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WORLD BALL NOTEBOOK
City Lights, $13.95 paper,
Sesshu Foster uses prose poems and mixed-genre texts to elevate the timeless game of soccer onto new levels of action and challenge. Playing fields in East L.A. become universal planes where human encounters bring surprise and drama. Foster’s brief forms expand into tales of personal experience that open to larger truths about culture, sports, and the shrinking world where the individual kicks and tosses a ball onto the courtyard to gain a chance to survive. These prose poems are building blocks toward a vibrant understanding of how individuals clash, reunite, and score with language, vision, and the competitive edge that a keen poet brings to generations of textual games.
I have a piece in Dibujos- Emergency Landing at the Tropico de Nopal. Artists were asked to contribute a drawing that addressed the theme of “emergency landing”. My piece is made with gold leaf and reads: BUY/SELL , which is spelled out in rhinestones. After putting in a long day in the studio, I stopped by the opening at Tropico, which was a who’s who of Latino/Chicano/a intelligentsia. Featured here is Harry Gamboa Jr. of ASCO fame and writer Sesshu Foster.
Author: Sesshu Foster
Publisher: City Lights Publishing
Publication Date: 2005
Sesshu Foster’s oracular Atomik Aztex is a novel of alternate history that posits the existence of an America where the Spanish conquistadors didn’t conquer Mexico, thus turning the Aztecs into a major world power. The what-if postulation allows the author to puncture a comfortable view of mainstream history, in which it’s all too easy to sever the past from the present.
The protagonist of the book is Zenzontli, Keeper of the House of Darkness of the Aztex, who has disturbing visions of endless work in a slaughterhouse in a world—our world—where European culture became ascendant. As he shuttles between two realities, and as they draw closer and closer together, the journeys themselves transcend moral judgment—or at least, any easy reckoning of it. Aztecs are called in to help with the Battle of Stalingrad, and Zenzontli’s Jaguar Unit has a series of harrowing experiences on one of the most horrific battlefields in human history.
But the “mundane” part of the book isn’t exactly devoid of struggle either. The pork processing plant where Zenzontli works becomes a nightmarish zone of routine slaughter, depicted in a tone that is simultaneously clinical and breezy. And yet, attuned to the rhythms of hard work, there is no wallowing in pity. When our protagonist leads the unionization of the slaughterhouse, the two realities are separate at first, but as conflict with management comes to a head, the Aztek and slaughterhouse worlds begin to become superimposed on each other.
The language of Atomik Aztex is incantatory and molten, with long italicized sections providing the connective tissue between the two worlds. Foster also smartly pulls in contemporary politics—even though much of the book is set in the 1940s, it stands as a critique of linear time—and throughout, there is ironic and sly commentary about how Aztek subjugation of the Americas has prevented the horrific visions of a European-dominated continent. Foster doesn’t pull punches regarding the Aztek keeping of slaves, and doesn’t sugarcoat the human sacrifices on a macro scale; indeed, in Stalingrad, the raiding parties attempt to capture, not kill, the Nazis for later sacrifice, part of the “scientifik” order that promotes a globalized strategy of subjugation.
As this suggests, Zenzontli’s experiences are hardly utopian or idyllic, and he is forced to confront the petty corruption, barbarism, and venality of his peers. But before we can linger too long on that world, we’re back in the American slaughterhouse, forced to confront the “teknospiritual innovations” of mass industrialism and bacon making. In the end, Atomik Aztex is an unfailing, visceral, even courageous reminder that the Other is impossibly close. It’s embedded into the cultures we know, the cultures we think we know, and the cultures that we choose to forget.
This review originally appeared in Rain Taxi in 2006, and represented here with Alan DeNiro’s permission.
Alan DeNiro is the author of a story collection, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead (Small Beer Press) and Total Oblivion, More or Less (Bantam). He is the co-editor of Rabid Transit Press, which released its first volume in the Electrum Novella Series, The Sun Inside by David Schwartz.
Panel 2082 Young Hall CS 24, 12:30 pm Kim Addonizio, Douglas Keaney, me, moderated by Chris Abani, “Poetry of Engagment,” check in on us, keep it real—ask us some hard questions:
* Why is the exchange rate of poems so low?
* Did the low rate of exchange for poetry cause the worldwide ekonomic collapse?
* Is an inaugural poem like the chaplain’s blessing of a battleship going off to war?
* How much will you give me for a used figure of speech?
I am reading same day as maestro Juan Felipe Herrera, and 3 pm, right before Douglas Kearney, which is lucky for me. And you too, if you hear Douglas.
Bleary blue eyes folded into crepe paper skin, translucent crinkles that nestle into crevices around bleary blue or grey eyes, notiving everything the same; perhaps always noticing too much… Once a face puffy and purple-red, a beard, not a frail little man like a shed exoskeleton but a substantial form. More than knees under a hospital blanket and wide, broad knuckles that we all inherited.
A wandering face, taking fluid trips through time and space without forgetting it was attached to your head. Eyebrows raised in question, high on the forehead, lips puckered in spite at being old or ginless or a warm smile giving way to bare gums and a younger face, sharp cheekbones and a triangle nose, small trim lips, jutting chin. Always a wandering face, a wind and sun face.
“Whadda life,” sometimes Ray chuckles, tossing back two shots of the strongest expresso in town with a nearly webbed hand, the skin a mitt far too large for the bones, runs it through tufts of hair, perfectly snow white and dandelion looking… there used to be a great big beard but now ears huddle naked on the side of your head.
Always talking of boxing or one of the wives, the word spangled with your wives like spots spangle your wizened countenance. Every old woman who walks by the room says, “hello, Ray!” and you wave sometimes. Your face is lit by the window overlooking the smoking patio, you gesture towards the fake tree and ask if it’s real, I bring you a plastic leaf and your eyebrows shoot up again. Always surprised. How did I get here? Why did I get here?
The earnest, sad eyes that win everyone over and later earn scorn, the hollow spaces where the past is stored, drifting like down. All features so familiar and so foriegn, holding stories of tumbling from place to place.
Thanks to the Poetics Research Bureau for hosting and David Lloyd for organizing Sunday’s benefit!
Thanks to poets for the delivery:
Estrella del Valle
Terrific readings, Palestinian olive oil, ginger snaps, water, wine and Ara Shirinyan and Joseph Mosconi’s interesting space and projects!
website for Palestinian Children’s Fund: http://www.pcrf.net/first.html
The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund is a medical charitable organization providing humanitarian and medical services to children in Palestine and the Middle East. The P.C.R.F. is a registered non-political, non-profit, 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization that was established in 1991 by concerned people in the U.S. to address the medical and humanitarian crisis facing Palestinian youths in the Middle East. It has since expanded to help suffering children from other Middle Eastern nations, based only on their medical needs. The P.C.R.F. helps to locate free medical care for children from the Middle East who are unable to get the necessary and specialized treatment in their homeland.