Friday, August 16, 2013

as when air traverses the windpipe | Edgar Garcia's Boundary Loot

Launched on December 21, 2012, the last day of the Mayan long count, Edgar Garcia's Boundary Loot, published by Richard Owens's Punch Press with a prefatory note by Dennis Tedlock, situates itself along a cultural faultline where another conception of time might fruitfully be set against our own. The chapbook is "split in two," as Garcia notes in his postface, by a poem that seems of central importance, "Apocalypse And/Or Apocalypse," which appeared first in the "Crisis Inquiry" issue of Owens's Damn the Caesars, a lengthy volume of material gathered largely under the sign of the 2011 Occupy Protests.

While the Occupy Movement and the end of the Mayan long-count cycle received a great deal of attention at the time of their occurrence, efforts to reflect on and develop implications from the two events have been few and scattered. The material that Garcia is working with, Mayan culture and its forms of art, exists in the present only precariously. Its earliest glyphs and scripts seem on the verge of disappearance, or fragmentation so complete as to render decipherment an effort of the future. Part of Garcia's work here, then, is a matter of recovery, gathering remnants, or, as he discusses in a review of Tedlock's recent 2000 Years of Mayan Literature, harvesting mist, a figure apparently for the Mayan poet herself. Garcia, in the fourth poem of the chapbook, "Obsidian Membrane," writes:

I read   across an erasure   a dream
that is not a dream or hallucinated
but collected from elsewhere
like a glow   trhough a moonless night
what didn't discontinue with a life's passing
certain violence   a terrible emotion

The typo in the fourth line is not my own but Garcia's, an error he includes and develops, opening a space for possible reflection on the shifting constitution of language, and, I would say, the possibilities that lie outside the enforcement of present linguistic boundaries. It's curious that in such a context Garcia doesn't move into the Mayan language itself. Instead, he follows back through historical layers of English, as though testing, at this conjuncture of capitalism, the continued vitality of such linguistic sediment, much as the earlier forms of Mayan script had to be assessed by Mayan writers after the Conquista.

The poem continues:

             Running a cord through her pierced tongue
a Palenque writer draped it
splotching and shedding an asemic aperture
onto a cloth upon which her ancestors
had done the same   by this way
speaking with them   as through a phone

The Palenque writer, as Tedlock explains in his anthology, is Ix K'ab'al Xook, or Lady Shark Fin, one of the wives of the king who ruled the city of Yaxchilán from 681 to 742. The scene is depicted on a lintel over the door of a palace dedicated to her. Tedlock elaborates on the bloodletting ritual:

The cord, studded with thorns, is draped over the open book, creating a direct physical link between the organs of speech and a surface prepared for writing. The bloodstains made by the cord are left to chance, suggesting that Lady Shark Fin is creating a text whose reading will require an art of divination. (105)

Asemic aperture, indeed. An open gap across which Garcia here seems to be attempting some subsequent form of communication, the mystery now as much the previous attempt and its representation in limestone as whatever content may have been harvested from the ritual itself at the time of its occurrence. 

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