You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2009.
It’s another year in which many friends have written and published books. And very good ones too! In today’s so-called “media environment” it’s not easy for volumes that aren’t promoted by corporate giants to gain a significant audience. So that’s an additional reason to check out one or more of the valuable works listed below.
I’ll begin though with a heads up about an interactive workshop on today’s economic crisis and a manuscript that is still a book-to-be.
MELTDOWN is a lively and participatory workshop that gets the audience talking in depth about the roots of the current crisis and the way the banking system really works. Put together by Eileen Raphael and the Just Economics team, it’s already been used by a dozen community groups from Boise, Idaho to Montclair, New Jersey. See an excerpt on the web and get full info at http://drpop.org/organizing-clinic/
TURN TO THE WORKING CLASS: THE NEW LEFT, BLACK LIBERATION AND THE U.S. LABOR MOVEMENT (1967-1981) by Kerry Taylor is the kind of detailed study of left experience we need a lot more of. The manuscript is available now at http://www.revolutionintheair.com in the Left history section. Kerry would appreciate your comments as he prepares to turn this version into a book. There are other new items on the Revolution in the Air site as well: a second manuscript on the work of revolutionary organizations in the U.S. South in the 1970s, a new review, new reader comment and previous Books-by-Friends messages from 2007 and 2008 in case you missed those.
Now to the books:
Rick Rocamora’s new book of photographs, FILIPINO WORLD WAR II SOLDIERS: AMERICA’S SECOND CLASS VETERANS is full of the passion and purpose that has always characterized Rick’s outstanding work. There’s an intro by Rene Ciria-Cruz; ordering information is at http://filvetsbookproject.blogspot.com/. Rick isn’t the only old friend I first met during the 1970s when I worked closely with the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP) who has a volume on the shelves now. Walden Bello’s new book is THE FOOD WARS. Estella Habal’s SAN FRANCISCO’S INTERNATIONAL HOTEL: MOBILIZING THE FILIPINO AMERICAN COMMUNITY IN THE ANTI-EVICTION MOVEMENT was flagged in a previous Books-by-Friends message. Also check out Davianna Pomaika’i McGregor’s NA KUA’AINA: LIVING HAWAIIAN CULTURE.
My friend Paul Buhle from even further back – we met in SDS in the 1960s – is editor of the new volume THE BEATS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY, with artwork described as “vivid as the beat movement itself.” Paul’s recent efforts also include editing the graphic adaptation of Howard Zinn’s A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF AMERICAN EMPIRE, CHE: A GRAPHIC BIOGRAPHY, by Spain Rodriguez, and ISADORA DUNCAN: A GRAPHIC BIOGRAPHY, by Sabrina Jones. Another person I met (but wasn’t then friends with) back in SDS days, Mark Rudd, has penned a memoir whose honesty about problems within the left matches its passion in denouncing racism and war. UNDERGROUND: MY LIFE WITH SDS AND THE WEATHERMEN is a welcome antidote to the fog of sanitized history and superficial romance that surrounds one of the more controversial strands of the righteous upheavals of the late 1960s.
For a different type of “underground” – underground commix – check out UNDERGROUND CLASSICS: THE TRANSFORMATION OF COMICS INTO COMIX, co-authored by Jim Danky. Info:
A remarkable slice of history brought to life is found in Barbara Epstein’s THE MINSK GHETTO 1941-1943: JEWISH RESISTANCE AND SOVIET INTERNATIONALISM. Rod Bush’s new volume, THE END OF WHITE WORLD SUPREMACY: BLACK INTERNATIONALISM AND THE PROBLEM OF THE COLOR LINE, is a deft exploration of the “long and complicated history of the relations between Black radicals and the world Left.”
For on-the-ground experiences in U.S. politics, and their lessons, take a look at Mike Miller’s inside story of the rise and decline of the Mission Coalition Organization, A COMMUNITY ORGANIZER’S TALE: PEOPLE AND POWER IN SAN FRANCISCO. John Delloro’s volume, AMERICAN PRAYER, collects the original run of essays on the 2008 presidential election written by the author for the on-line column of the Asian American Action Fund.
As more fierce rounds loom in the battle for immigrant rights, you can’t do better than the new reader issued by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration for a compendium of resources and perspectives. Full information on the new BAJI READER can be found at: http://blackalliance.org/main/?q=node/38
On the artistic and cultural fronts, this book is not by a friend of mine but it is about one: YOLANDA LOPEZ, by Karen Mary Davalos, analyzes the key themes running through Yolanda’s exceptional body of work, including her groundbreaking Virgin of Guadalupe series of paintings in the late 1970s. Sesshu Foster’s new volume, WORLD BALL NOTEBOOK, has been aptly termed “hybrid poetry that is scandalous in its revolutionary spirit and aims.” And it’s not yet too late to see the wonderful collection UP AGAINST THE WALL – BERKELEY POSTERS FROM THE 1960s curated by Lincoln Cushing. The full catalogue is on-line at the URL below; if you are in the Bay Area, the actual posters are on display at the Berkeley Historical Society through September 26: http://www.docspopuli.org/articles/BHS2009.html
Apologies in advance for any volumes I have missed, send me details so I can include them in next year’s message.
Have fun reading, looking, and pondering…
I have much sex with yogurt married man on a velvet setting of impuned ivory game skulls, she wrote. I scoped out banks, Hollywood apartment complexes built around nice gardens, asphalt townships, she wrote. The president walked out upon the swaying suspension bridge with a cup of coffee early one Tucson morning I had tremors of cake in my hair, he wrote. Leaning down upon the topiary automobile signage, I came upon whole nations of ancient tribes, smoothing their hairs with petroleum jelly playing a hand game, she said. I broke the man door down, took out his pane face, kicked off the landing jam hesitancy, threw him bodily to the offramp on the way to the Bay Area, Portland, she wrote. Somebody rubbed the sausage between chorizo fingers (flies, with spiders), somebody aimed the roofline popped smoky (moscas, with mosquitoes), somebody brained the neighborhood council guttural homologue (flies, with crickets), I saw burnt, she wrote. Nobody has a loneliness like I have a loneliness on my ass, nobody has a beautiful plugged somebody stuck on their belly like I do, nobody has a bright red worst feeling ejected from my heart as a hard projectile shale spit like I was, he wrote.
Stupid cars killed 2,455, 465 people over there, because the trickster Chop Girl had sex with Orthopedic Coyote, serene items came about on greenery for many motion pictures, foolish windows sloped toward climbing orchards, because armies demoralized could not trust the trickster Chop Boy, so many people flooded in and out of the Chinese restaurants with juice in and out of dumplings, because Chop Aunt had relations with gardening, silvertipped sagebrush, most ways, stupid fires killed 34 people over there, because Greek diners spread west with Route 66 by the Hualapai Reservation, emboldened flesh juice jumping vinegary but unsightly toward the Past, because stupid dirty glue killed 55 x 67,000,000 salmon, because Chop Coyote brought Maldonado Ahwahnee and forgot tiny whitish Nancy Maldonado and forgotten whitish Nancy Ahwahnee.
I remind this book for Malibu curtains drawn across swallowing foamy seawater; this book nods amicably at restorative Italian deli sandwiches provided by your host, the Station Fire; this tonality streams Pain is Good Garlic Syle Batch #37 Hot Sauce video podcast; this criminality beats choppy waves under a head-wind Anita O’Day beaten, imprisoned, raped, cold turkey; I recommend this Latin for status check, nobody has loneliness like I got loneliness My Ass; I recoil this Orthopedic Chop for delivery inside North Cascades Highway, where the man with his daughter in the next campsite explained that he knew too much about the Bank of Credit & Commerce International (he could never return); I crimp this book with the phrases, “bold italics underlined 12 point font,” “Sex Male Cord Height Centimeters,” “gender of Deciduous ground squirrel plastic,” “Girl in a Coma from Austin, for a few days.”
Inside the car are 5 or 7 kids. Its hard to tell because they keep moving around so I focus on the old lady and she says something to me and gestures to the bigblock so I drop my pack and give her my version of hopeful back with a snaggley grin and a shrug. I ask her with my hands…”whats happening?” and she says “nada, muerto”, which I can figure means nothing and dead. I poke around a little and see nothing obvious and ask her to try the key and she does and I hear the starter whir but no kick to the fly. I’ve heard this before. Locked solenoid. Looking around I see a broken piece of 2 by 4 in the weeds, pick it up and whack the solenoid, which I can see sticking out humplike on the side of the starter, a couple of times as hard as I can get the angle to do…..and it starts right up.
Guess what. Snaggletooth is the hero. Kids clap I laugh and granny shakes my hand and the world is a better place.
As I pick up my pack to walk granny says something which my 15 words of Spanish (mostly fight and bar and barfight talk) cant glom. So I say “you’re welcome” and start to walk away but then one of the kids says out the window….”She wants you to drive us…she’s afraid to drive now and is not sure how to get home”.
So I say “where’s home?” And the kid says “East L.A.”
Well, strangely enough, that actually works for me because I’m trying to get to my cousins bar in San Berdoo and East anything fits damn good and I like serendipity every time I try it so 5 minutes later we are cruising south on the Hollywood doing 65 and 10 minutes after that we are on first street in the hood and the granny says something and the kid says smiling “she wants to buy you lunch”. And I say with a grin, “bueno”.
So this place Chalio’s is on 1st street and it is worn and cool and noisy inside and I am the only gringo. I’m liking the vibe right away because I can see a dude sipping from a sweating bottle of Negro Modelo which is right up my alley and the place smells like everyones favorite aunt’s kitchen.. We take this giant booth right in the window and a guy comes over and spouts some stuff and she spouts some stuff and he goes away. The kid says “on weekends they only do meat and quesadillas so there is no menu”. In about 15 minutes we are flooded with plates of goat. There is goat chunks, there is goat ribs, there is goat on the bone, there is quesadillas for the littlest ones, and there is Negro Modelo for me and granny. And man, I’m telling you that this stuff is killer. I’ve eaten goat and loved it, but this is the moistest most succulent meat that I have had in ages and it is going down really really good with the beer. There are these hand made thick corn tortillas that are so hot you can hardly pick one up but I follow the oldest kids lead and tear off a chunk and load it up. Granny has hit the bowls of the meat with a mix of cilantro, white onion and hot sauce and sort of stirred it and when that flavor combo hits your mouth wrapped in that little bit of corny tortilla goodness. Oh My Freaking God. This goat has none of the gaminess that you might be afraid of. It is mild in its meatiness and touched with spices that make it something really new to me. It is exotic and wholesome and lean and fat. Just like Zacatecas, which is where the recipe comes from…or so the old lady relayed to me as she sucked her teeth and sipped down the last of her 2nd beer.
We ate it all.
So they went their way and I went mine and I am now sitting in the shade of a skinny tree on the side of the onramp to the 10 East, digesting contentedly, and scribbling this eventual yelp missive on the back of a placemat that I picked up from a Taco Bell in the valley yesterday. Life is good from where I sit. How about from where you are?
Go to East L.A.
Stop at Chalio’s
Eat the goat.
Live a little.
dried wafer of fur
fluffy as I drive by
squirrel’s tail flutters
Exhibition HOLY JOLINA!
Artist Arturo E. Romo Santillano
Exhibition Dates September 25 October 24, 2009
Artist Reception Friday, September 25 7-10 pm
Artist Talk Thursday, October 8 7pm
Tropico de Nopal
Gallery – Art Space
1665 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles (Echo Park), CA 90026
Gallery Hours: Wed – Sat 12- 5 pm
Los Angeles, California – Tropico de Nopal Gallery-Art Space is proud to present the second solo show by Los Angeles artist Arturo E. Romo-Santillano entitled HOLY JOLINA!
Romo-Santillano multimedia work centers around fictional characters who are used as lenses through which to see the city. These practitioners of ecstasy guide the viewer on a not very sober tour of the city of Los Angeles through video, text, music, murals and photography.
For this upcoming exhibition, the guide to Los Angeles will be the trickster and codex writer Jolina. The gallery will be envisioned as a giant codex written by Jolina, with the walls of the gallery acting as giant pages. The subject of the codex is Jolinas interpretation of Los Angeles, which, being somewhat hallucinatory and highly subjective, forms a cosmology of Los Angeles that is both familiar and strange; local plant life, lost heroes, darkened history, experiments in perpetual motion, dirigibles, concrete rubble mountains, crystals, fungi and smoke of all types. Ceramic sculpture, a 7 inch vinyl 45 , and videos will double and verify the imagery on the walls, showing an alternative LA cosmology in time and space.
Arturo Romo is a native of Los Angeles. He has a degree in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland. His work has been exhibited in galleries in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Salt Lake City and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. His work was a part of the California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art in 2006 and most recently in Mexico City and Phoenix as part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts exhibition Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement.
HOLY JOLINA! opening reception is scheduled for Friday September 25 (7pm-10pm), with a conversation with the artist evening to take place on Thursday, October 8 (7pm). The work will be on view during gallery hours and by appointment.
The tourist buses flow as easily as the rain sluices down the colonial cobblestone streets of San Cristobal de las Casa in the center of Chiapas. Meanwhile Mexico’s South is vociferously challenging the 2006 presidential election in the streets and attempting to force out a draconian governor in nearby state of Oaxaca for going after the teachers and their union after the thrall of the World Cup in Germany has worn off. So you happen to be renting an apartment in the midst of all this “history.” May you contemplate the role of the subjunctive mood in the English language while you take Spanish classes every morning amongst the sancristobolenses, hearing the susurrus and tatter of Tzotzil and Tretzal and other diphthonic and consonantal summersaults as you harbor your English by reading Sesshu Foster’s recent novel Atomik Aztex.
Published by City Lights in late 2005, the action revolves around Zenzontli, a mid-level Aztec warrior, and spirtual guide of the House of Darkness sect within the revised world of the Aztex empire writ large in twentieth century revisionist conquest where the G-8 countries become the global South under the foot of Aztex supremacy. There may be Philip K. Dick’s High Man in the Castle playing with the inverted what if of World War II but Foster’s wild ride not only places the Aztecs in command of this New World Order but the novel internally shifts our narrator Zenzontli into a contrasting, confused alternate reality as the unfortunate inheritor of a nightshift meat worker in and East LA industrial plant. This worker begins to feel the weight of capital H-history as he finds the means to not only furtively organize a union but the means to get rid of his nemesis supervisor Max and backstabbing co-worker Weasel. The novel shifts between inventive inversions of the Aztex dominance, weaving popular references to “our reality” like the success of Juan Lennon, trade talks with the Zapatistas, and back page newspaper ads hawked as gospel for curing those addictions, increasing the size of your sex organs, and all other panaceas of the insomniac and striving under any empire’s demands. Zenzontli’s sommentary navigates this mirrored world to ours while also demonstrating his inability to accommodate the demands of his wife Xiuhcaquilt and the machinations of the Party maintaining power like any management team on message. The genre of the war platoon story is mixed with workplace woes paralleled in schizo-frenetic crossing forcing the reader to share Zenzontli’s mightmarish experience. Atomik Aztex inverts the five hundred years of colonial rampage with its own proclaimed twist as a codex and testimonial that makes you laugh hysterically (in English) in one of those cafes where Manu Chao’s music is as requisite as the Mayan tapestries often placed beside an Aztec sun calendar.
Certainly the Aztecs were not kind when they colonized Lake Texcoco back in the day but that inconvenient fact does not interfere with the witty reversals that ring throughout the endless flow of unbroken paragraphs crosscutting between a technologically advanced Teknotitlan Aztec empire saving Europe from its self-destruction and the protagonist Zenzontli peripatetically occupying the role of the harassed immigrant worker in Vernon, California. Zenzontli lacks sleep in both time periods and becomes further isolated by his ability to explain the mores and function of all the rituals while begin trapped within these social constraints. These controls may be the economic and spiritual need to capture Nazi prisoners for ceremonial sacrifice or the keen understanding of how Farmer John manipulates the work floor and FDA inspections to get the most out of their product where pigs flow down the chute in numbers on par with Aztek demand for sacrifices to their gods. Of course, Zenzontli recieves the worst job assignments in both worlds because he is suspect for his questioning.
Zenzontli pulls no punches, so to speak, by revealing the Aztex loopholes in technospiritual babble while rhetorically ripping into the barbarian European Others as backward, depraved, and obviously requiring the power of the Aztex intervention. Then, in true war platoon style, he satisfyingly provides th quick rip of flesh when Zenzontli kicks into the deft warrior mode, single-handedly surmounting a machinegun nest, and giving a ceremonial war poem before the battle to instill confidence in his rookie troops. Zenzontli is right to state that it is all about the amount of thought that goes into the aesthetiks —the manner in which one performs these rites and actions — something not enough non-Aztex consider.
However the Aztex Imperium merits its own criticism when the novel’s furious italics shift to the counter-reality of the meat processing plant, under daily attack of an asshole boss, rampant nepotism, and an union organizer that never shows up for meetings when you’ve been lurking around to organize for the now defunct CIO. The castigating humor reveals a dissonant continuity between the pride of the Chicano Movement’s poetic use of Aztlan as the homeland of the Aztex in pre-columbian America while Latino (and other immigrant) communities are contstantly forced into crap jobs under the threat of so-called immigration reform. As multiply-displaced Zenzontli considers the implications of the lack of aesthtiks, the need to understand one’s necessary ornamental feathers, or shall we say, how the Aztex in Foster’s heavily coded warp ride and refigured codex simultaneously comment on the current North American empire. The universalist belief that the Aztek economy would still follow the myopic and self-centered point of view of all empires cannot go unnoticed. Foster’s novel promotes a fast-paced commentary to reel within wordplay and bombastic style, simultaneously proffering a counter history to our times while commenting on that mimicry of power and how ridiculously inhumane it would still be under a different where power and domination are concerned.
The rewritten history reverberates with your stay in San Cristobal amoung several indigenous communities converging at the market and the reticent mestizo middle class. This is there an attempted alternative but the Zapatistas continue not only the rhetoric of over 500 years of resistance but also the lived reality of several indigenous groups demanding recognition and self-governance with some success. There is that insurmountable mic of video games and internet cafes where the lighter-skinned cannot see the indigenous man asking for money at their feet. For example, in a non-yuppified yoga class, the tension in the mestizo sancristobalenses could be felt when a woman from San Juan Chamula joins the class, laughing and enjoying downward dog and sun salutations as the other locals become obviously discomfited by her presence. The colonial legacy of racism even in the tiny liberal city of San Cristobal where the youth play jazz-oriented improvisational music (where few gringos could talk about Foster’s use of Thelonius Monk’s “Misterioso” popping into Zenzontli’s sleep-talking) can be felt despite the Zapatista graffiti and the Che Guevara t-shirts. You can easily enocounter cooperatives trying to find a way to fit into the tourist economy while not becoming a coopted product, when you meet Beatriz Aurora who painted the illustrations to some of Subcomandante Marco’s stories. The gallery deliberated mixes artisan folk art with her paintings to challenge our categories of aesthetik value and consumption of the Zapatista movement in poster form. This is where Foster’s inversions in the Aztex Empire along with the detail of the meat plant scenes (especially the greasy spoon diner) all match your tourist gaze in odd synchronicity. The ridiculous M-16 and skushy body armor of the bank guard yawning just like the child nearby strapped to her mother’s back without complaint; she is unarmored though far more melanin is in her skin that the guard. You put down the novel and encounter the same two boys getting high up near the Templo del Guadalupe above the city, their giggle fits, the passing taxis below, the sun reaching its cradle on the other side of the city, becoming night, where all people stroll to be in the commons. The steamed corn with lime-flavored mayonnaise (by the McCormick Corporation), hot sauce, real lime juice, or ice cream and balloon toys meant to only last the afternoon before popping —all provided on a stick. Discern the indigenous woman (where are the men?) with different shirts and wool skirts as a town emblem unsleeping while carrying an entire economy on her back because one must trust the ground upon which you walk. Bougainvillea crawling walls and shining fuschistically. The damn dogs treating you as a giant threat while imploring a lick of your dinner dust. Tagged in spray paint: the call for freeing the prisoners of San Salvador Atenco market, an end to all the recent wars (you pick), and a cry for Zapatismo amidst the civil society split by the machinations of an election where less than half a percentage point benefits the ruling party. The same handful of children talking to the same German woman, braiding her hair as she searches again in continental research on their labored lives asking tourists for their names to written on a piece of paper, their fingers and beads caught in her hair. The screeching steel rings chained to the gas delivery truck, chiming their fierce alarm, which everyone ignores until the tank is empty again. The rain always coming in the afternoon when the mountains relieve the sky of its burden and the hill where the Chamulans fought the conquitadors becomes its ghostly self, unwritten on the map but looming. The coffee roasters and the touristic calls, the bands playing in the zocolo, and the shoeshine slap and smell. You settle your gaze on the tiny Zapatista doll standing tall in the grandmother’s open hand—a stick for a rifle and two sewn black eyes looking up at you from the mask mounted on the four-pegged horse. This is just one site where modernity has no meaning without the indigenous resistance equally modifying its supposed imposition.
Throughout the text of Atomik Aztex the strange carriage of the hard c in English is replaced by a slew of ks which become the register of how grammar is the transport of the occupying army’s intellectual arsenal while poking fun at the common reaction of English speakers the Nahuatl, which means “to speak clearly”, though few make the effort to learn the pronunciation. The same language produces one of the best conceptions of poetry in the Nahuatl “in xochitl in cuicatl”, which became floricanto in Spanish, meaning “flower and song”. This cannot be denied as poetic knowledge rooted in the language of Zenzontli’s aesthetiks. One can easily use the work of Walter Mignolo and even Norman O. Brown’s comment to John Cage about the etymology of the word syntax as “army” to further complicate Foster’s playful and potent style on this aesthetic front but it is not necessary because the reading experience demands that the reader occupy this new language. The effect and affect will be apparent enough. The orthography, use of italics, underlining and bold typeface, do not strike the reader as emperimental devices as much as they whir as a kinetic technique to expose your reading habits of what constitutes appropriate Aztex spelling. You are implicated as a discriminating reader, intellectual enforcer of what’s permissible thot. Though all these ks have the odd resonance of the Ku Klux Klan, Krispy Kreme, and other horrible named k-alliterative businesses, which you know is arbitrary, but still it makes you uncomfortable when reading Atomik Aztex. Some of the reading in San Cristóbal substitutes with the k, where por que? Becomes “por ke” and the blogging youth type quickly online as they comment on the endless loop of Shakira hip undulating videos at the bottom of the MTV screen with such subtle substitutions without the KKK connotation. But somehow it sticks when images of the Hurricane Katrina constantly return.
Atomik Aztex transports the reader to a teknologized indigenous empire at its peak of the world dominance and bears witness to the cultural arrogance of power while satirizing the ways in which conquered cultures are so easily dismissed. The novel balances this ability to counter official history while also questioning the more fundamental arrogance of any cultural judgment from the position of the conqueror. For example, when Zenzontli is asked to take an inexperienced combat team to the Stalingrad front, an undesirable assignment largely due to the party politics, Zenzontli mimics the befuddlement of the tourist gaze looking at the poor culture asking, “Whatever happened to German civilization? Did they just disappear or did they go away? Were they good looking or were they goofy like polka music? How could a people who built stirring monuments like cathedrals, autobahns, stadiums, printing presses and draft beer just vanish as a civilization? Were they sad when they left or did they just get the hell out like they were told? The modern day tourist who walks among the ruins of the ancient civilization of the Aryans finds himself filled with questions. “Who were these people? How did they live? What were their weird beliefs? What strange religion or goofy nonsense caused them to build all this stuff? Why did they plan and execute this massive system of freeways on such an immense scale when the safest, cleanest and most efficient system would have been mass transit, pedestrian walkways and canals like ours?” (108-109)
The ethnocentric and nonplussed Zenzontli cannot imagine how all these cultural accomplishments could not arrive at the point of his Aztex beliefs. There is liberal appreciation and genuine recognition of human value coexisting with the condescension and the absolute belief that these Germans had wiped out in order to arrive at this point in history, the triumph of the Aztex Socialist Imperium and another sense of decadence permeating the culture’s insatiable drive for more lands to conquer. This questioning is no longer cast at the Aztec pyramids or Mayan cities in a tour of Mesoamerican ruins as some necessary step toward modernization. Atomik Aztex not only meets your desire for the pleasure of imagining the persistent pain of war re-placed on the colonial perpetrators during World War 2 privileging the Aztek legacy while consonant with the struggle of the particularities of the Zapatistas in Chiapas. Sesshu Foster’s frenetic novel flows endlessly in torrents of unceasing paragraphs, like these wet colonial streets, and like any good reader and truly open tourist, you must accept the manner in which the text transports you through the possible Aztek Imperium and how you can recognize your own position on what is taking place at the G-8 summit while another war ensues. You too may find yourself informing a Lebanese woman, who is also studying Spanish in San Cristóbal, that her country was just invaded by Israel. You ashamedly know who built, sold, trained, and delivered the mass supply of weapons that made it possible, profitable, and predictable policy. And your anger at the obvious separation between your mestizo Spanish teachers, your fellow privileged gringos, the strong phantom colonial connection between the Philippines and Mexico that recieves blank stares, the middle-class family you stayed with that refused to go to the open air market in favor of the crap produce at the supermercado, and the city pocket of the autonomous indigenous zone on the outskirts of town, fulminate in your reading of surviving hero Zenzontli, the inveterate critic but staunch warrior veteran in Atomik Aztex cum militant union organizer stuck in a dead end meat plant job. How all these positions and images carry some psychic weight or the inheritance of defiance—though Foster constantly mixes lingo, Vietnam-era Spanglish, indigenous historical inversions with pop references while converging these times—you begin to fall into this warp and can feel the insistence of these five hundred years aching in your hands holding the book.
Though the book’s preface proclaims that the reader should look elsewhere for a plot, the plot is the possibility of not just an alternative to the colonization of the Aztecs and consequently the rest of the mainland of the Americas by the Spanish and now American subsidy-for-us-but-absolute-freemarket-for-you arrangements. The plot, too, is the role of cultural heritage and the wellspring of anger that causes those wonderful hallucinations of sliced and diced Nazis by Zenzontli’s authoritative hands who has come to balance history back in favor of those damn Latinos who marched with their allies on March 1st across the U.S., some of whom may work in a large scale slaughterhouse where the wage work is the mass slaughter of animals for an economy whose scale is not unlike the demands of an economy based on military production. The scale that Zenzontli frenetically occupies in his own alternate reality in mid-20th century East LA is the dissonance of our own immigrant communities constantly working under these conditions where the slaughter without sleep is warlike and the fight to improve these conditions is treated as seditious, unsanitary, and freakishly absent from the happy graphics of the Farmer John brand. What is really ground up and extruded in that tasty ballpark hotdog you’re eating? The novel is one of correspondence between these periods and how Zenzontli plays the role of the native informant who naively informs readers of their own nativism in the U.S. Reading Atomik Aztex may resolutely confound that desire to know what really happened all these years, not only with that hot dog production, but also ourselves and what we refuse to consider in our colonial inheritance of the New World.
J. Guevara teaches writing and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he is a Phd graduate student in the Literatura Department.
Amerasia Journal, Volume 32, No. 3, 2006, UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press.
Preobrazenhsky is the name. Evgeny Preobrazhensky. One other thing, it’s not true that I skipped out on Komrade Zenzontli and his strange unit of jaguar troops. You may find this difficult to believe, but actually the Keeper of the House of Darkness is like a brother to me. In some ways Zenzontli is closer to me than my own brothers. It’s not too far off to say the man is secretly my double. Once we realized that the Aztek leader was lost, you can bet that I did everything in my power to find Zenzontli and his squad. I feel in some ways that the man is a part of me, a part of my expansive Russian soul. That’s part of the problem actually. You know the problem of the expansive Russian soul, it is too expansive, outfitted with heavy furrowed edges of fields, hedgerows, windbreaks, sun setting peacefully behind the fading pink clouds low on the horizon, behind the trees, but there’s a chill in the air, a piercing chill emanating from deep in the ground. In the morning the ground will be frozen, puddles will crack under your boots. The black earth is going to sleep. The trees are bare against the sky. Mother Russia is vast, but the fire has gone out, the Mother is asleep, her children are wandering the roads… the villages are burning… two tiny smudges of smoke emerge on the edge of the sky as night falls… in the vast spaces of the Russian night, a man’s soul is knifed by the wind… stars appear, disappear in the dark, float past his fingertips like sparks blown from a campfire, sparks float thru him like lights fading from his eyes as he drowses where he sits, half-frozen… In my waking or my dreams, Zenzontli was there, a fixture, the same man, before he became well-known as Hero of the Red Oktobyr Traktor Faktory, winner of the Buenaventura Durruti Order of the Red Star for service to the glorious Motherland, I knew him in my soul—I firmly believe, somewhat, out of the corner of my eye—as a simple man, basically a nice guy, occasionally afflicted with a ghastly tendency toward flippant violence, might just cut a man’s face off with his pocketknife, shuck it from the bone like a rubber mask to wear it flapping from his belt, he might say, for ‘luck.’ Xipe Totek. At least that’s how the Nahuatl translated to me, I didn’t follow exactly all the ins and outs of their ornate, clabbered, brocaded ideology. (Clearly, it works for them.) I did attempt to persuade Zenzontli that our brand of Russian anarcho-syndicalism was more scientific than any other politicking yet devised. He listened to me with narrowed eyes, I don’t think he was listening close, I think he was translating my halting Nahuatl into blurry pictograms full of rain, palm fronds, the wind-riven surface of the black lake of Texkoko, in his fizzing brain. In some ways this man who was so much like me that his own men called me his twin, his Other, his double, remained in his innermost recesses a Stranger. In the limbic recesses. The fizzing surface of his cranial membrane. There were the superficial differences, I grew my beard out like a Cossack or a village Jew to hide my acne scars, he shaved assiduously even if there was nothing else to shave with than his knife. My eyes are green his are brown. My eyebrows shaggy his are not. I am missing one of my long horselike front teeth his teeth are small, pointy & perfect. I have a long scar on my cheek from a saber cut in the Civil War, he has tattoos, war paint or other markings which metamorphose from time to time into devilish petroglyphs of Night. He wears a lip plug fashioned from mammoth tusk that glistens on his chin like a saliva-sheened yellow fang while I do not. I don’t think he brushes his teeth either judging from his breath that stinks. Fuchi. But there are the similarities. Our hair sticks out in the morning like pine needles. He wears clothing that looks like cellophane shower curtains or burlap potato sacks; I wear thick clothes that make me look bearish in some buffalo robes. We are tough guys who can play chess, spit into the wind, cuss and drink beer at the same time. Me and him both tend to lose money at cards then later cover it up with embarrassed little coughs or stupid grins. We both might appear to be wearing sunglasses if there were any light in this joint at all. But it’s pretty dismal in the intermittent smoke and explosions from German artillery. What else. His mother’s name was Huilotl Ittitia, mine is Yeugenia, see the similarity? He doesn’t cut his dirty fingernails, I don’t either. There’s hundreds of things like that about us that are the same. We both like bikes, girls, we would probably wish to play beach volleyball but such a thing is a complete blank in our cultural heritage, we eat hot dogs cold from the refrigerator, enjoy clean sheets, appreciate the idea of being on a boat better than the reality, the idea behind the Future better than the reality, we like folk music from lost causes, Spanish Civil War, Nikaraguan Revolution, Chilean Revolution, Kalifornian Revolution, Movimiento Xikano, Mozambikan Revolucion, Portuguese Revoluciao, etc. sunny days that make you feel cleaner or younger than you are, the pungency of a woman on our thick fingers, wet roads stretching in front of us, the best of the day ahead, yelling at our men in chaos advancing upon us, we plainly like telling other people what to do more than being told what to do. Both of us hate turkeys who believe in astrology (men more than women), we hate being stabbed with a dirty knife, each of us is not pleased by dentists, cops, automobile fanciers, landlords, sports fans, waking up soaked in cold piss next to a stiff body, sitting in handcuffs on a police station bench next to a stinking wino waiting to be fingerprinted and booked, cities wrapped in four-color separation, Christmas tree lots, canned okra, eggplant parmesan, Robert ‘T. S. Elliot’ Frost, getting called upon to fix somebody’s shitty car like a Fiat on a cold wet day as the water pump bolts strip or break off outright as you turn the wrench (Russian car manufacture being based on Fiat production processes) but you go out to try and do it anyway just cuz you fell for that old line somewhere, some time ago: ‘you can do anything if you set your mind to it.’ You may never question somehow some ways that you think. What for? Fucking Fiats. In short, you can see how much we are exactly alike.
At least I was able to save the guy; the Keeper of the House of Darkness was mighty depressed too, you could tell, when he found out all his men had been snuffed, wiped out, murdered or killed in suspicious circumstances while he was away. We all have to face reality sooner or later. It’s often unpleasant. That’s just the way it is. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. I was mighty preoccupied and worried too: imagine how I felt when I found out the Komrade, Keeper of the House of Darkness, + 1/2 his men had vanished down a fucking hole in the ground. I mean, he wasn’t making things any easier for me, was he? He was supposed to be my man, my komrade, my brother. What did he do but march his men into a giant hole in the ground and when the dust settled we couldn’t find any sign of them, not a track, not a used condom, not a bent pennywhistle, not a hair off their head, not a gleam from their eye, not a persimmon core, not a piece of permanganate, not a patch of pus-stained plaid pantaloons we promised the last prissy Pasha of Persia. Suffering succotash. I called my superiors at HQ and I told them Zenzontli had gone underground in search of new entrance to the Traktor Faktory; I hoped it was true. We attempted to locate their whereabouts by calling down manholes, releasing homing pigeons down the sewers, sending out Rover, faithful attack-trained Hero Dog of the Anarchist Cause (subsequently shot to pieces while lifting his leg on a Nazi swastika on a ruined wall by a snot-faced German youth wearing a steel pot on his head), also by singing ‘Happy Birthday Baby’ in Aztek to myself, analyzing dreams, tea leaves, beard cuttings or telling funny stories to anyone who was about, but we just could not locate those boys anywhere on this earth. Down in the bunker that had been moved twice already after direct hits from German 88s, we triangulated the area with colored pins on a map on the wall and developed a desperate plan. I knew exactly what I had to do. I was right on top of it. I filled in what’s-his-name, Komrade Maxtla on the missing-in-action status of our Aztek brothers, he said he’d expected difficulties of this kind, no need to worry, he’d fill out a report to Aztek Kommand about the Keeper of the House of Darkness getting lost again, have Komrade 3Turkey assume kommand of the other squads and assign them to infiltrate the Traktor Faktory under heavy fire, certain death, possible blood blisters, sty in the eye. It was okay, he said, Aztex is getting used to it. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke, he muttered. I myself don’t know if the operation could have been called a success the way things turned out. The good thing was we located some unopened cans of cherry red paint that might come in handy to repaint captured Volkswagens, but then again we lost all those men, all those young lives, the spirits and bodies shattered, souls scattered to the wind on the gray skies of Stalingrad, like little blackbirds, chips of embers, little flecks in your eye—you blink and they’re gone. That’s sad, I’m thinking.
Zenzontli’s second in kommand, Jaguar Komrade 3Turkey, he was a good guy, walked like a goofy cripple with his bad knee that I understand came from previous service from a serious war wound, Komrade 3Turkey was an august presence in his ratty coat torn across his massive shoulders which you could tell left him vulnerable to the vicious Siberian winds howling over the icy ruins of the city, certainly any one of his own men would have given him the clothes off their back except he owed them all money cuz he was probably the worst gin player that ever lived (poor bastard couldn’t tell whether the cards he held were right-side-up or up-side-down), but he was a great guy, lots of heart, bad breath, he was a giant among men, I could tell someone must’ve loved him like a son or a brother, I myself trusted his judgment implicitly, he happened to do whatever Komrade Maxtla said was the best thing, Komrade Maxtla had already suggested to him that he hump them grunts four klicks up to the Traktor Faktory pronto so as not waste any more time farting around in “the ’ville,” time to become a big hero now and attack the German positions frontally so as to proceed with the following three strategik objectives: first, set up a distraction so that the German forces become confused or disgruntled (“the Jerries will become dismayed, weakened by diarrhea, consequently forgetting all about Komrade Zenzontli and the missing squad”); second, “get those fucking Nazis”; thirdly, “fuck ’em up!” “Yeh! That’s it!” Those were the three Aztek strategems that Komrade Maxtla impressed upon us. Whenever 3Turkey recalled that suggestion I could see him nodding in his mind and in his body, shaggy head bobbing like he was retching but he was actually thotful in his own way. At those times he often had a faraway dreamy look in his eyes like he was far away or partly asleep. Komrade Maxtla would clap him on the shoulder, on the back, lean to his ear, mutter something, smiling, grim. 3Turkey would brighten, lift his broad head like the light had been turned on, surmise the grinning Maxtla, 3Turkey nodding wisely. “Just like that?” 3Turkey might ask, raising an eyebrow in surprise; Maxtla would punch his shoulder, “Fuckin’ A! You got it! You’re a smart motherfucker, know that? Shit! I wish you were on my crew! Zenzontli is damned lucky to have you!” 3Turkey would scrunch up his big battered dark face in a weathered smile, his skin chapped and cracked from the cold. Maxtla—perfectly groomed and rarely available, putting in a rare personal appearance here just for 3Turkey’s benefit—gazed on him affectionately: “Anyway, if you don’t mind, I gotta get back to my men, cuz we are amassing on the northern bridgeheads across the Volga for a pincer maneuver that will encircle the entire German 6th Army here, cut it off from General Hoth’s reinforcements, cut them off from Von Manstein, insure the doom of the Third Reich, you see. Virtually halt Hitler’s advance on the Baku oilfields, turning the whole tide of war for the Allies. It’s an important job, more important than hanging out here getting frostbit with you all, slaughtered in the fucking ruins of the city center, wave after wave of Panzers getting thrown at you, get pinned down in suicidal frontal attacks, being wiped out by German 88s and squads of enemy shock troops. Just forget I mentioned any of that,” Komrade Maxtla ordered. “Okay,” 3Turkey nodded amiably. “You just go out, do your job like you are told, everything will work out perfectly fine,” Maxtla grinned, his white teeth aligned perfectly along his lower lip like Richard Nixon (he almost raised himself up, threw up both arms with ‘V is for Victory’ signs in both hands, but apparently thot the better of it; you couldn’t pull such gestures on the troops too many times before such gestures of leadership went stale on you, best save it for a photo op), “Okay, I gotta go. You call me if you need anything, Komrade Maxtla or his designated field representative will be right there for you. Keeper of the House of Mists, remember that. My Eagle Unit, you know, Jaguars are nice and stuff, but shit, anyhow, like I was saying, got somewhere to go, we’re gonna be up there on the northern perimeter, come down on divisions of Rumanians, Italians, Prussians and Nazi legions like eagles, like furies they never dreamt existed in their worst philosophies, we’ll bust their defensive lines like Saltine crackers and celery sticks jammed into the hardest stalest guakamole ever made out of green avokados, we’ll encircle those Germans doing fifty kilometers a day with all kinds of armored support, tank support, artillery support, air support, convoys of hot food, while you guys will be doing your little struggle here, fighting it out in the cellars or rat holes, grubbing out a paltry existence in the varrios, little homies, dying in piles of frozen bricks and ruined steel girders, crouching behind rusted traktor engines bleeding out onto the frozen concrete or whatever, we’ll be riding high, getting our pictures snapped surrounding columns of thousands of captured Germans, we’ll be hailed as big heroes while you vatos are ground into nothing—heroes ain’t zeros!—a bloody patch of dirty snow in the snows of yesteryear evaporated and long forgotten. Anyway, we’re all in this together, aint we? Gotta go get set to look my best. You go run along, get yourself a voter registration drive, some leftist leaflet to hand out on the corner, some little issue or cause you try to make sound incendiary in your own mind. All right, Big Boy?” Maxtla clapped 3Turkey on the shoulder. Maybe the komrade Keeper of the House of Mists didn’t use those exact words. Maybe he said, “All right, Mamon?” The likelihood is 3Turkey probably didn’t catch it all. “All right,” 3Turkey said. Maxtla gave 3Turkey thumbs up, punching the air with his fist. “You’re one kool dude, ese,” Maxtla, Keeper of the House of Mist, told him (teeth cutting straight across his grin). Maxtla nodded in my direction curtly without looking up, turned on his heel and stalked off.
Strange things were happening inside the Traktor Faktory. A runner (one of our moon-faced Russian nurses bundled in rags like a fat boy) relayed me a message that said, for example, that our radio operators had intercepted a frantic call for help from a squad of German special forces that had been cut off. Their last message was, “The SS squad which perished at these coordinates before us left us one warning. Now we’ve seen it. It’s the monkey.” The final transmission. Apparently they too were wiped out. HQ sent word along noting that they were unable to decode “monkey.” They didn’t know what it meant. They suggested “poison gas.” I suspected myself that it was some Germanic racist code word for our Aztek brothers. But I really had no clue. Apparently the Germans who were being wiped out were seeing something they termed ‘monkeys.’ Extermination of entire squads like this on both sides was not unheard of, of course, given the massive chaos and total devastation raining down upon this area of the front, but the lack of German bodies and obvious clues were mysterious, as was the uncanny ability of our Aztek brothers to overcome fortified German positions with only small arms, flanged war clubs or knives. Sometimes they met massive defeats, as noted previously, but more often they overran German positions almost soundlessly, leaving only jaguar prints and a few tropikal feathers drifting in the dust of pulverized concrete that sifted out of the roofless girdered air. My job was to provide liaison and it wasn’t going well. I had mysterious radio transmissions we were unable to decode. “Monkeys in the ruins… flitting like shadows out of the corner of your eye… What does it mean? Ow!” We’d lost most of Zenzontli’s men on a brave, foolish, frontal assault on the faktory itself where they were blown to pieces after taking some positions inside the faktory by German 88s, followed by two Panzer tanks which rolled directly thru a path cleared especially for them by a an SS special forces squad. The SS mopped up the few remaining wounded, shooting them where they lay, examining briefly—the report of one reconnaissance spy described later—the feathers, animal skins, beaded tobako pouches, even ear rings or whatnot, the Nazis suspiciously leaving everything where it lay as if it might be tainted with some biologikal agent, conceptual disease or plain bad luck. (Which was of course true.) But the main problem was somewhere inside the traktor faktory Komrade Zenzontli and his squad were all that survived of the Aztek shock troops: perhaps they’d gone underground, tunneling under the enemy forces so as to surprise them from the rear, becuz we had been unable to find them anywhere on our own lines: they’d vanished into a large crater which subsequently filled with rubble, erasing all evidence of their passage. My plan was simple. I knew I had to think like an Aztek, using every shred of my years of study at Moscow University, where I learned Nahuatl from a French poet who was mainly interested in eating strange cacti, together we studied the ultrakomplex calendrikal system of ideology, pictographic thot processes, poetiks of politix, war and blood, socialism of sacrifice, death & pain. I had told my superiors when they chose me for this job that I’d only had a little over a year of study under my belt, I did not understand hardly anything about actual Aztek kulture, I only had the most basic konversational ability in the language, but the bearded anarchist kapitans congratulated me, saying that I was therefore the biggest expert on Aztex in Russia, the only man fit for the job. It was a historikal moment. They shook my hands all around, congratulating me on my promotion from Professor Bookworm to Kapitan on the Frontlines. I thanked them for their confidence in me, hoping that it would be borne out in time. Later, a bullet-headed Stalin-mustachioed short stocky man named Molotov who’d worked his way up thru the ranks as bank robber, bomb thrower, revolutionist, outside agitator, journeyman printer, dancing fool, union organizer, party komissar, jailbird ex-con, foot soldier of the Revolution (not in that order), (& who would later become confused as first Minister of Education under the historik first anarko-syndicalist government of the Decentralized Soviet Socialist Republix) pulled me aside, and partially hidden behind a column, jabbing his finger into my heart sternly the entire time, grumbled (sometimes jabbing his stubby pointer into my sternum grumpily), “Watch yourself four-eyed Jew boy! We have agents everywhere but we may not be able to protect you! You know as well as I do that anarchists couldn’t organize their way out of a paper bag, I’m here to tell you papa’s got a brand new bag, and you’re it! Any number of Oppositionist cliques or Communist hardliners want this liaison to fail and fail spectacularly! They are convinced that the Azteks are secretly the enemies of world socialism, world proletarian brotherhood, our mother’s milk, multikulti-internationalism so they are fomenting the slander that the Azteks are practitioners of a bizarre bloodthirsty metaphysikal socialism which subverts not merely the state or the current kapitalist regimes oppressing mankind, but also subverts material reality itself thru Spiritual Violence. They will attempt to use your every personal failure, every problem our Aztek Allies have kollaborating with us to betray the Revolution, to aid the brutal Nazi aggressors in their war of annexation and genocide, and make us, the true anarcho-syndicalist political model seem more like fuck-ups than we actually are! We can’t let that happen, needless to say. So you just watch your ass. I will assign several of my best secret agents (not like the fuck-ups from Joseph Conrad’s Secret Agent or Dostoyevski’s The Possessed I assure you!) to back you up, but Stalingrad will of course be another story altogether and there they may not be able to save you. Ultimate responsibility for this operation and your own life is up to you. Don’t screw it up becuz the reputation of our Revolution is already tarnished at an all-time low. The Vietnamese, the Chinese, the Cubans, the Nicaraguans, even the Grenadans are all saying that we are the Mickey Mouses of the world revolution! Those mean bastards! We must cut thru the Goofy, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck smokescreen to cut a more flamboyant figure like Buenaventura Durruti grasping his carbine, riding the running boards of an expropriated Stutz Bearcat careening wildly thru the avenidas of Barcelona with small arms fire chattering in the background! If we don’t expropriate the true aura of romantik violence, we won’t get anywhere marketing our line of black corduroys, T-shirt & artistik berets in coffeeshops, student reading clubs, lonely alienated jerk-offs walking around with one remaining hand left in the cities of the world, otherwise we will be stuck with a line of unsuccessful bookstores full of badly designed paperbacks crammed with ranting, raving and complaining! The destiny of world anarcho-syndicalism rests on your shoulders, four-eyed Jew boy. You must remember that bourgeois subjectivity and Marlboro individualism have no part in our foreign ideology, so don’t smoke, bad for the lungs, don’t drink too much coffee, stains the teeth and don’t stay up late watching TV, ruins the brain. Take this now as a personal token of affection from me to you. It’s a signed copy of one of Komrade Bakunin’s greatest books, Chale Kontigo, Kabron! This is the Spanish translation from the Spanish Civil War where I lost my right eye at Teruel, my right arm at Barcelona, my pinkie finger in Madrid, my virginity at Percodan, the use of my left leg along the Rio Jalama, my two front teeth at Christmas, my sense of humor on a left turn at sixty miles an hour, my right ear I don’t remember where, my lisp, my youth, the complete works of Robert Frost and any number of similar items all lost. So much has been lost along the way to World Revolution! We have all made tremendous sacrifices for our brothers, my brother. I don’t regret it. It was worth it in the global scheme of things where we are small as a grain of sand under a microscope as big as the moon. Now you understand where we stand?” “I believe so, komrade. Everything’s crystal clear to me now,” I acceded to the tremulous sturdy short man whose concealed outrage was ticking like a time bomb in my face. Men like him were the true anarcho-syndicalists that’s what I thot. I was proud to shake his one hand. He looked at me out of his one eye, brushed my hand aside, gripped me about the middle in a fierce bear hug that made my eyes water. I exhaled humidly onto his bald spot as he squeezed the air out of me completely with his one mighty arm. “Komrade, komrade,” he gasped, all choked up. “I wish you every success. The bastards don’t treat us like we deserve!” That was how this whole big adventure began for me. I never suspected that when I ended up in Stalingrad in the dead of winter of 1942 I’d meet the Aztek war leader, Zenzontli, Keeper of the House of Darkness, for the first time on a frozen air strip outside the winter-blighted village of Krapsnoskoye, where the horizontal wind knifed thru our greatcoats as we marched to the Aztek men standing there in their feathery finery, capes, chanclas, war clubs, magnificent and trembling, their eyes tearing in the freezing breeze, their tears and snot freezing on their faces as they attempted to strike a stoic, impervious pose, succeeding in part. Except for the grimaces of pain, the tearing or muscular tremors which were the first signs of hypothermia, etc. Little did I suspect that when I shook hands with the man, Keeper of the House of Darkness, that our handshake reached across oceans and kontinents, kultural differences, centuries of mistrust, misunderstanding, blatant error, histories of improbability and untold shaky decision-making on all sides. He gripped my hand in his, shook it casually and nodded in his absent-minded way. He had a strong grip, but my Aztek counter-part, the Keeper of the House of Darkness was paying hardly any attention to the howling wind, the violent shivering erupting among his glowering troops, the sputtering last gasps of the dying transport engines. Instead, he was thinking about something else; I suspected he was worried about himself. That’s when I knew we were like brothers.
Where was my Aztek brother?
Probably their souls were lost forever inside some slaughterhouse for all I knew.
The lost sorry sons of bitches.
That’s what happens with brothers, twins, supposed doubles, the replicant mirror image of your self, spirit and soul. When you first find out that you are exactly the same, that everyone is human, we are all alike, your fellow man is a brother in the truest sense of the word, all men are created equal and endowed by the Kreator (called by the Aztex, “Ometayotl”) with certain inalienable rights such as a driver’s license, checkbook, tooth brush, taxes, cops, armies, insurance forms, parking tickets, jails, parliamentary system of representation with lawyers up the kazoo. It’s all kool. But then your double, your brother, disappears you see and then it throws your whole life into question. The mirror image of the self vanishes. Cuz maybe it wasn’t your Other, your brother, your double. Maybe it was somehow, all the time, your self, your real self and maybe you never knew. Now that he’s gone and disappeared. So, what about that one, eh? How you like them Chinese greens in oyster sauce? Maybe you haven’t just lost some physical twin, spiritual mirror-image of yourself, maybe it goes way beyond that—maybe what you’ve lost is your own best self, your own inner being, your own truest identity out of a universe of possibilities, good or bad. Oh well that’s the way it goes, I know; still and all, when I thot it over, it became apparent that I had to go make some effort to go look for the guy. Cuz partly that was my job, plus I’d look really stupid, if they had assigned me as liaison to these superb brown Aztek warriors, who had mostly been blasted to bits but in some cases had achieved stunning successes on the battlefield, then during the course of walking from one point to another, Point A to Point B in Stalingrad, they’d just stepped into a hole in the ground, ajuah! like a puff of smoke, vanished! I couldn’t face my superiors without a real good faith effort on my part to recover my komrades. I couldn’t stand before my one-eyed, one-armed, gimp-legged, balding, bomb-throwing anarchist superior, Kapitan Molotov, and admit that I had lost my own mirror image of self, my brother, my Other, my double, the short-tempered fool! What did he have to get himself fucking lost for? I could hear Kapitan Molotov ranting and raving like a true anarcho-syndicalist, “You don’t have the slightest idea where they are? Jeezus Fucking Antichrist! March them straight to the center of Stalingrad thru smoke, bad news, shelling, high explosives, mines, Panzer attacks, machinegun nests, nitpicking, Nazi shock troops, balderdash, third-rate Chinese food, obscurantism, falsified documents, dust, smoke, freezing temperatures, grainy black & white photography, the stench of German cooking wafting over the ruins, the horrors of war, the horrors of German cooking, the atrocities of that type of personal hygiene, Nazi ideology, racial supremacy, sauerkraut with fennel seeds, on top of all that you misplace the special Aztek forces we are depending upon to hold the city center and turn the tide of war against world takeover by German fascism, a brutal philosophy and a spiffy teknology and pompous music! Jumping Jingoistic Jellyfish! Look at you! Hell, the crazy Azteks could be anywhere, is that what you’re telling me? You can’t even be sure that these men—foreigners in a foreign land, I might remind you—aren’t halfway around the world right this minute, right this second, being utterly destroyed, dying bit by bit, dazed, destroyed, agonized and stupified by it all, wasting their lives, falling prey to absolute idiocy and meaninglessness in some God-forsaken hellishly pointless spot on the globe like Southern Kalifornia? Do I have to mention South Pasadena, Gardena, Harbor City, San Pedro, Encino, West Hollywood, Westwood, Lakewood, Tustin, Culver City, Torrance, San Gabriel, Rosemead, City of Industry, Redondo Beach, Commerce, Burbank, Glendale, Pacoima, Van Nuys, Tarzana, El Monte, City Terrace, Whittier, Bell Gardens, Huntington Park, Ojai, Banning? Are you telling me it’s as bad as that—they could be anywhere, trapped in bullshit, catatonik, asphyxiated in complete shell-shocked imbecility and you, their brother and komrade wouldn’t even have a clue! You know What Has To Be Done!” That’s what my kapitan—Mr Personality, inventor of the molotov kocktail, with all the charisma of motor oil—would invariably say to me. I knew what I had to do. I had to find those lost sorry sons of bitches.
The first step, as I saw it, was to think like an Aztek! What would an Aztek do, trapped underground, fighting his way to the surface of the Red Oktobyr Traktor Faktory in the strategik center of the city of Stalingrad in the below-average winter of 1942? I massaged my temples with my fingertips and put on Rayban sunglasses in order to view the situation from their worldview. I marched out across the broken ground, with the wind whipping my hair in my face and sniper’s bullets sometimes zinging past the tip of my nose, I sang the Red Army Marching Song in imitation of what I thot would be the Aztek preparation for going into battle, since I didn’t know ‘In-a-gadda-da-vida’ or ‘Black Magik Woman’ or other authentik Aztek Fight Songs. I brushed aside some frozen dirt, ice crystals, and sat on some steps that led up into a building that was no longer there. It was history, so with that invisible building looming in the smoke of history over my right shoulder, I furrowed my brow in thot, trying to think like an Aztek, like my brother. What is the House of Darkness, my brother, what is that all about? What’s up with that, I ask you in my mind. “According to my studies… the Aztek peoples came out of the northern deserts believing some absurd myth that they had been born out of cave, a stony womb, possibly covered inside with cactus needles, so that they were born in agony… Maybe they felt better after that… according to my Research… I have the latest studies in Aztekology… according to ex-seminary student, linguistic genius & party theoretician, Joseph Djugashvili… “the Azteks figured that when they saw an eagle eating a snake on top of a prickly pear cactus, they could stop wandering around in the desert for hundreds of years & finally settle down, get a life, a real job, downpayment, credit kards, mortgages, debts…” Djugashvili’s best-seller, Let History Judge, goes on, “boy, were they surprised when they were out by Lake Texkoko one day & what do you know but an eagle (representing the power of the sun, Huitzilopochtli, macho attitudes, etc.) came down (implying sexuality, of course) on a rattlesnake (ancient fertility symbol among Mesoamerikan peoples, representing the unblinking stealth of females & their reptilian cunning) & ate it! What does that represent, eh? Well that’s obvious. Anyway the Azteks were real surprised like I say becuz that’s what their mythologisms had always said they would see at the exact spot where they should build Teknotitlan, their kapital. So they did. Or at least that’s what real estate brochures say. Their neighbors did not really like them becuz they were unkempt savages out of the northern desert from places like the one street town of Tecate, where all they have is a beer brewery that makes cerveza out of maguey strings, barbershop hair, toenails of stray dogs, desert dust & borracho babas. With this low income background it was impossible to make friends with the better situated—not to mention rich—folks like the Otomi, Chichimeks, Kulwah, the Tepanaks & everybody else around there who was kooler than they were. Cuz everybody else had Everything—I’m talking chinampas, canals, pyramidz, boulevards, tattoos, placas, secret handshakes, Tres Flores hair oil, car parts, Tres Reyes records, extra engines up on blocks in the garage, I mean everything & the Azteks were seen as pollos & losers, fucked up with nothing. Even when other people tried to make friends with them, send them their sisters or daughters for marriage the Azteks would get too excited & skin the women alive, cannibalize their flesh, parade their flayed skins around the neighborhood. The Azteks were forever doing stuff like that why we don’t know but we have some theories. Anyway. Understandably the neighbors (Tepenaks, Tlaxklallans, Otomis, etc.) would get kind of upset you’d think the Azteks could figure that one out. Anyway there was umpteen years & generations of wars. They had some great wars, some smaller wars, some civil wars, some civil strife, food famines, riots, popular & unpopular wars, some wars accompanied by famines, wars over power, wars over territory, over ideology, some wars over who was allowed to eat the cannibalized flesh or wear the victim’s skin, some wars over who gets to wear red or blue, Krips or Bloods, la Eme or the Aryan Brotherhood, Pelican Bay or San Quentin, Corcoran or whatever, some wars were exciting some were boring some they kept score some they didn’t. Okay. You get the idea. They were always trying to start wars. The Azteks were finally rejected by their neighbors who didn’t appreciate all the wars, cannibalism, flaying, tearing out of hearts to offer as living sacrifices to the gods, mutilation of your own genitalia with stingray spines to commemorate important events, ritual torture & murder on a monthly basis to make sure overly complikated calendrikal systems of existential terror, taxation, economiks & macho dude attitude all worked out efficiently. Which it seems to. For as we see even if finally the Azteks happened to be repulsed & ejected, exiled way out into the middle of Lake Texkoko, where they had only the fish & the kormorants to be their friends they seemed to do all right.” [In a footnote, Djugashvili interpolates, “Hey it’s not like their neighbors didn’t do all this stuff either on a smaller scale cuz they did come on it’s not like the Azteks invented all of this stuff on their own. They claimed they got it from the Toltex but several Russian tourists or poets who have managed to escape from the region with their skin still partly intact have mentioned that even tho the whole area is packed full of different tribes of various nationalities with all kinds of different languages like Zapotek, Mixtek, Triki, Olmek, Totonak, Chichimek, Kalo, Huichol, nobody has sole franchise on human sacrifice, cannibalism & ritual torture they all share the same marketplace of ideas they all build pyramidz oriented to the heavens where in a timely fashion they chop open the victims & offer beating hearts to sun, moon, star godz—whatever they are—I mean, we Europians call them godz but obviously these concepts operate for Mesoamerikans on numerous psycho-social, ideo-physical, martyrological levels & nexuses of the kosmological, kommercial & physical worlds. Or anyway they all used to do that stuff but these are the modern days nowadays we presume the gringos no longer kill all the Indians, rape the women, enslave all people they consider ‘niggers,’ hiding behind flag & cross at every chance they get, we presume Chinese people are not spreading like yellow hordes across the globe willing to work like slaves for a few grains of rice, we assume that the German people remain the revolutionary people of Rosa Luxembird & Karl Liebkneck, Karl Marx & Friederick Pfufferpfiffel (we assume that the German people are not totally & completely in the thrall of the Nazi nightmare but we could be wrong), we assume that people everywhere have overcome their own kultural stereotypes, religious hang-ups & are doing better things with their lives, people can think for themselves but we could be wrong. Hard information is hard to come by.”] In my other favorite book of his, Report on the National Question: How to Get Ahead & Influence People, Joseph Djugashvili writes, “You have to admire anyway how the Azteks invented Socialism in One City in the middle of Lake Texkoko, by inventing the chinampa (‘floating garden’) system of agrikulture, constructing at once an architekture of the whole ekology which provided them with foodstuffs, fish, fowl & feathered clothing & an ekologikal system of transport thru inter-island canals, channels, walkways, roads and MTA as well as a spiritual transport & architekture that united them with their world, orienting them in their universe in such a way as to allow them to assume leadership amongst the multitudinous nationalities, tribes, organizations, clubs & gangs that were milling about in the kulturally rich soupy milieu there in the heart of Mesoamerika on Lake Texkoko. Sure they had some troubling one might even say disturbing bouts with bloodthirstiness, crazy violence & ritual slaughter of human beings en masse, but that’s all a thing of the past! Lucky for us & to whom it may concern! As a Georgian and a Russian, I—Joseph Djugashvili—am pretty glad that we Russians don’t have to worry about getting caught up in all kinds of internecine violence, mass slaughter of human beings, unconscionable violation of basic civil niceties, cuz, I can tell you that as a true anarchist I just wouldn’t stand for such a thing for one second!” Djugashvili, one of the world’s more stirring writers you can believe it. What an archeologist & thinker, practically a man of steel. A man after my own heart. Or vice versa. Anyway with Djugashvilian elucidation of the Aztek soul, I felt—again, rubbing my temples with my benumbed fingertips whilst the sniper bullets knocked down a runner who had ventured out across the open ground to try to bring me a message, or bring me in from the cold, stop this apparently foolhardy episode of exposing myself to certain death by simply stopping to think out here on the frozen ruins of some soap faktory or brick works (only to become statistical, fallen down clutching at his back, crumpling onto his face, the poor bastard, whoever it was, had been)—suddenly lightened of a burden: a thot came to me! I had it! I leapt to my feet! Based upon my examination of Aztek history, symbology of macaw feathers, jaguar paw prints, monkey chatter, my recent partnership with these strange allies, I felt I could guess what they were looking for. They were looking for LOVE!
Okay maybe that wasn’t exactly it. But I felt I was getting closer. House of Darkness… House of Darkness… What could that be…? I stood up, my knees creaking in the cold like an old man, my boots felt both too large or too tight, cold in any case, the chill was creeping into my bones, my nose felt frostbitten and my lips numb. Some German motherfucker was still shooting at me. He was very zealous about his job the son of an in-bred Rottweiler bitch. Every few minutes (he must’ve been mighty far away to keep missing like that with his high magnification Zeiss sniper-scope) some bullet would zip by two inches in front of my right eyelid, or bury itself into the dirt at my feet, or pop into the concrete beside me, sending shards or slivers of cement into my skin without visibly tearing the material of my greatcoat. I noticed the fallen runner had rolled over, had raised a hand, made one last gesture as if pointing toward the sky. It occurred to me momentarily that the man might still be alive. So I sauntered right on down there and knelt by his side. Now the sniper was working overtime, cuz apparently we were well within his sights. The first bullet to strike me notched my ear, it felt just like someone had snapped my ear in anger as a child or had bitten deeply the ear during an act of melodramatic Mike Tyson lovemaking. It stung, and immediately warm blood was trickling down my chilly neck. The fallen soldier was a nurse I had seen on the front lines before. Apparently she couldn’t move, perhaps the bullet had struck her spine. She was staring up at me with bright green eyes. What was her name? Olga? Inga? Anekka? Yolie? Leti? Nena? Another German bullet thumped into her body at the midsection; her expression did not change, but her eyes widened. She opened her mouth, as if struggling to speak. The next bullet ricocheted off my forehead, leaving my eyebrow hanging in my eye, blood dripping down my cheek. I decided not to wait for her to speak. I reached underneath the fallen komrade, grasping her belt as I stood, tossing her over my shoulder. The next bullet sliced thru my armpit, giving me nasty lacerations that hurt a lot both at the time and still hurt even in memory even when I recalled it years later, when I found myself still alive. The other thing I found out later was probably it was that bullet that slammed thru her groin area, chopping her femoral artery to bits, while I carried her to safety, heroically (I thot, in passing, while attempting to hurry my overcoated ass back to our lines), she completely bled out into her boot down my pants, perishing from loss of blood in a minute or two. Her head and arms bounced on my back as if patting me on the back for my efforts as I high-tailed it back to HQ in the ravine only to find the doctor said he couldn’t do a thing for her cuz she was dead already. What was she doing out looking for me? I asked around. ‘Cuz everybody thot you were lost, missing with your Aztek battalion,’ the exhausted surgeon said. ‘Anushka had a hunch she could save you.’ It didn’t take me long to get out of there. I marched across several ruined blocks. I clambered over some fallen walls. I jumped some tumbled stairs. I skirted a mess of blasted bricks. I single-handedly killed some German teenagers, I shot them lots of times while they crouched behind a wall smoking cigarettes, some of them looked like Turks as they clutched themselves falling to the ground I shot two of them in the back of the head. They might have been veterans of Paris; they might have been fresh off the farm. I killed them all. I knifed ‘em, I shot ’em, I blasted their hole to bits with a satchel charge. I tossed grenades at a bunch of them. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, we were crushing the life out of them, this way or that, welcome to Russia, hear what I am saying? 8, 9, ten, twelve, dozens of ’em, hundreds, we wiped ’em out. I fucked ’em up, I cut them out, I took their number, I did it without thinking, I loved every minute of it, I was good at it like nobody’s business, I killed some men in their twenties, I killed some Nazis in their thirties, I killed some former brown shirts in their forties, I killed Butchers of the Balkans, I killed Rapists of the Ukraine, I killed Lackeys of the Death Kamps, it wuz about time, I killed Special Eisensatzgruppen Extermination Squads, I stabbed them to the motherfucking heart, I kicked in the teeth of Death’s Head Insignias, I socked the Nazi kapo in the jaw then shot him in the eye, with a big gun, with a howitzer, with a Kalashnikov, with a Smith & Wesson 44. I become Death, slayer of worlds. Robert Oppenheimer said that. Fuck Robert Oppenheimer! I said that. I killed the sick ones, the proud ones, the strong ones, the pussies, I killed the tall ones the short ones I killed the faggots the artists I killed the geniuses the idiots I killed the rich man’s beloved child the poor woman’s only son. I killed ’em where they stood I shot them when they ran. I killed the poets the car mechaniks dog catchers the waiters the corporals the lieutenants the captains the sergeants then I killed somebody who just happened to get in the way, who wuz it? A cook, an orderly, a child, a nobody, somebody who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I never found out who that was I never looked back. The beer bellies… the sensitive types… the ones who just did what they’re told… the fuckups… the students… the ones who surrendered… the ones who didn’t… I didn’t know that I was on my way to the House of Darkness.
I could have guessed when I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. A flicker of movement that when you turn your head to look is gone. A shadow. A shift. Whatever it was. You could have sworn for a moment there something was examining you dispassionately as a jaguar but when you turn to look you survey only the usual ruins, piles of brick and mortar, blasted stones, the avenueless avenues, treeless trees, directionless streets. Trolley tracks without trolleys. The depopulated center of the city. People get a little money, what do they do? Move to the suburbs. Chips of shattered cement scraped under my boots. I was walking the streets past the uninhabitable habitations, collapsed and burnt out quarters, apartments whose walls enclosed drifting smoke, smoldering fires, burning bodies, wood beams, planks and lath smashed to kindling under crushed masonry and plaster, still burning, greasy black tendrils and white flumes dissipating into puffs in the cold air, nothing to it, perhaps, but possibly the tell-tale sign of enemy cook fires. Drifting smoke merged with the lowering cold gray sky. Frayed wires hanging from a leaning pole. Another day in Stalingrad. Except for the stench of burning ruins, mostly acrid rubber, paint or sometimes other things, a dead horse on the corner, the charred particulate smell stronger or weaker in a fluctuating breeze. Diffused sunshine oblique through the thickening or thinning mass of cloud cover. Sometimes it might give you the impression that the sun was about to appear, shadows would begin to deepen your field of vision around nearby objects, pull their edges into sharper relief (you might think of moving closer to rubble, a burnt out truck settled on its axles, that could provide more cover) then just as quickly, that impending glare would fade, the gray cast would return to everything, the uniformity of indirect light.
It might occur to you that you smelled like this dead city.
Varieties of pungency in the smoke.
Thunder of distant explosions. How many people would die here? Millions?
House. Razed to the foundations. Someone had been living in the basement, a woman and her two children. Their hideaway had been found. German soldiers—we assume—scouted it out as an enemy dugout. The woman and her little kids had not gotten away. The two children lie face up on the sidewalk. The mother with the kerchief on her head sprawled in the foundation of the house. The day is cold. The bodies don’t smell from here. I took out my notebook from my shirt pocket, my pencil stub. Wrote: thinking like an Aztek. The plan. Tapped my pencil against my teeth… Somewhere in the neighborhood I could hear the engine rumble of heavy armor. Tanks in the vicinity. No need to mention they’d be accompanied by infantry patrols. I stepped into the street and picked up the broken chair. I set it next to the nearest one of the two dead babies. A little girl, fat round cheeks, half open eyes. Nearby, the little brother. I searched the ground until I found among the splinters a sharp sliver of wood longer than my forefinger for use as a lancet. Also, my razor sharp Swiss Army knife which I carried with me everywhere or else felt naked. I found a cracked white porcelain bowl to set underneath the broken chair. Suddenly the staccato clatter of tank tread and huge diesel engine sharpened distinctly as three gray figures strolled into the intersection a couple blocks down. The point man raised his arm, others fanned out, running down the sidewalk in my direction. Others would accompany them behind the walls, thru the emptied ruins. I had a precious few minutes to enact the Aztek invention if I could remember exactly what I’d learned in school:
Beginning in the Late Preclassic Period, lancets made of stingray spines, obsidian and flint are regularly found in burials and caches. Stingray spines, for example, are often found in the pelvic regions of the dead and were perhaps originally contained in bags hung from belts. It is clear that bloodletting was basic to the institution of rulership, to the mythology of world order, and to public rituals of all sorts. Through bloodletting the Maya [sic] sought a vision they believed to be manifestation of an ancestor or a god. Thus the Maya [sic] expressed piety by letting blood from all parts of the body… While the importance of blood sacrifice in Mesoameri[k]an societies has long been recognized, the practice was considered to be Mexi[k]an rather than fundamentally Maya [sic]… For kings, every stage in life, every event of political or religious life, every significant period ending required sanctification [thru] bloodletting. When buildings were dedicated, crops planted, children born couples married or the dead buried, blood was given to express piety [&] call the gods into attendance… The creation of the Popul Vuh provides a context for the rite of bloodletting. At the beginning of all things, when the creator gods finished their work, they wanted to be recognized by their living creations. The birds [&] beasts of the fields answered them with only a meaningless cacophony of sound, [&] for that they were destined to be the food of man [&] of one another. The gods tried several times to create creatures who would know them, but nothing worked. Finally, using maize for flesh [&] water for blood, they created human beings who could recognize them [&] understand their relationship to the creator gods. The gods’ prolonged efforts are central to the understanding of bloodletting: they wanted creatures to “name (their) names, to praise them” [&] to be their providers [&] nurturers… Elegantly dressed, Shield Jaguar wears the shrunken head of a past victim tied to the top of his head, signaling his sacrificial role. His principal wife, Lady Xo[k], kneels before him in a huipil of finely woven, complex design. Her headdress, with its tassels, bar, trapeze [&] Tlalo[k] signs, signals she is engaged in a very special bloodletting rite that will eventually include captive sacrifice. She pulls a thorn-lined rope [thru] the wound in her perforated tongue, letting the rope fall into a woven basket full of blood-spotted paper strips. Lady Xo[k]’s lips [&] cheeks are covered with the dotted scrolls that signify the blood streaming from her wounded mouth… the second in the series, shows the consequence [&] purpose of the bloodletting rite… The same woman, still kneeling, gazes upward at an apparition, a Tlalo[k] warrior, emerging from the gaping mouth of a Vision Serpent. In her left hand she holds a bloodletting bowl with the bloody paper, a stingray spine [&] an obsidian lancet; in the right hand, a skull [&] serpent symbol. The Vision Serpent rises from a separate bowl placed on the ground in front of her… The serpent’s body surges upward [thru] a blood scroll, declaring that the vision materializes from blood itself. The Tlalo[k] god [&] warrior brought forth refer to a special sacrificial complex that the Maya [sic] with the god of the evening star [&] with war… Today, scientists acknowledge that endorphins—chemi[k]ally related to the opiates [&] produced by the brain in response to massive blood loss—can induce hallucinogeni[k] experiences… The Vision Serpent may have been more than a symboli[k] manifestation of hallucination. Information from Room 3 at Bonampak as well as from other pictorial records makes it possible to reconstruct some parts of rituals that took place in the great open plazas of Maya cities. Against a backdrop of terraced archite[k]ture, elaborately constumed dancers, musicians, warriors [&] nobles entered the courts in long processions. [Some of this shit was boring as you can imagine.] Dancers whirled across the plaza floors [&] terrace platforms to music made on rattles, whistles, wooden trumpets [&] drums of all sizes. Even of imaginary sizes. A crowd of participants wearing bloodletting paper or cloth tied in triple knots sat on platforms [&] terraces around the plaza. [The pinche Nazis are coming. Scurrying like shadows. They secure the perimeters of the avenue as the Mark IV tank clatters into the center of the intersection; the gun turret revolves, black diesel fumes spurting out in a cloud at the rear of the panzer, with a grinding of gears the right track pulls the tank rightward. Diesel fumes spurting in its wake. It lurches. It approaches.] According to Bishop Landa, these people would have prepared themselves with days of fasting, abstinence [&] ritual steam baths. Well into the ceremony, the ruler [&] his wife would emerge from within a building high above the court, in full publi[k] view, he would lacerate his penis, she her tongue. Ay, que rika! Ropes drawn [thru] their wounds would carry the flowing blood to paper strips. The saturated paper—perhaps along with other offerings… were placed in large plates, then carried to braziers [&] burned, creating columns of black smoke. The participants, already dazed [thru] deprivation, publi[k] hysteria [&] massive blood loss, were [k]ulturally conditioned to expect a hallucinatory experience. The rising clouds of swirling smoke provided the perfect field in which to see the Vision Serpent; gazing into the smoke, the celebrants may have actually seen it… (pages 175- 178, The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art, by Linda Schele & Mary Ellen Miller) Apprehensive as much from the general chill in the air as from the approaching enemy, I unbuckled my belt & pulled down my trousers. I sat on the rickety chair & lay my penis on the wooden frame. I had to recall this exactly so that I got it right the first time. I wasn’t going to get a second chance. In his seventeeth-century account of the ceremony, Fray Delgado, a Spanish priest, vividly described the method of drawing blood from the penis, as practiced among the Manche Chole Maya [sic]:
In Vicente Pach’s ranch I saw the sacrifice. They took a chisel [&] a wooden mallet, placed the one who had to sacrifice himself up on a smooth stone slab, took out his penis, [&] cut it in three parts two finger breadths up, the largest in the center, saying at the time incantations [&] words I did not understand. The one who was undergoing the operation did not seem to suffer… (ibid. page 180)
Here goes nothing. I lifted the skin off the top of my member, which was feeling distinctly chilly & neglected where it lay, shriveling up like a slug in the icy breeze; I summarily rammed the long splinter perpendicular thru it. Yoweeee! Did that sting! My breath shuddered going out. I started trembling. Could have been worse! Now for the hard part. I unfolded the large blade on my Swiss Army knife; two German troops stopped on the sidewalk cradling their submachine guns stopped to watch. One grinned, said something to the other, who nudged his gun barrel in my direction. Blood was dripping into the bowl below my seat. I shifted the knife in hand so that the blade pointed inward. Raised it up and brought it swiftly down.
I looked up, scanning for the Vision Serpent.
Then everything blew up. (Ka-Boom!)
That’s the end of the story right there. (Kaboombah!)
That’s it. All over.
Se acabo. The deal is done, compa.
What happened? Mother Russia, wrapped in a shawl of freezing fog, under a vast tent of stars. Treeline of taiga spreading in the stars. Permafrost rising in my expansive soul, tundra layered in forgotten childhoods. Mother Russia’s mountains, rivers and cities lost out on the endless steppe. The Lena, Kazakhstan, Outer Mongolia. Night descends. The same night sleeping thru ten thousand years. Famine, wars, progroms, the gulag—Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan have nothing on us. We’ve industrialized the business. Take a number, get in line. Your turn will come. Your brother, your prodigal double, for lack of whom your soul shall forever remain solitary, dreamless and without reflection, who never knew you existed and you never knew the same, remains locked down in solitary an alternate universe, the endless gulag, Angola State Prison, Corcoran Facility for Men, Pelican Bay maximum security. The Spanish Republic went down to defeat long ago. La Pasionaria gave her speech as the men passed down the alameda “into history” long time coming long time gone. Her speech on Radio Madrid broadcast into the void. The International Brigades scattered on four winds. Those men and women will die—or fell in combat years ago—in distant corners of the world, unjoined, in disconnected little battles in farflung fucking corners of the piss-stained dog eared world, unknown to each other. Out of touch. That’s what happened to me. The Mark IV tank fired, fired again. The German soldiers aimed their submachine guns at me and pulled the triggers, on the run. Smoke rose up, covered over the scene. The air filled with dust and ash. You know how it gets sometimes, some moments you feel like you are inside one of those souvenir bubbles the kid in is shaking in the gift shop, fascinated by the plastic snow chips swirling around and around. What can you do but wait for your vision to clear—if it doesn’t clear, you just go on from there. The tank had fired, a concussion shook my entire being. The soldiers had fired directly at me, was I still in one piece? Doubtful, it seemed doubtful. Maybe if life isn’t going too good before we die, the line between life and death isn’t gonna be all that definite. Was I alive or dead, that was the question. Would we be able to tell? I didn’t expect any official notification. Soil and masonry fountained out of the ruined earth in successive blasts. Clods, pieces of brick, debris rained down. Smoke swirled about us, ash from burning buildings drifted out of the sky like snowflakes. I heard the chatter of submachine guns, the Germans were quite near, I felt sure that I must be hit repeatedly, must feel their bullets passing thru my body, stitching into my attitude, but I felt nothing. My limited attention was fading. The tank revved, spurting black diesel fumes into the chill misty air, clattered to a halt, the folding treads clanking on the pavement directly ahead of me. The muzzle of the gun pointing above, off to the right. If it fired my ear drums would shatter, I’d never hear again. As if descending out of the smoke, a figure appeared, crouching on top of the turret. First he was just a silhouette with frondlike fins waving on his back like some prehistoric lizard, but then I could perceive more detail. An Aztek warrior painted with jaguar spots, ketzal-plumed headdress fanning out behind his head like a flaming green mane. He was trying to figure out how to open the hatch. A German soldier ran up, raised his submachinegun with both hands and paused. His receiver must’ve jammed. He cursed, throwing the submachinegun to the street, he jerked his automatik pistol out of a leather holster on his hip. As he raised the pistol, feathers sprouted in the soldier’s armpit. Arrows flitted thru the murky air. He let out a startled half-cry, stiffened as he fell, twisting. Helmet and pistol, canteen, hand grenades and paraphernalia from his web belt clattered on the street. The turret of the tank turned on its base with the gnashing of gears. Smoke descended like a curtain, the Aztek on the tank was still struggling with the top hatch, crackling of small arms erupted around us, shouts and cries of men in pain penetrated the general din. A German infantryman with an arrow protruding from his thigh limped frantically around the tank, rifle at the ready. Then he was hit, he jumped, startled, looked down at the arrowhead extending out of his front pocket below his belt, screeching as he collapsed. Feathers bobbed behind his coat as if he’d been playing the party game, Pin the Tail on the Nazi. He was attempting to crawl away, whimpering, spewing yelps of agony when the arrows scraped the pavement, but an Aztek warrior ran up to him, clubbed him so hard his helmet made a potlike clang and rolled away, dented. The German soldier slumped, face-down on the street. The Aztek slung his club on his own belt, reached down; pulled the German over his shoulder, and trotted off down the street. Someone laughed—shouted out a grito; the figure on the tank disappeared inside. Behind the tank several German soldiers shuffled, limping thru masonry scattered in the street. One of them swung his leg and booted an odd shaped ball not far from the silent tank. The shaggy ball rolled as if waterlogged, closer—it did not bounce—a man’s head. An Aztek warrior laughed and stepped up; he sidestepped—kicking not with the toes like the Germans in their heavy boots, but with the regulation side of the foot, giving it the proper football strike—he booted the head back at the Germans, who now showed no interest. Suddenly the Germans displayed no joy in kicking a decapitated trophy thru the street. They allowed it to roll beyond them. They were being escorted thru the smoke by men whom I recognized from Zenzontli’s squad. The missing Jaguar Unit had returned. The Azteks sauntered casually thru the avenue in Stalingrad as if the maelstrom was all in a day’s work. Two Germans emerged from atop the tank, followed by the long, lean jaguar warrior in feathers, who dropped lithely to the ground. (I recognized him as the one they called Zahuani, Pirate.) A long knife dangled from his hand. As the tank crew stood, he shoved them among their other komrades already under escort. Smoke billowed in and covered them over. Coughing, bootsteps scraping pavement as they went away. A curtain of darkness descended upon me. So it was that I died and crossed over the twilit boundary of life to walk out onto the vast barren plain of Death. Know what I saw? Of course you do not. There on the borderlands of the vast black plain of Death, I saw a bunch of trash and litter and crap, right there on the border where the Land of the Dead abuts the Land of the Living. No frontage road, no real estate signs saying Buy Desertview Luxury Villas Financed by Lincoln Savings & Loans, no barbed wire fence that I could see. All that had come and gone decades ago. Maybe some partial fence no one took care of so it had fallen down. A somewhat vertical plywood billboard long since stripped of signage, color or painted lettering. And like I say, a noticeable amount of litter on the ground. You could see the ground was all scuffed up from people standing around. Like a bus stop on a corner next to some empty lot in South Central or downtown. Plastic bottles, discarded Pampers, cigarette butts, beer cans, bottles, bottles in paper sacks, broken bottles, plastic bags wrapped around tumbleweeds, sign poles, bits and pieces of paper, yellowed, graying newspaper fragments embedded or partially buried in the sandy clay. A woman’s worn shoe, what they call a ‘pump’ curling up under the weather. Etc. Other items blown up against a portion of chainlink fence: tattered emotional tonalities weathered into vague translucence like pieces of plastic, ideograms representing the totality of one person’s best intentions hanging on the fence line like scraps of hair, fragments of personality scattered almost invisibly across the ground as far as one cared to look, human tonalities glinting in the gravel like bits of broken glass. An outcropping of rock like a line of barren brown hills in the middle distance. As day dawned in Miktlan, the Land of the Dead, 3Turkey was grousing, grumpy from lack of coffee. “What the fuck, anyway,” he kicked at a stone embedded in the hard ground but his toe only skittered off, the stone firmly embedded in earth. We stood not far from a towering urban semaphore whose tricolor lights however were dark, distinctly off, nonfunctional, dead. The semaphore was attached midway up on an extremely long tubular pole which bent ungainly over the center of the roadway, where it extended to an empty light fixture. This empty socket dangled a fraying braid of unconnected wires. I had not noticed it previously, but the asphalt of the highway stretched straight down into the valley of the plain and into the distance. The asphalt ran out here before us, at an intersection of unpaved roads. On of those roads extended a brief distance, only, into the brush until it was either overgrown or occluded by cactus and brush. On the other side of the road were a couple small piles of asphalt, gravel and sand, clearly no more than leftovers, not enough to pave the center of the intersection let alone extend the roadway for any distance. There was not a truck, vehicle, bulldozer or piece of heavy equipment in sight except one rusted yellow earth mover so overgrown with drifting sand and tumbleweeds that it was almost indistinguishable from the a rise in the background. 3Turkey limped up to a METROPOLITAN TRANSIT AUTHORITY sign on a steel pole which implied a bus stop; 3Turkey squinted up at the sign futilely scanning its weathered blue triangle for some useable information. “Where the fuck is the bus?” 3Turkey cried at some point. He grasped the limber steel pole with both hands as if to strangle it; he shook it back & forth with a rattle. “Fuck!” he cried. “Fuck! I hate this!” As the Mexikan sun rose over the hills, long shadows extended across the ochre plain almost to the far horizon. The light exposed yellow desiccated bushes which appeared to be uniformly spaced on the black ground as far as the eye could see. Out of an area of shadow a great distance away appeared a pooling of deeper shadow which later might turn into a dry lake bed or an actual mirage. Soon, if you looked straight up into the sky a blinding light would hurt your eyes. The Land of the Dead was looking mighty empty this time of the morning. Clearly not enough people had yet died. I suspected that once the Battle of Stalingrad was done with, they would have more reason to extend this roadway and get the buses running out this far. The place would be flush with immigrants. Until then—or even if, I didn’t want to tell 3Turkey the bad news—scowling with confusion as he limped out into the middle of the empty roadway where yellow sand had drifted out across the plainly unused tarmac, he stood straddling the center line that ended abruptly a couple yards beyond him, legs apart, his hands open at his sides, twitching, his big dark face rumpled with an openly astonished expression of disbelief as he stared down the empty road into the distance—I didn’t have it in my heart to tell him—but I thot we were fucked. For the time being. Which in a place like this, could very well mean forever.
young girl driving an
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her nose, eats it, turns
Sesshu Foster’s first novel takes a surreal jaunt through alternate histories
By Anthony Miller
Welcome to a strange new world where deities called Huitzi-lopochtli and Tezkatlipoka have been known to channel Lenin and Marx. Where “literary critik Ramon Mercader” splits “legendary detective novelist Leon Trotsky’s skull open.” Where a Mayan pop singer named Juan Lennon croons “Instant Karma” and a leather-jacketed “Isaak” Babel drives through on his motorcycle. In his novel Atomik Aztex, Alhambra-based writer Sesshu Foster envisages all of these things within an alternative universe in which the Aztecs conquer the conquistadors, escape genocide, and establish themselves as a world power known as “Anahuak, the Aztek Socialist Imperium.”
The story of this world is narrated by Zenzontli, “Keeper of the House of Darkness of the Azteks,” a warrior who is sent through time and who informs us that we may be acquainted with “stupider realities amongst alternate universes offered by the ever-expanding omniverse, in which the Aztek civilization was ‘destroyed.'” Zenzontli himself suffers from visions of a divergent existence. In the other reality, Zenzón labors on the killing floor in the Farmer John’s Meat Company and has similarly named family and friends in “some 3rd-class city called Los Angeles.” Clan elders are counseling Zenzontli to go in for some Aztec-style brain surgery and have a few holes bored into his skull to alleviate his visions. “The Wurlitzer of the Universe is packed with 78 rpm realities side by side,” explains Zenzontli, “Get ready to drop your dime.”
The narrative fluctuates between these two worlds, and they begin to resonate with one another. Zenzón’s evisceration of the animals in the Farmer John slaughterhouse is mirrored in Zenzontli’s reality by the acts of bloody human sacrifice from the conquered lands of the “Europians” and other nations which lie at the “heart” of the Aztec world. “And after the Spanish fell to our advance forces, who was gonna stop us?” asks Zenzontli. “The Italians? Come on! They don’t even make the second round of the World Cup.” As Foster is no doubt aware, the genre of “alternative reality” always involves some measure of the morality tale, and Atomik Aztex addresses the problems of violence that surround the construction of any social or cultural history.
Whether in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle or Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, a good number of “alternative histories” seem to involve Nazis; in Atomik Aztex, the Aztecs fight side by side with the Russians in a “suicide mission” aimed at harvesting the hearts of the Nazis at Stalingrad. Herman Goering is seen being put to death in a viciously amusing bloodletting at the Great Pyramid at Teknotitlán, the capital of the “teknospiritual” Aztec realm. Characters are visited by revenants from the world wars. At the mid-point of the novel, Zenzontli recites a poem entitled “Stalingrad, 1942,” a mad amalgamation and reworking of lines from W.B. Yeats that have been “changed, changed utterly” with the (second) coming of the Aztec culture. The poem’s title might also refer distantly to Foster’s own prose poem “Life Magazine, December, 1941,” his commentary on American racism toward the Japanese during World War II. Given the book’s exploration “throughout overlapping levels of reality and akross chronologies,” it’s no accident that “1942” is also an inversion or transposition of “1492,” the date of another significant incursion into a new world.
Author of the 1996 poetry collection City Terrace Field Manual and a teacher at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet School, Foster underscores a few points about the problems of commerce and the eradication of culture both local and global. The idea of “history” is determined not only by the victor but also specifically by the teller of each tale. Zenzontli refers to his account at one point as the True History of the Konquest of Europa, an otherworldly variation on Bernal Diaz del Castillo’s famous chronicle. He concludes one chapter by making an important correction to an account of a ritual that ends with his own sacrifice: “That might have happened on some alternate reality when I wuzn’t looking, some fucking Other World when they didn’t let me get my two cents in. But it didn’t happen this time. Cuz I didn’t let it happen. I had to make my move sooner, at some previous point in History so that could never occur.” This description also reveals a glimpse into the reality of the writer, able to alter the story at any juncture according to how it mutates in the mind or the page, and to reserve the right to revise and revisit events to compose an entirely different history.
The language of Atomik Aztex is even more unsettling, surreal, and outrageous than the events and states of mind it describes. Fashioned from various dialects and street vernaculars and employing unusual spellings and peculiar orthography – particularly the preponderance of the letter k – it propels the reader more swiftly into the new worlds of the novel. Atomik Aztex’s movement through time, space, and history brings to mind the novels of William Burroughs and more than a little of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo. At some moments, the prose careens across the page seemingly freed from the spell of its own story, but it is always enthralling. There is almost no genre from which the novel does not borrow: Elements of noir, science fiction, Beat monologue, comic books, horror, and barrio reportage abound.
An absolutely incandescent work of imagination, Foster’s first novel meshes the cosmological and the quotidian, the conundrums of the nature of time and history as well as the dilemmas of daily life in East L.A. “Persons attempting to find a plot in this book should read Huck Finn,” forewarns Foster in his opening “Note.” But, in fact, we find that the novel concerns one of the oldest and grandest plots of all: that of the recurring cycle of vengeance and violence lurking within any history, whether real or imagined. When Zenzón describes his crossing to L.A., as he puts it, “skirting secret borders of forgotten history & identity,” he states: “There are secret worlds hidden in the air, secret possibilities that can keep you alive in the worst of situations.” This novel’s delirious, hideous, and hilarious journey through two secret worlds is more than a bizarre fantasy, it’s a manifesto in fiction. Crack open Atomik Aztex and drink deep from its potent mytho-political brew.
from Los Angeles CityBeat, January 12, 2006