighters
dragging smoky trails
as they plummet
through a yellow sea.

2

In the shop next door
I buy poinsettias.
When I get home,
I put them in a vase
and watch them watching me.

Red poinsettias:
bloodstains scratching
a white-washed wall.

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Misshapen gems
in a ceramic prison,
their beauty
breaks me down:
decimated words,
worlds
born from mescal.

3

The eyes I see
are not eyes
because I see them:
they are eyes because

… twin brown ovals …

they watch me
as they float in a liquid mirror
within the upraised glass.

4

Outside,
beyond the balcony,
sun blood melts
like sealing wax.

The bougainvillea
strains sharp stains
through a lonesome
slice of sunlight
giving birth to
flamboyán and tulipán.

5

My lemon tree
leans over to listen.
Glistening pearls of dew
embellish its morning throat.
Christmas decorations
these postage stamp songbirds
thronging each twitching branch.

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Butterflies,
winged flakes of archaic paint,
flutter from temple walls
leaving them barren and bare.

Church towers,
strong when terra firma shakes,
quiver insubstantial.

Mescal melts the morning:
a quiver of shimmering air.

 

Obsidian’s Edge 5

Obsidian’s Edge 5

9:00 am
Mescal and Memory

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1

Frail old men
huddled under hand-woven blankets
sipping their morning mescal:
each face
a note book seamed with memories.

Crab apples
hastening to autumnal crispness,
their wrinkled faces,
their minds ready to tramp
the snow of today’s blank page.

Unwieldy limbs
bursting back to bloom,
flower by unyielding flower,
they squat in the square
beneath blossoming trees.

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2

Códice
characters lifted from the pages
of their pre-Columbian chronicles
and Mickey-Moused on modern walls:

Ocho Venado
framed on a restaurant menu,
Cuáthemoc
recalled on a hunded peso bill.

Cuáthemoc
has forgotten how to walk
on the burned, broken feet
that Cortés held to the fire.

Ocho Venado,
a king in his own right,
bows and bobs to tourists
in the restaurant that bears his name.

3

Colibri,
an errant, feathered knight,
whirs his wings and charges
at the sun’s twin windmills:
sun-dog ear-rings
tethered to a golden flower.

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4

Sweet flutter-by of yesterday’s butterfly:
Mescal

fragments the memory
holding it bitter between tooth and tongue.

Obisidian’s Edge 1

At the Edge of Obsidian

“everything burns, the universe flames,
nothingness burns itself into nothing
but a thought in flames: nothing but smoke”

Piedra de sol
Octavio Paz

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“todo se quema, el universo es llama,
arde la misma nada que no es nada
sino un pensar en llamas, al fin humo:”

At the Edge of Obsidian is the second book in The Oaxacan Trilogy. It was published in 2005 and outlines the events of a single day in the City of Oaxaca (Mexico). I have always loved the Medieval Books of Hours and wondered if they would transfer themselves into a book of hours based on a day in a place with which I was familiar. This is my effort to do just that. I will publish regularly from this book, beginning at the beginning with the church bells and the early morning light that waken the sleeper from his dreams.

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6:00 am
church bells

1

The alarm clock shuffles
its pack of sleeping hours:

a clicking of claws,
needles knitting outwards
towards dawn’s guillotine;

a knife edge
sharpened on this keening wind
sets my blood tingling in my toes.

Bright jungle parrot,
its querulous caged voice glimpsed
darkly through dawn’s looking glass.

2

Tochtli was caught by the ears
then thrown against the second sun
sizzling in the sky.
His sharp teeth burrowed,
burying themselves deep in the fire’s red light.
The second sun turned into the moon;
now we can see Tochtli’s face,
simmering in its dwindling pool.

Old myths, like languages,
grow legs and wander away.
They gather in quiet corners,
in village squares
where the night wind weaves
dry leaves in endless figures of eight.

 An old man now,
I dream of white rabbits,
running down tunnels,
escaping the hunter’s hands.

 3

When my dreams break up,
they back themselves into a cul-de-sac:
a wilderness of harsh black scars.

Dream words:
scalpels carving
red slashes on white-washed walls,
trenchant shadows, twisted dancers,
old warrior kings
bent into pipe wire shapes.

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 Suddenly, beneath my balcony,
the handy man
tumble-dries a tv ad
in the washing machine
of his song sparrow throat.

Codices

Re-reading the Códices

The Mixtec Códices, indigenous screen-fold books written on deer hide, 
are Pre-Columbian pictographs that record the history of the Mixtec peoples. 
There are no words: only brightly coloured scenes 
containing information about rituals, gods, heroes, and ceremonies. 
Only a few very precious documents 
(Zouche-Nuttall, Vindobonensis, Borgia etc) survived the ravages of time
 and the continued purges of the Spanish Inquisition. 
This prose-poem, self-explanatory for the main part, 
verbalizes typical symbols from the códices. 
Clearly, such symbols, as the poems suggest, are ambiguous 
and open to radically different interpretations.

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“Two breasts: one green, one yellow, symbolic of the hill where the church stands; the church itself bi-colored, strong stone walls, a spire. A large red heart symbolic of the love we bear for you, our masters. Two feet walking the path of enlightenment you opened before us; two hands pointing the way. The feet below the heart; the hands above the heart, like wings; and the heart becomes the body of the new place you have built for us. And in the heart is our sacred symbol: the Earthquake, a sign of leadership and power used only by those of Royal Stature and the Noblest Blood. Attached to the heart is the Numeral One which means Lord of the Earthquake; for you are Number One in our Hearts. Attached to the heart is a speech scroll showing felicitous words of praise; below it is the sacred earthworm, and beneath that the serpent head of wisdom and the flint knife promising strength through sacrifice.

But be wary: for our symbols are double-edged!

The colors of the hill are divided, as the hill is divided, showing strife and division. The church is on top of the hill, for the symbol has conquered the people, and the people are starving, subject, and destroyed. The feet are pointing in opposite directions, for the people are stalled. They have no forward movement, nor will of their own. For they are conquered by the sword and not by love. And the hands are pointing in opposite directions; for the right hand knows not what the left hand is doing. And the hands are reversed showing anguish and distress. The sign of the heart is the sign of the disembodied heart, torn from the heaving chest of the vanquished and thrown to the dogs. The sign of the earthquake is also the sign of movement. And that movement is a bowel movement. And one movement in the middle of the sacrificed heart is the victor excreting on the vanquished and treating them with scorn and contempt. The scroll protrudes from the nether part and says that the victors are speaking words of excrement, that verbal diarrhea issues from their lips. And the serpent has no feathers; it cannot fly. It is as a snake treacherous and bitter, crawling on the ground. The head of the serpent is two tongued and tells of treachery and of deceit. The flint is attached to a heart; it speaks of the heart that is as hard as flint, knowing no mercy.

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And at the end that heart will receive no mercy in its turn.”