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07 August 2006

In high school and college, and to a lesser extent the years immediately afterwards, it was not uncommon to read a book that would transform, right then and there, the way I saw the world and myself. Something that revealed new meanings, new relationships, new ways of seeing. That doesn't happen so often anymore. It hadn't happened in years actually. Maybe because I am more fully formed; maybe because I am less open; most likely some of both. But I finally had that euphoric feeling again with Sesshu Foster's Atomik Azteks, which went supernova on me several weeks ago. The story itself is brilliant -- the protagonist is an Aztec general from a world where his people became an imperial power, though ultimately one just as brutal as the European and American empires, and given to fits of madness and confusion in which he believes himself to be a worker at a meatpacking plant in East LA; both are real, and the narrative chronicles his quest to achieve salvation, in the Aztec world by becoming self-aware and surviving assignment to WWII Stalingrad, and in our world by organizing a union drive and reviving his marriage. But it is the style that captured me, filled me . . . the ferocity and humor and grace and coarseness and determination and poignancy and ruefulness and joy, the swings between contemplation and hyperventilation, that Foster brings to these battles:

(Three excerpts:)

I'd just realized that the Clan Elder had said that I was being transferred to the Russian front as special candidate for War Hero against the bad Nazis, liaison to our anarko-syndicalist allies, causing me to choke and to cough up coffee thru my nose. Some things are more scalding than bitterness drowned every morning with coffee. I told as much to the Clan Elder. "I protest! I request re-assigment to another Theater of War, someplace with coffee shops, sidewalk cafes, cultural events, a happening night life, efficient and affordable public transportation, a higher quality of life, better schools, a few remaining shreds of civic pride. According to my research, that's either San Francisco or Paris! We shall invade Paris, drink wine, learn to paint likek a Cubist, look like Picasso, read Celine, hang out on the East Bank with North Afrikans, boogie in jazz clubs with expatriot Negroes, write manifestos, walk along the Seine, acclimatize ourselves to French cuisine with a view towards preparing ourselves to become ready to strike a death blow into the heart of the Nazi War Macine at the first possible Opportunity! Sir! Who said James Joyce has a lock on interior monologues?"

It wasn't easy for me to get a good job like this in the meat industry. I wasn't born working in a slaughterhouse. I crossed deserts to get here. I traversed the mountains of the Rumorosa & the Coast Range, skirting secret borders of forgotten history & identity. I sacrificed the Past, relationships & dreams of community. I tore open blisters & stubbed my toe on rocks. Empires lay in ruins along the way. I survived long odds, bad luck & bad trips as one of a select few. I negotiated with coyotes, rubbed elbows with travelers from everywhere, hung out under the watchful eye of the Migra. Lots of people -- maybe most -- dont make it this far. When the maroon Buick Riviera rolled over 4 times in the desert outside of Riverside, who do you think climbed out of the trunk & puked on a rock? when 19 other vatos were asphyxiated in a boxcar locked in the Arizona sun, who you think was the last left alive sucking air out of a tiny rust-hole? Who you think tried hardest to live & go on? Who you think kept walking across the desert with water in plastic jugs on both ends of a stick when the rest of them gave up, wandered off to die bloated & black under a bush? Those ain't my bones unknown out there, not my teeth scattered out there like a broken necklace. Mice aint' making a nest in my jacket elbow. Sow bugs ain't sleeping under what's left of my shoes. Blackbirds ain't playing tug of war with tufts of my hair. Rattlesnakes ain't sleeping in my last resting place. A cottontail ain't hightailing it from a piece of paper with my name on it blowing across a gravel wash. A creosote bush isn't wearing one of my socks. The wind isn't whispering my last words. I stayed alert at all times to every possibility in any given moment. I had to keep my mind alive to the multiple chances hidden inside every second. I had to feel the potentiality of the living moment, where every next step could lead to Death or to Life. There are secret worlds hidden in the air, secret possibilities that can keep you alive in the worst situations. You got to find them or you may not make it. When the odds are all against you, you got to consider that there might be one possible thing you could do. Or one misstep to avoid. Your life depends on it. That's why I think like this. It's gotten me this far. I been waylaid, ripped off, lost & turned around, and still I made my way. I offer you suggestions on how to survive. You go through all thsi, you too can get yourself a jjob in some industrial section like the City of Vernon slicing the heads off pigs with the circular saw descending from the ceiling, its yellow electrical cord recoiling overhead, hogs' heads rolling across the floor (with a helpful kick every now & then) as you reconsider behind dripping plastik safety goggles the fakt your wife really left you in spirit a long time befeore she departed in the flesh (you can see that now, as the saw bites thru the neck of the next hog, bits of skin shredding as you press the ripping business end all the way thru the spine), I concede I still owe my ex-mother-in-law two grand for a front end repair that didn't work, my kids who dont talk to me anymore are now gangbangers or evangelical christians -- now that they got it made in Amerika they disdain me, my values, everything I worked and sacrificed for. This thought alone might've killed me if I let it. Sometimes I did want to die. "Better watch yourself," I told myself sometimes when I caught a glimpse of myself, passing blurry by the little windows inset into the steel doors, I muttered to myself, "Sometimes your worst enemy is your self!" You heard that the suicide rat is 100% higher than the murder rate? That guy in the mirror, he was giving me some nasty looks.

Sometimes when 3Turkey's Apache pickup left the curb, I glanced back over my shoulder to see a little house nicely decorated with flowers, burning brightly.


Feeling a strange weakness in my knees, as if age or morality and all that bullshit was suddenly creeping into my system, I picked my way along a trail under the treetops far overhead. A luxuriant monarch butterfly bobbled across the path. A hidden waterway gurgled under the underbrush. Black water with dust & leaves on it flowed out of the subcutaneous earth. Some lizard in a hurry or fat rat or grinning opossum or venomous slithering copperhead scurried through crackling dry leaves nearby. Oh Maria this winged world. My footsteps were a little hesitant, something that seemed particularly stupid to me -- did I need to start walking like an old man all of a sudden? -- but it occurred to me that these sensations, weakness, inability to perceive depth perception, itching of flaky dandruff, inability to burp on command, unfulfilled wish fulfillment quotas, whimsical death wish or deep hatred & loathing of my brother & in fact all clergy the whole world over, all of these sensations were perhaps preludes to my falling into a trance state, another vision, either world-shaking & prophetik or merely cheap in an off-hand way. If I didn't watch my step -- I had the sudden vertiginous sensation -- I might all between footfalls, between worlds, and I would plunge straight through the fabrik of existence into weird awful unknowable worlds, bizarre unfathomable unknown existences, for example, I might end up a meat cutter at Farmer John Meat Packing Plant. But it was easy to shake off that idea, after all, I hoped not, I wuz a big Aztek warrior wuz I not? Surely such a strange fate could never happen to me. Still, the passing sensation, like the glimmering of an idea, gave me pause. I paused on the path to recollect my wits & collect my thoughts, fart, sniff, scratch my right forearm with my left hand, my left forearm with my right hand, scratch scratch here & there about my body & my person, maybe it was ticks, mites, biting ants . . . Was I about to go into another epileptic transmutation of the spirit from one plane to another? I took three deep breaths. Nothing happened. I slapped a mosquito attempting to suck juice out of my forehead & my fingers came away bloody. Perhaps this was all a vision, all an altered state of consciousness? I slapped another mosquito against my cheek. Okay. Perhaps not. It was all too real. That's when I knew Tezktlipoka was making fun of me.