David-Baptiste Chirot
(with contributions from David Harris)

El Colonel Improvises
For Eric Basso

The real war will never get into the books

—Walt Whitman: Specimen days

El Colonel sits on a rock, smoking and reading, in a sloping mountainside field, an area in which butterflies flit among wild flowers and the corpses on which ants are already busied in energetic and organized tasks among the valleys and ridges created by coagulated blood. Blood, rich and thick in the intensifying heat and light of mid morning. Now and then his eyes take a break from the letterings and images of magazines, official documents, maps, the personal diaries and correspondences of the dead, and wander gently along the faces of the corpses. Here and there El Colonel’s eyes slow down and “drag out” the time to dwell a bit longer on the vertically closed outlines of butterfly wings as they balance themselves astride a gaping wound. In “slowmo” El Colonel smiles and observes the parades of ants carrying particles of flesh and dried blood back to their ant hills, dragging them down into the cavernous openings atop their cones resembling volcanoes and their exposed summits. .

El Colonel sits and reads, smoking, and thinking how Death, the Grim Reaper, harvests not only corpses and souls, but poetry also, and literature, painting, theater, cinema and the documentary of “non-fiction.” “As the Blood dries, so the Ink comes to life—the paint, the greasepaint, the photo and cinematographic negatives . . . the development of images arises from the decay of the flesh . . . Rimbaud’s ‘Sleeper in the Valley’ born and given life by the two red bullet holes . . . vibrantly, startlingly bright flowers in the verdant valley’s peaceful fields of a long ago War . . . ”

El Colonel smiles. “The Sleeper in the Valley” is one of the few poems he knows, found in an anthology of “World Poetry” in the ruins of a small school at the ragged outskirts of some place . . . This particular poem seems ever useful in accompanying the views with which his life’s work presents itself.

El Colonel, seated on the large rock growing warm in the midday sun, sees around him tableaux out of a shifting series of eras of painting and writing that he knows from various tomes and journals found through time in the ruins of various villages, of war-torn forests and fields, of the shattered and smoldering ruins of bombed out municipal libraries, of private collections assembled by this person and that, and by the scattered remnants of torn newspapers from mutilated kiosks, or the torn and jagged wind blown strips of posters clinging precariously to the walls of collapsed cinemas, the smashed and bullet pocked walls of small alleys, and the wide-flung spaces of avenues where theatres and cafes once stood, and which now lie in a heap of tangled images, structures, bodies arranged intriguingly among the still smoking craters of bombings and fires set by incendiary devices.

El Colonel smiles. A head full of readings taken literally from ruins, which in turn perhaps is creating in his mind, and in his “own words,” a writing constructed of anything from the most hackneyed phrases to here and there the spouting of an abased version of classical prose. Half the delight in this immense carnival of letters, words, phrases, images, and shreds was that each series of them, each gathering no matter how small in sentences or clauses, in paragraphs or pauses, came to him in voices, the kinds of voices which these words in terms of acting suggested as being the best suited to their playing of the parts which gave life to even the most worn out of received ideas, the most commonplace of clichés . . .

El Colonel smiles. These voices of masked ghosts who make themselves up before mirrors below the surface of the earth—these voices which are practicing lines that in turn he is taking down the dictation of—

El Colonel’s eyes surgically examine the corpses as his thought “make incisions in the pulpy mass of memories, a substance akin to that of the insides of melons, mangos, avocados . . . ” Cutting into this fresh and drenched flesh of memories, El Colonel finds always “ The mixture of death with art, blood with poetry, sadism with cinema, propaganda with photographs and inside them all, the nerves and sinews of rebellion, of refusal, of the Unwritten Writing, the Unread Non-Written texts, the images and paintings of Untaken Photos Not Capturing the Moment, the Unpainted Unseen images not even found in the ‘Museum without Walls.’”

El Colonel smiles. Rhetoric is running away with . . . the torn clothing placed on a scarecrow to warn of the approach of the devouring rhetorical clichés, stock phrases and images, all the dismantled remnants of films left in an abandoned studio . . . which , like an abandoned mine, is quietly sending forth ghosts to fill the voids of a devastated and deserted landscape . . .

El Colonel sits, smoking, feeling the rising heat of the rock soothing the ceaseless ache at the base of his spine. His surgical and experienced eyes have searched the faces and bodies of the corpses carefully, while his “other eyes” are occupied with examining “the pulpy flesh of memory, redolent with colors and aromas, melon-like, leaking juices in which flow the Unwritten Unread Non Writings and the Images Not Captured . . . The surgical examination yields a confirmation of what El Colonel had suspected from previous indications found while tracking these once very dangerous beings. While one part of his being continued moving “elsewhere,” another part of it spat into the ground, a black soil rich with teeming bugs and flora of many kinds, held together by the rhizomatic weaving of a super tensile proliferation of roots, tough as those of thistles, and as obdurately enduring as the high plains markings and “landing fields” of Nazca. This spitting, the first of a series, then moves its aim to the targets of dead faces, now known to be for what and whom they were—Contractors, mercenaries, engaged in “Actions” directed at those like himself, inhabitants of the “NMZ,” as El Colonel often sardonically thought of it—the “No Man’s Zone”—or, on other occasions, the “Zone with No Name.”

El Colonel smiles. How much of the language of all these events, plans, directives, actions—his own and that of others—is not simply an already written text that with the prompters’ help the masked actors are practicing and which he himself is taking down, and so—how much of what he is writing is actually there and how much in these theaters that ceaselessly are preparing their as yet unproduced plays . . .after all, at the mere suggestion of the shape of a root he hears those voices taking a detour into yet another version of a rehearsal from an earlier point in time prompted by a similar looking root . . .

Just now, from some of the documents he had been reading, he had learned that this particular batch of dispatched “Government Soldiers,” —for that was the disguise they had adopted—the uniforms and equipments of the National Forces for the Defense of the Homeland—and some other auspicious sounding name that they currently bore, for the names changed in rhetorical substance from one communiqué to the next, depending on shifting, fleeting whims and fads of the “Naming” of the Ruling Party—

Just now he is studying and learning . . . what the probing eye finds in letters and the limbs of bodies . . . the changing names, the changing of uniforms . . . uniforms that are disguises which reveal who the disguised one is due to a singular and repetitive lack of imagination . . .

My mind is drifting—the phrase drifts through El Colonel’s mind like a fine spume through which one may see a large white cloud serenely floating above the waters . . . and drifting also he realizes, is the smell of the corpses as the day gains in heat and the morning breezes settle into their “doldrums” state of mid-day hours . . .

El Colonel stands up and with a slight gesture indicated that he requested some assistance in the removal of the bodies from the ground to a tarp in which they would be rolled, then loaded into a light pickup truck and driven to various sites to be deposited. By distributing the corpses over a wide and seemingly random area, the enemy would have a much harder time in figuring out the actual site of combat. In this manner, the enemy would think that the fighting was dispersed over a wide area, and has occurred at many different times during the course of the actions of advance and retreat. The larger the area suspected of being “filled with the rebels,” the better for El Colonel and the Heroic Patrol.

One method of corpse depositing was to unroll the tarp at one end and roll out a couple of bodies and drop them into rivers and streams, so that they would drift even further away from the original site of combat, and in this way also direct the enemy away from the ruined monastery where the Heroic Patrol had their headquarters.

Pushing the corpses into the river or small streams was always a festive occasion, as the dead bodies were “set adrift” among reeds and batches of small lacy series of green and white flora. The sun, pitched at only a slight angle at midday—shone and twinkled among the starry eyed flowers as they lined the banks where the corpse found “rest” in the arms of the flowing waters. As the day wore on, some corpses grew heavier; it seemed, with an increase in inertia, a loss of lifelikeness replaced by a leaden coarsening of the features and a concentration of mass which “weighed them down” even before being tossed into the streams. The slowly mounting stench spurred on in the hothouse atmosphere among the stream bank flowers attracted a few stray animals and now and then swarms of flies. The riper they grew in the later parts of the day, the heavier and more rawly odiferous the corpses became for their pall bearers.

El Colonel stops and looks out over a pasture that lazes along beside a medium sized stream of cool mountain waters. In the pasture are a few cows grazing, a goat, some chickens and a dead dog rotting in the heat, accompanied by a halo of large black flies. No humans are in sight, probably frightened away by the last night’s fighting. If they heard no more fighting during the day, they would wait a bit into the evening, and if all remained calm slowly drift back to their farms . . .

That evening El Colonel returns to the reading of captured documents, blood, coffee and rain stained, punctuated by the scars of burning and the pock marks of small bits of shrapnel. A lunar surface—El Colonel smiles—a lunar surface—where the surviving letters make as best they can the tattered indications of words, phrases, small paragraphs . . ..

El Colonel smiles and lights a cigarette. El Colonel smiles—at the remembrance that the Moon is the Goddess of writing . . . Herself a masked face reflecting a light not its own—a theatrical light “showing the way” for the prompter’s reading aloud to the actors their lines which when taken down via dictation have already been slightly altered, shifted, become instead of “an already happened event” a “continually ongoing action”—a writing shifted by voices and hands, prompted by moon lit texts to the masked and made up actors in a “plot” which is about to ensnare them . . . a fated one, one already long ago inscribed in their beings when they come in contact with these words . . . or one that is improvised, revised, changed continually in order to evade the static poses of statues and the drama of the moonlight of tragedy—

El Colonel smiles. This, his “writing life,” is the great secret with which his existence is preoccupied, while seemingly playing most efficiently the role of El Colonel.

El Colonel smiles. Looking up from the variously stained documents, he sees through the high windows half open to the cooling night air—the moon, like a giant eye—watching him with a quizzical expression—

El Colonel smiles. And winks back—improvising . . .

previous page     contents     next page



Blogger Obododimma Oha said...

Beautiful! I have to read this wonderful piece over and over again. I find the whole interart framework simply gripping. Fossil poetry... that's what I'd call it!

3:35 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home