Mining ma(I)ze Tassel Retrazos for my Looming Natural Histories Loom

Sometimes writing texts or making art is like making yogurt—you need a dollop from a previous batch to propagate the live cultures, to seed or fertilize the soil, to thread the tapestry, to prime the pump, stir the vanilla, rehash, beget, however you want to say it. I've embarked on a new project, or at least am compiling an inter-connected collection (not sure what it will be called yet, but for now I refer to them as Natural Histories). I have a tendency to re-use or re-purpose old pieces for new works—ore bodies from Mining in the Black Hills got pulped into O, Vozque Pulp, wedges of O, Vozque Pulp were wired into B.C./A.D, snippets from B.C./A.D. were realphabetized into P.S. At Least We Died Trying, sequences from P.S. were delivered via Poste Restante, postcards from Poste Restante were stuffed into the Marsupial pouch. Other times it's not whole pieces or even chunks or sentences doing this begetting, but just concepts or characters making cameos, being brought out onto the operating table under new light, which I think is more the case with these Natural Histories.

Not that I have a clear picture of what these Natural Histories will be about—if I did I probably wouldn't be compelled to write or bring life to them. All I know right now is that it will start with the making of an ark (perhaps inspired by my recent reading of Log of the S.S.) and from here 39 threads will spin off, each relating somehow to a species of animal riding on this ark. Or more accurately, the anima within the animaL, the traits of the animaLs and what they represent in ourselves, in our own histories. Not the animaLs themselves, but the evolutionary morphological space in all it's possibilities—this is the blank canvas I'm starting with, the lexiconic arsenal, basted in rabbit-skin glue. Obviously Noah will figure prominently, as will Frankenstein (the ark is being built up in the Arctic) and The Odyssey (Circe is my muse, though the construction of the ark may mimic the construction of Odysseus and Penelope's marriage bed). This is all just my prejudiced thinking though, not anything you need to know, and who knows what ghastly beast will come of it.

With this in mind, I'm mining bits and pieces in the vein of these Natural Histories from here and there—old works that I've aborted or scrapped, existing works that I've published, random notes to self or this blog itself (half of the top search words here are animal species so they must be on my brain). Not that I'll use textual sequences verbatim, but more as seeds. The existing book object that probably has the most in common with Natural Histories is ma(I)ze Tassel Retrazos. In re-reading through Retrazos, I realized that a number of the works in it haven't been published individually outside of the chapbook. There are still a few copies of the chapbook circulating, but since I got rid of my belly trimmer and other accessories for creating chaps, I effectively threw out the mold for replicating more. I'd put all of ma(I)ze Tassel Retrazos online, but the format of the PDF is a bit skewed (sideways actually) and non-sequential (as is necessary for printing and compiling chapbooks). So in lieu, I offer you these (with accompanying images by Carlos M. Luis):

The Carrier Frequency of Coctel de Camaron

Cock tail

I couldn’t live with the fact that we all came from The Codex. Some chose to sacrifice themselves in the name of the code, I chose to chase Shrimp Cocktail. No matter how you sliced it, it was a sickness.

I left home with only a toothbrush in my pocket, slamming the door on Mother With Joint Between Knuckles. ‘I’ was following the sound. Even my own ears were too much to think about when you stopped to think. The physicality of our senses were scars on what was otherwise the perfection of, say, Fish in the Ashes. The half-ripped and white-washed notícias in the narrow cobble-stoned streets advertised medicinal cures along with dances and bullfights long past. Then I smelled the regenerative music of Monkey House fast approaching.

When I asked, “is this the shrimp to the shrimp station where I can catch another shrimp,” everybody within earshot laughed. A ripple propagated through the music in the Monkey House. The driver closed the door behind me. We were all breathing the same air now. A boy my age who spoke my language said, “you need to unroll your ‘R’ and add an ‘I’ to be understood—Shrimp and Bus are only a letter apart in our mother tongue.” Then the village idiot tapped my shoulder to inform me that “A” is for Manzana. “But don’t worry, it’s not contagious.”

A Mariachi Jukebox followed me down the aisle. They singled me out to serenade even though I was alone. ‘I’ just wanted to look out the window and go somewhere but not necessarily get there. Instead, I held my breath and thought about what ‘I’ thought of what people thought about me. There were many human beings on this bus and the sound of the Mariachi Jukebox weighed only over me. Monkey House was packed with self-contained radio beacons, silent at their own level but understood to the gods between the atoms.

A blur of strings and knuckles resonated the black hole of the guitar. The father was playing accompaniment. His pre-pubescent son was transmitting his voice. The boy carried his father’s code. I noticed it in his Adam’s apple. You could see it in his dangling uvula vibrating between his tonsils. Only then did I understand. This was The Shrimp Cocktail. This was the cure.

I slotted a peso into the hole, between the vibrating strings of the guitar. They carried their weight down the aisle of Monkey House.

INT. Montage Sequence—Latin Footnotes to the Latent Reaction of Pigment Curtains (Sin Cascara) on La Cucaracha Tissue Culture

1. Here in this country where my ancestors are not from, my blood has dried on the cement. My body stages an immune response to itself in the back of Monkey House fountain. More than can be contained with a Kleenex or by a customs official.

2. Allocate ‘C’ (tooth and nail) as a form of inhuman chicharron (the vampire hormone). The previous night, to pickle the maize, to soak in enough lukewarm semen so help you god?

3. There is no true weight in thickness or in death. History bleeding through the semi-permeable transport membrane off channel island, “this reception sucks, spread her [ears] wider.”

4. Cyclic removal of Na+ or Mn2+ from the nude sunbathing medium [sic], blocks the effects of melatonin, ya no puede caminar down the aisle of sleep. Before they ever showered movies on these S.A. de C.V. busses.

bleeding bed

5. They know they have it coming. You can hear them from miles away—radial antenna twitching, rotating forgiveness, all eyes closed, but none of us sleeps.

6. On the following day, in its same water sans salt, until smooth, does not burst much, the cases of the red red digital peppers to shriek them and grind exoskeleton in a self-fulfilling glass-blowing or de-sexer, until obtaining a thick time-dependent compote. [PLACE HER IMAGE HERE]. To splice Corn Tassel’s ribs in half, soon to the flaring pieces of two by fours and to insert the needle into the pineal gland (your jealousy that she dreams)?

7. In my tongue, d[y]e = d[i]e. I am leaking all over the plaza. One of my [step]fathers taught me to always carry your own spare parts (“why else would gODD give you two testicles and two hands?”), at all times as her footsteps approach on the cobblestones, ducking in a doorway to let the sickle cell thunder pass, only to get jellyfished on the head with a confetti-filled egg, “to get EVEn.”

8. All this while the curtain hangs to give the impression of a window beneath everything, but behind her skirt is adobe and brick. This is the same thick neural crest material to use as a blanket in a cold pinch, when not aggregated inside her. Habitually, the meat absorbs too much salt. Once guilt-ridden conquistadors in the same boat stewed the albumen with leather, to marinate prey with the other half of the (then) abundant sexual condiments, the smell of plucking the red-feathered peregrine in anticipation of becoming chief. My huevos rancheros are revolted out the ventricle pane.

9. Order is given to the textiles we use to stoke and cover our skin while we are recovering from lying [sic] awake, head in hands. Her gray-brown clammy skin crouched in a vergüenza® brand chicken-wire confessional, the beginnings of a pork rind piñata, laying sideways, slouching lower and lower in the pews, sin embarrassment.

10. ‘I’ wake up alone with myself in the changing room where I found my mother’s half-smoked pig joint under tarpaper secured with bottle caps under the seat. Now, alone in the back of her eye. (One day I will be tangibly alone, wearing a papier mâché dressing gown, waiting for the doctor to peel away the blood soaked gauze and dead skin from my clapping hands.) No regrets.

11. The landscape is a permeable fabric ‘I’ can stand penetrating. Behind it is the whiteness of her (torn) page. I dream of a foreign pair of lips [INSERT SPOON], isolated, out of context, regressing. ‘I’ sense the pulse of my organ within the organ doing the pulsing—the chicken-scratch of distant guitars, maracas and a leaking accordion… I volunteered to light the fireworks that got us into this mess.

12. My white blood cell count is low (so they tell me). ‘Corn Tassel is no longer on my mind’ is on my mind. I don't know which father to call as my only call. I retrace my steps along the circumference of the river cells, trying to make sense of our weight. It begins to rain on Sunday, Monkey House behind me.

13. The whole time afraid my mother would come home any second now to a coop full of tar and feathers: 40 cocks to 0 hens, and counting.

p-Shell Translocation Hoop Codon, in Situ

cage in situ

When I come to my senses, I'm in the attic room where the host family stores the grandfather piano. I'm not at all tired since I slept back in the Monkey Wheelhouse (where they store the spare) but I’m still spinning, in the air, in anticipation of the Mixtec court ball game—sloshing back and forth in the slippery (s-shell) hammock. This is my first window of privacy, waiting for the sun to spin UP.

1st period : 2S : Greyhound Depot Equivalent (en Español)

↑↓ There's blood on the stone sheets from the previous tenant (the downspin loser is sacrificed when all's said and done—back when mutations were considered heroic). I end up (by own recognizance) on the floor next to dismembered mannequins, pincushions and sewing hoops. Everything accounted for. The smell of mothballs permeates the circuit court, framed by two parallel walls, built on a low subterranean slope so that the crepuscule stays airborne. The moth quanta are not permitted to touch her p-shell ground in this state. Our team sponsor is Mr. Plywood. The well is home to coati mundis—the same tunnel my mother accused me of digging in her garden back home. Coati mundi begets monkey begets my third stepfather (“coach P,” a.k.a. the Modeler), now in the attic with me, minding his own.

↓↑ I prick myself with my lucky rabbit foot and bleed through the floorboards to add my pollen count to the crime scene already in progress. It's still the first period and ‘I’ have not scored. There is no running score, but there are ups and downs ↑ When there is a score, it’s red all over ↓ You can't use her manos, but you are free to send the rabbits out ahead ↑ Keep your eyes on the shells, not the ball ↓ Don’t get caught without a rubber in your wallet (everyone thinks the coach’s son has the upper-hand, but it’s the other way around—the weight of 12 pesos, down the drain) ↑ Having to explain ↓ You’ll never be the same.

↑↓ This is the state of Guanajuato, November 1980, the home of leper vampires and mongol alley singers. The magazines and maps in the attic are all in different languages. The wave function has not been localized—a National Geographic from 1905, before double-helix DNA but after the Mixtec Codex was deciphered, a Life magazine with JFK on the cover, a pamphlet on opening backgammon moves—all unread transcripts bound by deaf and blind amputees.

↓↑ The steam rises from the Noble Sweatbath below, through the floorboards, but I cannot make use of it. It is a forensic scene of s-shell laughter, sealed in time—a vampire bat caught in the headlights, its tongue glued to the puddled blood, revealing a 21:22 type chromosomal translocation. The host family’s daughter showers, unaware of my presence. By the glow of the Neon cross filtering through the tiles, I peel back the wallpaper and find the singing blade used to apply it in the first place.

2nd period : 2S : 6P : Arcade

↑↓ 2 Panther to 8 Rabbit to 20 Coati to 28 Mice to 50 Rooster to 82 Deer to 126 Jaguar heads—all juvenile, the final scrolling marquee exhibits ‘magic’ characteristics associated with embroidered shells, a muted drone, sheets rolling and, in the distance, a donkey screaming its snores. If you pull your team’s jersey over your head in defiance of the inevitable you can see the extra chromosome weave of Corn Tassel—the anomalous seamstress scattering effect, giving birth to just a severed head the size of the very ball we try to get through the vanity hoop.

↓↑ There are no smoke and mirrors—no wheelchairs, disco balls and/or rubber chickens ↑ There's one small portal looking out on the street ↓ Not even big enough to fit my head through ↑ The eclipsed moonbeam comes in at a slant ↓ The image ‘I’ have in my head is the seamstress’s daughter, en vitro ↑ An ox pulls a cart for the dead in the street ↓ It's a low scoring game ↑ Tight defense.

3rd period : 2S: 6P: 2S: Foul Situation

↑↓ I feel a need to conduct myself with grace through the subterranean lymph nodes (I have a reputation to keep with my host organism) but the searchlight will eventually catch me, in situ, in essence killing any uncertainty in the events leading up to the recreation of procreation. A ticket picked up off the sidewalk for parking on the curb now belongs to me, even though I’m not even old enough to drive.

↓↑ My understanding was not in the intention: ↑ The seamstress is on the sidelines ↓ The noise is deafening ↑ Her daughter is in my head ↓ The piano is dead, to be picked up by the OX. Coach P is screaming and scheming with a pen on a map of our host’s catacombs. I watch the formidable opponents tongues and lips and make up my own boundaries and laws ↑ Shooting for the hoop ↓ Big D ↑ Competing to complete ↓ To get it over with.

All they found after the fact were 10 severed heads, larger than life, detached from the context.

Suckling the Graduated Head Fabric (A Prayer for Something Better†)

In the room where my mother keeps her loom, the Modeler draws the blinds in the aftermath of an irreversible horror. Education and the modern conveniences of Monkey House had done little to prepare him or her for this. As a matter of fact, the perfection of the surrounding textiles made him sick to his stomach. “There, there,” said ma‘I’ze Tassel. She stroked his hair and tried to brush off a piece of lint, only to discover it was the trailing end of a thread unraveling the stitches in his head from a pre-existing sense hole.

When my mother remodeled our house back in the 80s, she had the foresight to install a secret closet (within a closet (in her weaving room)). Such architectural devices were permitted in Mexico (sin permiso). It was after our High School graduation ceremony that ma‘I’ze Tassel and I raided this secret closet in search of my mother’s weed. The dismembered mannequins and unhung paintings that also occupied the closet distracted us from our original intent. We found kilos of knuckles and ankles and knots and knees, but no weed.

“It only makes sense that there would be spiders and scorpions in here,” ma‘I’ze Tassel said.

suckling head

“Shhh,” I whispered. “Not Right Now.” Even though it was a new addition to our house, the secret closet provided no natural light or circulation, and as a consequence, no awareness of the outside world. My mother came home earlier than expected to smoke a joint and work on her loom, and we were trapped in her dank closet to the rhythm of the warp and weave. Second-hand smoke filled the air, mixing with the mildewy steam rising from our skins. That’s when 'I' lost myself and became a Modeler for somebody else inhabiting my body. “I resent her,” I hissed to the darkness.

“She brought you into this world,” ma‘I’ze Tassel whispered back.

“I wear my genes on my sleeves.” I got on my knees so I could watch what my mother was doing through the slats in the closet door. In the musty darkness, my eyes were hem level with ma‘I’ze Tassel’s pleated graduation skirt. It was in this Noble Sweatbath that it occurred to me—this closet was built where our courtyard garden use to be—the same geographical spot where I used to bathe with the Snake of Garden Hose under the sunlight. This closet we now occupied covered The Hole my mother could never fill. If I started digging now, I could get back to how it was.

The earth split open before my fingers even touched it. The animals knew these things in advance. Their eyes were upon us. This was evidence. The hormones seeping from my nodes made me act the way I acted. I climbed all my stepfather’s to get back to mother’s Hole. I stuffed The Hole with cashed alimony and child support checks from all those men with Spanish surnames. All the irreversible tassels and retrazos were fed back in to The Hole. The loom itself was rammed back home before the textile it was creating was finished. Ma‘I’ze Tassel was now a sodden marsh of 40 holes. Burying my head in one was the same as burying it in all. I negotiated my tongue in the dark cavity of Monkey House. I drank my first Negra Modelo. The fingernails staked in my feet and hands kept me from jumping overboard. The Modeler was not on the cross. I swallowed my tongue. She was all in my head. My head was inside her. We became one and the same.

Afterwards, we scraped the tamale remnants off the discarded cornhusks and licked the pieces off the floor. Something small fell out of her mouth and we laughed.†

† from “One Hundred Years”, Pornography (1982): The Cure.


(c) 2009 Derek White