Brother Donkey

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

1

Brother Donkey

A statue of St. Francis stands in the corner
of the roof garden. He holds out his hands
for Plaster of Paris birds to settle upon them.

St. Francis wears a brown, sack-cloth cassock
bound at the waist by a knotted, white cord.
Living birds would come to him, if he called,
but he is silent. He knows the birds by their names,
not the Latin or Spanish names, nor their names
in Mixtec or Nahuatl. He knows their true names,
their own ineffable names that grace each of them
and brightens their songs of colored glory.

Brother Sun, by day, and Sister Moon, by night,
bless him with their soft-feathered gifts of light.
Alas, he is bound to this earth by Brother Donkey,
the flesh and blood body he once wore and now
wears in effigy. Of the earth, earthy, his thoughts
are bent on beating this sackcloth body down
and raising his mind in birdsong that will reach up,
higher and higher until it achieves his Kingdom Come.

In front of him, the Bird of Paradise offers him
that which he most desires, a return to earth
in avian form, winged like a miniature angel
armed with a golden harp and an aura of song.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Brother Donkey

Masks

Mexican Mask depicting the ages of man.

Masks
Friday Fiction

I cover my face with a white mask of soap and carve intricate patterns with the razor.

… painted masks … death masks … the masks the priests wear in the pre-Columbian Oaxacan codices … the prisoner struggling … not yet fully understanding his fate … around him … animal masks … priest  masks … the jaguar cult of the regiments … they strip him down … paint his body … arm him with flowers … place him on a pedestal … from there he will dance his last dance … fight his last fight .. his destiny … like the bull in the bull ring … to die bravely showing no fear … he strikes first with the flower … his opponents strike back … one by one … with their obsidian knives … each wound a flesh wound on legs and thighs … the heart pounds … the blood flows .. faster and faster … more flowers … more knives … more blood … until almost bloodless the prisoner weakens and stumbles … rough arms seize him by the arms and legs … they carry him to the sacrificial stone … bend him over it … chest exposed … and tear the living beating heart from the cavity the carve in his chest … the severed arms and legs bounce down the temple steps to the waiting crowds … tomorrow his spirit will return as a hummingbird … and dance around the sun … for now his torn heart sizzles in the sacrificial fire … a horse’s head … teeth bared … grins from the temple walls …

My razor, held like a flower, slips and I gash my lip. The slow blood seeps through the soap streaking my mask with faint shades of pink. I shiver and stare at my reflection in the mirror. It’s a very plain face with a nose slightly larger and more hooked than it ought to be. I think of it as the prow of a ship or a bird’s beak: an eagle perhaps. My nose is very much like the nose of the man who died in the flower dance. In spite of the warmth in the room, I shiver again.

Inquisitor

Remember to scroll down to get the correct audio episode on Spotify

Inquisitor

Inquisitor

He told me to read,
and plucked my left eye from its orbit.
He slashed the glowing globe of the other.
Knowledge leaked out, loose threads dangled.
He told me to speak and I squeezed dry dust
to spout a diet of Catechism and Confession.

He emptied my mind of poetry and history.
He destroyed the myths of my people.
He filled me with fantasies from a far-off land.
I live in a desert where people die of thirst,
yet he talked to me of a man who walked on water.

On all sides, as stubborn as stucco,
the prison walls listened and learned.
I counted the years with feeble scratches:
one, five, two, three.

For an hour each day the sun shone on my face,
for an hour at night the moon kept me company.
Broken worlds lay shattered inside me.
Dust gathered in my people’s ancient dictionary.

My heart was like a spring sowing
withering in my chest
It longed for the witch doctor’s magic,
for the healing slash of wind and rain.

The Inquisitor told me to write down our history:
I wrote … how his church … had come … to save us.

Inquisitor was also a requested reading last Saturday. My promise, to put it up on the blog, with a reading in my own voice is now fulfilled. I love this poem: it speaks volumes about the Catholic Church in Oaxaca and the relationship of the Dominicans with the local people, aboriginals all and inhabitants of the Valley of Oaxaca for at least 10,000 years. The numbers represent the approximate date, 1523, of the arrival of the Conquistadores in Oaxaca, about three years after the fall of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, now Mexico City. The poem, Inquisitor, can be found in Sun and Moon and also in Stars at Elbow and Foot, both available through this link.

Impressions

Spotify:
Remember to scroll down to the appropriate audio episode.

Impressions
(Oaxaca, Mexico)

hard baked loaves of stone
hot cobbles beneath the feet
the burning street forced upwards
through shoe leather to scorch our soles
the sun’s orb an irresistible hammer
beating the strength out of the sweating body
heart sucked dry lungs shriveled

inside massive stone walls
candles crucifixes paintings of saints
statues carved wooden images
outside in the sunlight alebrijes
staring eyes wagging tails protruding tongues
their spirits breaking through the wood
turning from darkness into light

impressions a nose here
a pair of eyes there long black hair
a tree trunk swaying to the music
a black bible banged on a wooden table
a Cubist nightmare of detached body parts

multiple pin balls released in a rush
by an errant slot machine
stained glass reds blues greens
smoke from a candle twisting in air
light filtered from high windows

once open doors slowly closing
keys no longer turning in locks
unwound clocks no longer ticking
cobwebs gathering in forgotten rooms
flowers on the altars nochebuenas
with their single and double petals
crimson and cream cempasúchiles
marigolds lighting their golden
walkway to guide the dead
loved ones returning to visit the living

Click on the link below to peruse my books for sale.

Books for Sale

Memory

Spotify:
Remember to scroll down to the appropriate audio episode.

Memory

Marigolds, Oaxacan flowers
grown to guide the dead,
leave so many memories at my door.

Milk bottles placed on the concrete step:
every morning, sparrows peck holes
in the silver tops to drink the cream.

Memory:
its once open door
now slowly closes.

Keys no longer turn in the lock.
Sleep gathers in forgotten rooms,
falling like dust on silken flowers.

Shadows double themselves in the mirror:
recycled shades carve the shower’s glass.

Wary of shade and flame I bathe beneath
a dust-laden beam of sunlight.

Motes in my mind:
flesh and blood chessmen
playing their game
on checkered boards of day and night.

Fate Accompli

Spotify:
Remember to scroll down to the appropriate audio episode.

Fate Accompli

Life begins with the glow-worm of a match.
Luciérniga, Lucifer, the bringers of light.
Sun-flames flicker on the weaver’s fingers,
lighting day’s candle, bringing an end to night.

The shuttle clatters away, plotting our fate.
Tiny, we await our doom on the maker’s loom.
Wooden teeth braid each of the threads
the mid-wife will tie when she cuts the knot.

Three witches stand beside the newborn’s cradle.
One spins the yarn, one measures the thread,
the third one wields the journey-ending knife.

Infants, we walk, unwitting, our planks of fire.
We cast star-crossed shadows on cave walls.
Three witches smile as false omens forge our fate.

Ruins of the Heart

Spotify:
Remember to scroll down to the appropriate audio episode
.

Ruins of the Heart

Dusty paths meander under drifting clouds.
A worn-out, shadow rag, this ruined land.

An old man with a sly-eyed dog herds thin cows.
Threatened, I stoop and gather stones.

Moving targets, the dog, a shadow of dust
on burial mounds, wind-stirred with weeds.

Abandoned in this wilderness, a wild thorn
thrusts a spear through my derelict heart.

A rag-bag my own body, stitched together
with threads of long-forgotten tales.

Fear sets nightmare shadows dancing,
skeletons come alive on sculpted graves.

Carved faces, a woman, courted by men.
Which one captured her flowering heart?

Who pierced it with an arrow? Who scarred
her name letter by letter on this stone?

That first rock, freed from my fingers,
strikes hard on the canine’s cowardly frame,
setting earth’s shadows free to flee.

Nochebuena

IMG0034_1.jpg
Poinsettia is called nochebuena in Oaxaca.
It also means ‘Christmas Eve’ in Spanish.

Spotify:
Remember to scroll down to the appropriate audio episode.

Nochebuena

Nochebuena / Christmas Eve:
last year, a star fell down the chimney
and landed on the poinsettia.
The cat and the dog stood up to deliver
new versions of their Christmas vision.
Birch bark: ghosts on the snow bank turned
white in the moonlight as they danced,
so slender and so bright.

This year an obsidian knife
hacks through my mind
slicing it into two uneven pieces.
Snowflakes invade its split personality.
Thin ice spreads across glacial fires.
Incarcerated birds sing deep in my rib cage.
A child’s world: with its lost toys lies
buried beneath fresh snow.

Tears freeze in my eyes,
drip from my eyelashes,
and fall to the earth as stars.
Soon I will be an enormous sunflower,
trapped in this wet clay rag of a body.

If I sit here in silence
will the world, like a garden
growing wild, go on without me?
The flowers in my yard close
their mouths and refuse to answer.

Obsidian’s Edge

Obsidian’s Edge
From morning to night
a day in Oaxaca

To purchase this book click on the following link

Obsidian’s Edge Print

Obsidian’s Edge Kindle

Obsidian’s Edge started out as At the Edge of Obsidian and was the second volume in the Oaxacan Trilogy (Sun and Moon, At the Edge of Obsidian, Obsidian 22). When I republished it in Create Space (now Kindle / KDP) I rewrote the last two volumes and turned them into a single book, Obsidian’s Edge, so that the Oaxacan Trilogy is now a Oaxacan Duology. My apologies to those who are eagerly awaiting the third book in the series.

Early Morning in Oaxaca

… dream worlds circle outside my bedroom window … starry sky … two full moons floating, one real, one mirrored in the glass …  inside the bedroom, tulips inscribe red gashes on white-washed walls … sharp fingernails scrape across paint, blood red shadows trickle down to the floor …
            … above the azotea, the temples of Monte Albán string out their sheets on the sky’s washing-line, glowing in the moonlight … against a background of granite and stucco, trenchant shadows sculpt dancers into grotesque, pipe-wire shapes as they struggle to escape their carved imprisonment …
            … priests in long black robes gape at the night sky. From their sanctuary in the observatory, they plot how they will persuade the people to believe the future they will foretell as night’s giant finger herds the wild-cat stars …
… three young women walk at an angle up the temple steps … when they reach the top, a moonbeam holds them in its spotlight and they wax with the full moon’s beauty …  the doorway to an unclosed grave opens its crocodile jaws and the three women descend the temple steps, ageing as they walk … at the temple’s foot, they enter the tomb’s dark mouth … an old man in a faded grey suit walks behind them … the grave swallows them all, burying them in the hidden depths beneath the mound …
            … dreams back themselves into a cul-de-sac, a wilderness of harsh black scars … an ancient Aztec god catches Rabbit by his ears and throws him against the second sun that sizzles in the sky … his sharp teeth burrow, burying themselves deep in the sun-fire’s light … the second sun loses its glow and turns into the moon’s cold stone …  the rabbit’s skull simmers in the new moon’s dwindling pool …
            With a clicking of claws, knitting needles come together to pluck me outwards from my dreams and upwards towards death’s golden guillotine that floats in the sky. The moon sharpens its knife edge on the keening wind and sets my blood tingling. I want to be free, free from those nightmares, those nocturnal visions that rise up from the past and stalk me as I lie in bed.
Drowsing, I long for the alarm clock to shuffle its pack of sleepless hours and to waken me with its piercing call as it tears me from these winding sheets, these grave clothes in which I lie. I wait for the sun to shine into my window.

Sun and Moon

Sun and Moon
Poems from Oaxaca, Mexico

is available at the following link:
Click here to purchase Sun and Moon

Introduction to Sun and Moon

Oaxaca

A city of legends where the dead walk among the living and the stones beneath your feet come alive and talk to you. A city where the animals have voices and the songs of tree and leaf can be clearly heard. A city of hallucinations and spirits, of mystery and myths, a city, young in itself, built on land so old that memories clutch at you with treacherous fingers and lay siege to your heart claiming you for their own. This is the land of Sun and Moon. Come, enter its world. Join me there, if you dare.

Meeting my father in the main square

I saw my father yesterday evening, in Oaxaca. I walked through the zócalo, opened the main cathedral doors and walked in. The doors closed behind me. I looked towards the main altar and there my father stood, motionless. The evening light shone through the engraved glass panels and illuminated him as if he were some long passed saint come back to visit me. We stared at each other, but I couldn’t open my mouth to speak. The hairs on my neck stood on end and my hands shook. When I forced my mouth open, words stuck in my throat. He wore his best grey suit over a light blue shirt and a dark blue, hand woven tie: the outfit in which I had buried him.
            Three old women, dressed in black, broke the spell. One stood in front of me and wouldn’t let me approach my father. She held a large bag of knitting in her hands and the wool spilled everywhere as she pushed me away. The second threatened me with a pair of scissors that she held in her left hand and thrust towards my face. The third smacked a tailor’s measuring rod against my father’s head.  He nodded, smiled sadly, and they all turned their backs on me and hurried away out of the cathedral and into the square.
            Just for a moment, I stood there in silence. Then I pulled the doors open and ran in pursuit of my father. The setting sun filled the square with shadows that whispered and moved this way and that, as if a whole village had come down from the hills to walk beneath the trees and dance in the rays of the dying sun. I stood on the cathedral steps and called out my father’s name, but I could see no sign of him among the cut and thrust of the shadowy crowd.
            I ran out into that crowd and pushed at insubstantial people who stood firm one moment and then melted away the next like clouds or thick mist. I came to a side street and saw real people, flesh and blood beings, a group of villagers gathered behind their band. I stopped and as I did the village elder put a live match to the taper of the rocket that he clutched between his thumb and forefinger. The taper caught on fire and the rocket soared upwards with a searing whoosh. The village band marched forward and started to play a traditional dance as the rocket clawed its way into the sky to explode with a loud knock on the door of the gods.
            Tired of grasping at shadows and afraid of this living phalanx of men that marched towards me I went back to the cathedral and knelt at the altar of La Virgen de la Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca. Real wax candles stood before her altar, not tiny electric lights, and I inserted five pesos in the slot, took a taper, and lit a fresh candle from an ageing one that had started to sputter. I knelt and, for the first time in years, I prayed. I prayed for the soul I had saved from extinction by lighting my candle from another’s flame. I prayed for my father and my mother and, above all, I prayed for myself.
            On the way home to my second-floor apartment where I live alone, I bought two litres of mescal, one to send me to sleep, and the other so I would survive the next morning.