Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Death Angel Cometh

Reading blogs & blogging for almost 2 months now, I'm struck by how much this reminds me of when my sole/soul goal in life was to found a school for disturbed children. My father thought it was a "waste of brains" and that I should become a lawyer instead, "help people who have something going for them." Ahem. Hear me out: It's about modes of communication, the infinite variety of matrices of speech, how you get your message across. As training, I took all pre-med courses in high school and interned as a volunteer in a series of schools for the "Handicapped," the "Severely Disabled" and the "Severely Mentally Retarded" as they were officially referred to then. It was the latter, my senior year at Abraham Lincoln High, that creates the most correspondences with what goes on here in Blogville. Although I have often, particularly in my role as Director of Creative Writing, smiled to myself at the thought of how I had, somehow, achieved my lifelong "dream" (a word, btw, I never utter unless I mean REM or, as here, when used ironically) it is now that I realize my most valuable preparatory experiences have been serving as a "teacher's aid(e)" for the "most severely" "severely mentally retarded" "kids" aged 2-18 with the "mental capacity" of a 2-6 month old. They all had their way of talking. If they were ambulatory they could "talk" if the listener chose to pay attention to the system. One girl clapped, clapped and rocked, and if you repeated her patterns back to her she laughed and got really excited. You had to do it before you could guide her back into the building or call her for lunch. They didn't know their names but they spoke a language. One boy could speak English, "Hey there! Hey there!" An entire sentence at his private command. "Hey there! Hey there!" was the reply, but with situational inflections. Another boy, slender reed of a lost Tagalog dumbed out & numbed out on pharmacutical speed, you had to spin, you took his spider thin arms by the wrists, raised them over his head like a ballerina and spun him around in a dance that only he could hear. Another only noticed jewelry: shiny rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, all things she was not allowed to own or handle, but remarked on by touch. One morning recess we were out in the jumble of wheelchairs & crutches, balls, bawls & bellows when I greeted her with a touch, displaying my 8 rings on each finger. She grabbed the abalone shell I had strung on a length of rawhide around my neck. She reached up and held the 2 ends of the cord behind my neck and pulled. I choked and couldn't get my breath to call out. She was one of the eldest walkers, 18 and wirey strong. I passed out before someone noticed and got her to let go by shaking his keys in front of her. I felt bad that she was transferred to Agnews State Hospital the next day. It was my fault for wearing something like that around my neck in the first place. There was another boy who was 18. He could say "Yeah." "yeah, yeah, yeah...". One day my favorite teacher got in trouble for holding a mock wedding for 2 of the older, more functional students. Two friends in love who wanted to get married like normal people who can conceive of the concepts. (But what is conception but the touch and its aftermath?) She argued that it was innocent play, and therapeutic, but the yeah-yeah boy whipped it out as he was wont to do whenever he wanted. He got in the middle of the "aisle" and proceeded to masturbate, laughing all the while, saying "yeah, yeah, YEAH" and it was all, when you thought about it, quite brilliant, all the connections he and the others were making at that moment. The one "student" who sat it out was one of the eldest in the school and in my group. She spoke through records. Diagnosed as "severely mentally retarded" at a young age, she would communicate with the world solely through an old red child's phongraph with a needled arm the staff would have to replace on the record over and over again. It was easy to become annoyed with her, and most staff left her alone with her rocking and silent listening, stuck as she was in some infantile time-loop. You could get her to go outside if you sang, but it had to be the record on the turnstile, no other song would do. I forget what song it was. One day my favorite teacher asked me what I thought of her, that she was soon to be transferred out of the school, to be tended until her death at Agnews, but not enriched. She said, "I don't think she is retarded. I think she's schizophrenic." "How do you know?" I asked her. She had no degrees. "Watch this," she said. And she took the needle off the record, continuing to sing the song (Jimminy Cricket singing When You Wish Upon A Star?) but then singing the wrong words to the tune, the wrong meaning, wrong emotion ("When you kiss upon a jar...") and the girl immediately became agitated. So the teacher switched back to the right words and the girl calmed down, then back to the bogus words. The girl became so infuriated she started throwing things and had to be restrained. She was transferred out to a children's psychiatric hospital the next day, aand we were so happy. And so sad for alll her lost childhood. What would make a girl, as a baby, never want to enter the word again? To have nothing to do with others except what was recorded on vinyl. Yes, what. yeah yeah yeah

This is all married in my mind (stapled to my bulletin board? attached to my personal email? sent for in error through the post?) with being denied an appliction for a visa to visit Ireland & the Celtic Isles as my "poet's tour" after high school because I was "colored," the legal definition for "Mexicans," "Mexican-Americans," and "American Indians" in 1972. A fellow teacher had also been denied entry at the airport for wearing his hair in an Indian-style ponytail and forced to return back to the States or fly to the Jolly Ole Empire. He stayed on the plane. "So don't feel bad" he told me. I felt bad. I didn't hold it against the Irish although a Welsh Chicano poet/playwright traveling in Ireland, Wales & Scotland confirmed that we all experience our colonization differently; he had a barkeep in a pub tell his friend, "You can stay, but your nigger friend will have to go." I couldn't help but make the connection between what we were doing at the time, spending our lives on enriching others who would be ash for the smouldering fires of selection & the Final Solution, little baby bubbles in a future pope's peddled gas solution. My genes on a list everywhere I turn. I'll let you spin the record.

I love the blogs I have listed & one's I've found, discovered or were guided to but haven't yet posted. Each one has their unique voice, their singular matrix of voice. From Lyn's single sentences weaving meaning & light in the backwards or forwards scroll, the poem of her life as indeed it is, to Ron's laser erudition; from pendants on the black banjo to fluids dribbling down their backs like "tampon strings," from multiple "hellrosis" to 48 million a year, from play to depression, from verse prey to poetential stalker: the Death Angel Cometh.

I've always been intensely private, what for all my strategy of intense personal public-ation. At least, that's what the few interviewers have to say. I've also never been one for sittin through a chorus of tootin my own horn. My "official website" was started and maintained by poet/musican/writer/musicologist, Tony Thomas, almost a decade ago. It had been unalterable for years, but it had lots of free poetry & no criticism, hype or FAQ. I liked that about it. But it was zapped by aol last year & I've been designing my own, double rainbow website. I've been dusting off my never-used cv for circulation so I've had to compile & catalog, a task too tedious while trying finish the final drafts of new books of poetry. So I got sucked into Blogville the way one stays too long at the pachanga ''til it turns into a lifelong paranda en paradiso. But, more than that, I have decided to take on the responsibility of my name—for the sake of the living names of the dead. Why responsibility? Or, as Richie Havens preaches it, "response-ability." Because once someone thinks they know your name, they think they call you out.

Years ago, I ran a small press out of my kitchen. I raised my husband's little sister & at night, I'd open all the windows & doors and print. One night, early morning, some time after the bars had closed, I felt the hair on my neck & body raise up & I turned to see a skinny hen-chick of a white boy flicking his wrists and wiping his mouth obssessively. He wore a jean jacket cut off at the shoulders and stitched with crude but elaborate embroidery satanic symbols. He stood close enough to touch me, on the other side of the tiny mailbox shaped multilith I printed my magazine, MANGO on. Man go. I was trapped where I stood. He was, clearly, deranged, and maybe not so clear. "Is this where the poetry is?" and reached for something at his side. "Poetry?" I asked, stalling as it seemed like a trick question. "No poetry now." "But this is where the poetry is. It said, this is where the poetry is!" and I rememembered the article that had come out in the newspaper's Sunday section that week. An article on Mango Publications, the "1st Annual Mango Toast & Jam" that had jammed over 200 people over the course of the afternoon to after midnight into my tiny 1-bedroom house for potluck spin-the-bottle style monopoem readings/presentations that had included Robert Duncan, Miguel Algarín, Robert Hass, Phyllis Koestembaum (fellow student with me in Bob's workshop), Diana di Prima, Ishmael Reed, Juan Felipe Herrera, Merritt Clifton (Samisdat), Francisco Alarcon, Michael McClure, along with the Mango Collective: Orlando Ramirez, Adrian Rocha, Art Editor: José Antonio Burciaga, Muse: Víctor Martínez & Sgt.-at-Arms: novelist, James Brown; and announcing the launching of a new chapbook, books & broadsides series. The poor suffer the poverty of insecurity. That is, it pays to be safe. We couldn't afford a PO box, much less a copy camera (I built my own out of a hole in the wall to my backporch darkroom & a calibrated arm to hold the original along with tapemarks on the floor. ¿Y qúe?) so the published address for subscriptions & submissions ("Subs & Subs, Inc.) was my home address. I felt physically threatened by a crazy person in my kitchen. I was alone but for the sleeping 8 year old girl. All the guys, it turned out, were over another writer's house (we all lived in tiny houses clustered around a driveway, a former farmworkers camp, it turned out) and they were watching some fight on cable. They wouldn't have heard me scream. What was a homegirl to do? Why, what would *you* do? I offered him a chicken taco. (Feed the insane.) "I could make it vegetarian," I offered. It completely unnerved him. His face turned redder with fine white lines flickering in the afterthoughts. His hands frenetically shooing away imaginary birds. I gestured to the pot. I dared turn my back & took off the cover. It smelled good. It was hot. I had just fixed a batch from leftover barbeque, had the comal & tortillas ready on the stove for when the guys were supposed to be back from "helping James fix his car" outside. I had covered it while I turned off all the gas & pilots in order to get a few pages in. A couple of tortillas might still be warm, waiting for me as I get too involved to eat. He snniffs the air, a distracted guard dog, diverted. A move as good as any kung fu master's. "Yeah," he says. He'll have it. I roll a taco on a paper towel, open the fridge (refridgerator) and take out a few sprigs of fresh cilantro, cebolla, a beer (XX oscuro) and I fill his hands and mouth with food and drink, and before he has time to think I say, "Would you like to read me a poem?"

"People tell me I sing the words "love" & "hunger" like no one else, well, all I know is that you have to have a little love in your life, and something to eat, before you can sit still through anybody's damned sermons." (Billie singing the the Blues)

About 2 1/2 hours later the guys, after drinking through the extra rounds, came tumbling in like hounds at the end of the chase. I was very glad to see them, puffed up as they were, but by then the energy had changed, a very content and much calmed down & better nourished guy sat on the couch, my underlined 1st paperback edition of Carlos Castaneda's A Yaqui Way of Knowledge in his hand, ready to go to bed. I knew I would never see him, or my CC again. So well. I shook his hand in the leaving, met him in the eye. "In the midst of some mindless cacaphony/ we all clammor to be heard..." ~LDC circa "72. "All we are saying/ is give peace..." a taco. And, listen to a poem. You have nothing to lose but your time, finite and infinite in the stolen moment. It was the only weapon I had to play. Later, the guys, Adrian, I think, said "What was that crazy guy doing sitting in your living room?" "Eating a taco, drinking a beer, and reading me his poetry." "How long was he here?!" asked J, my much alarmed husband. "A couple of hours. How do you know he's crazy?" I ask—me, my shorthairs tell me. "Well, I have to admit I freakedd out when I saw the "Death Angel" on the back of his jacket like the Virgen de Guadalupe and saw the big knife strapped to his belt." (Orlando? Adrian?) "He had a knife?" "You didn't see it?" No. Nor the Death Angel on his back, needled there in his own hand, a kind (of) embroidered poetry.

Ever since I haven't liked to give out my name, my address, my telephone number. But, what Xicanisma IS is IS, the defiant definition against what calls you out: If I don't define myself someone will define me. If I don't speak for my self some one will speak for me, and 70,000 hecateres lost in California with the sweep of a pen and the power of attorney.

This is who I am. This is where I *live*, this is what I look like, minimal protection from the particular Death Angel who may stalk & claim those more fortunate in class and the classic look. So well.

This is what I say. Lorna Dice. LornaDeeCe. What say you? Say, "Lorna Dee, say....". All we may want, you & me in the end, is something good to eat right now, maybe something different from the Norm who sits on his stool & accepts his piece of meat & the domestic brews on tap. Maybe all we want is to be heard—in our own language.

He never asked to be published. For that, all the atom bombs in the heartland will not claim. But there is something we share.

The Death Angel Cometh.


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