Inquisitor

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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

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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

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Memory

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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.

Ruins of the Heart

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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.

Obsidian’s Edge

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

To purchase this book click on the following link

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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:
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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.


           
     
           
          

Wingless in Gaza

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Wingless in Gaza

amputees
they buzz an unending dance
in the dusty gutter

galley slaves
chained to broken oars
they ply rhythmic
blunt stumps

shorn of strength and beauty
their once coloured shuttles
weave dark circles

my mouth is a full moon
open in a round pink circle
shadowed by a skull
bone and its marrow
settle in subtle ice

futile fragility
of the demented heart
pumping the same frequency

fragmented messages
panicked veins

frail beauty
torn from its element of air

this brightness of fragile moths
wing-shorn
drowning in the inky
depths of the gutter

the seven o’clock news brought to you
from an otherwise deserted street

Three Witches

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Weavings on a back-strap loom,
figures hand-braided from straw, then painted.
When the witches cast their spells,
these tiny figures dream themselves into life.
We gaze spellbound at their dancing.

Three witches: 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,
this lightning that lightens the air.

Dark is her shop

Dark is her Shop

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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.

In the shop next door I buy poinsettias.
When I get home, I put them in a vase
and watch them, red-eyed, watching me.
Bloodstains scratching a white-washed wall.

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Misshapen gems in a ceramic prison, their beauty
breaks me down: a fragmented world, decimated
words, metaphors born from worms and mescal.

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 held by my hand.

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.

My lemon tree leans over to listen.
Glistening pearls of dew embellish
its morning throat. Christmas decorations
these postage-stamp minstrels, thronging
each branch, filling me with song.

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Butterflies, winged flakes of archaic paint,
flutter from temple walls leaving them barren.
Church towers, strong when terra firma shakes,
quiver insubstantial. Mescal melts the morning,
a miracle, this quiver of shimmering air.

Sacrifice

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Last night, a cataract of flame
flowed down the cathedral wall.
A wooden bull danced in the square,
sparks struck fire from his horse-hide hair.
A red speck on my shirt burned through to my skin.

Today a heart of fire burns in an iron barrel:
who will be chosen for the daily sacrifice?

A sharp blue guillotine poised between
buildings: this slice of morning sky.
Scorched circles, open mouths:
wide-open butterfly eyes burn holes
in the crowd’s dark cloud of a face.

A street musician stands in the shade
beneath the arches playing a marimba.
Sun tip-toesits danse macabre
across bamboo tubes. Sunlit bubbles
float dreams across the square.

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