El negro les hablava siempre y se imformava de los caminos que queríamos
saber. Passamos por gran numero y diversidades de lenguas. Con todos ellas
Dios nuestro Señor nos favoresíió, porque siempre nos entendieron y les
entendimos. Y ansí preguntámos y respondían por señas como si ellos hablaran
nuestra lengue y nuestros la suya . . . Y desta manera dexamos toda la tierra [en
paz] y dixímosles por las señas, porque nos entendían, que en el cielo avía un
hombre llamávamos Dios . . . (The black man was always conversing with
them, gathering whichever information we wished to know concerning the
roads ahead. We passed though a great number and variety of languages. With
all of them our Lord God favored us, since we invariably understood them, and
they understood us. And thus we queried, and they replied, through signs, just
as if they’d spoken our tongue and we theirs . . . And in this manner we left the
whole land [in peace], and told them in signs–since they understood us so
well–that in the sky there was a man we called Dios . . . )
ALVAR NUÑEZ CABEZA DE VACA
Naufragios (Valladolid ms.)
Your lordship is to call to mind how this Negro which went with frier Marcos
was wont to weare bels, & feathers on his armes & legs, & that he caried plates
of divers colours . . .
FERNANDO DE ALARCON
Relación (translated by Richard Hakluyt in The Principal Navigations)
I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond, or of
a very clear crystal . . .
SAINT TERESA OF AVILA
Via Negativa has been getting a little extra exposure lately. At the beginning of the month, Slow Reads reprinted my post Therapy, along with some fresh content – a brief background essay on prose-poetry hybrids, which I tend to refer to indiscriminately by the Japanese term “haibun.”
For those who have never taken the time to explore Via Negativa‘s sidebar, Slow Reads is an interesting hybrid of web magazine and blog, dedicated to “reaching our hearts with our books.” Its editor, Peter, has a strong apophatic mystical streak. By all rights, he should be writing Via Negativa and I should be talking about Slow Reads! (I am, indeed, a very slow reader.)
Then today, another web magazine, Wild Thoughts, reprinted one of those Daoist short stories I wrote the other week under a new title: Newborn. Wild Thoughts is “an online journal of environmental writing” with “a commitment to art that will strengthen the more-than-human world.” Its editors are actively soliciting feedback and contributions.
It would be great if there were a lot more web magazines willing to reprint blog materials – to give them alternate and perhaps more permanent or accessible homes. This is something that Peter of Slow Reads has been ruminating on at his blog recently, as well. There is so much good stuff languishing in bloggers’ archives!
Just before I received the notice about the Wild Thoughts publication this afternoon, I had been browsing in Thomas Merton’s Mystics and Zen Masters (Noonday Press/FSG, 1988). In an essay called “From Pilgrimage to Crusade,” he wrote:
Peregrinatio, or “going forth into strange countries,” was a characteristically Irish form of asceticism. The Irish peregrinus, or pilgrim, set out on a journey, not in order to visit a sacred shrine, but in search of solitude and exile. His pilgrimage was an exercise in ascetic homelessness and wandering. He entrusted himself to Providence, setting out with no definite aim, abandoning himself to the Lord of the universe. Since Ireland is an island, this meant entrusting oneself to the hazards of sea travel, and there are records of Irish peregrini who simply floated off aimlessly into the sea, abandoning themselves to wind and current, in the hope of being led to the place of solitude that God Himself would pick for them.
Isn’t this almost what bloggers do, entrusting themselves to the frail coracles of their blogs, adrift in the placeless Internet with no firm notion of what shores they may ultimately reach? That’s how it feels to me much of the time.
By guess & by golly we got there, by hook & by crook. The zigzag egg of our astonishment was weighted with silver, pura plata, and we passed the runcible spoonful back & forth, heaped high with frost. Ho ho honey, we sang, take a whiff on me. My guitar was small but serviceable. The blue light specials called to us from the far shore & we went, ah, over to Gatsby’s again. We were melancholy in the anticipation & melancholy in the aftermath & in between there were the dancing lithesome shadows that that busy little flame threw out. We dined, they say, on mincemeat with spiced quince jelly; I don’t recall. It could be a spoonful of coffee; it could be a spoonful of tea. But I do remember that our dealer healer feeler had a ring at the end of her nose, her nose! It was wild. I looked up at the stars: all that darkness, all those seeds of light. Oh lovely Pussy, oh Pussy my love . . . You know the rest.
Shiwanna (1) (conclusion)
These swallowers of men plant prayer sticks
bereft of feather-tufts
fitted with crosspieces like plucked wings
the larger ones are stained white
& hung with twisted human limbs
a living cadaver
It bleeds from the scalp the side
its eyes turned inward leave little doubt it’s a witch
A medicine man rapt in his own power
One who denies death
As the boy draws back, his vision expands –
A line of these cross-boned prayer sticks
positioned like a raiding party along the main road north
arrowing toward Shiwanna
the sorcerer loads his reed
the slow toneless voice of Datura halts.
The priests, watching intently, see
the boy’s eyes under his lids
float upward & lie motionless
like minnows in a poisoned spring.
His uncle shouts for the antidote,
blows it up his nostrils, pumps his chest.
At last they feel his heart flutter
& he coughs, once, twice, three times
& ends with a sigh. Time
to sing him back, to begin
four days & nights of healing.
Let the Twins mutter
in their six grottoes, in their seven caves.
Let them howl.
They’re war gods: they can wait.
prayer sticks: As mentioned earlier, Zunis and other southwestern peoples use small effigies, fashioned by almost every adult male at set times and for set purposes, instead of sacrifices. These consist of willow wands from a hand span to half an arm’s length in height, tied with feathers of various birds and planted on the outskirts of the village with appropriate prayers.
In Zuni belief, someone practicing witchcraft will often employ corrupted versions of prayer sticks.
the sorcerer loads his reed: The witch or sorcerer (I use the terms interchangeably) uses a hollow reed as a sort of symbolic blowgun to fire “bullets” of disease-carrying contagion into the bodies of his victims (or their fields), often from a great distance.
war gods: this is in fact the term preferred by modern Zunis themselves when speaking in English about the carved wooden icons of the divine twins. They attribute the theft and subsequent misuse of many of these icons by museums and collectors as a primary cause for the world wars and other disasters of the 20th century.
Yesterday I did not write of the houses along and off of East Fond du Lac Street in Ripon. I did not know how to speak of them. In the grey morning these blue collar houses glowed. They glowed and hummed and vibrated. They glowed and hummed with stories wanting to be known, waiting to be told. The ordinary world is full of extraordinary stories, if we’d take the time to see them, to listen to them, to record them. I could see them shimmering there, just on the edge of my vision, just at the edge of consciousness. I think I must start to find these stories.
Has anyone sung how rich and fine and satisfying a good obituary is? Especially the obituary of a long, long public life that so bestrode the century as to seem a metaphor for it? We’ve had three such, quickly: Marlon Brando, Philip Johnson, and now [Arthur] Miller. Figures who broke into prominence in their 30s, then rode the bronco/elephant/bitch of fame across the decades until they wound down, as gracefully as possible, and were finally still.
Creature of the Shade
This old gal’s mouth gets my attention even before she says a word, though, because of the large quantity of azalea-colored lipstick she’s wearing–expertly applied with a brush, very Arlene Dahl. She’s a bit bent and feeble-looking, and her grey hair’s a mess, but she still exudes . . . what is it? . . . ah, I know! It’s glamour. Even all rickety, she’s glamourous.
She dumps a pile of returns on the counter, cocks an eyebrow right at me, and croaks, “Ya got anything good, Honey? I’m desperate.”
He’s determined to hang onto the idea that he lives in a community, and that we all matter to each other.
I tried to tell him once that this is crazy. I told him, “Hell, you ain’t Jesus, preacher!” and I think he kind of heard me back then, but he keeps forgetting and trying to be Jesus again. There is a kind of wonderful but sad sickness in the hearts of many ministers. They try to let everyone matter to them. They let people inside their hearts, down on the inside where they feel things. They can’t do this, of course. Things have a way of unraveling and falling apart when you try to be all things to all people.
Real Live Preacher
The difference between the truths we extrapolate from the coyote’s fall is precisely the difference between Warren and me. Examine the competing laws, stated succinctly here.
My Law: The coyote won’t fall until he looks down.
Warren’s Law: The coyote won’t fall unless he looks down.
Get the distinction? I understand that the gag works because the coyote will fall. Warren, on the other hand, sees the possibilities.
Slow Reads (Feb. 12)
Her eyes were green, flecked with bits of apricot yellow, and I loved her most, maybe, when she gathered herself up in indignation, like a wave about to crest, an eloquent rush of wry humor about to come foaming down. Her wit would disarm her own indignation, and she would finish in delight. Then she would lock her gaze with mine — in my memory she is always moving suddenly from beside me to place herself squarely in front of me, and staring right into my eyes — and then she would seize my neck and kiss me.
I hope she has a happy Valentine’s day, wherever she is.
I slept in until 7:30 this morning – about two and a half hours later than usual. A new dusting of snow on the ground and more in the air added to my disorientation. There was just enough snow to coat the flattened grass, making the path up to the other house exceptionally slippery. But now – a few minutes past noon – I look up from my writing table and see that somehow in the last three quarters of an hour the lawn and fields have returned to the wan colors they wore yesterday. The male cardinal comes in and lands on a branch three feet from my window, his dark red the brightest thing for miles. He tilts his dunce-capped head back and forth, as if deciding whether to launch an attack on his reflection for old time’s sake. I’m sure that fellow in the window is just as much of a mocker as he was last June, but he’s safe for now. After half a minute the cardinal flies off. Ever since breakfast I’ve been thinking about chowder, the kind with potatoes and cheese, canned tomatoes and frozen yellow corn. It will go well with the last of the pumpernickel bread. Wish you were here.
Shiwanna (1) (cont’d)
The rain priest of Hawikuh has
one nephew just past his seventh winter,
his youngest sister’s child & the one
he favors to succeed him. At his suggestion
they bring the boy into the kiva,
turn him naked in a circle
& sixteen pairs of eyes can find
no mark or scar. They ask him
Will you do this for the People, for Shiwanna?
It’s dangerous! But he says Yes.
They turn him to face each of the six
cardinal points, including zenith
& nadir, have him lie down on
a deerskin pelt & drink the acrid
tea of sacred Datura.
His breath slows, goes south:
A place where the mountains smoke
Corpses bob in every lake & river
while the living men women even children
dig tunnels quick as hungry shrews
hollow out the hearts of hills
leaving fields fallow lousy with weeds
the Corn Maidens wander in circles dizzy
as the last ears turn sour in the storerooms
only a few men have food
but they too go at it with a crazy haste
eating it seems on behalf of all the others
whose teeth rattle in rotten gums
can you hear them
scrambling down ladders deep in the ground
as if to reverse the Emergence
while some of the eaters go about
in great folds of cloth like moving mountains
hidden except for their hands & heads
shaved crowns glowing pink
an albino’s ensorcelled eye