People of the Mist 6

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7:15 AM

Tim turned the corner away from the church and on the next street a bitter sweet smell assaulted his nostrils. An old man stood vomiting into the gutter. Behind him, holding handkerchiefs to their faces with one hand and their white night-sticks with the other, two policemen prodded the wretch, pushing him onwards, out towards the city’s edge. A small crowd buzzed around him like a cloud of flies. He lurched forward and the policemen prodded him on again. He lurched forward, a stubborn donkey provoked by a stick. The people in the street parted like a bow wave from the ship-shock of his passing.

Stunned and vomiting, sick to the core, half-blind, stinking of the worst kind of cheap mescal, he lugged himself along his personal Via Crucis, step by painful step. When he fell, the policewomen closed in, kicking and tugging him back to his feet.

… quivering nostrils … the throat blazing with its desire for lemon and lime … the jag of the salt …  the chili’s burning flame … the healing kiss of the mescal …the harsh dried husk of the twisting worm … like grit between the teeth …

The old man stood there, nailed to the cross of the sidewalk, his arms hung out on the wind to dry. A scarecrow’s clothing would be cleaner than his clothes. A Guy Fawkes figure, rags and tatters leaked out from his flimsy frame.

… the sun hangs its tail-less kite in the sky … the moon dreams her way through the heavens … an old man washes his own brain … cleanses it of myth and memory … tries to drown himself in a dark river of tears … a sad hand rises from the waves to wave farewell … in the depths of the mescal a yellow worm glides like a shark to the bottom of the bottle …

The old man seemed to walk through shallow water with the millstone of the morning after tied round his neck, a personal millstone, made to measure and grinding exceeding small. If the wearer were to wander into deep water, then it would weigh him down and he would drown.

The street people taunted him, threatened to stand him in the stocks, to strip him down to his basic elements, the heart that beats, the lungs that breathe, the white flat rib-bones that can be scarred, like paper, with the wonder of words. They threatened to stretch him on an ancient altar. They shouted that his torso’s closed flesh was ripe for the sacrificial blade, his body bent backwards, his mind dreaming of the knife’s vertical descent and horizontal slash. People cheered as the policeman’s stick with a thunderous thump flashed white lightning and pierced the mist that lay thick on the vagrant’s mind.

… one quick swallow … then another … twin promises of summer’s sun and of hope’s renewal … each thimbleful of this mouth-burning treasure, drawing warmth into the gut forcing a tear drop from the eye … bringing oblivion …  

The old man soiled the newborn day by vomiting again and drenching the street in a paper bag reality of soiled clothes and running liquid. The street people closed in, creating a moving jail and the old man shivered with laughter and spread out his arms. His round wide eyes were those of an owl about to fly into the cockcrow sun face. Then the crowd drew too close and something snapped: he roared at the stabbing fingers and pissed at the people through the bars of his cage. A beam of sunlight picked him out and, for a moment, his eyes met Tim’s. They gazed into each other’s souls and a voice rang like a bell within Tim’s head: there too, but for the gift of the gods, go you.

The policemen again stepped towards the old man but a strong, dark figure appeared between the police and their victim.

Basta, enough,” El Brujo raised his hand and the officers backed away. “I will look after him.”

El Brujo turned to the old man, wrapped his arms around him, and hugged him tight.

“You must forgive them, brother,” he spoke in a loud voice so the crowd might hear him. “They know not what they do.”

“Come, come home with me,” El Brujo waved the crowd to one side and put his arm around the old man’s shoulder. “I will help you find what you seek.”

The crowd sighed and started to break up. El Brujo and the old man walked arm in arm down the street. The police officers followed them for a step or two but the crowd gathered in behind the pair and ahead of the police, blocking their way. With a shrug of their shoulders, the uniformed officers turned back. A voice in the crowd cried out:

“¡Viva El Brujo! Make way for our saint.”

… the medallion  awoke … it ticked back into life … warm around the neck of the wearer … it moved … a pendulum swaying … side to side … white lightning … a hammer blow falling … somewhere … falling … and the ground swelling up to shake itself out … an old man … an old dog with fleas … shaking …

Well aware of the warmth he carried against his chest Tim turned away from the street scene and walked towards the apartment he now called home.

People of the Mist 4

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People of the Mist
6:30 AM

The wooden yoke of the solitary bell hanging in the tower of the church of St. James had broken long ago. The bell neither swung nor tolled when the priest pulled the rope. Every day, before morning mass, one of the altar boys climbed the tower steps, knelt beside the bell and beat it with a hammer. The bell rang out with sharp sounds that echoed the cry of a struck anvil in a hot forge where the farrier tends the horse’s hoofs. Twenty-four times the hammer struck the bell as the acolyte called the parishioners and encouraged them to come to early morning mass.

Tim visited the church from time to time, more out of curiosity than anything else. This morning, however, a sudden urge to visit washed over him. He knew that if he hurried he would get there on time, so he dressed and lumbered down to the courtyard.

Buenos días, señor,” Mario, the handyman, brush in hand, greeted him with the sunshine of a gold tooth winking among white teeth.

Buenos días, Mario.”

Señor, you’re up early. You must be going to mass. Please don’t forget it’s a pig day today.”

“I won’t forget,” Tim returned Mario’s smile and slipped out of the front gates and into the street.

Tim walked with care towards the church of St. James.  He looked down at the ground and tried to avoid the tree roots that pushed up between the paving stones on the sidewalk. The stones all lay at awkward angles and the roots crept upwards through the cracks, twisting towards the sun.

… thin clasping fingers … trying to trip the unwary … to pull them to the ground … to tug them into the darkness as they fall between the cracks in the paving stones … 

Outside the church door, two young people squatted on the ground in front of the local witchdoctor, El Brujo. The young man, eyes closed, threaded a cactus thorn through his lower lip. Dark blood oozed and, as it fell, El Brujo caught it in a little earthenware bowl. Beside him the young girl carried a flower-filled basket on her head. The aroma of the incense El Brujo burned on his fire tickled Tim’s nostrils.

… light are the flowers … heavy cruel stones lie beneath them and weigh the basket down … twelve girls in floral dresses stand outside the church of the Soledad… they pick up their baskets … place them on their heads … hand on hip one arm swinging free they wait for the high priest to bless them … then they start their pilgrimage … twelve girls … twelve churches … each will leave a floral tribute in a church … they will continue to the cathedral where each petitioner will frame a question as she waits for the blessing … and her lips will whisper the desired prayer  …  and perhaps it will be answered … but only if the young man sheds enough blood, if the young girl carries a heavy enough weight for long enough …

El Brujo looked at Tim and snapped his fingers. Tim shook his head as he broke away from the images that danced in his head. El Brujo closed his eyes and hummed a rhythmic chant. He was about to enter a trance. Tim shrugged his shoulders, walked past the group, and stopped at the church door, hesitant. Then he took a deep breath and tugged at the oaken door.

Darkness ruled inside the church and would do so until the sun’s first rays awoke the altar’s sleeping colors. Tim had missed the start of the service. He bowed his head, looked towards the altar, genuflected, made the sign of the cross, and knelt at the back of the church. He looked at the people in front of him as they concentrated on the gestures of the priest. He also searched for the man who resembled his father, but there was no sign of him.

The early morning dream world encouraged meditation. Tim watched and dreamed as the shadows crept across the walls. A single beam of sunshine descended and the sharp blade of its heliocentric sword shattered the chapel’s onyx altar into a thousand tiny chips of stained light. A young widow knelt at the altar rail. As the piercing light struck the altar, she turned and her face was a pallid lily truncated by the sun’s pearly light. The sun’s rays placed a halo upon her head. She stood up with her hand before her face as if she were blind then lurched towards the statue of St. James, the patron Saint of this church, of the Conquistadores, and of Spain. The morning service continued as she prayed before his statue.

… St. James the Moor-Slayer … he stands on the severed heads of the Moors he has killed … behind him hands tied behind their backs dusky skinned warriors march away into slavery … the widowed supplicant kneels … her eyes are level with those of the severed heads … she stares eyeball to eyeball at a decapitated Moor … visions of the Gate of Glory in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain … pilgrim after  pilgrim lays hands upon the Tree of Jesse and forces grasping fingers into the stone … generations of pilgrim palms burrowing their way into the granite …  the supplicant’s flesh clutches the statue’s stone hand … human veins clasp cold marble in search of comfort and an oh-so-elusive warmth …

 


 

People of the Mist 3

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People of the Mist
6:15 AM

            The bitter taste of bile and vomit brought Tim face to face with to the realities of the day. He removed his soiled, sweat-soaked tee shirt and, still wearing shorts that served him as pajamas, he wandered into the kitchen and lit the gas stove. He opened the fridge. Inside, a plastic bottle of cold water, purchased from the little man in the corner shop, stared back at him. Tim poured some bottled water into an open saucepan and set it to boil.  He added two large splinters of cinnamon. When the water started to bubble, he sprinkled coffee grains on the seething liquid and waited for the grounds to settle. He brought the water back to the boil and did this two more times. When the liquid changed to the dark color he craved, he strained it through a filter into his cup. He scooped a spoonful of honey into the brew and walked across to the table where his copy of a new post-Columbian códice lay open, gazed for a moment at the colored figures in their multitude of poses, and started to read.

“Two breasts: one green, one yellow, symbolic of the hill where the church stands; the church itself bi-coloured, 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 are accompanied by 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 diarrhoea 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. And at the end that heart will receive no mercy in its turn.”

Tim stopped reading. He put his head in his hands and wild thoughts tumbled through his brain, crazy thoughts, hallucinations fueled by the mescal of the previous night.

the rabbit in the moon wears his father’s face … it perches like a scarecrow on the dead stick of a spent rocket … and the rabbit puts out the sun and causes the moon to be formed, moon-raker, moon-maker, jack rabbit, rabbit pie in the sky … and the second sun stares down now a blinded eye, unblinking … death’s face simmers in the stew pot moon and everyone seems doomed as the white rabbit scuttles down his narrow escape tube and back into his burrow high flames flicker on zopilote’s wings and bring an end to darkness … Zopilote the Trickster, the bringer of the sun’s early morning fire … Lucifer, the morning star, the bearer of light, a new star rising among star-crossed generations red scars of tulips, casting shadows on the white-washed wall, twisting shadows, shadows dancing as they struggle to take shape … three women, dancing in the limelight, and an old man, standing there, wringing his hands, then vanishing, a soap bubble, borne away on the wind … floating to where the returning warriors play their hummingbird games around the sun, … they return from their death like all the dead, here in Oaxaca … and the people placing food and drink on altars in their homes for their dearest beloveds to return once a year … down the moonlight’s marigold path, to feast and be fêted by their families … all the dead … returned …

“All the dead …?” Tim repeated the words out loud and sat upright, wide awake. He took his pen and wrote in his journal:

Things to do today:

Shopping: Bread / Newspaper / Mescal

 He stopped writing and took a sip of his coffee. He again put pen to paper.

 But this is all nonsense: I can’t believe that I saw my father last night. It couldn’t have been him. I buried him a long time ago and a long way away. What did I see then, a living man, a man who looked like him? But he was wearing the shirt and tie in which I buried my dad, so it had to be him. And who was following El Brujo and Alonso this morning? I just don’t understand. I know they told me the mescal would get to me and give me hallucinations and strange dreams, but surely not so soon. Dreams , visions, or hallucinations: there are so many things I want to know.

The Thin Man

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The Thin Man

The thin man
looks out of his window
and watches the leaves
as they twist and fall
like they did last autumn.

Golden carpets
spread across the grass
while under the lindens
the slender hands of children
crush flowers into perfume
and interlace bright
threads into tapestries
woven with light.

Will the thin man
give up his secret?

It cannot be clutched
by the camera’s artificial eye,
by the painter’s red squirrel brush,
nor by the tail of the dog fox
held over bandaged eyes.

Cows in the thin man’s
fields are scrawny.

They once walked
wary of the thin man
with his fistful of stones,
his pointed stick,
his sharp knife
and his slant-eyed dogs
that showed off
the basket weave of their ribs
with a rash of gravelly nipples
rippling against the skin
when they ran
snapping and slashing
with ivory fangs
at the frightened cattle.

Now the thin man is dying.
His cattle graze in peace.
His spirit wants to slide
through a gap in the cactus fence
and wander celestial pastures.

“I will light a fire,”
the witch doctor says.

He begins with the glow-
worm of a match.

That small flame smolders
as he breathes life into
shavings and dry bark.

Stars reach out
with tender hands.

A new spark walks
among the constellations.

The goats on the roof
grow grey with age.

Beside them,
a dappled donkey brays
as the thin man’s spirit
sets out on its journey to the stars.

A herd of seven goats, the Pleiades
rise above the sacrificial mound.

The witch doctor’s heart
shrinks to the size of an orange pip
when he cradles the thin man’s
body in his arms.

On the horizon,
Tochtli
gnaws at the moon’s
white skull.

Murciélago

exits his cave with evening
wrapped beneath his wings.

Tezcatlipoca
holds a stone
knife in his iron hand.

The thin man
dreams of Santo Domingo
where the golden tree
bends like a rainbow,

exposing its roots
as the end draws near.

Don Nadie

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Don Nadie
walks past the Jesuit Church
where the shoe-shine boys
store their stands at night.

He walks past
the tiny seat where
the gay guys sit
and caress each other
asking the unsuspecting
for unexpected dates.

Nobody asks him
for a match,
for a drink,
for money,
for charity,
for a walk down the alley
to the cheap hotels

The Yalalag witch
doctor sees things
other men don’t see.

He stretches out his hand
and brushes the mosquito
from Don Nadie‘s nose.

“Brother,” he smiles.
“I too have lost the way.”

Don Nadie is the one
who stops the hands
on all the clocks
at midnight.

He’s the one who leaves
this place and comes to this place,
all places being one

Don Nadie thinks
he knows who he is,
but he can no longer
sense his blood in the mirror
as the razor blade draws
its thin red scratch
across the dry husks of his soul.

Don Nadie,
my lookalike, my twin,
stares back at me
from the shop window
and I gaze into his eyes

In the back of the weavers’ shop,
three witches watch us.

One spins the yarn,
one measures the cloth,
one wields
the obsidian knife,

that will one day
sever the thread of our lives:

gimiendo gemelo,
hipócrito rector.

Sun & Moon

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Sun and Moon was published on Amazon and Kindle today. This is the second (revised) edition of Sun and Moon, the first edition having been published in 2000. Although this is the second edition, I have returned to and revised the original manuscript. It is clearer, stronger, and better than the first edition. Here is the description of the book as it appears on Amazon and Kindle.

“They tore down our walls,” Mono whispered, “stone by stone. A new church they built on the land they stole from us.” These opening lines begin the verbal adventure of Sun and Moon. Written in Oaxaca, Mexico, between 1995 and 1999, the poems tell some of the tales  of the voiceless, of the conquered, of the displaced, of the survivors, of the people who eat and sleep in the streets of Oaxaca, spinning their myths and legends and recalling their oral histories and memories. Sun and Moon traces the relationships between two civilizations, the indigenous and the conquerors, from the first contacts between Europeans and the people of the Oaxaca Valley up to the modern day interactions between locals and tourists. In these pages, some of the ancient ceremonies and beliefs, as described by indigenous people, are brought back to life in vivid images and colorful metaphors, so sharp, they can be grasped between the fingers and examined by the light of the sun by day and the moon by night. The multiple voices in the poems are those of human beings who, like the author, himself an émigré, find themselves in exile, lost, abandoned, and displaced. As the final character cries out in the final poem: “You do not worship at our sacred places … you don’t know even know the meaning of my name.”

Obsidian’s Edge 2

6:30 am
Early morning mass:
San Pedro

1

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A single sunbeam descends.
Sharp blade of a heliocentric sword,
it shatters the chapel’s dark:
fragments of light
stained with glazed colors.

A pallid lily truncated
by the dawn’s pearly light,
the young widow
kneels in prayer.

Her head wears a halo.
Her pilgrim palm
presses into the granite
forcing cold stone
into warm fingers.

Flesh clutches
the statue’s marble hand:
a maze of human veins
— petrus / piedra —
this church now a rock.

2

Outside the church,
a boy pierces his lips
with a cruel spine of cactus.

The witch doctor
catches the warm blood
in a shining bowl
and blesses the  girl
who kneels before him.

On her head she carries
a basket filled with flowers
and heavy stones.
He sprinkles it
with blood.

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She will carry
this basket on her head
until the evening shadows
finally weigh
and she lays her burden
down.

3

Cobbles clatter beneath walking feet:

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when the stones grow tongues,
will they speak the languages
in which we dream?

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