05 April 2018
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax,
of cabbages and kings,
and if the sea is boiling hot,
and whether books have wings.”
Downsizing: such a sad time. Over the last few weeks we have slowly and steadily packed seventeen boxes with a part of our precious book collection. We are giving it to the Harriet Irving Library at the University of New Brunswick, our local provincial university. The collection contains several specialist areas including Mexico, the State of Oaxaca, and five pre-Columbian Mixtec codices, the 1492-1992, quincentennial facsimile editions. Today the Mexico collection, minus the codices (which we will deliver later, by hand), departed.
Their departure has left an emptiness on our shelves and a sadness in our hearts. Old friends, they are. We sought for them in Oaxaca, chasing through old books stores, market places, state institutions, and the houses of friends. The result: a steady accumulation of literary gems. Clare, in particular, took a delight in the codices, learning first to read them, then to analyze them. Much of the Mexican collection centres on how to interpret these precious documents, one of which still bears the burn marks where a wise priest drew the manuscript codex from the Inquisitional flames and saved it for posterity.
When the Mexican collection settled down in the boxes, a little space remained and we filled one box with the first set of books from our Quevedo collection. This was La Perinola, the Revista de Investigación Quevediana. I lay awake most of the night agonizing on whether or not I should let this review series go. Then, at 4:00 am, I got up, put on my dressing gown, went downstairs and photographed the Perinola, in all its glory. When this was done. I returned to bed and was finally able to fall asleep.
The Perinola meant (and still means) so much to me. I still remember the thrill of being asked to sit upon the consejo honorífico, the only Canadian scholar, and one of only two Anglophones to be so honoured, my external reader being the other. To read my name next to that of the external examiner for my doctoral thesis on the love-poetry of Francisco de Quevedo (University of Toronto, 1975) was, and still is, an extraordinary honour. I still get butterflies when I see my name attached to this review. The butterflies settled, bit by bit, as I realized that I could preserve my personal memories with a photo while donating the series to the greater glory of Quevedo Studies in the wider world of Hispanic Academia.
Sun and Moon 3
at midnight Serpent slithers through
a gap in the fence of my dream
he slides close to my shivering body
and lies there chill against my skin
his length – a sword without a scabbard
unscaleable wall of unblemished steel
severing all warmth
“Tomorrow,” he says, “I will take you to the sky.
But first, you must watch me dance.”
he twists in circles winding and unwinding
infinite loops and figures of eight
endless cat’s cradle of bottomless shape
sleep draws my feet deeper into quicksand
the night wind whispers me a head full of dreams
Sun and Moon 1
Last week an old man squeezed the moon;
tonight, she’s a shrunken orange in the sky.
“Tell me, Moon:
when all the stars have been caught in my net,
what will I harvest?”
Silence descends a ladder of moonlight
bearing an offering of gift-wrapped stars.
“Wise Old Woman who lives in the sky:
what man tore your bones apart
and gave me your face?”
Dead leaves rush out through my eyes.
My hands stretch out before my face
and I wash them in moonlight.
“One day, I’ll climb to your silver palace
and steal all your secrets.”
Comment: Sun and Moon 2 (as sung by Cat Leblanc) is introduced and complemented by Sun and Moon 1. These are the first two poems in the ten poem title sequence of Sun and Moon. The eagle costumes, shown in the photo, belong to the original dance sequence from Sun and Moon as performed on Monte Albán.
Sun and Moon 2
Eagle paints my eyes with daylight.
He offers to fly me to the sky.
His feathers trap sunshine in his pinions.
Morning is a rebozo draped over his plumage.
“My mother is blind,” says Eagle.
“Her sight: cold ashes in the fireplace.
Stripped of her dreams,
she wanders in darkness.
You must give her
the fire from your eyes!”
Tiger offers to carry me to the sky.
Flame speckles his pelt.
His eyes are two scorched blocks of charcoal.
“I will break the bread of your bones,” says Tiger,
“and warm myself on the fire of your blood!”
Serpent offers to bear me to the sky.
His scales are shards of emerald and ruby.
His serpent’s blood runs cold through his veins.
He weighs me in the twin dice of his eyes.
“Where I lead you must follow,” Serpent says.
“There is no other price.”
Comment: Here as promised are the words to yesterday’s song as composed and sung by my good friend Cat Leblanc. This is the second stanza from the ten poem title sequence of Sun and Moon. Here is the link.
… where Alonso waited for them.
“Good morning,” Alonso limped towards them.
“Still hurting, I see,” El Brujo placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder and Alonso grimaced. “But don’t worry, it won’t be long now.”
“That’s easy to say. You’re not the one who’s suffering.”
“Not visibly, no; but underneath the surface I am a volcano, about to boil over,” El Brujo sighed and turned towards Tim. “Are you ready?”
“I suppose so. But I’ve brought nothing with me.”
“Don’t worry. Everything will be provided.”
They walked into the bath house and the attendant behind the desk greeted them.
“A new friend,” said El Brujo, pointing to Tim. “He’s on my account. And he’ll want a massage.”
The attendant gathered soap and towels, then signaled for them to enter the baths.
“Follow me,” said Alonso. He limped forward and Tim walked after him.
“Tonight,” El Brujo whispered to the attendant as soon as they had gone.
“You’re not thinking of …” the attendant raised his eyebrows.
“I’m not thinking of anything yet,” El Brujo silenced him with a gesture. “Here, take these herbs and add them to the herbal mixture in the baths, will you?” El Brujo passed a small packet to the attendant. “And don’t let us be disturbed. As for tonight … I think we’re running out of time … who knows?”
“I’ll close the doors when you’ve gone in,” the attendant smiled. “Nobody will disturb you.”
“Thank you, my friend,” El Brujo shook the attendant’s outstretched hand and followed the others into the Baths.
Tim undressed and folded his clothes with care. Then he forced his watch, his wallet, and the medallion into the toe of his left shoe. Clad only in the paper-thin, skimpy towel and grasping his bar of soap, he opened the door of the cubicle and stepped out into the unknown.
He looked down and saw a line of painted footprints and a hand that pointed … just like the codices he thought … and followed the footprints to a door from which steam leaked. He opened it and stepped into a room as warm as a greenhouse that smelled of herbs and flowers. A thick steam circulated and Tim thought of cool summer tides rising over sun-warmed sands. Indistinct figures floated through the mist and one of these lurched towards him.
I knew it was you,” the figure drew closer. “Come and join us.” Alonso took Tim by the arm and presented him. “Here he is.”
El Brujo, stripped naked, with his long black hair hanging dank below his shoulders, loomed out of the steam and embraced Tim.
“How do you feel?”
“I’m okay, I guess.”
“In here we are all the same,” El Brujo proclaimed. “There are no secrets. We are as naked in body and soul as we were when we abandoned our mother’s body.”
… soft warm air … moving delicate fingers of scented mist over the belly … floating on air … drifting across the room …the return to a surrogate womb cradled in an ocean of amniotic fluid … steam and herbs filling the lungs … reaching relaxing tendrils deep into heart and chest …
In what seemed another life, a door opened in the herbal mist and a man stepped through.
“Who wanted a massage?” he called.
“This one,” said El Brujo, pointing at Tim. “Here, grab your towel and your soap, and off you go,” El Brujo pushed Tim towards the masseur who led him out of the darkness into a brightly lit wide-awake room. The masseur, squat, dark-skinned, and scarred, looked like a judoka from the old school built for close in body-work. He pointed to the hooks on the wall and Tim hung his towel on one of them.
“Soap,” the masseur had the voice of a parade ground sergeant major and Tim snapped to attention and handed him the bar of soap. Then the masseur pointed to the marble slab in the middle of the room and Tim climbed on to the slab and lay there face down. The masseur began by soaping Tim’s body; then using the tips of his fingers, he moved across his back, digging in deep at any sign of resistance. Next came a series of karate chops and the remaining hardness in Tim’s body started to break down. The masseur hummed as he moved and drove each note home with a pounding that made his patient feel that he was the piano and the masseur was the maestro, rippling the keyboard with manipulative fingers.
This is what Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony must feel like, in the Liszt transcription, Tim mused, as the pounding accelerated and he was swept away, a rudderless ship on a stormy sea of carnal music.
“There, you’re done,” the masseur made one last sweeping movement across Tim’s body and moved away from the massage table. “Stay as long as you want and get up in your own time. There’s no hurry. I’ll tell El Brujo you’re on your way.”
Suspended in space, somewhere between earth and heaven, Tim lay motionless on the slab as images flashed through his mind.
… a face from the crowd … lighting up in sudden recognition … a man in a blue suit lying in a coffin … hands folded on his chest … eyes closed … a woman … somewhere … running … with a baby in her arms … snow falls like interference on an old black and white television set … a bridge now … and a river … snow falling into the river … a young girl … three old women … two standing between her and the river … one holding out her hands … the child transferred from young hands to old … the young girl … tears streaking her face … her face as cold as stone … as hard as obsidian … the young girl … an arm waves above the waters … the dark closes in … close up of a snake skin … slither marks in the dust where the snake has slipped away …
Tim tumbled down from a high blue sky and returned to the normal world. After a little while, still dizzy and dreaming, he got to his feet, stumbling and disorientated. Then his sense of balance returned and he walked out through the door and back into the steam room.
“Now it’s time to meditate and dream,” El Brujo greeted him. “Here, this slab is reserved for you. Don’t worry. We won’t be disturbed. There’s only you, me, and Alonso.”
Tim climbed onto the slab and lay on his back. Herbs, magic, mists and healing powers: they wafted their way through his lungs, filling him with a strange and languid lassitude. The lower half of his body unwound and the knots in the muscles untied themselves one by one. He felt as if his body no longer belonged to him.
“Now,” El Brujo lowered his voice until it was scarcely more than a whisper. “Just lie there, without moving. Try to empty your mind of all thoughts and feelings. Just imagine the herbal mist filling your whole body with the lightness of clouds.”
Tim did as he was told and felt himself filling with a peace that he hadn’t felt in years. Weight fell away from his body, and light, he wanted to float away on the air to be dissolved into streamers of mist.
… wrapped in a cloud of unknowing … drifting in cotton wool… damp and grey … clammy … hot spots … cold pools … a ray of sunlight almost piercing the cloud … light fading … shadows … at the eye’s corner … half-glimpsed shapes … sounds … half heard … a grey sea on a cloudy day … movement … a dull glow … distant lava flowing warm from a subdued volcano … a wild beast slinking … chained within the mist … a kaleidoscope of colors … fists over the eyes … pressing … two eyes … fierce … smoking … the stuff of nightmares … a cold hand seeking … eyes like gimlets … piercing the body … examining the soul … dragging the heart upwards into the mouth … figures walking a tightrope of tapestry thread … a life spun out … too distant to make out … knots and tangles … a skein of memory … shanks of thought … fire and blood … the mist stained … a deep male voice … not now … not now … but soon … cold ice … hot fire … the slash of Huitzilopochtli’s obsidian knife …
… the mists buck and twitch … an ancient movie with no soundtrack … a dusty road winds across a flat plain below a high mountain … a black figure … a man striding along the road … four Golden Eagles circle … they spiral upwards in ever increasing circles … feathered stones cast in an aerial pond …
… a dust path … a man walking towards an old village … houses slumbering beneath the sun … cast shadows … open doors … villagers calling out to him as he passes through …
.. . an upright man young with no limp … the heart of the village … he sits below the central cross … flowers, pink roses play where Christ’s body should hang … time passes … three old women walk towards the man … they greet with an affectionate embrace …
… thunder clouds build … a bolt of lightning descends and strikes the cross … the cross splits in two halves … one half falls to the ground … lightning stabs like a spear … wounds the young man in the right thigh … plunges its electric sword deep into his flesh yet leaving no visible scar … the light fades swiftly … when it returns … mounds of rubble and dust … the young man limps away … one half of the broken cross lies heavy on his shoulder …
…two hands grip the mist and tear it apart … a painted face emerges … striations … alternate black and yellow bands … the wasp god … Tezcatlipoca bares his teeth …. a fierce all-devouring smile … teeth … sharp and filed … stars surround the god of the night sky … words celebrate the god of ancestral memory … he is the embodiment of change through conflict … discord … enmity … sorcery … strife … words flow effortless from his mouth … “I am he for whom you must die.”
… this is the god of the smoking mirror and of the broken foot … his feet are shrouded in mist … an obsidian mirror hangs from his chest … snakes of smoke writhe within it … within the mirror is movement but no face and no future …
… words and images lick at Tim’s chest like tongues of fire … smoke straggles up from where his chest hairs sizzle and burn and he knows that he is doomed … yet he still has something to do and some time to live … he stares into the smoking mirror and sees his own reflection… in his hand he holds his broken medallion and then he sees, suddenly, at the edge of his vision, the other half held in someone else’s hand … the other medallion swings like a pendulum poised to hypnotize …
the image fades and Tim is left stranded in the darkness of the mis … an unspeakable hollowness fills him and he knows that something terrible and fierce has entered his life … the mists thin to reveal a barren inner city landscape … snow streaks white lines against black clouds … three old women emerge from the darkness …one carries a bundle, wrapped in a blanket … she peels back the edge to reveal the tiny face of a new born child … the lady with the scissors snips the frail, thin thread of red wool that binds the infant’s wrist … the lady with the spindle spins a longer thread … the lady with the measuring rod measures it then twists the thread round and round the baby’s wrist … scissors snip it … fingers tie the loose ends into a bow …
the lady with the spindle kisses the child then leaves it wrapped as well as she can in a cardboard box on a set of steps leading to a massive wooden door … she steps up to the door and tugs at the doorbell … lights appear … a nun opens the door and sees the cardboard box … her eyes open wide and her arms fling upwards as she discovers the child abandoned there on the doorstep … she puts her hand against her forehead and squints into the night … three sets of footsteps lead away from the door … but nobody is there ….
the scene changes … a river and a bridge … a young girl poised on the parapet … she flings herself into the water and disappears into the night … snow continues to swirl … a set of footsteps leads to the bridge … but none return …
“Come back to us when you are ready,” El Brujo’s voice penetrated the illusion. “Take your time. Sit up slowly, then get up when you are done.”
Tim got to his feet. The mist seemed thicker now, and heavier. Memories of all he had seen tumbled through his mind as he tried to maintain his hold on reality.
“Whatever you saw belongs to you and is yours and yours alone,” El Brujo snapped his fingers and Tim shuddered. “Treasure it. Interpret it as you will. The more you perform this exercise, the clearer the visions will become and the more they will speak to you. We cannot live in those lands but we can visit them at will. When we are skilled enough, we can interpret their meaning. Until then, the visions are just signposts.”
“How long was I dreaming?”
“What makes you think you were dreaming? Time has no meaning in the other land. Objective time, the time that runs by in the real world, rarely changes. But the subjective time of the mist is different for each one of us,” El Brujo had a dreamy expression on his face. “Sometimes, it feels as though it can last for years.”
“I’ll see you tonight then?” Alonso turned towards El Brujo.
“Tonight it is.”
“And I’ll see you this afternoon,” Tim said to Alonso. “We’re going to Mitla this afternoon, aren’t we?”
“That’s partly why I’m here,” Alonso looked troubled and, eyebrows drawn together in a frown, he weighed his words with care. “I’m sorry, I can’t make it this afternoon. I’ll send one of my assistants around in the car. Don’t worry, whoever I send will know as much as I do, if not more. And I’ll be there this evening. Don’t forget, then,” Alonso patted Tim on the arm. “1:00 pm sharp, at your apartment. Just wait outside the front gate and someone will drive by and pick you up.”
“How will I know which car it is?”
“Don’t worry. It’ll be an official car and I’ll tell them to honk the horn. Come along now.”
The three men left the steam room together. Behind them, the mists gathered into little groups that vibrated with energy and life.
Tim walked up the street towards the centre of town, moving slowly, from window to shop window, still hesitant to go to the baths. A craft shop packed with bric-à-brac and old curiosities caught his attention. The shop held an irresistible sense of mystery and he tried to look in but couldn’t see much through the dust and cobwebs. He opened the door and copper goat bells jangled. An old man, dressed in an artist’s smock, emerged from a room behind the counter.
“Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“I’m not sure. May I look around?”
“Of course you may.”
The old man’s eyes followed Tim as he walked from shelf to shelf and examined the dusty objects. A figure of the Spanish knight, Don Quixote, built from scrap metal sat on the reinforced toe of a workman’s boot. Tim marveled at the artist’s innovative use of recycled materials: valves soldered together with nuts and bolts and springs.
“Did you make this?”
The artisan nodded and smile. Tim took the medallion out of his shirt where he had hidden it next to his skin and showed it to the shop keeper.
“Have you ever seen anything like this before?”
The artisan’s eyes narrowed and he shook his head.
“I’m looking for the other half. Could you make one for me?”
“Why?” Tim offered it to him for closer inspection, but the artisan threw up his hands and backed away.
“I don’t need to look closer. I can’t help you.”
“I need to repair the medallion.”
“I can do nothing for you.”
“Then what do you suggest?”
“Go to El Brujo. He’s the only one who can help you.”
Door bells jangled and the shop door opened.
“Speak of the devil ….” the artisan looked relieved. “It’s the man himself.”
“My ears were burning,” El Brujo‘s eyes held a mischievous twinkle.
“Here he is,” the artisan turned to Tim. “You can ask him yourself now.”
“Ask me what?” El Brujo stared at Tim who turned red in the face as he pushed the medallion back under his shirt.
“It’s nothing,” Tim readjusted the buttons.
“You won’t find it here.”
“The other half of your medallion; have patience, my friend. It knows that you are searching for it. It will be drawn to you, never fear. The baths are across the road, incidentally. Alonso told me you might go there this morning. I’ll go with you.”
“But I thought you were going to Yalalag; I saw you on the bus this morning. You spoke to me.”
“Indeed I was and indeed I did. But I got off the bus, didn’t I? And you didn’t understand me when I spoke to you, did you? So I’m here, now; where I’m needed. Come along. Let’s go.”
He nodded to the artisan.
“Adiós, Pepito. Thanks for calling me. By the way, have you thought about that offer I made you?”
“I have indeed.”
“And your answer?”
“I think you know what I will say.”
“I do. But you must make up your mind quickly. The circle is broken and we must rebuild it.”
“When I am needed, I will be there.”
“You will be needed tonight.”
“Then I’ll be there.”
El Brujo and Tim exited the shop together, crossed the street, and walked towards the baths …