Friday, January 28, 2005

The Wash (1997)

Here is a short piece I wrote in 1997, which I will include in my up-coming book: Omniphone.

The Wash
Keijiro Suga

Afternoons were hot. Our field of vision was made as dark as the shadow of the clouds moving on the flank of the naked mountains to the north. A strong wind made the clouds drift. Down on the surface of the earth the wind threw grains of sand at our faces. And at the cacti. And at the rabbits who ran away from us, intimidated. But we were not a pack of coyotes.

We are four, Cristobalito, Andy, Azusa, and I. Cristobalito is six years old and from Nogales, Sonora. Andy is five and from Nogales, Arizona. Azusa is three and a half and from Yokohama, Japan. I am thirty-five and from nowhere. Azusa is my son. I named him so because he had been imaginarily conceived in Arizona, USA. I was thinking about Max Ernst, the surrealist painter who had lived in Arizona, and the wisdom of the Hopi people, the native tribe living on high dry mesas. In the middle of my life, living away from any land, I had been learning about the importance of being "ernst" and the "Hopi-lessness" of this world. Then my son came and put me back on track. We moved to Tucson, Arizona, first imaginarily, then physically. We loved the land and the surrealistic landscape became our supreme collage.
As I have no regular job, I spend a lot of time with the kids. It is summer and the kids are out of school. They don’t have much to do. Cristobalito and Andy, the Mexican kids from both sides of the border, come to play with Azusa everyday, knowing that I buy them popsicles whenever Cool Joe's ice-cream truck comes around. The kids are generally bored by their own secret tedium vitae, and the desert summer aggravates the feeling. Popsicles are their secret drug to kill that feeling. Nevertheless, even when the temperature hits one hundred and six degrees, we usually stay outside. Outside, we are touching the summer. Sometimes in the late afternoon the sky becomes overcast with heavy gray clouds with a sign of lightning, the celestial snake, in it. It is the monsoon season, as they call it locally. "Sirocco," I say, but the wind is not from Africa. "El viento," says Cristobalito, squinting his eyes.
We have been walking in the wash. It is a wide riverbed with no water running in it. Seen from a bird's view, it is a strip of sand, about sixty yards wide. It is difficult to walk. Then we come to a mound by the riverbed from where we can take a good view of this Old Pueblo in the desert. The mound, obviously made with bulldozers, has little vegetation on it, like a new-born baby's head. This is the third day on end that we come to this mound in the afternoon. Azusa likes to climb up the slope to the flat top fifteen feet above. We call it "la montaña de los muertos." We sweat, of course, but the sweat evaporates in no time in the hot wind. We live in a massive, natural dryer that makes our minds and hair crisp. "There are dead men down here," I point at our feet. "Hay muertos abajo." Cristobalito and Andy, looking at each other, exchange incredulous, sheepish smiles. "Are we gonna dig them up?" asks Cristobalito. Andy's vast smile becomes nervous. "Nah, let them sleep," I say. We head out into the desert, a no-man's-land between life and death, where there is nothing man-made, or there is everything natural. "This is Africa," says Azusa, and the other boys agree. Low shrubs spring from the bare ground. The ground is full of various mammals' burrows. "Savanna," says Andy. "We are hunters." Somos cazadores, and we become alert.
Nothing moves for a while. Silently we advance into the little wilderness of hot air. The air is animated and there is a gorgeous smell of rain approaching from the dark lot of the sky in the southwest. The thunderstorm is raging now in Mexico and coming into the U.S. toward us. A gust of wind deafens us for an instant. Everybody closes his eyes and stops. When we resume our hunter's walk, I spot a couple of rabbits dashing out from under a bush. I point at them and try to shout and hesitate for a moment, not exactly remembering how to say "bunnies" in Spanish. Then my mouth, before I know it, pushes out a cry "Cojones!" Cristobalito and Andy are surprised. "Cojones, bunnies!" I repeat. They burst out laughing and suddenly I remember the right word: conejos. I smile in resignation. "Cojones" means testicles, nada más. In thirty minutes we are tired and we quit hunting and leave Africa and head for home.

The next day there is a commotion in the desert. We see four or five police cars parked by the wash. Azusa wants to go to the savanna, but I tell him that we had better not. No playing trackers today, sabes. I help the kids climb a eucalyptus tree instead. It is the tree we on the block use to hang a piñata when somebody's giving a birthday party. We had done that several weeks ago for Alejandra, Cristobalito's younger sister. Once a year, on Mexico's Day of Independence, the Mexican families in the barrio get together and they hire a mariachi band to play the music, so sweet, late into the night. By evening, we (the adults in the neighborhood) know what had happened in the desert.
The body of a young white girl was found. She was fourteen, a runaway, raped and strangled. Her mother was thirty-one, had moved in with a new boyfriend, and the girl was left homeless. The girl's name was Glenna Ferguson. Glenna drifted in the city, from nowhere to nowhere. Restless. From one sleep to another. Breathless. From one dream to another. Hopeless. From one dream to no dream. From life to death.

Nights were cool and afternoons were hot. In that stifling summer air in which we were walking was the last breath of Glenna, drifting. At one time we were within a hundred feet from her dreamless body, hunting. The gorgeous smell of rain was blossoming. When the first night fell on Glenna in the desert, the thunderstorm came in from Mexico. Lightning flashed incessantly on the wash. Then the rain started, washing away our footsteps. Washing Glenna's open, sleepless eyes.

A Lesson from William Carlos Williams

... Can you tell me?
Why does one want to write a poem?

Because it's there to be written.

Oh. A matter of inspiration then?

Of necessity.

Oh. But what sets it off?

I am that he whose brains
are scattered

("The Desert Music")

Friday, January 14, 2005

What kind of rain is that?

Today at a bookstore I came across a book entitled: Rain Can't Drink Cola. A breathtaking title! I opened randomly a page and there was written: "Rain likes to bathe in the sand." This sentence really blew my mind and I got instantly excited. Then I looked at the beginning of the book only to mutter: oh. Oh of disappointment.

"Rain" is the name of the dog the author keeps. This changes all those great sentences into banality. Que lastima! The rest is literature.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

South Asian Canadian Writers in Tokyo

Tomorrow evening I'll participate in a trialogue called New Canadian Writing with Shyam Selvadurai and Anita Rau Badami. It's a great pleasure to talk in depth with the authors of such fabulous novels as "Funny Boy" (Shyam) and "Tamarind Woman" (Anita). I met them last week at Waseda where they gave a joint lecture. Muy sympatico/a persons! Yoko Fujimoto of Waseda invited me to discuss with them some issues of contemporary exilography. I am honored.

Those of you who can make it, please do come to the Canadian Embassy at 18:00. We'll have a whole evening to talk!