To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Friday, June 16, 2017

Javier Taboada: Two Poems from “El Niño de Varas" (The Whipping Boy)

Translation from Spanish by Scott Ezell and the author

[editor’s note. In his new gathering, The Whipping Boy (El niño de varas), Javier Taboada fuses all his resources as a poet (investigative poetry, translations, total transcriptions, news excerpts, etc.), in the great tradition of his avant-garde & modernist predecessors, at once broadly international & markedly American (both north and south).  In the process he uses the procedures of extreme collage to create a narrative, brilliant & foreboding by turns, of the modern & ancient ways-of-the-scapegoat as an instrument of political, social, & religious overreach & cruelty.  His is a world, in short, in which present & past come together to stand as images of our own time & of the real dangers that we face & will continue to face as we try to move forward & evolve. (J.R.)]

1/ Pharmakós event
Choose 10 bums.
Feed them and keep them clean.
Place them at 10 points in the city.
Force them to beg for one year.
Collect the money
            put it in a common treasury.

Gather the 10 in case of these calamities:
a) fire
b) drought
c) famine
d) foreign attack
e) plague
selection and dress
Select the ugliest. Name him pharmakós.
Dress him in special clothes.
Give him a backpack with cheese
            bread barley and dried figs.
Wreathe his head with garlands
            a headwrap or a conical cap.
Flog his testicles 7 times
            with fig tree branches.
Give masks to the other 9 and undress them. 

The pharmakós and the 9 will set off from a public square 
            directly to a river
            lake or stream.

                        no wells no ponds
If there is no water,
            go to a road or train tracks.
The 9 will escort the pharmakós.
Spectators may line both sides of the path
                        and cast stones            curse    spit
                                    or beat the pharmakós.
If they do (and as a sign of repentance)
            they should scratch their faces
                        or rip out their hair.
The 9 may beat and intimidate the spectators
                        without consequence
            while the procession lasts.

After crossing the city:
1. If there is a water flow
            the 9 will beat the pharmakós
                        and try to drown him
2. If there is no water flow
            the 9 will beat the pharmakós
            tie him to the first tree they find
                        and try to burn him
If the pharmakós survives
                        he may never return to the city
If the pharmakós survives and reaches another town
                        he’ll be greatly honored
                        and considered a god.
Give the common funds to his relatives.
Elect a new member for the following year.

2/ Pit of Bones, cranium 17

the perimortem fracture
entrance vector
                       or exit wound
the shape      a bat
            (rorschach’s fifth card)                      

            two blows
half an inch apart
from bregma / or fontanelle     each
            and both
                        at oblique angles:
                                                the chopper’s
           a beam             repeated
            high-energy concentration      the first maybe
                                                lower than the second
                                                            ­(consider adrenaline)
an opening towards light
the thunder
                        and its four pebbles

the spirit dwells in the forehead
                                                            he knew it?

                        te cavero le budella
            he maybe said     or thought (in his tongue)
                                    looking for a glance
                                                between the curled fire

maybe he mumbled the name
            (and with it the cause of death)

maybe he rehearsed his moves

maybe he rehearsed    lying down     
                        his gestures
            and dreamed his tone of voice
                        his scream between each blow

maybe he considered an hour
the waning shadow
            of the second sun
the old sun bending on the mountains

maybe he planned a hoax

it’s certain he was right-handed

and pre-Neanderthal cranium 17
a young individual (male or female)

whose third molar attests
                                   to recent passage
                       into adulthood

and they were face to face                         
430 thousand years ago
                                                    "the earliest clear case of deliberate, lethal interpersonal aggression in the hominid fossil record”
maybe he
                        dragged the body to the pit

maybe he misjudged the weight
                        and had to ask for help

and maybe
            maybe just that noise 
            its slight delay
                                                            (what is the speed of a body
                                                                        in free fall?)
                        made him feel something akin to joy
. . . . . . .

Some Notes on the Preceding
Pharmakós event is a reconstruction of the “scapegoat” ritual (called pharmakós, with its double meaning: illness and remedy) in ancient Greece. The old polis need of purge, lead us to a present in which a certain ethnic, religious or political group (always marginal) is thought to be a threat to the safety of the city.

Pit of Bones, cranium 17 is about the discovery of “the earliest case of lethal interpersonal violence” in the hominid fossil records. I’m trying to recreate/ elucidate the cause for that murder (its motivations, planning, corpse disposal), since there are no evident “ritual” tracks in the cranium. Maybe the murderer just wanted to get rid of someone annoying, or just different. And with that in mind, remark the deliberate nature of cruelty, violence and hate in us.

Javier Taboada (Mexico City, 1982). MA in Classics. Poet and translator. Among others, he has translated the full works of Alcaeus of Mytilene (Poemas y Fragmentos, 2010), Jerome Rothenberg’s Testigo & Milagros (A Further Witness & A Poem of Miracles, 2017), and Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party and other stories (upcoming, 2018). He is the author of Apothecary Poems (Poemas de Botica, 2014) and Nacencia (2017).

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