for John Sutherland

John and I were talking about the rare Gazunda tree the other afternoon. I had forgotten that I had indeed written abut the Gazunda trees that flourish in the zócalo in Oaxaca, Mexico. Oaxaca is a magic place, full of mystery and myth and the myth of the Gazunda tree is not well known outside the confines of the city. I was so pleased to discover this account, written many years ago, when I first became associated with the Escuela de Idiomas attached to the Unversidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (UABJO).

Much remains to be written about my experiences in Oaxaca and I hope to have a collection of prose poems completed fairly soon. They are golden oldies, but like many golden oldies, they are also golden goodies. The Gazunda trees are very welcome when it rains, but they should be avoided, for obvious reasons, during thunder and lightning storms. Then, nobody Gazunda them. By the way, if you do visit the zócalo in Oaxaca, or anywhere else in Mexico, after heavy (or light) rain, be sure to test the seat of your chair before you sit in it. If you don’t, you will soon find out why all the waiters and waitresses have that open, friendly smile the tourists love so much.


Ay Ay Ayeres

Digging around in the photo files that I transferred from my old computer to my Google drive, I discovered this golden oldie composed of my words and Clare’s images. What a revelation: I had completely forgotten that this group of work existed. I’ll dig them out ne by one and post them from time to time. Ayer is the Spanish for yesterday, hier in French. The title “Ay! Ay! Ayeres!” with its multiple plays All our yesterdays and its reference to the old song “Ay, ay, ay, canta no llores” draws together a series of memories, some in the past and some in the future. ‘How can we have a memory in the future?’ you ask. By recognizing a present moment, or one that lies just ahead in a future that ill become soon enough a present, as one that has already occurred in the past, thus confirming the circularity of our lives and the idea that all time is time present, one of T. S. Eliot’s recurring themes.

Ocho Venado: Eight Deer is a central figure (war leader) in the Zouche-Nuttal, a pre-Columbian Mixtec Codex. He is the war leader in the Conquests recorded in the codex (circa 1050-1100).
Quesadillas: Oaxacan tortillas filled with cheese and flores de Calabaza, gourd flowers.
Reyes Magos: the three wise men or kings who visited the Christ Child on January 6, the traditional Spanish Christmas.
Murcielago: the bat and a symbol of death in Oaxacan mythology.
Nueve Viento: Nine Wind descends from heaven to separate the sky from earth and its waters. Nine Wind at Tule meeting with Cortes is mythical not historical, though the meeting of Cortes with the Mixtec chiefs (caciques) did happen.
Apoala: The Mixtec nation was born form a cave (sometimes a tree) in Apoala, Oaxaca.
Spinning the wheels in the snow: a reference to Jean Chretien and one of his famous images.

The piece is written in a surrealist style that mixes historical fact with creative writing. The distant past is recalled (1050-1100), then the middle past (1525-1530), and finally the present appears. This mixing of time and place (Mexico and Canada) is also related to the surrealist movement. Surrealism creates a dream world in which images float and change shape within a time-space conundrum where dream is more real than reality and creates its own new meanings that are individual to each reader.

Any comments on this rediscovered piece will be warmly welcomed.

Obsidian’s Edge 16

4:00 pm




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.


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


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

cat and bat 094.jpg
to end its cat and mouse game:

darkness within darkness.

Obsidian’s Edge 15

3:00 pm

Old Woman




Sandpaper wind
polishing the land
erasing its identity
as barefoot
over dust and stone
the old woman
feasts her heart
on a banquet of song.

A rag-bag her body
stitched together
by memories and bone.



She shows me fear
in these grey shadows
dancing their dust
beneath carved rocks.



Abandoned now,
visited only by ghosts,
this resurrected ball park.
Buried beneath their stones
its heroes,
the men who wooed her.

I look at carved faces.

Which one captured
her flowering heart,
pierced it with an arrow,
and scarred her name
letter by letter
on the face of this rock

Obsidian’s Edge 14

2:45 pm

Old Woman




Dusty paths
meander beneath
a drifting sun.

Shiftless ruins
cloak the land
in worn-out
shadow rags.

IMG0072_1 2.jpg

Scrawny cattle
herded by an old man
and his sly-eyed dogs:

the old woman,
stoops and picks up
a handful of stones.

Moving targets:
dust and shadows of dust.
So much stone and sand
sifted through the hand
and trodden underfoot.


In the distance,
a low mound
covered with grass and weeds:

her family’s ancestral home,
its bountiful community
abandoned to the wilderness,
to the wild thorn
thrusting its spear
through her mortal heart.

Weed-filled walls,
empty houses, ruined fields.


Wise old woman
with her hands full of stones:

that first rock
freed from her fist
booms thunder
off the sheep
in a  wolf-skin’s
cowardly frame.


Obsidian’s Edge 13

2:00 PM
In the zócalo



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.


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.



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.


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

Obsidian’s Edge 12

1:15 pm
Water 2

Water seeks its final solution as it slips from cupped hands.
Does it remember when the earth was without form
and darkness was upon the face of the deep?

The waters under heaven were gathered into one place
and the firmament appeared.
Light was divided from darkness
and with the beginning of light came The Word,
and words, and the world …

… the world of water in which I was carried
until the waters broke
and the life sustaining substance drained away
throwing me from dark to light.

The valley’s parched throat longs for water,
born free, yet everywhere imprisoned:


in chains, in bottles, in tins, in jars, in frozen cubes,
its captive essence staring out with grief filled eyes.

A young boy on a tricycle bears a dozen prison cells,
each with forty captives: forty fresh clean litres of water.
“¡Peragua!” he calls. “¡Super Agua!”

He holds out his hand for money
and invites me to pay a ransom,
to set these prisoners free.

Real water yearns to be released,
to be set free from its captivity,
to trickle out of the corner of your mouth,
to drip from your chin,
to seek sanctuary in the ground.


Real water slips through your hair
and leaves you squeaky clean.
It is a mirage of palm trees upon burning sand.

It is the hot sun dragging its blood red tongue across the sky
and panting for water like a great big thirsty dog.

Water 1 (Obsidian’s Edge 11) was published in At the Edge of Obsidian (2005). Water 2 (Obsidian’s Edge 12) was re-written earlier this year for Obsidian’s Edge. Both attempts are interesting (for different reasons) and I am wondering whether to keep both versions. Obsidian’s Edge is the continuing rewrite of the earlier book. This re-write is part of the ongoing revision of The Oaxacan Trilogy.


Obsidian’s Edge 11

1:00 PM
Water 1


Cupped hands cannot embrace you.


Do you remember when the earth
was without form, and darkness lay
on the face of the deep?

You yearned then to be released,
to flow from the darkness,
to flower in the sunlight.



Images and symbols:
flags flying within my skull.
The shrunken head pond
ringed like a bath tub;
fields scorched and dry.

The land’s parched throat
longing for liquid:
water, born free,
yet everywhere in chains.

This mirage of palm trees,
green, against burning sand.
This hot sun dragging
its blood red tongue
across a powder blue sky.

Panting for water, I lick my lips
like a great big thirsty dog.


Words begin with the “Let be!” of light —
and it divides from darkness.

Then comes the world,
the inner waters in which male
and female forms are borne;
when the waters break,
the life sustaining substance drains away,
throwing us from dark to light.

The mid-day sun rides the sky
rolling its dark ball-turret cherry:
blood red wine over and under
this double-barreled thunder cloud.


Obsidian’s Edge 10

12:15 pm
Mass In the Consolación



That young man
nailed to his wooden frame,
calling me by my name.

The boy on the cross has the wide open,
jeweled eyes of a flayed Mexican god,
living forever and never quite dead.

Black blood flows down his carved wooden face,
a river of coal dust waxed with carmine;
human hair, coffee colored skin,
the air heavy with burnt copal.


Trapped by the ring-master
in a never-ending series
of unforgiving circus acts,

my live-wire mind:
a pinball
bouncing within its triptych
from thought, to word, to deed.


Five hundred years of mixed tongues
whisper their multi-lingual
tale of a golden-haired god
walking out from ghost ships,
their illusory sails,
silhouetted in the sunrise.

Trapped beneath sultry snow,
the old god buried beneath the local volcano
belches his bitterness in lava and ash.



Obsidian 9

12:00 noon
Mass in the Consolación

This is not a normal church.
The lady in front of me opens her blouse
and offers her breast to her youngest child
who sucks there, noisily, greedily.

The old man behind me
holds a roll your own smoke
in the palm of his hand
and closes his eyes in ecstasy
as he draws in the marijuana,
holding it between tongue and teeth.


Three dogs, tongues lolling, discover
the bitch in heat who came here for sanctuary.
They chase her up and down the aisle
as the high priest doggedly murmurs
the blessings that uplift faithful hearts.

I have heard these words before.
Bored acolytes pass the anointing oil,
present the sacred wine.
Flowers and candles adorn the altar.

When the old man kneels for communion,
night breath lies whisky thick
on the high priest’s tongue.


I drowse during the sermon:
sacred words, secret worlds
open like oysters;
a laying on of hands;
footsteps leading nowhere .

Seculae seculorum:
that hard, crisp sound,
white and sharp,
like the inside of an apple
when strong teeth
penetrate the outer skin.

Candle flames caress the unwary,
bringing an artificial peace.

Yellow light marches across the altar.
The room warms up with song.
Wide open staring eyes.

That young man
nailed to his wooden frame,
calling me by my name.