An Electronic Journal of Poetry & Poetics
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ISSN 1081-3500 | Copyright © Mudlark 1998
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Mudlark No. 9 (1998)
The Road to Ocosingo
by Andrew Schelling
For Joanne Kyger
back roads, markets, distant peaks
Sections of The Road to Ocosingo have been published by apex of the M, Mandorla, Quarter After Eight, Sulfur, in a folded book by longhouse, and will appear in The Poet's Calendar for The Millennium from Sun and Moon Press. A paper edition of THE ROAD TO OCOSINGO is available from SmokeProof Press, late spring 1998.
The author gives thanks to Elsa Cross, David Huerta, Jorge Hernandez, and Ambar Past for providing hospitality along the way; and to Tedi López Mills for clearing up errors in an earlier version.
In August 1995 I traveled to Mexico with poet Anne Waldman, novelist Rikki Ducornet, and psychoanalyst Jonathan Cohen. We met in Mexico City, a high altitude cosmopolis ringed by mountains, currently the planet's most populous city. The poets Elsa Cross and David Huerta had scheduled a reading and reception for us at Casa del Poeta. Following a few days among friends we went south into Chiapas State. Chiapas held three interconnected interestscities and pyramids of classic Maya antiquity; contemporary Tzeltal and Tzotzil speaking villages in misty pine forest highlands; and somewhere, out there in the Lacandon threading jungle paths as they elude the Mexican military, the EZLNZapatista army with its eloquent shadowy elders whose communiques sound like a blend of MesoAmerican shamanism, 20th century poetics, and post-Marxist pragmatism.
Those who go by night said, And we see that this way of governing that we name is no longer the way for the many, we see that it is the few who now command, and they command without obeying...
The journey was a brief one. We hoped to dig into Juana de Asbaje's poems, gaze upon skeletal eyes of Palenque ruler Pacal, and meet a few knowledgable contemporaries. A modest and unremarkable attempt to learn what we could of the temper of Mexico in the EZLN climate. To see what we might find out firsthand, not simply from hearsay. To keep eyes and ears open, take notes like spies, and carry a few books for the work. This despite word the Zapatistas were disburdening literature from their own rucksacks. "Because you're loaded with books doesn't mean someone else offers to carry your ammunition," a subcomandante had recently confided.
This is a journal of the trip, in mongrel mix of prose and verse. Its sense of form is much indebted to Japanese haibun, good style for jotting notes in a rucksack. I kept the writing deliberately loose. Haibun is always stricter, more keenly regimented in how it balances prose and terse lyric.
Matsuo Basho is the poet who brought haibun to its keenest development, particularly in his travel journals. As we wandered Basho trailed without mention behind. Oku no Hosomichi, his best known work (1690), recounts a journey by foot into Japan's northern hinterlands. In his day the province of Oku was an unpredictable and slightly scary back country, geographically and culturally distant from Edo, the capital, and a site of potential unrest. Just as in post-NAFTA North America it is Chiapas firstthen Guerrero, Oaxaca, and other Mexican statesthat emerge as shakiest members of an economic policy crafted in Washington.
In English Basho's title is "The Back Road to Oku." On the back road to Ocosingo I heard the place names echo.
1 August 1995
First discovery must be a result of NAFTA, 6 pesos to the dollar on the imperialist exchange rate. The local economy crashes, and a few cents left in the pocket.
Long taxi ride in from the airport, a quick shower, and down to the bar for beer with lime, and cacahuates peanuts. How orient yourself in a city 10 million people reside in? 2240 metres altitudea high plateauand after slight rain the air tastes good, not yet the noxious stuff Mexican friends warned of. So read up on the Mexica
(meh-SHEE-kah) or Aztec
and find them grim, weird, as their art had suggestedtheir seat of cleric power Tenochtitlan (partly excavated from under the modern City's zocolo). In 1487 priests consecrated new temple to Huitzilopochtli, the ceremony stretched to four days. Sacrificial victims taken during war & raiding campaigns were arrayed in four columns, each row of prisoners extending three miles out through the maize fields. 20,000 human hearts, still pumping, torn out to favor the gods over four grisly days. What drug inspired them? Finally the priests, whipped with the effort, called it quits....
So we go down after dark to the zocolo to see the old ruins. Luckily a loose flyer touches us with tender simplicity
concerning lovely poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz who as a child cut her hair short & vowed to keep it that wayuntil she had taught herself many scholarly things. "For I am but ignorant and tremble...."
Off a massive colonial stone building flutters the banner for another exhibitTorture Instruments of European Origin. With a picture of some grim machine.
For a long shot of tequila
At Café de Tacuba a crowd eating late. Floral tilesyellow, blue & white on the floor. Brass lamps from high darkwood rafters, noisy white walls soar with tall paintings of Mexican heroes. Sor Juana in her white nun's habit, big medallion over her breasts, looks across the crowded room as we eat.
Eco soy, la más rica
Chicken in molé sauce
twelve year old Moghul princess from
Known as Caterina de San Juan
flashing ruby, bright magenta, parakeet yellow,
flowers & birds rise through the
The style spreads through New Spain
While Caterina leans over
2 August · Early a.m.
All night poisonous dreamsmodern torture instrumentsWake while it's still dark & search through the guidebook which says of Tuxtla, capital of Chiapas State, one must not miss "probably Mexico's best zoo."
Ocelot, jaguar, puma, tapir, red macaw, boa constrictor, & the monkey-eating harpy eagle.
But it's set on grounds next to Cerro Hueco Prisonfederales interrogate captured EZLN warriorswithin
Jorge Hernandez fetches us for drive out to a distant restaurant. Conversation about Mexican politics as we wheel through the streets. Jorge's a historian. Patiently he lays out for us the major events since Zapata and Pancho Villa. A careful driver, tall, distinguished black rim glasses and smooth clothes, up north I'd spot him for a cop. Better English vocabulary than most of my countrymen. He hates to get dressed he tells me, or go out of the house. Days on end bent over historical documents in his pajamas. Then dresses to set forth and harangue some newspaper editor. Jorge writes fiction, and is translating three of Rikki's stories.
A year ago Colosio's people asked Jorge to become a speechwriter for the Presidential campaign. He delayed a weekhad to attend an academic conference in San Diego. That's why he missed Tijuana where a "lone gunman" pushed through the crowd & shot Colosio three times in the head. "I've been to cockfights. Someone pulls out a pistol & shoots in the airtoo much tequila, or too much excitement. Yes! six or seven guns going off in a moment! Bang bang bang bang. This is Mexico. Everyone's a pistolero."
A long cool look. "There were forty-three guns in the crowd that day. And nobody else pulled a pistol? Come on. This is Mexico."
On the way back from dinner we see a 24 hour flower market. Jorge begins a ballad, low, scarcely audible. "I haven't bought flowers for my sweetheart in over a week. Nor a guitarist." And gives us the lowdown on choosing a mariachi to woo your beloved. There they are, smoking cigarettes along the edge of the park in sequin'd suits.
2 August · Hotel Maria Cristina
Sound of a t.v. draws us to the news
They shall not wither, my flowers
In 1490 lord Tecayehuatzin, prince of Huexotzinco, convenes a meeting of poetsmasters of songfrom all over the region. He sets out mats in his orchard, under shady ahuehuete trees. The poets pass tobacco and foaming terracotta mugs of chocolate. Their conversation survives, preserved in a single colorful manuscript inscribed on parchment of beaten bark. Tecayehuatzin asks his guests to speculate on the origins of flowers & song. It is a curious compound metaphor in NahuatlLeón-Portilla explains it as "flowers-and-song"a single intricate term denoting the luminous sphere of poetry.
Is it possible, inquires Lord T, by the use of flowers & song, to encounter true words on earth? to meet with some restful emotion that endures? or is it human fate to vanish, the brief taste of a good song all you can hope for, and that vanishing too?
Grizzled poet Ayocuan expells smoke through both nostrils & after a long period of silence declares his belief that flowers & songs are gifts of the gods. Where they originally come from is anyone's guess. And no, it is beyond his power to say whether they survive in the world-after-death.
Will I have to go like the flowers that
Others in the companythe pragmatistsinsist we inhabit a perishable world, there exists no evidence that anything survives past our lifetimes. Only flowers & song, they suggest, can dispel our innate sadness.
Lord Xayacamach of Tlaxcala likens flowers & song to magic mushrooms gathered in the mountains. A reliable technique to intoxicate the heart, to forget human grief in a fabulous hallucinatory world that tastes more real than everyday life. But ah, when the mushrooms wear off, when the fantastic world fades and the contours of daily existence emerge once againone returns to oneself, empty, restless, disconsolate.
Lord T. finally closes the refined philosophical gathering. He thanks his guests, passes out small gifts of appreciation, and as the final comment falls to him asserts that flowers & songif they cannot bring true words to earth or resolve the troubling question of what survives into the next worldat least make possible the reunion of cherished friends. And perhaps that's enough. Everyone shares a last quiet cup of chocolate as crepuscular shadows lengthen beneath the ahuehuete trees.
Another day in the flower world has passed.
Drove out this morning in Elsa's car.
Temple of Butterflies
It's mariposa in Spanish "perching one"
This one pulses burnt orange wings
1200 species of mariposa
Casa del Poeta · Alvaro Obregon 73, Colonia Roma
David Huerta & a few others seem to know Rafael Guillén, former faculty of the National University who the gov't has identified as Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN.
"I looked at his dissertation when the government published his name." Shewho was it?had her hand on my arm"he quotes from himself in the early communiques." Now in newspaper photos familiar eyes animate the black ski maskgrey curls of his beard in High Times snapshots.
"...and you know his sex network in the jungle?"
"Yes. Women in bungalows. Everywhere. He is a great sex symbol."
If he's on Internet everyday & carries cellular phones through the Lacandon, how come the government hasn't caught up to him? A search party came on his tobacco pipe, still smoking from hasty departure (photo in the paper up north). What are USA military advisors doing down there? What sort of advising? Things could get clear if we had answer to that one.
"We do not know who the military are" says David over coffee. (Next morning.)"I mean, we know who the generals are. We know who the soldiers aremostly conscripts from villages. But the mid-level officersall the ones above sergeantwe do not know who they are. They're the important ones." I take him to mean the new militarythe guys who go to the Academytheir loyalty might not stick with old-boy Narco-Democrat order.
villagers herded onto a bus
a few witnesses in from the jungle.
4 August · Tuxtla de Gutiérrez to San Cristóbal de las Casas
The airport's a military base. Black & olive helicopter gunships out at the runway. Everyone's relaxed though, and after negotiations we get a swift little Nissan car and head towards the mountains. Dusk, dramatic pine hills uplifted like camel humps. Mist rising from tiny creeks make the forests vague and enticing. Feathery pines. Splendid flowers, whose names I don't know, spill down torn-up embankments onto the road. We notice red dirt eroding in sludge rivulets along the twisty road as we rise. Little homesites everywhere cut from the hillside, stacks of firewoodand rain washes the soil out.
Men wear pink flowery shirts and turn away from our headlights.
At San Cristóbal
the Pemex Station particularly guarded
August 4 · San Cristóbal de Las Casas
Entered the city named for 16th century priest Bartolomé de Las Casas. Bartolomé spent forty years trying to impede conquistador atrocities through the region, then returned to Seville & a published book, 1552, alerting Spanish authorities to gruesome unchristian acts. "I would write a very big book, but this will have to wait till another time. God willing." Hence Brevissima Relacion, the quick account, into print without clearance from Inquisition authorities
We twist through wet cobbled streets, get lodging where the old town gives out. Na-Bolom (old Maya: jaguar) is a former convent. Cool arcades with deep rooms set around a courtyard. Hans & Trudi Blum, German archaeologists, bought the building decades ago. Now it's an institute for culture research & ecology. Various Maya and student gringo activists run it. Library, dining hall, artifact rooms, office, & planning center. Wild potted plants in the corridors. Old photos and up-to-date maps of Lacondon rainforest cover the walls. Out back under dripping pines they rent a few cabins.
Anne & I set up candles. This is the rainy season, cool at night, lanterns along narrow muddy paths. Our clay hut oozes into the soil. I dismantle wood slat bed to get the enormous spider, violet-brown leg hairs, who ran off one pillow when we opened the door. Set her free among nameless leaves where an orchid pot crumbles to mud. And imagine back of feathery pine bough's mist & drizzle, home's familiar moon. Light the fire, get into bed.
That night in my notebook
here's tequila from a cold
5 August · 8 p.m.
Anne & I take the road to Tenejapa around sunset. Dramatic little forested mountains tightly interlocked. At a risewind forcing a black mist across the weathered, brush-covered summitnear a small settlementthree high slender crosses black against darkening sky. The Maya lift crosses wherever a gate or aperture leads down to the underworldsacred sitesa cave, a spring, certain hilltops with unique vegetation. Soil turns with some curious mineral complex. The crosses were here when Christians arrived in clanking armor. Peter Warshall's remark, that geologists and Indians agree on the power spots
A wrinkle in earth's old layer
Sixty years ago Graham Greene passed over this ridge on mulebackanarchist Catholic he noted
"The ground sloped up again to where
"The great crosses leaned there in
Among the crosses long upright pineboughs, feathery & skeletal with a violet cast of sky behind them. Asymmetrical & impenetrable. A dog barks from a hut.
Everyone's a pistolero.
5 August · Midnight
And the Spaniards were allowed to choose, among one hundred and fifty Indian maidens the ones they liked best, paying for each an arroba of wine or oil or vinegar or pigs...
Such was "The Devastation of the Indies," Brevissima Relacion, Bishop Bartolomé prompting other thoughts
Old karma the night
6 August · Evening
Our Mexico City friends said we must search out Ambar Past, American expatriate poet who lives in a forest hut outside San Cristóbal with her daughter. We track them down at Taller Lenateros, print & papermaking collective at Paniagua 54, where Ambar works and sleeps nights she's in town. Massive colonial door with rust iron rivets swings open, she's come to the door. David Huerta has sent word on ahead, and Ambar's been waiting
So chatter poetry & politics, catch up with news & drink coffee. There's a kitchen at one end of the big printshop room. Ambar recounts unpublicized local events. Her first winter here a blight came, and no doctors
"Every child in the village of Magdalenas died. Every child."
We tour the collective's dilapidated adobe rooms to see silkscreen tubs and big platen presses, shelves full of paper, cards, posters, menus. In the back courtyard where the collective grows its food a group of women make paper
all goes into the mash.
Little Guadalupe image east on the hill. She stands on a black crescent moon & appears, apparition, to kneeling Juan Diego who met her outside Mexico City, 9 December 1531. Tiny white church full of slant sunlight. What old adoration tells me get down on your knees? Incense & liturgy, the human heart momentarily soothed in its torment. Near the altar a few curanderos. Time to retrace our steps down whitewashed stone stairs into town.
Wood smoke hangs in the breezeless air. We eat posole with rough pork in a small shop, back it with tequila and beer. A cold hard mist sits on the distant grey pine hills. Winding along through middle-class streets admiring the old painted Colonial doors we're teased by two girls about eight or nine selling Chamula dolls. Tiny traditional things the length of a finger, in rough black raiment but ski masks conceal terracotta faces, big spooky eyes gazing through.
"Si, Subcomandante Maria. Y Marcos! Three pesos."
Up north no one told us
8 August · Na-Bolom Institute Library
Flames crackle in the convent's old fireplace.
"All Spaniards seeking
'til he was yanked back to Spain.
Evergreen Cloud Forest · San Cristóbal
Volcanic peak & vague boulders heave free from the tangle
This heart goes
tangled underfoot offspring
A woodcutter machete clacks in the forest
a bit of white lichen a few tough mosses
after 10,000 years the forests to vanish
What do we call it?
cloud evergreen scrub
Jonathan & Rikki join us along the rear arcade of the Palace. High-up seats, us leaning back against pillars, to study thick unfamiliar foliagelianas, lush green trees & vines, metallic whining of insects. The heat has me down. I listen from enormous distances as the others speak of cigar-smoking priest on the frieze at Temple of the Foliated Cross. Jonathan has his own cigar sympathetically litpasses it to Rikki & photographs her smoking it savagely among ruins. Her hair runs in rivulets down the stone arcade. I scramble off my perchdown from the arcade, across the cropped lawn. Broken steps drop to the fast silver thread riverRio Otolum. Bromeliads watch. Head thrust into clear, forceful, shockingly cold water.
Why did I expect tepid waterout of the steaming jungle? On the bottom mottled rocks & clear sand. Plunged my head in again and the water's force nearly threw me. Return to companions up on their smoking perch at the back of Prince Pacal's harem. A bandana to dry my hair and dislodge little pebbles where they've stuck in the whorl of one ear. At my departure a spider monkey shrieks
Temple of Inscriptions
and when they opened the sealed
clay pots, jewelry
Pacal's jade mosaic death mask was removed to Mexico City where
archaeologists recreated his tomb at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia.
1985 thieves got in & made off
Drenched from humidity tourists labor their way in cloud-like formations up the Temple steps. A massive German man slung with cameras sweating profusely. "Aaach!" Grey rock & emerald color'd grass.
Spinescent palms, cycads, low-branched shrubs, lianas
My love crouches beneath
Leaning against a tree in the shade
& harvest as much in a
Small church at the downhill & east end of the square, tucked almost insignificantback among other blank white buildings. Billboard up above extolls benefits of breastfeeding in colors of the Mexican flag. We enter through arched undecorated wooden doors with black rivetsinside tiled checkerboard floor& bare smokecolor'd wooden pews, nobody in them. Several Indian women squat in the nave, little children scampering through pine needles that cover the floor in blue-green tufts. Sackloads of pine needles lie among the pews, whorled and heaped up in corners uneven.
Quick little bow
toss a nod across to chocolate color'd
18 months ago gunships raked roof & walls of the church. Ocosingo took the worst of the January fighting. Patients yanked from hospital beds & shot in the halls. A local story. Today no discernible damage to ceiling or floors. The children toss pine needles. Like elsewhere in town fresh paint tells the storyFather Trejo's church
Back outside to bright sun, and stand blinking over the morning
market"dark narrow warren of booths"a few stalls just
raising their awnings. Mostly plastic toys, a few clay potsand
candied pastries heap'd up, colors more bright than the toys. Stacks of
marine blue cakes catch my eye. Coming & going among the stalls
I count out a few coins, the 1000 old-peso is heavy bronzefits the
hand nicely. Poet Sor Juana looks mildly down on the heads side, maybe
ruminating a poem. Her baroque philosophic ballad "First Dream" in my
thoughts I go over and purchase two Zapatista bandanas from thickset
lady chattering Tzeltal to her neighbor. Burnt orange paisely kerchiefs
flutter outside her stall like EZLN
11 August · Afternoon · Nissan's back seat
Last night dinner when we got in late, the long drive up from Palenque. Twisty road & little dark cook fires telling of huts that dangle on precipices. An enormous jungle insectmantis or hopperrode like a hood ornament for hours as we cut and swerved through singing vegetation. Cooler the higher we went, up from wet heat into thinner air. We neared Ocosingo and slowed at a settlement for the blinking lantern. Our insect protector went into the darkness on whirring wings.
Once in town we found a room, then returned to the only eating place that had looked openoverlooking the sloping zocolo from Hotel Central's porch. Inside they'd cut the lights and now we thought the restaurant closedout of luckjust a card game going on next to the window. But a boy saw us and brought tequila to an outside table. We sat for a quick mealthin soup and tortillas. Fifty feet off the cement fountain where soldiers had tossed six thin boys on the pavement a year ago Januaryeach with a single bullet in the back of his head. Ranking officer sweating as he led journalists over for photosI saw them up north. And little threads of blood trailing downhill to the church.
Freshly painted Government Palace dominates the uphill end of the squarepowder blue & ivory under the klieg lights. A Disneyland quality to its fanciful ornamented facade. You'd expect the sounds of an F. Scott Fitzgerald party but back of the windows sit uniformed gunmen. Caciques, local bosses, pick their teeth & idle about the doorway with pistols. The bullet holes patched. Zapatistas have gone who knows where. Tonight is quiet enough in town, just a few wooden booths waiting for market to open tomorrow. One last tequila, & back through streets dusted by rain, attractive smell of motor oil in the gutters. Jorge had warned, watch out for coletos here. And the big owners with their squads of gunmen. But a quiet bulb casting yellow off the ribbons of asphalt guides usto our little posadathe one place in town with a roomfour of us in three narrow beds
nearly insoluble puzzle to which love is the answer
Skull crusted with turquoise mosaic chips
I draw a finger along the ridge of your brow
And south past the cattle barons & machineguns
Through the black mask a
Ocosingo · Bright morning
Deep night after sleeping drugs
and Rikki's out the door
continuous noisy love affair as we pack & depart
the mind meets itself
12 August · Notes reclaimed from abandoned books
Among the Maya every individual carries an animal counterpart
wayhel or chanul
"All harm occurring to the wayhel is experienced
ua - y(a)
in Yucatec, way means transform by enchantment
jaguar coyote ocelot owl
In moments of rest they hear another voice, not the one that comes from above, but rather the one that comes with the wind from below, and is born in the heart of the indigenous people of the mountains, a voice that speaks of justice and liberty, a voice that speaks of socialism, a voice that speaks of hope... the only hope in this earthly world. And the very oldest among the old people in the villages tell of a man named Zapata who rose up for his own people and in a voice more like a song than a shout, said LAND AND LIBERTY!
We bump along the white dirt road towards Toni-Na, into a sun that's dissolving night's valley mist. Past campesinos with machetes, straw hats, rubber bootswhile army platoon sweeps over nearby pasture hill on maneuver. Get stopt at a little roadblock but passports look good, no problem, on we go. Cowboys chasing strays out of gullies, emerald fields with fibrous agave and little wildflowers, mist trailing midway the mountains. Huts on the hillsides. They used to keep the valley bottoms free for crops. Then came the Spaniards, now it's all cattlethat old Indo-European mystique. Arabian horses, the bestcame into Spain with the Moors. Conquistadors brought them to Mexico, and the jungle slowly dies back. Under camouflage net a tank with cannon leveled at the road. Trenches. Sandbags.
colorful unknown birds
this is the road
As the car swings through fenced entry to Toni-Na, past Rancho Guadalupe's fortified cattleman gates, a dusty armored truck full of heavily outfitted soldiers rumbles towards us. Pull up by a little bungalow, and turn our foursquare mind towards the ruins.
Folk who built these were rivals of Palenque? One Lord of Palenque at least got sacrificed here under a bloody pink sun. Glyphs on the walls are said to celebrate the event. Rikki & Jonathan lace their high leather boots against "four nostril," lethal snake of the jungle. Barefoot children stand watching, then trail off to play. Anne & I head for the ruins. We pass across a miserable little swamp on wooden walkwaycow carcass off there bloated halfway in murky waterand on to the massive hill of stone that's Toni-Na. One more imperial fortress. Its famous frieze an outsize dancing Death figure
human head swings from one skeletal hand.
Important to climb this pyramid tomb, not certain why, pick my way up the stratified facade, dog nearly ten years dead follows on precarious paws. We rise through the "eight spheres of existence"it is all enclosed, an ill-favored amber light washes down from rotted brick dome overhead. Dim sense of antiquity, hierarchy, "the impotent dead." A route across grey stone blocks, Zapotec zigzags carved in, like at Mitlasuddenly it's precipitously steep. At the final level I'm thwarted, can't get a grip to pull myself to the summit.
Just below, the shepherd dog's equally caught. Peter Lamborn WilsonI see him seated reading a scripture under the little thatched summit huthis maroon Shriner's fez picked up at a rummage sale, its ragged tassleMuslim scholar holy food staining his khaki shirt, also probably got at a rummage sale. In panic I call to him, he hefts out of his seat, lays aside his vast leather Koran written in Mayan hieroglyphs, reaches a hand forward & pulls me towards...
Have you seen the green water-holes in the rock?
12 August · Loss Poem
Among the ruins of Palenque
Gone the bibliographic notations
Temple of the Sun disappeared
Dangerous orange petals nullified
The furtively jotted notes on Mexican army,
Gone the colorful shawls
Deep in the jungle a little
guards keep their faces averted
one pistolero's girlfriend eats a wet pineapple round
And the mind turns to scribes
spoke of planting
scored name glyphs into ceramic vessels
& drank cacao over poetry
all of which vanished
a forest of stone
Take it in like a translator copy it down
Two hour layover. Buy a NY Times & change money. What's going on Norteamerica? Quick final beer before noon, wash down a plate of chilaquiles while rock 'n roll clatters across the airport. Then on the runway flipping the paper. The stream of imperial economy eddies and swirls, all the pages report it. Jerry Garcia a few days ago dead. What does it matter. Unnamed staff writer declares him shrewd businessman. Not a word for the music. Eddies and swirls. The stream of economy. Our plane taxis and lifts. We go north. North like coffee, like fruit, like oil. Air billows beneath and clings to tall buildings. Edge of the city stretches to distant mountains swallowed in smog. Square cement structures, an oceanlike smog. One day will our whole planet be like this? The stream of economy. Twenty million people directly beneath. Consider their songs. Consider the bards who have died. Massive buildings along the edge of a ghost lake, dried up centuries back. A few songs on parchment or paper, then gone from our world. Consider the bards. Consider the vanished lake, the ghost dynasties, pyramids, warfare, resistance. Consider the bards.
my heart knows
Of course you need a good guidebook. Go for Lonely Planet; they are tough and compact survival guides, contain essential collections of cultural information: money, climate, food, customsand hold up to arduous travel. For Zapatistas, new books & communiqués keep appearing. City Lights' First World, Ha Ha Ha! edited by Elaine Katzenberger has a range of good essays. For historical account of colonization, background to today's issues, the description of Spanish atrocities by 16th century priest Bartolomé de Las Casas is harrowing, controversial and rivetingThe Devastation of the Indies, trans. Herma Briffault. To get a sense of early re-discovery of Maya ruins, no one beats John L. Stevens, American adventurer, contemporary of Melville, who located Palenque, Uxmal, Chichén Itzá and othersand first dug them outIncidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and the Yucatan.
Studies of the classic Maya and their language is field of high scholarly adventure right nowlinguists & archaeologists seem near to understanding all the glyphs. Michael Coe's Breaking the Maya Code is layman's account of investigations by serious heroic scholars, brilliant amateurs, crusty obstructors, colorful scoundrels, and international politicos. An overview of the old literatures you can get from León-Portilla's Pre-Colombian Literatures of Mexico. Also Dennis Tedlock's fine translation of Popol Vuh. Graham Greene's Lawless Roads for sharp-eyed account of San Cristóbal and other Chiapas towns in the thirties. And there's a tough little pamphlet, Introduction to the Flora of Chiapas by Dennis E. Breedlove, published by the California Academy of Sciences, for study of eco-zones and plantlife now desperately endangered along with indigenous peoples, jaguars, rare birds, uncatalogued insects, & other species.
North American readers should know Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Alan S. Trueblood's A Sor Juana Reader, or Samuel Beckett's translations in Mexican Poetry, edited by Octavio Paz. Paz's Sor Juana, or The Traps of Faith provides informative & considered backdrop to the troubled life of North America's first major poet of European extraction.
ANDREW SCHELLING, born 1953, grew up in New England. Early influences were the region's granite mountains and resurgent conifer forests, as well as Asian art collections seen in Cambridge and Boston. Moving west, he spent seventeen years in northern California. Wilderness explorations, companionship with urban-based poets of the San Francisco Bay Area, production of samizdat poetry journals, and travels through Europe, Asia and North America. Southeast Asian language study at The University of California, Berkeley, resulted in ongoing translation projects. In 1991 he moved to Boulder, Colorado to join The Naropa Institute's faculty. He teaches poetry, Sanskrit and wilderness studies. E-mail: email@example.com.
OTHER BOOKS BY ANDREW SCHELLING
Claw Moraine (1987)
Brad O'Sullivan at SmokeProof Press has just (late spring 1998)
released a handsome paper edition of The Road to Ocosingo by
Andrew Schelling. You can order it by writing him at 1929 Seidler
Ct., Erie, CO 80516, or by calling him at (303) 828-9093. ISBN
0-9658877-3-1. USA $6.00. 64 pages
Small Press Distribution will soon be carrying the book too. SPD takes orders by phone, (800) 869-7553, and accepts both Visa and Mastercard. Their website at http://www.spdbooks.org, even while it is under construction, will reward your visit.
Contents | Mudlark No. 9