from all the borders of itself / burst like a star/ for here there is no place that does not see you / you must change your life.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Archais Torso of Apollo
Times of waving a burning flag, thought drunken, praying to be destroyed.
After headless and foolish winters.
And then this. Belly full of wars that only stop for a while, waiting, take you unprepared and burn any stories you once had. This. Birds at 1:35am, Jan 9th. Overhead. Everywhere. It’s too easy to walk into a taxi roaring past for nothing. Tumbling over the windscreen, full of the most important parts of my life before my head hits the slick wet grey.
I pick up my tongue, useless and cracked dry with Spanish, and we pack for the thousand kilometre trip north. To the volcano. To spring.
from all the borders of itself / burst like a star/ for here there is no place that does not see you / you must change your life.
I do not remember where I camped that winter but it must have been a time of peace and of plenty to eat,
- Black Elk
Cracking open, grinning, all the ridiculous and squashed days add up to something :
8 rides later, one of the last through the mountains with my nipples hard in the wind / in the back of a truck with a girl that had been waiting for her bus to come, convincing her to run after it with me. Three shooting stars / goddamn it’s cold.
Jazz slipping through the streets with a taxi driver. Esto es mi pasión, he tells us. I so rarely hear this word without it sounding forced. I am a bear gulping down warm air, suddenly in Oaxaca. Four years for this. Pianos running up my forearms.
I have no more space for names today, the little room is full. Hernan Cortes slinks between my toes. No me importa. We hug in the back of the cab like crabs and she leaves and I am sure that I left a mark, that I am visible again after these burial months.
You can’t make a living here as a musician, he tells me. So I drive taxis and live my passion while I drive.
This living thing is a complicated affair. But I am beginning to plant fig trees again, in the centre of my veins.
/Photo - A four-hour exposure photograph of the 1998 Leonids meteor shower taken at the Modra Observatory in Slovakia.
And those who were seen dancing,
were thought to be insane by those
who could not hear the music,
'Baila', he says to me.
There is never enough time. Even in my saddest and most self destructive scenes of life. I yearned to open my chest and heave out all the cities that have grown there with walls of graffiti swearing upon my execution. The swarming streets where I cannot be still for a moment, that will not give me rest. The limbless figures that are too painful to see.
But there is something about dancing. Any form. It is to out-move death. I stop thinking of the cities.
They all gaze at me.
'Baila, baila', they shout and chant.
The teacher shuffles his feet and drifts across the dust. He’s dressed in white and moves his hips as if there were no bones. Strutting. At lunch I shouted into his mouth as it opened to spoon my lentil soup into his mouth. For his ears would not work. No matter. He listened to footsteps instead, the way bodies move.
'Es un danza de Haiti', he had announced, suddenly, out of nowhere, at the table. I hadn't imagined him to speak. He complimented my Spanish, which is, for him, to pay tribute to the way I speak with my hands, my eyes. Los ojos del mar.
After Haiti, it sailed to Cuba and onto the east coast, to Veracruz and onwards into the centre of the country. The way feet move.
I have never taken a dance class in my life.
And I cannot do anything on the spot. The dentist has to force open my mouth with horse tranquillisers. I refuse orders like a rogue sheepdog. I spit gasoline at passing cars when crossing the road, refusing to allow them the right of way.
I stare downwards. It’s going on two months since I last wore shoes and my sandals are starting to become a part of my bone structure.
This is danzón. My feet no longer know each other. My dance is not their dance. My frenzy of whirling and stamping is not applicable here. Passion is more controlled, focused.
I withdraw to sit and watch. The dozen or so here exhibit an elegance, a style, a dignified movement across the stone dance floor. Ways to face it all. Most are housewives. One is from far away. She becomes my regular partner in the turns, keeping with me, guiding me. Her bump appears to grow from her sides, her back. Her hair is a stark contrast to the others, Later when they pat her belly, I feel foolish. I had just accepted her and her body as natural and thought little of it.
She holds my hands tight and I feel her gaze upon me, glossing me, as I focus on my feet as the sequences build, as I forget myself.
She speaks Spanish how I’ve heard them speak often before - almost fluently. I curse my tongue and consider sculpturing it to allow it more room. Perhaps I have too many teeth for languages of the sun. I can make the sounds of rain perfectly.
Beside me, constantly, is a short ageing man with shiny black shoes. Shoe polishers do well here - singing and whistling as they brush away. I wouldn’t be able to cease laughing if I had it done. One day my sandals and I will pay a visit to the market and find the most enthusiastic foot cleaner. It will be an important day for us both.
The señor becomes my uncle quickly - guiding me through each movement.
'No! Pequeños, pequeños - pequeños pasos!' I keep making huge steps no matter how much I think about it. He takes me arm and gently pulls me this way and that. 'Te ves? Asi es, muy bien, puedes hacer todo que puedes imaginar.' Something about the way he moves makes me smile and smile, despite myself. As if every step he takes is important.
It’s a mess when with Ana, scattered, all over the place. She’s young - I cannot know her age. She has three children that appear out of cracks in the ground and lives up in the mountains where it gets cold at night and there are more trees. She steps on my feet and I on hers. We try not to be partners but we’re both fresh and lacking style and shaking of hips.
My new tio with the buttoned up shirt and pushed out chest returns to my side. ‘Pequeños pasos…hombre, dios mío!’
I am surrounded by people counting their own movements, trumpets coming out of the speakers, the sun sinking down into the mountains. In Central Mexico… facing down a winter with a gun at my stomach, wishing away wishes. Of everything that has passed me by, I am most here : under the volcano, moving on through the ashes. The more the sets of dance increase, the more I am lost. But it is an abandonment that I swallow with laughter as my steps get smaller.
One last dance. Four sets. Everything blurs in. I go one way and she goes the other, her eyes never looking down, always upon me. Later, she becomes a hyena in the kitchen with the other girls - loud and thunderous in the Cuernavaca night. Now, she asks me where I’m from. She knows already and I even know what part of the country she’s from - clustered and without space out in the west.
It’s been a long time since anyone at all saw me. I have decided to become visible again.
Photo - Orquesta Enrique Peña.
Because I love my country, it hurts me to see danzón at gatherings of decent people [La Voz de Cuba (8.10.1879)].
and I have an endless scream inside of me
and I do not know which is screaming,
my heart or my intestines,
-Rainer Maria Rilke from ‘The Song the Blind man sings’
This will not be a story. There are no more stories left in my hands.
Nor will this be a poem. My blood has turned grey and cities have empted.
I just have saved breaths, here and there, trying not to go mad. I’m too far away from nothing I know.
We spoke on the phone tonight. It’s been the first time in months. Last year I had the idea that to understand all of the knives that have found their way towards my neck, I would have to understand him. Man, I would have to forgive him for everything.
He’s almost seventy, now. His hands are bloodshot and his eyes cracked open. He was the one who planted words inside of me. And this yearning, this breaking open, this walking without fin. I grew up with his travel yarns as my bedtime stories, in between the screams and the way he could break the bones of someone dear to him just with the tone of his voice.
When I came back last year, he told me, ‘Son, I feel you have really grown in this time’. Eighteen months. But he didn’t call me son. He probably called me little squirt. No, not this either. Most likely, he called me Simon, which is the name of my brother. It has got progressively worse over the last years.
'You have become someone. You look after people around you, now'.
I felt it too.
The next time we saw each other, it was all lost. Perhaps I stopped to care for people again. A gritting her teeth and shouting, ‘now, I become evil- I leave everything’ and with that, stamped on his foot.
'And it swelled up to the size of a coconut', he was telling me, on the phone. I tried not to imagine it but it comes to me like fish floating towards me. Blub blub, blub blub. 'It turned purple. It seemed to be an eye blinking back at me'. Di mi.
'Did you think it could have been a tumour?', I ask him.
I have car crashes piling up inside of me. I’m surprised my whole body is not wrought with bumps and missing limbs.
'I began to think of death, yes'.
He’s always thinking of death. Even more than me. But I’ve never been sure if he ever really considered it a reality beyond his own thoughts. He would sometimes tell me, right before I went to sleep, ‘if you die in your sleep, it will be your karma’ and he would laugh. It was a laugh that seemed to reverberate within my chest. For hours I would see the tigers prowling my bedside, waiting for me to drift off.
I don’t tell him about dying in a bathroom in central Mexico with blood over the walls, sprinkled like snow, coughing out my insides. It was my heart and my intestines at once, screaming to the sky full of helicopters, searching for what disappeared,
'I coughed so hard last night that blood started coming out of all parts of me.'
He’s speaking of travel insurance.
I’m thinking of all the hardest times I’ve ever known.
I decide I will write.
When he’s seventy, there will no longer be any insurance.
'You should buy the greatest tea in the world instead', I tell him. I was never strong in practicalities, I ponder, sipping my red tea. If I had been, I would never have been here. All of this would just be theory, gnawing my knuckles raw. The quality of experience, regardless of how much you scream,
Image - time is ticking - author unknown.
And in a year, a year or so
This will slip into the sea
- Beirut, ‘Nantes’
Some Arctic reindeer will have travelled the equivalent of three times around the world before they die, migrating, searching for new pastures, out moving the mosquitoes.
The first time, even my blood felt heavy.
Every night, I walked the main road, the one which leads out of town and in the other direction to the bus station and the park we would sometimes walk to because she still lives with her family and she didn’t want them to get bad ideas.
She would tell me, constantly, Jass, es peligroso aquí, no es como tu hogar. Burn out the station, you’ll never get nothing from me.
I would be ambling down there to return to the old studio, a foot deep in rain water, where my books had grown moustaches of mushrooms. Where I lived out the first weeks. Lived is a poor word for what I ecked out. Everything about that time was of drowning. Let me explain : I was here for her. Nothing else in this city sang but for a handful of market sellers that were patient with me. I had told myself six months ago that I wasn’t going to do this shit again. But then I started losing her. And here I was, my face clamped off and down and out in fever, turning my life around over and over again, the colours leaking out with every turn.
And two of her friends who had taken care of me the week before she arrived from Mexico City. One who would study my every move when he thought I wasn’t looking. He knew a lot of obscure information about mosquito breeding patterns and cloud patterns and lived at home with his mother and siblings in a house that that was full of buckets to catch the rain. It was a lot like the studio I lived at, but it had room to breathe and a giant television, like most houses.
I never wanted to see rain ever again.
And his partner. She lived with her grandparents and in four years not once did they ever spend the night with each other. This was my preparation for her arrival. You will have a relationship formed out of fantasies and stolen kisses.
No. Not even this.
Her friend’s voice has the sound of a little Japanese girl speaking Spanish, and until things went under, she would listen to me and tell me, ‘Jass, ella es muy tonta, a veces. Dejarla, te mereces algo mejor’.
Past ten p.m and there are birds erupting with hoarse song outside the tech college. And I remember again, despite the hells I have allowed to stitch me up. I will not get sadder and older. I will not. But every day, it clamped around my neck tighter still.
I mean, I am at peace with the taxi drivers skidding past me trying to pull me through their doors when I hear their songs. I just let them go. I told myself that when it gets too much, I’ll get in and go to dream and see where I arrive. I’d stopped caring if they’d take everything. I almost wanted to be broke, gutted open, strangled to a last breath. Even my journals - full of broken accounts of desert border crossings of people I kept finding everywhere.
'There is just Mexico and the United States', Nuri tells me, 2500km later, in the north. 'This is all they know'. I am not from Mexico. So I must be from there. And to me they come with their stories. Evidence that they have lived through them. Showing themselves, soy vivo despues todo eso.
But it’s the birds that stop me for the first time in weeks. Of all the stories I have been told these weeks of abductions and decapitations; of the robberies and violations and bloodied photos pushed in front of my sad eyes. And walking down this road again and again wondering why nothing was happening to me, waiting for it, even wanting it sometimes.
The reindeer behind me catch up and perk their ears. All of us, thousands under the night sky, listening to black Caribbean bird song before we all get abducted: by concrete roads, by extinction, by the blues, by loss, by
Abduct yourself and we’ll walk the world ten times over, my reindeer friends and I,
Photo - Flip Schulke, Hats and Machetes in Revolution Square during the July 26th celebrations in the first year of the triumph of the Revolution, Havana, 1959