ziggysinamerica (ziggysinamerica) wrote in culture_geeks,
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ziggysinamerica
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'The earth falls dreaming from the stars...'

From Miguel Angel Asturias's Hombres de Maiz (Men of Maize):

"Gaspar Ilóm lets them steal the sleep from the eyes of the land of Ilóm."

"Gaspar Ilóm lets them hack away the eyelids of the land of Ilóm with axes..."

"Gaspar Ilóm lets them scorch the leafy eyelashes of the land of Ilóm with fires that turn the moon to furious red..."

Gaspar Ilóm shook his head from side to side. To deny, to grind the accusation of the earth where he lay sleeping with his reed mat, his shadow, and his woman, where he lay buried with his dead ones and his umbilicus, unable to fee himself from a serpent of six hundred thousand coils of mud, moon, forests, rainstorms, mountains, birds, and echoes entwined around his body.

"The earth falls dreaming from the stars, but awakens in what once were green mountains, now the barren peaks of Ilóm, where the guarda's song wails out across the ravines, the hawk swoops headlong, the great ants march, the dove sighs, and where sleeps, with his mat, his shadow, and his woman, he who should hack the eyelids of those who fell the trees, singe the eyelashes of those who burn the forest, and chill the bodies of those who dam the waters of the river that sleeps as it flows and sees nothing until trapped in pools it opens its eyes and sees all with its deep water gaze..."

Gaspar stretched himself out, curled himself in, and again shook his head from side to side to grind the accusation of the land, bound in sleep and in death by the snake of six hundred thousand coils of mud, moon, forests, rainstorms, mountains, lakes, birds, and echoes that pounded his bones until they turned to a black frijol paste dripping from the depths of the night.

And then he heard, with the hollows of his ears he heard:

"Yellow rabbits in the sky, yellow rabbits in the forest, yellow rabbits in the water will fight with Gaspar. Gaspar Ilóm will go to war, impelled by his blood, his river, the blind knots of his speech..."

The word of the earth turned to flame by the sun almost set fire to the maize-leaf ears of the yellow rabbits in the sky, the yellow rabbits in the forest, the yellow rabbits in the water; but Gaspar was once again becoming earth that falls from where the earth falls, which is to say, sleep that finds no shade in which to dream in the soil of Ilóm, and the solar flame of the voice could do nothing, tricked by the yellow rabbits that set to suckling in a papaya grove, turned into forest papayas, that planted themselves in the sky, turned into starts, and faded into the water like reflections with ears.

Bare earth, wakeful earht, sleepy maize-growing earth, Gaspar falling from where the earth falls, maize-growing earth watered by rivers stagnant with wakefulness, green with the wakefulness of forests sacrificed by the maize made man the sower of maize. The maize planters beat their way in with their fires and their axes, into forests that were grandmothers of shade, two hundred thousand young silk-cotton trees each a thousand years old.

In the grass was a mule, on the mule was a man, and in the man was a dead man. His eyes were his eyes, his hands were his hands, his voice was his voice, his legs were his legs and his feet were his feet for taking him to war as soon as he could get away from the snake of six hundred thousand coils of mud, moon, forests, rainstorms, mountains, lakes, birds and echoes that had curled itself around his body. But how could he get away, how could he untie himself from the crops, from his woman, the children, the rancho; how could he break free of the friendly toil of the fields; how could he drag himself off ot war with the half-flowered bean patch about his arms, the warm chayote tips around his neck, and his feet caught in the noose of the daily round?

The air of Ilóm was thick with the smell of newly felled trees, the ashes of trees burned down to clear the ground.

A whilwind of mud, moon, forests, rainstorms, mountains, lakes, birds and echoes went round and round and round and round the chief of Ilóm, and as the wind beat against his face and body and as the earth raised by the wind beat against him he was swallowed by a tootheless half moon which sucked him from the air, without biting him, like a small fish.

The air of Ilóm was thick with the smell of newly felled trees, the ashes of trees burned down to clear the ground.

Yellow rabbits in the sky, yellow rabbits in the water, yellow rabbits in the forest.

He did not open his eyes. They were open already, piled up among his eyelashes. He was rocked by the thudding of his heartbeats. He dared not move, swallow saliva, touch his naked body, for fear he would find his skin cold and inside his cold skin the deep ravines dribbled in him by the serpent.

The brilliance of the night dripped copal resin between the canes of the rancho. His woman scarecely showed up on her petate. She was breathing face down as though she were blowing on the fire in her sleep.

Gaspar dragged himself off on his hands and knees, filled with empty ravines, in search of his bottle gourd, with no sound other than the joints of his bones, which ached as if by an effect of the moon; and in the darkness, striped like a poncho by the firefly light of the night filtering in through the canes of the rancho, his face, like some thirsty idol, could be seen sucking away at the gourd, drinking down great gulps of cane liquor with the greed of a baby too long deprived of the breast.

A flash of maize-leaf caught his face as he emptied the gourd. The sun that beats down on the sugar plantations burned him inside: it burned his head till his hair no longer felt like hair, but like a pelt of ashes, and it burned the flittermouse of his tongue in the roof of his mouth, so he could not let the words of his dreams escape as he slept, his tongue that no longer felt like a tongue, but like a maguey rope, and it burned his teeth that no longer felt like teeth, but like freshly sharpened machetes.

His half-buried hands clawed at the ground, the ground sticky with cold, fingers glued to it, deep hard, unresonant, fingernails heavy as shotgun shells.

And he went on digging around himself, like an animal that feeds on corpses, searching for the body he felt detached from his head. He felt his head, full of liquor, like a gourd hanging from one of the wooden uprights of the rancho.

But the liquor did not burn his face. The liquor did not burn his hair. The liqour did not decapitate him because it was liquor but because it was the water of war. He drank to feel himself burned, buried, beheaded, which is how you have to go to war if you want to go unafraid: no head, no body, no skin.

That is what Gaspar thought. That is what he said, his head separated from his body, babbling, burning, wrapped in a bundle hoary with moonlight. Gaspar grew older as he talked. His head had fallen to the ground like a flowerpot with the buds of tiny thoughts. What Gaspar was saying, now that he was old, was forest. What he was thinking was forest remembered, not new hair. His thoughts passed out of his ears to hear the cattle going by above his head. A herd of clouds on hoofs. Hundreds of hoofs. Thousands of hoofs. The booty of the yellow rabbits.

Piojosa Grande struggled beneath Gaspar's body that was damp and warm as young maize shoots. He carried her with him in his pulsations, ever further away. The spasm took them far beyond him, far beyond her, to where he ceased to be just himself and she ceased to be just herself, to become species, tribe, a stream of sensations. Suddenly he held her tight. Piojosa cried out. Shouts, boulders. Her sleep splashed over the petate like her matted hair combed by Gaspar's teeth. Her pupils of grieving blood saw nothing. She shrank back like a blind hen. A handful of sunflower seeds in her entrails. The smell of the man. The smell of breath.

And the next day:

"Look, Piojosa, the ruckus'll be starting any day now. We've got to clear the land of Ilóm of the ones who knock the trees down with axes, who scorch the forest with their fires, who dam the waters of the river that sleeps as it flows and opens its eyes in the pools and rots for wanting to sleep.... The maizegrowers, the ones who've done away with the shade, for either the earth that falls from the stars is gonna find some place to go on dreaming its dream in the soil of Ilóm, or they can put me off to sleep forever. Get some old rags together to tie up my things, and don't forget the cold tortillas, some salt beef, some chili, all a man needs to go to war."

Gaspar scratched the anthill of his beard with the fingers on his right hand, took down his shotgun, went down to the river and fired on the first maizegrower who passed by, from behind a bush. Name of Igiño. The next day, in another spot, he brought down the second one. Fellow called Domingo. And from one day to another Igiño, Domingo, Cleto, then Bautista and Chalío, until the forest was cleared of the planters.

The matapalo is bad, but the maizegrower is worse. The matapalo takes years to dry a tree up. The maizegrower sets fire to the brush and does for the timber in a matter of hours. And what timber. The most priceless of woods. What guerrillas do to men in time of war the maizegrower does to the trees. Smoke, flames, ashes. Different if it was just to eat. It's to make money. Different, too, if it was on their own account, they go halves iwth the boss, and sometimes not even halves. The maize impoverishes the earth and makes no one rich. Neither the boss nor the men. Sown to be eaten it is the sacred sustenance of the men who were made of maize. Sown to make money it means famine for the men who were made of maize. The red staff of the Place of Provisions, women with children and men with women, will never take root in the maize plantations, try as they will. The earth will become exhausted and the planter will take his little seeds off somewhere else, until he too begins to waste away like a discolored seed fallen in the midst of fertile lands ripe for planting, lands that could make him a rich man instead of a nobody who wanders around ruining the earth everywhere he goes, always poor and finally losing all pleasure in the good things he could have had: sugar cane on the hot low-lying slopes, where the air grows thick over the banana groves and the cacao trees shoot up like rockets in the sky to explode silently in sprays of almond-colored berries, not to mention coffee, in rich soil spattered with blood, and wheatfields ablaze beyond.

Creamy skies and butter rivers running low, turning green, merged together in the first downpour of a winter that was pure wasted water on the barren black fields, and nothing any soul could do about it. It was a crying shame to see all those crystals falling form the sky onto the burning thirst of the abandoned plots. Not a seed, not a furow, not a planter. Indians with rainwater eyes spied on the houses of the Ladinos from the mountains. There were forty houses in the town. Only rarely did anyone set foot in the cobbled streets in the early morning air, for derad of being killed. Gaspar and his men could make out their forms and if the wind was right they could hear the grackles squabbling in the silk-cotton tree down in the square.

Gaspar is invincible, said the old folk of the town. The rabbits with maize-leaf ears protect Gaspar, and for the yellow rabbits with maize-leaf ears there are no secrets, no dangers, no distances. Gaspar's hide is mamey skin and gold his blood -- "great is his strength," "great is his dance" -- and his teeth, pumice stones when he laughs and flint stones when he bites or grinds them, are his heart in his mouth, as his hieelbone is his heart in his feet as he walks. Only the yellow rabbits know the mark of his teeth in the fruits and the mark of his feet along the paths. Word for word, that is what the old folk of the town said. You can hear them walking when Gaspar walks. You can hear them talking when Gaspar talks. Gaspar walks for all who have walked, all who walk and all who will walk. Gaspar talks for all who have talked, all who talk and all who will talk. That is what the old folk in the town told the maizegrowers. The storm beat out his drums in the hall of the blue doves and beneath the sheets of cloud over the savannahs.

But one day after a day, the knotted speech of the old folk announced that the mounted patrol was on its way again. The countryside sown with yellow flowers warned danger to the one protected by the yellow rabbits.

At what hour did the troop enter the town? To the Ladinos under threat of death from the Indians it seemed like a dream. They neither spoke nor moved nor saw anything in the shadow hard as the walls. The horses passed before them like black worms, and the riders had faces of burned almonds and honey. It had stopped raining, but there was a stupefying smell of sodden earth and the stench of skunk.

Gaspar changed his hiding place. In the deep blue of the night of Ilóm tiny twinkling rabbits hopped from star to star, a sign of danger, and the mountains smelled of yellow hypericum. Gaspar Ilóm changes his hiding place with his gun fully loaded with seeds of darkness -- that's what gunpowder is, deadly seeds of darkness -- his machete dangling at his waist, a gourd full of liquor, a cloth with his tobacco, his chili and his salt beef, two bay leaves stuck with saliva to calm his temples, a jar of bitter-almond oil, and a small box of lion ointment. Great was his strength, great was his dance. His strength was the flowers, his dance was the clouds.

(X-posted to my personal journal)
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