Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Notes on Translation from the Guarani

The experience of translating Paraguayan women authors into English for the anthology, First Light, a 3-year project that was finalized in 2000, was illuminating. In translating into English the work of Paraguayan women writing in Guarani, one must be aware of the temptation to fall into translating the work in a way that will lead scholars and popularizers of the discourse to read the work and use it in a facile manner to support notions representing ideological trends. This is not to say that the themes and/or ideas are not present in the work – but that the translator makes certain choices in the translation process that could lend themselves to appropriation.

Feminist / post-feminist gender issues: If one accepts the notion that the cornerstone of feminist theory is a phenomenology of oppression, then the work of Paraguayan poet Susy Delgado could be used in this manner. In Tata-pype (CLOSE TO THE FIRE), she addresses a poem sequence to her older lover, making a great deal of word play about the fact that he considers himself powerful, important, patriarchal, particularly in relation to her, a woman. In the Guarani, the wordplay creates an ironic dualism used to describe the male psyche – one in which a tender interior coexists with a puffed-up bragadoccio exterior. The Spanish version (written by Susy) more straightforwardly makes fun of the machismo of her companion. Over the years Susy and I have had many conversations on the subject – both about how to depict men in poetry, and the behavior exhibited by the typical Paraguayan male (which Susy described as having been warped by three generations of 10 women to every man, and irresponsible paternity, partially condoned by the church in an official attempt to repopulate the country after two almost genocidal wars). This is not to say that authorial intent has determined the final product, or to say that the translator should place much weight on the authors stated intent.

It was tempting to me, as a translator, to go to the extremes with this particular segment, and to translate it with words that would immediately catch the eye of a feminist critic. It was doubly tempting since I was still partially psychologically enmeshed with a lying, cheating dog of a Paraguayan boyfriend, and revenge fantasies were still percolating just beneath the surface. I even toyed with the idea of putting his name in my English version of Susy’s Guarani and Spanish texts, and making specific references to identifying characteristics (home, job, etc.). In the end, I resisted the temptation; probably because it took me so long to do the translation, and it was too much work to maintain rage, pain and indignation.

Environmental or “green” politics: Sadly enough, in the past century, the environment of Paraguay was misused by colonizers, despite the fact that it does not possess the reserves of gold, silver and tin of its neighbor, Bolivia. The delicate ecosystem found in the Chaco was disturbed, first by rapacious hunters who sport-hunt endangered species, and then by huge hydroelectric projects which result in a vast alteration of the ecosystem (Itaipu dam on the Argentina/Paraguay/Brazil border, and the damming of the Pilcomayo River). Luisa Moreno de Gabaglio writes poetry and short fiction in Guarani and Spanish, and much of them have to do with the abuse of the environment by outsiders. For example, in the story “Keter B.”, she speaks of Spanish-speaking outsiders who hunt and capture an indigenous child, considering her to be a “creature.”

In “The Hanneman House,” a German specialist in arachnids lives in a house where the search for treasure buried and lost during the Chaco War drives men into internecinely homicidal greed. In each case, the Guarani speakers are victimized, while the outsiders (speaking Spanish or German) are portrayed as predators and cruelly analytical in their approach. Science without ethics also characterizes the hunters in her collection of stories, “Cuentos.” Zoologists use their understanding of the endangered species they are hunting to first kill the mother, and to take the pelts of rare peccaries, or to kill truckloads of rare caimans, leaving the skinless carcasses to rot in the hot sun. Luisa, who has a doctorate in veterinary science, pays a great deal of attention to animals – and they are the subjects of most of the “Cuentos.” For that reason, her books have been adopted in the Paraguayan school system (the Guarani and the Spanish versions), where they are used in conjunction with biology / Paraguayan heritage classes. It would be tempting to be more direct in the translation, and to make the environmental agenda more direct. Translating Luisa is quite difficult – she often invents words in Spanish which gives, through distortion of the language, the Spanish a grotesque, surreal cast. It makes the Guarani even more warm and maternal, in contrast.

Further, it is clear that her stories can function as allegories of the lingering pre- and post-Nazi influences in Paraguay, where the disappearances and tortures of animals and indigenous peoples mirror what happened to after the Civil War of 1946 and during the dictatorship of General Stroessner, who used Nazis to instruct his secret police in methods of torture. As such, her narratives are deeply antinomian and deeply questioning of authority that comes from outside, or which has been instructed by outside. In this, Luisa demonstrates the tendency of Paraguayans to express xenophobic and/or isolationist perspectives, where isolationism was historically viewed as a shortcut to utopia. Needless to say, it didn’t work. As an translator, it is difficult for me to keep from letting my own opinions and /or perspectives influence my word choices. If I am honest, I will say that I selected works to translate which illustrate my own attitudes and opinions, which are “green” and aggressively anti-fascistic.

Critiques of dictatorships and the phenomenon of self-censorship: Renee Ferrer writes both in Spanish and Guarani. Two of her books, POR EL OJO DE LA CERRADURA and LOS NUDOS DEL SILENCIO, deal specifically with life under dictatorship, and internalized oppression, which manifests as self-censorship. In LOS NUDOS DEL SILENCIO, the protagonist is married to a man she knows to be a part of the Paraguayan secret police, whom she begins to realize is an expert in torture.

In a trip to Paris, the protagonist falls in love (at a distance) with a Vietnamese exotic dancer, whom she imagines has experienced the same sort of self-repression and self-censorship as herself. In a chapter which structurally replicates the improvisations of a jazz saxophone player to whom the Vietnamese dancer dances, Ferrer’s protagonist riffs on the them of “falsifying” or “faking.” This was an extremely difficult chapter to translate because there were so many options for the words, and the rhythm was so crucial to the narrative.

I realized while I was translating it that I could bring in more of the overtly political, but I decided against it. Perhaps that was not a good choice – but I chose to be more strictly “transparent” and “fluent” in the translation – partially because the author wanted to review the translation (and I acquiesced). In POR EL OJO DE LA CERRADURA, Ferrer writes of Faustian bargains made because people had no option, no opportunity for advancement – a man duped into taking the rap for a crime sits in prison realizing he’ll never be paid the money he was promised, and his sacrifice – all so he could build a house for his mother, his family – will be worthless, as he is reviled, and no one believes his innocence.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Big Wheels

It made no sense at all to be afraid of a man with the body of a child, paralyzed from neck down, who had no way of perambulating except by means of a motorized wheelchair that had a special air tube he could blow into and control the speed and direction of his special vehicle.

Nevertheless, he was intimidating. You could feel his drive and determination -- it was so intense as to be reckless. If you wanted something and happened to be in his way -- move aside. He was indominatable, or at least seemingly so.

I guess he always had been. After all, that's how he got in this condition in the first place. He possessed a daredevil will. When he was young, he raced four-wheelers -- the kind you see down in sandy riverbeds that tear up point bars and egg-filled nests of endangered turtles and sand tortoises.

For the most part, he was lucky and very skillful. He had a wall of trophies as testament.

One day, he wasn’t so lucky. He flipped. He landed on his neck and broke it in four places.

That was fifteen years ago.

Now, he was paralyzed from neck down. He could not move his hands, arms, legs, feet, toes, or anything in between.

He could still speak, but had to breathe through a tube. When you looked at him or spoke to him, you would never think “invalid.” I never felt pity. Instead, I had the distinct feeling that if I crossed him, something terrible would happen to me, my family, and/or my dogs.

Ordinarily, I would not care, but he was my next-door neighbor, and before I had a good sense of who and how he was, I lodged a complaint with the neighborhood association because someone had parked in front of my home and blocked my driveway, effectively imprisoning me in my home.

I blamed him. It was before I knew he did not drive.

When I realized my mistake, I started sneaking out the back door and taking the roundabout way to my garage.


His wife was what one might gracefully call "statuesque." She was achingly hot, with boom-boom breasts and an equally booming backside. She was more than a trophy. She was the red, roaring cherry light on the top of a police car.

She was what announced that the law was after you, when the law was inutterably corrupt.

You couldn't say "no." You couldn't say anything at all.

You just looked down on yourself, as though your spirit had already divorced itself from your body, and was sailing off to a world of no pain, no sorrow, no existence, while your hand dipped into your wallet and handed over whatever folding green or warped plastic you could, just to forestall the inevitable...

Right now, you look at her and you imagine she’s saying "thank you" with those fuel-injected lips, pink tongue flickering just within the bounds of your mind's eye.

You should have been with me -- I watched the whole thing from behind a crepe myrtle bush on the edge of my patio. I saw his wife on the miniature porte-a-cochere that partially encircled their home, their front lawn. He was there. I held my breath, and I could hear the backpack-sized breathing machine doing its mechanical wheezing from behind his neck.

You wondered how large he was before his accident. His body looked rubbery and childlike.

He knew everyone must think he had a lot of money to keep a hot piece like that at his side. Was that all? Was there something more?

She seemed almost afraid of him.
He seemed almost afraid of her.

She was wearing black lycra shorts, a shredded lace camisole, 5-inch platform spiked sandals. Her body was the color of cinnamon toast. Her knees spread apart as she dropped down into deep squats that might have been considered plies in a ballet class, but here, at the side of the motorized wheelchair, the kneebends looked earthy, sweaty, agonizingly hot, wet, and crude.

Beads of sweat ran down his forehead. She seemed ready to lick the sweat off his brow with her tongue.

I could swear he was laughing. He loved watching her. She knew how to pull him in.


Ted Bundy used to wear a cast on his arm when he was at his most predatory. He used it to elicit sympathy from young co-eds, who immediately felt sorry for the cute, fumbling, young man...

John Wayne Gacy use to dress up like a clown when he was at his hungriest. He would don his Pogo, the Clown costume, paint his face white, his lips red, his eyelids dark blue, and then hold up his goofy, half-helpless white-gloved hand and wave to the small boys in the audience...

The Pied Piper played cheerful and irresistible tunes on his flute...


My neighbor was napping in the sunlight. His wife was painting her nails.

In the distance, cloud piled up, bunched together, and threatened to combine enough to produce rain, perhaps even hail.


Click on the pencast for audio of this "palm of the hand" story (inspired by Kawabata)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Vanished Without a Trace: Clowser, Hurricane Hunter

Podcast / Audio recording: http://www.beyondutopia.net/podcasts/clowser.mp3

Tinguely Querer had decided to buy old Clowser's farm. She still remembered the night old Clowser's barn burned down and the stories that were told. It was now on the market, and Tinguely sensed that the unsolved mystery of Clowser's son's disappearance could be solved if only she could take possession of the farm, and the new barn they built on the ashes of the old. His plane went missing in theBermuda Triangle years ago.

"Why cash? Why not a loan?," said Evalina Baugrozen.

Evalina was an attorney, but not a very confident one. But, something about Tinguely gave her new-found "brass" and spunk. She was not experienced enough to realize that Tinguely had made her a fantastic deal -- not because of generosity, but because of sentimentality.

"I want to get this done. I want to close quickly," said Tinguely.

Tinguely had just advised her father not to sell his wheat farm in Grant County, Oklahoma, with a "take or pay" contract with a pipeline company to sell the gas produced from the Red Fork sand. The wells were in the middle of the Cherokita Trend.

"You've got a good deal, Dad. It's rare any more that the minerals go with the surface." It was something she said often to her father. In fact, she had used his wheat farm and oil production as a case study for one of her courses in her .

Evalina looked at Tinguely.

"What is it that you see in the old Clowser place?" asked Evalina.

"It's complicated," said Tinguely. It was not really complicated at all. She wanted Clowser's farm.
Tinguely's judgment was compromised by her sentimentality. She liked to idealize her childhood. Her early years were lonely. She learned to read music before she could read words. She was four and reading music, playing the piano in recitals. Mrs. Crow, her teacher, considered Tinguely her prodigy. Things might have progressed, but Mrs. Crow's husband graduated from the and he and his wife, the lovely Mrs. Crow, moved to a town that had offered Reverend Crow a position in their parish.

Did either one have any idea? Of course not. Their psyches had been tainted by "righteousness" -- they were just so convinced of their moral authority, and that they had taken the "high road" -- even though there was not one scrap of evidence to support them.

Flash Memory. Return to the summer her parents moved to the house at the end of a isolated cul-de-sac, positioned like a strange apostrophe to a developer's fantasy, between wheat farms and a strange, overgrown set of fields, farm ponds, farm house, and big barn.

No one ever saw anyone at old Clowser's farm. Rumor had it that his family had homesteaded the 160-acre patch ofSouth Canadian River bottomland. He owned it outright, being the only child of the original homesteaders' only child. Old Clowser himself had an only child - a son -- who, sadly, disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle while flying his instrument-laden small jet into the eye of a Caribbean hurricane.

He was a for NOAA, and he paid the ultimate price for poking the eye of the hurricane. No one even remember the name of the hurricane that took him into some unknown dimension -- probably shattered to bits, but the conspiracy theorists preferred the idea of alien spacecrafts sucking in trespassers into "their" airspace. Some scientists liked to conjecture that the Bermuda Triangle is a place where space warps back on itself. Dark energy becomes a force that pushes time and space, not just wind and rain and hail... Several scientists hypothesized that the atmospheric conditions resulted in tunnels of dark energy, and a virtual space warp.

Some suggested that Clowser's son's plane was pulverized by the high winds, and Young Clowser himself fell to earth (or water, as the case might be), like a twentieth-century Icarus, whose hubris was not his own, but was inherited -- by brazen, transgressive folk who believed that just by casting their eye on a particular place or space, they could "own" it -- regardless of previous or existing claims.

Clowser's son was an Amelia Earhardt without the glamour and publicity. He was a risk-taker. He went solo. He was an aviator for reasons other than the love of soaring on rivers of air. He loved punching into the place beyond the edge. Kick into another dimension. Smack life into your truest heart. What does that mean? Don't look. Don't care.

Stats and Facts:
Eighty-seven percent of missing aircraft go missing in the Bermuda Triangle.
Intense super-cells develop between high and low-pressure air masses.
In the transition zone, it is not uncommon to find "electrical fog" -- static electricity so thick it looks like fog.
Some scientists have speculated that horizontal electrical tornadoes form -- they are tunnels of dark energy.


When Clowser's barn burned, someone said a fireball shot out of the barn door. It occured because of hay dust.

"You know, hay dust is as flammable as gasoline," said one of the firefighters who was interviewed forThe Norman Transcript. "It's the same thing that can happen in a grain silo. Static electricity can ignite it. It can happen at any time."

Tinguely read about St. Elmo's Fire. It was static electricity that dance along the sails in old clipper ships and the galleons favored by buccaneers. Tinguely wondered if there might be more St. Elmo's Fire in the Bermuda Triangle than in other places.>electric fog" something you could find in windy places on land as well as sea? Could a tornado churning through the Texas Panhandle be accompanied by roiling electrical fog?

She had the feeliing that there was some sort of energy triangle that came together right where Old Clowser's barn burned to the ground.

There had to be a connection between the barn, the fireball, the Bermuda Triangle, and Old Clowser's only son, that intrepid young "Hurricane Hunter" who vanished without a trace.


"Tinguely, you'll be happy to hear your offer was accepted," said Evalina.

"Thank you, Ms. Baugrozen," said Tinguely. She pronounced Baugrozen so it sounded like a large mastiff's bark.

"Now that you have the land, do you have any plans?" asked Evalina. "Do you plan to put in a housing addition?"

"I'm going to build a barn."

"Farming? That doesn't seem like you, if you don't mind my saying so," said Evalina. She snapped her black patent clutch shut after replacing her pen and her BlackBerry.

"Not farming. Hurricane hunting," said Evalina.

"Well, I think you may be barking up the wrong tree if you plan to build a barn to do that. Unless, of course, you fill it with computer link-ups to weather satellites."

"I'm still working out the details," said Tinguely.

"Well, do what you like. The Clowsers were well thought of in their day. They homesteaded the place, you know," said Evalina.


It was done. The deal was inked. Now all was left was to slip into a horizontal tube of dark energy and seek the place where f inflammable hay dust, and determine if it happened the moment knowledge itself sparked -- or perhaps self-awareness -- sparked, ignited, and caused the seekers of consciousness and perception to vanish without a trace.

Highly recommended blog: Jefferson Hansenm

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I, Vampire: Part III

Podcast: http://www.zenzebra.net/podcast/i-vampire-part-3.mp3

Angoisse / Anxiety: One can define these terms in many ways. One awkward, but revealing way is to say it’s the tension one feels when one realizes they’re always running the risk of being abandoned or existing in a state of revulsion – just after they’ve felt the glorious moment of engulfment or, well, the myth of total unity. Absolute unity is a condition reserved for the afterlife. No one really wants it in the here and now, no matter how they profess a desire for it.

The road to Wal-Mart was barricaded by police cars cordoning off the rural hospital so a med-evac helicopter could land on the two-laned asphalt street leading to the emergency room. Tinguely turned the corner as a deputy sheriff waved angrily at her, and a man with a headset spoke and looked at his watch.

Tinguely’s stomach clenched. She averted her eyes. Her pulse raced. She did not want to think about what might happen next. She felt anxious.

As the automatic doors slid open, Tinguely felt herself calm. The smell of grilling hotdogs mixed with disinfectant.

The Wal-Mart greeter said hello to Tinguely. Another offered her a glistening hunk of sausage on the end of a toothpick. When Tinguely shook her head “no” she moved on to the next guest. Tinguely did have a chance to ask the greeter if they carried Roberto Bolano's final book, 2666, in Spanish. She half-expected to find it in the original Spanish, since at least 60 percent of the population spoke Spanish. It used to be more, but Burmese and Somalian refugees had been brought in to fill the slaughterhouse jobs that had once been filled by illegal Mexican immigrants.

At the very least, she'd be able to find the English version. She felt sure of that.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. There were no books in Spanish. There were a few Spanish language tabloids, and a few DVDs featuring black and white "clasicos" of "el cine mexicano." She recognized Cantinflas, a populist everyman who rivaled Charlie Chaplin in popularity. Cantinflas had a bit more "chispa" or spark. At least, that was Tinguely's opinion. She had only seen one Charlie Chaplin movie, and she disagreed with its politics.

There were a few shiny best-sellers and a wall of Harlequin romances. A middle-aged woman looked up, startled, as Tinguely walked by.

Tinguely experimented with telepathy. She directed thoughts directly to the woman: "I know what you're after. You're hooked on the raunchy hot scenes! We all know what's in those books!!"

If the woman could hear Tinguely's thoughts, she gave no indication of it. Tinguely peered into her shopping cart. A twelve-pack of Fanta Grape. An eight-pack of Charmin toilet paper. Cheerios. Doritos. Salsa. Needle-nosed pliers. Cat litter. Bunion pads.


The Wal-Mart book section was next to the in-store McDonald’s. A young Hispanic woman sat with her two children. They were eating French fries and drinking a Coke. The woman was examining a bottle of nail polish. Tinguely thought she would enjoy 2666. But, perhaps she would not.

Je t’aime! It had the same sound as a meadowlark’s song, or a crow or a raven. It is the sound one makes when one is flying in one’s dreams, or simply with eyes closed, gripped in a fatal embrace. (For the lonely spirit, that fatal embrace is also known as “life.” For the vampire, that fatal embrace is also known as “blood”).

Back to the books. The latest vampire series was next to the section marked Inspirational. Nowhere was there the award-winning masterwork of a thoughtful Spanish-speaking writer (translated to English), whose noir Touch of Evil for the 21st century explored what, exactly, lived in the border between states of being. This time the work of art would focus on Ciudad Juarez and not Tijuana. In both cases, the emphasis was on appetite. At least that's what Tinguely wagered. She had no idea, but wanted to know.

If Wal-Mart could sell vampire fantasies to middle-schoolers, why couldn't they sell a novel that confronted the way people prefer to go subterranean when they feel their core identity is at risk? Why is it they go underground when what they really are could make them vulnerable?

Go subterranean when your core identity is compromised.

Go underground. Invest in a human trafficker. Move north, south, east, or west. Believe in reinvention.

Reinvent & wrap your their fingers around the throat of hope. Touch it. Then run from it. It is the only logical way to live.

The woman seated at a bench table at McDonald’s with her two children took out the nail polish, shook it, then deftly applied the tip of the tiny brush to her younger daughter’s index finger. The girl was wearing a pink hoodie and wore a pink bow in her dark, wavy brown hair. Her ears were pierced. She wore pearls.

It was easier to keep the vampires in lightweight fiction written by a conservative Mormon virgin, whose creatures of the night were innocuous prom-goers and paragons of faux-Goth fashion.


I love you! Je’taime! Te amo! It makes no difference how one says it. The words simply reflect the inadequacy of language to express something that probably should stay ineffable. After all, if you stripped love of its ineffability, you’d probably strip it of its power.

Disappointed to not be able to buy the book, Tinguely roamed through office supplies. She decided to buy a pack of multicolored file folders and index cards. For reading material, she grabbed "The Worst Celeb Diets" issue of the National Enquirer. Cellulite and shots of celebrities who had packed on 50 or 60 pounds reassured her that yes, we're all ordinary mortals.

The sound of an ambulance distracted her as she walked through the Wal-Mart parking lot. Love and death had been united since the time of Dionysus, perhaps even longer.

Death, life, and the sacred.

A north wind brought the smell of the stockyards to her. The acrid smell burned her eyes. A Burmese man wearing a long fold of cloth like a skirt walked pushed a bicycle. A Catholic nun stood in the corner of the parking lot. A small, sand-blasted, sun-faded van looked to be filled with folded lawn chairs. Tinguely saw a small box filled with small plastic rosaries -- the ones you'd receive as gifts at a first communion.

Tinguely thought of the Tibetan prayer flags she had purchased in a small store near Lark Street in downtown Albany, NY. Would a refugee set up a small Buddhist shop here in the Texas Panhandle? Would the Somalis set up shop, start small enterprises here on the prairie?

Unlike the seething dynamism of the Mexican-American border, the Somalis and the Burmese were clumped together. Islands? Dollops of humanity plopped onto cracked caliche? Immiscible cultures, at least for a generation or so. That was the impression that was given.

It was a kind of protection.

At least, that is what it seemed in comparison to the cultures that did knot, twist, stream, and flow together (and apart). Helicopter rotors. A man shouting. Blood on a gurney. A man taking notes, writing. A woman searching for a book to explain it all.

And that same woman walking back to her car forced to satisfy herself with a tabloid and the realization that the only one who had any solutions at all in the entire 10,000 square mile expanse was the lone nun with a van full of lawn furniture and rosaries.

Pray if you can.

I, Vampire, Part II

Podcast: http://www.zenzebra.net/podcast/i-vampire-part-2.mp3

Captivity and all its synonyms. They are so potent, they almost have a taste. One could say they taste like absinthe, but that would be too easy. The spirit’s captivity is the stuff of mad poets and a person who likes to extract juice from a wormwood tree.

Tinguely pulled out her checkbook and a pen.

Bazila masked her “alpha dog” dominance and feigned submission.

Tinguely laughed ruefully. “Bazila, admit it. It feels good to be a captive. It’s stimulating to plot and scheme our escape. And then, there’s the sweetness of the revenge fantasy. Or, if you’re not in the mood to be a rebel, you can whine about your condition without doing anything.”

“On behalf of the LLC, I would like to thank you most sincerely for your generous donation,” said Bazila.

The donation was satisfying, but ultimately futile, thought Tinguely after she left.

Tinguely would wager all the cash she had in her wallet (which was around $350) that Bazila spent her evenings working on her own teen vampire novel. Would Bazila’s version feature sexual slavery and forced abortions for stem cells?

Tinguely shuddered.

The taste of freedom is not sweet. It is not sour. It is either woody or metallic. Once you swallow it, you realize you’ve been poisoned.

“It was the best book I ever read,” said the girl at the Dairy Queen, whom Tinguely spotted with a copy of I, Vampire. She appeared to be about 12.

“You were able to read this stuff while eating?” Tinguely was surprised. Was it the same book she had read? Were she and the girl with the book even on the same planet?

“Well, the stuff about embalming fluid was sort of creepy, but I’m not really sure what that is,” said the girl. “I felt sad for Romulus. I mean, he needed blood so soooo badly.”

“”I think I need to be sick,” said Tinguely.

“Oh. The bathroom’s out of order. Don’t go in. You’ll be sorry,” said the young girl.

“Isn’t it against some sort of health ordinance to have an inoperable restroom at an eating establishment?” asked Tinguely.

“It just happened,” said the girl. She picked up her book, put it into her cute Oscar the Grouch “tween” messenger bag.

A state of grace is the state you’re in when you realize you don’t have to think about the “big issues” – life, death, or whatever it is that troubles that pesky part of the cerebral cortex that reminds you of the irreducibility of consciousness.

Flickering red lights on the horizon indicated the extent of the wind farm. The blinking red lights on the tops of the wind turbines extended to the horizon like beads on a rosary or glittering paternoster lakes seen mile high as flying over the Rocky Mountains directly northwest of here.

Human beings can’t really deal with consciousness. That’s why they invented religion.

It was a good night to curl up with a true crime paperback, or to watch a rerun of a beauty pageant or documentary about the secret life of the domestic house cat.

I, Vampire: Part I

Podcast: http://www.zenzebra.net/podcast/i-vampire-part-1.mp3

Dominate. No, don’t dominate. This calculus is not interesting. The terms are just too diametrically opposed. Let’s stay somewhere in the middle, where negotiation is at least a viable option.

“This is your recommendation?” Tinguely almost dropped the book in astonishment. She was not a prude, but it was easily the most shocking book she had ever read. And, it was being proffered as high-toned reading for the teens of this small high-plains windfarm-and-slaughterhouse Texas Panhandle town.

The local Library Ladies Club had recommended I, Vampire for the Teen Book of the Month.

It did not seem to bother the largely Christian evangelical members of the group that the book’s heroine had been made a vampire in a highly suspect, perhaps even devilish, manner.

Further, these proper pillars of the community did not seem to take note that the 16-year-old protagonist of clear eyes, cherubic blonde curls, and peony lips, was, in fact, part of a small army of minions -- volitionless undead who skulked around in the service of the gaunt yet magnetic doppelganger of a uneasily fey young Johnny Depp.

“That is, uh, different,” said Tinguely. Her voice trailed off. “Different. Yes. I’m usually all for different, but not in this way.”

“All teens feel different,” said Bazila Haycroft, President-Elect of the Library Ladies Club. Bazila was a softish woman with droopy eyes and large breasts. She had a nice smile, though. “I, Vampire shows that even if you think of yourself as a rather sickening creature with loathsome habits, you can find others who accept you.”


Dead. Undead. The two states of being are too absolute for the average person to want to accept. Give me a medium or a palm reader to communicate with the part of my own consciousness I call “the spirits” or “ghosts.” We love to roam the vast pasture where the very idea of the dead and the undead is as annoying as horseflies and sandburs.

“What was wrong with I, Robot?” asked Tinguely.

Bazila looked at her blandly.

I, Robot is not so, well, sexualized. I mean, why would you want to feed teen hormones? Especially girl hormones,” continued Tinguely. “Those little ladies can get pregnant, you know. Starve out that hussy madness, I say. Focus on philosophy and machines.”

Tinguely had just turned 30, and had clearly forgotten what it was like to have recently weathered the storms of puberty. Or, perhaps she did, and that accounted for her rather extreme position.

“I’m sorry. I don’t think we’ve met,” said Bazila, rather frostily.

“Oh. I’m Tinguely Querer. I’m just visiting. I thought I’d check out the library. Maybe make a tax-deductible donation to help you build your collection,” she said, making a groping motion toward her purse. “Do you accept checks or credit cards?”

Bazila softened. It was pretty transparent that Bazila’s warmth was conditional on the size of the perceived donation, but it was endearing rather than Machiavellian. “Yes, we’d love to build our literacy collection. We want to help our children.”

Tinguely sighed.

“Well, I don’t know why you’re sinking to the level of teen vampires. Are you really so intent on destroying every single victory of feminism? You know it will happen if you encourage this nasty habit of encouraging girls to think it’s exciting to be bitten, have blood drained from their necks, and then become the passionate slave of a tyrant vampire,” snapped Tinguely.

“How much were you thinking of donating to our library?” asked Bazila.


The body: The flesh machine. Consciousness? Utterly unconscious? Programmed? Neither state is particularly satisfying. The problem resembles the free will vs. predestination dichotomy. No one wants either pure free will or absolute predestination, even though people have even built religions around their favorite one in order to give it just the right level of gravitas to be convincing.

“Would you be willing to cull the girl vampire books?” asked Tinguely. “Oh forget it. I know you wouldn’t. Plus, I’m philosophically opposed to censorship. I hate the message of the vampire books. But, I do love I, Robot.”

Bazila glowered.

“Tinguely, we’ve just met, but I want to tell you that in my opinion, I, Robot has all sorts of unwholesome messages, too. The machines are always on the verge of killing their masters. They are smarter, more logical, and have absolutely no conscience or feelings. The robots are sort of psychopathic, if you ask me. We think it sends the wrong message, especially to our teen boys.”

Tinguely brightened at the thought of machines gaining self-awareness and either attacking their masters or simply going on strike. She looked at her iPhone. In an I,Robot world, her iPhone, hand held device, or smart phone could be her best friend. Her phone could even be her mentor. She would never have to be lonely again. Just keep the smartphone fully charged.

Truth be told, Tinguely was working on her own updated version of I, Robot. She gave Bazila a brief overview. She decided not to go into the parts of the book that dealt with organ harvesting, and in kidnapping young women to turn them into human egg incubators.

“When you finish your book, perhaps you could do a book signing here at the library,” said Bazila. “ And now I want to get back to I, Vampire.”

“Bazila, I think we’re just going to go around and around on this. I’m fearful of teenage sexuality. You should be, too. But, you’d rather be dominated by a pale, bloodsucking undead male than a strong, consistent, and predictable machine.”

“Why do we have to be dominated by anything at all?” asked Bazila.

“Because we can’t be happy unless we’re in distress, and we can't be happy unless we're absolutely desperate to break free from something we think is chaining our ankles and pulling us back to earth.”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review and Reflection on John Vick's Chaperons of a Lost Poet

There is something about a long poem that refers to one's youth and coming of age in Oklahoma that evokes pain, longing, nostalgia, and a bimodal innocence/experience tension.

Norman often becomes the epicenter of awakenings and self-awareness. The reason for it is often attributed to the fact that the state's largest university is located in Norman, but I think it's much more than that. After all, Norman is the convergence point of disparate but all equally emotionally destabilizing realities: Tribal autonomy, yet betrayal (Potawatomi, Chickasaw, Absentee Shawnee nations within 20 miles), the Oklahoma's largest mental health complex (not the university, as the wags would have it), the National Severe Storms Lab (with its legions of tornado-chasers), the site of the great Land Rush / Land Run, just to name a few.

Oklahoma is fond of the spectacle. Of all the states of the Union, it is probably the most theatrical -- after all, who else has a Broadway show tune as their official State Anthem?

But, I digress.

John Vick's Lost Chaperons of a Lost Poet is a long poem shot through with Oklahoma consciousness.

What does that mean? For one, it incorporates a deep, solid appreciation for all things passionate, showy, even destructive. There are tornadoes so intense they pull the grass up from the medians, reduce shopping malls to bare concrete slabs.

On another level, there is the longing and the frisson of drag. The glossy and brittle stylings of a Tulsa art deco soiree; but the 2-hour drive to Norman, where the stylings meet hot sweat and tears and awakenings -- this is what surges from John Vick's writing.

Vick's voice is decidedly phlegmatic; it refuses to pander, and nor does it whine. This is surprising, since so many of Oklahoma childhoods become hyper-aware of the unstated desires of those who surround them -- especially those who are off-limits.

There is something very compelling about the journey of memory and time; revisiting the gritty beer, pizza margarita & garlic hand-tossed or the college joints. It is a plunge into recently converted dive bar squeaky clean exotic dancer alleyways, flowering in response to the "must-do du jour" energies of the state's largest and most prestigious university and all its hangers-on...

Vick may write of other places, and his narrative takes the shape of a collage of scraps of paper, text-messages, emails, updates and feeds, "tweets.” He writes of things happening 25 years ago, but he uses the latest technologies. The reader understands that he’s using whatever it takes to have a revisited birth of consciousness.

As such, the awakening is surprising, even upsetting.

There is a sweetness about Vick's narrative, even when he is instructing the reader how to be hard; how to confront one's sweet-sad past. The sweetness tears at one's heart, and it causes the reader to understand / relate to / validate one's own experiences. There is a sadness in it. There is also a profound, inescapable euphoria. Which one will you have? Which one will have you?

Vick's long poem causes one to realize that one must confront the layered nature of reality, and how it intercalates concrete memory markers, emotions, and flashes of ambivalence and perceptual perturbation.

Lost Chaperons takes the reader into images, and burrows into the edgy, unresolved tensions between memory and the ideal.

John Vick. 2009. Chaperons of a Lost Poet. Buffalo, NY: BlazeVOX. ISBN: 9781935402459.

Check out Rina Terry's review: http://www.leafscape.org/press1/v3n2/terry-review.html

The Psychic Sponge's Guide to Zeitgeistland